“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men”— Philippians 2:3-7 (ESV).
Two recent conversations led me to think about the vast cultural and behavioral differences in the United States. One of the women resides in a northeastern state and was visiting her mother in Oklahoma. The other woman is a recent transplant from a western state.
During the first conversation, the woman who was visiting commented on the attitude differences between people in her community and this one. Her observations led to the conclusion that people in this state are friendlier, more helpful and more caring.
The second conversation mirrored the other woman’s observations, adding specific incidents she had noticed. She noted the small courtesies, like holding the door open for a stranger in a public place and being made to feel welcome in her new community, including her new church family.
Later that week, I had the opportunity to visit with two older women who have always lived in this area. Their lives exemplify Philippians 2:3-4. Both are well-known for their giving, loving and humble spirits.
Trying to punch my pillow into submission, I tossed and turned in the unfamiliar bed, hoping to get some much needed sleep before I spoke at a women’s event the next morning. I never rest well in a hotel bed. I doubt I’m alone.
However, it wasn’t just the strange surroundings leading to my insomnia. I was emotionally, mentally and physically drained. Not only had I been in preparation for the speech I would give the next day, I was also preparing for an upcoming week-long event in Colorado, where I would be speaking twice at a writer’s conference.
In addition, I was trying to juggle my own writing and marketing schedule and keep up with life—the responsibilities and commitments of everyday living. As I lay in the hotel bed, I not only wrestled with my pillow, I found myself, like Jacob, wrestling with God. It wasn’t the first time.
Even before we say a word, God knows what we need.
After almost 13 years of writing this weekly column, I was struggling with my calling—the one God had led me to after I left my 30-year teaching career. I’ve not missed a week, nor have I reused one of my over 600 plus columns. My calling was not part of my post-teaching plans but God’s redirection. How much longer would He ask me to continue?
As I spent countless hours that night praying for sleep to come, my frustration led to crying out to God. I wanted to give up. I needed a fresh vision for my life. I needed to know if He wanted me to continue on this path. Did He have something else in mind? I begged God for clarity because I know He is the author of peace, not confusion.
Pulling up to the intercom to place my order at a fast food place, I noticed something amiss. Normally, the vehicles waiting in line would have pulled up a ramp to the window to pay for and pick up their meal. However, they were bypassing the usual route and parking next to the ramp.
Before I could figure out what was happening, the employee taking orders explained. “We have a problem with a car blocking the exit. You can still order and follow the line in front of you or come inside.”
After placing my order, I drove forward where I could finally get a glimpse of the vehicle interfering with traffic. When I looked closer, I realized—and felt sorry for—the young man who had evidently tried to exit the ramp too soon, leaving his car straddling the concrete barrier to his right. I’m sure he was not only embarrassed, but his car was probably going to require some major work.
To minimize the delay, restaurant employees were scrambling outside to collect customers’ payments and then returning with their orders. Even though their usual routine had been disrupted, they were taking the challenge in stride without complaint. They even apologized for the delay.
Have you ever had one of those days when everything that could go wrong does? Maybe you’ve been moving forward, following God’s directions, when you make a wrong turn. You wonder, “Where did I go wrong?”
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms”— 1 Peter 4:19 (NIV).
When I was a teacher, one of the questions many of my high school seniors struggled with was what to do after graduation. Some were focused, knowing they were on track for college, higher vocational training or military service. Others planned to go immediately to work after school ended, while some struggled with their future choices. Even some of those on a chosen path were often uncertain about choosing a major field of study, basing their decision not on a passion for the career, but on the rewards of a lucrative paycheck.
In later years, when I had an opportunity to visit with some of these graduates, I discovered some were disillusioned with the path they had chosen for the sake of monetary gain. Their career choice left them with an emptiness they couldn’t understand.
In an article titled “Frederick Buechner on Calling: Your Deep Gladness & The World’s Deep Hunger” by Ryan Pemberton, the author writes the following: “In his refreshingly witty spiritual lexicon, ‘Wishful Thinking,’ Buechner points out that the English word ‘vocation’ comes from the Latin word vocare, ‘to call,’ which ‘means the work a person is called to by God.’”
Additionally, says Pemberton, “‘Calling’ assumes a caller. As Buechner notes, for the Christian, this Caller is the living God.”
Concerning vocations, Buechner once said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Glancing out my kitchen window several weeks ago, I saw a squirrel stealing seed from the feeder on my back deck. They had not bothered my feeders all winter. I rapped on the window and laughed as he scrambled away, almost falling to the ground in his haste to escape.
Numerous oak trees grow on my property, attracting the squirrels who love to gather the acorns carpeting my lawn. I enjoy watching their antics. The previous winter, I’d hung out suet feeders, which they hadn’t bothered.
This year, I hung several seed feeders because I love the variety of birds drawn to them. The beauty of each, even the sparrows, which are not as colorful as the cardinals, woodpeckers and finches also flocking to feed on the seeds and suet, leave me in awe of God’s creation.
On a recent warm day, after the last frost, I decided to clean out my front flowerbed. In front of my large living room window, I had placed a shepherd’s hook to hold three seed feeders. As the birds feasted at the feeders, their activity had left seeds scattered on the rich soil in my beds. As a result, tall green grass had sprung up.
After cleaning out the unwanted grass, I told a friend I should have placed the feeders underneath some of my oak trees where the grass doesn’t grow very well in the shade. However, I don’t know if the bird seed would have sprouted there since the soil is not as rich.
Telemarketers are annoying. If the salesperson is the persistent kind, he usually won’t take “no” for an answer easily. Even the nicer ones can grate on the nerves, especially if the promises seem too good to be true.
Since I signed up for the Do Not Call list over two decades ago, the number of phone calls I receive from telemarketers has declined. Another reason could be attributed to my lack of a home phone. I finally cut the cord about six years ago, depending on my cell phone—which is also on the list—for verbal communication. However, I occasionally still receive unwanted calls, including those I know are scams.
I’m always amazed at the proliferation of different scams as well as those who fall for them. In spite of repeated warnings from different news sources, people hang onto hope that they’ve won large amounts of money, vacations or other goods.
Criminals will go to any lengths to steal our money and identity. It never seems to end. While the elderly are the most vulnerable, I’ve read of those who’ve been scammed out of money through dating websites.
Listening to a radio program recently, I was amazed to learn that the number one Internet google search is “What is love?” As the commentator and his guest discussed this trend, I thought about the lyrics to a 1980 country song, “Lookin’ for Love.” Part of the lyrics follow: “Searching for love in all the wrong places.”
Do you find it difficult sometimes to keep your eyes on the Lord? I know I do. When we find our lives spiraling out-of-control with unexpected illnesses, the death of a loved one, family dysfunction or worldwide uncertainty, it’s often easier to wring our hands in despair than to turn to the One who gave His life for us.
Jesus never promised us a life of luxury or one without pain and heartache. Look at His life, lived simply and ending in an agonizing death. But He did promise to be with us during our trials.
Recently, I was blessed to have lunch at an assisted living facility with a friend who will turn 90 later this year. As each of her table companions joined us to eat, Josie introduced me. I’m certain my friend is the oldest of the five women, but you wouldn’t have guessed it by her actions.
Before the others arrived and I could assist her, Josie had parked her walker and moved a chair from a nearby table and placed it next to hers—for me. When I realized her intent, I admonished her and said, “Josie, you should let me do that.”
Then, when the last of our table mates joined us, Josie rose to help maneuver her friend’s walker and pull back her dining room chair so she could be seated. When she returned to her seat, I said, “Josie, you have a servant’s heart.” She just smiled.