Category Archives: Overcoming adversity

Dealing With Life’s Most Persistent Question – Part 1: Post-Easter

Sno Ped Bridge Near Sunset 3-20-15Following the heartwarming hope of Easter Sunday may come the disturbing doubt of an ordinary Monday. Perhaps you have wondered about suffering and death—maybe wondered if God really cares or has a plan. And perhaps like Mary and Martha in the Bible who lost their brother Lazarus, you have experienced the death of a loved one and been deeply grieved. Grief is a process and it takes time to process our feelings of grief and loss—tempered with the comfort of the Holy Spirit and hope of heaven.

The sudden loss of a loved one or other tragedy leaves us with questions, and we long for answers, for some resolution to the tension and emotional pain that we experience. While we believe our loved one is in a better place and can rejoice that for now his or her struggles of life are over, we have a difficult time imagining how our own world will be a better place without them. In essence, we are struggling with the questions of suffering that all human beings deal with.

Questions of suffering include a quest for details and information. Once we learned the who, the what, the where, the when, and the how surrounding a tragedy, we are left with life’s most persistent question:  Why?

Like trying to fit together the pieces of a complicated jigsaw puzzle, our minds try to solve this puzzling question. Why, we ask? To solve a really perplexing puzzle takes time, and it takes time to process our grief and quest for the answer or reasons why. Perhaps a better “why question would be to ask, “Why do we sometimes expect our journey with Christ will only lead us on happy trails filled with warm feelings, good light and road signs every mile or so explaining the conditions ahead?”

Is it possible that the path of suffering might provide moments of mystery where our own faith could grow? Could those dark shadows cause us to cling ever closer to Jesus? Might our faith muscles stretch and develop through the twists and turns of an uphill climb when we don’t know exactly what lies around the next corner? Could the mystery of those moments cause us to speak with a little less certainty about our own ability and instead trust more fully in God’s? And is it possible that we are better for those mysterious moments because we can now encourage fellow travelers to keep climbing, keep pursuing, and keep moving forward because we have felt the hand of the Good Shepherd leading us through the darkness of the valley of the shadow of death?

Inquiring minds need to know, yet there are times when no easy answer comes. Ask Jesus. His plea from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” was met with silence on earth. However, that was not the end of the story–even at that moment. Although unheard on earth, there was applause in heaven as they were preparing for the return of God’s only begotten Son.

“Christ Jesus, Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11 NIV)

He understands the moments of mystery you face. And you don’t have to face them alone. I’m praying for those of you today who are suffering from a Post-Easter letdown based upon the reality of your present circumstances. Remember that where you are right now may only be a detour for your own provision and protection that you will later look back upon and understand more fully. Keep believing.

On the Verge: Finding Your Tipping Point – Part 4 “Suspense”

cliff-hangerCliffhanger—the word immediately conjures up an image of some sort in your mind, doesn’t it? When reading a good mystery, you can always skip ahead if the suspense is so great you can’t stand it. If you are watching a DVD, you can also run it forward. When it comes to your own life, you have to just live it out. You can’t fast forward time, regardless of the tension or pain of the moment.

Suspense and mystery are part of what makes a good story. Those elements of drama combine to draw in the reader or viewer, until you feel a part of the action. For a few moments, their story becomes your story. “This is killing me!” you exclaim as you virtually hang by your bleeding fingertips on the cliff of suspense.

If you were a Seattle Seahawks fan watching your team during Super Bowl XLIX it meant a roller coaster of emotions. Full of cliffhangers, the game was the most watched program in television history. Once again gaining and then losing the lead with two minutes to go, the Hawks gain possession again and a glimmer of hope emerges. Moving the ball down the field, with 26 seconds left on the clock, every Seahawks fan anticipated this would be the final play, only inches away from victory. The tension mounts as the ball is snapped when, surprise! Russell Wilson throws an unexpected pass that gets snatched away and with it our hopes are dashed. Game over, and not as we anticipated.

Not what we anticipated. Opportunity snatched away. Tension gives way to disappointment or disaster. The crash when we lose our grip on the cliff can paralyze us from making another attempt. “Never again” we may proclaim, robbing ourselves of even attempting to making it to the verge of success again.

But we don’t enjoy wallowing in self-pity or just playing it safe forever. Hope springs forth and we may find ourselves asking, “What if? Maybe it is possible to get up and try again.” Once more the suspense builds until we find a way to move on.

Clock Pendulum suspension spring diagramPendulum clocks generally attach the pendulum using a flexible piece of forged steel, called a suspension spring. It works along with the main time spring to create tension and keep the clock ticking through the back and forth motion of the pendulum. While the mainspring provides continuous power, the suspension spring does its job by simply being flexible enough to bend back and forth, time after time for days, weeks, months, and years at a time. Remember, the suspension spring is made of forged steel = it has been through the fire.

Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be broken. So what is the catalyst in your life to spring you forward? How has the forge and fire of failure made you more flexible? How can you increase that flexibility and use the tension in your circumstances to bounce back?  How can you leverage the resources you do possess to your advantage? How long will you remain in suspension before you take action? Who could you talk to and explore these questions? Next post we’ll discover some options for the power to move forward.

On the Verge: Finding Your Tipping Point – Part 2 “The Verge”

Grandpa Detrick's ca 1890 Seth Thomas Clock

Grandpa Detrick’s ca 1890 Seth Thomas Clock

We often live our lives on the verge. On the verge of success. On the verge of getting out of debt. On the verge of finding a rewarding relationship. On the verge of achieving that sought after promotion at work. On the verge of obtaining the scholarship. On the verge of finishing that degree. On the verge of fulfilling our dream.

The verge is a nice stop on the way to our destination. It is a terrible place to live permanently. If we camp there long enough, it becomes difficult to move on. While camped there we may analyze a million and one reasons why we got stuck in the first place, and another million and one reasons how we might move on, but we tend to be weighted down by the analysis to the point of paralysis, convincing ourselves that it is safer to just stay where we are at. Like I said earlier, passivity is the opposite of courage.

Wait a minute!  Stop the clock! Do not lose courage. Passivity is the inactive response to lost hopes and dreams. It is time for a change. You don’t have to live your life always “on the verge.” You can move past the verge.

Unlike the Apple Watch which I plan to never buy, I do have an affinity for old clocks. Not old clocks from the 1980’s with digital readouts, but really old clocks. Most in my collection are well over a century old, American made, and still working. And I work on them—have for years, both as a hobby and in a practical way to keep my collection running. Working on old clocks has taught me some lessons about systems, and mechanics, and maintenance, and life. They have also taught me about time, and how I use it, how I respond to it, how I measure it. After all, they have a lot to tell by listening to the tick-tock of the pendulum.

Verge - clockworksHow many mechanical items from a century ago are still functioning with their original purpose today? Not many! You probably don’t know that the term verge is a clock word. The verge is that part of a mechanical clock that keeps the pendulum moving back and forth – and keeps the rest of the clock ticking. The actual tick-tock is sound of the verge rocking back and forth, connecting with a toothed wheel that connects to other gears and wheels that eventually move the hour and minute hands, ever so slowly. When it is all synchronized, it is a beautiful thing. It keeps on moving, and keeping perfect time.

A verge is a lot like a tipping point. Malcom Gladwell states in his book, The Tipping Point:   “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”

What if you could find the tipping point that would move you past the verge? What if you could stop listening to the melancholy melody that keeps you stuck? What if you could re-discover your courage? You can. Listen to another melody—a happier tune that will actually help you redeem the time:

“Wake up from your sleep, Climb out of your coffins; Christ will show you the light! So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!”   Ephesians 5:14-16 The Message

“Make the most of every chance you get.”  The old King James Version actually instructs us, “redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” What if you struggled with financial problems, but had forgotten about an old savings bond your uncle gave you years ago? It may be worth $50,000 but if you never redeemed it, you would just be holding on to an old piece of paper while continuing to struggle with finances. Time is as old as “in the beginning.” To fully take advantage of it, we must redeem it.  My old clocks may be more than a century old, but they have taught me some redeeming contemporary lessons, and I look forward to sharing some of them with you.

Abraham Lincoln: Humble and Meek

Abraham Lincoln Statue

Abraham Lincoln Statue

Today we celebrate the 206th birthday of my favorite president, Abraham Lincoln. Born in a humble Kentucky log cabin, humility characterized the life of the tall, lanky, awkward-looking man. Yet perhaps meekness, often defined as “strength under control,” is a better word to describe his character. He leveraged his strength as a wrestler and a fighter by channeling those energies into educating himself and becoming a successful attorney. Legal battles turned to political battles and as President he had to battle the personal demons of self-doubt and clouds of depression, while being demonized by a hostile press and political enemies who loathed the backwoods country lawyer.

He led our nation during its greatest crisis to overcome our greatest national shame. Though a fighter, he led in his characteristic humble and meek style, enlisting his political adversaries into a “team of rivals” to win them over and help save the Union. Rather than taking a swing at those who opposed him or his ideas, he resolved to stand firm in his convictions, while listening to and engaging his opponents in dialogue. He once said, “Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” While standing firm, his self-effacing humor and ability to spin a yarn broke down defenses and built bridges.

One of my favorite Lincoln quotes is from the final paragraph of his Second Inaugural Address, delivered a few days before his tragic assassination: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

We can only imagine how much faster the process of healing our nation and reconstruction of The South might have taken place had Lincoln been able to serve out his second term of office. Perhaps we might have been spared some of the long and agonizing delays in the process of racial reconciliation and civil rights that continues in our nation and around the world to this very day.

But one thing is certain. Lincoln left his mark and made a difference in this world that is still recognized and appreciated today. His legacy is felt by all who work toward achieving and cherishing, “a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Echoes of Lincoln’s hundred and fifty year old words are heard whenever a voice is raised to oppose injustice, whenever the chains are released from a soul rescued from human trafficking, whenever the lever is raised on a water pump to improve the health of a community, whenever a door of opportunity opens for a child born in poverty, and wherever freedom reigns so people have the right to lift their voice in praise to their Creator.  Quite an accomplishment for such a meek and humble man!

Crossing the Gap

Crossing The Gap - CaterpillarIt requires courage to cross the gap from where you are, to where you want to be.”

“Donnie, the neighbor called and our cows are in their pasture.” That meant round up time for this young cowboy. And it was not a welcome call. Getting those critters back to their home pasture often proved to be an exercise in futility. Growing up on a farm, I never saw a fence our cattle could not eventually find a way through. After all, fences break and the electricity sometimes goes off.

But there exists a sure way to stop them from seeking greener pastures that works in certain situations. For some reason, cows are afraid of crossing a gap or slotted surface. That’s why you’ll see cattle guards on bridges or crossings in cattle country – just slotted planks with space between them that keep them safely within the boundaries of where they are supposed to be. They take the place of a gate that would need to be open and shut every time a vehicle or person passed through. Sometimes even lines painted on pavement serve the purpose. Even though there would be little actual danger from them jumping or trotting across, they stay put because cattle somehow perceive danger in crossing that obstacle, even if the grass is greener on the other side.

In contrast, the above photo I took shows a caterpillar crossing a gap in the concrete on his way to who knows where. He was making good time, and the gap did not slow him down one bit. Relatively speaking, the gap in the concrete was larger to him than the gap a cow sees in a cattle guard. No matter to the caterpillar. Whether guided by instinct or a simple need to find something to eat far from the barren pavement, the caterpillar did not mind crossing the gap.

It got me to thinking. Am I more like cattle, or more like caterpillars? I’m glad it’s not completely an either/or proposition because frankly I would not care to be either one. Yet how often am I hindered or stopped altogether by some gap in the road that distracts me from my true destination? While I’m not suggesting a reckless strategy, how often does fear of the unknown keep me from moving forward?

How about you?  Are you known for prudence and counting the cost, or do people see you as an adventurer, undaunted by gaps in the concrete, clouds in the sky, or rain in the forecast? More importantly, how does God see you, and how do you view yourself?

Prudence and counting the cost are both biblical virtues. However, an excess of caution can lead to a shortage of progress. An object at rest tends to stay at rest. To move forward requires some risk, but do you want to spend the rest of your life resting where you are—especially if God has given you a vision for something more? What will happen if you stay where you are? What might occur if you venture forth and cross the gap between where you are where you want to be?  What would it take to make a decision to cross the gap and venture ahead? What would it take to bridge the gap once you decide to do so?

It requires courage to bridge the gap from where you are to where you want to be. My wife, Jodi knows this. She excels at life coaching where she helps people cross crucial gaps because she has done so herself. My heart will be swelling with pride as I watch her at commencement exercises this weekend at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, MO. Because I know as she crosses the line to receive her doctoral diploma, this accomplishment occured because she courageously crossed many gaps to get to this point.

Don & Jodi Wedding Cake 6-8-74 PSWe married as teenagers, and she worked full time as a dental assistant so I could finish Bible college and enter the ministry. With her many gifts and skills, not to mention her winning personality, she could have had a career of her own. Instead, she chose the career of staying at home and being a mother to our three children and helper to me as an unpaid assistant pastor. Her imprint is clearly seen on our children’s lives, and the lives of hundreds of others to this day through her life, ministry, coaching, and writing for The Seattle Times and her new highly acclaimed book, The Jesus-Hearted Woman.

How did she get from where she was to where she is today? After our children were off on their own, she courageously accepted a call to serve as leader of our network’s ministry to women. Then, without a college degree of her own, she began a decade long journey filled with books, classes, papers, lectures, books and more books to read in pursuit of those degrees. And she did so with disctinction, having been chosen among her fellow seminarians to be one of the commencement speakers.Don & Jodi Detrick 5-2-13 lower res

She will be crossing the line this weekend as Rev. Jodi Detrick, D.Min. with a 4.0 GPA in her doctoral classes. She crossed a lot of gaps to get from where she was to where she is today. Gender gaps, educational gaps, economic gaps, and age gaps did not deter her. She enjoys coaching others who benefit from her own experience of gap crossing. And if you notice, as she takes her place with her fellow graduates this weekend, you’ll see me smiling broadly. I couldn’t be more proud.

Persistence

Persistence - pansy in concrete w copyrightI did a double take when I saw it. A single yellow pansy blooming in the driveway. Certainly nobody planted it there, yet somehow a seed took root. And there it was, its sweet pansy face peeking up from a crack in the concrete. I had to stop and take a photo of a literal “bloom where you are planted” story.

How often do I complain about how the present location isn’t ideally suited to take root, bloom, and produce? Or maybe the timing isn’t right. Or maybe I just don’t have enough time. Besides, everybody knows you can’t grow pansies in concrete cracks. Of course, weeds seem to flourish there. But here was a pansy staring me in the face and reminding me that against all odds, and even without ideal circumstances or conditions, blooming is indeed a possibility. The flower’s beauty and contrast with its harsh concrete surroundings was both stunning and defying the logic of my conventional wisdom.

Persistence. Patience. Possibility. These are the makings of everyday miracles. Stick with it. Don’t give up. And don’t stop believing. What do Olympic athletes have in common? Certainly some degree of natural skill and ability. Beyond that, they stick with it. They don’t give up. And they don’t stop believing they can win. In spite of the daily grind requiring long hours of practice, blistered bodies, bruised egos, and tired muscles, they persevere. And the most persistent usually take home the gold.

The same could be said for virtually every worthwhile pursuit. You could become proficient in a foreign language by studying a few minutes a day. Every day. For a long time. You could become a good pianist if you take lessons every week, practice 30 minutes every day, and do so over an extended period of time.

You’ll need to up the ante if you want to become a concert pianist, and very few do–really want to, that is. Because if you just want to a little, it won’t happen. You have to want to a lot, and then act accordingly. Persistently. Consistently. For a very long time. Despite less than ideal circumstances. Despite distractions. Despite sacrificing personal comfort.

What do you want to do? What is keeping you from accomplishing that dream? Persistence. Patience. Possibility. You can do it. You can find freedom from your circumstances and limitations. Just look at the photo of the pansy emerging from its concrete prison and let your dreams bloom right where you are planted. God, who specializes in making the impossible possible, can help you overcome adversities that you cannot conquer on your own.

It’s not an easy road. Easy roads are paved with good intentions and filled with potholes of adversity. Easy roads have weeds growing in the cracks. The road less travelled is paved with persistence, patience, and possibility. The potholes of adversity are still there, but the traveler choosing that route might just be greeted with the face of an unexpected pansy along the way.