Abundant Living Vol. XV, Issue 20

“Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways . . .” – Psalm 25:7 

Could-a, would-a, should-a. Occasionally my mind likes to play the what-if game. Does that ever happen to you? It entails looking back at my past life and imagining what if I had done this instead of that, made this choice instead of that one, gone a different direction from the path I took. Could-a, would-a, should-a, I like to call it. What a foolish waste of time, though, an exercise that tends to lead to feelings of regret! Two things generally awaken me from such mindless wanderings. One is the reality that the clock cannot be turned back anyway, so forget about it. There are no do-overs, what’s done is done. The other is the fact that many other choices I’ve made have actually been good ones, excellent in fact. The first that comes to mind is my spouse, the love of my life, from whom our family was spawned, and love continues to grow. Then there are the careers I have chosen, of which I can’t imagine doing anything that could be more rewarding.

Whenever I wrestle with the what-if game I also realize that I’m simply playing armchair quarterback with my life, looking back with 20-20 hindsight, through a lens of wisdom which I’ve gained more of – thanks to the experiences and choices I’ve made through the years – but was clearly lacking at the time I made many of those choices.

I once read an essay by the late Bob Buford, author of the bestselling book Halftime, in which he made the case that football games are most often won in the second half. He used that analogy to demonstrate how our lives are much like football games, concluding that, “The first half gets you in the game . . . [but] the second half is for your best plays.” When I read that it occurred to me that all the choices we make in the first half, the good ones as well as the mistakes, the successes as well as the failures, contribute in preparing us for our best plays in the second half.

I still find myself praying often that same prayer of the Psalmist: “O Lord, ‘remember not the sins of my youth . . .’” to which I’m inclined to add: “. . . but neither allow me to dwell too much on could-a, would-a, should-a. Instead, use the wisdom I’ve gained from the first half of the game to be used in the second half – for the best plays.” So, here’s to the second half, and the best plays of our lives!

Abundant Living Vol. XV, Issue 19

“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:2 

After twenty-five years living in the same house in Dallas, a few years ago we decided to pack up and move out to the rapidly growing suburb of McKinney – new town, new home, new neighborhood. Soon after getting settled we realized we needed to get to know our new neighbors. So, being the Christmas holiday season, we planned a party for the neighborhood to see who might show up. After setting a date and time, we printed up some home-made invitations, placed them in our neighbors’ mailboxes, set out some food and drinks, turned on the porch light, and waited for the doorbell to ring. Sure enough it worked; for people came, some of whom have become good friends, others mere acquaintances, and a few we’ve hardly seen since, mostly because they moved away.

Not long ago we were attending a charity event at which we were seated at a table with a group of strangers. In the course of the conversation with the couple sitting next to us we discovered that they had once lived in the next block on our same street but had moved away because their family needed a larger house. But they had loved our neighborhood, raving about what a great place it was to live and how they had hated to leave. “Remember,” we heard them say, looking at each other, not at us, “when those nice new people moved in down the street and invited everyone to that big Christmas party in their home? That was so much fun!” Now, if they seemed startled when we told them that was us, we were even more startled that our little gathering had been so memorable.

Hospitality is nothing more than making other people feel comfortable and at home. But some are afraid their home is not large enough or nice enough to entertain others. My grandmother would have begged to differ; for while her house may have been small and modest, she seemed to always have a steady stream of people visiting in her tiny living room where she would graciously serve her guests freshly baked cookies or a slice of cake right out of the oven along with steaming hot coffee poured into her best china cups.

“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Or by doing so we might be deepening a friendship, lifting someone’s spirits, or creating a pleasant memory for someone we never met before.

Abundant Living Vol. XV, Issue 18

“Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice.”   – Psalm 112:5

In his newest book The Second Mountain New York Times columnist David Brooks tells a marvelous story about Kathy and David and their son Santi who attends public school in Washington, D.C. “Santi had a friend named James,” Brooks writes, “who sometimes went to bed hungry, so Santi invited him to occasionally sleep over at his house. James had a friend and that kid had a friend and so on. Now if you go to Kathy and David’s house on any given Thursday night there will be about twenty-six kids sitting around the dinner table. There are generally four or five living with Kathy and David or with other families nearby. Every summer Kathy and David round up a caravan and take about forty kids out of the city for a vacation on Cape Cod. Simply by responding to the needs around them, Kathy and David are now at the center of a sprawling extended family.”

One morning over breakfast recently with the newspaper spread out between us, Tee and I suddenly were overcome with the same emotion. “Enough!” we shouted to each other, “enough of these ugly headlines, the violence, the scandal, corruption, and political dysfunction!” These are not the kinds of people we know, we said. No! We’re surrounded by good people, like Kathy and David and Santi – selfless, compassionate, generous, loving, kind, who care for their families, reach out to those in need, good neighbors and committed citizens. We encounter them every day. Never mind the grand schemes promised by the political class, we decided then and there; for it is the “better angels” as Lincoln would say, the millions of good folks across our nation and around the world like Kathy and David, who are the ones that make a difference, who hold the world upright and keep it turning on its axis. Always have, and always will.

The Psalmist had something to say about such people. “Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely,” he writes, “who conducts his affairs with justice. Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever. He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.”

If we’ve had enough of the headlines, we concluded that morning, then we best follow the example of Kathy and David and Santi, as part of that great army of “better angels.”

Abundant Living Vol. XV, Issue 17

“But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.” Psalm 37:11 

Several feet removed from the large prominent family cemetery plot where my parents and grandparents are buried lies a small obscure grave marker with grass creeping up around its edges so that it is hardly visible. Inscribed on the tiny stone is the name of my great aunt May Wilson, my grandfather’s sister who was known to us nephews and nieces simply as Auntie. The fact that her final resting place is positioned sort of “off to the side” is no great surprise as it is symbolic of the way she lived her life.

Auntie was no stranger to us growing up, always present at family gatherings, yet quiet and unassuming, usually positioning herself in a solitary place sort of “off to the side” from everyone else, rarely having much to say. Meek though she was, however, Auntie’s life was anything but unaccomplished. She was in fact well educated, and for some fifty years taught school, eventually rising to the level of school principle.

Meek, unfortunately, is not a word that plays well in our culture today, maybe because it suffers the misfortune of rhyming with weak, causing us to mistakenly believe the two words to be synonymous. Not so. In fact, to be meek, which is defined as having patience, humility and forbearance, requires tremendous strength and courage. But we don’t recognize it that way because we tend to worship such attributes as boldness, success, and visibility – preferring winning athletes and teams, bestselling books, box office smashes, and high-profile politicians and entertainers over meekness.

Some people fly high in life – prominent, visible, and notable for their persona – while others fly beneath the radar, barely visible, their accomplishments and persona virtually unnoticed. Auntie was like that. I know nothing about the people she may have touched and influenced during her lifetime. Perhaps even those she touched and influenced didn’t realize it either, that it had come from her quiet, humble demeaner.

It has been said that “the person who does good for God’s glory seeks neither praise nor reward but is sure of both in the end.” “But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace,” the Psalmist says. Or as Jesus rephrased it, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” I think Auntie must have known that.

Abundant Living Vol. XV, Issue 16

“He is not here; he has risen!” – Luke 24:6 

Great lessons can sometimes come from total strangers. We had one of those experiences one evening while dining at a neighborhood restaurant. Seated at a nearby table was a young couple and their daughter who seemed to be having a perfectly delightful time visiting, laughing and enjoying their meal. Nothing was particularly unusual except for the fact that their little girl was severely disabled and confined to a specially designed wheelchair. It wasn’t the child’s disability that captured our attention, though, rather it was the obvious pleasure this family had simply being together. The couple, while showing affection toward their disabled child and assisting her occasionally, otherwise treated her as a normal person, engaging her in their conversations. Neither did they dote over her in any way. What was most obvious about them, though, was a total absence of self-pity in spite of their circumstance.

Marianne Williamson, author of the best-selling book A Return to Love once said, “Our only job is to be an example of a life that is working.” That’s exactly what we witnessed from that young family, “an example of a life that is working”.

Happiness, you see, has little to do with circumstance and everything to do choice. No one has a perfect life – no one! Every life is plagued with some sort of hurt, grief, disappointment, disability, illness, financial strain, and any number of other hardships. The difference between those who embrace happiness and those who embrace self-pity is in the way they choose to deal with life’s imperfections.

In his poem Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, author, poet Wendell Berry offers these sage words, “So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it.” . . . . “Practice resurrection,” the poem concludes.

Sounds like Jesus, doesn’t it, the perfect example of a life that is working – a life that concludes not in self-pity, but with resurrection. For as the angel proclaimed, “He is not here; he is risen!” Alleluia!!