Monday, March 29, 2010

Sweet Slumber

My sons pounded up the basement stairs and threw themselves down on the living room furniture just in time to catch SportsNation, one of their favorite sports talk shows on TV. Although the volume was turned to its usual high decibel level, I was able to tune out most of the chatter until I heard the start of a segment that airs at the show's end, called End of the Day. The lead-in to that portion features a quick flip through clips of various athletes and sports figures using the phrase at the end of the day in television interviews, one right after another. The rapid repetition of those six words in those opening moments burned them into my brain, causing me to sit up and listen more closely when they've passed my way again. And lately I've run into them wherever I've gone. I've heard them at church in my pastor's sermon, read them in stories in the newspaper, and passed people using them in everyday conversations as I've run my errands. Surely there's a reason they've come to my attention, as nothing in life happens by chance. Curiosity led me to the internet to google the phrase and see what I could come up with.

Figuratively, at the end of the day means when all things have been considered. It's usually the prelude to a conclusion an individual has drawn after all the relevant facts on a subject have been studied and weighed, and obviously follows some type of consideration, reflection, or contemplation. The literal translation of the phrase, however, refers to the time when one's work or waking hours are over. And that generally occurs when the daylight hours are over and we are ready to slip into slumber. Perhaps God doesn't want us to do so before giving the preceding hours some thought. As I wondered just what things He wanted me to think about, the following words came to mind:

Reflection. As Christians we no longer live our lives aimlessly or with selfish intent. Instead, at the intersection of our faith and our future we find the plans and purposes of God. We have general duties that we all should be about, such as living a life that glorifies our Father, sharing our faith with unbelievers, and helping those in need. But each of us also has daily specific assignments based on the individual gifts and callings God has put inside of us that we are to apply our time and attention towards accomplishing. And the end of the day is a good time to look back over the preceding hours and consider how well we applied ourselves to those tasks. Sometimes we sigh in satisfaction, knowing that we did what God asked of us that day. And many times we simply resolve to try harder the next.

Thanksgiving. Perhaps nothing benefits our lives more than the giving of thanks for blessings received. It changes our attitudes from the head to the heart, and as we engage in this practice we'll find that we recognize the hand of God at work in our lives in ways we never could have imagined before. We can't help but live happier lives as a result.

Supplication. The Bible tells us repeatedly to turn our troubles over to God instead of stewing over them ourselves, yet when we're in the midst of them that seems to be the last thing we think to do. Releasing them to the Father to deal with brings peace and rest to our troubled souls.

If God is concerned about how we end our day, He is even more interested in how we come to the end of our days, our spiritual condition at the conclusion of our lives. He warns us not to fall into our eternal sleep without likewise giving the matter some thought. Some wish to postpone that contemplation, yet the truth is that we never know which nighttime consideration will be our last. God's Word tells us that today is the day of salvation, and if you haven't already made your spiritual future secure, the time to do so is now. Reflect on your life and your need of a Savior, give thanks that One has been provided, and ask Him to forgive and cover your sins with the penalty He paid for them on the cross.

When I was a little girl, my mother's parting words to me as I headed off to bed each night were always, "Sleep sweet," her wish that I would have a restful repose free of nightmares or worries of any kind. Now it's not my mother but my Heavenly Father who reminds me that at the end of the day only one thing is important, that being my relationship with His Son. Daily I need to give that matter my attention, that at the end of my days, truly my (eternal) sleep will be sweet.

"The wise also will hear and increase in learning, and the person of understanding will acquire skill and attain to sound counsel [so that he may be able to steer his course rightly] - That people may understand a proverb and a figure of speech or an enigma with its interpretation, and the words of the wise and their dark sayings or riddles." (Proverbs 1:5-6 AMP)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Gold Medal Lifestyle

The XXI Winter Olympic Games held many of us as spellbound as this just-ended February kept us snowbound indoors, watching the sports coverage on our TVs. Truly the American athletes performed magnificently, launching the United States to the top of the leader board in the medal count, standing on various levels of the medal podiums again and again. It became our habit to check the paper or the internet first thing each day to see where we stood in the medal race and if we'd added to our count in any of the events of the previous day.

The medal ceremonies themselves were likewise a favorite part of the television coverage. No matter what country stood on the top spot, we were drawn to our sets to look into the gold medal athlete's eyes as each watched their flag being raised and heard their nation's anthem played on their behalf. We wondered what this moment could possibly feel like, the culmination of years and years of effort, hard work and training.

We know, of course, that there's so much more to the Olympics than just the medals. Despite the "U-S-A! U-S-A!" chant that pounds incessantly in the back of our brains, we hear the old adage it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game sounding in our hearts. Those words of wisdom tend to get lost, however, in the pressure to perform for our national pride and in the lure of monetary compensation from commercial endorsements that are at stake.

But every now and then an athlete comes along who gets our thinking back on track. Such was surely the case when Johannie Rochette skated her short program in the ladies figure skating competition just two days after her mother's sudden death. Surely at that moment there was nothing she felt less like doing than putting on her costume, lacing up her skates and pasting a smile on her pretty face for a watching world. The Olympics at that point mattered far less to her than mourning the loss of this woman who had so selflessly loved her, consistently cheered for her and faithfully financed her efforts through the years to make this very moment possible. And yet she did it simply because she knew her mother would be watching from somewhere up above, expecting her to take to the Olympic ice and skate the performance of her simply give it her all despite the circumstances surrounding give the world a glimpse of the champion she knew her to be on the inside.

We likewise have a Loved One in Heaven who sacrificed everything that we might also have a shot at glory...eternal glory. He watches us now as we head to jobs instead of a skating rink, deal with relationships in our homes and offices instead of in an Olympic Village, and are guided by the advice of our counselors, pastors and parents instead of that of coaches and trainers. And every day we face the choice of taking to our own piece of ice, wherever it may be, and giving the task at hand our all, regardless of the possible outcome or the situations opposing us, offering the world a glimpse of the overcomers God has called us to be.

Johannie Rochette did just that the night of her short program, bravely stepping out onto the ice and skating the performance of her life, only breaking down at the end when she was through. And although the competition was only halfway completed, the television coverage ended that night with yet another award ceremony, one in which no medals were given, but instead praise, cheers and tears, as the world cried along with her.

While two days later Johannie finished the competition in third place with a bronze medal hung around her neck, clearly no athlete performed with more heart, even when her own was breaking. May her performance inspire us to pursue our passions with similar Olympian effort, knowing that whatever the outcome of our endeavors or any accolades we may receive, we likewise performed with a heart of gold.

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might..."
(Ecclesiastes 9:10 NIV)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Glove Lost, Purpose Found

The automatic door opened and the wintry weather carried a host of shoppers into the store in its icy blast. Most hesitated a moment at the entrance, removing hats, stashing gloves in pockets, and unzipping coats before grabbing their shopping lists and heading down the aisles. The situation then reversed itself once their passage through the checkout lane was completed, as they donned their winter garb and prepared to head out into the cold once more.

The process seemed to take longer than usual for one elderly female shopper who came through my line on that recent winter's day. Her order processed without problem, I was surprised to see her lingering in my lane, fumbling in her pockets and looking about her with a worried look on her face. Eventually she asked if I'd seen her missing red glove. There was no sign of it at the register, so she reluctantly moved off in the direction of the exit door. People leave belongings behind on a regular basis, and I thought to myself that this missing item was likewise no big deal - she'd either find it somewhere or get herself another pair. But instead of leaving the building, the woman remained in sight, circling the checkout area, her face registering her concern. The next time I saw her she told me she had repeatedly walked the whole store, retracing her steps to see if she might have dropped it anywhere. Finally realizing that there was more to her troubled heart than just a lost item of clothing, I listened as she told me the gloves were a gift from her sister who had since passed on. In her view they were simply irreplaceable.

Suddenly there was a heart connection to her problem that got my attention, and I started looking for that glove almost as determinedly as she. I looked through her grocery bags in case she had accidentally dropped it in one, and gently urged her to check her coat pockets one more time. Then I circled my register a couple of times myself, my eyes scanning all the nooks and crannies on the floor where an item might have been dropped and inadvertently kicked out of sight. No luck. I urged her to leave her name and number at the front desk so the store could contact her if it was found and turned in. Despondent, she turned to go and I went back to work physically, although my mind stayed on that woman and her distress over the missing connection with her departed sis.

A short time later I found myself with a few minutes to spare while there was nobody in my line. And suddenly I realized that while I could do little else to help her, I could pray. In recent weeks God had been building my faith with many answered prayers, and I firmly believed He would show up in this situation, as well. So I lifted a simple request in faith, affirming my belief that He knew where the missing glove was and asking that He direct her to it. And then I smiled to myself as I realized it was just the sort of situation He specializes in, after all - finding that which is lost and healing broken hearts! I went looking for my next customer, thinking the case was closed.

Not so, for ten minutes or so later my white-haired friend was back, a huge grin splitting her face and her hand madly flapping a red glove in my direction!

"I found it! I found it!" she called. Apparently she'd decided to take one more tour around the store and found the glove at last, lying on the edge of the meat counter where someone must have put it after running across it. We rejoiced together and then I watched as she finally exited the store, her step lighter and her heart happy once more.

I expected God to find her lost glove, but as usual He did more than that. It turned out that more than just a glove was missing. I had clearly lost my focus on why I stand behind that register in the first place. Surely it isn't just to earn a paycheck, scan some groceries and pass the time of day with a host of friendly patrons. He reminded me that He places me in all the situations I find myself each day deliberately, simply to be a conduit through which His love flows to the people around me. But when I get my eyes too tied to the physical nature of my surroundings, I lose sight of the heart connection to people that God feels and my spiritual awareness vanishes completely. I was ready to hurry that woman out of the store, her problem less pressing than processing my next customer's order. Yet God stopped, His heart touched by the trouble in hers. Surely I'm not busier than He. I needed the reminder to be about my Father's business even in my place of business, as well as in my home, my car... and in all the hidden corners of my life where His desires might have been dropped and absently kicked out of sight by the seemingly more pressing problems of the day.

I worked the rest of that day with a totally different attitude after bumping into God's presence that morning. Who knows but that God sent that woman to the store not for groceries, but for me... to get my thought life back on track. I'm just sorry she had to circle the store as many times as she did before I got the message! She may have found her lost glove, but I found my missing purpose. It's hard to say which of us was happier with the end result.

"Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep."
(Romans 12:15 NKJV)
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