Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (NLT)]

Death never takes the wise man by surprise; He is always ready to go. [Jean de La Fontaine]

PEONYWithin a week of one another, two friends joined the ranks of widowhood. One was not surprised when she joined this club. Her husband surrendered to cancer several months ago when they chose to stop all treatment and make the most of their remaining time together. The other woman was caught by surprise; she went to bed a wife and awoke the next morning a widow. Her husband, who appeared to be the picture of health, had suffered a fatal heart attack during the night.

I thought of these women when reading an article in Prevention magazine by Dr. Ira Babcock. His experience as a palliative physician taught him the value of making four statements before saying our last good-byes: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. Although the first family had an opportunity to prepare for that last good-bye, the second family did not.

We may picture a peaceful ending with family gathered around the bedside affording us an opportunity to say and hear whatever needs to be said or heard. In actuality, that’s probably not the way the last act of life will be staged. Any forgiveness that needs to be asked for or extended, any thanks that should be offered, and any words of love to be spoken cannot wait for the last act. We may not even know the play is nearly finished, the people to whom we want to speak may not be present, or conversation may not be possible.

Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. They’re all thoughts that shouldn’t wait to be expressed until we or the people we love are at death’s door. In their last moments, did either of those husbands regret having left something unspoken? When the casket was closed, did their family members weep because of words they’d left unsaid? I’d like to think the first husband and his family had expressed their forgiveness, thanks and love. As for the second husband—as he was gasping his last few breaths, did he wish he’d said “I love you!” before his wife went to bed? Do his children regret not apologizing for something or failing to express their love and appreciation for all he did? Does his wife wish she’d told him how much she loved him that night? Does she regret their morning argument or wish she’d thanked him for his incredible patience?

Lazarus died and was resurrected. If he or Martha and Mary left anything unsaid the first time he died, I imagine they didn’t the second. Unlike Lazarus, we don’t get a second chance at dying and, unlike Martha and Mary, we don’t get a second opportunity to say farewell to our loved ones.

Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. We don’t know when the curtain will close. Is there anyone to whom we should say those words before it does?

Everyone knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it…If we did, we would do things differently. … Forgive yourself before you die, then forgive others. [Morrie Schwartz in “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom]

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath. [Psalm 39:4-5 (NLT)]

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Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. [Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)]

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage! I am here!” [Mark 6:50 (NLT)]

cabbage white butterfly - dandelionRecently, our pastor asked us to write down both a prayer concern and a joy that anonymously could be shared with the congregation. Once compiled on a sheet of paper, the list was made available to anyone who wanted to offer those worries, needs and joys to God in prayer. As expected, most of the joys had to do with family, friends, health, and God’s love and forgiveness. Most of the concerns also were what we’d expect: health and the health of loved ones, finances, government, family turmoil, and children. At our Florida church, we start our weekly Bible study with prayer requests and praise reports and the list from our northern church was remarkably similar with one glaring exception. One person wrote, “I’m always afraid.”

Those words have haunted me all week—“I’m always afraid!” This person brought his or her concern to the right place—God and the church family but what now? Always afraid doesn’t mean a few quirks like fearing thunder, spiders, or mice. Always is a continual state of fear and, out of concern, I wanted to know more. Is the fear pathological? Does this person have irrational fears that make him or her paranoid? Is psychological counseling what is needed? On the other hand, is there a basis for the fear? Is it fear that a secret, like addiction or adultery, will be discovered? More likely, could there be violence or abuse in the home? You don’t have to live in Afghanistan, Syria or Nigeria to live in a war zone. My first response upon reading those words was wanting to fix the problem; yet, I am powerless to do so. I don’t even know what the actual problem is let alone who is involved. Moreover, it is not mine to fix nor am I qualified to do so. Nevertheless, my heart cries for anyone who lives life in fear.

While I can’t offer a solution, I can pray with compassion for this fear filled person. I can pray for God’s gifts of courage and perseverance—courage to relinquish the fear and perseverance to continue through the difficulties and setbacks that are sure to arise. Whether that means reaching out to our Pastor, seeking counseling, finding a shelter, or making some other change, I don’t know but, without courage, perseverance and trust in God, the fear will remain.

Heavenly Father, throughout Scripture, you’ve commanded us not be afraid and yet some of your children live in fear. Knowing that your grace is sufficient and your power is made perfect in weakness, we lift their needs to you. May they come to trust your guidance; fill them with courage and perseverance as they find refuge and strength in your loving presence.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. [2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)]

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. [Romans 8:38 (NLT)]

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IN GOD WE TRUST – Memorial Day 2017

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. [Psalm 118:8-9 (NLT)]

Then conquer we must, when our cause is just, And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”  [Francis Scott Key (The Star Spangled Banner)]

Mt. RushmoreRecently, a friend sent me one of those viral, supposedly true but most likely not, inspirational stories. True or not, it made me pause and consider, not just pennies, but all of our U.S. currency. In the story, a rich man bends over and picks up a penny from the ground. As we eventually learn, he picks up every coin he finds on the ground, not for its value, but for the message on the money—“In God We Trust”! Whenever he sees a coin on the ground, he believes it is God’s way of reminding him to trust Him and sees it as an opportunity to start a conversation with his Heavenly Father. While most of my monetary transactions involve a credit card or on-line banking, after reading this story, I don’t think I’ll look at money the same way again. I know that when I find a coin, I’ll think of it a God’s way of reminding me in whom I should put my trust!

This Internet message got me thinking about those words on our coins. Thanks to Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase’s directive that, “The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins,” the phrase “In God We Trust” appeared on a bronze two-cent piece in 1864. Our nation was in the midst of the bloody Civil War and those words were to profess our faith and trust in God during that turbulent time. They were taken from the rarely sung fourth verse of our national anthem. In the 1950s, our nation was again embroiled in a war—the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The words “under God” appeared in the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 and, two years later, “In God We Trust” became the official motto of our nation. It was to appear on all U.S. currency and continues to do so today. These words were to differentiate us from the Soviet Union, a nation that promoted atheism and had passed anti-religion legislation.

Unfortunately, there never seems to be a time when our nation is not in turmoil of some kind. Even though we find “E Pluribus Unum” (meaning “out of many, one”) on our currency and the Great Seal of the U.S., it is not our nation’s motto. While it rightly reflects our country’s melting pot nature and how thirteen colonies came together to form one nation, we must never forget that this one nation exists under God and must place its trust in Him.

If we ever forget that we’re one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under. [President Ronald Reagan]

’Tis an hour of National peril and danger, an hour when man’s strength is weakness, where our strength and our nation’s strength and salvation must be in the God of battles and of nations. Let us reverently acknowledge his sovereignty, and let our coinage declare our trust in God. [James Pollock, Director of the United States Mint (1863)]

He will judge the world with justice and rule the nations with fairness. The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you. [Psalm 9:8-10 (NLT)]

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Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. [James 4:13-14 (NLT)]

flower-of-an-hour -Hibiscus trionumSeveral years ago, I heard a young woman with Parkinson’s comment, “Every day I wake up, I realize that I’m the best I ever will be. This is as good as it gets; it’s only downhill from here.” Even though I don’t have a degenerative disease like hers, those words continue to haunt me. No matter how healthy or happy we may be, we have no guarantee that tomorrow will be any better than today. Life is precarious and our tomorrows are uncertain.

I recently had lunch with a woman whose brain tumor has returned. She is painfully aware that today may be the best day she has in her future. Like the woman with Parkinson’s, however, she is not letting that knowledge steal her joy in the present. In fact, their awareness of life’s fragility has given them both more appreciation of every moment with which God blesses them.

As I walked this morning, I again thought about how uncertain our tomorrows are for all of us. Why do we squander a single breath with anger, regret or complaint? Why do we waste a moment in self-pity or worry when it should be spent in thankfulness and joy? Why do we have twenty/twenty vision of the day’s imperfections when we are blind to the day’s blessings? The old saying, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life!” is only partially true. Today could also be the last day of your life here on earth. If not the last one, it could well be the best day you’ll ever experience.

There is a lovely little wildflower called “Flower-of-an-Hour” (Hibiscus trionum). It blooms on a sunny day and remains open only a few hours. From the moment its petals open, it knows that is the best and most beautiful it will ever be. Nevertheless, it reaches for the sun, is pollinated by the bees and butterflies, shares its leaves with caterpillars and rabbits, and makes the most of its brief time. Why don’t we? It shouldn’t take cancer or Parkinson’s to make us realize that today is the best day of our lives!

Father, forgive us when we fail to make the most of every moment with which you have generously blessed us. No matter what the future may bring, may each day be our best day ever! Help us to seize each day, rejoice and be glad in it!

There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live. [Dalai Lama]

This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see. This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. [Psalm 118:23-24 (NLT)]

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. [Psalm 39:4 (NLT)]

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Dear friend, guard Clear Thinking and Common Sense with your life; don’t for a minute lose sight of them. They’ll keep your soul alive and well, they’ll keep you fit and attractive. You’ll travel safely, you’ll neither tire nor trip. You’ll take afternoon naps without a worry, you’ll enjoy a good night’s sleep. No need to panic over alarms or surprises, or predictions that doomsday’s just around the corner, Because God will be right there with you; he’ll keep you safe and sound. [Proverbs 3:21-26 (MSG)]

upland gorillaI have a friend who worries. Her husband says that even when she has nothing about which to worry, she worries about whatever next could go wrong long before it possibly can. He added that having a “designated worrier” has made his life much easier—while she worries, he can relax and enjoy himself! His comment made me remember a trip we took to the Cayman Islands nearly forty years ago. We were accompanied by a worrying friend.

The morning of our departure, we awoke to several feet of unexpected snow. Although we’d allowed more than enough time to arrive at the airport in normal conditions, traffic was at a snail’s pace that morning. Our friend Josh would look from his watch to the speedometer and then announce by how many minutes we’d miss our plane’s departure. “At seven miles per hour, we’re precisely twenty-two-and-a-half minutes late!” he’d declare, only to modify his prediction when the traffic sped up or slowed down. Once at O’Hare, we discovered the weather had delayed our plane’s take-off and we had just a few minutes to get to the gate. As we checked luggage and ran through the airport, Josh continued to analyze by how many minutes we’d miss our flight. Fortunately, our plane was still at the gate and we managed to board. Josh then calculated how late we’d be for our next connection. When we arrived in Miami, however, our plane, also having been delayed by weather, was still at the gate and we again boarded in the nick of time. That’s when Josh started fretting about our luggage. He was sure it was never loaded in Chicago and, even if it was, it couldn’t have been transferred to the second plane before our speedy departure. Along with clothing, we’d packed a cooler of frozen steaks and Josh was certain that the meat, if it ever arrived, would be thawed and spoiled. This was back in the days long before TSA, airport security and luggage screening and planes occasionally were being hijacked to Cuba. Not satisfied with worrying about connections and luggage, Josh, apprehensive that we’d end up hijacked and in Cuba (without our luggage), began to nervously scrutinize every man as he boarded the plane.

We arrived at our destination, a little later than planned, with our luggage and without international incident. Unfortunately, Josh was a wreck and needed at least a day to chill out and “decompress” before he start enjoying his vacation. On the other hand, since he’d been our designated worrier, we’d slept on the flights and were ready to roll. He’d done the worrying while we enjoyed the ride!

While we can joke about having a designated worrier, what that anxiety does to the worrier is no laughing matter. Studies show that even slight distress and worry are linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke and can cut several years off one’s life expectancy. Simply put, the more disheartened and anxious we are, the sooner we’ll die. Moreover, even if we don’t die early, when we’re fretful, discouraged or worried, it’s highly unlikely we’ll truly enjoy the time with which we are blessed!

There was absolutely nothing that worrying could accomplish throughout our travel scenario—it couldn’t stop the snow, plow the roads, speed up traffic, hold the plane, load or transfer the baggage or even stop a hijacker. It was all in God’s hands—as is everything. While it’s nice to have a designated worrier to do our worrying, worry (whether ours or some else’s) is an insult to God. It means we don’t trust Him, we doubt His reliability and effectiveness, and we mistakenly believe that we, rather than He, are the ones in control.

It’s inevitable that our days will meet with mistakes, failures, oversights, barriers, disappointments, inconveniences, and complications. Jesus pretty much promised that. Nevertheless, He also promised that we’d never be alone as we faced each day. Rather than being the designated worrier, perhaps we could try being the designated prayer warrior!

Worry and faith are mutually exclusive. [Karol Ladd, from “The Power of a Positive Mom”]

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. [Philippians 4:6-7 (MSG)]

P.S. Fortunately, Josh has changed through the years. He doesn’t worry about anything and prays about everything; he’s gone from designated worrier to pray warrior! Praise God!

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spider webs - corckscrew swampOh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! [Romans 11:33 (ESV)]

Last Friday, I wrote that I preferred visiting the enigmatic swamp to the impeccable Botanic Garden because it more closely resembles the confusion and disorder of this holy mess we call life. Nevertheless, hidden in its mystifying disarray of vines, trees, lichens, ferns and other assorted plants and animals, order can be found.

On certain days, when conditions are just right, beautiful orb spider webs can be seen in the early morning light. These amazing feats of engineering begin when a spider floats just one strand of silk on the wind to another surface. After securing the line, the spider crosses the “bridge,” reinforcing it as he goes and continues to drop and secure lines. Eventually, a nearly perfect circular web is constructed of numerous concentric circles with spokes going out from the center. A spider’s web can be anything from a few inches to six feet across. Ounce for ounce, spider silk is five to six times stronger than the same weight of steel. More elastic than rubber, it can stretch two to four times its length without breaking. Only a tenth the diameter of a human hair, a strand of spider silk long enough to circle the earth would weigh less than a bar of soap! I find it humbling that one diminutive eight-legged creature can construct a complex web from a thread we humans can’t even reproduce. There is nothing haphazard or chaotic about spiders and webs. Their amazing creations tell me that, unplanned as the swamp or our lives may seem, there is nothing random or haphazard about them—they are as much a part of God’s amazing and complex plan as are spider webs.

On most days, the spiders’ delicate webs are difficult to see; yet, even when they are indiscernible, I know they are there. God’s plan is much like that—sometimes it appears crystal clear and other times it seems undetectable. Nevertheless, there is a divine plan for each one of us! Whether or not I see their webs, I know the spiders are there and haven’t abandoned the swamp. Regardless of our perception of His plan, we can be sure that God is in control and won’t abandon us either. If we believe in the goodness of God, we must trust His plan (whether or not we understand or appreciate it). Like the spiders’ webs, it is intricate and sometimes difficult to discern. It is, however, a plan of strength, resilience and exquisite beauty.

God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass. [Westminister Confession of Faith]

In the infinite wisdom of the Lord of all the earth, each event falls with exact precision into its proper place in the unfolding of His divine plan. Nothing, however small, however strange, occurs without His ordering, or without its particular fitness for its place in the working out of His purpose; and the end of all shall be the manifestation of His glory, and the accumulation of His praise. [B.B. Warfield]

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)]

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