Archive | January 2016

Calm and (sort of) collected

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There’s a great saying that I’m sure you’ve heard: “Keep calm and carry on.”

It dates back to 1939 on the eve of World War II when the British government tried to raise public morale during threats of mass air attacks. The government designed a poster with the saying on it, topped with King George VI’s royal crown.*

(My imaginary self in 1939: You know, I was really worried about those air strikes, but now that I’ve seen that poster, I feel much better.)

Since then, we’ve seen all variations of the saying, but I still like the original. Which brings us to this post.

Every January, I pick a word to focus on for the year. In 2014, I chose humility. 2015 was all about simplifying. This year, my word is calm.

Merriam-Webster defines calm this way:

A quiet and peaceful state or condition; a peaceful mental or emotional state.

I went back and forth about which word to choose, also considering “balance” and “patience,” but I think calm encompasses both of those. Here’s an example:

I was out of town for work earlier this week, so today when I got back to the office, I had a lot to do. So much that it barely all fit in the rectangular space that my planner reserved for today.

I ended up leaving work a little late, which wasn’t a big deal, but on the way home, my typical hour-long commute turned to an hour and 45 minutes after taking a couple of detours. (It flurried for 5 minutes, so the city went haywire.)

Once I walked in the door, I made a mental note of all the things I needed to accomplish this evening. Then I made an actual note of things I need to accomplish before the weekend. And then I got word that I have a meeting tomorrow night, which means none of it will happen tomorrow.

And that’s where my word comes in.

Calm goes beyond simplifying—which tends to be about efficiency or doing less. It goes beyond balance and patience because, while those two words are part of it, calm also implies holding it together, being at peace with whatever comes your way and not getting ruffled at the first hint of stress. To me, it’s not only an inward thing but the way you carry yourself outwardly, too.

So how do you keep calm?

For one, practice. Sitting in traffic earlier, moving about an inch every two minutes, I wanted to bang on the steering wheel and yell “Whyyyyyyyy?!” … OK, maybe I did that. But afterwards, I almost laughed, knowing that I would later sit down to write this blog about staying calm.

Another trick I’m working on is thinking of people I consider to have a calm presence about them and asking myself how they would respond in a certain situation. (So-and-so is cool-headed. What would he do?)

I’m also continuing a tradition of posting the word next to my bathroom mirror, a visual reminder that has proved helpful the past two years.

Oh, and prayer. Can’t forget prayer. Trying to make life changes on our own can be hard, but God can help. That whole “with God, nothing is impossible” thing is legit.

How about you? Do you have a word to focus on for the year?

*The poster was supposed to be posted upon Germany’s invasion of Britain, but since that didn’t happen, the public never saw it … until 2000 when a bookseller found it among some books bought at an auction.



Bleak to breathtaking: A memory of fall


Occasionally I take a nap in my car on my lunch break.

I do it on days I can barely keep my eyes open, so by the time I get to my car, it doesn’t take much effort to lean back and doze off. But one day not long ago, nestled in the driver’s seat, I could not close my eyes.

It had been a dreary morning—foggy, wet and gray—but hours later, with rays of sunlight streaming through the trees and into my windshield, I didn’t want to miss it.

For a moment, everything was quiet and I took it in: the sun, piercing and still; the baby blue sky, cloudless and smooth; the tri-colored leaves interrupting them both—deep red, rich gold and bright orange. A light breeze brought in the smell of fall where I’d left my windows cracked.

I never did get that nap in.

The alarm on my phone went off way too soon, reminding me to get back to work, but even now, a few months later, that simple, spectacular moment has stuck with me like it was two hours ago.

Sometimes life surprises us. Sometimes what starts out bleak, what seems routine and ordinary, what we’re sure holds no promise, can renew our hope, become extraordinary and exceed our expectations. Sometimes the most unassuming times and places in our lives can turn into our greatest moments.

Even in a parking lot.

You never know when a dreary morning can turn into a nice day.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. —Lamentations 3:22-23

Do you remember a day like this, when it started out dull or depressing but turned out better than expected? What happened?

Ultimate victory

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I loved the first Avengers movie and couldn’t wait to see the second one when it came out last spring. Life happens, though, and I only recently sat down to watch it.

Here’s what I like about movies like the Avengers: no matter how bad things get, the good guys always win. There may be moments when you aren’t sure how they’ll pull through, but somehow, they always manage to rig something here, escape danger there or show up at just the right time.

You know they’ll win because they have to; they’re the Avengers.

And that’s what it’s like to be on God’s side.

In Deuteronomy, Moses lays out various rules and commands, given by God, for His people—Israel—to follow. Chapter 20 is about going to war:

Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory (Deuteronomy 20:3-4).

I mean, is there anyone better to fight for you than God Himself? The “God of angel armies” as the song goes?

Later in the Old Testament, we read this:

For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you” (Isaiah 41:13).

Now does that mean that if you love God and try to live your life for Him, then you’ll never have any problems? Or encounter failure? Or be in danger? Certainly not.

The Struggle is Real

When Jesus taught His disciples, He said:

In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

Did you notice the word will? Not “might” or “maybe possibly sometime.” Will.

We’re imperfect, stubborn humans who will mess up and will do the wrong thing and will face others just like us. There will be terrorism and calamity and persecution. BUT …

“But take heart,” Jesus says. “I have overcome the world.”

What exactly does that mean? It means that when Jesus died on a cross, He took our sins with Him—all the things that cause our troubles and suffering. And it means that when He rose from the dead, He defeated the consequences of sin: evil and death.

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57).

Our struggles—and the world’s struggles—are inevitable, but when we make Jesus part of our lives and put our total trust in Him, we’re not alone. And we can be assured of ultimate victory over evil, whether we get a glimpse of it in this life or not.

Still, sometimes we wish the win would come sooner.

In his famous “How long, O Lord?” speech, the prophet Habakkuk asked God why He wasn’t punishing all the evil around him. God said He would bring evil to justice, but that He was working in His time to do so. Which means Habakkuk might not be around to see it.

The Great Triumph

One of my favorite movie clips of all time is from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In the second movie, The Two Towers, Aragorn and some other good guys attack an army of bad guys in a desperate attempt to buy time while women and children escape the area. Greatly outnumbered, the good guys are eventually surrounded in the valley.

But then …

Just as it seems there’s no way out, Aragorn looks up the huge hill and sees Gandalf, the wise, no-nonsense wizard who was thought to be dead. His long, white hair blends into his white cloak as he sits on his majestic white horse. He’s brought help—thousands of fighters—and leads them down the hill in a heart-thumping, ground-pounding charge, full force ahead.

It gives me goosebumps.

We might not always get a front-row seat to the victory, but we’re promised as followers of Christ that it will come. That He will not only be on our side here on earth to help us and guide us, but that we will spend eternity with Him, triumphant over evil’s grasp and safe in the presence of Almighty God.

I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” (Psalm 91:2).

Take a minute to read the rest of Psalm 91. What kind of picture does it paint of God?