Positive Outlook

Bargains

On a warm summer day in Wisconsin, our family visited the Circus World Museum. Somewhere, we had seen an offer of free admission in exchange for coming dressed as a circus character. We love bargains, so our family drove merrily to the museum dressed as clowns–in mismatched clothes, bizarre hairdos, and painted faces. Sure enough, we got in free.  We were barely through the gates, though, before we discovered to our horror that we apparently were the only people who had heard of the offer–and that we had suddenly become the museum’s main attraction.

We scrubbed our faces and tried to repair our hair. There wasn’t much to be done about our ridiculous clothes. But even in weird outfits, we enjoyed the day, laughing at ourselves and ignoring the stares. After all, it was a bargain, and we love bargains! A bargain is a large return on a small investment–a substantial benefit received for a low price. Our day at the museum was a bargain: an exchange of a little bit of personal dignity for a great family memory.

Every ministry wife I know is a bargain-finder. She triples coupons and scours 75% off racks. She shops the thrift store on half-price day. It’s part necessity and equal parts challenge and fun to see how far she can make a dollar stretch. But actually, her whole life is a bargain, for she constantly exchanges the temporal for the eternal, the common for the extraordinary.

She gives up the security of a large paycheck for the thrill of seeing a providential God miraculously meet her family’s needs’from shoes and cereal to cars and college tuition.
She exchanges a conventional 9-5, 5-day workweek, with vacations uninterrupted by other people’s surgeries, for secure employment by a Master who never makes a mistake or breaks a contract. She yields the pleasures of frequent quiet family nights at home for the joy of being married to a man who responds quickly and compassionately to others’ calls for help.

She forfeits the status of marriage to a prominent professional for the rare wifely privilege of being an indispensable partner in her husband’s work. She gives up the comforts of living near relatives in exchange for an abundant measure of sweet oneness with her church family.

She trades her dream house in a country meadow for a narrow apartment in a congested metropolis’but the Lord transforms the city streets into a joyful harvest field. Giving up privacy and anonymity, she becomes a daily model in her community, serving unaware as God’s living pattern of joyful good works and kind words, of love, faith, and purity.

In return for her conscientious work, she expects no yearly bonus, regular promotions, stock options, or pension plan. Instead, she cherishes the simple hope of someday receiving the only reward that matters: her heavenly Father’s, ‘Well done!’  On that day, she’ll look back at her earthly ministry and realize that she never made a single sacrifice. Instead, her life will appear as one amazing bargain. And who doesn’t love a bargain?
Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries

Blackberries

I’ve been out picking berries this morning. Maybe you saw me with my clothes smeared with purple juice and my hands covered with bleeding scratches. It’s a labor of love to pick wild blackberries, because they are protected from predators like me by exasperatingly thorny branches. No matter which way I reach, spiky spears snag my sleeves and jab my skin. Long before my bucket is full, I’m dreaming of the farmers’ market with its neat rows of blackberries in baskets. No thorns there!

But these are free, and somehow they seem sweeter for having survived in the wild. Or maybe I just like emerging bloody and triumphant from the untamed wilderness of blackberry bushes. I do know that I savor the end results: icy smoothies, warm cobblers, and preserves smeared on hot biscuits. Thinking about the joys of the harvest soothes the sting of the awful thorns.

Jesus knows all about thorns, for He wore a crown braided with them. He Who ‘endured the cross, despising the shame’ for ‘the joy that was set before Him’ is our ministry model. We need His example, because sometimes going to church can feel a lot like entering a patch of prickers. While struggling through them, you may find yourself longing for some way to make a living that doesn’t involve thorns.

That’s a good time to stand, stretch, and look over the patch to get some perspective. You’ll discover that for each thorny personality, there are plenty of other sweet people who love you sincerely and serve Christ humbly. Each icky-sticky conflict is balanced by many other serene and uncomplicated relationships. The painful stings of ministry are nothing compared to the sweetness of seeing lives changed by the gospel, of being followed as you follow Him, and of storing up treasures that you can take with you when you die.

Wild blackberry bushes have thorns. That’s Adam and Eve’s fault. Instead of fretting because your berry bush has thorns, think of it this way instead: your thorn bush has berries! Don’t fear or resent the prickers. They’re just a signal that sweet fruit is close by. Press on, and you’ll soon reach home with a full harvest.

Hebrews 12:2

Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries


Chocolate Pie


Our daughter was soon to be married. She was learning to make the luscious chocolate pies that her husband-to-be loved, and we were delighted to let her practice on us. She was nearing pie perfection when, one day, lumps appeared in the creamy filling.

‘Mom, help! What can I do?’ she asked.

I was busy with something else but paused to suggest, ‘Pour it through the colander and strain them out.’

So, just as she had often seen me drain water from a pot of noodles, she set the colander in the kitchen sink and carefully poured the warm pie filling through it’and on down the drain. I found her standing by the sink staring down at the colander, which held a small heap of still-steaming chocolate-covered lumps . . . . and nothing else. She was embarrassed and unhappy, but she recovered quickly and stirred up another batch of fabulous filling. She is now a proficient cook, and her pies are family-famous.

I too have made my share of blunders, in the kitchen and away. I’ve been guilty of pouring life’s sweetness down the drain to save its ugly lumps. Some ministry days are just full of them. People who promise they will come to church, don’t, and you are disappointed. Thoughtless people make critical remarks, and you are hurt. People who should be helpers become hindrances instead, and you are frustrated. People you’ve worked with and prayed for don’t respond to your help, and you are discouraged. People who used to be faithful become careless, and you are disappointed. People with obligations neglect their duties, so you have to add their tasks to yours, and you are annoyed’and annoyed with yourself for being annoyed.

The Lord allows the lumps, for they help you to become like Christ as you experience ‘the fellowship of His sufferings.’ Until you’re in heaven, life will always have lumps. Just don’t pour all the sweetness down the drain to focus on them. For every person who doesn’t show up at church services, there’s surely at least one who does. Look at her and heartily praise the Lord! Turn up the volume on compliments, and the echo of complaints will diminish. Focus on the wonder of your responsive, dependable helpers, and the difficult, apathetic ones won’t seem such a burden. Give frequent thanks for (and to) every sweet encourager, and you won’t be nearly so preoccupied with the lumpy-grumpy folks.

One good thing about a kitchen disaster: the cook can always throw it away and start over. This may be the day for you to discard an old habit of focusing on the negatives. Stir up a thankful, positive spirit instead. Throw away the lumps and enjoy the pie!

Copyright 2010 – Press On! Ministries


Mule Stuff


The Grand Canyon! On our family’s first visit, we first spent a couple of hours on the rim gaping and then decided to take a hike down into the canyon. The children were small, so we wouldn’t go far. We chose the Kaibab Trail, which is also the steep exit route for the canyon’s famous mule caravans.

After just a few moments of hiking, I heard a squeal from one of our daughters. ‘Oh yuck!  Mule stuff!’ She had discovered what the guidebooks don’t mention: where there are mules, there are smelly hunks of droppings from the huge beasts that travel this narrow trail.

‘Just step over it,’ came my cheerful, motherly voice. ‘Doesn’t have to ruin our hike!’ And on we tramped–Dad in front, children following, and Mom bringing up the rear. Downhill I trudged, seeing nothing but dirt, rocks, and mule muck, thinking only about the five pairs of stinky shoes in my future. But suddenly I stopped, feeling stupid. There I was in one of the most spectacular places on earth, ignoring the splendor all around me. All I was seeing was manure.

When I stopped looking down and began to look up, my heart lifted. The Lord was in this place!  Reminders of His creative power were everywhere. His fingerprints were on each canyon wall; His brushes had painted their remarkable hues. His voice spoke across the silence of the canyon’s vast chasms, and that voice spoke to my heart.

He told me that I was guilty of living life in the same way that I was taking that hike– looking down, focusing on negatives, dreading the future, allowing unhelpful people and discouraging events to loom large on my path and block my ministry vision. Too often, I could not’or would not– see past those dreadful ‘droppings’ to this splendid truth: the Lord is in every place!

Negatives come in the ministry as frequently as mule caravans climb the Kaibab Trail. I shrink from them. But even when my trail is littered with such unpleasant ‘stuff,’ the Lord is there. His hand is at work transforming me through my trials, reminding me in gentle tones to trust Him to work even this together for my good. When I look down, I forget Him and get preoccupied with yucky stuff. When I look up, I remember Him, and He is my Help.

The mule stuff came off our shoes just fine.  Fretting was a waste of time I could have spent enjoying the scenery. We haven’t hiked the Kaibab since, but I’ve never forgotten what I learned on that first hike. I hope I never do.

Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries


The Ocean


Ah-h-h-h’smell the salty sea! We have a collection of family seaside memories’of brown pelicans gliding at Hilton Head and sea lions barking in Monterey, of the crystal sands of the Gulf and the jagged cliffs of Acadia. We’ve never met an ocean we didn’t like.

But sometimes I wonder why. Inconveniences and irritations certainly come along with the comforts of the shore. Sand that is warm and soft on our bare feet comes away from the beach with us like an unwelcome guest. We shake it out of towels and shoes. We sleep with it between our sheets. We crunch it along with the ham on our “sand”-wiches.

The sun that paints the sky that glorious blue and sprinkles glitter on the surf also stings our shoulders and raises blisters on our noses. The salty breeze that lifts our kites and refreshes our musty lungs also tangles our hair into gummy haystacks. We wade in warm, gently lapping waves, but under those soft swells are jellyfish that sting and crabs that pinch.

Though we know we’ll be stung and pinched and burned and uglified, still we’re drawn to the ocean. We minimize its annoyances and treat its irritations as trivialities. The privilege of enjoying the splendor of the mighty waves of the sea is worth the ouch of a tiny sand burr stuck in a toe.

And the joy of ministry is worth its discomforts, too. Stop to count your blessings. What could be better than being married to a man who truly loves God’s Word? What’s warmer than the hug of a lady you’ve just led to Christ? What could be more precious than the souls of your Sunday school children? What better Master could you have than the King of Kings?

Maybe you’re limping this morning with ministry burrs stuck in your toes. Perhaps last night you were kept awake by the ministry sand between your sheets. Just don’t let those irritations make you forget why you’re in the ministry: to invest your life in a cause that will ultimately, and eternally, succeed. There will be some little prickers along the way, of course, and some very painful stings. But is the ministry worth it? Absolutely, yes!


Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries

 
Keep Looking Up!

My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up. (Psalm 5:3)

Keep looking up! When I was little and heard my daddy say those words, I thought he meant that we should be watching for Jesus to return. And we should. But when I was a young wife calling home long distance from our first ministry, I began to hear his words as sound advice from a ministry veteran to a novice. When you need to be encouraged, up is the only sure way to look.

Instead of looking up, you are likely to look to the sweet, good friends the Lord has sent to work with you. But even the best of people are just people, and they will eventually disappoint, even when you’re truly not expecting more of them that they can deliver. They can’t help it. They’re sinners (me, too) and frankly, they may not even know what it is you expect them to do or to be.

You could look back instead of up, and sometimes that’s a good idea. Your ministry may not be where you want it to be, but it’s probably a little farther along than it used to be. Look at the past to see how far you’ve come. But if you stare backwards too long, you may realize that your glory days are behind you, unlikely to return. Or you’ll see that your progress has been just as tedious and the road just as steep as it seemed. And the path ahead is . . . well, it’s no wonder you’re tired.

You could look inward, of course, and be encouraged by how much you’ve grown in wisdom, humility, and faith. But you’re likely to also see dregs of doubt you thought you’d left behind, anxieties you were certain you’d outgrown, impatience you hoped your trials had cured, inconsistency, hypocrisy, coldness of heart, envy, and . . .oh dear, that’s enough of that.

By this point you may be looking down, head hanging in discouragement, face drooping in despair. Stop it and look up! Look up to see your Savior smiling down on you. Unlike all others, He is entirely trustworthy. ‘There hath not failed one word of all his good promise’ (1 Kings 8:56). He can do ‘exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think’ (Ephesians 3:20). He is ‘the same yesterday, today, and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8). Let go of the past, with all its triumphs and tragedies. Tackle today with confidence in His promises, and press on in faith toward tomorrow (Philippians 3:13-14). Ignore your inadequacies to focus instead on His perfections. Your spirit will rise, your heart will lift, and your miseries will melt away.

Keep looking up! My dad had said those words so often that when a short time before he died, after words had mostly left him, he looked at me and pointed upward, I knew just what he meant. It’s good advice for you, too. Keep looking up!

Copyright 2010 – Press On! Ministries

 
Frozen Shoulder

Leaves from the oaks around our house had fallen knee-deep, and we had only one day at home to make them disappear. So the five of us jumped in (literally) and got to it, raking, piling, and burning leafy heaps until the job was done. Leaning on my rake in the twilight, watching the last wisps of sweet-smelling smoke rise through bare branches, I was overwhelmed with satisfaction.

And with fatigue. And when I woke in the night, with pain. I had overworked the underworked muscles, ligaments, and tendons in my right shoulder, and it hurt. It really, really hurt. Over the next few days, I tried every pain reliever in our medicine cabinet, but my shoulder still ached. Every movement hurt.

So I just stopped moving. I bound my arm tightly in a makeshift sling and did not use my sore joint. I became a lefty and didn’t ask my right arm to help me out at all. It worked! After a while, I was free of pain and congratulating myself on my self-doctoring skills–until I took off the sling and discovered that I could no longer raise my right arm higher than my shoulder. It didn’t hurt; it just wouldn’t go. No matter what I did, it simply wouldn’t budge.

One trip to the clinic, and I had a diagnosis: adhesive capsulitis, or more simply, a frozen shoulder. It took several painful and painfully expensive trips to a therapist to get the thawing started, and weeks of at-home exercises (including the use of one particularly gruesome pulley device) to break down the adhesions and get back full use of my right arm.

And it was all so unnecessary. Well, the leaves did have to be raked, and too much work done too fast was bound to result in pain, but the freezing-up part didn’t have to happen. As the therapist explained, I should have kept my injured joint moving. Gentle motion in spite of the ouches would have healed it quickly. Pampering my pain is what caused my long-term misery.

Because I coddled my aching joint, it froze. And injuries to your heart will freeze your spirit if you don’t work through them. Allow your mind to dwell day after day on what some thoughtless person said or did, and you’ll soon find yourself stuck in a sort of ministry paralysis, petrified by the fear of more pain. You’ll withdraw into throbbing self-pity instead of pressing on with what you’re called to do.

People are people, and until we have something better to work with, we’re stuck with them. (And they with us.) Ministry wives who thrive long term are the ones who have learned to bravely smile their way through small injuries, loving and serving people regardless of their response, knowing that the more they unselfishly spend and are spent, the more they become like the Savior (2 Corinthians 12:15, Colossians 1:24). Those who flourish in the Lord’s work are not free of pain. They just don’t bind it close to their hearts and allow it to harden there.

So when those inevitable hurts come, keep moving forward. You’ll stay warm-hearted and flexible, a useful tool in the Master’s hand. On the other hand, frozen people aren’t much use at all.

And by the way, by the next raking season, we owned a leaf blower. What a marvelous invention!
Copyright 2013 – Press On! Ministries