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

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.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Scared of the Dark

When I left off last time, I thought I might tell Barry McGuire's story about how surrender to God's will instead of our own can be our best weapon, but because I haven't seen it in print, I'm not sure that's a good idea. So, instead, I'm going in a little different direction.

When I was a single mom, in my early twenties, I practically had the police department on speed dial. At night, I often lay in bed listening to strange noises. My mind would start playing tricks on me, convincing me an intruder was trying to break in or might even be in the house. So, I’d call the police and they'd come take a look. The officers were always so nice, but once they left, the terror would begin building all over again. 

Leaving a light on helped, but only a little. Many nights, my fears got the better of me.

Fast forward to being completely alone when my 18-year marriage came to an end. Hating the idea of those dark nights, I asked my friends to pray that I’d be able to sleep. But then I heard God’s Living Voice speak through Psalm 139:23. “Even the dark is as light to God. Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” 

Now, every night it's pitch black when I snuggle under the covers and talk to Jesus. He’s closer than my phone and according to the Bible can send a legion of angels to protect me any time I ask. As a result, I haven’t called the police once in over a decade. 

Not even one dark night when screeching metal-upon-metal noises woke me with a jolt. At first I thought it was an earthquake. Then I heard voices coming from the dining room—men laughing, talking loud as though they didn’t care who heard. Knowing the police couldn’t come fast enough, I huddled under the covers trembling and praying—until I fell back to sleep. 

The next morning, I awoke surprised to be alive. Checking, I found the dining room undisturbed. But when I stepped onto my front porch, I found car parts strewn across the lawn. Tire tracks raced up the curb and across the grass, swerving a mere inch from the dining room, back across the sidewalk into the street. The voices must have been the drunken bravado of those fools as they realized how close they’d come to crashing into my house.

My fears of the unknown have been quite similar to those fears of the dark. And, to be honest, I’ve struggled with them a bit these past two weeks. The job offer that involved travel to SE Asia finally materialized. At first I dealt with finding the courage I needed to take the job. 

Once I surrendered to that idea, I began examining the position with more objectivity—more light. That’s when the idea of turning it down became even scarier. I almost took it for the money and the title, Director of Communications. At first glance the responsibilities seemed a perfect fit, as well as a good challenge. But with increasing visibility, I realized they lacked many of the opportunities I love the most. Plus, it involved duties I can do, but would rather not. The reality is--I love America. I'm passionate about America. I'm not passionate about SE Asia and don't want to focus on it for the remainder of my career, the way the owner of the company rightfully expected me to.

The reality is, the more I rest in my Savior's arms, the more dependent upon Him that I am--the more courage I have to face the future in the brilliant light of reality. Perhaps that explains Barry McGuire's statement that "surrender is the best weapon we have.” With that attitude we can fight against the self-absorption that keeps us locked inside our fears.

Tomorrow, barring unforeseen circumstances, I'll explore more about not reacting to our circumstances but the value of being proactive.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Facing My Fears Never Stops

Over the past few months, I've been struggling once again with one of my biggest fears. There is a job possibility that involves something I thought I’d never do—travel to Southeast Asia especially VietNam, Laos, and Cambodia.

My dad disappeared over there during the Viet Nam War while working for Air America, a CIA proprietary essential for covert operations such as search and rescue and photo reconnaissance.  He told me before leaving the States that if he was captured by the enemy, he’d be shot as a spy. 

A couple of days ago one of my sisters gave me documents that had previously been kept confidential by the Department of Defense. These reports disclose more details than we’ve ever seen before. One of the summaries alleges that the crewmembers on my dad’s plane survived the crash, but were killed by the Pathet Lao. Another report also claims my dad was executed.

Vivid memories of the cruelty experienced by POWs haunt me whenever I think of that area. The 1966 North Vietnam television interview with Jeremiah Denton, Jr.when he blinked out the word “torture” in Morse code remains clear in my mind. Seeing that may have been triggered my fear of being in SE Asia, because even though my dad offered me a free trip to come visit him before he disappeared, I declined.

So why would I consider working in a situation that could take me someplace I really don’t want to go?  It's because there’s something more important than my comfort level, something worth the risk.

Corrie Ten Boom took a far greater risk when her family hid Jews during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Her family committed to living their lives in service to their fellow man. Corrie was a ring leader in the Dutch underground. When caught by the Nazis, her family was shipped off to several different concentration camps. Corrie lost her father, her brother, her nephew and eventually her beloved sister, Betsie. Yet Corrie realized her life was a gift from God and she needed to share the lessons she learned in the infamous Ravensbruck, that: “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still," and "God will give us the love to be able to forgive our enemies."  Corrie was 53 years old when she began a world-wide ministry that took her into more than 60 countries! Everywhere she went she testified to God’s love and encouraged everyone she met with the message that "Jesus is Victor."

Though I'm a super chicken who read her book The Hiding Place, several decades ago, its message resonates today. Life wasn’t meant to be lived according to our own pleasure. The Creator has plans and purposes for each of us. Perhaps mine will include helping an organization dedicated to the people in SE Asia, who need to know their Creator. Who also need help to get out of the kind of poverty that can lead to human trafficking. My life is a gift from the Creator. Doing whatever work He has planned for me should be a privilege and an honor. And, my willingness to do it satisfies my soul even when genuine suffering is involved. 

Barry McGuire, the rock singer who sang "Eve of Destruction" thinks this type of surrender is one of the greatest "weapons" we have. That story, tomorrow.