Thursday, June 24, 2010

When the Bough Breaks

The proverbial question asks, “If a tree falls in the forest but no one is there to hear, does it make noise?” I’m know it does, based on an experience my wife and I had recently.

We were watching a favorite TV show, trees far from our minds, when a thunderous rumble shook our house. At first I thought it was the neighbors next door, but it sounded so close I went to investigate.

I discovered a giant limb, more than eight inches in diameter, had broken off a large tree in our backyard, collecting another huge branch in its descent. The second branch peeled bark off the tree nearly to the ground as it fell. Both branches came to rest on some power and cable lines, but the lines were of “tree strength,” so we didn’t lose electricity or – egad! – our cable.

Thankfully, the limbs were on the side of the tree away from our house or the result would have been calamitous. The heavy limbs would have crashed through the roof and who knows what kind of damage would have resulted. So praise the Lord for growing the branches on the safest side of the tree!

There would have been other consequences: Working out of my home, I would have had to open a branch office. Even worse, despite my aversion to risk-taking, I would have been forced to go out on a limb.

In all seriousness, we’re thankful to God for preventing what could have been a very serious situation. “The trees of the Lord are well-watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted…. May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works – he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke” (Psalm 104:16,31-32).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

‘It Could Always Be Worse’

Recently a friend who has been dealing with a very stubborn form of cancer observed how common it is to hear people say something like, “I have my problems, but they’re not as bad as so-and so’s.” And sometimes, my friend finds herself the “so-and-so” they compare themselves with.

Admittedly, I’ve occasionally said things like that myself. There’s something consoling about the idea that no matter what obstacles we’re facing – health issues, financial problems, family or career challenges – there’s always someone confronting even worse circumstances.

But have you ever wondered, were we to follow this chain of “worse than” to its very end, who is the person that has it so bad he (or she) can’t look to someone else for a measure of consolation?

The truth is, although it may feel somewhat encouraging to recognize our situations could be even worse, whatever difficulty we’re facing at any given time is as tough as it gets. When I was in college, I couldn’t believe the overwhelming pressure of final exams. But when I started working on newspapers, I realized compared to press time deadlines, those exams were like a walk in the park.

Trials and tribulations of life, if we let them, strengthen us and equip us for even greater challenges in the future. It’s similar to exercise: You have to be able to run a mile before you can begin preparing for a marathon. When I started cardiac rehabilitation following surgery more than three years ago, lifting 50 pounds was a struggle. Now I can lift well over 100 pounds in various ways – a 50-pound lift wouldn’t be a strain at all.

In Matthew 6:34 Jesus said, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow…. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” The challenge for us is not to find someone worse off so we can feel better about our present plight, but to persevere through whatever dilemma confronts us.

There are times, no matter where we are in our journey through life, that we conclude, “I can’t do this!” In retrospect, those can prove to be some of the greatest times in our lives, because they afford the opportunity to experience the power of Christ, realizing the truth of His promise, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Incredible Vanishing Telephone

First the dinosaur, then the dodo, and soon…the home telephone. Headed for extinction.

An article recently reported more than 25 percent of American homes no longer have traditional landline telephone service. I’m not surprised – two of my daughters use cell phones exclusively as home phones. But the news still seems sad.

I missed out on old crank-‘em up style phones – with earpiece and speaking device – but we had rotary-dial telephones. We turned the dial for one number, then waited patiently for the dial to circle back into place before dialing the next. We didn’t have 911 then – even if we had, the house would have burned down before we finished dialing.

We even had “party lines,” which meant although our telephone number was unique, we shared the wires for incoming and outgoing calls with more than one household.

I still remember the telephone numbers we had when I was a boy. They consisted of a combination of letters and numbers. The first was CH (for CHarter) 9-2402, and the second was VI (for VIking) 6-9181. It was big news when the VI was replaced by its numerical equivalent, making our number 846-9181. I don’t know when area codes were officially assigned, but that was a pretty big deal, too.

Back in the 1980s, I predicted telephones would become standard equipment in cars, much like radios and air-conditioning. But I didn’t envision mobile phones we now carry everywhere. So much for my powers of prognostication.

Alas, technology continues its relentless advance. One day we’ll only see landline phones at the Smithsonian. But that’s okay. As Ecclesiastes 3:1 assures us, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” The “season” for traditional telephones is nearing its end. Just as long as we still have football season!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Life: On Purpose – or Accidental?

There’s a movie I have never seen, “The Accidental Tourist,” based on a novel I have never read. But the title intrigues me – is it about someone that took a wrong turn and wound up merged into a tour group? In 2008 a film was released called, “The Accidental Husband.” I think its sequel was called, “The Intentional Divorce.” There’s even a wine distillery called The Accidental Wine Company. Oops, we must have left the grape juice out too long!

It just seems so much in life goes on that’s accidental – and I’m not referring to fender-benders. Too many of us float through life, like waves “blown and tossed by the wind” as James 1:6 describes it. Some of us stumble through careers as aimlessly as flipping through TV channels with the remote. We connect and disconnect relationships haphazardly. “Life happens,” the bumper sticker informs us.

Maybe that’s one explanation for Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose-Driven Life, being so well-received. Deep down we sense the need for purpose – a cause for simply being. Why am I here? What’s my purpose? Answer those questions, set sail accordingly, and you’ll find fulfillment.

Years ago I was challenged to formulate a personal “purpose statement,” an expression of what I should be about. That seemed an excellent idea. It would be good to have a purpose – a life target to aim for.

I didn’t have to go to great lengths of articulate my purpose. Someone had already done it for me. In the first part of Philippians 3:10 in the Amplified Translation of the Bible, the apostle Paul states, “For my determined purpose is that I may know Him – that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him; perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly.”

When I read that, I simply thought, “That’s it. If that was good enough for Paul, it’s good enough for me.”

In the years since, that purpose statement has served well. In one way or another (albeit not perfectly) everything I do – writing and editing, photography, mentoring, being husband, dad and grandfather – flows out of that declaration.

Some things in my life are accidental, often in a good way, but I’d like to think an underlying purpose serves to guide my daily activities and interactions.

Do you know your purpose?