I can’t wait until I have Patience!!

Patience-carved-stone.jpg

Patience is a virtue.

Possess it if you can.

Seldom found in woman.

Never found in man.

I learned this little poem many years ago before I knew anything about patience really being virtuous.  For years, it seemed to me, patience was a character quality possessed by those willing to sit and wait and do nothing.  One of my favorite sayings was from Abraham Lincoln, “The things that come to those who wait are the things left behind by those who hustle.”  I was an activist.  An impatient activist!  There were so many things to get done.  Goals to accomplish. Wrongs to be righted! Dragons to slay!!

But life, or God, imposes circumstances that both require and teach you patience.  I am in such a season.  I had some due dates in my mind when things were supposed to happen.  Now they’re past.  Stuff didn’t happen.  How do I deal with that?  My typical reaction is to push.  Nudge.  Move the situation forward on something more like my timetable.  But so far my pushing and nudging have come to naught.  Now what?

For starters, I’ve started reading what the Bible has to say about patience and I’m learning there is wisdom in patience.  Arghhh!  I hate to admit that!  The Bible says:

Proverbs 19:11
A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.

Proverbs 25:15
Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.

Ecclesiastes 7:8
The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.

I’ve re-discovered that patience is a “fruit of the Spirit”:

Galatians 5:22-23
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Reading this I wondered, “Why is PATIENCE a fruit of the Spirit?  I can understand love.  I can understand joy.  They seem like activist words.  Patience seems so—well—passive.  Then I remembered a sermon I heard decades ago by Reuben Welch in which he said “When God tell us something about Himself, we need to listen.”  Here’s what God says to describe Himself:

Exodus 34:6
“And God passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…”

God is not passive, but He is patient.  Compassionate and gracious.  Slooooooooow to anger.

I’m trying to absorb this all while my impatient activist inner self is waiting impatiently for something to happen when nothing seems to be happening.  That’s another thing I remember from  Reuben’s sermon.  “When nothing is happening, something is happening because God is at work in the waiting.”

That’s how patience gets developed.  Not in one fell swoop.  Not in one dump load.  But by accretion— in the waiting— when nothing seems to be happening but something, unseen, is happening.  As I/we entrust ourselves to a faithful God who is at work in ways we cannot see.

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Teaching civic engagement

Awhile back, I had dinner with a couple friends from out of town. Over pasta we discussed Oklahoma political issues. One of my friends declared he had never voted for any tax increase. I turned to my other friend and said “How about you?” to which he replied, “I’ve never voted for a tax increase either—and I haven’t voted against one. I don’t vote. Never have. Never will.”

I was surprised. He is an intelligent guy. Holds an important position. Yet, he never votes? “Why?” I asked, a little incredulous. “It doesn’t make any difference” was his reply.

white and grey voting day sign

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

As a lawyer, I argued for 34 years, but I have learned not to argue with people about stuff like this. I’ve found you seldom convince people in political arguments. But it did dismay me to think of an intelligent, thoughtful person choosing never to vote.
I always vote even though I understand, at times, my vote probably does not make much difference. I have a sense of responsibility instilled in me by my parents who, likewise, always voted.

I remember the first time I went with my Dad to our local polling place. I was probably about 5 years old and Dad let me go with him into the “voting booth”. In those days you stepped into a small area surrounded by a curtain. When you moved a large lever, right to left, it closed the curtain and assured your privacy. Once inside you faced a machine with lots of little levers by candidate names. Dad let me help him cast his vote by pointing at which levers I should push down. When we finished Dad moved the large lever left to right, locking in our vote and, with a whoosh, opening the curtain. I did it! I voted in my first election at the age of 5! I don’t know if Dad and I violated any voter laws that day. The polling place official didn’t seem to mind or notice. But that experience cemented in my mind and heart the responsibility to vote.

Years later, when I was 17, there was a presidential election and my Dad announced at supper one night he was not going to vote. He didn’t like either major candidate and said he was not going to participate. I was shocked. My father was neither a quitter nor apathetic. I began to argue with him, “But you HAVE to vote!—even if you don’t like the lesser of the two evils, you have to vote for him. If you don’t, it’s like voting for the other guy you dislike even more!”

Dad seemed to mull this. Finally, he quietly conceded I was right. He said he would hold his nose and vote. Again I was shocked. I had actually persuaded my Dad? This was a first!

I’m not sure I actually persuaded him though. I think I just reminded him what he had taught me back when I was 5 and took me inside that voting booth. He taught me we have a responsibility to vote even when it doesn’t feel like it makes a difference. Because sometimes it does make a difference. That’s what we need to teach our children and that’s what we need to model for them.

That’s what I should have told my friend at dinner that night. Maybe I’ll send him a copy of this blog.

Living and Teaching Integrity

One Friday night not long ago my wife and I exited a restaurant to discover our parked car had been whacked by another car. It wasn’t like the other person tore our bumper off but it wasn’t a little ding either. It was the size of two fists and streaked with an orange paint smear. I immediately looked on the windshield to see if the car smacker left me a note of apology with insurance information. No such luck.

This wasn’t the kind of car whack that the other driver wouldn’t have noticed. They had to have known and they had to have known it was their fault. They had to have known the right thing was to leave a note on my windshield with their insurance information. As they drove off, they had to have known they acted wrongly.

grayscale photo of wrecked car parked outside

Photo by Александр Неплохов on Pexels.com

Or did they know? Maybe they grew up in a home where driving off, without a note, after you whack a car is normal life. Maybe they had parents or guardians who never taught them about right and wrong.

I knew a young man once who confessed he had lied about something. I told him I thought he needed to go back to the person he lied to and make things right by telling the truth. He looked at me incredulously and said “My mom always taught me that’s what I should do if I’m in a jam. Lie.” Maybe the person who whacked my car grew up with a mom like that. Still…..I think they knew what should have been done.

You and I, in our heart of hearts, know the difference between right and wrong. We should be actively living and teaching our family members to always act on the right and reject the wrong. I hope you tell your kids, “In this family, we don’t lie, even about little things. We don’t cheat even when no one is likely to find out. We act with integrity because that’s how this family operates.” I hope, even more, you live that example in front of your children.

Especially when you whack my car in a parking lot.

Talking to children about terrorism

I read an article recently about how to talk with your children about terrorist attacks.  It made me sad to be reminded that we have to talk to our children about such things.  But we definitely need to talk.  Like most topics, from sex to drugs to politics, parents should not adopt the ostrich approach.  Ignoring such topics prevents your children from learning your perspective.  They will get information on these subjects from less reliable sources.  Parents need to think through what they want to say ahead of time and then take the initiative.

 

My own children were young when the Murrah Building bombing happened in Oklahoma City and I remember my wife and I talked with them about what happened and even took them down to see the bomb scarred building before it was finally torn down.  They went with us to the Red Cross to drop off donations.  We were sad with them, but also tried to be hopeful with them, calling attention to the great generosity of so many people who responded with assistance to our city.

 

Terrorist incidents were not all that common when my kids were young.  That’s not the case any longer.  So how are parents supposed to talk with their children about terrorist attacks?  Condemn a religion?  Ignore the issue?  Limit news watching?  None of these approaches helps your child cope.  But here are some good suggestions posted after the Paris terrorist attacks last year by reporter Jenny Anderson at https://qz.com/551135/now-is-the-time-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-the-paris-attacks/. 

 

Validate their feelings.  The worst thing to say to a child who says: “I am scared” is to respond, “there is no reason to be scared.” Acknowledge their fear or sadness while looking for ways to make them feel safe.

 

Ask open-ended questions.  More information is better than no information, after a certain age. But too much information can be overwhelming. Ask kids “what have you heard about what happened in Paris (or London)?” and then let them talk.  “Leave out details that may create increased fear or compromise your child’s sense of safety,” writes Ritamaria Laird, an expert in pediatric mental health in Chicago. “Remember, your main goal is to convey a sense of security for your child. Listen to your child and provide information based on your child’s questions.”

 

Teach them the broad lesson they need to learn.  Kids love to divide the world into good guys and bad guys. After an attack, it is important to define the bad guys for what they are: a tiny minority. 

 

Give thought ahead of time to the main message you want to convey and try to stay on message.  Make your questions and comments age appropriate.  You can have much more in-depth discussions with teens than with younger children.  Listen to, and don’t criticize, your child’s questions or viewpoints about terrorist attacks, even if they are under-informed.  Keep the lines of communication open. 

 

 Above all, remind them how much you love them.  Every day.  That may be the #1 way to communicate security to your child in an uncertain world.

 

 

 

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I think I might be a Jesuit

Someone told me in order to have a “successful” blog you have to write every few days, on a regular basis, otherwise people won’t read it.  That’s probably good advice but I have found I only write when I have something to say–and that’s not every few days.  So forgive me for being silent from time to time, but my inclination is to remain silent if there is nothing of significance to say.

This approach reminds me of a story about Albert Einstein:

Albert Einstein was invited to speak at a banquet held in his honor at Swarthmore College. Hundreds of people from all over the country crowded an auditorium to hear what he had to say. When it came time for him to speak, the greatest physicist walked to the lectern, solemnly looked around, and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am very sorry, but I have nothing to say.” Then he sat down. The audience was in shock. A few seconds later, Einstein got up, walked back to the podium, and spoke again. “In case I have something to say, I will come back and say it.” Six months later he wired the president of the college with the message: “Now I have something to say.” Another dinner was held, and Einstein made his speech.

If this approach is good enough for Einstein, it’s good enough for me.

But now I have something to say and it’s this:  I think I might be a Jesuit.  Not literally, of course, since I am not even a Catholic.  But I have been reading a wonderful book by Father James Martin called The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything  and I find myself in frequent agreement with what Father Martin writes.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Jesuit-Guide-Almost-Everything/dp/0061432695

The Jesuits were founded by Ignatius of Loyola, a very interesting man with a very practical bent to his spirituality.  He wanted the Jesuits to be “contemplatives in action”.  In other words, spiritual but engaged in the world.  Father Martin’s book explains, in laymen’s language, the origin of the Jesuits and Ignatius’ approach (and thus the Jesuit’s approach) to life.  Written in a thoughtful, humorous and self effacing style, it’s a book worth reading.

One example of Ignatius’ and Father Martin’s good advice is found in the chapter entitled “What Should I Do?” about seeking God’s will in our decisions.  Father Martin writes:  Ignatius of Loyola suggests you “imagine a person whom I have never seen or known” and imagine what advice you would give to this person regarding the same decision you are facing.  This can help free you from excessive focus on yourself”

This is the same approach I have long used when I’m faced with a decision or dilemma.  I imagine a client coming to me for advice and I ask myself “What would you tell your client?”  This approach helps me be more objective and, hopefully, make wiser decisions.  See!  I was following Jesuit teaching and I didn’t even know it!

Toward the end of the chapter Father Martin writes these wise words about decision making:

Every state of life, every decision, includes some pain that must be accepted if you are to enter fully into those decisions and into new life. “All symphonies remain unfinished”, said Karl Rahner.  There is no perfect decision, perfect outcome, or perfect life.  Embracing imperfection helps us relax into reality.  When we accept that all choices are conditional, limited and imperfect, our lives become, paradoxically, more satisfying, joyful and peaceful.  All this points us to the unconditional, unlimited and perfect One to whom we say yes:  God.  All our decisions should be focused on this reality.  “Our only desire and our one choice”, said Ignatius, “should be this:  I want and choose what better leads to God’s deepening his life in me.”

That’s a worthy and noble goal.  It is my goal, although I strive after it imperfectly.  But that’s part of the imperfection of life acknowledged by Ignatius and the Jesuits.  Success then, in life, is the faithful, albeit imperfect, pursuit of worthy goals.  And there is none more worthy than wanting and choosing what better leads to God’s deepening his life in me.

I think that’s worth writing about.  And living.

Deo Gratias

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Vapor and God’s sovereignty

In late 1999 I started journaling on a regular basis.  Journaling has become, for me, a way to process ideas, reflect more thoughtfully on events, and keep a record of what’s been happening and how I respond to it.  It helps give me context and perspective and, on occasion, I go back and read what I was thinking at some point in the past.

I was journaling over the weekend and went back to look at my first entries of this year–the BC days: before cancer. I did not know at the beginning of 2014 that my wife would be diagnosed with breast cancer.  I did not know how it would turn our world topsy.  I did not know how we would drink at the fire hose of medical information and embark on a year long journey of surgeries, chemotherapy and, soon, radiation. On January 1, 2014 all that was in the future.  But I did have a sense on January 1 that things would happen in 2014 that I could not foresee.

Here’s part of my first entry of the year :

_______________________

1.1.14

Welcome to 2014!  As I begin this year, full of hopes and plans, I am reminded of the New Testament verse, James 4:15 “…we ought to say ‘If the Lord wills we shall live and also do this or that.'”

Lord, be sovereign over my 2014 ‘This or that”.  Remind me that I am vapor.  You are God.  Do not allow me to be presumptuous, for I do not know what a day will bring forth. (Proverbs 27:1)

______________________

I really did not know on January 1, 2014 what my day or my year would bring forth.  God has reminded me this year I am but a vapor.  My wife and I are learning to, as Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom once said “Hold everything in your hands lightly.”

Like Diane and me, you do not know what a day–or a year– will bring forth either.  A dear friend wrote to me last night that her husband is in the last stages of his life.  A young couple at our church lost their young son in a car accident a few weeks ago.  Tragedy strikes without putting up warning signs.  But our lives are also full of unexpected blessing.  On January 1, 2014 Diane and I could not have known the great out pouring of prayer, encouragement,  and support we would receive.  We could not have imagined the many delicious meals people would graciously bring to our home. We could not have discerned how the grace of God would sustain us during one of our greatest challenges.

God is sovereign even amidst the tangled events that weigh down on us and the unexpected delights that buoy us.  It is not that cancer–or whatever great adversity you are facing– is God’s will.  But all these things–the adversity and the blessings—occur under the umbrella of God’s will.  Romans 8:28 reminds me God is working all things–even adversity–together for my good.

That’s good news to a guy who is vapor.

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Sometimes I have nothing to say–and that’s ok

It’s been more than a week since my last blog and I have to admit I’ve been feeling a little guilty.  I tell myself “You should be writing”, but when I sat down to write the last couple days I felt as though I had nothing in particular to say.  It wasn’t that I was without thoughts.  It’s just that those thoughts had not yet formed into something worth writing about—yet.

Then I thought about this anecdote of Albert Eintstein:

Dr. Frank Aydelotte, the then President of Swarthmore College, once, invited Einstein as the guest of honor at a dinner.
When he was called upon to speak he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry but I’ve nothing to say.” The brief speech didn’t go well with the guests. Noticing this he arose again and added, “In case I do have something to say, I’ll come back.”
Six months later he wired Dr.Aydelotte, “Now I‘ve something to say.” Dr. Aydelotte promptly gave another dinner at which Einstein made his speech.

If this story is true I admire Einstein for his candor and bravery.  It’s hard to admit we have nothing to say. We have all heard speeches when the speaker really had nothing to say.  We have all listened to conversations when the person had nothing to say.  What compels people to speak–or write–when they have nothing to say?  I think it is because most of us are uncomfortable with silence.

Not my Dad.  He loved silence.  I can remember many times sitting with Dad on the front porch swing, or on a log in the woods while hunting, or in a boat on the lake while fishing–and nothing was said.  Dad was comfortable with silence and, through his example, I became comfortable with it too.  As a teenager I bought him a framed poster as a gift.  The poster had a photo of a boy and a man sitting side by side, at dusk, on a dock by a lake.  The two were obviously not talking and the words below the poster said “Those who say little love much.”  My Dad still has that poster in his bedroom.  Dad taught me to be comfortable with silence.  It is a lesson I constantly need to re-learn.

We absorb a cluttered cacophony of chatter in our lives.  Constant input from every arena and every electronic device makes it hard to listen to what matters.  Mother Teresa said, “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

We need silence to touch our own souls too.  To hear God and hear ourselves think.  To reflect.  To ponder.  To consider.  We do too little of that.  I have always liked the quote “We read too much and reflect too little.”  We also talk/write too much and reflect too little.

We should not be afraid of silence and we should actively pursue it.  We will be better, deeper, more thoughtful people if we take time for silence.  I’m not talking about “vegging out” or being mindlessly lazy.  I talking about thoughtful silence.  No words spoken and none heard.  No words written and none read.  Try it.  Push yourself over the speed bump of discomfort that will inevitably accompany silence at first.  Practice silence until it becomes comfortable.

So if you think you haven’t see a blog from me in awhile you may be right.  Perhaps I am practicing silence.  I may be reflecting.  Like Einstein, I may have nothing to say…for now.  But like Einstein, I will come back when I have something to say.

I guess I did have something to say today.