Monday, March 28, 2011

Let's Hear It for the Underdog!

Let’s hear it for the underdog! VCU and Butler? Are you kidding me? I know Butler made it all the way to the final game last year, and if not for a missed shot at the buzzer would have won it all. But two years in a row to the Final Four? Give me a break! What are the odds of that? And VCU? They lost eleven games during the regular season to mostly mid-major competition and they knock of King Kong Kansas to get the Final Four? No way. Yes way! And even though these two schools have pretty much busted everybody’s bracket, you can’t help but pull for them (unless, of course, they are playing your team). Too bad they have to play each other in the national semi-finals. Who knows? We could have had an 11-seed and an 8-seed in the championship game. But one of them will be there against a traditional basketball powerhouse: Kentucky or UConn. Whatever happens, it ought to be fun. And I bet that about the only folks who’ll be pulling for the UConn/Kentucky winner in the championship game are their own diehard fans. Most of America will be pulling for the underdog. Most of America always does.

What is it about the underdog that engenders such interest and support? Could it be that most of us feel like underdogs most of the time in our own lives? Could it be that we like to see the little guy win against all odds? Or maybe we just like it when the “script” gets interrupted by an unexpected and better storyline? There's a reason why Cinderella is a timeless story.

This weekend’s games got me to thinking about other underdogs that captured the imagination of sports fans everywhere.

• How about the New York Jets and their mouthy quarterback, Joe Namath, upsetting the Baltimore Colts giving the upstart AFL their first Super Bowl championship in only the third year of that game? Namath guaranteed it would happen. Everybody wrote him off as a nut case. It happened.

• How about the U.S. Hockey Team defeating the U.S.S.R. in the 1980 Olympics. It happened during the height of the Cold War. It happened while we still had a bunch of our citizens held hostage in Iran. It happened when American pride was taking a beating. And it happened against a team of professionals who were the heavy favorites to win the gold. I still remember Al Michaels’ comment as the game wound down, “Do you believe in miracles?” That’s what it felt like.

• And one of my personal favorites: the 1978 Orange Bowl—Oklahoma vs. Arkansas. Texas had lost earlier in the day and if Oklahoma won that game they would be crowned national champions yet again. Both teams had only one loss, but prior to the game Arkansas had suspended three of the top offensive players on the team. It looked like a disaster waiting to happen for the Razorbacks. But the Razorbacks played inspired, a reserve running back named Roland Sales ran for a then record 200+ yards against the vaunted Sooner defense, and the Hogs won 31-6. Let’s hear it for the underdog!

It happens in realms outside of the world of sports too, you know. Who would have believed the sophisticated, well-supplied military machine of the Soviet Union would go to war with a bunch of peasants in Afghanistan only to withdraw with their tail between their legs, limping back to Russia about ten years later? (Well, maybe we Americans would believe it now, huh?) And what about the church in China? When missionaries pulled out around the time of the communist revolution, the church in China was doing pretty well. But how would they fare without Western missionaries to teach and reach and train? How would they fare under a government that was committed to stamping them out by any and every means? Well, when the country opened up about 40 years later, visitors discovered that the Chinese church had grown into the millions. Let’s hear it for the underdog!

All this underdog talk got me to thinking of underdog stories in the Bible. And there are plenty. Most of us are familiar with young small David against Philistine giant Goliath. Talk about a mismatch! The Israelites were holding their collective breath in fear. Goliath and the Philistines were holding their collective sides in laughter. And yet David laid out that giant with a well placed rock from his slingshot right between Goliath’s eyes.

And what about Gideon? God told Gideon to crush the merciless Midianites and their oppressive rule over Israel. Gideon was from the smallest tribe in Israel, and he was the runt of the litter. He was fearful, doubtful, and weak. He did assemble a big army however, but by the time God pared that army down to size Gideon was left with only 300 men to fight a multitude of Midianites. You know the phrase, “to get an omelet you’ve got to break a few eggs”? Gideon’s tiny army broke a few jars and did something akin to the Confederate rebel yell, and those Midianites were so caught off guard that they started killing one another. Mission accomplished for the underdog.

And in the New Testament we bump into a few underdogs as well. You remember the woman with the 12-year hemorrhage who’d spent all her money on doctors and for nothing? She got no better; she only got worse. And she thought maybe if she could get to Jesus, He could heal her. The best she could do was squeeze through the crowd and just get a hand on the hem of His robe. Nobody would have given her a chance of getting better on no more than that … but she got better; she got well.

And then there’s the woman the Pharisees caught in adultery and paraded to Jesus for a ruling on what was an open and shut case. They caught her in the act; the law said to stone her. She didn’t have a prayer. But she had Jesus. And Jesus essentially said, “So stone her already, and whoever has never sinned can throw the first stone.” They threw their stones all right. They threw them down on the ground and walked away. Jesus forgave her sin. And this woman on the edge of death walked away alive and free.

These are all good underdog stories, but I think my favorite might be Jesus vs. Death. We know the story, so it doesn’t catch us by surprise. But had we been eyewitnesses to these events in that day we would have been as shocked, stunned, and amazed as everybody else. Sure, Jesus had raised the dead in His ministry: He took a dead little girl’s hand in His and lifted her back to life. He touched a dead young man being carried out to his grave, and the young man sat up in his casket. Then Jesus called forth Lazarus who had been dead and buried some four long days. Lazarus came forth from his tomb looking something like the mummy. Jesus told the folks to unwrap him and set him free. Lazarus had supper with his sisters that night. So Jesus raised the dead in His ministry. He didn’t do it much, but He did do it some.

And that was the problem. Now that Jesus was dead, who would raise Him? Who would take Him by the hand? Who would touch Him on His way to the grave? Who would call Him forth from His hillside tomb? Who indeed? That’s why the disciples and all who were close to Jesus assumed that when they took His dead body off the cross and put that dead body in the tomb, the story was over. It was nice while it lasted. Jesus did a lot of good. Those who followed Him would have some good memories. But Jesus ended up like everyone ends up—dead as one of the nails they used to pin Him to the cross, and six feet under.

But like I said, we know the story. And early in the morning, on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead. Nobody saw Him come out of the tomb, but a lot of people saw the empty tomb and later saw the risen Jesus with their own eyes. They saw Him, they touched Him, they heard His voice. It was Jesus. The nail scars gave Him away. It was Jesus and the one who was dead is alive evermore. Something like that had NEVER happened before. Death had always won the day. Rich, poor, every color, every language, every person—didn’t matter. Death played no favorites, cut no one any breaks. You could run from death but you could not hide. Sooner or later, Death would track you down and take you down and that was that! Death caught up to Jesus on a cross. Death took Jesus down. But Death could not keep Jesus down. Jesus rose from the grave—the first-fruits for all who believe. Jesus rose from the grave, and all the power of death is dead.

Yes, of all the great underdog stories I’ve enjoyed, this is my favorite because it didn’t just matter in the moment; it matters forever.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Hound of Heaven

About 130 years ago Francis Thompson wrote a poem called The Hound of Heaven. Using the hound as a metaphor for God, Thompson writes of God’s loving, yet relentless pursuit of the soul on the run from Him. Some of the language is awkward for modern ears, but it is a powerful poem. Google it some time. Now, let me tell you why this poem came to mind for me.

I was checking my email in between worship services on Sunday when I opened one that just about had me jumping out of my chair with joy. Danny did it. He made a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ in front of a Methodist church in Texas. No doubt stuff like that happens every Sunday somewhere, but this is a really big deal. Let me explain.

About four or five years ago a local high school physics teacher named Deborah started visiting our church. She had been out of the church and away from the faith for a very long time. She is married to the Danny I mentioned above, and they have two boys, Thomas and Matthew. Deborah brought her two sons with her; Danny didn’t come and wasn’t interested.

In visiting with Deborah, I learned something of her story. She was raised in the church. Early in her life she made a decision to follow Jesus and be a Christian. But as she grew up into college and adulthood, she grew farther and farther away from her faith. How far? Far enough to consider herself an atheist—and that’s about as far as one can go. She’d been schooled in the classical sciences and in physics. She couldn’t find a place for God in all of that. And that was okay with her husband Danny because he considered himself an atheist too. So they were doing just fine, working at their jobs, raising their two boys.

And that’s when it happened. It happened in a barber shop. It happened with the simple question of a child. Deborah had taken the boys to get a haircut. The oldest boy, Thomas, about six or so at the time, saw a picture of Jesus in the barbershop. It was the face of Jesus, crown of thorns pressed on His head, blood streaking down His cheek. Since Thomas had never heard of Jesus, he asked his mom a simple question: “Who is that man and why is he bleeding?” I think for Deborah those words felt more like a scalpel than a question because the Holy Spirit used those words to open Deborah’s heart to truth she’d known since childhood and had spent years denying.

Ah, the power of the right question at the right time! The Lord kept pressing that question to Deborah well after they’d left the barbershop. It disturbed her … and rightly so. And underneath that question were affirmations the Lord also continued to press upon Deborah: “I love you. Jesus died for you and rose from the dead. Your sins are forgiven in Jesus’ name. Come home, Deborah. Follow me.” The Hound of heaven had tracked down His girl and gently shepherded her back into the fold.

Deborah decided her boys were going to know who that man was and why He was bleeding. She and the boys plugged into the church. Deborah began to grow in her faith by leaps and bounds. She shared her testimony during a musical presentation and many were touched. She spoke freely of her faith to students at school. She did her best to help some who, like her, were skeptics, doubters, at the edge of atheism. And in the church, she worked with children. She got involved in missions. She taught a thing or two. She didn’t put a toe in to see how the water was; she dove right into the deep end. As a pastor, I found myself thinking, “Oh, for a tribe of Deborahs, and this church could turn the world upside down!” She became a franchise player in the church. And her boys were so very much at home among us too.

But her husband Danny wasn’t. He is a good man and was kind to give Deborah freedom to do her thing, but he made no bones about the fact that it was not his thing. And Deborah didn’t press him. She prayed for him. She lived a changed and changing life in front of him. She suggested a book or two if he wanted to know more. And Deborah’s friends in the church joined her in her prayers. Danny wasn’t a stranger to the church. He came once in a while when Deborah or the boys were doing something special. And he even got on one of our softball teams. But that was as far as he was willing to go. What he didn’t know, however, was that the Hound of heaven was hot on his trail. I said about Danny what I’ve said about others in a similar boat, “God is going to get him; Danny just doesn’t know it yet.”

We hoped to see that happen right here in Hot Springs. But it didn’t. Family considerations led them to move to Texas. Not long after the move, I got an email from Deborah with this news: “Danny has decided he’s no longer an atheist. He’s now an agnostic.” In other words, Danny was open to the fact that there might be a God but he wasn’t making any commitments. Progress! The Hound of heaven was now nipping at his heels. And then a few months ago, I got another email: “Danny asked Christ into his life today.” Deborah gave praise and the Hound howled and the angels danced and heaven threw a party and those of us who know Danny kicked up our heels in praise and joy too.

The next step was church—getting connected to the body of Christ where they live. Jesus didn’t call us to a solitary life but to a life of community. And that email came yesterday! Deborah and Danny joined a local Methodist church in their town. Danny had spent some time in the Methodist church when he was growing up, and it felt right to him to reconnect. Here’s the way Deborah put it: “The preacher invited us to the Celebration service at 8:30am instead of the main service. We went and it was amazing! It's just like worshipping at a Baptist church with a few of the Methodist rituals …. Danny loves it and so do I. After going there for almost 2 months, I told Danny I was joining and he said he'd join to with me! It was everything I could do not to cry as we were walking down that aisle holding hands with the two boys beside us!” Hallelujah! Praise the Lord from whom all blessings flow! Praise the Hound of heaven for loving us, for pursuing us, for finding a way to get our attention, for saving our souls, and for getting us all the way home.

Deborah and Danny still have a lot of growing to do. As Deborah said, “I think Danny is going through the same thing I did where sometimes I have the faith of a thousand people and then other times I wonder if I even believe.” That’s okay. Once He chases them down, the Hound of heaven doesn’t abandon His children. He stands guard over their souls through every valley and mountaintop and plateau that they face. When the Hound finds you, He keeps you. Danny and Deborah are not the first of Jesus’ followers to have seasons of doubt now and then. They are going to be just fine.

In writing of that Hound, Francis Thompson put it this way:

I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind,
And in the midst of tears
I hid from him, and under running laughter.

Deborah and Danny fled. Danny and Deborah hid. But the Hound of heaven found a way to get their attention. He pursued them and found them and saved them and will watch over them forever. And one of the interesting things about this story is that the first time they heard the Hound’s voice it didn’t sound like the howling of a dog; it sounded like the voice of a child: “Who is that man and why is He bleeding?”

Monday, March 14, 2011

If You Love Happy Endings …

I spent some time in court last Tuesday afternoon. No, I wasn’t on trial for anything. I was there to watch the next chapter in a story that I’ve been watching for seven years now. But I get ahead of myself.

It all started when a mother called the church to see if we could help with Christmas presents for her seven-year-old son Gunnar. The family's names were then given to one of our Sunday School classes. Two ladies in the class, Sally and Terry, were assigned to purchase and deliver presents for those two boys. Little did Sally and Terry know what they were getting into when they stopped by the house to drop off the presents! God had bigger things in mind. In fact, though unbeknownst to Sally and Terry, God was shaping an answer to a little boy’s prayer. And it wasn’t a prayer for nice presents or a new bike for Christmas. Gunnar had been asking God to rescue him from the situation in which he lived. I won’t go into the problems in their home, but suffice it to say they were serious and dangerous: two parents who loved their kids in their own way but with some serious issues. They were way over their head in trying to take care of a child.

So Sally and Terry dropped off the presents and Gunnar took more than the presents they carried in their arms; he stole the ladies’ hearts. They were drawn to Gunnar; Gunnar was drawn to them. And they knew this would not be their last visit with this family. So instead of turning a blind eye or writing off that family’s troubles as just tough luck for a little boy, Sally and Terry began to work with the family. The family even added another boy not long after—a little bundle of joy named Freddy. Amid many frustrations, Sally and Terry didn’t give up. They continued to try to help this family be a family. But it was a losing battle. And what began as an effort to help parents take care of their own children eventually became legal guardianship of those boys for Sally and Terry.

Sally is a college president. Terry is an administrator in a local public school. Sally has never married. Terry has already raised two kids of her own. Now, as longtime friends well into their 50s, they share a home, and they invited Gunnar and Freddy to live in their home and be their boys for awhile. The court agreed to legal guardianship, and Gunnar and Freddy moved in. Did I tell you that this answered a second prayer Gunnar had prayed: that he and Freddy get to move in with Sally and Terry?

Finally placed in soil with the right nutrients, Gunnar and Freddy began to blossom. Our church family watched this unfold before our eyes. We watched shy, insecure children become more confident, more open, more social, and less anxious. Hillary Clinton wrote a book in which she said it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a church too, and a number of folks in the church stepped up to help Sally and Terry love and care for those boys. Mandy became the A-#1 babysitter, and R.L. and Diana provided a lot of care for the boys too (Sally and Terry have busy careers and lives). Dr. Lance took those boys fishing whenever he could. Our children’s and youth pastors reached out in a variety of ways. Sunday School teachers helped. It was a group effort. A good counselor and a kind attorney played their roles in this drama too. But it’s always been Sally and Terry on the frontlines. In spite of the emotional and physical weariness that comes from trying to raise two young boys (young enough to be their grandchildren), in spite of the extra emotional baggage those boys carry, and in spite of the demands of challenging occupations, Sally and Terry invested their lives and their time and their resources in those boys. They did it gladly. And in doing so, they rescued two boys from God-knows-what. Gunnar’s prayers were answered.

The rescue effort took a new turn on Tuesday. Gunnar and Freddy were officially adopted by another family. Sally and Terry were very careful about the process, but God opened the door to a Christian family that has raised some kids of their own and was ready to raise some more. After months of checking it out and giving the boys and the family plenty of time to see if this was right, they all determined it was. God was in it. God was for it. And God was going to get it done. And it’s a pretty sweet deal for Gunnar and Freddy. They get to live in the country. They have a horse to ride and woods to explore and play in. And best of all, they have new parents with the maturity to love them and guide them and provide for them. Add to their new family a couple of grandmothers named Sally and Terry, and God couldn't have been kinder to Gunnar and Freddy. The boys have even decided that they wanted to take their new family's name. Every kid should have it so good. And I'll admit it: even though I’m not as close to those boys as are several others, I got a little misty-eyed at court watching God pour out all this grace on those boys. I found myself praying He would do as much for so many other children who are in the same boat. As you can imagine, Sally and Terry were pretty emotional too. And they should be. They literally saved those boys lives in so many ways. And they did it when they didn’t have to, when nobody would have expected them to, and when some of the people who watched this unfold must have thought those two ladies were nuts to take on such a challenge. After the proceedings were over, I hugged Sally, and whispered these words the Lord gave me to say to her: “And God said, ‘I’m proud of my daughter Sally.’” And He’s proud of his daughter Terry too. A party followed in the jury room—and I'm pretty sure heaven threw a party as well. What can I say? I’m a sucker for happy endings.

That’s probably a good place to stop, but there’s one more thing I want to tell you about this story. Around three years ago, Gunnar trusted Jesus as His Savior and Lord. God had answered Gunnar’s prayer that he and Freddy be saved from their dangerous home. And now God answered Gunnar's prayer for the salvation of his soul. In obedience to Jesus, Gunnar followed his commitment to Jesus with baptism. I’ll never forget it. It meant so much to him and to everyone who had played a role in Gunnar’s story. It was emotional for a lot of us.

And at the end of the service when I was giving him his baptism certificate and Bible, I reminded him that while he no longer lived with his birth family, adoption is a beautiful thing because that’s the only way any of us can become a child of God. The apostle Paul put it this way: “God predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Eph. 1:5).

Then, God prompted me to tell him a Fred Craddock story that came to mind. Craddock writes that while eating dinner at a small restaurant in the Smoky Mountains, he and his wife were engaged in conversation by an old man. The old man asked them lots of questions about where they lived and what they did. When Craddock told the man that he was a minister in the Christian church, the old man said that he owed a great deal to a minister of a Christian church, and he pulled up a chair to tell his story.

The old man said that he grew up in those Tennessee mountains. His mother was not married and everybody in town knew it. He was what people called an illegitimate child, though most used the more degrading and derogatory term. The old man said, “In those days that was a shame, and I was ashamed.” He felt the stares and the glares of people everywhere he went. He heard the whispers when he entered a room, heard people trying to guess who his father might be. Needless to say, he tended to stay to himself and really didn’t have any friends.

In his early teens he started to attend the Laurel Springs Christian Church. He was attracted to the minister, a man with a chiseled face, a heavy beard, and a deep voice. “I waited until sermon time to enter the church,” he said, “and I hurried out as soon as it was over, fearing that someone would stop me and say, ‘What’s a boy like you doing in a church?’”

One Sunday as he was trying to hurry out, he got trapped in a line of people. That’s when he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was the minister. “He turned me around," said the old man, "so we were face to face. He studied me for a moment. I knew what he was doing: he was trying to figure out who my father might be.” A moment later the preacher said, “Well, boy, you’re a child of …” and he paused there. “I knew what was coming,” said the old man. “I knew I would have my feelings hurt and I would never come back to that church again.” And then the preacher finished his sentence: “Boy, you’re a child of God. I see a striking resemblance, boy.” Then, the preacher swatted him on the bottom and said, “Now, you go claim your inheritance.” The old man concluded his story by saying, “I left that building a different person. In fact, that was really the beginning of my life.”

Craddock was so moved by the story he had to ask the old man, “What’s your name?” The man said, “Ben Hooper.” And that’s when Craddock recalled his own father once telling him about how the people of Tennessee had twice elected as governor an illegitimate named Ben Hooper.

I told that story to Gunnar and I could tell the same story to his brother Freddy. Why? Because I see a striking resemblance of their Heavenly Father in both of them. And with a Father like God, who knows how He might bless and use their lives in years to come. You should have seen God use Gunnar’s life and testimony at a camp our church hosted last summer for at-risk kids. Everybody saw the resemblance of Gunnar’s Father in him at that camp. Anyway, that’s a bit of the rest of the story—a story yet to unfold in it fullest. Makes me think of something else the apostle Paul had to say, "Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:6). I guess God loves happy endings too.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Please Find Something Else to Talk About

A couple of weeks ago, Dayna and I went to see a movie. I’m cheap, so we try to make the afternoon matinee and save a couple of bucks. You know who else likes afternoon matinees: a good many of our older population. In Hot Springs we have a lot that demographic. In fact, I’m rapidly becoming that demographic.

Anyway, we took our seats near the back on the aisle. There was an older couple sitting just across the aisle from us. And just after we sat down, another older couple slowly made their way down the aisle past us. They were moving gingerly because the man, walking with a slight limp, was trying to balance a couple of cokes in his hands while hugging a huge bucket of popcorn to his chelly (that’s what you call that part of the body when you can’t tell where the chest stops and the belly begins). He was a big ol’ boy for sure. I was fearful that either a coke or the popcorn was about to say hello to the floor, but he made it. He scooted sideways past the aisle seat, then wiggled down into the next one. Score! The dude made it, and he wasn’t in that seat two seconds before he had a handful of popcorn on the way to his mouth. I liked him immediately because here was a man after my own heart, a man who understands that movies are more about the popcorn than anything else.

His wife followed behind leaning on a cane. She was rather rotund herself, wide at the hip, and more or less dragging a leg. She got to her seat, turned slightly toward Dayna and me, found the arm of the seat behind her to catch her balance, tried to hang her cane on the seat in front of her, then made a quick twist to her left and semi-collapsed into the seat. The seat held. She let out a sigh of what I thought was relief but soon discovered it was one of anguish. All was not well. Poor thing couldn’t settle. So she grabbed the top of the seat in front of her, pulled herself up, and announced to anyone within earshot that all that wiggling to sit down twisted up her pants, and she had to get them straightened out. She proceeded to grab the back of her pants with one hand, the front of her pants with the other, and give them a firm jerk to the right. Now, all was well.

But the old man seated behind her just couldn’t resist asking her about her ailments. He saw the cane. He watched how hard it was for her to walk and sit down and get up. So before she sat back down, he popped the question: “Something wrong with your leg?” It was at this point that I leaned over to Dayna and said, “You watch, he’s not interested in her leg. I bet he just wants to tell her about his own ailments.” And I nailed it. No sooner did she start to talk about the hematoma in her calf that made it so hard to blah, blah, blah, blah, then he started rattling on about his two knee replacements blah, blah, blah, blah. He didn’t even wait for her to finish her sentence. I’m not sure either one heard a word of what the other said; they appeared to be happy just to talk about their own aches and pains. And two other people in the picture seemed to be happy as well: the wife of double knee replacement and the husband of hematoma. I think they were happy that their spouse had found somebody else besides them to jabber on and on with about their sufferings. Oh, and I was happy too, because I leaned over to Dayna and whispered, “I just got an idea for my blog.”

Why is it that some folks feel such a need to discuss all their ailments? I work out a lot. I stay in good shape, but I get dinged up now and then, and I’ll admit that when I do I like to tell people what’s hurting. Why is that? Am I trying to explain why I’m moving slower than usual? Am I wanting sympathy? Am I really saying that I can’t believe this is happening to me and by talking it out sort of come to grips with it? I don’t know. Maybe a little bit of all of that. People don’t suffer in silence very well. Most want to talk about it: especially their physical sufferings.

Being a pastor, I hear lots of this stuff. That’s okay. I want to know what’s going on in the lives of my church family. I want to know how they hurt so I can pray for them more specifically. But I weary of the ouch by ouch description that some seem so compelled to share. Listen to too much of that and it will suck the life right out of you. That’s why I sometimes find myself saying to them, “Please find something else to talk about. If you don’t, people will start to identify you with your ailments. They’ll want to hide when they see you coming because you wear them out.” Some folks learn; some folks don’t. I remember visiting a cancer patient at the hospital who was suffering so much from her cancer that even morphine couldn't knock it out. And though she didn’t say it, I think she suffered most by having to listen to another visitor in the room chronicle the history and migrations of his various and sundry back pains. (The pain he was causing the patient and me was located just below the back.) I didn’t say it to him, but I should have: “Please find something else to talk about it. Seriously. The patient has suffered enough." I walked out of that hospital room worn out.

But you know what’s uplifting? It’s a visit like I had just today in the hospital with an older lady who suffered a terrible fall, peeled most of the skin off her arm, some off her face, and has the skin on both knees stapled together. I asked her what happened. She told me. She was brief and too the point, because that’s not what she really wanted to talk about. She wanted to talk about her blessings. She wanted to talk about God’s watch-care and providence in her life. She wanted to talk about some good news concerning a daughter battling cancer. We prayed over these things and for her return to health. And as I was leaving she smiled and said, “This too shall pass.” I walked out of that hospital room energized, humbled, and grateful that God would put such a saint in life. And a Scripture came to mind: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are preparing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 6:16-17).

If we live long enough, we’ll all experience our share of ailments. It's okay to talk about them. It's even healthy to talk about them to some extent, but keep it short, okay. Don't pitch a tent and live there. Move the conversation along. Find something else to talk about: the ballgame, the weather, gas prices, your hobbies, your dreams, your family, or maybe even your blessings. Not only will you find yourself lifted up and encouraged, you might find you have a few more listeners too.