Laughing at the Big "C"

Laughter and tears are part of living. But do you find enough time for laughter? I am not asking if you experience lots of good times. Of course we should laugh during the happy times. But do you also laugh during the difficult times?

Erma Bombeck is known for her humorous books, but she wrote one that covered a more serious topic: cancer in children. The book is titled, I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I Want to Go to Boise (Harper and Row, 1989). Bombeck talks with numerous children with cancer and learns important life lessons from them. She learns, for instance, that cancer survivors know how to laugh.

She cites the experience of 15-year-old Jessica from Burlington, Vermont (USA). Jessica’s leg was amputated at the knee because of cancer. She was learning to wear a prosthesis. Jessica tells about playing soccer. She kicked the ball hard and it flew off in one direction while her artificial leg flew another way. Then “the tall, gorgeous person that I am,” she said, “convulsed on the ground in laughter.”

Jessica may not have laughed about her cancer, but she laughed about dealing with the consequences of it. And her laughter helped her cope.

Then there is the story of 17-year-old Betsy. She made her way to the radiation room for her regular radiation therapy. As usual, she dropped her hospital gown and, wearing only her birthday suit, climbed onto the table and waited. After a couple of moments she began to realize something disturbing: the extra people in the room were not the medical students she had thought, but rather painters giving an estimate on painting! Betsy laughs heartily about the incident. And like Jessica, her ability to laugh helped her to cope with one of the most difficult things a young person can endure — cancer.

Biblical wisdom teaches that “there is a time to weep and a time to laugh.” Do you find plenty of occasions for laughter? You can…if you also find reasons to laugh during the especially difficult times.

Survivors know how to laugh. If you can laugh even when the going is rough, you’ll make it. And you’ll smile at the end.

And so, we pray: Lord, I know people, even in my own family, who have or are dealing with that demon cancer. It is a horrible uncertainty to deal with moment by moment and day by day. It would be impossible to deal with if we lost our ability to laugh at something. Help us keep laughing knowing that our life is always in you and with you, and nothing can separate us from you love in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Have a Sense of Humor

A senator once took Will Rogers to the White House to meet President Coolidge. He warned the humorist that Coolidge never smiled. Rogers replied, “I’ll make him smile.” 

Inside the Oval Office, the senator introduced the two men.  “Will Rogers,” he said, “I’d like you to meet President Coolidge.” 

Deadpan, Rogers quipped, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t catch the name.” Coolidge smiled. 

Blues musician Corky Siegel says,  “Life is too important to take seriously.” 

A sense of humor is essential. It is one of the most important means we possess to face the difficulties of life. And sometimes life can be difficult indeed.  

I use to see people every day with big problems: relationships breaking apart, unemployment, serious illness. Not a week goes by when I haven’t talked with someone agonizing with a suffering friend, or people who are addicted or in deep grief. Without a sense of humor about my own life, I don’t know if I could survive. I take what I do seriously, but I try not to take myself too seriously. Like the New York City cab driver who said, “It’s not the work that I enjoy so much, but the people I run into!” 

Here is an experiment: look for and find as much joy as possible for one full day. Try to enjoy the people you run into, the work you do, your leisure time and your relationships. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself – and take enough time to enjoy God. Try this experiment for one full day, and by evening you may be amazed to find yourself basking in the glow of a rekindled spirit. 

It just takes a day to find joy along the way.

And so, we pray: Lord, help me not to take myself so seriously that I lose my sense of humor. Without that humor life could be very dull and unfulfilling. Help me to continue to find the humor in life that I may laugh at myself, especially as others laugh at me and with me. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Strength Upon Strength

In an interesting experiment at Amherst College (Amherst, Massachusetts) a band of steel was secured around a young squash. As the squash grew, it exerted pressure on the steel band. Researchers wanted to know just how strong a growing squash could be, so they measured the force it brought to bear on its constraints. They initially estimated that it might be able to exert as much as 500 pounds of pressure, which is a rather remarkable feat in itself.

In one month, the squash was pressing the hoped-for 500 pounds. But it didn’t stop there. In two months it was applying 1,500 pounds against the steel band and soon the researchers measured 2,000 pounds of pressure. That is when they decided to strengthen the band which was now threatening to snap. As it grew, the squash applied more and more pressure in order to free itself of the constraint. It finally achieved the astounding force of 5,000 pounds of pressure to bear on the band (ten times their original estimation) – when the rind split open.

Researchers sliced it open and found it to be inedible, as it was filled with tough, coarse fibers that had grown specifically to push against the steel which held it in. Since the plant required great amounts of nutrients to gain the strength needed to break its bonds, its roots extended unusual distances in all directions. In fact, it had grown to be so large and powerful, it single-handedly took over the garden space.

Similarly, we may have no idea just how strong we really can be when faced with great obstacles. If a squash can exert that much physical pressure, how much more strength can human beings apply to a situation? Most of us are stronger than we realize. Chilean writer Isabel Allende reminds us, “We all have an unsuspected reserve of strength inside that emerges when life puts us to the test.”

Are you being tested? Do you face an immovable obstacle? Does it seem overwhelming? If so, remember the squash. Its single-minded purpose was to break the bonds which held it. If you patiently focus your energy – what problem can stand against the great mental, spiritual and physical strength you can bring to bear?

And so, we pray: O Lord, I know family and friends who are being tested in pressure situations as great or greater than that pumpkin. Be present in their struggle. Hold them close in your loving arms and allow them to know your Spirit is with them in that and every moment. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Indifference or Caring

I am passionate about some things. I love music – don’t think I would want to live without it. And I care quite a bit about some big things, like living my life fully and helping others to do the same. I care about the welfare of people and building a world where people matter. All people, not just some. I believe it is important to care deeply about a few things that matter.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel says this about the importance of caring: 

 “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. 
 The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. 
 The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. 
 And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

And what’s the opposite of indifference? It is concern. It’s caring. 

I think most people want to make a difference, even in a small way. They want their lives to count for something. But it can never happen until they care about something bigger than themselves. Something that really matters.

American president Teddy Roosevelt knew about passionate living. He never did anything in a small way. Several years after serving two terms as president, he decided to run again. The early part of his campaign consisted of traveling by train from one state to another to stump. 

Roosevelt reached Chicago on October 13, 1912 from Iowa. His throat was so sore from speaking that it had been necessary to cancel previous addresses in Indiana and Wisconsin. But this time he insisted on making a speech the next day in Milwaukee, no matter how he felt. 

As he left his hotel to go to the hall where a crowd was already gathered, Roosevelt was shot in the right breast in an assassination attempt. He did not know the extent of the injury – it might have been fatal as far as he knew – but he insisted on speaking to the crowd before allowing his gunshot wound to be treated. He told them that he would make this speech or die. He had something to say and there was no canceling.

Visibly pallid and sporting a bright red stain on his chest, he began in a low tone. “I am going to ask you to be very quiet and please excuse me from making a long speech,” he said. “I’ll do the best I can, but there is a bullet in my body.” He went on to minimize the injury and told his audience that he had a message to deliver and would speak as long as his life held out. Then he said, “It matters little about me, but it matters about the cause we fight for.” (He survived the incident, by the way.)

Causes do matter. And the world is changed by people who care deeply about causes – about things that matter. We don’t have to be particularly smart or talented. We don’t need a lot of money or education. All we really need is to be passionate about something important; something bigger than ourselves. And it’s that commitment to a worthwhile cause that changes the world. 

I know – not all of us are interested in changing the world. That’s okay. But any life will be significant when we expend energy and passion on important matters. 

And so, we pray: O Lord, Help us to not accept indifference, but strive for the caring causes which are for the benefit of all your people. Let indifference in have no quarter in our lives. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Love Even When We Are Unloveable

Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov penned this humorous poem:

“Tell me why the stars do shine,
Tell me why the ivy twines,
Tell me what makes skies so blue,
And I’ll tell you why I love you.

Nuclear fusion makes stars to shine,
Tropisms make the ivy twine,
Raleigh scattering make skies so blue,
Testicular hormones are why I love you.”

What happened to that poor man in the romance department? 

Actually, I suppose that what he lacks in inspiration he probably makes up for in accuracy. And accuracy is fine, but I like some mystery, too. I don’t want to analyze and dissect all of the wonder out of life.

There’s something mysterious about a pitch-black sky teeming with shining stars…something that causes my imagination to soar. And what about the mystery of nature? I can think of few things so thrilling as that sense of awe that explodes in my heart when I see a brilliantly blue sky over snow-capped mountain peaks. And the greatest mystery of all – love. What is more mysterious than a deep and almost perfect love felt between two otherwise imperfect people?

Love is mysterious. Robert Fulghum says, “We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness—and call it love—true love.”

Perhaps love has many faces. The faces easiest to see are ones of infatuation and romance. We speak of “falling in love” and feel, too, as if we are in free fall. This is the face of love that inspires songs and poetry and romance novels.

But the face of love I appreciate most is not romance, as much as I am drawn to it, but one I can always count on to be there. It is the face of love that looks more like commitment or devotion – devotion of a parent for a child, or of couples who’ve lived and loved together for years.

This particular face of love is not a magnet that attracts two people to each other, but glue that holds them together for the long term. It is a face of love often seen on parents and grandparents and close friends who have been through good times and bad with one another.

I recall a story about a husband and wife who were engaged in a minor dinnertime disagreement. To the children’s amazement, their father jumped up from the table, grabbed two sheets of paper, and said to his wife, “Let’s make a list of everything we don’t like about each other.”

She agreed and proceeded to write. He, meanwhile, sat and glowered. She looked up and he began to write. 

They finally finished. “Let’s exchange complaints,” he said and they passed their lists across the table.

She glanced at his sheet and pleaded, “Give mine back!” All down his sheet he had written: “I love you, I love you, I love you.” I presume he gave the paper back, for their children remember that moment with humor and fondness.

As much as I enjoy romance, it’s commitment that I need the most. I need to know a love I can depend on, a love that says, “I will be with you through it all. I love you. And I will love you even when you may not be all that lovable, for sometimes I’m not very lovable either. You can count on me – always.” 

Maybe love is mysterious, but that kind of love is solid. Rock solid. And, of all the faces of love, it’s my favorite. 

And so, we pray: Lord, love is very mysterious, even when I have too much wife or she has too much husband… it is rock solid devotion and commitment. Thank you for being the inspiration and Spirit in the midst of it all. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve


Encouragers… Dream Builders

A little girl was asked to bring her birth certificate to school one day. Her mother wisely cautioned her about the important document and told her to be especially careful with it. But in spite of her good intentions, the child lost it. When she became aware of its loss, she began to cry.

“What’s the problem, Honey?” her teacher asked sympathetically. The little girl wailed, “I lost my excuse for being born!” There are enough reasons to say, “Excuse me.” I am not about to apologize for being born. 

Some people live, though, as if they are sorry for being different, or for having an opposing opinion than others or for not running with the herd.  Author Linda Stafford was one of those people. When she was fifteen, Linda announced to her English class that she would someday write and illustrate her own books. She remembers that half of the class sneered and the remainder just laughed at her prophecy. To make matters worse, her English teacher responded that only geniuses become writers and then smugly added that she was on track to receive a D as a grade for the semester. Linda broke into tears. 

She went home and wrote a sad, short poem about broken dreams and mailed it to a weekly paper. To her astonishment, the newspaper not only chose to print the poem but they also sent her two dollars for publishing her writing. When she shared the news with her teacher, her only reply was that “everybody experiences some blind luck from time to time.” 

But as if to defy her teacher’s assertion, Linda continued to write. During the next two years, she sold dozens of poems, letters, jokes and recipes. And by the time she graduated from high school, she had a scrapbook filled with her published writing. 

Linda never again mentioned a word of it to her teachers or to her fellow students. Why not? Some people are “dream-busters,” Linda would later say. And her dream was too important, and, at this time in her life, too fragile to risk being shattered by careless comments from people who didn’t believe in her.

Mark Twain said this about dream busters: “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” 

Linda made no apologies for her ambitions, for her confident belief in herself or for wanting something more out of life. Even at her young age, she somehow knew that nobody on planet earth was more (or less) valuable than she; nobody was more deserving of happiness. She knew that she needed no excuse for wanting to make the most of her brief time in this life and eventually she did become the author she desired to be.

I have found plenty of dream-busters over the years, and I imagine that you have, too. But I have also discovered a few dream-builders along the way – people who encouraged my aspirations and challenged me to take the next step. It was the dream-builders who said yes when others said no. They were the ones who held my vision before me when I wanted to turn away in discouragement. They protected my dreams and reminded me who I really was.

It has always been the dream-builders who made the greatest impact. It is to them I am most grateful. If some people are dream-busters, others are dream-builders. And I know which ones to listen to. I also know which I want to be. 

And so, we pray: Lord, there are plenty of dream-busters out there thinking they were ordained to bring you down and bust your dreams. I have had many cross my path… if I had listened to them I would not have gone to school for twelve years and become a pastor. However, the world is also filled with dream-makers who have believed in me and encouraged me along the way. It is for them that I give thanks… and I pray the world will be filled with many, many more. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Commitment

One woman tells that she worked as an assistant at a jewelry store. She often arranged for engaged couples to have their wedding bands engraved with something special — the date they met or married, a sentimental phrase, their names or even their wedding vows. She once asked a bride-to-be what she would like inscribed inside her fiancé’s ring.

“We aren’t very romantic,” the young woman replied.  She added that they were marrying on her fiancé’s birthday so he wouldn’t forget the date.

“But isn’t there something you’ll want him to remember as he looks inside his ring?” the assistant wondered.

“There sure is,” she said. And that’s how “Put it back on!” came to be inscribed inside her husband’s ring.

Perhaps she was trying to help along her husband’s commitment to the relationship.

A woman named Catherine, from Scotland, may have wanted to help along her lover’s commitment to their relationship. For several decades actually. Finally, after 44 years of courtship, her 68-year-old boyfriend George proposed. Maybe he was waiting for a convenient time. Maybe was was waiting to get up the nerve. I don’t know.

Catherine, however, was more than understanding about waiting four decades for him to pop the question. “He is a bit shy, you know,” she said.

Author Ken Blanchard says this about commitment: “There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses – only results.”

Is there an area of your life that feels more like an interest than a commitment? Does it deserve more from you? You can be interested in a job, or you can be committed. You can be interested in a relationship, or you can be committed. Interest may get you a paycheck or someone to be with, but commitment can change things. Whether you are pursuing a project, following a dream, changing a habit or preparing for your future, can you get the results you want without commitment?

Maybe the real question is not about how committed you are, but rather — are you ready for results? Well, I am very thankful for the results as well as the commitment we share. I never took my wedding band off, even in Vietnam, on liberty in San Juan, or in any other port or circumstance. The results have been a life filled with love and happiness… a fabulous son, daughter-in-law, and two amazing grandchildren.

Today is my wife’s birthday. She is 24 plus shipping and handling. Happy birthday sweetie.

And so, we pray: Lord, I thank you for interests for they keep me going. Even more I thank you for commitment between my wife and me. It has brought many years of happiness (54), joy, laughter and beauty. I thank you for always being part of our lives. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Who We May Become

Did you know that Albert Einstein could not speak until he was four years old and did not read until he was seven? His parents and teachers worried about his mental ability.

Or that Beethoven’s music teacher said about him, “As a composer he is hopeless”? What if young Ludwig believed it?

When Thomas Edison was a young boy, his teachers said he was so stupid he could never learn anything. He once said, “I remember I used to never be able to get along at school. I was always at the foot of my class…my father thought I was stupid, and I almost decided that I was a dunce.” What if young Thomas believed what they said about him?

When F. W. Woolworth was 21, he got a job in a store, but was not allowed to wait on customers because, according to his boss, he “didn’t have enough sense.” I wonder if the boss was around when Woolworth became one of the most successful retailers of his day.

When the sculptor Auguste Rodin was young he had difficulty learning to read and write. Today, we may say he had a learning disability, but his father said of him, “I have an idiot for a son.” His uncle agreed. “He’s uneducable,” he said. What if the boy had doubted his ability to excel?

A newspaper editor once fired Walt Disney because he was thought to have no “good ideas.” The great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso was told by one music teacher, “You can’t sing. You have no voice at all.” And an editor told Louisa May Alcott, just a few years before she wrote the classic novel Little Women, that she was incapable of writing anything that would have popular appeal.

History will long praise each of these famous people, but what became of their critics? Nobody even remembers some of their names, which is all that need be said. 

But what if these young people had listened to those critical voices and became discouraged? Where would our world be without the music of Beethoven and Caruso, the art of Rodin, the ideas of Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, the imagination of Walt Disney or the literary contributions of Louisa May Alcott? As it was so accurately put, “It’s not what you are, it’s what you don’t become that hurts.” (That from Oscar Levant.) What if these people had not become what they were capable becoming, had not done what they actually could have accomplished, just because they were discouraged by people who couldn’t see them for what they were?

We all have potential and, whether you realize it or not, your desire to do or be more than you are is your best indicator of future success. Others may discourage you, but the most important voice to listen to is your own. Do you believe in you?

Still the voices of your critics. Listen intently to your own voice, to the person who knows you best. Then answer these questions: Do you think you should move ahead? How will you feel if you quit pursuing this thing you want to do? And what does your best self advise?

What you hear may change your life.

And so, we pray: Lord, Help us to keep on going especially when others think so poorly of our ability… not to prove them wrong, but to become the fullest of who we can become. Cover us in your mercy, love and grace… and always keep you loving hand on our shoulder. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Send the Sunbeams

Apparently, when Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., he was carrying two pairs of spectacles and a lens polisher, a pocketknife, a watch fob, a linen handkerchief, and a brown leather wallet containing a five-dollar Confederate note as well as several newspaper clippings on the Lincoln presidency.

The newspaper articles are a curiosity. Why did he carry them with him? The eight clippings found in his pockets were largely positive portrayals of his leadership, but the president was not egotistical. In fact, if we know anything about Lincoln, we know that humility was one of his most attractive virtues. Many historians stress that his possession of these clippings was less proof of a president’s ego than of a man who needed reassurance. The recently- ended war had been long and costly. His re-election campaign had also been a difficult slog. Lincoln rarely knew a day without public criticism. The newspaper articles would have been affirming to him.

Historians are aware that Abraham Lincoln suffered from bouts of serious depression. Could it be that in those “dark nights of the soul,” when despair settled over his mind like a cold and heavy snow, that he could reach into his pocket and find hope? Could it be that these words reminded him of what he had dedicated his life to, the good he had tried to do and the lives he had affected?

Francis of Assisi once said, “A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.” Maybe each newspaper article was a sunbeam that he collected and kept with him. 

Have you collected sunbeams? Have you saved away letters and mementos that warm your heart and encourage you when you need a lift? They can drive away many a dark shadow.

Dale Carnegie tells us this: “You have it easily in your power to increase the sum total of this world’s happiness now. How? By giving a few words of sincere appreciation to someone who is lonely or discouraged. Perhaps you will forget tomorrow the kind words you say today, but the recipient may cherish them over a lifetime.”

Here is little habit that can make a big difference. Send sunbeams.Intentionally send a word of encouragement or appreciation every day to one person. Plan ahead. Keep open to those who need a lift. A letter, card or email will suffice. Or a phone call. It can be short, but must be personal and it must be sincere.  

Occasionally you’ll learn what a difference your communication made. Sometimes you won’t. But know this – as you drive away the world’s shadows you will also fill your life daily with a little more joy.

And so, we pray: Lord, help me to step out of my own darkness long enough to be a light to lift someone else out of theirs. Help me make that phone call, text, letter… that word which will lift someone into the light. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Looking Into the Light

When a first-time father cuddled his newborn son, he immediately noticed the baby’s ears conspicuously standing out from his head. He expressed his concern to the nurse that some children might taunt his child, calling him names like “Dumbo.” A doctor examined the baby and reassured the new dad that his son was healthy – the ears presented only a minor cosmetic problem.

But the nervous father persisted. He wondered if the child might suffer psychological effects of ridicule, or if they should consider plastic surgery.

The nurse assured him that it was really no problem, and he should just wait to see if the boy grows into his ears.

The father finally felt more optimistic about his child, but now he worried about his wife’s reaction to those large, protruding ears. She had delivered by cesarean section, and had not yet seen the child.

“She doesn’t take things as easily as I do,” he said to the nurse.

By this time, the new mother was settled in the recovery room and ready to meet her new baby. The nurse went along with the dad to lend some support in case this inexperienced mother became upset about her baby’s large ears.

The infant was swaddled in a receiving blanket with his head covered for the short trip through the chilly air-conditioned corridor. The baby was placed in his mother’s arms, who eased the blanket back so that she could gaze upon her child for the first time.

She took one look at her baby’s face and looked to her husband and gasped, “Oh, Honey! Look! He has your ears!”

No problem with Mom. She married those ears…and she loves the man to whom they are attached.

The poet Khalil Gibran said, “Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.” It’s hard to see the ears when you’re looking into the light.

And so, we pray: Lord, we all have so sort of defect… we are all broken in some way, some form. Thank you for loving us anyway… in spite of what we may look like. Help us to see with our hearts and your love. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

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