Hope

Faith, Hope, Love & Sunbeam 1-30-12

Jim Fransen was a good man. No, let me correct myself. Jim was a great man. Here is why I believe this to be true.

When you saw Jim, you saw sunshine. When you spoke with Jim, you felt like he cared. When you spent time with Jim, you never felt a hint of arrogance or selfishness. Quite the opposite, he was a true servant-always eager to help out when needed. Jim worked hard and played hard, yet he maintained a balanced life. He loved His Lord, his family and his many friends.

However, Jim had one glaring blind spot by the name of Patty. Like a pair of comfortable shoes, Jim and Patty walked through each day as if they just started dating. No pretense or nonsense. They were simply two people very much in love.

Unfortunately, Jim is gone. He died of a heart attack just a few days ago. He had played basketball that day, the same as he did every weekend for many years. Patty lost her best friend in an instant. The clock stopped, and time stood still. No more Jim. No more Jim and Patty…at least not in this life.

There are countless memories and photographs to scroll through for years to come. But there is one thing more. There is Hope…the kind of Hope that keeps people struggling to stay alive when all seems lost-and they do. The kind of Hope which says, “I will be with you again, my darling”. And they will.

Most are familiar with the Apostle Paul’s most poignant verses in any of his epistles…the Love song of 1 Corinthians 13. This is where Paul talks about all of the meaningless things we can do, but true living comes down to three things: faith, hope and love. He concludes by stating that the greatest of these is love. And, I agree whole heartedly. Yet, during this time of loss and disbelief, Hope is what will bring Patty and others through the darkness of lonely nights and bitter tears.

For Jim and Patty loved one another without reservation. Jim, like Patty, had a faith in the Creator who offered him a gift called salvation…and Jim took it. He believed it and he lived out the exhortation to become more and more like the God who gave him such a gift of grace.

So, Hope is what is needed most during this hour and the season to follow. Hope in the reality of the resurrection. Hope that she and Jim will be joined together again in heaven. Hope that she will not be forgotten nor forsaken. Hope, that love wins the day-and it will. A reunion is on the horizon for those whose Hope is based upon the promises of Christ; that there is more to life than what we currently experience. I am Hopeful. I Hope you are, too.

Flourish

ClematisFlourish: To be in a vigorous state; to thrive; to grow luxuriantly.

For those of you who are flourishing at this stage of life, I sincerely hope you will continue to do so, as this is the most wonderful place to be.

For those who are currently not flourishing, please take a deep breath and begin to rediscover those things in your life which promote thriving. Surround yourself with others who live vigorously, as they will embolden you. Be inspired.

And, for those who feel they may never flourish again, you must not lose hope. Recall a time (or times) when you have flourished in the past. These remembrances will encourage you. If you cannot recall a time then imagine what it would feel like to thrive. Dreaming is healthy. Also, tap into the Source of all that flourishes to ignite this flame within your heart and soul. But be patient, as flourishing is a process which takes time and requires a certain amount of effort. Strive to focus on those things which are most pleasant and lovely such as this Clematis plant bursting with spring colors. Although taken with my cell phone, the beauty of these blossoms is not diminished.

The Melt

2-21-15 011 I tried so hard, my dear, to show that you’re my every dream                Yet you’re afraid each thing I do is just some evil scheme                      A memory from your lonesome past keeps us so far apart                   Why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart?

There was a time when I believed that you belonged to me                 But now I know your heart is shackled to a memory                              The more I learn to care for you, the more we drift apart                       Why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart?

Hank Williams, the legendary country singer, wrote and recorded this song, Cold Cold Heart, in 1951 (he was 27 and died two years later).  Rather than recite all four stanzas, I copied the first and the last. The two middle stanzas simply reveal more about the confusion and heartache expressed in these lyrics. As I gazed at the melting ice from our trees this past Saturday morning, I grabbed my camera and went outside to take several shots. For some reason this song-which I haven’t heard in years-came to mind. I suppose it may have been the cold temperatures finally warming and the melting ice which caused this song to arise to my consciousness. After some self-evaluation, I asked myself how do the lyrics of a sad ballad correlate to a beautiful act of nature…for it was a grand sight to witness the frozen tree branches shed their layer of ice and drip with the new life of cool water. The melting ice glittered like diamonds under spotlights!2-21-15 005Slowly, almost imperceptibly, I began to understand the link. There is beauty all around us, but at the same time there can be ugliness, pain and sorrow. Paradoxical, isn’t it? Joy and pain, beauty and the beast, clarity and confusion-all can co-exist. Where love is found, hate is not far behind. Where peace abounds, conflict can be just around the corner. And where some relationships nurture and grow, others can wilt and die on the vine. Such is the result of a fallen world. But, alas, our lives don’t have to exist in a state of bitterness, heartache, failure or confusion. True, these are our realities at times, but they don’t have to define us. I am not advocating that we ignore the negatives for that is wishful thinking. As difficult as it can be at times we must face the trials head on, hang on to an anchor of hope (for me this anchor is Christ) and endure. Strive to find beauty in this world, even when you feel abandoned, are depressed or lonely, are being seriously misunderstood or may be grieving. Light will shine again; hold on and wait for the melt.2-21-15 013

Clinging

Craig's Crossing 5-23-14 009To cling or not to cling, that is the question, at least for the purpose of this post.

Clinging is a rather fascinating word because it includes so many adaptations. Consider this photograph of a creeping vine steadily growing up and around this old wooden post…clinging to it like a cat who injects her claws in your flesh after an aerobic jump from chair to shoulder (I know this scenario well). Or, consider how a small child clings to his mom when he is uncomfortable in a particular situation-mom couldn’t pry the child off her with a crow bar. What about clinging to something for safety. Think of grabbing onto a rock wall as the ledge underneath you gives way. There is no chance you will release your grip until you secure firm footing, someone rescues you or you simply can’t hold on any longer. And then there are the endless objects which we cling to for security and the numerous people that we cling to for all manner of reasons. Our clinging isn’t limited to the tangible, but also includes concepts, theories and dreams.

Clinging: it denotes the positive as well as the negative. So, as I considered the vine clinging to the post I thought of things I cling to…or have clung to in the past. Wow, did that thought break open Pandora’s box. BTW, I don’t know Pandora, but she sure does get credited for many things! Perhaps you can relate to some of these examples.

I have clung to habits which seemingly provided security or comfort at the time, but I either outgrew them or became aware of what they really were…crutches. I have clung to other people in the hope that they would make me better or bigger somehow. This type of clinging usually ended up in disappointment. I have clung to ideas which shaped my outlook on life; some helped me grow and some didn’t. I have clung too tightly to a few I have loved which suffocated them and exhausted me. On the flip-side I have clung to values and principles which have positively guided me. And, I have clung to truths which have shaped my response to many of life’s uncertainties and challenges.

Currently, I am clinging to the hope that the future will be brighter, better and more fulfilling. Perhaps such clinging may prove to be counter-productive, but I am hoping that is not the case. I strive to cling to the Old Rugged Cross, especially in times of trials and pain. This clinging is always beneficial, but too often lacks consistency. I am drawn to cling to that which I find familiar, helpful or distracting. Familiar clinging brings a sense of order and security. I would describe helpful clinging as anything which benefits the person without having poor side-effects. Clinging is such an easy way to cope with the difficulties of life. It really doesn’t matter what the distraction is as long as it works. Problem…distractions don’t last very long and must be repeated to keep one’s mind off the thing they want to avoid. So, we tend to cling onto these more and more. This type of clinging can often become destructive to the person and relationships.

Since clinging can be beneficial or harmful (my humble opinion), the outcome depends on what the object is that we cling to and the reason why we choose to cling. This is cause for serious self-evaluation from time-to-time. We don’t want to be too serious too often for that dynamic creates the opposite of clinging…namely fleeing. However, it is wise to pause once and again to consider what it is I am clinging to, and to ask oneself if it is healthy.

One of the most wonderful things to cling to isn’t an object, a relationship or even a concept. It is actually best described as a feeling, although it is also referred to as an expectation. The word which describes this feeling of expectation is hope, and without it we dry up and give up. Without hope, life becomes dull, boring, predictable, worthless, and simply undesirable. To the contrary, when one is full of hope life has purpose (no matter how difficult or tragic), more meaning, more wonder, and certainly more joy than a life void of it. To be without hope is to be filled with a sense of dread and impending doom. Such a tragic way to view and live life. But, alas, many do live this way.

So, here is a toast to living with hope. Hope that a loved one will come home from foreign soil. Hope that a relationship will mend. Hope that a loss won’t be the end of things. Hope that there is a God who really does care and is in control. Hope that He loves you and you find Him. Hope that the sun will rise tomorrow and birds will sing their joyful songs. Hope that babies will grow old. Hope that older adults don’t become children again. Hope that one will always have a friend or two to count on. Hope that nothing can destroy one’s integrity. Hope that children in impoverished nations will be fed, clothed, educated, treated with dignity and allowed to become responsible adults. Hope that wars will cease and hunger end. Hope that cancer will be beaten. Hope that life has more pluses than minus’. And the list goes on and on. There is enough hope to go around for everyone so give hope a try…even if you aren’t up to it. As the Apostle Paul so eloquently expressed in his famous chapter on love (1 Corinthians13), “These three remain: faith, hope and love”. For hope to be bookended by faith and love makes it a very important verb to live by. May we all experience the blessing of hope every day of our lives.

 

 

After the Rain

6-7-14 033After the rain when the earth is cleansed and flowers bloom. After the rain when rivers rush and ponds overflow. After the rain when birds sing and sunlight breaks forth. After the rain when tears dry up and hope sprouts. After the rain when God smiles and rainbows appear. After the rain when babies jump in puddles and parents laugh. After the rain when clarity returns and dark clouds disappear. After the rain, yes, after the rain, when the world seems strangely right.

Soar On Wings Like Eagles

4-22-14 020 - CopyHas there been a time lately when you have been discouraged, over-burdened, worn out, despondent or confused? Perhaps, all of the above at a given time? Please say yes, as I don’t like to visit this grubby junkyard alone. It is not a fun place to wallow in the muck, the trash and debris. Rationally thinking, I doubt I am the only soul who has occasionally experienced these feelings (more often than I like to admit), but this realization brings little comfort to me. I know folks often say that misery loves company, but that is a farce because someone elses pain cannot console our own. So, what does this blithering have to do with eagles? Glad you asked for the answer is an upper and not a downer! Just the other day I found myself in the junkyard, and I didn’t want to be there. Recently, I read a devotion which emphasized the renewing power that God offers to each of His children. Most of you are familiar with these verses, but just in case you aren’t or don’t have them memorized, I will recite them from the book of Isaiah, chapter 40, verses 28 through 31 (NIV). God spoke them and Isaiah wrote them.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint”.

Sometimes we need a sign from God to let us know He cares. I know, we are not supposed to seek after signs, but that warning had more to do with proving that God existed in the person of Christ than signs of hope and comfort. My point is simple. While at a future construction site the day after I read those verses, I witnessed an eagle soaring on the soft currents of air a few hundred feet above my head. What was so unusual is that this beautiful bird was soaring over a busy railroad main line, an auto dealership, an industrial building, near an interstate highway and in an area without a swath of tree-filled land and quiet. In other words, he shouldn’t have been there. But he was, and I noticed, and I snapped away with my digital camera even though I wasn’t prepared for him. To watch hawks glide in the wind is always a treat for me, but to see this eagle appear from nowhere and soar above me and my partner for several minutes was simply astonishing. I’ll take that as a sign that the Father heard one of His children, and cared enough to let him know. It is my hope that you, too, will receive a sign from the One who cares the most for you. This sign may not be in the form of an eagle, but it could manifest itself as a soft word spoken in love at just the right time when you need it most. Or, your sign may be revealed in an anonymous act of kindness when least expected. Possibly, such a sign may simply leap off the page of a great book or Bible verse and impact you like never before. Perhaps from another blogger!

4-22-14 018Whether your sign of everlasting love is revealed on the wings of eagles or from the voice of one of his earthly angels, be encouraged. Recall God’s promises of hope, renewal and strength, and then be alert for He will respond. Sometimes all we have to do is gaze heavenward.

 

Why I Blog

April 21, 2014 003

Funny, but I never, ever would have suspected that illness would unlock the door to my public writing.

After years of chronic back pain which culminated in a spinal fusion, I began to blog. I’ve always liked to put my thoughts on paper. As a child I would write notes of affection to my mom. When I dated I would write notes and poems to Cheryl. Once, I wrote a poem of gratitude for my dad a few years before he died. I would often record thoughts and experiences for no particular purpose, other than to solidify what I was thinking at the time. In the ninth grade when I was forced to make a selection as to what vocation I wanted to pursue, I chose journalism. I did not walk this path professionally, but in some small way I have practiced it by scribbling my thoughts down ever since.

The years of chronic pain took their toll on my physical health. Also, during the past decade I lost parents and nieces to the grave, left a partnership which ended up in broken relationships and was involved in a ministry debacle involving leaders who were my close friends. The stage was set and I eventually succumbed to a rather serious bout of depression which lasted nearly four years. Anxiety was a constant companion, as was fear and confusion. This was not that long ago and it was an ugly time. As I walked through this illness, I felt as though I were caught in a maze without a way out. When I fell asleep at night, not waking up became a comforting thought.

The recognition of my illness was forced upon me by extreme anxiety attacks. I reluctantly sought help. It is difficult for a self-sufficient man to admit that he has been taken down by an “ illness of weakness ”, as I once thought depression was. After a few doctors, several medications, and counseling, I started to pull out of my personal hell. I prayed often during this period. They were short prayers because my attention span was short. I didn’t receive any answers which perplexed me, however, I never felt abandoned by God-just tested. I thought about Job a lot.

Once I began to experience sporadic rays of light illuminate my being, I ruminated about what had been taking place within me. I recall reading a few helpful books and many a self-help book with multiple keys to wholeness and significance. They confused me so I quit reading them. What works for one may work for another, but in general each person must seek and discover his or her own formula for wholeness. It is the ‘ living abundantly ‘ part of my existence that I struggle with the most. I’m still searching while trying to enjoy what I have and where I am. Writing has become a panacea for me.

I was fortunate to come across an invitation thrown out by Civitas Press to contribute to a collaborative effort to create a book about depression. I wrote a short essay and was accepted. The book was published and my name was among the list of authors. There was no compensation, except the hope that whoever reads this book will benefit from it. After I received my free copy, I began to read the stories of others who suffered from depression. I couldn’t finish the book. It depressed me!

This brief encounter with having a piece of my writing published gave me confidence to explore how I could continue to write and be heard. Writing is a process of self-discovery, as much as it is anything else. I wanted to know me better, and I wanted to help others in the process. I was encouraged by a wonderful young lady named Angel, who was the marketing director of an inspirational website. After we had a few chats over the internet, she said I should consider creating a blog. I didn’t have a clue as to what a blog was so I began to learn. At some pivotal point during this process, I made the leap and started a blog in August of 2012. It was liberating and scary at the same time. It still is.

I concluded my inaugural post with these words, “And, maybe, I will begin to remove the hinges from the door that I can’t seem to open wide, and instead, remove it. Why should the door exist anyway? Who do I want to keep out, and why do I want to stay in? I don’t know. However, I seek to find out ”.

This was my way of expressing the frustration which percolated within me. To be true to myself, I can’t state that I am much farther along in answering those questions. However, one thing I do know is that I am not alone. My family and close friends have been a great support. Also, I have met some very wonderful and talented people as a result of posting and following other’s blogs. The greatest satisfaction I experience occurs during my interactions with others. My goal is to encourage and inspire so I am afforded the opportunity to do both via my writing and the posting of my photography. My soul has received the beneficial balm of inspired words and photographs by my fellow sojourners. I am grateful, and encouraged, as well.

My essence can best be described as tossed salad these days as I struggle to find my place in this world, as Michael W. Smith once sang about. At this stage of my life I am astonished that I am where I am. I fully expected to be more certain about life…and me. This does not mean I don’t have a strong set of core values. I do. The road I have traveled has been full of twists and turns, bumps and bruises. But, I must ask, haven’t all of ours been like that? Jesus told His followers that each day has enough trouble of its own. Those who are going through serious trials would even say this is an understatement. Of course, our Lord never under or over stated anything. He was simply making the point that life is hard. Therefore, we are encouraged to trust in Him; the Way, the Truth and the Life. This imploring to trust is easier said than done, but not impossible or He wouldn’t have commanded us to do so in the first place. ‘Challenging’ may be a more accurate assessment when it comes to taking up our crosses and following (trusting & obeying) Christ. Dying to self is not enjoyable.

Writing for me is a tonic of sorts. Sometimes it is bittersweet. At other times it is smooth and refreshing. Always, it is different. For each thought, every idea, the occasional epiphany are unique from one another. Multiply that dynamic by everyone who holds the pen or punches a keyboard and we have a vast garden variety of words which can impact us. It is my sincerest hope that my words make a positive impression, and occasionally inspire. At the very least, I pray my words don’t offend. To challenge and question is okay…yes?  I hope you can relate. Life is too short to waste on the trivial.

One last thought; actually more of a postscript. The personal experiences I listed are not to gain pity or sympathy. They are real, they hurt, and I am still wrestling with the residual effects of depression and, of course, daily pain. However, because so many people deal with so much more hardship, I considered not posting this piece. I did post, in spite of my reluctance, because I want others to relate and to be encouraged. Please note that throughout my life I have been the recipient of so many more positives than the negatives I have identified. In a nutshell, I have been blessed.

I have gleaned wisdom from the words of Christopher Reeves, after he was paralyzed, when he simply stated that he had accepted the cards he was dealt and was doing the best he could to play them. I am coping, striving, growing and stumbling. I press on, as the Apostle Paul proclaimed. I honestly believe the goal is well worth the trials. Not to say this is an easy thing to boast of when I am at my worst. Interestingly, I have noticed this: the darker the trial, the clearer the goal. In no way am I comparing myself to Stephan when he was being stoned to death, but there is a great object lesson to be learned from this tragic incident. Immediately before he died he saw Heaven open and Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. What a glorious vision he was given. The Good Shepherd yearns to restore souls and invites all to spend eternity with Him.