BROKEN

My mother attended high school in the late 1940’s in rural north Arkansas. When she enrolled in her typing class, she had to provide her own typewriter, so she arranged to borrow one from a local storekeeper. This typewriter was black, heavy, and clunky, but all typewriters back then were like that. However, Mom’s typewriter was especially cumbersome to use because it was broken. The bell that indicated that the end of the line was approaching and that it was time to reach up and manually push the carriage to the right, didn’t work. Neither did the tabulator key work. That means that when she wanted to indent a paragraph five spaces, she had to hit the space bar five times. Despite the handicaps of her machine, my mother learned to type and eventually ranked second in her class in typing speed.

All of us occasionally deal with machines that don’t work as they should: lawnmowers that won’t start; cars that leave us stranded on the roadside; those blasted, mechanical can openers that make only a few random cuts around the rim of a can.   Working with broken equipment is just a part of our lives.

It is not only machines that break. Everything and everyone on this earth is broken. Families don’t function as they should, friends fail us, and jobs go down the tubes. Efforts to do good go belly up, and even our most determined attempts to give up bad habits and develop new virtues rarely succeed. Our bodies let us down with more and more frequency as we grow older. Each day dawns to reveal new disappointments and failures.

We are frustrated, sad, and exhausted. It is no wonder; God did not create us to live in the world as it now exists. In God’s plan for earth, there was to be no broken anything. If His way had prevailed, there would have been no need for fix-it shops, hospitals, funeral homes, Hazmat suits, divorce courts, prisons, psychiatric units, storm cellars or even Band-Aids. But we know what happened. Satan intruded. He baited and hooked us and we are living with the sorry consequences. The only things Satan has not damaged are those things that have been declared off limits to him:   God’s Word, God’s Promises, and the eternal destiny of God’s people.

Living with complete brokenness is hard. The only way we will survive is by persevering, getting good people on our side, and going with God. Above all else, we must hold on to an unshakeable belief that this broken condition is temporary.  One day God will make all things new. Believe it.

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Wishes and Goals

I read many self-help books. Some are intended to help me to lose weight or to give up bad habits. Others set out to assist me in becoming more decisive, more competent with computers, or more responsible in managing money. I never run out of areas of my life in which I can use some help.

Recently I have been reading books that discuss the difference between goals and wishes. The distinction should be obvious, but for some reason it is not one that I have often considered. Basically, I have learned that a goal is a desirable outcome that I can potentially, by hard work and perseverance, attain. A wish is also a desirable outcome, but one that, solely on my own effort, I am incapable of achieving.

Here is an example that illustrates each. While driving down Highway 31 today I saw a turtle crawling slowly across the road. My first thought when I saw the little animal was, “I don’t want to hit that turtle.” Therefore, I carefully positioned the wheels of my car in order to miss it. Avoiding hitting that turtle was my goal. I took steps to reach the goal and was successful.

At the same time, I sincerely wished the turtle luck in making it to the other side of the road.   I hoped it would not get run over but, realizing that I could not protect the turtle from traffic, I merely hoped for its safety.

I have been successful in reaching several goals in my lifetime. I learned to drive a car. I graduated from college. I gave birth to two babies without the use of anesthetic, though it nearly killed me and was probably a foolish demonstration of pride. In each instance, I established a goal, made and executed plans to achieve it, and enjoyed success.

I have also had and still do have many wishes. I wish I would finish a baby quilt I started two years ago. I wish I could play the piano. I wish I could find a supply of crossword puzzles that are neither too easy nor too hard to solve.  I also wish that birds would stop flying into the windows of my house. Additionally, it is my desire that my son will stop junking up the inside of his vehicle. While I am wishing, I will add to my list a fervent desire that wars will cease, that researchers will find a definitive cure for cancer, and that everyone will come to know and accept Jesus.

My task, then, when I consider a particular desire, is to ask myself three questions about the situation:

(1) Can this desire be turned into an attainable goal? Finishing the quilt, learning to play the piano, and finding a supply of enjoyable crossword puzzles fall into this category.

(2) If this desire could become an attainable goal for me, am I willing to expend the time, money and effort required to accomplish it? Yes, I am willing to work to finish the quilt and to locate a source of good crossword puzzles. I am not willing to do all that would be required of me to learn to play the piano.

(3) Is this desire one that I will continue to hold, will support in any way I can and possibly pray about but, recognizing my limits, give up trying to control? Since I know of no way to stop birds from flying into my windows, and I cannot dictate the choices other people make regarding the tidiness of their vehicles, these desires fall into the category of desires over which I have no control. I am also pretty much powerless to bring about an end to wars or to cancer or to cause the whole world to have faith in Jesus.

One snag I must avoid in step number three of this process is setting as my goal a desire whose success requires the cooperation of another person. For example, I might choose to make it my goal for my son to keep the inside of his vehicle clean. I would probably begin by encouraging him to do the right thing and reasoning with him so that he would see the “rightness” of my goal. If he failed to respond appropriately, I might move on to issuing orders and shouting ultimatums. He might or might not clean up his truck and keep it that way.

Admittedly, having my son drive a clean truck is not a goal that I would risk my relationship with him in order to achieve. It is not particularly important to me. If, however, he abused drugs or was prone to stealing, my desire to remedy those serious problems would be ratcheted up drastically; the same principle, though, would apply. People with free will can always thwart my efforts to reach a goal that relies upon their cooperation. I must choose my goals wisely.

Even when I follow this seemingly logical process, managing to respond in an appropriate way to my desires is not easy for me. I will not master this struggle in one day, check it off my “to do” list and then move on to master something else. It is like a load that I cannot seem to put down. The problem is that I spend more time wishing for outcomes that I cannot make happen than I do working to accomplish goals that are within my reach. It is always easier to wish than to work.

The following strategies, however, are helpful. First, I assure myself that this is a common struggle. Most people have a problem sorting through goals and wishes and responding appropriately. Second, I resolve to pray about everything that I desire. If the desire is a goal I can achieve and am willing to work to accomplish, I will ask God’s help in doing all that I need to do to succeed. If the desire is for something I cannot achieve on my own, I will ask God to bring about a good result using whomever and whatever means He chooses to use.   Third, I will determine to accept the peace that God has for me and wants freely to give to me, regardless of whether or not my desires are fulfilled.

One more fact is worth noting here. Most of the things I truly desire from people, such as love and acceptance, are gifts that must be offered and not actions that I can demand anyway.

Thus ends my summary of what my reading has taught me regarding wishes and goals. The self-help reading material I have chosen to read next will hopefully teach me how to rid my tomato plants of the blossom end rot that afflicts them. You can begin now looking forward to the article I will create from that bit of delightful reading.

Bring Back the Spit Sink

It is a testimony to how little pain I experience on a daily basis when I admit that the two days a year that I go for dental cleanings are two of the most uncomfortable days I live through annually. I dread each visit for six months, take anti-anxiety medication before heading off to the dentist’s office, and routinely reward myself with a Steak ‘n Shake milkshake after the ordeal is over. I positively hate going to the dentist.

I want to be a compliant dental health patient, but somehow I cannot master the art of working “with” the hygienist. She tells me to move my tongue out of her way, and I would happily comply, except I have no clue where my tongue currently lies. I wouldn’t even swear that I have a tongue. She asks me to keep my mouth open during the water spraying process and then closed around the vacuum that is supposed to remove the water. I do exactly the opposite. This results in water running out of my mouth, down my chin and around my neck to soak the tag at the back of my shirt. I tolerated this process better in days gone by when the hygienist cleaned a particular section of teeth and then instructed me to rinse and spit.   Rinsing and spitting I get.

Apparently though, rinsing and spitting were deemed to be undignified actions on a par with exposing an open wound to the public. A new, less unsightly way of cleansing the oral cavity during dental exams was necessary. Enter two new forms of oral torture, the water sprayer and vacuum, and I despise them.

The same people who are responsible for the removal of spit sinks from dentists’ offices also replaced paper towel dispensers in public restrooms with air hand dryers. Air dryers are fine for drying hands, but what am I supposed to use to wipe water droplets off the faucet, clean grape sucker off the face of my grandchild, or blot extra lipstick off my mouth?

Add to my consternation the fact that I no longer have the luxury of checking the date due card in the back of a library book to see if it is time to return my book. Date due cards were thrown out with spit sinks and paper towel dispensers. If I want to know when my book is due back at the library, I must get on the computer, access my personal account, and then navigate to the screen that lets me check the status of borrowed items.

My 5-year-old granddaughter is an aspiring artist and recently I wanted to show her how to draw two identical pictures at once using carbon paper. I searched the shelves of Wal-Mart for carbon paper but found none. I finally asked another shopper, a woman about my own age, if she could help me find carbon paper. She said, “Honey, I don’t think they make it anymore. In fact, you and I are probably the only two people in the world who even know what carbon paper is.”

I prefer chalkboards to touch screens, a paper checkbook ledger to Excel, a friendly-faced teller to a bank machine, and clocks with hands that go around in circles. I also liked it when prices were clearly marked on individual items in the store rather than posted on one shelf in the general area of where the item should be stocked. I liked taking photos with an actual camera, removing the film, taking it to the drugstore and waiting a day or two for pictures to be developed. Call me crazy but sometimes I even long for a phone that lives in one place and is attached to a base with a cord.

Take me back to the days when the judicious use of a spit sink was not considered a breach of etiquette but the flaunting of exposed bra straps was.

Entertain Me!

Recently my husband and I ate dinner in a restaurant at which a young boy and a man that I assumed to be his grandfather were also eating. The man and boy were seated at a table next to ours. The boy entered the dining room with his head lowered and with his eyes and fingers locked onto some kind of electronic game. He scooted into his chair and spoke his order to the waiter without taking his eyes from his game. I did not watch the boy constantly as I ate, but in the times that I looked his way, I never once saw him stop playing the game or make eye contact with his grandfather, who tried to engage him in a conversation.

When I was a little girl, there were no electronic games. My siblings and I had to entertain ourselves in other ways. Some of those ways might seem boring and even foolish to today’s kids, but they kept us out of our mom’s way and actually seemed like fun at the time. We did not play any games at the dinner table, either at home or on the rare outing to a restaurant for a meal.

I suppose that every little girl of my generation played with paper dolls. These were usually bought in a book form. The dolls were on the cardboard cover of the book and had to be cut out. Their clothes, hats, shoes, purses, etc. were printed on the pages inside the book and also had to be cut out. Each clothing and accessory item had paper tabs that bent to the back side of the paper dolls in order to keep them in place. This toy was entertaining enough but eventually the tabs got torn off of the clothes, and the dolls’ heads bent forward and had to be stabilized by having a popsicle stick taped to the back.

Most of the time when my sister and I played paper dolls, we cut them from our mom’s Sears, Montgomery Ward, or Alden catalogs. In fact, on the day that a new catalog came in the mail, my sister and I sat down and “marked” our dolls. Pam put a “P” next to the dolls she chose and I put a “D” next to mine. Once the catalog was out of date, we proceeded to cut out our dolls and play with them.

At Christmas time Pam and I played a fun matching game using the Christmas cards our family received in the mail. Mom used Scotch tape to fasten every card to the facings of the doorway between our living room and dining room. We usually received 50 or more cards so they eventually stretched across the top and down both sides of the extra-wide doorway. After we had gotten 10 or so cards, Pam and I challenged each other to a memory game. Using a fly swatter as a pointer, she or I tapped the front of one of the displayed cards. The other sister had to state the name of the person(s) who had sent the card. We never tired of this game, which grew more challenging on an almost daily basis, and we became whizzes at matching cards to their senders. Scoff if you wish, but it was fun.

Another matching game that we played required the use of Mom’s spice drawer and a blindfold. One sister opened up tiny, metal cans of McCormick’s spices, held them to the nose of the blindfolded sister, and she identified the spices. Now that’s entertainment! To this day I am not likely to add cinnamon to a recipe when I intend to add ginger. My nose alerts me to the mistake instantly.

When we had enough kids for group games, we played Ante-Over, Red Rover, Hide-and-Seek, and an improvised game called “Bouquet.” In this game, all participants except one claimed a “chair” in the yard. The chair was usually an overturned bucket, a big tree root, or a particular clump of clover in one general area of the yard. (We had a yard, not a lawn.) The player who was “It” stood in front of all the seated players and told a long, made-up story.   At some unexpected time in the story, “It” interjected the word “bouquet.” That was the signal for all players, including “It,” to find a new chair. Whoever failed to find a chair was the next one to be “It” and play continued. Yes, I know this game sounds a lot like Musical Chairs, but we weren’t allowed to take real chairs or the record player outside so we worked with what we had.

We also played endless games of Mumblety-Peg, which involved a knife. We used one of Mom’s duller paring knives and of course the younger kids were not allowed to play. We often played Flying Dutchman, Simon Says, and Mother, May I? We were forbidden from playing more games of Blind Man’s Bluff after a blindfolded boy walked into a tree and bloodied his nose. In addition, we skipped rope while singing rhymes such as “Sally’s in the Cellar Wishing for Her Feller” and “Cinderella Dressed in Yella.”   We also hula-hooped, played hopscotch and rode bent-over saplings as horses. After a rain we mounded moist sand around our bare feet and built “frog houses.” We girls put on fashion shows. Stepping grandly across the concrete banisters of our front porch, we modeled elegant, “pretend” evening gowns and pointed out specific features such as spaghetti straps, empire waistlines and ruffled hems.

Kids I played with were rarely bored and rarely clean. We argued over rules but usually managed to work out our differences without biting, hitting, or pulling hair. Many of the games we played had not cost our parents one red cent and none of them required the use of a plug-in or batteries.   Kids today can have their PlayStations, X-Boxes and DS-es. I doubt that any child today has more fun than I had playing the games I have described above. I will make one more observation. Whatever game I was playing, I stopped playing it and gave my full attention to any adult who spoke to me.

Home Is Where You Fix Things

After living for 31 years in the home where we raised our children, my husband and I recently moved into another house. Those of you who know us well will affirm that Dan had “improved” just about every square foot of our old house and yard. Over the years he had remodeled, redecorated, reconstructed, rejuvenated, repaired, or replaced just about everything on the property. We both worried that because he had invested so much time and work there, he would miss the place. I asked him the other day if that was the case. (He was in the process of unloading cement blocks for a landscaping project in our “new” yard.) He said, “No. I don’t really miss it. Home is . . . well, where you fix things.”

That phrase will probably not “catch on” as other “home is where” statements have in the past: Home is where you hang your hat. Home is where your heart is. Home is where you go and they have to take you in. Nonetheless, in more ways than one, Dan’s definition is a true one.

Every homeowner knows that maintaining a house is a never-ending job. There is always something to do. Shingles blow off, septic tanks fill up, shrubs take over house fronts, driveways crack, fences sag, floors creak, and electrical wiring gets old and dangerous. At any point in time, the responsible homeowner will be finishing one project, working on two others, and planning at least one more. He or she knows that a neglected home deteriorates quickly.

Home is also where other, more important repairs are made. Relationships are mended. Bad attitudes are adjusted. Broken hearts are patched up. Common courtesies are polished, and principles such as respectability and integrity are kept in good working order. Good habits are not allowed to get rusty, and trash is quickly identified and removed, whether it is on the floor or on the television or computer screen.

Many of us feel overwhelmed with this sick, out-of-kilter world we have inherited. We feel powerless to make a difference; the damage is too widespread. The sad truth is that much of what is broken in our world must be repaired and then maintained in individual homes. Every terrorist, every rapist, every self-indulgent tyrant grew up somewhere, probably in a home that was poorly maintained.   Take a look around your house. Do you see signs of deterioration? What needs to be fixed?

Staying the Course

In May of this year my husband Dan and I marked our 41st wedding anniversary. This is a milestone that, for many different reasons, few couples are privileged to celebrate. I wonder sometimes why our marriage has endured when so many others have not. Here are some of the factors that have contributed, I believe, to the success of our marriage. Needless to say, the following is not based on scientific study and I do not claim to be an expert on the subject of marriage.

  • Neither of us has died. Maybe this “reason” could have gone unstated, but because the death of a spouse is indeed one reason some marriages end prematurely, I wanted to mention it. For those people who have experienced this extreme sorrow, I feel tremendous sympathy.
  • The odds were in our favor. Dan and I married three days after graduating from college. Neither of us had children or former spouses. We were of similar religious and socioeconomic backgrounds. Both Dan’s parents and my parents had been married for a long time. Neither of us had any significant debt. We had been taught that marriage is for life and had been consistently urged to choose our mates wisely. We were healthy, educated and able and willing to work.  We had the emotional support of both of our families.
  • We have been lucky and/or blessed. This will be a difficult paragraph to script. Because Dan and I both believe in the divine providence of God, we want to give Him credit for all our successes and joys, and there have been many. On the other hand, we can cite many personal examples of couples, who in our estimation, also believe in the divine providence of God, want to give Him credit for their joys and accomplishments, and have enjoyed few. If we do not credit God for the fact that we have enjoyed such good fortune and avoided much bad fortune, should we credit luck? In either case, we have not suffered major illnesses, debilitating accidents, the tragic loss of a child, a devastating natural disaster, or financial calamity. We have not been victims of violent crime and have not experienced war firsthand. Our children have grown into functional, self-supporting adults. We have healthy grandchildren that we get to see often. We live in the greatest nation on earth. Marriages that experience this much good fortune certainly have better odds of success than marriages that do not.
  • We have made some good decisions.   We took our marriage vows seriously and dedicated our union to God from the outset. We have always been associated with a good church.  We pray and try to live according to God’s principles. We study God’s Word and make it our authority in all things. Again, not every couple who has practiced these good habits has enjoyed a successful marriage. Neither of us has been unfaithful to the other, committed a serious crime, abused alcohol or drugs or racked up insurmountable debt.    That is not to say that a marriage never survives such potentially home-wrecking offenses; some do, but many others do not.
  • We have never considered not staying together. I am not perfect and neither is Dan. We do not belong in the ranks of Ward and June Cleaver, John and Olivia Walton, and Cliff and Claire Huxtable. Our problems never appeared and resolved within one hour’s time, nor did we face every challenge with a smile and a song.  We have disagreed, argued, made mistakes, fallen down, cried and almost despaired of surviving some crises.  We have also tried to live by the proverb: Get up, dress up, show up and never give up. Again, I am not faulting those couples who have not stayed together.  We have lived long enough to see not only the ruin brought on by an unnecessary divorce but also the equal ruin that results when a man and woman remain together despite the fact that they positively hate each other. Fortunately, the decision that Dan and I have made to stay together has been a relatively easy one.

For those of you who, like us, have enjoyed a long and successful marriage, we advise you to count your blessings and keep on keeping on. For those who have endured the break-up of a marriage, we hope you will forgive yourself and your ex-spouse for any faults that you own, accept God’s forgiveness for all failures, and move forward with Him at the center of your life. If you are caught in a marriage that you know is broken and unhealthy for everyone involved, ask for help from a reputable Christian counselor.

If you are not married, please consider the positives that this long-married couple believes to have contributed to the longevity of our marriage. Give serious consideration to your odds of success from the very beginning, recognize that you and your spouse will inevitably share both joy and sadness, do your best to live a God-honoring lifestyle, and set your mind to staying the course.

        “A perfect marriage is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other.”–Jessica Glaser

“Marriage is not 50-50; divorce is 50-50.  Marriage has to be 100 -100.  It isn’t dividing everything in half, but giving everything you’ve got!”–DaveWillis.org

BETTER

My sister Pam teaches fourth grade in Mountain Home, Arkansas. Last month one of her students was killed in a car accident. The days following the little girl’s death were horrible ones for my sister and her other students. Sadness permeated everything they did, and children often broke into tears. I talked to Pam a few days ago, and she says they still miss the little girl terribly and have times of sadness, but they are doing better.

On Sunday evening, March 19, 1995, my dad went to bed as usual. As far as anyone knows, he never awoke. My mother found him dead beside her the next morning. Her soul mate of over 40 years was gone, and nothing in her life has been exactly the same since. Many years later she still thinks of and misses my dad every single day, but time has eased her grief. She is better now than she was.

In this world where people are determined to have the best, I am thankful for “better.” Sometimes that is as good as it gets. Since the day Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, some really important elements of life on earth have been corrupted. The effects of sin, disease, and calamity are visited upon everyone. Relationships are damaged, plans are disrupted, and dreams are destroyed every day. We live lives of frustration and disappointment when, determined to achieve best, we fail to appreciate better.

Right now, I am dissatisfied with the condition of the flowerbeds I worked so hard to cultivate last year. A pile of wrinkled clothes is stacked atop my ironing board. I weigh more than I should, my house is not as clean as it could be, my car needs to be washed and vacuumed, I am late in preparing a Bible class lesson, I need to balance two checkbooks, my cat is dying, my kids’ lives are in a state of flux, my husband is exhausted from working a job that gives him little satisfaction, many of the people I love live 500 miles away from me, and I have a new perm. How I wish I could remedy all these distressing situations instantly and completely, but I can’t.

What I can do is make a start on my flowerbeds and ironing; try consistently to eat less and move more; create time to tend to the house, car, lesson, and checkbooks; love on my old cat; encourage my husband and kids; maintain healthy, long-distance relationships with my family members in the South; and wait for my perm to grow out. I can’t make anything perfect, but I can make some things better. And with that, I must determine to be content.

Give it up, friend. You can’t fix the world. If you’re like me, you can’t even figure out which of your three remote controls is for the DVD player. Refuse to be a slave to some dream of perfection that you will never attain this side of Heaven. Learn to be content.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

(This article was written in 2007.)

 

 

 

For friends who share common interests with me and enjoy reading lighthearted, inspirational, and entertaining articles, many with spiritual applications.