"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." ~Ambrose Redmoon

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Jumping Off the High Dive

This morning I realized that my life this past few months has been a lot like the first time I jumped off the high dive at Chaffey High School's plunge. Only back then, the fear was overwhelming. 

It still makes my heart quiver to remember that day. I was a timid ten-year-old when my mother insisted I take swimming lessons for the umpteenth time. That was her way of keeping me busy during those long hot summer days. Because I'd already taken and passed every other swimming class Conrad, the instructor, put me in Jr. Lifeguards. He called it "junior" because I wasn't old enough for Sr. Lifeguards. Same lessons, different name so I could challenge my skills.
When that big burly 19-year-old said everyone had to jump off the high dive to pass the class, I told him to forget it. I was much too young to die.

He coddled and cajoled and tried every which way to get me to do it, but still I refused. Yet Conrad was determined. He'd already saved my life when I picked up a brick off the bottom of the pool. My scrawny arm wasn't strong enough to lift it out of the water and there was no way  after getting so close, I was going to drop it. Therefore, my head couldn't break the surface. Conrad yanked me out and I gasped for air.

Perhaps that incident helped me trust him when he finally said, "what if I go with you?"

I kinda had a little girl crush on him. "You'd have to hold my hand."

"Okay," he grinned. "Let's go!"

"Now?" I asked.

"Yes, right now."

My legs shivered all the way to the ladder. Conrad stayed right behind me talking softly as I climbed all those steps. He put his hand on my shoulder as we walked to the end of the board. Then, he said, "don't look down, just take my hand."

At the count of three, we jumped. As soon as we kicked off the bottom of the pool and broke the surface, I was proud of myself and ready to do it again! And again and again each time growing more confident in my ability and more grateful for a guy who wanted me to experience the thrill of achievement. I earned my certificate and don't know who was more pleased--me or Conrad.

A grown-up parallel happened this past October when my unemployment ran out. It was scary enough that I thought about taking a job at a grocery store because I wasn't sure how I'd pay my bills. But then a book project appeared, well sort of. It was ill-defined and would take quite a bit of time and effort. I hadn't ever worked quite that way before and wondered if I'd get into hot water.

What made up my mind was all the times, Jesus had held my hand in the past. Years ago He spoke to me in that same tender way, Conrad did. He said "Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand" ( Isaiah 41:10). So this time, once I was sure that He was with me, I jumped.

Now the book is almost finished, and I'm so pleased. What a thrill it's been writing In the Red Zone with Dr. Kent Tucker. The sense of accomplishment satisfies my desire to have purpose and meaning in my life. Hopefully it will help many people come to know my best friend. Plus the work provided for my needs all these months.

Now, another project requires jumping off an even loftier goal--blindfolded. There's still so much unknown. But the same God continues holding my hand. And, past experience tells me, He'll be with me as I climb the steps. I've no doubt, the thrill will be worth overcoming the fear.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful for Thanksgiving

The news this morning of people already camping out in front of stores today annoys me. This holiday may be my most favorite, and it bothers me to see people skipping it by focusing on materialistic pursuits. 

A recent blog post by my friend, Mick Ukleja, shows why developing an attitude of gratitude is good for the soul, especially when it comes to dealing with fear. He asks: 

"Do you find yourself fearing the future? You’re not quite sure what it holds and it scares you just a bit? Are you overwhelmed wondering how it will all turn out? Will you have enough to live on as you plod toward the sunset? These kinds of thoughts become emotional distractions that can immobilize at best, and derail at worst. Is there a remedy for this counter-productive thinking? The answer is YES. There is a solution. It’s called artwork—emotional artwork. And gratitude is at the top of the list" (for more see http://leadershiptraq.com/blog/).

His post made me think about who we are grateful to. For me, it's the Fountainhead of peace--our Creator--the Lord. 

As I reflected on Him this morning, the old song The Love of God came to mind. 

"The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell. It goes beyond the highest star And reaches to the lowest hell; The guilty pair, bowed down with care, God gave His Son to win: His erring child He reconciled, and pardoned from his sin."

I do lots of things wrong. This week alone I struggled with speaking harsh words, being critical and judgmental,  wanting my way regardless of what was right or wrong--and that's just to mention a few. But because of God's love, I don't have to struggle with shame or guilt. Jesus Christ died to pay for every sin I ever committed or will commit. He gave me open access to God--the Fountainhead of peace. Day by day Jesus sets me free from shame and guilt, so I can rest in the peace of God. I'm a sinner in love with my Savior.

Because I love Him, I want to be more like him. A young friend told me this morning that she was thankful for me because I'm consistent. What she sees is a characteristic that's been developing over the years, because Christ first loved me. He's the One who gives me that consistency as I make choices consistent with a biblical worldview. The idea that she appreciated that and admires it, makes me want to know Jesus even more. 

This morning I'm grateful for a God that loves us so much He gave us His Son to do what we cannot do. He takes away our sin. As we follow Him, He helps us make choices that set us free from self-destructive lies. And, I'm grateful that He gave our forefathers the wisdom to create a Thanksgiving holiday. It's too bad that those people who focus on shopping today, instead of reflecting on what they're thankful for, are missing out.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Oh, What A Night!

Last night I witnessed a miracle made possible only by the power of forgiveness.
This story starts more than 5 decades ago. That's when my sister, Diane, ran away from home. I was only 8 at the time, but still remember my mother's fear and concern for the teen-aged daughter she'd raised. 

Yet, my mom wasn't blameless. She was barely out of her teens when she became a step-parent to my dad's two young daughters from his first marriage, and that definitely contributed to the problems. Many factors on both sides ended their relationship. Oh, sometimes they'd see each other at a funeral or a wedding, and they'd make polite conversation like people do in big gatherings. But that was the extent of it. There was no healing--Diane had lost her mom, my mom had lost a daughter. And, loving them both, I sometimes felt that tug-of-war of the conflicting feelings between them.

At times bitterness festered beneath the surface cultivated by one difficult circumstance after another--it was no one's fault, but just the way it was. Until Diane came into a relationship with Jesus Christ, her Creator. He asked her to forgive her enemies, even more to love them. His Word challenged her to let "no one come short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled." (Hebrews 12:15).

The peace that forgiveness brings was far more important than holding on to the past. A precious relationship was also at stake. So, Diane forgave from deep within her heart. She confessed that she missed my mom--her mom in so many respects. In a process that brought a smile to my 85-year old mother's face, Diane suggested a visit. Though my mom doesn't get together with many people, her smile got brighter as she agreed.

Soon she started fussing over which restaurant would be best and what she should wear. We set a date--November 18th--last night.

Diane and I drove to Dana Point together. As soon as we walked in the door, mother and daughter greeted each other with a great hug, and what was lost was found. Later, as we sat in the living room, my mom presented Diane with a gorgeous package--a purple and turquoise gift bag with an Orrefors bowl nestled inside. Mom bought it in Sweden a number of years ago. At the time she didn't know why. She'd bought 5 of them, one for each of her three daughters, one for herself and an extra. The extra one sat in a closet all this time. But last night that crystal piece was finally placed in the hands of the right person, her daughter Diane.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Where Was God?

Last night my friend caught me up on the latest news about Joe Paterno and Penn State. I'd seen enough glimpses on Facebook posts to have a rough idea of the gravity of the issue, but Wendy filled me in on more of the details.

It brought back memories. As a child of 10 or 11, I exposed a sexual predator when a close relative told me what that man had done. If I'd been older, perhaps I'd have given more thought to the firestorm that created, but even as an adult, no matter the cost, I don't think I could have done anything less than report it to people who would stop the abuse.

In light of this current scandal, I can't help but wonder if people will ask; "where was God?" and perhaps use the existence of evil as an excuse to ignore our Creator. Over the years I've given much thought to the problem of evil and why bad things happen to good people.Why did Bernie Madoff bilk people out of their life's savings and humiliate, even implicate his sons to the point where Mark committed suicide? Why would a mother drown her five children or a distraught father/husband kill nine people?

What is evil? Is it a "stuff?"

That question was answered in Without A Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions, a book I had the privilege of editing by philosopher/theologian Kenneth Richard Samples. In the chapter about "How Can a Good and All-Powerful God Allow Evil?," he cites one of historic Christianity's greatest thinkers, Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430).

Samples said this problem kept Augustine from embracing Christianity earlier in life. But as he contemplated this troubling issue, Augustine came to the conclusion that "evil is specifically the lack of something that should be present in a person or thing. Evil is therefore defined in the negative. . . Analogously, a person acknowledges blindness not as a physical thing, but rather as the absence of sight. Similarly, a cavity is not so much of a thing, as it is a lack (a hole), namely a lack of enamel in a tooth. Yet like evil, blindness and cavities are not things, but realities of life." I'd add that darkness is not a "thing," it's the absence of "light."

Samples goes on to talk about how Augustine became convinced that evil is "specifically a privation of being and goodness. To be precise, evil is the absence of goodness that should be there in the will of the creature."

Sometimes that "goodness" is there but can be squelched for the sake of other priorities. Perhaps that's what Paterno did for the sake of the football team and now he's reaping the consequences. People who support him may see goodness in other areas of his life, but for the sake of the game it appears he squelched the goodness of God with reckless regard for the welfare of children.

That's why it's so critical when tough things happen, when we're afraid of losing that which we value, be it football, prestige, income, or even life itself--people need the judgment of an all-good, all-loving Creator who can help us make the right decisions. Instead of turning away from him in a crisis, He's exactly the One we need--whether it's for coming to grips with the loss of something dear to us or the need for courage to do the right thing despite the potential for loss.

Jesus Christ, the Creator of all things, could have given Paterno the courage he needed. In my view, to cut Christ out--to deny the Way, the Truth and the Light that is the Life of men--doesn't just hurt children, it can lead to evildoing even in otherwise decent people.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Courage, Liam thought to himself, wasn’t a hot, blistering emotion held only in the hands of men who joined the special forces and jumped out of airplanes and scaled unnamed mountains. It was a quiet thing, ice-cold more often than not; the last tiny piece you found when you thought that everything was gone.  It was facing your children at a time like this, holding their hands and brushing their tears away when you were certain you hadn’t the strength to do it. It was swallowing your own grief and going on, one shallow, bitter breath at a time.”                                                             From Angel Falls by Kristin Hannah

For months Liam’s wife, Mikayla, lay in a coma. For the sake of their children, despite his own paralyzing grief, Liam carried on—“one shallow, bitter breath at a time.”

Though this story is fiction, the author expressed some real-life truths. Sometimes circumstances force us to continue despite the pain. Sometimes we need courage to carry on and make good choices for our own sake or perhaps for the sake of others.

A divorce, cancer, an addiction—all can demand choices beyond our own strength to make them. In my opinion, addictions may take the most courage of all. From some scenarios, such as cancer or a coma, there is no way out but through. But giving up an addiction means giving up what feels like the answer to our problems. 

In the midst of an addiction, we usually can’t see how it multiplies negative consequences—no matter how obvious they may be to others. Yet, sometimes the results become serious enough that the choice must be made to give up that supposed refuge or at least be set free from its hold. For a shopper, debt might become overwhelming. The same can be true for a gambler. For the obsessed video-game player, techie, bookworm, problems may be more subtle. Time spent avoiding relationships certainly doesn’t cultivate them.

A few days ago, a man spoke to me about the courage it’s taken to give up his romance addiction—the hope that the right person will ease his loneliness and bring him peace and lifelong happiness. He’d recently reconnected with a high school sweetheart  and the strong attraction was still there. Yet different belief systems gave him the courage to put out that flame. Even so, making the choice to give up what he desired most was a tough one.

The biblical worldview calls the things we’re addicted to, idols. Choosing to give them up takes courage. It also requires truth. Though something may offer temporary relief, it can also lead to long-term problems. For lasting peace and satisfaction, it's far better to place our hope and trust in the One who created us. Turning to the Fountainhead who says: “I will never leave you nor forsake you; I will give you peace” can give us the courage to escape our addictions, or at the very least lessen their hold on us, especially when life’s turmoil causes us pain.

More on the “Giver of peace” next time.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Now What?

It’s official.  One more check and I’m a 99-er. After almost two years of receiving unemployment benefits, my income will now come from elsewhere.

Those benefits have been a mixed blessing. I could live on that amount, but it's been a challenge. Unfortunately, the system is set up in such a way that it gives zero incentive for making any money apart from a permanent position. According to my understanding, even worse than no incentive is that the system punishes those who do what they can to earn extra income. If a person takes a temporary job, the pay is deducted from their unemployment check. So it doesn't matter whether a person works or not--the pay remains the same. Even worse, federal extensions decrease the amount of benefits based on temporary pay.

So, concern about these obstacles forced me to consider a more creative approach--one I probably wouldn't have considered otherwise. Rather than starting to freelance, while looking for full-time work, I volunteered with organizations that might impact my future. Writing for the Christian Examiner helped me network with many nonprofits and kept a strategic Evangelical Press connection in the forefront of my thinking. It also helped develop my story-telling ability. I’m grateful to the Keeners for giving me the opportunity to write for such a fine newspaper. Even better, in the process, they’ve become my friends.

Working with Mick Ukleja of LeadershipTraq also helped restore my confidence and sharpen my skills. And, it gave me the opportunity to promote principles I learned from Mick and have found extremely valuable. This effort kept me involved with the Evangelical Press Association, as well, and cultivated relationships important to me for many reasons.

In my spare time, I’ve explored my own story and have almost completed a draft of a memoir. Plus, I’ve long wanted to write about transformation showing how the Creator can help us stop trying to escape the pain by denying it. Instead, by turning to him, we can gain the strength to embrace life’s turmoil and to have peace in the process, even when it’s the most painful. This blog is the result.

For about the past eight months, I’ve been involved with Transform LA*—a movement to see God transform the greater Los Angeles area in seven sectors that include businesses, churches, government, entertainment and the arts, education, media, and family. Increasingly I can see how many of my greatest interests fit under this umbrella. Now, after three years of praying, TLA’s exec team has started putting structure in place. One of three paid positions they hope to fill in the near future is for a Communications Specialist. I can’t think of any place I’d rather work. However, at this point, there are no guarantees and funding is an issue. At this stage, even more important than the position I’m hoping for, are the funds necessary to keep the General Manager employed. Such a strategic movement takes consistent wise leadership.

So, as I continue to wait, I’ll keep doing special projects. I’ll write for the Christian Examiner and can finally accept pay for my stories. If LeadershipTraq has further needs, I’ll be available. And, by God’s amazing grace this next week, I start work on a new project—helping Kent Tucker, PhD, figure out the best approach for a book on “red-zone evangelism.” This dynamic evangelistic tool is already being used in 47 states and 13 foreign countries. How this timing coincides with the end of my benefits will never cease to amaze me.

When the unthinkable happened with my job, I’m glad I jumped into the chaos unafraid. The adventure has been worth pure gold. And, the realization that Someone far bigger than me is in control has kept me from getting so depressed, that I couldn’t get back up again. It hasn’t been easy, but nothing worthwhile is. Knowing the Sovereign Creator has plans and purposes for me has kept me engaged in a way that will quite likely continue providing enough for me to live on. The adventure continues, and I can hardly wait to see what happens next.

*If you’d like to check out Transform LA, see http://transformla.net/  If you’d like additional information or to see the business plan, please don’t hesitate to let me know. Many well-known influencers are getting involved with this multi-ethnic, multi-generational organization in hopes of seeing greater Los Angeles transformed. I plan to continue volunteering. Who knows maybe I'll become indispensable.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

True Love

The year I lived on campus at Whittier College involved many memorable events. What stands out most though isn’t being a songleader and all the football games where we performed or attending Playboy’s #2 ranked all-time college bash, or even the night a fire destroyed Founder's Hall. Perhaps the thing that sticks in my mind most was the tragic quest of a young woman trying to find the right guy. She started with one boy, but ended up having sex with one after another. Many in the freshman class used her and turned her into a laughingstock.

Too often single people think “if only I can find the right guy or the right girl, my life will be complete. I used to think that way. In college I discovered a poem that expressed my desires for that special someone. 

The Love Poem by Roy Croft
I love you,
Not only for what you are,
But for what I am
When I am with you.

I love you,
Not only for what
You have made of yourself,
But for what
You are making of me.

I love you
For the part of me
That you bring out;
I love you
For putting your hand
Into my heaped-up heart
And passing over
All the foolish, weak things
That you can’t help
Dimly seeing there,
And for drawing out
Into the light
All the beautiful belongings
That no one else had looked
Quite far enough to find.

I love you because you
Are helping me to make
Of the lumber of my life
Not a tavern
But a temple;
Out of the works
Of my every day
Not a reproach
But a song.

I love you
Because you have done
More than any creed
Could have done
To make me good
And more than any fate
Could have done
To make me happy.
You have done it
Without a touch,
Without a word,
Without a sign.
You have done it
By being yourself.

One of my heroes, Elisabeth Elliot found that deep committed love with her first husband. But only 2 years and 3 months after they married, Jim was murdered by the very people he was trying to help. Elisabeth was only 29 years old with a new baby. Words she penned before being married helped her cope during that devastating time.

“Lord, I do once more acknowledge, with all my heart, that I am Thine. No claim have I upon this life, past, present, or future. I am all, all Thine own. Thou hast said, 'Fear not; for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by name; thou art mine. . . I will be with thee. . . I am the Lord thy God. . .  I have loved thee. . . I am with thee' (Isaiah 43:1-5). Therefore, O dear Lord and Master, Redeemer, Lover, Friend, Beloved, do Thou work out Thine entire will in my life henceforth at any cost, in the time that is left to me on this earth.”

Elisabeth’s husband was gone, yet she knew that the Lord was using the lumber of her life to build not a tavern, but a temple. And in that process, she found peace.

“I do not say that I did not grieve. I did—most sorely. But peace of the sort the world cannot give comes, not by the removal of suffering, but in another way—through acceptance. I was learning that the same Lord, . . .the Lord who had given me singleness and marriage as gifts of His love, had now given me this one. Would I receive it from His hand? Would I thank Him for it?

 How can we accept the unthinkable, the loss that breaks our heart? More on that next time.