“Times are tough all over” was the title of a hit song in 1990. People have been saying this for years and since the recession, we all still know someone who feels like times are tough. It became a way of saying to someone “you aren’t alone” or “its happening to everyone” but it never makes anyone feel better. Why do we suffer? I’ve said before that Lisa and I believed that our three hour round trip drive to see our premature daughter in the hospital was building character. Today, everyone one of us knows someone who has received a cancer diagnosis or had another type of life altering event. We hear them ask “why me, why did God do this to me?”
One of the greatest effects that homelessness has on our veterans is that they loss hope. These men and women, who have faithfully served our country and have been in life threatening circumstances for long periods, were accustomed to making positive contributions. Once they return home and exit active duty, our veterans can become lost in a world that they no longer understand or see in the same way that they used to. Once they start to disconnect, the trip downward is fast and it takes hope with it. Recent studies have shown that once hope is restored that these veterans often return to a productive life. No matter the situation, we all see people who are struggling in this world; living the “times are tough all over” kind of lives. What can we do help them – we can offer hope and support.
“Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12
Some people look at this verse as proof that God is testing them before they can have eternal life. Yet others view it as even though you are tested, do not give up hope because the promise is still yours. You do not have to buy, perform, sacrifice, say, write or do anything to receive God’s forgiveness. He has given us that gift already; we are forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The “crown of life” James tells us about, is found in our belief that Jesus is our Savior. We don’t know why some people suffer more than others.
We certainly don’t understand why some people deal with their trials better than others. It isn’t for us to understand. Think about the trials that St. Paul suffered and he was a persecutor at one point in his life. There are millions of people on this planet suffering simply because they believe in Jesus as their Savior. What hope do they have? They have faith in God’s word and in His promises. It might be all they have but they have it. God is not punishing them or testing them more than anyone else. The devil is still at work in this world and when hope is dimmed he is encouraged; it becomes his foothold in our lives. God is telling us, through James, to not lose hope but persevere because eternal life waits for us. To me, that’s all the reason to keep hope alive.
I have very rarely written about personal things in this blog and I generally stick to the same format but this week is very different, for good reason. My mother passed away on November 30th, 3 months shy of her 95th Birthday. She had been suffering from dementia for the past two years but in reality, it was more like three years. My fire service career has prepared me well for the end of a life and I keep telling people that I’m not mourning her passing but celebrating her life. She had six kids, a great family and touched everyone she met with her great personality and humor. Jesus was speaking to Martha and asked if she knew what would happen to her brother. 24 “Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ 25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:24-26
I am comforted by these words because I know this to be true. People often say “she’s in a better place” but I wonder if they really believe it or know why it is a fitting bereavement phrase. My mother passed with God and salvation on her heart. Nevertheless, all of my family is sad but we should rejoice. 1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” John 14:1-4. These are the words that make me confident in knowing that she is in a better place.
I’m sad that I won’t get to laugh with her anymore but I’m thankful for the years that she was here. My father passed away 31 years ago, he missed all of my adult life and that is truly sad. At the time my mother passed, our family had someone in every decade from 0-90. My great-niece Evelyn was born on November 18th, mom’s 8th great-grandchild; and she covered the 90’s. Her six kids, four in-laws and nine grandkids filled in the rest of the decades. She was so pleased with her large family and it was the source of her pride. She also leaves behind two brothers and a number of cousins, nieces and nephews.
The reason I am not sad is best summarized in one of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” 2 Cor. 1:3-7
So many things happen to us in our lives that we often seek the meaning behind them. The good things we accept with gladness and the bad things we accept with our heads down. Depending on the magnitude of each, our reaction in response to them is supposed to be comparable. Or so society says. In American football, a team is given a penalty for excessive celebration if they go overboard in their response to a “good thing” and we all have heard that we are “overreacting” when we are responding to something bad. I would imagine that at some point we all have wondered why something happened to us or what we did to deserve such good fortune
My wife and I retold “our story” a couple of times in the past few weeks and I could start to see the seasons of our lives. We were engaged and married at a very young age. We waited to have children for six years and then waited five years between them. We relocated a couple of times – okay, 7 times, we reunited with my extended family after living apart for a period and guided both of our kids into adulthood – successfully. Our youngest moved out a few weeks ago and now we are ready for the next season. Unlike many couples, we prepared for our “empty nest” by never forgetting about “us” in this journey. Lisa likes to say that you can’t forget to nurture your marriage. Every season, journey and experience that we’ve had we kept our reaction commensurate with the situation. We like to say – “it is what it is” but always find a path forward.
1There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. 4A time to weep and a time to laugh, A time to mourn and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 4
You have read me discuss God’s plan before. The wonderful, mysterious plan that God has for each of us. We never really understand why these things happen to us and I will say to the end that they are simply lessons for us to use later to share God’s love and His word. There is a time for everything – good and bad. We had to move my mother into an assisted living facility a couple of years ago. She started out being independent but soon she would need more attention and eventually she was moved into a memory care unit; where she is today at 94 years old. The experience was very hard on all of her kids, to say the least. We all have cried, laughed and questioned the meaning behind it all at some point.
Recently, my cousin who I haven’t really been in contact with much in my life, was faced with the same situation with my uncle. It has been hard for her. I have been able to share my experiences during this very painful time for her. We’ve emailed, had text message conversations and have spoken on the phone. So two year ago when I asked “why did this happen?”, I got the answer within the past 30 days. It is crucial for us to remember these words today because there is always a season and a time. It is more important to never forget the love of our Father in Heaven who gives us both the weeping and the laughing in our lives. Keep dancing!
A couple of weeks ago, someone I haven’t seen in a while told me that they saw my wife at the gym one morning (4:30am). Whenever anyone asks her “how you are you today?” her immediate response is “blessed”. He told me that when he heard her say it, he thought it was an awesome response and it made him think about it that morning. She is such a cheerful person – even at 4:30 in the morning. The rest of us in the family are absolutely not morning people. She wants to tell us about all the things that she’s gotten done and read about while we are still wiping the sleep from our eyes. She is filled with joy and peace and everyone knows it. What do people see when they speak to you or watch you work? I certainly wouldn’t suggest that you be “on” at the wee hours of the morning but it is important to know what time you function best at. There have been a number of studies that show that early risers are more productive. Again, I’m not suggesting that you change your peak performance time. My peak usually hits around 2pm and lasts until 5pm but I can also have a second peak about 9:30pm until after midnight. Knowing your optimum time can be important so that you don’t tie it up in meetings or traveling between locations. This should be your time to focus on high-level work or your strategic/creative thinking time. Your peak time is when you turn off your email and phone so you can concentrate. This will allow you to achieve more at work while expending less mental energy since you are working when your mind and body are most ready. Back to the question of what do people see when they speak to you? If you are in peak time, they should see the best you have to offer and when you are in off-peak times, they should see a person of joy and hope who knows the best is yet to come.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13
If you’ve been following the news lately, you have seen a story out of Sudan about a woman who is pregnant but has been sentenced to death, by stoning, for becoming a Christian and failing to renounce her new faith. I can’t help thinking about her and how strong she is. This is a new Christian, someone who believes so strongly in what she was taught that she is willing to be persecuted. It’s a modern day story of St. Paul or John the Baptist. She is not only filled with joy but has peace to trust in Him that the power of the Holy Spirit will be with her. It is unimaginable to me what she must be going through. It was rumored that one of the Columbine shooters asked a girl if she believed in Jesus as he held a gun to her head. When she answered yes, he moved on sparing her life. When my daughter was younger she was asking questions about faith when this came up. I reminded her that it would be better to die knowing that you kept your faith to the end than it would be to deny it and spend eternity without Him. Please join me in praying for this unknown woman; asking that her faith remains strong and that she be filled with joy and peace to trust in God and the power of the Holy Spirit. You can also take this time to pray for yourself; that you will be filled with joy and peace so that you too can overflow with the hope and power of the Holy Spirit so everyone will see that you are blessed.