Category Archives: Reflection on Bible & Life

Remembering Memorial Day

Don Detrick at David Brainerd GraveI like to visit cemeteries, like this old one in Northampton, Massachusetts, where I visited the grave of Pioneer American missionary, David Brainerd. I know that seems odd to most people. But there is something about visiting a cemetery populated by reminders of the past that makes me more aware of the present. And I always enjoy the history provided there, causing me to reflect on the legacy I might be able to leave behind, or not, depending upon what I do today and whatever tomorrows I have left on this earth.

As a boy growing up in rural Oregon, Memorial Day meant noisy boat races in the nearby Willamette River and a ritual my parents carried out as a sacred duty. They called it “Decoration Day” as it was a day for decorating the graves of our departed family members. Rising early in the morning, we would enter our yard and garden to pick the flowering white blossoms of the snowball tree, pink peonies, orange and yellow day lilies, red rhododendrons or azaleas– anything that happened to be blooming at the moment, colorful and fragrant. Dad was particularly fond of iris, which he always called, “flags.” These cut flowers were carefully arranged in Mason jars and off to the cemetery we would go. My parents would reminisce on the way there and back about relatives I never knew except what I gleaned via those conversations.

Today, many Americans have no idea why we celebrate Memorial Day, viewing it only as a reason for a 3-day weekend.  I once asked an Israeli cardiologist who was a resident at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles what he thought about living here. He replied, “I don’t understand your Memorial Day. In Israel it is a very sacred and serious day when we remember those who have died and given their lives for our nation. In America, it is a huge shopping day and sale.”

Memorial Day has traditionally been a day of remembering the many heroes who lost their lives during the Civil War and other wars in which the United States has been involved. All told, more than 1.35 million lives have been lost in America’s wars since our nation’s beginning.  However, for many people, Memorial Day is also a time to honor all loved ones who have passed on before us.

The American Civil War was the deadliest war in American history, and the only one fought on our own soil, with more than 625,000 killed on both sides. Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans – the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) – established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared it should be May 30. It is believed the date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

The ceremonies centered on the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant and other Washington officials presided. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.

In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff.

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day. The Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities. It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971 Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.

Gen. Logan’s order for his posts to decorate graves in 1868 “with the choicest flowers of springtime” urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. … Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

The crowd attending the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery was approximately the same size as those that attend today’s observance, about 5,000 people. Then, as now, small American flags were placed on each grave – a tradition followed at many national cemeteries today. In recent years, the custom for many families is to remember their departed loved ones by visiting cemeteries and cleaning up tombstones, or laying flowers or decorations on graves.[1]

Why do we need a special day to remember the dead?  The answer is simple – it is too easy for the living to forget about them.  Speaking of the dead, the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “For the memory of them is forgotten.”  (Ecclesiastes 9:5b NKJV)  He goes on to say, “Whatever they did in their lifetime – loving, hating, envying – is all long gone. They no longer have a part in anything here on earth.”  (Ecclesiastes 9:6 NLT)

While dedicating the Gettysburg National Cemetery on November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln said:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Today we know that to a great extent it was the resolve of President Lincoln that brought an end to both the Civil War and slavery, thus creating a “new birth of freedom.”  The United States of America still exists today because of the principles set forth in a graveyard dedication speech, the Gettysburg Address. Thus it is fitting for us who remain in this day to remember and show honor and respect on this Memorial Day in 2015–and maybe visit a cemetery to pay our respects. Who knows, you might actually enjoy it!

[1] Some information taken from “The Origins of Memorial Day” from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs office of Public Relations at

Summer, Sunlight, & Surmising

Summer Sunlight Surmising2Today is the first official day of summer, although you wouldn’t know it here in our part of the Pacific Northwest. The clouds concealed the sun all day, the temperature is in the low sixties, and rain threatened to upset summer solstice celebrations. But no worries! We NW natives know enough to ignore the calendar. Summer arrives when it decides to on its own leisurely schedule, usually after the 4th of July. And it is worth the wait.

I love summertime. During the summer months, an open window at our house is better than playing a “sounds of nature” CD. That open window channels a soothing symphony of birdsong indoors, performing from dawn’s early light until the twilight’s last gleaming. Compared to the winter’s moaning wind and the staccato beat of rain against the glass, I’ll take an open window in summer anytime.

Summer days mean more daylight hours to work harder and play longer. More sunshine means more colorful growth of plants and flowers. Melons, nectarines and cherries – rare gems in the wintertime diet – are as common on the table as sand on the beach in summer. Wildlife, camouflaged by fall and winter’s muted colors, suddenly appear with the summer sun. Bunnies, squirrels, deer, and elk frequently visit our community, along with an occasional bear. Accompanied by their young, they provide a visual testament to the circle and cycle of life’s seasons.

And the aromas of summer are something to die for. Backyard barbecues produce a savory, smoky appetizer every time you take a breath. Berries, roses, and freshly mown lawns or hay all blend together to form a fragrant medley that satisfies the senses. Summertime provides a glorious palate of sounds, sights, and smells, forming a delightful contrast to the stark gray of winter.

In our part of the world, summer slips away pretty fast. Winter means cold and rain, resulting in rust, mold, mildew, and mud. Thus, summer is a season of restoration – a few frenzied months of growing, cleaning and painting to erase the stains of winter before it once again becomes an exercise in futility to do so.

In the same way, summer is a good time to make a careful examination of our souls. Our lives pass through seasons as well. Sometimes the winter’s blast leaves behind marks that endure much longer than they should, scarring our souls and hardening our hearts in the process. The light of God’s Word reveals the wounds in our souls; much like the light of summer reveals the marks winter left behind.

Summer is an excellent time to bask in that light and reflect on life in a more leisurely fashion. As we do, we may notice that sometimes we need restoration because of marks we ourselves have made. We run the red lights, crash and burn. Other times, we have been burned, wounded by others or circumstances.  Either way, we need restoration.

Rainy days come, even in summer. Life often brings discouragement. Circumstances can get the best of us and rob us of our contentment and joy. This is not unexpected. In fact, when speaking about difficult circumstances Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33 NKJV)

But did you ever notice how much happier people are when the sun is shining?  Many people believe that an absence of sunshine, particularly during dark, winter months, can lead to depression. There is even a clinical term for this: SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. In simplest terms, the prescribed therapy is more exposure to light.

Light affects our bodies’ melatonin and serotonin levels. These chemicals carry messages to the brain and affect our moods and sleep. Melatonin is associated with darkness and helps us sleep. Studies have shown serotonin is associated with sunlight and helps us feel calm, alert and happy.

Like the summer sun warms our spirits and makes us joyful, the Son of God brings us joy by His presence. John wrote, “God is light and there is no darkness in Him at all.”  (1 John 1:5 NLT) So while I wait for sunnier days beyond the official first day of summer, I enjoy the anticipation and bask in God’s presence. Summer is coming, and I can hardly wait!

Memorial Day: A Time For Reflection

Memorial Day A Time For ReflectionMy mind goes back to the days of my childhood when my father called Memorial Day “Decoration Day,” as it was commonly known to past generations of Americans. It was a day for decorating the graves of our departed family members. Rising early in the morning, we would go to the garden and pick the flowering blossoms of the snowball tree, peonies, day lilies, rhododendron, or azaleas– anything that happened to be blooming at the moment, colorful and fragrant. Dad was particularly fond of iris, which he always called, “flags.” Depending upon the weather patterns of spring in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, we might have an abundant or meager floral supply—but there was always something. These cut flowers were carefully arranged in mason jars and taken to the cemetery where they were lovingly placed on the graves of those departed loved ones whose memory my parents cherished. There, our “flags” took their place amongst the American flags commemorating departed veterans.

I must admit, I failed to recognize the significance of this ritual and tradition at the time. Most of those being remembered pre-dated my memory, and I felt no personal connection to a person I’d never known. The noise of the nearby boat races on the Willamette River sounded much more exciting than the dead silence of a graveyard to my way of thinking. Over time however, I discovered my parent’s traditional genes also flow through my blood. These days I consider it a privilege, if not a responsibility, to follow their ancient rituals in remembering loved ones from the past on Memorial Day.

It is ironic isn’t it, that we sometimes must be faced with death to consider the importance of life. Jesus calls us to come to him, to pause and find rest for our weary souls (see Matthew 11:28-29). In the Sermon on the Mount, he encouraged us to “consider the lilies of the field” and recognize that worry and a hectic pace adds little of substance to our lives. In so doing, we may reflect and consider what God has done for us, and in so doing discover how we should then live. In essence it represents a call to pause and consider the meaning of life. Our life.

Iris - 5-24-13

Iris blooming in my neighborhood (c)2013 Don Detrick

What will others remember about us on some distant Memorial Day? As human beings, we are prone to action more than reflection. We are human beings, not human doings, yet we seem to love doing much more than being. That is why it is good to occasionally pause and reflect—to examine ourselves. But this requires us to slow down, to wait, to think, to meditate, things we often avoid.

Growing up on a farm, I particularly enjoyed tasks that involved driving the tractor. It is a job that does not require great amounts of concentration, and provides you time to reflect. One thing I learned is that you can observe things at the speed of 7 miles per hour that you miss at the speed of 70 miles per hour. You notice the little things that have fallen by the wayside, and have time to think and reflect. Things like the vibrant beauty of flowers contrasted with flags and gravestones. One representing the glory of life in the present, the other significant for remembering the blessings of heritage and freedom. Both are important for a balanced life. How might you add a moment or two of reflection to your busy Memorial Day weekend?

Lessons My Mother Taught Me

Madeline Detrick late 1970-early1971 Cropped PSAlthough she went to heaven more than ten years ago, I bear my mother’s imprint and think about her every day of my life. And although she never held any formal office or position in life (other than being my Cub Scout Den Mother, or Sunday School Teacher, or PTA President), and only graduated from the eighth grade, she was a leader in her own right because she influenced others–especially me. She even nurtured my love for photography, posing for this photo I took when I was in the eighth grade or so, around 1969. Here are a few lessons I learned from her. The first few of course are written tongue in cheek, but nevertheless I can literally remember her voice speaking these things:

  • My mother taught me about the circle of life: “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of this world.”
  • My mother taught me about the road to insanity: “You’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’ and driving me crazy making all that noise.”
  • My mother taught me patience: “You are going to sit there until you eat everything on that plate.”
  • My mother taught me about world concern: “There are millions of starving children in the world who would love to eat a meal like this.”
  • My mother taught me about delayed expectations: “You just wait until your father gets home, you’re gonna get it!”
  • My mother taught me to increase my animal vocabulary and mark my words: “You just hold your horses, if you don’t stop running around like a chicken with your head cut off, mark my words, I’m gonna be mad as a wet hen and tan your hide!”
  • My mother taught me to appreciate big numbers: “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times!”
  • My mother taught me to appreciate bony fingers: “I work my fingers to the bone around here, and you don’t appreciate it.”
  • My mother taught me about bungee jumping: “I suppose if everybody else jumped off a bridge, you would, too!”
  • Finally, my mother taught me that we are all mortal: “You better think again about what you’re planning to do because you’ll do that over my dead body!”

As a boy, I never took a lot of my mother’s hyperbole in speech very seriously. And I didn’t expect that sometime in the distant future I really would look be doing something “over her dead body” and sadly, one day more than 10 years ago her life on earth did end, and I conducted her funeral on August 30, 2002. As I reflected on that day and today, here are three of the most important lessons she taught me:

First, my mother taught me about faithThe Bible says in Hebrews 11:3 that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” My mother taught me about faith in Jesus and prayer from the time I was born. As a child I never doubted the existence of God, or the goodness of God, or the love of God because I saw God as a reality in my family. My mother was intentional about this, and she taught both by example and by being sure I was involved in activities that would nurture my faith.

Second, my mother taught me about hope. The Bible teaches us that without a vision, people perish (Proverbs 29:18). Vision is all about hope – it is about the future. My mother taught me to be optimistic – to be sure, there were times she could be moody and discouraged, but overall, she usually had a smile on her face and enthusiasm for life. She had the advantage of perspective, and an unwavering conviction that we had a destiny and purpose in life.

From the time I was a little boy, I remember my mother telling me that God had a plan for my life – that the Lord had spoken to her that I had a call upon my life. Even though there were times as a teenager when I resisted or even resented that idea, I could never lose sight of the vision my mother instilled within me. She majored on my strengths, not my weaknesses. Although I had plenty of weaknesses, my mother and dad both instilled in me the idea that I could do anything – that I was destined to be a leader. Others conspired with her in this initiative. I still have my 3rd grade report card from Mrs. Winnogene Baker, my teacher at Dundee Elementary School in Dundee, Oregon. On that 3rd grade report card, Mrs. Baker wrote:  “Donald is a leader. Let’s hope he continues to lead in the right direction.”

Mom & Dad Detrick 50th Anniv 1-2-89 Newberg AG cropped photo

My parents on their 50th Wedding Anniversary January 2, 1989

Of all the lessons my mother taught me, most of all she taught me about love. My mother was an equal opportunity lover of all people. She never had a cruel thing to say about anybody and showed her love through her gift of hospitality. She never saw a problem that couldn’t be worked out over a good meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy with all the trimmings, and topped off with coconut cream pie and a good cup of coffee. She gave my wife and children the same gift of her love and acceptance that she freely offered me. She imprinted all of our lives and we are all better because of her. Thanks, Mom!

Semper Fi = Enduring Influence: Part 1

Semper Fi = Enduring Influence“There’s no such thing as an ex-Marine!” While I have heard NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on television’s top-rated series make the remark many times, I was somewhat surprised to hear the unison voices of three students echo the exact sentiment. Someone in the university class I was teaching happened to mention that a number of their cohorts were ex-Marines, thus their collective and corrective response.

It got me thinking. What is it that makes a select group of individuals so impassioned that they proudly wear the title, “Marine” as a badge of honor forever? Not “ex-Marine,” mind you, but even years following active duty they subscribe to an identity in the present tense, “Marine.”

What occurs within that window of time in active service, be it two years or thirty, that becomes part of the fabric of their lives forever? What creates the ethos, the culture, the duty, the mission that permeates their collective DNA? What could inspire random diverse individuals with unique personalities, gifts, and talents into a unit with a collective identity and purpose? What is so compelling about their mission that men and women risk life and limb to defend each other and more importantly, defend the dignity and freedom of their nation? What could possibly generate such enduring influence?

Books could be written on the subject (and they have). Techniques, strategies, training, culture, combat, duty, shared quarters, community, language, experience, camaraderie—these all contribute. But in the end it really comes down to two words: Semper fi. Not “semper fidelis.” The abbreviated version works fine, and is more efficient in the Marine economy. Latin is not the strong suit for most Marines. And like Special Agent Gibbs on NCIS, most Marines I know are people of few words. They choose action over verbiage. They don’t need a lot of fancy words to proclaim their faithfulness, they show it every day. They get things done. They can be counted on when it counts. Their influence endures. In a word, leadership is influence, and they lead by example.

We have all experienced the effects of unfaithfulness. Needless suffering, broken promises, broken vows, broken families, and broken lives are the inevitable result. Even the most faithful person may have a lapse of faithfulness. Unfaithfulness is common. Faithfulness is rare. That explains the question posed by the writer of Proverbs: “Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?” (TNIV)

Semper fi. Always faithful. Always on active duty. Always ready to be found, identified, and counted. What if every disciple of Jesus Christ was as quick as my Marine students to identify with Jesus? Never an ex-disciple. Never a lapse, but always faithful. Who knows, we might become people of enduring influence. And we might just change our world.

Resurrection: Signs of Spring

Resurrection - Signs of SpringI saw it this morning, a lone neighborhood rhododendron protesting the stark dormant landscape by unfurling its pink and ivory petals. Against all odds on this dark and rainy day, it victoriously displayed the inevitable triumph of resurrection. Though all outward circumstances indicate winter still maintains its frigid clutch on the landscape, the rebellious rhodie down the street courageously emerged to reveal its delicate beauty, despite the cold. And despite the biting wind and rain, I watched famished bumble bees, laden with pollen, battle one another for the sweet nourishment it offered them following months of impoverished hunger.

As I write this afternoon, another late winter squall fiercely peppers my window with raindrops like bullets from a machine gun. Although the official announcement of spring  is only a few days away, today the coming of spring seems a long way off–except for the memory of this morning’s lone rhododendron. Like a brave sentinel, it boldly maintains its post within enemy territory.First Rhodie lower res large 3-16-13 Petal by petal it unfolds to reveal a spectacle so gloriously un-winter like that I threw caution to the wind and rain, jumping at the chance for a photograph. In the face of possible damage to camera or equipment, I gladly took the risk in exchange for a permanent reminder that winter does not last forever. Knowing the unpredictability of our Pacific Northwest weather, spring may not truly arrive for a couple of months. In the meantime, the photo is a vivid reminder of spring’s inevitability.

Last week another photo opportunity reminded me of the same principle as I captured a shot of a rose bush with emerging leaves next to dead and decaying blossoms from last season, alongside a bright red rose hip (top photo). That rose hip, like the emerging leaves, serves as a reminder of life. For some reason, possibly having something to do with our bumblebee friends, that particular blossom was pollenated. So unlike its dead neighboring blossoms, it has become pregnant with seeds, and grown fatter over the winter months. Unless pruned by the gardener, it will soon open to scatter its seeds, spreading life. Death and life. Winter and spring. We can’t have one without the other.

During this holy season in the weeks leading up to Easter, we are reminded of resurrection hope in the midst of challenging, wintery circumstances. Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also” (John 14:19). But before a resurrection, there had to be a death. The sunshine of Palm Sunday gave way to the wintery shadows of the Holy Week. The weather changed when the passionate crowds turned icy in their fickle rejection of the King they had warmly welcomed days earlier. And the entire world seemed captured by winter’s frigid, dark embrace, culminating with the seemingly not good crucifixion on Good Friday.

Can you imagine the questions peppering the minds of Jesus’ followers? They had no familiarity with machine guns or bullets, yet the questions must have relentlessly pounded at the window of their souls. Mary no doubt was reminded of Simeon’s ominous prophecy given years earlier, “a sword will pierce your heart” (Luke 2:35). She wondered, “Why my son? Why now?”

For the disciples, the last three years were re-lived, revealing persistent questions. “Where are the miracles now? Why are we powerless to do something? Why doesn’t God do something?” Where was the glorious revelation of the Heavenly Father, like the voice they heard at Jesus’ transfiguration? Why was His booming voice, “This is my beloved Son,” silent on that day? Why did darkness cover the face of the earth, like the dark questions brooding in their hearts and minds, enveloping their hopes and dreams in disappointment and fear? Why only shadowed silence?

“Why?” always takes precedence as the most persistent of all questions when things go awry. And it persistently remains the most troublesome question. Why did Jesus cry out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Forsaken by God – that seems the conclusion when winter covers the landscape and winter’s chill seems permanent. For the disciples it must have generated even more questions. Had God forsaken them? Is that what they had signed up for, given the last three years of their lives for, to be forsaken by God?

During times of winter questioning, it is best to remember the words spoken in an earlier season. The words of explanation, words of comfort, words of hope, spoken to give us perspective on the days ahead when our gardens are currently overflowing and beauty abounds. To remember, we must listen in the first place. What had Jesus told them earlier that would have explained these tragic circumstances? What has He told you, that might sustain and offer hope during a bleak winter storm? What did you learn in the light that you must remember in the dark?

Virtually every birth comes at a painful price. Whether the birth of a human child, or the birth of a dream, birth pains are part of the deal. So why do we endure it? That question trumps the question of pain and suffering. Why does the rose scatter its seeds in the spring? Why does the gardener plant tender young plants into cold soil on a dark and rainy day? Why did Jesus go to the cross? Because of the hope. The hope of new life, eternal life. The hope of something better. The hope of an entire landscape filled with warmth and beauty. The promise of a bountiful harvest.

Thus Jesus went to the cross. He endured the winter of suffering, so we can enjoy the spring of resurrection. That doesn’t mean we won’t have struggles here, or questions. It does mean we can courageously rise above them, like the rebellious rhododendron down the street. And maybe we can provide sweet sustenance to nurture a famished friend. Signs of spring are all around us. Sometimes you must search for them, or create them yourself, but they are there. Hope springs eternal. And eternal life brings hope. ©2013 Don Detrick


What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say

What to Say When You Don't Know What To SaySilence is golden, and there is a time to be quiet. But at other times knowing the right thing to say at the right time is even better. The writer of Proverbs says, “Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket.” (Proverbs 25:11, New Living Translation) There have been times in my life when the kind words of a friend (or even a stranger) bolstered my sinking spirits as I grasped them like a drowning man clinging to a life preserver.

Having spent most of my life as a pastor, walking beside people through some of the toughest moments of their lives, I felt the tension between the need for silence and the need to say something spiritual or intelligent (when I did not feel either) during a crucial moment. Even at the risk of sounding clichéd, a word sincerely spoken can make a difference. So, for what it’s worth, here are some simple words I’ve collected over the years; phrases to sincerely say when you don’t know what to say.

  • “May I pray for you right now?”
  • “I am here for you, my friend.”
  • “I have complete confidence in you.”
  • “I am your biggest fan!”
  • “What can I do to help?”
  • “You do that really well.”
  • “How are you, really?”
  • “What you said helped me.”
  • “Where would you rather be right now, and what would it take to get there?”
  •  “What is stopping you from. . ..”
  • “It is amazing the way you. . ..”
  • “I was wrong.”
  • “I am so sorry.”
  • “I’m cheering you on.”
  • “I appreciate the way you. . ..”
  • “Tell me about your:  day, job, kids, etc.”
  • “Please forgive me.”
  • “I still love you.”
  • “God is big enough to. . ..”
  • “I am really proud of the way you. . ..”
  • “You’re really growing.”
  • “Could you come to:  dinner, dessert, coffee?”
  • “I missed you.”
  • “I’m so happy for you.”
  • “I prayed for you today.”
  • “That must have been very difficult for you.”
  • “I’ll be glad to!”
  • “You have a way of making people feel special.  Thanks.”
  • “What is one thing I could do to help relieve some of your stress?”
  • “I’m not sure I would be doing as well as you are.  How are you making it?”
  • “I admire the way you. . ..”
  • “Is there something I can pray with you about?”
  • “You are really making a lot of progress!”
  • “I’ll give you a call tomorrow to see how you are doing. Is that OK?”
  • “I treasure the moments we get to spend together.”
  • “Thinking about you always puts a smile on my face.”

I am sure you can think of your own favorites to create a silver basket full of golden apples for a friend in need. Sometimes words are not necessary, like when a hug or a shared tear do a far better job of conveying how much you care. But there is nothing wrong with being prepared for those times when you struggle to know what to say when you don’t know what to say.

Do Pessimists Live Longer?

Do Pessimists Live Longer“Thanks for noticing me” defines Eeyore’s typical negative self-image and outlook on life, but he might live longer than his more optimistic cohorts in the hundred-acre wood. At least that would be accurate if you accept a news release issued a few days ago by the American Psychological Association. The report indicates a study showed that older people who have low expectations for a satisfying future may be more likely to live longer, healthier lives than those who see brighter days ahead. [1]

“Our findings revealed that being overly optimistic in predicting a better future was associated with a greater risk of disability and death within the following decade,” said lead author Frieder R. Lang, PhD, of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany. “Pessimism about the future may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions.” The study was published online in the journal Psychology and Aging.[2]

While the study allegedly showed a more realistic perspective on life’s expectations may be safer in the long run, it misses a bigger question. Who wants to spentiggereeyored their days listening to, living with, or working alongside a companion like Eeyore? Tigger’s enthusiasm might get him in trouble, and his frantic pace might cause an accident or two along the way, but he surely is a lot more fun to be around than the depressed donkey. Wouldn’t you agree?

The Bible’s cast of characters far outnumbers Winnie the Pooh’s friends in the hundred-acre wood. But among those biblical personalities one can find multitudes of both positive and negative individuals. Some are prone to be one or the other, optimist or pessimist. We see that early on in the biblical narrative, as the jealous and angry pessimist Cain murdered his more compliant and presumably optimistic brother Abel (Genesis 4:1-16). The positive Job worshiped in spite of horrific circumstances, while his negative wife urged him to curse God and die (Job 2:9).

More often though, both descriptors could characterize the same person at different times. Multitudes of biblical characters were both/and when it came to personalities and perspectives. And circumstances often dictated their positive or negative response. Their outcomes however, depended largely upon their attitude of faith and hope in spite of adverse circumstances. Here are a few brief examples:

  • Faithful Moses triumphantly led the children of Israel across the Red Sea, but failed to enter the Promised Land himself because of an angry act of disobedience.
  • The shepherd David became a hero as he single-handedly defeated the giant Goliath with a slingshot, but his biography also shows times of discouragement, depression, and defeat. Read Psalm 55 as an example.
  • Elijah fearlessly faced the prophets of Baal, but ran in fear from Jezebel.
  • Peter walked on water, but also denied the Lord and dejectedly left the ministry to return to his fishing business.
  • Paul could describe his own wretched sinfulness, but also declared he could, “do all things through Christ.”

For each of these individuals, it would not be fair to judge their entire lives by a few events, and there are countless others with similar shortcomings. The examples I cited are only a small glimpse of what would become the big picture and final outcome of their lives.

We are seldom defined by a single action or moment in time. But repeated actions and attitudes become patterns. Those patterns then characterize our perspective and resulting behaviors, as well as the perspective others view us by. Better to focus on things that will matter, than trivial pursuits. Better to focus on the positive than the negative. And better to focus on the eternal, rather than the temporal.

Paul wrote that there are three eternal things: faith, hope, and love in 1 Corinthians 13. It is easy to consider these three virtues as abstract platitudes. But they become concrete when coupled with faithful, hopeful, and loving actions. We should never underestimate the power of our attitudes because they govern both words and behaviors. These eternal elements become the building blocks of a significant life, one that is characterized by the positive, not the negative.

Frankly, I have a very personal reason to question the results of the study. German blood runs through my veins. Detrick used to be spelled Dietrich before my ancestors a few generations back Americanized the spelling of the name. My maternal grandparents were German-speaking Swiss who immigrated to this country a century ago. If my family is any indicator, we could naturally tend to be a pessimistic bunch. We are prone to toggle between, “Thanks for noticing me” and, “You better notice me, and I don’t mean maybe!” In any event, it is interesting that the study which concluded pessimists might live longer took place in Germany with only German participants. Hello! Does anybody besides me think that might make a difference and skew the results?

Even if the study is correct, would you rather live a bit shorter life and be happy, or live longer and be a grouch? Thankfully we have more choices to select from, like this sound advice from the writer of Proverbs:

“My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. If you do this, you will live many years, and your life will be satisfying. Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. Then you will find favor with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation. Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.” (Proverbs 3:1-6 New Living Translation)

Regardless of your ethnic background or personality type, you can decide to control your attitude. So choose to take the path of faith, hope, and love. It might just be the best formula to increase your days. At least it will bring more loyalty, joy, and kindness to your abode, and make the environment more pleasant for the other residents you meet in your own hundred-acre wood. You will be thankful you did, and they will notice you, too—in a good way. Long live the optimists!

Seasons Change

Seasons ChangeYesterday March came in like a lamb as I observed the first blossoms on a flowering plum tree. This is an annual spring rite of passage for me as I eagerly anticipate some sign of winter’s icy grip loosening upon the landscape. Normally I catch a glimpse of a blossom in February, this year things seemed a little late.

If you are like me, you’d like to be able to control the schedule. Yet just as we cannot control the turning of the hands on a clock, so we cannot control the turning seasons in nature, or the seasons of our lives. Seasons change. Someone wrote, “The foliage of spiritual journey changes through our times of turning as well. But what remains, what abides, is that place where our lives join to Christ.”

Our ever-turning and ever changing lives can find a point of reference in the words of that great hymn, “Great is Thy faithfulness. . .there is no shadow of turning with Thee. Thou changest not. . ..”

Human beings are prone to twists and turns in our minds. As these thoughts tumble around in our cranium, we make decisions that result in twists and turns in our journey through life. We may follow the path we believe will lead us to the fulfillment of a specific dream for a time, only to discover there is no pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. Disappointed by our miscalculations, we formulate a new dream destination, and chart a new course in that direction.

These detours in our journey are not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, without the inspiration of a dream we may have little vision for the future, and low levels of motivation to move beyond where we sit. While some enjoy the stability of a comfortable life in familiar surroundings, others chafe to move on. For them, being stuck in one place eventually triggers fermentation of the soul as the frustration of being stuck turns into despondency. Feeling trapped by their circumstances, they turn their attention to a new challenge and chart a new course toward that elusive goal.

Eventually, many come to believe that success in achieving the dream is an elusive goal. Losing confidence in their own abilities, and losing hope as well, they resign themselves to what Thoreau described as, “The great mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.” Our disappointments, late arrivals, twists and turns can seem to veil the joy of the journey if we allow them to block out the light of the sun.

It is easy to get lost in darkness and shadows. But the clear light of day shines light on our path to navigate the twists and turns along the way. Although I’m taking a bit of liberty with the context, 2 Corinthians 3:16 provides a great reminder of our marked point of reference, “Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.”

Twists and turns need not deter nor detour our journey. As we keep turning toward the Lord, we reflect more of His image. Thus, some may catch a glimpse of the Lord through the light we reflect. Better the Lord’s light than our own shadow side. “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image.”   (2 Corinthians 3:18  TLB) Seasons change. We encounter twists and turns along the way. But like those first blossoms of spring, we can be reminded of the hope and light of the Lord when we remember to always turn toward Him.

Friends in high placesMaybe you are struggling to discover how all the pieces of your life will fit together and create the masterpiece God desires. Maybe you wish for a friend in high places who could pull a few strings or help open a door. Listen to Psalm 138:8, “The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me.” (NIV)  Even though you may not understand it all now, if you will begin to fulfill God’s purposes and worship Him in all you do, God will fulfill His purpose in you, despite your present circumstances.

Over a hundred years ago (in the 1890’s), two young men were working their way through Stanford University. One was an orphan and had spent most of his boyhood in Newberg, Oregon (my hometown) living with relatives. Both were very poor and at one point their money was almost gone, so they decided to engage the great Polish pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski  (1860-1941) for a concert and use the profits for board and tuition.

Paderewski’s manager asked for a guarantee of $2,000, a fortune in those days. The students worked hard to promote the concert, but they came up $400 short. After the performance, they went to the musician, gave him all the money they had raised, and promised to pay the $400 as soon as they could.   It appeared that their college days were over.

“No, boys, that won’t do,” said the pianist. “Take out of this $1,600 all your expenses, and keep for each of you 10 percent of the balance for your work.   Let me have the rest.”

Years passed. At least one of the young men, the orphan, graduated from Stanford with a degree in engineering. His accomplishments in that field earned him both fame and fortune. During World War I he took on the task of getting food, shelter, and clothing to thousands of European civilians, a job for which he accepted no salary. After the United States entered the war, President Woodrow Wilson named him U.S. food administrator. Following the war, he was appointed chairman of the American Relief Administration to assist in the economic restoration of Europe.

Meanwhile, back in Poland the piano playing Paderewski also got involved in public service and was elected premier of Poland following World War I. But times were hard and thousands of his countrymen were starving. Only one man could help, the head of the American Relief Bureau. Paderewski’s appeal to him brought thousands of tons of food. Later he met the American statesman to thank him.[1]

“That’s all right,” replied Herbert Hoover. “Besides, you probably don’t remember, but you helped me once when I was a student in college.”[2]

herbert-hoover-j-paderewskiHerbert Hoover went on to become the 31st President of the United States in 1929. And his friendship with Paderewski continued. During the Great Depression, all the banks failed in Iowa City, Iowa near Hoover’s birthplace. As a favor to him, Paderewski played a benefit concert with Mrs. Hoover as hostess and nearly $12,000 was raised for the benefit of the residents of the small Iowa town. In 1938 Hoover paid a diplomatic visit to Geneva and miffed League of Nations officials by ignoring their new $10 million palace in favor of a private call on his aging friend, Ignace Jan Paderewski.[3]

Your choices to provide simple acts of kindness and courtesy may be part of the larger plan God has in fulfilling His purposes in your life. God may then orchestrate delightful surprises in response to those choices. “Never walk away from someone who deserves help; your hand is God’s hand for that person.” (Proverbs 3:27 The Message) Your hand of kindness to a stranger in need might result in a friend for life. And you never know, that friend might someday become the leader a nation and return the favor. It’s good to have friends in high places.

[2]Quote from Encarta® 98 Desk Encyclopedia ©  1996-97 Microsoft Corporation.

[3]Smith, Richard Norton, An Uncommon Man:  The Triumph of Herbert Hoover.  New York:  Simon & Schuster, 1984, pp. 137, 252.