Friday, February 25, 2011

‘Dancing’ Despite the Storms

Recently we decided to spruce up our master bathroom, removing old wallpaper, replaced by a fresh coat of paint. Among the new accessories is a picture bearing the motto, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

I can’t think of a better sentiment for coping with everyday life. “Storms” are inevitable, whether they involve health issues, marriage and family challenges, financial difficulties, career conflicts, cars and appliances that break down at inopportune times. The reality is not if we are going to encounter adversity in various forms, but when.

We live in a pain-avoidance society. If you have a twinge, take a Tylenol, an aspirin, or something stronger. Drugs and alcohol are commonly used by people seeking to become oblivious to the storms swirling around them. But all too often, once the Band-aid is removed, or the pain-killer wears off, the problems persist.

No amount of legislation can end them. No amount of money can buy carefree, pain-free living. So if we’re stuck with storms, what can we do? Learn to dance in the rain.

The Bible offers curious advice regarding what it terms “trials” and “tribulations”: “…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint, because God has poured out his love into our hearts…” (Romans 5:3-5).

In case we overlook that passage, similar thoughts are found in James 1:2-4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Rejoice? Consider it “pure joy” when we encounter the trials and tribulations of life? That’s hard to do, without question – unless we embrace the promise from the Scriptures that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). If we truly believe that, then yes, we can learn to dance in the rain!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mercy for Those Serving in the Military

“Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” featured an Army staff sergeant seriously disabled in the 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas. It was heartwarming – as the show always is – to watch a couple coping with misfortune get a new house and take the first step in a new life.

The show suggested a broader issue, however. Last week, an article in USA Today reported 16 percent of homeless adults nationally in a one-night survey were homeless veterans. More than 75,000 veterans were calling the streets or temporary shelters “home” that night. Other reports have documented less than stellar health care being provided for vets that return from combat zones.

Such dismal treatment is a travesty. I’m not a “hawk,” and have never served in the military – I had a high draft number and was attending college during the Vietnam Conflict’s height – but I think men and women who serve our country are deserving of the best care possible following deployment in hostile territory.

As I was growing up, John Wayne and Glenn Ford movies made war seem like fun; camaraderie shared by soldiers united to defeat the enemy. But I knew better. My dad, who served more than 22 years in the Army, had been wounded twice during battles in World War II and received two Purple Hearts (although he never displayed them).

Dad never discussed the war. If you asked, he offered only brief, non-specific answers or changed the subject. But I remember nights he would awaken from his sleep screaming or gasping. I never learned what nightmares had alarmed him so.

He was proud to have served his country in the military, but talk of war was off limits – “verboten,” as Germans would say.

We often read about discharged soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. We first started hearing about PTSD during the Vietnam era. A friend of mine has founded a non-profit organization to assist those who, like himself, suffer these lingering affects.

Frankly, I can’t understand how anyone returns from war zones without PTSD. Being forced to live – and fight – in alien climates and cultures; never knowing for certain who the enemy might be; seeing friends and fellow soldiers killed or severely maimed in fire fights or by IEDs; enduring long months, even years, of separation from family and friends.

In Luke 10:7, Jesus says, “the worker deserves his wages.” He’s not speaking of soldiers, but the principle is applicable to those serving in the military.

Later in the New Testament, the apostle Paul uses a military metaphor to exhort his young disciple, Timothy: “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his commanding officer” (2 Timothy 2:3-4).

Service in the military may be voluntary – and I’m thankful for all who volunteer to do so. But none of them goes with the expectation of being killed, losing limbs, or becoming physically or psychologically disabled. Those coming back damaged in any way should receive the very best of treatment. They offered their all for us; can’t we do the same for them?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love and Marriage

A CBS News poll indicates seven in 10 people believe the institution of marriage is weakening. At the same time, this poll reports the vast majority of people – nearly 80 percent – say they want to get married one day.

Could it be people are fascinated with the notion of getting married, just not excited about staying that way?

The old song told us, “Love and marriage…go together like a horse and carriage.” In modern society, it seems many contend the refrain should be rephrased, “go together like oil and vinegar.”

But reports about the demise of marriage, apparently, are premature – if not totally exaggerated. Chuck Stetson, who chairs the Let’s Strengthen Marriage campaign, gave this perspective:

"I'm a business guy, and I look at research. And the research shows here that people who are married live longer, they're healthier, they have a lot more wealth, and they're happier. I don't think that's 'obsolete.'"

Of course, those arguing that advocates of the institution of marriage should be institutionalized would disagree. Who’s right?

My wife and I have been married more than 36 years. I can honestly say my love for her today is much deeper – and more genuine – than when we exchanged “I do’s.” We’ve had our share of struggles (my bride understandably might think more than her share), and coped with adversity in various and numerous forms. But those hardships have strengthened our relationship – just as intense, rigorous exercise makes an athlete stronger.

The problem, I believe, is couples don’t want to engage in the hard work necessary to establish a relationship to weather the storms.

We watch romantic comedies in which boy and girl overcome humorous conflict, but by movie’s end they sail into the sunset, happily ever after.

In real life, “happily ever after” lasts a few minutes, maybe a half hour, until the next crisis. But it’s the hard work, accepting the “worse” as well as the “better,” that forges true love. Too often, couples enter marriage with unrealistic ideals and when the going gets tough, they decide it’s time to get going – apart from one another.

That’s why the classic Bible passage, oft-quoted at weddings, reminds us, “Love is patient, love is kind…does not envy…does not boast…is not rude…not self-seeking…not easily angered…keeps no record of wrongs…always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6).

Tough words for an “It’s all about me” culture.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Christmas in February

Yesterday the NCAA presented ardent college football fans with “Christmas in February” – National Signing Day. It’s the annual rite of passage, when high school seniors sign paperwork to pledge allegiance to their favorite university.

For fans who religiously follow the Crimson Tide, Fighting Irish, Volunteers, Buckeyes, or Fearsome Chickens, it’s like Christmas morning: What’s under the tree? Will they get everything on their “Christmas list”?

College football recruiting has turned into a veritable industry; highly paid “experts” and services do nothing year-round but evaluate, speculate and pontificate.

Everyone knows players from the South, especially Georgia or Florida, are bigger, faster, meaner, quicker and just better than those from the North. Why? No one knows. Except the South lost the Civil War and it’s been trying to get even ever since.

The funny thing about college football recruiting is it’s not an exact science. In fact, it’s not a science at all. And despite chest-thumping (or teeth gnashing) that follows each gridiron stud’s decision, it’s far from exact.

Many top-rated, “4-star” and “5-star” athletes perform like falling stars. They might have peaked with their last game in high school. They might lose their zeal after years of peewee, junior and senior high competition.

Key injuries in college might impede or end their careers. Sadly, some find their names etched on police blotters and earn headlines for non-football reasons.

At the other end of the spectrum, some lowly rated 2-star and 3-star players use the lack of respect as motivation, working to get better and better. A fellow who started out as “who’s he?” on State U’s commitment list winds up earning his way into college football’s Who’s Who.

National Signing Day is only about potential. Measuring sticks and stopwatches can’t gauge what’s inside a young man – his heart. Maybe that’s why the day is so fascinating. You think you know, but in the end, you just don’t know what you don’t know.

That’s also true of life. We look at people, even ourselves, and think we know what’s going on. In reality, we don’t. That’s why the Bible says, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

And God has much better things to do than coach college football.