Friday, February 5, 2010

Nice People

I just want to take a moment to express my appreciation for nice people. When I say "nice people" I don't mean people who aren't mean or rude. I'm talking about the people who go out of their way to be nice, who surpass the neutral non-offensive stage into the downright pleasant stage. I want to thank people who make a conscious effort to say and do nice things entirely for the benefit of other people. I really appreciate these gestures, even when they're small. They cost so little, and yet they can make a big difference in my life.

Below are some nice people I've encountered recently whom I'd like to recognize.
  • The two people at last Sunday's church potluck who offered me advice on pursuing publication for my book
  • The lady at the gas station who saw me trying to figure out how to open the gas tank door on the car I was borrowing and came over to tell me to look for the lever at the base of the driver's seat
  • The friend who lent me the car in the first place
  • The people who took it upon themselves to tell me they enjoyed my singing at a recent church service
  • Every single person who has smiled at me while passing me on the sidewalk this week, despite the fact that it's freezing out and we're mostly concentrating on getting to our destinations as quickly as possible
  • The friends who told me I looked nice in the dress I was trying on in a boutique on Saturday
  • My workout buddies who provide jokes and banter that help distract us all from the fact that our muscles are screaming
  • A group of my colleagues who are raising lots of money for their polar plunge team (they get sponsored to jump in a freezing lake, and the money benefits the Special Olympics)
  • The coworkers who stop by my desk to say hello and see how I'm doing on their way to a meeting with my boss
  • My husband who turns the outside light on for me when he knows I'm coming home late
  • The friends who voluntarily share food and beverages with me when I'm hanging out at their house
I remember all of these things because they made me smile. These people decided to take some sort of friendly or generous action just for the sake of improving my day, and their efforts worked marvelously. These little things not only make me happier, they also encourage me to be a nice person myself and to pass along the positivity. It doesn't really cost me much to go a little bit out of my way to be nice, and the benefits are so enjoyable. Having the power to improve someone else's day is a gift for the giver as well.

So here's to nice people. Keep it up!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dealing with the Mundane

My life is miraculous for several reasons:
  • I was created by a loving God who knows me inside and out and who cares about me. Though I am one of millions, I am not an anonymous speck in an uncaring universe. I am known and loved.
  • My life is not an exercise in blind chance. God has given me a destiny and a future. He has a plan for my life and gives my existence meaning.
  • I have been forgiven from my sins and will not have to pay the price for my foolhardy and wayward choices. God sent His beloved son to atone for my sins and to lead me back to salvation, and so I have been rescued, just like a princess in a fairy tale.
  • God has put many wonderful people into my life, without whom I would doubtless be lost. He has also given me specific talents, tools, and resources that allow me to reach my true potential.
This list could go on, but you get the idea. The world around us is full of miracles—trees that bud in springtime, serendipitous encounters, inexplicable medical recoveries, and helpful intuitions. Sometimes I wonder why I don't always find myself in constant delight, like a child in an enchanted forest, when I consider all the amazing things that God makes possible in my life and throughout the world. And yet, sometimes these ordinary miracles seem dull, and my life—inspired though it may be—seems like a boring trudge through the mundane.

Objectively, it is true that my life is simultaneously both ordinary and wonderful. Even though all of the miracles I listed above are real, I still have a relatively tame daily routine. There doesn't seem to be anything all that miraculous about things like brushing my teeth, cleaning my house, cooking dinner, or going to work. That's because I do these things all the time, so they bore me. There are other people who would consider fresh water, a sturdy roof, healthy food, or a steady job nothing short of a Godsend. Boredom is inevitable for all of us, no matter what type of life we lead, because each of us has to deal with repetition.

Just because I get bored sometimes doesn't mean my life stinks. All the people I might think have it better than I do—rich, beautiful, talented, or adventuresome people—still get bored the same as I do. Everyone has to deal with things that seem mundane, but those things don't have to detract from the miracles in our lives. The miracles I listed at the beginning of my post may seem ordinary, but they're still miracles. Likewise, I may get bored of my job or tired of cleaning my house, but my job and my house are still blessings in my life. I don't have to feel dissatisfied with my whole life just because I have to deal with boredom sometimes.

My life isn't over, and God has more surprises in store for me. I'll always have routines and chores that I would rather live without, but there will always be miracles and joy in my life too. Therefore, whenever I find myself getting grumpy about the mundane parts of my life, I need to remember the miracles and blessings too. They make my life worth living, boring parts and all.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Well-Qualified Candidates Need Not Apply

When Jesus performed a miracle in Peter's fishing boat as a prelude to calling Peter, James, and John to be his disciples, Peter fell at Jesus' feet and said, "Go away from me, Lord—I am a sinful man!" (Luke 5:8) By declaring himself unworthy, Peter was following in the footsteps of some notable prophets. Immersed in a vision of God's glory, Isaiah declared, "Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." (Isaiah 6:5) When God told Jeremiah he was destined to be a prophet, Jeremiah protested, "Ah, Sovereign LORD, I do not know how to speak; I am only a child." (Jeremiah 1:6) Moses was famous for trying to argue his way out of his calling at the burning bush. Moses argued that he was a nobody and that no one would believe him. He even brought up a speech impediment. But God showed Moses miracles to prove that nothing was impossible for Him. (Exodus 3:1–4:17)

It seems odd from a human standpoint that God would choose all these unqualified people to do His work. God chose David, least among Jesse's sons, to be Israel's most famous king. He gave Joseph the power to interpret dreams when he was nothing more than a betrayed and imprisoned slave. The list goes on and on. And yet all of the unqualified people that God selected were able to do the tasks He set before them. God does not need to choose well-qualified candidates because He makes His servants qualified Himself after He has chosen them. If we feel smugly capable, we deceive ourselves. On our own we can do nothing, and all of our talents and skills are simply gifts from God. When we realize that we are seriously under-prepared and unworthy to do the righteous things God asks of us, then we are ready to receive the divine assistance that can make our success possible.

Consider Paul. When his name was still Saul, he already was an extremely well-educated Biblical scholar and a very intelligent man. Even as Saul prided himself on these qualifications to serve God, he persecuted God's servants. Only after Saul had been confronted by Jesus himself and was left terribly ashamed of his mistakes was he ready to truly serve God. Paul knew that his history of enemity with God's faithful servants should have disqualified him from joining their ranks, but God made it possible. God then went on to use Paul, this former tyrant, to spread the Gospel to thousands of people.

I myself am woefully unqualified to be a child of God. My heart harbors all kinds of sin—jealousy, deceit, spitefulness, anger, and arrogance, to name only a few. I mess up even when I know better, and I often find myself a slave to my emotions. I don't even feel qualified to be God's servant. I don't know how to properly use my talents. I don't know how to get other people to listen to the good ideas I do have, and I feel that I fall short even in my strong suits. None of that really matters, though. I am not God's beloved daughter because I deserve to be—I am because God makes it so. Likewise, God will make it possible for me to accomplish the tasks He sets for me, no matter how unlikely my success may seem by human standards. After all, if God could transform all these unqualified people into Biblical heroes, there are no limits to what miracles He can work in my life.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I like it when things are easy. It's true that I don't want a boring life of lazy complacency, but it's nice when the endeavors I undertake work out well. It's wonderful when everything just sort of falls into place, when it seems like it's meant to be. I like feeling capable, and I enjoy making progress. Not all of my projects are so simple, however. Often there are struggles and challenges and setbacks. I don't win every time, and sometimes I have to struggle against difficult deficits.

It can be tempting to just give up when we face setbacks. We might feel that the we've undertaken a bigger task than we can handle or that the difficulties mean that God doesn't support our endeavor. Sometimes those assumptions could be correct, but I don't think they are universally true. A difficult task is not necessarily a lost cause. Sometimes God sets us tasks that challenge the limit of our abilities and endurance. When I work out, I challenge my muscles to work as hard as they can and push myself to the limit so that my base strength will gradually increase. If I didn't challenge myself, I would not grow. From this point of view, setbacks don't have to mean doom—sometimes they are even blessings in disguise.

Consider Moses. God sent Moses to Pharaoh to demand the release of the Israelites. In the beginning, Pharaoh refused. Perhaps Moses wondered if God was really with him or began to doubt whether his supernatural experience had really happened. In the end, Pharaoh's stubbornness only made God's triumph more spectacular, so that all the people throughout the land heard about Moses and the people and what God had done for them. Jesus himself was nearly thrown off a cliff by his own neighbors in Nazareth, but he went on his way and continued his ministry. Later, the apostles were imprisoned and beaten, but they didn't give up. God brought them through these hardships and they continued to preach and teach in the name of Jesus.

Of course, all of our endeavors don't necessarily seem so clear-cut. It's easy to believe that God is with us and will help us when we've received a clear commission directly from Him. But what about our daily lives, as we struggle to do what's right and good in His name? Is God with us then? Will we prevail through the hardships? The general answer is that sometimes we will and sometimes we won't. When we face these struggles, it is vitally important for us to pray for God's will to be done in our lives. If God means for us to succeed, then our prayers open us up to receive His aid. Sometimes our prayers may lead us to the conclusion that God is giving us permission to relent, that He has other work for us to do instead. In times like those, there is no shame in walking away from a failed endeavor so that we can apply our time and talents to other work of God's choosing.

Whether we persevere or taste defeat, God is always with us and He is proud of the efforts we make on His behalf. Our struggles may be difficult, but God will be there to help us succeed when that is His plan or to redirect our efforts when He has something else in mind. Either way, our struggles are worthwhile and appreciated. Each time we face a setback, we have the chance to grow in character into stronger and more resilient Christians. Therefore, we are not forced to view setbacks as failures—we can still profit from them.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Multiply Life By the Power of Two

Once, when I was 19 years old, I stood knee deep in a lake in Ireland, looked up at the beautiful mountains before me, and wished that I could just go up into those mountains and live with God forever. I had an aching longing to be with God and no one else, to escape the interpersonal entanglements that burdened me. That is not the only time in my life when I have felt that I could be happy spending the rest of my life with nobody but God. Sometimes I get so frustrated with the people I love that I've asked myself if it's worth it to keep trying to make these interpersonal commitments. Maybe it would be better to just be a crazy hermit or something.

Most of the time, however, I know better. Wise King Solomon wrote, "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." (Ecclesiastes 4:9–11) How well I know these words to be true!

The first few years of marriage were a little tough for me. There were a few times when I got really upset and had long arguments with God about why He had saddled me with my husband. Was my marriage really worth all the problems I had to deal with in the beginning? Eventually I learned just how valuable it was to have a husband who would stick with me no matter what, even if he was a little annoying sometimes. The issues of marriage are worth dealing with because I also get a companion to pick me up if I fall, a warm body to snuggle up to on cold nights, and a partner who helps me fend of my adversaries. I've even discovered that this lesson isn't limited to marriage. Those friends who can be difficult and the family members who confuse me sometimes still bring so much good into my life. They're worth all the effort I expend to make them a significant part of my life.

Every relationship I have is special, and each person in my life makes me stronger. Two is better than one, but that means that I need lots of people in my life, because I can't just be with one person all the time. Even my husband isn't constantly by my side, so I need other people to be my partners sometimes. Each person has the power to support me, to make me feel warmer and more secure, and to take away my fear when I'm faced with a challenge. As long as I have relationships in my life, I never have to face an obstacle alone. I can multiply my own power by the person who is with me. Occasionally I still get the urge to leave everyone behind so that I can just be with God, but then I remember that those people are gifts from God intended to bless my life. I am strong with God as my allies, but I am even stronger with my loved ones on my side too.
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