One of Those Days

It’s been one of Those Days.  Most of us have “Those Days,” I suppose.  And Those Days are probably different for everyone.  But for all of us, they’re those days when someone asks you how you’re doing and you can’t think of anything to say but, “It’s been one of Those Days!”

For some people, Those Days are the days when the button comes off your shirt, the car won’t start, the traffic is terrible (Traffic is always the other people in the other cars), and your boss wants the report that wasn’t supposed to be due until Thursday by noon on Monday.

It’s one of Those Days when the alarm doesn’t go off (or you hit the snooze button one time too many), the kids are grumpy and can’t find two socks that match, the toast gets burned, the orange juice spills, the car keys get lost, and you’re all fifteen minutes late getting out the door.

For me, One of Those Days is a Monday like this one, following a weekend when I’ve spoken four times at church – once Saturday night and three times Sunday morning.

It’s a day when I think too much and accomplish too little.  It’s a day I spend mostly thinking about what I shouldn’t have said, what I should have said instead, and how I could have communicated so much more effectively if I was someone else!  And it’s a day when I repeatedly ask myself what ever made me think I should stand up on a stage and try to say something significant to a room full of people.

Buddy the Dog doesn’t like Those Days much either.  He keeps coming over and pushing me with his nose and saying, “Let’s go for a ride in the car!  Let’s go for a walk!  Let’s go chase cats!  Come on, boss, let’s do something!”

Well, you know what they say, “Tomorrow’s another day!”  And by God’s grace it won’t be one of “Those Days!”

How Trees Feel

I wonder if trees feel like their life is over when the pickers have finished picking this season’s fruit.  And I wonder if they go though feelings of  loss and hopelessness again in October when their leaves fall off.  And I wonder if they think they’re dying when the first cold wind blows and the first snow of winter blankets their bare branches.  And I wonder if they think the orchardist is a brutal and cruel person who only wishes to cut and slash and take away their beautiful limbs and branches and twigs and leave them like skeletons standing.  And I wonder if they think it’s all going to be wonderful from now on and that they’ll never struggle again when their leaves and blossoms come out in the spring. And I wonder if they feel like they’re really, finally worth something and that now they’ll always feel productive and that from now on they’ll always live with a deep sense of satisfaction and worth when their branches are weighed down with luscious fruit in the late summer.  Nah, probably not.  They’re probably smarter than me.

Old Dog

I was standing on the porch of Philip and Stephanie’s house in Tacoma late one afternoon and I saw an old dog walking along the sidewalk in front of the house, from my right to left. He was black and white, long haired, some kind of shepherd breed, with a grey muzzle. He walked slowly with a little limp in his left hind leg. I felt bad for him as he was obviously out of bounds and maybe lost.

As he went along the sidewalk, two or three houses down, he approached a house where lives a very aggressive dog, part pit bull, which came barking and lunging at the fence as the old dog approached. The old dog just stopped, turned around, and started slowly back along the sidewalk toward me. I just went inside. I keep wondering if he found his way home. I can’t shake the feeling of sadness.

Wonder how many people I encounter are going through life walking slowly along with a little limp? Wonder how many times the pit bull of opposition or hard circumstance stops them in their tracks and they just turn around and slowly walk back the way they came? I wonder if they find their way home…

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Plato


Jude and the Brick Step

One day when Jude was arriving at Grandma’s house for his after-shopping time with the grandparents, he fell coming up the front steps. He was, as usual, carrying an armload of toys, and he missed a step and fell, hitting his forehead on the edge of the brick step.

Jude screamed, blood poured forth, and the priorities of the day changed in a moment. Mommy deposited Zane and his chair in the living room, Grandma got cold wet cloths, Grandpa looked wisely at the cut and said, “That’s gonna need some stitches all right! Bet that’ll leave a scar!”

Mommy considered the options and wisely phoned the pediatrician’s office instead of heading for the ER. They would see him right away, so Grandpa drove, Mommy comforted, and we got to the doctor’s office. Grandpa bravely entered a world of women and children, where women are the masters and children are the focus. (Sometimes guys feel like we live in that world all the time!)

Soon Mommy and Grandpa were forcibly holding Jude down on a table while the competent, confident doctor lady (about 10 years younger than my youngest child) cleaned the wound and did some magic with “medical grade super glue.” Grandpa felt validated when the doctor lady said, “That’s gonna leave a scar.”

It was pretty cool to see my daughter be Melissa be the competent Mommy and calmly and coolly take charge in a crisis. I thought, “She’s doing what Jean and I did a generation back when she faced crisis at Roosevelt Elementary in Medford, or when she got stranded a city away from us in Jamaica at her school!”

Lesson trusting children learn: Parents can’t always prevent the injury, or make the pain go away, or make it like it never happened. But parents can be there, be with the child, through the entire process from hurt to healing.

When you fall, it hurts. When the wound is being treated, it hurts. When it’s healing, it hurts. And it’s probably going to leave a scar. But Mommy will be with you all the way.

Like Father God and us. He can’t always prevent the wound, or take away the pain, or make it like it never happened. But he will always be with us. In it, through it, beyond it.

Jo Ellen

One Sunday morning I preached at a church in Boise, Idaho. A lady with multiple sclerosis, bent in her wheel chair, sat in the front row, as attentive to my words as her condition allowed. I could tell when my message really connected with her because her head bobbed back and she smiled. Often.

When the service finished, I went to her and introduced myself and asked her name. Her name is Jo Ellen. She lives in a body that keeps her alive but isn’t able to allow her to do all she’d like to do or express the thoughts and ideas of her excellent mind. How frustrating that must be!

Jo Ellen had some helpful and encouraging comments on my sermon! She didn’t speak very loudly and it took her a long time to form and speak her words. I leaned in close to hear her whisper and to watch her mouth shape the words so I could understand. I was glad it wasn’t as hard for me to say the words of the message as it was for her to express her thoughts about it. I don’t have the stamina or the courage.

As I listened carefully to Jo Ellen, I wondered how many times Father God has bent down close to me and watched my lips forming the words with difficulty and heard me struggle to speak my heart to him. How he loves us!

I can’t imagine life in Jo Ellen’s wheelchair. She’s a hero. I can imagine, however, my own God-aware spirit living in a body of flesh that so often refuses to cooperate. My spirit wants to do the good and noble and my body of flesh is so stubborn and uncooperative. My spirit has kind and wise things to say and my body of flesh mumbles and stammers and sometimes doesn’t speak at all.

I’m so thankful for that brief conversation with Jo Ellen that Sunday morning. She’s an excellent teacher!

Remember Me

On the night before his death, Jesus took a cup of wine and a loaf of bread and shared it with his closest friends. He said, “After I’m gone, do this often to remember me.”

I think people want to be remembered after they’re gone.

Some people have done big things that affected lots of people and they are remembered by history, by a nation, or even by the world. Columbus discovered North America, Lincoln freed the slaves, Salk discovered a vaccine for polio, Mother Theresa defined compassion, Stalin murdered more people than Hitler.

Some people have done smaller but significant things that mean they will be remembered by a family, by friends, or by a special interest group of people. “He really established our family name.” “She was always first to respond when any of her friends needed help.” “He was a great fisherman, wasn’t he?”

Some people live their lives in near obscurity, interacting with only a few others, and perhaps never doing anything that real seems to make a mark. They never actually do the thing that causes people to say, “Oh yes, I remember him. He’s the one who…” or “You know what I remember most about her? She always…”

So how do we remember an ordinary person? We look at photos. We tell each other stories of our experiences and interactions with the person. If the latter years have been hard, we look back to happier times and choose memories from among the best we have.

If the best memories aren’t perfect, we sometimes mentally edit the memories and intentionally adjust the stories so that they make the memories good and pleasant and worth remembering. We’re free to do that.

Everyone wants to be remembered well.


13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch them and bless them, but the disciples told them not to bother him. 14 But when Jesus saw what was happening, he was very displeased with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 I assure you, anyone who doesn’t have their kind of faith will never get into the Kingdom of God.” 16 Then he took the children into his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16 NLT)

When I was a little boy everyone called me Jimmy. I thought Jimmy was a little kid’s name and when I reached my teens I demanded to be called Jim. That was about the time I stopped calling my Father “Daddy” and started calling him “Dad.”

About ten days ago my Dad’s sister Edna, the last surviving member of that generation in the Stephens family, died. We had lost contact with Aunt Edna years ago after Uncle Clarence died, and didn’t know where she lived. Letters we sent came back.

Then just a week and a half ago my cousin Georgia, Aunt Edna’s youngest daughter, called us from Texas and told us about Edna’s death. I haven’t seen Georgia since my early teens, fifty years ago. Georgia kept calling me Jimmy on the phone and at first I wanted to tell her that my name, my grownup name, is Jim. But I didn’t make a big deal of it as we talked again several times in the next few days. It was kind of nice to be Jimmy again.

This morning, after I read the verses above from Mark 10:13-16, I felt as if Father God said to me, “Do you mind if I call you Jimmy?” And my heart replied, “That’d be great! Can I call you Daddy?” He said, “Sure.”

Brennan Manning – Ruthless Trust Part 3

Wallowing in shame, remorse, self-hatred, and guilt over real or imagined failings in our past lives betrays a distrust in the love of God. It shows that we have not accepted the acceptance of Jesus Christ and thus have rejected the total sufficiency of his redeeming work. Preoccupation with our past sins, present weaknesses, and character defects gets our emotions churning in self-destructive ways, closes us within the mighty citadel of self, and preempts the presence of a compassionate God.

Brennan Manning – Ruthless Trust Part 2

The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future. The next step discloses itself only out of a discernment of God acting in the desert of the present moment. The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee of the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.

Brennan Manning – Ruthless Trust Part 1

In the arc of my unremarkable life, wherein the victories have been small and personal, the trials fairly pedestrian, and the failures large enough to deeply wound me and those I love, I have repeated endlessly the pattern of falling down and getting up, falling down and getting up. Each time I fall, I am propelled to renew my efforts by a blind trust in the forgiveness of my sins from sheer grace, in the acquittal, vindication, and justification of my ragged journey based not on any good deeds I have done but on an unflagging trust in the love of a gracious and merciful God.