A Special Moment at Dallas Love Field Airport

“I think one of the greatest threats to faith in our culture is busyness. It's jumping from one thing to another thing to another thing and never developing the contemplative side, the prayerful side in our lives sufficiently so that we might hear God.” – Lou Nanni, VP University of Notre Dame and frequent guest on the Everyday Faith radio show

Busyness certainly does have a way of ruling our lives.

One place where busyness is pervasive is in an airport.  And more specifically, people always seem to be in a rush in airport restrooms.  It’s the place everyone dashes into right before their plane is ready to board, or right after they deplane and are hurrying to get wherever they need to be.

Why am I talking about airport restrooms?  Because something happened in a Dallas Love Field Airport restroom last weekend that I want to share.

On the way into the men’s restroom, my husband Pete noticed a woman in her 70’s standing behind an empty wheelchair right outside the entrance to the restroom.  She had a concerned look on her face so Pete asked if there was someone in the men’s restroom who may need some help.

Without any hesitation, the woman responded, “Yes, his name is Marvin.  And he most definitely needs help.”

Upon entering the restroom, it was apparent who Marvin was – he was struggling to get to the sink to wash his hands. (As it turned out, he was the father of the woman waiting with the wheelchair outside; he was probably about 90 years old.)  Pete approached the elderly man and said, “Marvin, can I give you some help?”

Like his daughter outside, Marvin answered without hesitation, “Yes sir!” 

It was clear Marvin had trouble walking.  He could only shuffle his feet a couple of inches with each “step”.  So Pete helped Marvin shuffle to the sink to wash his hands. As they slowly moved toward the sink, Pete noticed a Korean War Veteran cap on Marvin’s head so he asked Marvin if he had served in the Korean War.

“Yes sir! Army Ranger.  Eighth Ranger Company.  Lost my eye over there and that’s where my knee got messed up.” 

After talking a bit more about the war, Pete turned Marvin from the sink toward the door to help him slowly shuffle out. Pete knew it would take quite a while to help Marvin out of the restroom.  So Pete turned to the person behind him, a young man who couldn’t have been much more than 20 years old, and said, “You may want to go around us because this is going to take some time.”

And what happened next is what makes this story so special.

The twenty-something young man looked at Pete and Marvin and said, “No sir.  I wouldn’t feel right stepping in front of this man.” So this young man fell in line behind Pete and Marvin, only moving a couple of inches with each step. 

But that’s not all, because the line behind Marvin and Pete began to grow. In fact, by the time Pete got Marvin to his wheelchair waiting outside the restroom door, the line of men behind them grew to about 15 men. These men had noticed Marvin, his cap, and they heard the twenty-something young man say he wouldn’t feel right stepping in front of Marvin, and apparently the rest of them didn’t feel right doing so either.

But the story doesn’t end there, because it took another couple of minutes for Pete to help Marvin get settled in his wheelchair.  And once he did, Pete looked up and saw the men still waiting in line. One by one, starting with that twenty-something young man, each man approached Marvin, shook his hand and thanked him for his service.

And all of that happened in a restroom at Dallas Love Field Airport.

As Lou Nanni and so many spiritual leaders have said, busyness, which has become entrenched in our culture, is a tremendous threat to our faith.  God is all around us, but if we don’t slow down and look for Him, we will miss Him. No doubt Marvin and his daughter felt God’s presence last weekend as each of those 15 men paid tribute to Marvin.  But I have no doubt so did every one of those men. 

Inside Versus Outside

No doubt we have all used the actions of others as a standard for judging ourselves. We begin as children, blurting out the shortcomings of our siblings to garner mom and dad’s favor, and we evolve into more subtle adults, silently gauging others' actions when our own self-worth needs a boost.

But God’s view is not limited to behavior. Instead, He can focus like a laser beam right into our souls. In other words, He knows what we are thinking regardless of what we are saying or doing!

Does that mean we should ensure our outer actions always match our inner motives? Of course not! We are human; our internal thoughts are not always pure and altruistic. For example, just because we feel resentful doesn't mean we should act resentful. It’s often a good idea to act big-hearted and good-natured even when we don’t feel big-hearted and good-natured.

But it’s not wise to assume God is pleased as long as our actions look good. God knows we aren’t perfect, but He wants us to face our internal flaws and work on overcoming them.  He wants to see progress in our souls, and there can be no progress without an honest examination of our inner thoughts, and a subsequent effort to do better.

We all have one or more detrimental tendencies, which could include an inclination to be impatient, quick to anger, defensive, controlling, unforgiving, resentful– you get the idea.  Eliminating these seemingly inherent characteristics is a tall order, but frequent and sincere acknowledgment, even if just to ourselves, will go a long way toward diffusing them.  And diffusion is definitely progress. 

Sportsmanship? Yes. Faith? Absolutely

I imagine most people who followed the Olympics are familiar with the fall that took place during the women’s 5000-meter qualifying race.  U.S. runner Abbey D’Agostino collided with Nikki Hamblin from New Zealand, causing both women to fall.  Abbey instinctively jumped up right away, but instead of taking off running, she turned, saw competitor Nikki Hamblin lying on the track, and helped Nikki to her feet telling Nikki that they both had to finish the race.  As it turned out, Nikki’s injuries were relatively minor while Abbey had a torn ACL.  Yet both women eventually crossed the finish line.

The incident was heralded as a great demonstration of the Olympic Spirit.  And it was. But the incident was also a tremendous demonstration of faith in action on a number of fronts, and one in particular.

An aspect of the story that received relatively little attention was that Abbey D’agostino, after tearing her ACL, managed to run for almost another 2000 meters.  For those who may have difficulty visualizing how long 2000 meters is, consider this visual … with a torn ACL, she ran the length of over 21 football fields!  As one sportswriter put it, she essentially ran 40% of the race on one leg and still set a pace that would win most local 5K races.  She was so badly hurt that when she finally crossed the finish line, they had to bring her a wheelchair so she could get off the track.

When asked how she managed to complete this incredible feat, she said this:

Some people may be a bit cynical about whether Abbey’s ability to finish the race was really due to God’s intervention.  After all, faith offers no definitive proof (otherwise it wouldn’t be faith!)  But the Bible teaches us that if we want God to answer our prayers, we have to truly believe that He can.  We have to sincerely and repeatedly turn the situation over to Him, knowing He hears us and will respond according to His will.

From everything I have heard and read about Abbey D'Agostino, she appears to be a person of deep faith who knows and trusts that God hears her prayers.  Thanks to her faith, I believe we were all privileged to witness God in action on that track in Rio. If we want to witness God in action a little closer to home, we should follow Abbey's lead and try truly trusting God in whatever situation we want or need His help.

Filling Your Joy Tank

Too many people live with a sense of chronic joylessness. Chronic joylessness occurs when our minds are filled with irritation, frustration, worry, fear, lack of purpose and/or a sense that life isn’t fair.

To combat joylessness, we sometimes try to partake in events that we think will create feelings of joy. But it’s hard to chase joy in our lives – often the harder we try, the more elusive joy seems to become.

Does joy really need to be elusive?  Part of the reason it feels so elusive is because we often fail to recognize an important rule about joy, which is:  joy cannot be found, and joy cannot be created. Joy always comes as a by-product of something else. What is the something else that can create the by-product called joy?

Joy is the by-product of acting like God.  We act like God when we are selfless without resentment, when we give without counting the cost, and when we give from our sustenance rather than from our excess. As Ron Rolheiser says, “When we do big-hearted things, we get to feel big-hearted; when we act petty, we get to feel petty.”

Who doesn't want to feel more joy in their lives?  The good news is, we don't need circumstances to unfold in a particular way.  All we need to do is begin to act like God.  Today.  Right now.  There are probably a dozen things we could each do right now, right in this moment to act like God. That is how we keep our joy tank full.


Can One Person Heal a Relationship? Very possibly yes.

Let’s start with this basic understanding: God is all about love, and love happens through relationships.  So the best way we can live our faith is by loving those around us.

In theory, that sounds great.  In reality though, we all have relationships that at times are dominated by feelings of resentment, bitterness, frustration, anger or impatience.  If one of your relationships – perhaps with your spouse, child, parent, boyfriend/girlfriend, coworker – is suffering from this lack of love (and I don’t mean that you don’t love this person, it’s just that the interactions are not exactly loving), can you heal that relationship, even without any effort put forth by the other person?

Possibly yes.

Of course there is no guarantee. But if you make the decision to only bring acts of generosity, kindness, understanding and forgiveness to the relationship, and -- this is key -- expect nothing in return, you may be able to kick-start the relationship out of it’s negative holding pattern.

The key is to commit yourself to this new approach  over an extended period of time with no expectation of reciprocation. If you do this, there is a good chance you can sort of “shock the system” and trigger a new relationship pattern to emerge.

It’s not about conceding your ground, or convincing someone of something.  It’s just about making the decision that every interaction on your part will be made out of love with no return expectations.

If you do this, there is a good chance your actions will pull the relationship to a higher level.  At a minimum, you will pull yourself to a higher level.  That outcome alone is probably well worth the effort. 

Protected by Angels

Like many others, I am a huge fan of NBA Golden State Warrior guard Steph Curry, arguably the biggest superstar in all of sports right now. Curry was unanimously voted league MVP (which has never happened in the history of the NBA), and is recognized by almost everyone as the greatest shooter of all time. He and the Warriors are currently battling the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Championship Series.

About this same time last year, I wrote a post about how Steph Curry uses his huge stage to share with others how important his faith is in both his personal and professional life, and I challenged you to think about whether you are using your stage to do the same.

I hadn’t planned to write another post about Steph Curry this year – at least not until I read something he said after spraining his MCL during the first round of the playoffs.  His response when asked about his injury was printed and reported in virtually every news outlet:

He felt “blessed”, he “had some angels protecting” him, he is “joyful”.

You don’t have to watch Steph Curry for long to realize that no one has more fun than Steph Curry.  No one is more “chill” than Steph Curry.  No one is more passionate about what he does than Steph Curry.  Steph Curry lives vibrantly in a very secular world, yet he talks openly about his faith.

If a sports icon like Steph Curry does not hesitate to share how God is part of his everyday life with the tens of thousands of people who hear or read what he says, why do we sometimes hesitate, even with people in our family and close circle of friends?

Steph Curry is not advocating religious doctrine or morality.  And he is not challenging people or trying to convince them of something.  He is simply sharing personal examples of how his faith plays a role in his everyday life.  

Here is why following Steph Curry’s example is so important:

The everyday places where we converge -- at work, at school, at family gatherings -- are less and less helpful in terms of feeding our faith. We are being told in the name of political correctness that our faith should be private and personal. That means people have to either carry their faith by themselves, or not carry it at all.

It shouldn’t be that way.  Each of us can be a model, albeit an imperfect model, of how to be people of faith in a secular world.

If we do this, guess what will happen? We will become more aware of God in our everyday lives. And at the same time, we will create a groundswell of people who also bring God into their everyday lives. 

Outward Focus, Inward Healing

On Saturday September 19, 2015, 35-year-old conservative commentator Mary Katherine Ham, mother of two-year-old Georgia and eight months pregnant with her second child, received a life-changing phone call.  Her 34-year-old husband, White House staffer Jake Brewer, had been killed while riding his bike for a charity event on the streets of Washington DC.

Most likely you don’t know Mary Katherine personally, and you may not have even heard of her before you began reading this blog post.  Regardless, that type of news kind of takes your breath away, doesn’t it? 

Imagine if this devastating situation struck someone in your family, or a close friend, or someone you work with.   What would you do?  What would you say to her? The sadness and grief would be overwhelming.  The sense of despair would be suffocating.

Yet within days of Jake Brewer’s death, the family and friends of Jake and Mary Katherine were smiling and laughing much more than they were crying. Why? Because Mary Katherine Ham not only gave them permission to smile and laugh, she actually requested that they do so. 

Within a couple days of Jake’s death, even before his funeral, Mary Katherine stood before their family and friends and immediately cut through the anguish with a quip about the wisdom of her deciding to wear mascara, quickly followed by a joke poking fun at hers and Jake’s well-known political ideology differences.  But then she went even further: she made a direct and somewhat unusual request of everyone in the room of how she wanted others to respond to Jake’s death:

Mary Katherine Ham’s request that other’s not feel sadness for her and her children not only helped put everyone at ease in how to respond to her tragedy, but I believe truly helped speed her healing. 

If you are faced with a major challenge or tragedy, many well-meaning friends and family can unintentionally exacerbate your pain by being somber, sad, etc.  Well-meaning people often feel such a demeanor is appropriate, even required, during devastating situations unless you permit them to be otherwise.  Granting that permission through your words and attitude is an act of love and affection toward those who care so deeply about you.  And simultaneously that permission generates an outward focus within yourself, thereby opening the pathways through which God and others can provide peace and healing for you.  

It’s a win-win. You give others permission to smile, laugh and recover, and low-and-behold, your healing is accelerated.

The incredible strength Mary Katherine Ham demonstrated following her husband’s sudden death doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. It can and must be practiced on the small everyday challenges we all face so that this fortitude can be summoned when we face life’s greater difficulties. 

Although I don’t know Mary Katherine Ham personally, I have no doubt her outward focus on others is part of her everyday life.  Her response when asked how she felt about her recent stint as an ABC presidential debate moderator was evidence she employs this approach in other aspects of her life. Mary Katherine expressed that since she knew family and friends at home were incredibly nervous for her, she made a point of looking extremely relaxed to begin her segment in order to put her family and friends at ease.  Think about that … she found herself on a high-stakes stage with millions of television viewers and her first thought was to try to minimize the fear and anxiety of friends and family watching her?!

Mary Katherine Ham gracefully demonstrated that thinking about others during our challenging times accomplishes two feats: It eases the pain and anxiety of those who care about us and it generates peace and strength within us.  This is a habit worth emulating.

Monty Williams: Suffering Without Despair

On Tuesday, February 9, 2016, 44-year-old Ingrid Williams, wife of Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams, was killed in a head-on collision when the driver of the oncoming vehicle crossed over into Ingrid’s lane going twice the legal speed limit. Ingrid died the next day.  She left behind her husband, Monty Williams, and their five children, ages 5 to 17.

The shock waves that followed the announcement of her death reverberated beyond the sports world.  As the news spread, the outpouring of emotion from those who knew Monty and Ingrid gave all of us who didn’t know them a sense that Ingrid and Monty were very special. Monty’s basketball career as both player and coach had brought them into the lives of many people. Despite having five children of their own to raise, Ingrid and Monty clearly felt called to serve others. Not only did they welcome into their family NBA players who needed comfort and counsel, but they also actively supported prison ministries, adults with disabilities, homeless mothers, at-risk children and others, all without any fanfare.

Monty’s 7-minute tribute during Ingrid’s funeral has been widely watched – if you haven’t seen it, it is more than worth your time to do so.

There is no doubt that Monty Williams is suffering, but many people on social media expressed astonishment at how he seemed to be suffering without despair, wondering how that was possible.  I don’t think we have to wonder because I believe Monty gave us the answer as part of his 7-minute tribute:

Think about that. This 44-year-old man, whose wife had just been killed, who now has the sole responsibility for raising five children, and who by all accounts was blessed with a truly exceptional marriage, says, “All of this will work out.”  And you can just sense that he truly believes this.

How can he say that? How can he believe that?

Again, the answer is in Monty’s 7-minute tribute:

Monty Williams is not naïve. He knows how difficult the road ahead will be for he and his children. But he knows with certainty that things will work out because he can look back on his life and see how God worked things out during past difficulties and challenges.

Most of us will thankfully never face the kind of suffering that Monty Williams currently faces, but we all will most definitely suffer.  The question is, will we suffer with or without despair?

Monty Williams is suffering without despair because he chooses to look back on his life and see that “God causes all things to work out.”

Each of us also has personal examples from our lives that are evidence that “God causes all things to work out.”  Take inventory of your examples.  Ponder them. Thank God for them.  Then draw on them when suffering enters your life.  If you do, then just like Monty Williams you will suffer, but you will suffer without despair.

A Lesson Learned from Justice Scalia

Following the sudden and unexpected death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the media found a variety of angles to dissect and explore.  But the storyline I found most fascinating was related to his relationship with fellow Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

By all accounts, Scalia and Ginsberg were “best buddies,” yet they could not have been more diametrically opposed with regard to how they each interpreted the law. Further, it’s not like their differences were private or spoken about in hushed tones. After all, Justice Scalia was known to be blunt and outspoken with those who he believed misinterpreted the law. His candid and sometime brusque opinions were not kept behind closed doors in the private chamber of the Court. Instead he was known to speak his mind directly and publicly during court proceedings as well as in his written opinions, seemingly holding back nothing when he felt other justices were wrong.

Not only were Scalia and Ginsberg close, but many colleagues, media members, politicians, etc., who were more often than not opposed to the opinions of Antonin Scalia, have also expressed extraordinarily fond sentiments for Justice Scalia.

You may be thinking that of course everyone will speak kindly about a person who just passed away, but unfortunately, that is not the climate in our politically and ideologically divided country.  Also, not only have I have sensed respect for Justice Scalia in his passing, but also a palpable heartfelt admiration by those who usually vehemently opposed him.

The obvious question is: Why does someone with a lifetime of strongly expressed opinions elicit such admiration and genuine fondness on the part of his political and ideological adversaries? 

I believe the answer to this question lies in how Justice Scalia related to others.  Sure, by all accounts he has been described as gregarious, funny, a person who loved life and was fun to be around. But these characteristics are not enough for most people to overlook philosophical and ideological differences.  I didn’t know Justice Scalia personally, but I was able to piece together an answer from what I have heard others say about him: 

There are a number of ways Justice Scalia engaged with people who opposed his beliefs:

1.     He respected their intellect.

2.     He gave them the benefit of the doubt that their opinions were well intentioned.

3.     He made an effort to sincerely listen to and discuss their opinions.

These three simple but powerful relationship precepts can create a compelling change across the relationships of the person who employs them.  Think about how practicing these principles at work with people who see situations differently than you could impact your workplace.  Or imagine perfecting these approaches in strained family relationships. 

By no means do these precepts require you to change your opinion or “give in.”  And they may not change the minds of others.  But even if no one’s positions are changed, the end result is that relationships will improve.  As Christians, improving relationships is exactly what we are commanded to do. 

Rest in peace Justice Scalia.  According to the commandment, “Love one another,” yours appears to have been a life well lived.

 

A Better Way

If you are a NBA fan you may be aware that Boston Celtic fans are among the most loyal and intense fans of any sports franchise.  So about six weeks ago, when the 23-0 Golden State Warriors took their record setting unbeaten streak into Boston Garden, there was playoff atmosphere leading up to the tip-off.  For various reasons I won’t elaborate on in this post, many experts and fans alike felt this was the game that could end the Warriors historic unbeaten streak.

I recall watching a pre-game ESPN special where Celtic fans were interviewed about the upcoming matchup.  One of the fans said despite having been a die-hard Celtics fan his entire life, he was actually rooting for the Warriors!  Why? Because he said he had developed such admiration and respect for Warriors superstar Steph Curry.

Some people may think this fan is a sell-out, but as I thought about what he said, I saw a lesson that extends far beyond the sports world. This Celtics fan didn’t switch his allegiance because someone convinced him the Celtics weren’t worthy of his loyalty.  He decided to root for the Warriors that night because someone, namely Steph Curry (a superstar both on and off the court), won the heart and mind of this Celtic fan.

Here is the lesson we can apply again and again in our everyday lives: If you want to attract someone to another way of thinking, instead of trying to convince them their current thinking or behavior is wrong, show them how a different idea can be better.

There are endless opportunities to put this approach into practice:

·                 Are you trying to convince someone to make better choices with regard to their health? Instead of telling them what is wrong with their current habits, explain how their body will respond if they choose a different course.

·                 Do you need to get your coworkers on board with a new idea? Elaborate on the benefits of the new idea rather than shooting down their suggestions.

·                 With the Presidential primaries underway, are you strongly in favor of a particular candidate? Instead of hammering away at why someone else’s candidate-of-choice is bad for our country, focus on what you believe our country will look like if your candidate becomes President. 

Positive persuasion is not only a more effective approach, but it is also the means most often employed by Jesus. Think about The Beatitudes as they are the epitome of positive persuasion: “Blessed are people who (_______) because they will (________).”  Jesus didn’t focus on people’s sins, instead He in essence said, ‘Let me show you a better way.’

As Christians, we are called to do our best to model Christ.  One way to do this is by showing others ‘a better way’ rather than grinding away at what we perceive to be ‘the wrong way’.

Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You

I had the opportunity to attend mass at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle in Washington DC not long ago.  The funeral mass of President John F Kennedy took place within this historic cathedral, and the curb outside the cathedral is where the famous picture was taken of John Kennedy Jr. saluting his father’s casket.

There are many memorable aspects to JFK’s Presidency, including the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile crisis, Kennedy’s challenge to land a man on the moon, Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech during the Civil Rights March on Washington, and of course the famous words from JFK’s inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

After recalling these famous words while I was waiting for the mass to start, I must admit that I was a bit startled to later in the mass hear one of the prayer requests during the Prayer of the Faithful. (For those of you not familiar with a Catholic mass, about halfway through the mass, a series of prayer intentions are offered that essentially address the needs of the Church, the salvation of the world, and those burdened by difficulties.)

The special prayer request read to all in attendance that day was,  “To pray for an increase in government programs to help those in need.”

Before I share my thoughts on this intention, let me be clear that this post is not meant to be political in any way.  Whether you support an increase in government programs or not, I hope you find this intention to be as alarming as I did.

This prayer request is alarming because it essentially breeds personal complacency.  The request implies it is someone else’s job to care for the poor (in this case, the government) and that as Christians, we should pay our taxes so the government can do the work that Jesus clearly called each of us as individuals to do.  It does nothing to inspire service by the members of the Church community, which is one of the primary roles of the Christian church.

As A. W. Tozer, a famous Christian theologian said, “Complacency is the deadly foe of all spiritual growth.”

Instead of asking the congregation to pray for an increase in government programs, how about a prayer request that asks, “For all members of the Christian community to hear and respond to God’s call to help those less fortunate.”

Or in other words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Encounters With God

If you have children, you know how difficult it can often be to get their attention.  When they have their eyes glued to a phone, computer, or TV screen, you can repeat yourself, raise your voice, and probably even wave your arms in front of their face, and you still may not get their attention! Have you ever wondered if God is getting a similar reaction from you? 

If God is unable to capture your attention, you will experience spiritual suffocation. You will miss the opportunity to grow in wisdom, and you will never grasp what you ultimately seek, which is real peace, deep within, that can only come from God.

Why do so many of us fail to experience God and hear His voice? 

Some of us don’t have a close personal relationship with God because, like our kids, we are too preoccupied with all the day-to-day noise in our lives. We are busy with important endeavors such as work, running a household, taking care of our kids, caring for aging parents, or volunteering our time (and perhaps with some not-so-important activities as well!) Many of our distractions ARE important, but not at the expense of quieting our minds on a regular basis so that we might encounter God.

Some of us don’t personally experience God simply because we don’t believe that God is trying to communicate with us.  We either think we are not special enough, that God has more important matters to tend to, or that God just passively sits back and watches our lives unfold.  If we do not believe God will communicate with us, then we will not be able to hear Him.  In other words, God is unable to actively work in the lives of people who don’t believe He is able to do so (Mark 6:1-6).

Finally, some of us don’t hear God because we don’t know what we are listening for.  We are waiting to hear some sort of voice, or we are waiting for some sort of feeling that tells us God is near.  We don’t realize that God’s communication often comes through the words of others or through the seemingly normal events that unfold in our daily lives.  We are waiting for a lightning bolt instead of just noticing the little things that are happening around us.  Although God’s messages may be subtle, don’t mistakenly assume they are insignificant.  A message from God is always consequential!

If you don’t feel like you are hearing God speak to you, ask yourself if the reason may be one or more of the problems described above.  Recognizing and naming the problem will go a long way toward overcoming it.

Karl Rahner, one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century, said that if we don’t personally experience God in our lives, it is a huge problem.  He said that in a culture that rejects God and faith, we will not be able to sustain our faith if we only know about God rather than really know God.  He predicted several generations ago that Christians of the future will either be mystics, or they will not be Christians at all.  In other words, if we don’t personally work on a relationship with God whereby we can say we actually know Him and encounter Him, we will struggle to hold on to our faith.

photo credit: radiant on freedigitalphotos.net

Broken and Blessed

Even if you are just a casual observer of Major League Baseball, you probably know that Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada’s season ended during Game 2 of the playoffs when LA Dodger Chase Utley slid hard into second base, breaking Tejada’s leg.  As you can imagine, there has been endless banter back and forth about the legality of the slide, the timing of the slide, the impact on the series, etc. Despite all that has been said and written about what happened, I didn’t hear any comments by Ruben Tejada himself.  I was curious about how Tejada is dealing with the situation because it reminded me of when our son Will, then 11 years old, dealt with a season-ending baseball injury.  Of course a season-ending injury when you are 11 in no way compares to one when you are in the MLB playoffs.  But haven’t we all faced challenges that have kept us from accomplishing our goals, living our dreams, or simply doing something we were passionate about?

I still clearly recall Will’s injury … he was catching behind the plate, saw the runner on first starting to steal, and so he reached in with his bare throwing hand a little too early and got hit by the pitch. The next morning x-rays confirmed his right hand was broken and he couldn’t play any sports at least six weeks.  His baseball season would be over by then, and he would miss basketball tournament and a basketball camp that he had been excited about.

Was it the end of the world?  No, but as you can imagine, it was pretty devastating news for an 11-year-old boy, who like many 11-year-old boys, lived and breathed sports.

I was there when the doctor gave him the bad news.  His mouth kind of dropped open, and I knew he was fighting back tears.  As the doctor casted his hand, the reality began to sink in.  In fact, it didn’t take him long to do the math in his head and tell me based on the number of games left on his team’s schedule, how many straight innings he would have to sit on the bench. I don’t recall the number, but I do recall that to him, the number seemed like eternity.

As we left the doctor’s office, Will took my phone, called his dad, and quickly shared the bad news. Then, instead of giving in to despair, he immediately began to rattle off a list of things he was going to do while his hand was casted. “Number 1, I’m going to develop my left-handed shot for basketball. Number 2, I’m going to do lunges to develop my leg strength. Number 3, I’m going to …” I don’t recall the entire list, but I clearly remember that it didn't take Will long to figure out how he was going to make something good come from his injury.

That is exactly what God wants each of us to do with our challenges.  Sometimes we suffer in small ways (like Will’s broken hand), sometimes we suffer more significantly (Ruben Tejada out for the rest of the playoffs), and other times we may face life-changing situations (a debilitating illness, or the death of a child or spouse). Regardless of the magnitude, God wants to help us create something good from our difficulties.

Don’t doubt that good can come from setbacks, even tragedies, after all 1) we are promised with God, anything is possible (Matthew 19:26) and 2) God uses all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). When bad things happen, God can create something good through us as long as we choose to look for the grace He will offer us, and use that grace in a positive, constructive way.

There are many aspects of life that we do not control, but the one thing we always control is our attitude, including our attitude when we suffer.  As Victor Frankl, Holocaust survivor wrote in his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, “When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task.  His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.”

A Special Moment at Dallas Love Field Airport

“I think one of the greatest threats to faith in our culture is busyness. It's jumping from one thing to another thing to another thing and never developing the contemplative side, the prayerful side in our lives sufficiently so that we might hear God.” – Lou Nanni, VP University of Notre Dame and frequent guest on the Everyday Faith radio show

Busyness certainly does have a way of ruling our lives.

One place where busyness is pervasive is in an airport.  And more specifically, people always seem to be in a rush in airport restrooms.  It’s the place everyone dashes into right before their plane is ready to board, or right after they deplane and are hurrying to get wherever they need to be.

Why am I talking about airport restrooms?  Because something happened in a Dallas Love Field Airport restroom last weekend that I want to share.

On the way into the men’s restroom, my husband Pete noticed a woman in her 70’s standing behind an empty wheelchair right outside the entrance to the restroom.  She had a concerned look on her face so Pete asked if there was someone in the men’s restroom who may need some help.

Without any hesitation, the woman responded, “Yes, his name is Marvin.  And he most definitely needs help.”

Upon entering the restroom, it was apparent who Marvin was – he was struggling to get to the sink to wash his hands. (As it turned out, he was the father of the woman waiting with the wheelchair outside; he was probably about 90 years old.)  Pete approached the elderly man and said, “Marvin, can I give you some help?”

Like his daughter outside, Marvin answered without hesitation, “Yes sir!” 

It was clear Marvin had trouble walking.  He could only shuffle his feet a couple of inches with each “step”.  So Pete helped Marvin shuffle to the sink to wash his hands. As they slowly moved toward the sink, Pete noticed a Korean War Veteran cap on Marvin’s head so he asked Marvin if he had served in the Korean War.

“Yes sir! Army Ranger.  Eighth Ranger Company.  Lost my eye over there and that’s where my knee got messed up.” 

After talking a bit more about the war, Pete turned Marvin from the sink toward the door to help him slowly shuffle out. Pete knew it would take quite a while to help Marvin out of the restroom.  So Pete turned to the person behind him, a young man who couldn’t have been much more than 20 years old, and said, “You may want to go around us because this is going to take some time.”

And what happened next is what makes this story so special.

The twenty-something young man looked at Pete and Marvin and said, “No sir.  I wouldn’t feel right stepping in front of this man.” So this young man fell in line behind Pete and Marvin, only moving a couple of inches with each step. 

But that’s not all, because the line behind Marvin and Pete began to grow. In fact, by the time Pete got Marvin to his wheelchair waiting outside the restroom door, the line of men behind them grew to about 15 men. These men had noticed Marvin, his cap, and they heard the twenty-something young man say he wouldn’t feel right stepping in front of Marvin, and apparently the rest of them didn’t feel right doing so either.

But the story doesn’t end there, because it took another couple of minutes for Pete to help Marvin get settled in his wheelchair.  And once he did, Pete looked up and saw the men still waiting in line. One by one, starting with that twenty-something young man, each man approached Marvin, shook his hand and thanked him for his service.

And all of that happened in a restroom at Dallas Love Field Airport.

As Lou Nanni and so many spiritual leaders have said, busyness, which has become entrenched in our culture, is a tremendous threat to our faith.  God is all around us, but if we don’t slow down and look for Him, we will miss Him. No doubt Marvin and his daughter felt God’s presence last weekend as each of those 15 men paid tribute to Marvin.  But I have no doubt so did every one of those men. 




Nurturing the Spark in Others

If anyone had an excuse to believe the worst of his fellow man, Victor Frankl did. Imprisoned for three years in Nazi concentration camps, he saw the worst of human behavior.  He was stripped of everything except one thing: his human spirit. They couldn’t take his will to find purpose and beauty and love and joy in life – even a life lived in the shadow of death.

If you pay attention to the evil that is apparent in our country and in our world right now (and you should, but I’ll save that topic for a future post), it is tempting to underestimate people, to see where people fall short, to even dwell on our own inability to make a difference. Frankl, however, encourages us to do the opposite. He encourages us to recognize the “spark” that is in each of us -- despite the temptation to do otherwise -- and by doing so, help people become their best selves.  

And what’s the downside?  We may get it wrong every now and then and be a bit disappointed. But so what?  That would happen anyway. Now think of the upside. As Frankl put it, “We have to be idealists. If we take man as he is, we make him worse. But if we take man as he should be, we make him capable of becoming what he can be.”  And no doubt we need everyone to become all God intended them to be.

photo credit: Electric Connection by Idea Go on free digitalphots.net

Setbacks or Silver Linings?

Think back at how many things in your life didn’t work out as you had hoped.  Colleges that rejected you, jobs you were turned down for, relationships that unexpectantly ended, relocations you didn’t want, health issues that inhibited you or those you care for, the list can go on and on and on. 

I can look back at my inability to conceive a child, an adoption that didn’t work out, an exciting career situation that evaporated, a start-up business that faltered -- and I can recall how devastating many of these situations felt at the time.  But with hindsight, I can see how each of these circumstances led to something much better.  I couldn’t see it at the time, and in many cases it took years to see the benefits of these disappointments.  But in each case, God had a different plan for me -- one that I was not privy to and that required patience in order for me to see what God actually had in mind.

If similar situations happened today, I don't believe I would feel as distressed -- and this is why:

I can look at my life and divide it in two.  Most of the experiences I mentioned above occurred in the first part of my life, which could be labeled “Before Faith."  To be completely honest, there was never a point in my life where I didn’t have faith.  Fortunately, I have never struggled with whether or not God exists.  But in the part of my life I label “Before Faith” I would say I just didn’t believe God was that interested in the details of my life.  I believed He wanted me to be a good person and make good choices, but as long as I was for the most part doing that, I just felt like God had more important things to focus on in this world.  So my philosophy in the first part of my life was much about working hard for whatever I wanted as if everything depended on me.

The second part of my life I label “After Faith,” which is when I finally realized that God has a great interest in what is going on in my life.  He cares about the small and relatively trivial things, not because He wants me to be happy and accomplish everything I want, but because He wants to me to know He is there for me so my relationship with Him will grow.

Now when things don’t go the way I want or the way I think they should, I handle the disappointment in a different way.  Do I still sometimes feel some sadness?  Sure.  Frustration? Absolutely.  But I don’t feel these emotions to the same degree as I used to, nor do they stay with me as long.  I have learned that God is never far from my side no matter what life throws my way.

I want to be clear that I do not believe God is directing all that happens in our lives because if He did, He would essentially be taking away our free will.  But I do believe that God can make some good out of almost anything that happens --  if we cooperate with Him.  The way we cooperate is by eliminating any self-pity we feel, looking for the opportunities God will undoubtedly offer us, and truly, truly trusting Him.

Remember how I said that during the first part of my life, one of my philosophies was to work as if everything depended on me?  Well now my philosophy is different: work as if everything depends on me, but pray as if everything depends upon God. 

photo credit: Stuart Miles on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

GPS for Your Life

For Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard CEO and current 2016 Presidential candidate, 2009 was a very tough year.  Her 35-year-old daughter died, and Fiorina herself underwent extensive and difficult treatment for breast cancer.  But it was a good year as well, because 2009 was the year that Carly Fiorina really reconnected with her faith.

Here is how Carly Fiorina describes her faith for much of her life: “I grew up a faithful person. I never lost faith. I prayed every day all throughout my life. But at some point in life, my faith became fairly abstract.” She said began to view God “as something of a super CEO of a massive enterprise” who “didn’t attend to every detail.”

But fortunately, over the course of several years just prior to 2009, Carly re-found her personal relationship with God, which she says was incredibly helpful to her, her husband and her family when the challenges of 2009 were upon them.  What role did her faith play?  Here is how she describes it: “When my mother died a decade earlier, I didn’t have this personal connection with God, and her death shattered me. When Lori (her daughter) died, my personal relationship with Jesus Christ saved me.”

In describing her transformation to a more meaningful and relevant faith, Carly provides a great “visual” that I think we all can draw on when we start to doubt God’s interest in the details of our lives:

“One of the reasons I re-found that personal connection (with God) is through thinking about science.  Human beings have created a GPS system that can keep track of billions of moving objects and provide very precise instructions to all of them. And so it occurred to me that if human beings can do that, certainly God understands what's going on in each of our lives and He answers those prayers that He should.”

So when you feel sheepish, or selfish, or question the appropriateness of asking God for help in the relatively tiny details of your life, think of that GPS system on your phone or in your vehicle.  Know that God can help with any and every detail of your life – provided that you ask Him to.  Remember, your GPS system is useless if you don’t turn it on. Likewise, if you don’t open the lines of communication with God, He may be trying to help, but sadly, you are not going to hear Him.

What Are You Doing on Your Stage?

  Steph Curry with his signature practice of pointing his index finger upward as both an outward and internal reminder that God gets all the glory for his success.

Steph Curry with his signature practice of pointing his index finger upward as both an outward and internal reminder that God gets all the glory for his success.

As I write this post, the 2015 NBA conference championships are underway.  And even if you aren’t an NBA fan, there is a player who you cannot help but admire once you begin to watch and listen to him.  His name is Steph Curry, he plays for the Golden State Warriors, he is the 2015 NBA MVP, and according to LeBron James, he is, “One of the best shooters the NBA will ever see.”

The basketball talents of this 27-year-old husband and father are not all that fellow NBA players are touting.  According to teammate Harrison Barnes, “He’s probably one of the most humble superstars I’ve ever met.  A lot of that is based on his faith.  He’s a guy who not only talks it; he lives it.  I think he garners a lot of respect in this locker room because of that.”  Another teammate, David Lee, said Steph played an integral role in his decision to put God at the center of his life.  “It’s something that is a lifestyle for him,” Lee said. “I’ve watched him sometimes from a distance, but I’ve also asked him questions about his faith.  He’s been a huge influence on me.”

Steph Curry has a big stage, and he uses it.  For example, he began his MVP acceptance speech by saying, “I’m His humble servant right now and I can’t say enough about how important my faith is to who I am and how I play the game.”  During his 2014 season he said, “I know why I play the game, and it’s not to score 30 points a night, but it’s to use the stage I’m on.  I’ve been put here for a specific purpose: to be a witness and to share my testimony as I go through it.”

I could share many stories to convince you Steph Curry is the real deal, but that is not the purpose of this post.  The real purpose is to challenge you to think about what you are doing on your stage.

Most likely your stage is not as big as Steph Curry’s.  But don’t think for a second that you don’t have a stage. You have a family, friends, possibly a workplace, maybe a role in your community.  Each of these places is your stage.  Do the people who watch you day in and day out know you are a person of faith? Do you ever speak in a way that would reveal you are a person of faith?  And if the answer is yes to both of those questions, my next question then is: How can you do even more on your stage?

You don’t have to be a theologian or a Bible expert to let people know you are a person of faith.  It can be as simple as telling someone you will pray for them, sharing stories of when you have felt God’s hand in your life, or simply demonstrating patience, peace and acceptance during challenging times.

The people who watch you on your stage need you to witness in this way.  In fact, we all need to experience others living and speaking about their faith, even if we have traveled far in our spiritual journey. Steph Curry, as strong as his faith is, understands this well: “The time I spend with my wife is huge so we can continue to grow and not be complacent with where we are in our walk with Christ.  Obviously, we can all be better at that.”

And to be better at that, we all need each other to use the stages we have been given.

Don't Ask Why, Ask How

Why?

Why am I disabled? 

Why does my sister have cancer?

Why did a drunk driver kill my best friend?

Many of us have experienced tragedy in our lives.  And if we haven’t been directly hit by such circumstances, we know plenty of people around us who have.  When faced with a calamity, the age-old question arises: Why does God let bad things happen? 

The Unresolved Debate

There are those who believe God has a plan for each one of us, and events, both good and bad, happen for a reason.  Sometimes this theory is comforting – it is often easier to accept our suffering if we believe there is significance associated with it.  Other times, this logic makes us angry – how can an all-powerful and just God allow suffering to occur?

Others believe God does not direct the tragedies that occur in this world.  God created an Earth that is evolving based on laws of nature and the decisions of its inhabitants, not a pre-determined script.  Bad things happen; people make evil choices.  God is as outraged and saddened as we are when these things happen.  This thinking gives us confidence that our God is kind and merciful, yet it is disconcerting to accept He is not calling all the shots.

The Bible does not offer a definitive answer to this debate, perhaps signaling us not to dwell on why bad things happen in our lives.  On the other hand, the Bible offers plenty of insight about what God does for us once tragedy strikes.  Focusing on how to move forward when faced with struggles will lead us to the strength, courage and resources we need during difficult times.

Where Do We Turn? 

We should start by asking for God’s help.  Sometimes we may ask for something specific:  God, help me cope with my Dad’s death; God, help me recover from my accident; God, take away the anger and jealousy I feel.  Sometimes we are so distraught we don’t know what to ask for.  That’s OK, a simple, 'God, help me' is all we need.

God’s help can come in many different forms.  Sometimes it comes through the words and actions of those around us.  Sometimes it comes in the form of an insight.  Sometimes it is just an inner feeling we get.  We need to recognize these events as support and direction from God – signs that He is with us and on our side.  We must do our part by being open to them, reflecting on them, and allowing them to alter our thinking. 

So often, our first reaction is to reject gut feelings or the words of others.  But this is how God works in our lives.  There are only a handful of people in history who have had the privilege of hearing directly from God.  Yet there are millions who know God’s comfort and feel his support through the many signs and messages He sends.

Not every inner feeling, nor every word spoken will be a message from God.  Some instincts will be born out of fear, and some people will do and say things that hurt rather than help.  But these are not God’s messages.  We will recognize God’s messages from the peaceful, comforting or insightful perspective they provide. 

Ask And You Shall Receive

If we turn to God we will receive His help.  We may not receive the specific miracle we are asking for ('God, please make my illness disappear'), but we will receive whatever we need to persevere.

Many people assume tragedy strikes only those who can handle it.  Yet most people who faced dreadful circumstances – the death of a child, a debilitating illness, the unexpected break-up of a marriage -- were initially scared, angry and overwhelmed, wondering how they would cope.  And then miraculously, they found strength they didn’t know they had.  Well guess what?  Their reservoirs of strength and courage probably were not initially large enough to sustain them through their hardship.  But God refilled their reservoirs, and everyone around them is in awe: “What an amazing person!”  “Where does she find her strength?”  “How does he handle it?”  Whether they realize it or not, these people are in awe because they are witnessing God at work.

photo credit:  Graur Razvan Ionut on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Unwilling or Unable?

When  asked why they don’t pray, many people say they don’t believe God answers their prayers.  If that’s true, is it that God is unwilling, or is He unable?  Well, most people would say God is able to do anything; after all, He is God.  But there is a brief story in Mark’s gospel that implies you actually have a role to play in God’s ability to respond to your prayers.

In Chapter 6 of Mark’s gospel, Jesus returns to his hometown, Nazareth. At this point is His life, He is renowned for his many miracles and large following.  The people in Nazareth have heard of Jesus’ miracles, yet still think of Him as nothing special.  In their eyes He is simply Mary and Joseph’s son. Mark goes on to say that Jesus was therefore unable to perform any miracles there.  He doesn’t say unwilling, he says unable.  

I think the message of this passage is clear: God can only respond to your prayers if you believe He can.  Do you?

photo credit: Lali Masriera on Flickr