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

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.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Don’t Waste Your Suffering

The doctor’s words chilled me to the bone. “We’d better do a biopsy.” I probably wouldn’t have been so scared, but the previous week, I’d been to a different doctor for a completely different body part. He, too, suggested further tests.

With two areas suspect, I started trying to mentally prepare myself for the worst.  I might have cancer and if I did, it was probably serious. During the weeks of uncertainty (more than a decade ago), I went through a process that looked something like this:
  1. What’s the worst that can happen?, I ask myself.  In this case, I could die. Other answers may be even more scary —my marriage could end. I could lose my job or maybe my home. For me, loss of relationships is the worst and perhaps my greatest fear connected to death. 
  2. Acceptance of the worst-case scenario makes me cry and grieve, but in the midst of the pain I begin to look to the Creator and remember that when everything appears out of control, He’s still in control.The faster I do this, the sooner my pain starts to ease.
  3. That helps me remember to ask Him to replace my strength with his own. My focus begins to shift from long-range goals to just getting through the day. At times I’ve had to shorten that outlook to the next hour, or perhaps even the next 15 minutes. Step by step, as I look beyond myself for help, my dependence on God increases and my supposed “self-sufficiency” decreases.
  4. Open to a different view—one far bigger than my own—purposes start to unfold that I never imagined. Sometimes my character is refined. Empathy for others forms. Truth becomes increasingly important and so do my choices. It's my decision how to respond to my circumstances. I can whine and complain and try to hold onto life as I know it, or choose the path of the person I'd rather be. Determination to keep a positive attitude changes everything--my relationships, my sense of well-being, and my awareness of opportunities.
  5. Trust in my Creator develops and so does my confidence as I come through the worst. The One who loves me more than I ever imagined gives me strength to cope that testifies to His power and greatness.
  6. His purposes become greater than my own and that makes me want to tell others about a better view of the world, one based on a biblical foundation. A biblical perspective minimizes pain and cultivates incredible joy.
Perhaps that’s one reason I’m no longer so afraid of dying. Though that cancer scare was a false alarm, whenever and however the time comes for my life in this realm to end, I’ll still spend eternity with Jesus; it will just be different. All pain and suffering will finally come to an end and my joy will be even more intense.

In the meantime, the best I can do is make my suffering count. Usually that effort brings about a far greater good. More on that next week.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Divine Masterpiece

Fuz Rana knew exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up—an explorer. He said he never told anyone though because he was convinced there were no new territories left to discover. But when he started taking college courses in chemistry and biology, he realized the molecular world inside the cell offered a whole new realm to investigate.

As he explored that landscape, Fuz began to recognize the hand of a Divine Artist at work. His book The Cell’s Design shows how chemistry reveals the Creator’s signature style. 

My youngest son BJ recognized that same handiwork as a small child. Still in grade school, one day he looked up at the sky and proclaimed that the clouds were living art. I’ve thought of that comment often over the years, especially this past couple of weeks as I’ve been getting to know a new Facebook friend.

Laurie’s life is a Divine Masterpiece in process. To be appreciated, it helps to study all the subtleties and nuances that are part of the picture. Her colors include the dark shading of prostitution and heroin addiction. A suicide attempt of slit wrists streamed blood red all over Laurie’s portrait. The jagged lines of a broken skull formed when she jumped off an 8-story building convinced it would end her life.

But, a green tree abated her fall. Strung out on methadone, she tried again and broke her back by jumping out of a second-story window.

In a full-body cast, Laurie ended up lying in the dreary pigments of Skid Row. That’s where she heard the Living Voice ask her to turn that scribbled up mess over to Him. His red blood washed hers clean. Carefully placed brush strokes worked in the white light of truth changing her poor choices into purposeful understanding and empathy for others. That set her free erasing her shame and easing her pain.

Still, fear threatens to invade in a new form. The putrid shades of cancer are Laurie's every day reality. Once again needle sticks search for viable veins, but this time, they’re administered by medical technicians trying to help, and Laurie is grateful--even for the radiation treatments that make her so sick she can’t eat or sleep. Yet, in the midst of this mess, Laurie sees the Divine Artist at work. He’s busy adding fresh tints of joy and perseverance, courage and kindness. The dark colors only make those hues more vivid and clear. The Creator paints Laurie’s canvas so others might see His handiwork and recognize hope. 

After an initial struggle with denial, Laurie jumped into cancer's unknown saying, “I would not go back in time and not have cancer because I would most likely not have the relationships I do now. I truly believe that God works ALL things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”

How can we find His purpose? That's a topic for next week.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It's All About You

There’s a well-known saying that makes me a little crazy—“it’s not about you.” Maybe it bothers me because free will means I am the one who makes the operating decisions for my life. If my life is not about me and my choices, then how can I ever hope to find any purpose or meaning? I understand the intent of that question is to get us to think beyond ourselves and that’s important.  In fact, I could easily argue the other side of this coin, but for now I've got a different point to make.

Before I can think about how my life might impact others, first I have to figure out who I am and what I want. I think that’s a biblical principle. Jesus said the second greatest commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22:39 emphasis mine)” How can a person do that if she doesn’t even know who she is?

It's taken me a lot of hard work to figure out who I am. Leadership expert Dr. Mick Ukleja and his co-author Dr. Robert Lorber helped me think through these concepts in their book  Who Are You? What Do You Want?. It's practical applications deeply impacted me. The authors talk about how “self-leadership consists of the thoughts, behaviors, and strategies that help you exert influence over yourself “ (p. 24).

Sometimes responsibilities influence us to do things we might not consider otherwise. When I went to work at Staples over a decade ago, that job had nothing to do with my career goals. It simply helped me pay the bills and provided medical insurance for me and my son. 

Now, I’m at a different stage in life. And, even though I’ve been out of work almost two years, the unemployment benefits have kept pace with my financial obligations. Maybe that’s why as I asked the Creator for His will instead of my own regarding a good job offer (see yesterday’s post), He showed me that the right decision this time was to turn it down. Without His help to think through who I am and what I want, my fears would most likely have caused me to react to my need for work by taking whatever job became available. 

Quite often my fears make me want the quick fix, the solution most obvious. Present anxiety distorts recent reality and makes me forget or ignore what's most important to me in the long-term. Nor do I have the courage to take risks. I like to play it safe.

It’s my decision to admit that I’m not able to live my best life on my own terms. I am a woman, who needs Someone to save me from my fears, from my own limitations, from my own misperceptions. I make the decision to submit myself to my Creator’s authority. By doing so, I jump into the Fountainhead of peace. By choosing (or leading myself) to surrender to God's will instead of my own, I end up with His power drenching my life.

Less than a day after turning down what seemed to be a good position, I received a Facebook message about a great possibility much more in line with my passions. A few days later I met with the men involved. Now, barring unforeseen circumstances—the same week as my unemployment benefits run out—I’ll start a project I can buy into with my whole heart. And, I'm convinced there will be other projects to follow--stimulating, valuable, and satisfying. Risky? Not really. Because I've chosen to put my trust in Someone far better qualified. I know who I am and it's not God.

More about who He is with the next post. Additional responsibilities make it necessary to  rethink my blogging schedule. Should it be random? Two or three days a week? If you have any input for me regarding how often you'd like to see posts, please leave a comment or send me an email at ptcovert@yahoo.com. I'd sure appreciate it.