Favor

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Gerbrand van den Eeckhout - Hannah presenting ...
Gerbrand van den Eeckhout – Hannah presenting her son Samuel to the priest Eli, ca. 1665 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

eanwhile, the boy Samuel grew taller and grew in favor with the Lord and with the people. 1 Samuel 2:26 (NLT)

Favor is not something I hear commonly discussed in today’s world. And yet, I’m aware that throughout my life I have enjoyed the favor of others. Thinking about my social circles, I can pick out certain individuals who seem to enjoy an unexplainable amount of favor. They are held in generally high regard by all who know them. You go out of your way to help them in need and joyfully to what they asked of you without question and without quite knowing why.

Since my girls were young, I have prayed that they might be granted favor with God and with others just as Samuel is described having in today’s chapter. I still pray this prayer when I pray for them. When in school I prayed that they might enjoy the favor of their teachers. I pray that they might have the favor of their employers and their community.

I am well aware that, to a great degree, favor is generated by one’s own life and character. The way we treat others, the attitude we generally display in life, and the words we use all contribute to how others react and respond to us. In today’s chapter, the sons of Eli earned the lack of favor with their destructive intentions, words, and actions. Nevertheless, I am equally aware that there is an intangible quality to favor that goes beyond what is easily defined and explained in the natural realm and simple consequences. There is a spiritual favor, like that which is described in young Samuel, which I have seen in others I have known. It is far deeper than the simple consequences of being a generally nice person. It is hard to quantify, and yet I see it and feel it.

I regularly pray for favor with God and with others, for my family members, friends and for myself. As I do so, I am motivated to live in such a way that favor will be a natural social consequence. But beyond that I pray that I might know God’s spiritual favor which God alone has the power to bestow, to know favor like that which Samuel experienced, to be one “on whom God’s favor rests.”

When a Hallmark Card Just Won’t Do

English: Illuminated letter of Elkanah and his...
English: Illuminated letter of Elkanah and his two wives. Manuscript Den Haag, KB, 78 D 38 I (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Why are you crying, Hannah?” Elkanah would ask. “Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me—isn’t that better than having ten sons?” 1 Samuel 1:8 (NLT)

Trust me when I say that this was NOT the right thing for Elkanah to say to his wife as she struggled with infertility.

In my experience, men have a traditionally difficult time understanding women in general. When it comes to the depth of pain women experience when trying, and not succeeding, to conceive or bear children the complexity of thoughts and emotions becomes almost unfathomable for a man to understand or appreciate. Elkanah’s attempt at encouraging his wife, while I’m sure delivered from the best of intentions, only served to make Hannah feel more isolated and alone. His question convinced her that he did not have a clue what she was going through. As I read Elkanah’s question a second time, I imagined that I heard Hannah’s unspoken thought as it poured out of the anger and rage of her emotional pain: “No, Elkanah, at this moment I believe ONE son would be better than TEN of you!”

Walking with a spouse through the dark valley of something as emotionally wounding as infertility requires a tremendous amount of patience, compassion, courage, and perseverance. This is why many marriages to not survive the journey. I believe that no man is truly prepared for this journey and task. A pre-game pep talk doesn’t help. A pat on the back or a Hallmark card doesn’t help. Weak attempts at cheering her up doesn’t help.

Be present in the pain. Share the pain. Step into the pain with her. It is not easy. It is not comfortable. It is fraught with confusing moments. Even this will not help take the pain away and may not even make things better. She will, however, not be alone in the valley. There is hope in that.

You Don’t Say “No” to Robert Redford

At the premiere of "The Conspirator"...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, I had this dream.

I was standing in the hall of the Pella Community Center looking at an interactive map of the world. This is funny since the only interactive things in the Pella Community Center are flush toilets. Anyway, I was standing there thinking I was looking at a street in London and realizing it was a golf course in New York, when Robert Redford walks up to me and says, “Hey, Tom.”

“Hey, Bob,” I answered. Crap. I just called Robert Redford “Bob.” I don’t know him, of course, but he just addressed me on as if we were on a first name basis, so I just went with it.

“The men’s club would like to come see the show you’re directing, ‘Best Christmas Pageant Ever.’ We would need, like, 500 seats. Can you make that happen?” he asked.

There are two problems with this question. First, I have no idea what men’s club he’s talking about. Second, the Joan Kuyper Farver Auditorium in the Pella Community Center only seats 330 people max.

“Sure, Bob. I can make that happen,” I answered calmly.

“WHAT?!” My ego screamed at my super-ego deep within REM sleep as it frantically accessed all sorts of hidden synapses in my brain trying to figure out how on earth I was going to get an extra 200 seats in the auditorium in the next four weeks.

“Hey!” my super-ego snobbishly retorted to my critical, moralizing ego. “When ROBERT REDFORD addresses you on a FIRST NAME BASIS and asks you for a favor YOU DON’T SAY ‘NO!!!'”

It was then that my id graciously woke me up to pee. I was angling towards one helluvan anxious nightmare.

The Simplicity of True Enjoyment

2013 07 04 Family at the Lake72So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 1 Timothy 6:8, 17 (NLT) [emphasis added]

I think back to all I have experienced in this life journey and consider which handful of moments have been the most meaningful, spiritually rich, life-giving experiences I have yet known. The most important element seems to be the people I was with in the experience. A few of the experiences involve art, music, or worship. To be completely honest, a few begin with just Wendy, me, and good food – and end with just Wendy, me, and no clothes (Have I mentioned that God loves sex between husbands and wives?!). Sitting back and analyzing here in the pre-dawn hour, I notice, that most of these amazing, life-giving experiences have three common threads:

  1. Good company (family/friends/loved ones)
  2. Good food (a feast, a celebration, or just a good meal)
  3. Good conversation (usually including laughter, and occasionally tears)

I was struck this morning by both the admonishment to be content with food and clothing, and the encouragement that God gives us all we need for enjoyment. How fascinating that not one of the experiences to reach the experiential pinnacle of my forty-some years of conscious memory have anything to do with gadgets, cars, homes, jobs, possessions, sports, bank accounts, IRAs, fortune, or fame. Certainly, a few of the meals and the locations of the meals were the result of the money that made them possible. It is not the food or the location, however, that ultimately made the experience so life-giving – but the people and the interaction.

I am challenged this morning by this realization. If I know that what has been truly enjoyable and life-giving is being around good people, breaking bread together, and engaging in good, life-giving conversation, then why is so much of my life discontentedly drained by chasing after those things which don’t even appear on my list?

 

“Yeah. He’s ‘That Kid'”

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The Pella VLs asked me to shoot some family photos of them in the fall colors this weekend. Wendy and Suzanna went along to help corral and entertain the three VL children. It is always a monumental task to get three young children to all look at the camera and smile at the same time. As usual, I shot hundreds of frames and came up with a handful of decent shots.

As I was going through the photos with Wendy and Suzanna last night, we found ourselves howling with laughter at the number of silly faces young Aaron [the middle child – shocking] created in an endless effort of non-conformity. I just had to share a few.

A New Appreciation of Aged Widsom

bodishbaughsNever speak harshly to an older man,but appeal to him respectfully as you would to your own father. 1 Timothy 5:1 (NLT)

This past weekend, Wendy and I attended a Journey to Wholeness conference at our church along with our kids Taylor and Clayton. The conference was led by a couple, Connely and Signa Bodishbaugh, who hail from Alabama and are both in their 70’s. They brought a team of people with them. Among them was a pastor from Texas, Tommy, who was also in his 70’s. I was blown away by the collective wisdom among them.

We all commented during the weekend how listening to Connely, Signa, and Tommy was like listening to a wise grandparent giving you sage advice. Though capable teachers, there was no flash or polish of gifted orators. They simply spoke softly and sincerely, and like wise elders with much to share they spoke at great length. Wendy commented to me yesterday morning as we discussed the conference that she felt the spiritual authority held by those who have earnestly followed Jesus for decades.

I thought of our conference and our teachers as I read Paul’s advice to be respectful and honoring of our elders. I’m having trouble easily articulating all that I learned and experienced this weekend, and I find myself pondering many questions this morning. In a culture given to valuing “new and improved” I wonder if we are quickly losing sight of the worth of wisdom and experience. When the world clamors ceaselessly for the “next generation” of gadgets, apps, and devices, I question if we are losing sight of the value of generations past. I enter the week filled with a new sense of life and purpose. I am grateful for a heart and head full to overflowing with the wisdom and insights I received. I’m convicted to honor and listen to those who’ve journeyed before me. I’m praying that as my own journey continues I might have opportunity to share wisdom with those who follow behind.

Putting Our Gifts to Work

 

"It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child."
“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. 1 Timothy 4:15 (NLT)

It has be an interesting week of reading deprivation which was part of the assignment for a creativity class I’m teaching. The idea of the assignment is to break out of normal routines, to do other things with your time, to be less distracted in order to focus on pursuing new paths of action. For me the lesson was in how much of a routine Wendy and I have in certain parts of our day, especially mornings, and how disruptive it can be to disturb those routines.

The class last night discussed the fact that we all feel called to be creative in our own pursuits whether it’s writing, music, artwork, crafts, and etc. We talk about the idea of being creative, but the actual creative work seems never to start. The canvas remains blank and sitting in the corner. The piano gathers dust. The play does not get revised as needed. For this we have a million excuses:

  • Too busy this week.
  • Can’t think of anything to write/draw/play.
  • I’ll get to it tomorrow.
  • I’m waiting for inspiration.

Yesterday, in preparation for class, I was investigating Pablo Picasso who was notorious for cranking out artwork in steady, flowing streams of creativity. He was constantly painting, sculpting, crafting, and drawing. An art professor of mine once commented that the vast majority of the work Picasso created was “crap” but he made so much of it that his work was constantly evolving and once in a while he would have a breakthrough of pure genius. But, he never would have had the breakthrough of genius if he hadn’t been willing to produce all the crap.

“Inspiration exists,” Picasso once said, “but it has to find us working.”

I thought of my classmates and of Picasso this morning when I read Paul’s encouragement to his protégé, Timothy. Give attention to your calling, your talents, and your gifts. Throw yourself into the action of pursuing and developing them. Only then will you make progress.

“Give me a museum, and I will fill it,” Picasso said.

Now there’s someone putting his gift to work.