Facing Obstacles

How do you see the obstacles in your life?

  • As hindrances to reaching a goal?
  • As stepping stones to greater learning and depth?
  • As turning points in our lives that steer us in a new direction?

When have you last faced a good-sized obstacle?

  • A sudden breakup of a relationship you thought would last.
  • An illness that derails your ability to continue building your career.
  • A demanding boss who gives you responsibility without authority, leading to burnout.
  • The death of a child, or spouse, after which you have to recreate yourself, your purpose, who you are.

My brother, newly widowed, faces one of these obstacles right now after loving his wife for 55 years. Like many of us, I’ve faced obstacles on several occasions, for example–

  • when widowed,
  • when feeling bound in a legalistic ministry, and
  • when laid off.

And yet, each of these has directed me in a way that resulted in good in the end. When Jerry died, I knew God still had a purpose and a plan for me. I began to ask what was next. I grieved deeply, but looked for purpose. I began to write articles and blogs about grief and recovery.

God gave me two precious younger women to invest in. I got a dog, Kelly, who brought me delight and laughter! And, after a time, both the dog and I fell in love with my current husband, Don, through a grief recovery group.

Becoming free of a legalistic ministry was a growth process. Learning that “no” can be a good word is still a work in progress. But after I left that ministry, I felt a new freedom to be who God called me to be rather than who someone else expected me to be.

And being laid off led me to a new position with greater responsibility…and with significant medical coverage when my late husband became ill.

Actor Ashton Kuchner recently said he is “lucky to be alive” after he dealt with a rare autoimmune disorder two years ago that left him unable to hear, see or walk.

His attitude tells us a great deal.

“The minute you start seeing your obstacles as things that are made for you, to give you what you need, then life starts to get fun, right? You start surfing on top of your problems instead of living underneath them,” he said.

So how do we deal with obstacles life throws our way?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

These words are from Solomon, considered to be the wisest man who ever lived.

He doesn’t say our paths are straight. He says that as we trust in God, He will make our paths straight–past the accidents and incidents of life, the round trips we sometimes take. Why? Because our God is trustworthy. He will not fail us. When God commanded the Israelites to take possession of the Promised Land, Moses said:

So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.

Deuteronomy 31:6 NLT

Don’t lean on your own understanding.

I recently texted a group of friends about my sister-in-law’s passing. I was hurt when one didn’t respond. So I asked her about it. She was going through some difficult challenges herself at the time. She told me she immediately began to pray for us, but didn’t have the energy to text back. It’s so easy to misunder-stand others, their intent, what they are going through at any particular time. Our understanding can be very flawed, as mine was.

Submit to him in all your ways. I love to be in control. Do you? And yet, submitting to God means letting go, trusting that He knows better than I what is best for me. When I was in college, I lived across the street from a senior housing area.

As I walked through the area one night, I felt a tug to knock on a specific door.

“That doesn’t make sense, Lord. It’s already eight o’clock and they might be in bed. I don’t know these people.”

The tug got stronger.

I knocked on the door and was greeted by a lovely, elderly couple who welcomed me into their home several times over the year. We were able to talk about Jesus and about life, and the new friendship became meaningful to all of us.

I could have ignored that tug, “leaned on my own understanding.” I’m glad I didn’t!

How have you seen obstacles turned into opportunities?

Where does the Lack of Absolute Truth Leave Us?

four assorted perfume glass bottles
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I went into the store to make an exchange yesterday. As I stood at the counter, the manager picked up the phone. “This is Store XXX; two people just came in and ran out with about $500 of perfumes.” She described the male and female, who she said were only in the store about a minute. They knew exactly what they wanted, grabbed it and ran.

They didn’t live by absolute truth.

Teen friends Elizabeth and Jennifer took a shortcut home after a party. It was 11:30 pm on a humid June night in Houston, Texas. They called their parents to tell them they were on their way. But the seventeen and fourteen-year-old girls never got home.

In a wooded area, they stumbled onto a gang initiation night. The gang had just started to break up when they saw the girls.

“Let’s get ’em!”

anonymous stylish woman strolling in green forest
Photo by jasmin chew on Pexels.com

Elizabeth and Jennifer’s naked bodies were found four days later. After repeated rapes and strangulation, which didn’t kill the girls quickly enough, each neck was stepped on to complete the murders.

Six gang members, all participants, were arrested. They ranged in age from fourteen to eighteen.

The day before the killings, one of the gang members had appeared on a local TV show, where he hoisted a beer and boasted “Human…life…means…nothing.”

Relative, rather than Absolute, Truth

These cases are not isolated. University administrators misuse funds or engage in inappropriate intimate relationships with students. Our news shouts sordid stories about politicians, professional athletes, business leaders, and clergy who are involved in adultery, theft, drugs, or domestic violence. We read in “Nextdoor” about catalytic converters, packages, and cars being stolen…sometimes in midday! School and mall shootings have become more frequent, leaving us to wonder what has happened to our country.

What is Truth?

When I grew up, there seemed to be a common understanding of right and wrong. Courtesy, kindness, helpfulness, honesty and loyalty were right. Lying, cheating, stealing, and unfaithfulness were wrong. Of course, since the beginning of time, there have always been those outside the norm who chose evil rather than good.

Don and I are reading CULTURE SHOCK, by Chip Ingram. He explains that absolute truth used to be something outside ourselves, guiding our actions. We didn’t always live up to the standard, but the idea of absolute truth impacted our lives and behaviors, and we knew whether they were good or bad.

However, over the years many seem to have absorbed the mantra that “whatever works for me” is truth.

Ingram traces the changes in our belief systems throughout history, from the Middle, or Dark Ages to the Renaissance, where many intellectual thinkers returned to both classic Greek literature and historic Christianity. That was followed by the Reformation, where Martin Luther studied the scriptures for himself and learned that many of the Church’s teachings were in conflict with the Bible.

The Enlightenment, or Age of Reason, followed. It brought another intellectual shift toward reason, eventually setting Biblical truth against man’s reason.

In the late 1700s, the Industrial Revolution produced some of the greatest inventions in the history of the world. Now man felt he had things under control and didn’t need God.

Then Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein introduced the ideas of pragmatism and relativity, although Einstein never claimed or taught a relative moral system.

Do you recall conversations about Situational Ethics, as I do?

I recall when the eight-year-old daughter of good friends came home with an assignment. “There are seven of you in a lifeboat. You know the boat cannot sustain all seven. Who would you choose to push out of the boat? The 85-year old who’s lived a full life? The 30-year old who was known to have stolen from other passengers? The single woman who has never married and thus has no offspring to worry about?” Questions like these helped move us toward a system based on relative moral rules, rather than moral truth.

Jim and Linda fought back, telling the teacher this was an inappropriate question and their daughter would not complete the assignment. How I respected them for standing up to this moral relativity.

Existentialism heralded the call to “do your own thing,” a blatant rejection of absolute truth. “If it feels good, do it!” became the mantra of many.

Today it seems many are pushing the envelope with multiple sexual partners, unfaithulness, multiple marriages, excessive alcohol and drug use, and white-collar and other theft. And then parents get upset when their children push the envelope just a bit further.

So where do we find truth today?

  • In the “It’s all good” mentality? (It’s NOT all good.)
  • “If that works for you, that’s great, but I’m not into it.”
  • “The Bible–that’s an antiquated book that has no relevance for me.”

Many, including myself, find the Bible to be very relevant. The issues with which we deal today aren’t very different from what the Israelites and early Christians faced. Immorality, jealousy, factions, class divisions, persecution, lying, and property seizures.

Jesus said there is absolute truth. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6, NLT

From the guidance of the Ten Commandments to a relationship with the living God through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, we learn absolute truth.

The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise
    and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”

So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.  Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.

But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.

I Corinthians 1:14-25, NLT

We are created in God’s image, and He is all wise. He has bestowed reason and great wisdom on some, varying amounts on the rest of us.

He says “Follow me.” When we do, our life may be filled with wisdom that is used for the good of others. Or it may be a difficult, winding path that He promises to walk alongside us.

If we follow the North Star, we will not lose our way. In similar fashion, if we follow Jesus Christ, we have a truth North compass, both through good times and difficult. Instead of saying “this is my truth”, we will say “This is truth.”

What is your view of absolute versus relative truth? I’d love to hear from you, whether or not you agree with me.

post by carolnl | | Closed

What’s your Focus?

Don’t you get discouraged when the headlines scream of war, deaths, accidents, hostility? I know there’s a lot going on that we can be upset about. But we need to also focus on good news.

Healthline.com estimates that 77% of Americans have a social media presence of one sort or another. A new study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology followed 143 students from the University of Pennsylvania who were divided into two groups. One continued their pattern of interacting on social media. The other was reduced to 30 minutes a day, 10 minutes each on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.

The results were clear. The group that reduced their activity on social media had better mental health outcomes.

“What we found overall is that if you use less social media, you are actually less depressed and less lonely, meaning that the decreased social media use is what causes that qualitative shift in your well-being,” said Jordyn Young, a co-author of the paper and a senior at the University of Pennsylvania.

The authors of the study say there isn’t yet enough data to say everyone should cut down on their social media presence; however, the data clearly suggests that extended time on social media can cause increased depression and loneliness.

When we constantly go to our feeds, we tend to compare, to think “if only” and to deal with FOMO–Fear of Missing Out! How does my life compare with the pretty pictures on Facebook or Snapchat? Because, face it, most of us don’t post downers.

We post highlights–vacation shots, the new garden we planted, a cute pet, house upgrades, loving times with family and friends. Sure, those are part of our lives–but they are not the whole. The person who had a lovely vacation may come home to care for a loved one who is disabled. The beautiful home upgrades may come with a cost that pressures the family to cut back in other areas. The loving times with family and friends are precious – but do we talk about the times we disagree, see things differently?

If seen too consistently, watching the news can have a similar effect. One can become depressed about the war in Ukraine and its effect on people we care about, or even simply about a country that has been attacked without provocation.

On April 6, 2022, Healthline stated “A steady stream of disheartening news can alter your perception of the world, causing you to lack motivation and view the world with a sense of cynicism and hopelessness. Negative news has the potential to exacerbate your personal anxieties and the stressful situations occurring in your own life.”

So let me share some GOOD news, the stories we don’t read about often enough.

bbcgossip.com

Jim Harbaugh, head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, was recently interviewed about his pro-life stance by ESPN. Here’s what he said:

The interviewer then asks, “What would you do if a player or a female staff member of the Michigan football team came to you and said, ‘Coach, I respectfully disagree with your stance. Can we discuss it?”

“I’ve told [them] the same thing I tell my kids, boys, the girls, same thing I tell our players, our staff members. I encourage them if they have a pregnancy that wasn’t planned, to go through with it.”

“Let that unborn child be bornand if at that time, you don’t feel like you can care for it, you don’t have the means or the wherewithal, then Sarah and I will take that baby.

ESPN Interview

I am touched by Harbaugh’s commitment. Whatever your position on abortion, this man has committed, not just to a cause, but to raising children if their parents are unable to do so. I know this is cliche, but he’s put his money where his mouth is.

Another story touched me. A young man and his nephew shopped for groceries. The nephew noticed an elderly gentleman who had a hard time reaching items because of his extreme bent frame. It was hard for him to look up. The nephew said, “Can I go help him?” After receiving the ok, he approached the man. “Can I help you find things, sir?” “Thank you kindly, young man. That would be wonderful.” As his uncle shopped for their needs, his nephew ran around the store, picking things up for the elderly gentleman, having a ball.

When he had all he needed, the older man said this was the first time in fourteen years someone had offered to help him! Wouldn’t you be proud of that nephew? I sure would.

And when Don and I flew home from Wichita last Monday, a Hispanic man sat next to me, wearing a mask. I wasn’t sure if he’d want to converse, but introduced ourselves and began to talk with him. We had a most pleasant conversation. Near the end of the flight I was concerned that we might not make our transfer, since our flight had been delayed out of Wichita. My brother, Bob, was seated in the back of the plane.

I called over an air hostess and explained my concern, asking if there was some way Bob could get off the plane before others in order to make our connection. Immediately Jose spoke up. “I have more time than you do. I’ll trade with him.” And he did, so Bob, Don and I were all in a row near the front of the airplane.

Later, as we stood outside a restroom, Jose walked by.

“Will you make your flight?”

“Jose, I had the wrong time zone in my mind and we’re fine. But thank you so very much for your kindness.”

Another of those lovely moments of kindness and graciousness that we don’t hear about often enough.

So this week, let’s focus on ways we can extend kindness, both to those we love and know, and to strangers, whether it’s in the grocery line, with someone wanting to make a lane change, or someone in need of a helping hand to reach what they need on the shelves.

And let’s remember and think on the good things around us, rather than focusing on the negative. The Apostle Paul challenges us to focus on what is good.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 1:8, ESV

How have you found focusing on what is true and good helps you deal with the stresses of your life?

Funerals, Families and Friends

We left San Jose early Wednesday morning. Following a layover in Phoenix, we were supposed to stop in Denver without a plane change and go on to Wichita. Plans changed, and both we and the flight crew changed planes in Denver. Don and I walked from Gate 63 to Gate 25 … a decent hike. But we beat the flight crew.

Arriving in Wichita, we picked up our rental car and drove to my brother Arnold’s home, where we had a bittersweet reunion – sweet because we were together; bitter because we were here for Arn’s wife, Carol’s, memorial service.

I wrote about Carol two weeks ago. When Arn asked what she wanted for her service, she said, “Treat me with respect.” And he did that in spades. The service Saturday was a meaningful celebration of her life. After Arn and Carol traveled to and became involved with friends in Guatemala and then Honduras, Carol traveled there on her own several times to learn the language. She wanted to be able to communicate with the people who had become precious to them, and she and Arnold helped in significant ways over the years, and especially after recent years’ devastating hurricanes. After Carol’s death, dear Honduran friends sent a recording of the family singing “The Lord is my Shepherd” in Spanish. That was one of several very beautiful and meaningful songs of faith and trust at my sister-in-law’s memorial.

Arn and Carol’s daughter, Nicholee, brought some fabric home from Honduras years ago, from which Carol sewed herself a dress. After her mother’s death, Nicholee found the dress in Carol’s closet. It didn’t fit her in either size or style, so Nicholee pulled the whole dress apart, remade it and wore it at the service in honor of her mother.

Jerram and Arn at family dinner following Carol’s service

Their son, Jerram, engaged the audience and spoke of Carol’s impact on his life and on many others. He spoke of her life of service, her pragmatism, and her curiosity and creativity. Both children articulated lessons their mother taught them through her life.

The pastor give a message of hope and resurrection.

We spent time together with family and new and old friends who have served them faithfully–their housecleaner/ friend, who prepared special vegan meals for Nicholee. Tammy, who cut Carol and Arnold’s hair in their home for the past few years. The retired attorney who, with his wife, met Arn and Carol at a concert in Wichita and built a solid friendship over the past twenty or so years. Jenny, Arnold’s former student who was hired into his position at Sterling College after Arnold’s retirement. Gordon and Diane, Judy and her daughter Heidi, and Lila, who have been close friends for many years. Their pastor, Melissa.

Arnold’s siblings Melvyn, Bob, Don and I were present, as were Carol’s sister Judy and her husband Jim, their son James and his Jenny. Arnold’s two children and a spouse; five grandchildren and two boyfriends.

Arnold is greatly loved by his grands

A sense of warmth and love cocooned us throughout the entire weekend as we shared memories, laughter, and loss.

I’m reminded once again of the importance of family, and of presence. We need each other – for prayer, for love, for support and encouragement. I hate to think of my brother being widowed, but he will survive with the love of God, family, and friends who can step in for those of us who live further away.

My hope is in Jesus Christ, who promised that, for those who trust Him, He is preparing a home beyond this life. A home of rest, peace, productivity, worship, joy unspeakable. No more pain. No sorrow. No grief.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Revelation 21:3-4, NIV

So we say goodbye to our dear Carol for now, and look forward to reunion later.

Love Stories

couple elderly man old
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They sat outside Starbucks, a balding man and graying woman. I happened to glance at them just as she leaned across the table to give him a bite of whatever she was enjoying.

“That’s seasoned love,” I thought.

So what is love? The term is used lightly in our culture.

“I love chocolate.”

“I love my new boots.”

“I love this sushi!”

But when we see the real thing, we recognize it as something precious, irreplaceable. The Apostle Paul wrote these well-known words that define the meaning of love.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends.

I Corinthians 13:4-9. ESV

Love is shown in the patience of a spouse or parent when the loved one makes a mistake.

It is shown in the caring, patient support of a spouse with a disability or with Alzheimer’s. Challenges can be many, and the care is sometimes very difficult, but the love resets forgiveness when needed and continues to support, encourage, uplift, and desire the best for the other.

Love is expressed by the spouse who does everything for his or her partner, from feeding, to dressing, to bathing, to brushing teeth, to lying close in bed with the assurance of presence.

Love is when one partner has a crazy, preventable accident and the first question from her spouse is “Oh honey, are you ok?”

Love is my husband starting my car on a cold morning so it will be warm when I get in.

Love is the backrub when one enters the room, “just because.”

Love is forgiveness.

Love may be speaking truth to one who is walking a destructive path … or taking advantage … or crossing righteous boundaries.

Love is giving up your rights because of a preference your partner has. It’s compromise over the small things and respect for the person to whom it’s more important on the big things.

It is enjoying being alone together or with a group of friends; talking to each other or sitting quietly, side by side.

One of my favorite definitions of love is from a young boy, who responded to the question about how you know someone loves you. He said “You know someone loves you when your name is safe in their mouth.” That’s a beautiful description. I have known that kind of love with both my late and current husbands. I knew they would not talk down about me, and that is very precious.

Love desires the best for the loved one. In His love, God desires to have a relationship with us. His love is far above and beyond ours.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:4-9 ESV

What, or who, are some of the examples of love you have seen?

And, if you don’t know God’s personal love for you, you can. I’d love to communicate with you if you’re interested.