Things I've Learned

I don't often tout this fact, but I was an early advocate of gender equality. My chubby 3-year-old fingers turned page after page of our family's heirloom photo album, blue ballpoint pen in hand. The irreplaceable, stern visages therein, male and female, looked far better, I thought, with big bold blue ink mustaches.

The album still exists. I pull it out from time to time and wince. In faded 8-by-10 black-and-white repose, my great-grandmother glares reproachfully at me from behind her custom-designed goatee. I learned early on there is a time to rejoice and a time to repent.

I was also a youthful champion of honesty. When just a lad of 4, I overheard my mother despairing of advancing age, and blurted out immortal lines now etched in family lore: "You're not old!" I remonstrated. Then added reassuringly... "You just look old." I learned early on there is a time to speak and a time to remain silent.

When I entered seventh-grade, I and my scrawny pals realized with a start that the girls were suddenly bigger, stronger, faster and smarter—especially the new girl, Shirley. Shirley was twice as big as us, sang tenor in the choir, and could hit a softball into orbit. But as we watched from a safe distance over the first couple months, we realized Shirley's physical size and prowess belied another reality: She was also one of the nicest girls around. Fear retreated. Respect blossomed. I learned that reality is often very different than our first fears.

What have I learned in the intervening years that will help me chart a thoughtful course through this uncertain new year? I turn to the media and see fear plastered there like the goatee on grandma. "Economic Fears Drive Stock Market Down," the headlines shout; "American Workers Fear for Their Jobs;" "Terrorism Strikes Fear in Holiday Travelers," shrieks another.

I look to those around me and see battles with cancer, struggles with finance, conflict in relationships. Fear is written there too.

Yet I remember words penned by a dear lady who had learned their substance in the deep, dark valleys of hard experience.

"Man's extremity is God's opportunity," she wrote.

That simple, profound statement was true in the great old story: Elisha's servant in Dothan overcome with despair until God opens his incredulous eyes and vast angelic forces come into view outflanking the enemy with chariots of fire.

It was true for King Jehoshaphat as he sang his way to victory over an unbeatable enemy. It was true for Peter as locked prison doors swung silently open.

It's still true today, in spite of the headlines.

And it brings me to a choice I must make at the start of this uncertain new year.

Will I walk by sight, or by faith?

No matter how big the challenge or daunting the enemy, those chariots of fire are still there.

January 01, 2009 / Let's Talk