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

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

During the Darkest Night

“It’s better, now, isn’t it Patti? Wasn’t the divorce for the best?” a well-meaning relative asked one night when she came into Staples. 

The questions seemed reasonable. But with a second divorce, after 18 years of trying everything possible to hold my marriage together, I knew better. Media may portray divorce as a simple solution. So may those eager to “get on with life” and start dating. But unless an individual deals with the problems, more than likely they are doomed to repeat the mistakes. Divorce is awful—for the kids and the parents. In my opinion, those who pretend it’s not are in denial.

My response reflected the hard lessons, I’d learned. “No. I’ll have to live with the consequences of this for the rest of my life. My children will never have the role models, I so badly wanted for them. With every event they’ll have to decide who to invite. And, financially, I’ve been devastated. That’s why I’m working a second job here in the copy center. It’s not what I want, but I have no choice.”

Difficult as my marriage was, it took two years to process the pain of that divorce and begin to come out the other side. A wise friend said something one day that helped. “Different doesn’t have to be bad, it’s just different.” One day while sitting on a beach that truth began to sink in, and I finally started to live it.

Viktor Frankl adds even more profound insight into suffering circumstances beyond our control. There’s nothing to be happy about in a concentration camp. Or, is there? In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl explains a concept that can bring a ray of sunshine into the darkest gloom. He was on a work detail when images of his wife transported him above his circumstance:

“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a moment, in the contemplation of his beloved [emphasis mine]. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way—an honorable way—in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment.”

Yet, what if it's the “beloved," who commits horrendous betrayal creating the very pain and suffering that’s so devastating? Even with the best intentions, people fail one another all the time.  Still, I believe Frankl was onto something: “the salvation of man is through love and in love.” When the beloved is One who is fully human so He can relate to every circumstance we suffer and fully Divine so He can be not just a momentary vision, but a constant companion, it changes everything including one’s attitude.

In the next post, we’ll consider "how." Two writing deadlines may make my posts the next week a bit sporadic. To automatically receive the next update, you can go to the bottom of the blog and click on "Subscribe to posts."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Missing in Action

My dad flew risky missions for Air America during the Viet Nam war. A few days after Christmas 1971, three planes left the airfield in Vientienne, Laos—my dad’s was in the middle. When they arrived at their destination, the first plane landed, then the third. My dad’s plane never showed up. 

Search teams scoured the flight path, but days and weeks turned into months and years. They never found him. One comfort was that my dad lived a full life doing what he loved.*.

For me it was easier to accept the idea that he died instantly in a plane crash..I couldn't bear the thought that he might have been captured by the enemy and suffered at their hands. Sometimes life takes twists and turns, we'd never choose.

Mine has. Sometimes I’ve felt captured by circumstances not of my own choosing forced on me by enemies--people who, whether intentional or not, caused me tremendous pain.. Losing my job, lack of income, feelings of betrayal by people I trusted, divorce--each of these situations had the potential (and still does) to imprison me in bitterness and anger or a “why me” mentality. But a man in a concentration camp during the Holocaust taught me that I have the freedom to choose my own attitude.

Viktor Frankl, a brilliant psychiatrist, wrote Man’s Search for Meaning after suffering years of unspeakable horror in Auschwitz and Dachau. He said “that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate” (p. 86 & 87).

When someone wrongs me, no matter how bad it hurts or what rotten circumstances it initiates, like Frankl, I have choices to make. Determination not to give anyone or anything the power to turn me into a person I don't want to be helps me think about my attitude and make choices that feel terrific.  More on that tomorrow.

*The photo was taken years earlier. If I remember right my dad was 51 when he disappeared.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chocolate Kisses

With the Senior Prom rapidly approaching,  Amy Keith watched as one by one her girlfriends began receiving the special invitations of creative admirers. Amy wanted that, too, and believed if she waited it would happen. 

As the day crept closer, Amy’s friends began trying to convince her to take the initiative to ask the guy. But she stubbornly refused. Not wanting to miss out on the best possible scenario, Amy didn't want to take control of the situation. Instead, she tried to be patient.

Many of her friends started getting their dresses. Still, Amy waited.

One day, after coming home from work, Amy got out of her car and started walking toward the  front door. She began to notice glints of silver all over the grass. When Amy stopped and stooped down for a closer look, a smile spread across her face. Strewn all across the lawn were dozens, maybe hundreds, of chocolate kisses. At the front door, Amy discovered a sign that read: “Now that I’ve kissed the ground you walk on, will you go to Prom with me?" In her bedroom, she found a gorgeous bouquet of roses. 

Though it’s been more than a decade since I first heard Amy tell that story, the moral lingers still. No matter what age we are, we stand to lose a marvelous sense of delight and wonder when we rush ahead and take matters into our own hands.

Hannah Whitall Smith’s book: The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life explains a spiritual component. She wrote:
“For I am very sure that the wide divorce made between things spiritual and things temporal . . . has done more than almost anything else to hinder a realized interior union with God. It has put all religion so outside the pale of common life as to make it an almost unattainable thing to the ordinary mass of mankind. Moreover, it has introduced an unnatural constraint and stiltedness into the experience of Christians that seems to shut them out from much of the free, happy, childlike ease that belongs of right to the children of God" (p. 227).

What could be of a more fleeting nature than prom? Unnatural constraints and stiltedness might even consider this event frivolous, unnecessary—wrong. Yet, what could produce more childish delight than chocolate kisses scattered to make a statement like “you’re special.” The spiritual intertwines with the temporal producing free, happy, childlike ease.  Accomplished under the authority of the Creator, waiting can turn into wonder.

Waiting for something good is one thing, but sometimes life doesn't turn out the way we hoped. How could anticipating the will of God “shed sunshine on the gloomiest paths” (as mentioned in yesterday’s post)? That’s the topic for Monday.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Let’s Make a Deal!


 “Do you want to go for the car or trade for what’s behind the curtain,” Monty Hall asked, after we nervously priced some grocery items. Though my husband worked for a beer distributor, we only had to be off a little and we’d lose everything. After a whispered conference, I shouted, “We'll take the curtain.” 


A huge photograph of the beach revealed an all-expense paid trip to HI. Tim was ecstatic, but all I could envision was the money we’d have to spend once we got there. So when Monty came back and asked if we wanted to go for the big deal of the day—I was ready. Deep inside I knew it was behind door #2 and we need to take the risk. Tim wasn’t quite so sure. “Quick, ask God what to do!!” When Monty pressed for an answer, my husband said, “Let’s go for it.”


Sure enough, we won the big deal of the day. Yet, when the curtain opened, I could hardly believe my eyes. Not one thing we needed, and we needed everything. As the mother of two young boys—aged 2 and 10—I fought back tears as Jay Stewart described our prize: “Direct from a Beverly Hills showroom, a satin-finished white couch, ultra-modern chairs, brass-and-glass tables and the ugliest modern-looking television ever invented.” Oh, he didn’t really say that, but that’s what I saw. Though the designer furniture was worth over $11,000.00, all I could think of was that we’d owe taxes on it.


Part of my frustration stemmed from an even bigger risk we'd taken when I quit a good job a few months earlier to stay home with our sons. For months I’d asked for wisdom and finally received a clear indicator that this was the right direction for my family. But sometimes the results of our conversations with God, don’t look the way we think we should. By the time we went to Let’s Make a Deal, financially we were running on empty. Now, I couldn’t believe we'd won such a useless prize.

Some people might think it strange to believe God would care about the details of our lives. But from silly game shows to life-changing decisions, each time I’ve deliberately asked for answers, He’s responded in ways that built my confidence to trust Him more. Hannah Whitall Smith—a woman who lived from 1832 to 1911--explains this concept in her classic work: The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life.

“The will of our God is better and sweeter than health or friends or money or fame or ease or prosperity. It gilds the darkest hours with a divine halo and sheds brightest sunshine on the gloomiest paths. He who has made God’s will his kingdom always reigns, and nothing can go wrong with him. Surely, then, it is nothing but a glorious privilege that is opening before you when I tell you that the first step you must take in order to enter into the life hidden with Christ in God is that of entire consecration. I cannot have you look at it as a hard and stern demand. You must do it gladly, thankfully, enthusiastically. You must go in on what I call the privilege side of consecration; and I can assure you, from a blessed experience, that you will find it the happiest place you have ever entered yet.”

There's a direct correlation between remembering that my life has been set apart for God and being happy. Even when that furniture sat piled in our tiny family room with the doors closed for over a year, I found contentment when I contemplated His purposes. Finally, just before tax-time, we sold everything and cleared about $2,000. The money was enough to buy my first computer. That purchase took my tiny stay-at-home business to the next level—something no trip could have ever done--something we probably wouldn’t have realized if we hadn’t waited so long trying to figure out what God had in mind.

To devote my circumstances to God’s purposes and be willing to “wait on Him,” makes jumping into life’s adventures take on meaning and purpose. And, discovering what they are fills my heart with joy. Tomorrow, maybe another fun story about the benefits of waiting. Oh, by the way—we even had enough money left over from the sale of that furniture to buy a new television--one that suited our tastes far better.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Scared almost to death

Thrill rides scare me more than almost anything. Well, they would if I didn’t stay as far away from them as possible. One trip to Magic Mountain, years ago, convinced me never to go back. Even watching this video of Tatsu makes my heart pump way too fast.

Even though I’m not an adrenalin junkie, the thing that scared me most about living according to a biblical worldview was that it would make life boring.

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Over a decade ago, while sitting on the beach, I told my now ex-husband that I might be the world’s greatest chicken. He looked at me in utter amazement. “You are one of the greatest risk takers I know.” Until that moment, I’d never have thought it. But his comment made me aware that I do take risks—big ones.

That change probably began when I first sang the words:
“Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me
Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me
Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me”

Something changed in me the day I acknowledged Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But it took several years before I began to understand the meaning of the words to that song.

In his book, Knowing God, historical and systematic theologian J. I. Packer, said that “the average Christian is in a complete fog as to what the Holy Spirit does. . . . most, perhaps do not think of the Holy Spirit at all, and have no positive ideas of any sort about what He does.

Packer described how God’s Word and God’s Spirit are parallel figures. “God’s Word [or living Voice, Jesus] is His almighty speech; God’s Spirit is His almighty breath. Both phrases convey the thought of His power in action. The speech and the breath of God appear together in the record of creation. ‘The Spirit (breath) of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said . . . and there was . . .’ (Genesis 1:2f.) ‘By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath (Spirit) of His mouth.’” 

Packer goes on to say that in Bible’s book of John, the divine Word is spoken of as “a person. Our Lord now gives parallel teaching, to the effect that the divine Spirit is also a person. And He confirms His witness to the deity of this personal Spirit by calling him the holy Spirit as later He was to speak of the holy  Father (17:11).”

All three persons—one God—one holy Creator.

In the Bible, the prophet Isaiah describes the Holy Spirit as the:
·         spirit of wisdom and understanding
·         spirit of counsel and strength
·         spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:2)

Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as the:
·          Helper, who will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you
·         One who convicts the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment
·         Spirit of Truth who will guide you into all the truth (John 14-17)

When logic isn’t enough and I need strength, wisdom, knowledge, and power of action far beyond my own capabilities, the work of the Holy Spirit helps me take the necessary risks to keep moving forward despite life's chaotic circumstances.

Tomorrow’s post will show some of the ways that relationship began turning my life into more than any thrill ride could ever offer.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Who’s the Boss?

Lost income. Lost relationships. Loss of position, professional respect, travel, and intriguing work —what was I going to do?

When I was fired, the answer to that question was the same as it had been every day for 8-1/2 years, trust my real employer.

True confession—being hired to work with PhD scientists terrified me. In school, I sometimes struggled with my classes. I even failed astronomy, my first year in college. My professor was so boring, I frequently skipped class and headed for the beach. Never did I imagine that one day I’d be editing books, magazine articles and booklets for NASA-level astronomers. However, when I voiced this concern during the interview process to the scientist who hired me (who still consults with JPL), he convinced me that my lack of scientific awareness might be an asset.

Still that first week on the job, I lay awake at night wondering whether I could handle my editing assignments. But about the third day, an epiphany came to me while I was driving to work. On the transition road between the 10 freeway and the 57, the thought came to mind that the Creator was the real authority over me—that He had purposes for my employment and would still be in control even if I couldn’t do the job and got fired. 

This conclusion came, at least partially, as the result of a class in logic, I’d taken years earlier at Cal State University, Fullerton. As a young single mom in my twenties, I returned to school and forced myself to become fully focused. That helped me begin acing some of my classes. My best performance ever was in Logic. I loved its profound beauty so much that fellow students complained about my setting the bar too high. As a result, the professor established the curve without factoring in my scores.

It's hard for me to believe some people find logic as boring as I once did astronomy. Yet a few simple points can be extremely useful in living according to a workable view of the world. When I edited Kenneth Samples book A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test, his chapter on logic reminded me of some profound truths that help me conquer my fears and make good decisions. The following information is from his book (p. 42-44).

“The study of logic considers three laws of thought as bedrock principles:”
·         The Law of Noncontradiction states A cannot = A and non-A at the same time and in the same way.
“Either Jesus is God Incarnate (historic Christianity) or He is not (Judaism, Islam).”
·         The Law of Excluded Middle states “A” is either “A” or “non-A”
This law “shows that truth can be found in only one statement or the other. The law of noncontradiction can be thought of as indicating that ‘not both’ are true, whereas the law of excluded middle subtly reveals that ‘either one or the other’ must be true (no middle ground is possible). Either Jesus Christ is God Incarnate, or he is not God Incarnate; one of those two statements must be true (and the other one false.) The claim cannot be made that there is ‘some truth’ in both statements.”
·         The Law of Identity states that “A” is “A”
“A thing (person, event, judgment) is what it is. A true statement is true.”

Samples goes on to say that these laws, without exception, "apply to all matters of thought and hold true for any and all worldviews."
According to these “laws,” I either believe Jesus is God Incarnate or He is not. I either believe His Word and submit to His authority as God or I do not. 

Trusting the Bible's God, as my ultimate authority, helped me conquer my fears about working with scientists and take the risks I needed to take to do a good job. Ongoing validation from my employer and others proved the astronomer who hired me correct. Not having a scientific background helped me ask authors valuable questions, the answers to which clarified our publications making them more readable and broadening our audience. Several publishers confirmed their appreciation of my ability. None of that could have happened if I hadn’t trusted the laws of logic--plus, the work of the Holy Spirit.

So, who is the Holy Spirit? And, how does He help me conquer my fears? That’s tomorrow’s topic.

Friday, August 19, 2011

On the Bridge

Of the all the places on Earth where I feel most alive and free, one is on the bridge of a cruise ship. I’ll never forget the first time, I experienced the privilege of being there. It was many years ago on the first of several two-week Caribbean cruises. Ships were different back then—with an elegance far more reminiscent of the Titanic’s formality, than today’s Carnival party. 

As we unhooked a chain and let ourselves into a restricted area, off-limits to passengers, my mom and I chatted nervously about being caught. We had no more than turned around after rehooking it, intending to make our way toward the bridge, when the first officer mysteriously appeared. He glared at us.

 “Stop! You must not come here,” he said sharply with a strong Norwegian accent.

 “But Chief Officer Sr. Svein Pettersen invited us,” I replied.

A smile spread across the navigator’s face as he kindly said, “Oh sorry. Of course, you may come in.” About that time, Svein appeared in the doorway with a grin on his face. “Welcome, welcome. I’m glad you came,” he said as he waved us inside. 

That began my enchantment with being on the bridge--seeing our course charted, watching as orders were given and followed, and staring out the huge glass windows at the immense body of water before us. By the next time we sailed with him, Svein had been promoted to Captain and once again invited us to the bridge, where he reigned supreme. Even in the dining room, the Master's sovereignty on board ship was undisputable.

In 1995, after an absence of many years, we sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Monarch of the Seas where Svein just happened to be the Captain. Before the formal Captain’s Dinner, he invited his table guests out on the flying bridge to watch us sail from St. Marteen. He especially wanted to show us how this massive 73,937-gross tonnage, 880-foot-long ship could maneuver sideways--parallel to the dock—as we departed. 

Once underway, I went inside and stood in front of the glass windows looking out over the ocean. That unobstructed view, as far as the eye could see, was every bit as magnificent as I remembered. My relationship with Svein gave me privileges on board ship that few ever experience. Even the mention of his name gave me access to an area hidden to most individuals. 

The name of Jesus opens up privileges in the spiritual realm that otherwise can’t be accessed. From the Bible’s book of Joel (2:32), to Acts (2:21), to Romans (10:13) the Word of God teaches that whoever calls on the name of Jesus “will be saved.” 

Some people may not be convinced we need saving. Consider this: The underlying problem is our own self-deception. Recognizing appropriate authority keeps us out of trouble. When we think we (or some other human-conceived form of god) are in control of our own destiny—we essentially call the Creator a liar and usurp His authority. That’s the sin of pride—the root of selfishness and the sin from which most (if not all) others stem. 

So, the most important thing in calling on the name of Jesus is to admit His supreme authority and to be honest with ourselves about the need to surrender our will to His. When we don’t, we deceive ourselves and block our relationship with the Fountainhead of peace. 

The rules of logic support this truth. Monday’s post shows how.