Focus on Faith

Father Tim Kavanagh and Thanksgiving 

I’ve been enjoying re-reading Jan Karon’s books set in Mitford, North Carolina, centering on the life and ministry of the community’s Episcopal priest, Father Tim Kavanagh.

I like Father Tim. My wife goes farther: she says I am Father Tim. My wife is usually right, but she’s wrong on this one. Father Tim is a much better pastor and a much nicer fellow than the preacher my wife lives with. But nonetheless it does me good to spend time with the kind rector, and I’m usually more pastoral and a little nicer after I’ve done so.

I wouldn’t deny that a few similarities do exist between us, Father Tim and me.

Mitford is a small town of the “great place to live” variety. Muleshoe is in exactly that category. Father Tim has discovered that the very best (and by far the largest) part of America is the small town part. I couldn’t agree more.

Mitford is set in the “high green hills” of North Carolina. Muleshoe is set in the high brown plains of West Texas. Hmm.

Father Tim has discovered that you can truly and meaningfully touch just as many lives in a small church/small town setting as you can in a large city/mega-church setting. Maybe more. I agree.

Father Tim is the kind of guy who would rather spend thirty minutes with the “real” guys at the local coffee shop than five minutes with the “plastic” big business/big politics/big shots (in general) of our society. Absolutely.

Father Tim has a great church secretary full-time who does a great job and doesn’t mind telling him how “the cow ate the cabbage” and keeping him in line. I’ve got one of those, too, but she can do the job in one day a week.

Father Tim has a great dog. For lots of years, I had one of those. His dog is pacified by the reading of Scripture or 18th-century English poets. I never needed to try that. Like her master, the best thing Maddie did was sleep.

Father Tim has a polite little motor scooter. I’ve got a man-sized machine with air intakes and pipes that opened wide will suck in and spit out neighborhood pets from three doors down. (The similarity is that both machines have two wheels.)

Father Tim has been described as “bookish.” Ditto, and that’s a compliment. Our society desperately needs folks who read more and spout off less. But I don’t read enough.

Father Tim esteems C. S. Lewis and Winston Churchill as among his heroes. Well, of course.

Yes, there are some similarities. But Father Tim is, I repeat, a much nicer guy, better pastor, and finer human being than am I.

As I spent some time with him recently, I was struck by the notes he’d jotted in his sermon notebook on “thanksgiving” and another quotation or two he recalled.

Oswald Chambers: “We look for visions of heaven, and we never dream that all the time God is in the commonplace things and people around us.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts he has in store for us because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. . . .” Looking for the “highest good,” we “deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, . . . Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things.”

I’m pretty sure Father Tim’s Thanksgiving sermon was better than mine.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Epitaph: Love Is Always Greater Than Power 

cross-sunset2

This morning in The Wall Street Journal I read a well-written obituary by James R. Hagerty focusing on a woman who so loved to be in the spotlight that her former husband—she had four and divorced four—simply said, “To say that [she] loved publicity would be a massive understatement. She lived for publicity.”

Hagerty wrote, “More than 30 years before she died, she had her own tombstone engraved,” noting on it that “her father was a prominent neurologist and that she was recognized at White House press conferences by several presidents.”

Hagerty says that in a 1996 People magazine article, she simply said, “The main thing is to keep my name out in front.”

I do not intend to mention her name. You won’t know it anyway, and it will soon be forgotten. But I admit that I’ll have a hard time forgetting what Hagerty says this woman wrote on her own memorial: “Power is greater than love, and I did not get where I am by standing in line, nor by being shy.”

I suppose when she wrote that pathetic line, she could hardly imagine that “where I am” could mean anything other than “in the spotlight.” For much of her 89 years, she lived for power and fame. Where did she get? She got to the place where “where I am” means “in the grave.” And then what happens to such a shriveled soul?

I read that obituary this morning. Then this afternoon I drove down to our little town’s First Baptist Church to attend the funeral of a man whose name I’m privileged to mention and whose service I felt it was an honor to attend, “Sonny” Byrd. Most of us just called him Mr. Byrd.

I didn’t know that Mr. Byrd’s first name was actually Levanather. I’ve still not heard anyone take a stab at pronouncing it, but, if I’m doing that right, I kind of like it. It has a dignity about it. Just like the man, married 57 years to his “sweetheart” and committed to his Lord.

I didn’t get to know Mr. Byrd nearly as well as I’d like to have, partly because he was such a quiet, gentle, “always there but never loud” presence in our community that I guess I thought he always would be. I figured he had many stories to tell, and I hoped one day to be able to sit down, drink coffee with him, and hear some of them. He was here for 60 years; me, for 33. Surely there was time. And then there wasn’t. Not in this life, but I hope in the next.

I felt almost presumptuous attending the funeral, mostly because—my own fault—I didn’t know him well enough. But what I knew, I respected. He cut a striking figure, a man carved out of rich ebony, clad in crisp coveralls and a cowboy hat. He worked so well, so hard, with dignity and the kind of soft-spoken gentleness that is only found in those who are genuinely strong with the kind of soul-strength that the loud will never understand, much less, possess. I can’t imagine anyone less interested in the limelight, but when I heard of Mr. Byrd’s passing, I knew our community had lost the kind of person to whom any community owes a debt that can’t be paid. At the funeral, it became clear that lots of folks felt that way.

It’s probably a mercy to him that he could not hear what was said at his service because the last thing in the universe he’d have wanted was for his name to be “out in front.” I have no idea what will be written on his tombstone, but it might well be this: “Love is always greater than power.”

And that is literally God’s truth.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

A Life or Death Fight in the Backyard Bird House 

I like to think of our back yard as a mostly safe, peaceful, and appealing place. Until recently, it was.

Oh, there were years when a good-natured Great Dane lived there. It was safe. He was peaceful. But “nice yard” and “Great Dane” do not coexist in the same universe. He was a good dog, but his relocation was an incredible blessing for that piece of real estate. When he moved on, we undertook a serious improvement project, and that part of the estate became vastly better, truly enjoyable.

About fifteen years ago, I built out there what I call my “bird house.” “Aviary” is actually closer to the mark but communicates with fewer folks. Neither a little bird house nor a large aviary, this is a 4 X 8-footprint, 9-foot tall, rustic, old barn-style edifice with railroad tie corner posts—and birds. White doves, one gray ring-neck dove (I named him Michael, as in Phelps, because he loves water, but a grandchild recently saw Michael lay an egg), one ring-neck male pheasant, pharaoh quail (about the same size as ordinary quail), and button quail (my favorite—little guys who, full-grown, are smaller than chicken eggs with legs).

Alas, my button quail are no more. Old age and one hungry snake, I think, took them out. (I took him out, but too late.)

And now, I sadly report, the pharaoh quail are gone, too. They started disappearing, or turning up dea

d, a couple of months ago. It didn’t take a CSI technician and detailed postmortem for me to determine that they weren’t dying peacefully in their sleep. Down to one quail and feeling helpless in the face of mass murder, I somberly apologized to that bird for my failure to solve the case but also wished him luck and told him truthfully that I’d hate to be in his, uh, shoes. He lasted maybe a week. An intolerable situation.

I’ve tried deduction. All the doves are fine; they only touch ground to eat, and they perch up high to sleep. The pheasant sleeps on the ground, but he’s large, and the killers are cowards.

Signs of serious digging and some interesting holes began to show up before the spate of murders. Snakes are hole-dwelling opportunists and don’t dig their own. I didn’t think that skunks or raccoons would fit the bill.

Tired of deduction, I bought a cheap wildlife camera and hung it on the chicken-wire screen door. First night. Bingo! Some nice pheasant pics. Even a fox staring in hungrily at the pheasant.

But once that bird bedded down, three sets of beady eyes began to glow in the dark from a hole. Then (quit reading if you are squeamish) unmistakable, gross, vile, evil vermin with long tales began to roam the birdhouse floor: rats! Out of quail to terrorize, these murderous and disgusting freeloaders are, each night, chowing down on my bird food.

The fight is on! It involves a combination of traps, voltage, poison, and calibre. This is not catch and release. I do not care if these enemies expire peacefully. This is war. I intend to finish it quickly.

Most analogies break down if pressed too far, but it is not difficult to find numerous Bible verses that warn about trusting or associating with creatures who live in darkness, despise beauty, and seek to destroy what is good. We’ll see what works in my bird house, but having God in your heart is the best defense against spiritual rodents who would like to lodge there.

 

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

“A True Friend . . . Continues a Friend Unchangeably” 

friendship

If I ever write anything wise—you know, the kind of pithy one-sentence bit of proverb-like wisdom that shows up in quotation books and on Internet “great quotes” sites, I hope I can avoid using any one word in the string that is detrimental to my proverb’s multi-century shelf life.

Sometime over 300 years ago, the Quaker leader and founding father of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, William Penn (1644-1718) wrote these wise words about genuine friendship: “A true friend unbosoms freely, advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably.”

That is so good! I wish I’d said it. From the depths of my unbosomed soul, I sincerely believe it. It’s just sort of a shame that, though these sweet words have been conveying an even sweeter truth for several centuries and the English major in my soul says that the fourth word in is still a perfectly fine word, the third grade boy still alive in my head needs a swat in the tail section and the admonition, “Move on, lad!” lest he overindulge in snickers and mental immaturity.

Some morons just remove the one word from the quote, crippling the sentence. Others remove the word and its modifier and comma. To be fair to Penn, and accurate, they need to insert an ellipsis (formally known as the three dotty thing) to show they’ve snipped some words. But doing so, even that honestly, costs the sentence a little punch, color, and truth.

You see, a true friend is one to whom you can genuinely share your soul, whether unburdening your bosom of a deep sorrow, doubling up to find the “two is better than one” brain power to squeeze the juice out of a prickly or fascinating life question, or allowing a joy to flower more beautifully precisely because joys burst into fullest bloom when shared.

And, yes, indeed, a real friend will tell you the truth in tough love lest the momentary warmth of soft words and falsehood lure you into soul-chilling peril.

A real friend will help you lift a burden that would be crushing to one.

A real friend will ride a real roller coaster with you even if she hates roller coasters. She’ll ride an emotional roller coaster with you for a while but will be wise and loving enough to know when to tell you to get off of it, quit living addicted to drama, and grow up. And love you still.

A real friend’s love and faithfulness lifts you to be better even when you’re going through times that are your worst.

A real friend will be patient in strong kindness, will “have your back” always, will defend you when you deserve it and love you and stand up as your friend even when you don’t. A real friend would rather be ridiculed for remaining true to a friend than be praised by those who change friends like they change shoes.

A real friend shares your joy when you or yours reap public praise, your sorrow when you or yours are stung by public shame, and loves you all just the same in good times and bad.

Come to think of it, is it any surprise that our best Friend and the best pattern for true friendship is the One who once told his disciples, “I have called you friends” (John 15:15) and loved them always? He is still our very best Friend.

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

Faith Is the Key to Any Enduring Foundation 

If you know me, any of my three brothers, or, heaven help you, all of us, you know that our grandparents’ old place in Robert Lee, Texas, is dear to our hearts.

Granddaddy Key built the house in 1928, and, long story short, in 1974, after Granddaddy had passed away and, partly to ease our Grandmother’s mind as she made the transition to the nursing home just across the creek, my brother Gene bought the place. For seven years, it was occupied by various tenants whose rent helped pay for it, but, truth to tell, were otherwise about as helpful to home upkeep as goathead weeds in the once-pristine lawn.

In 1981 or so, Gene was able to bid the last tenant, “Farewell, and don’t let the door hit you in the tail section,” and bring in some even less savory sorts—his three brothers. For those first years, we actually did some serious manual labor here, and the place eventually became such a showplace that, after we put carpet down, my younger brother and I became reformed characters and had to quit spitting sunflower seeds on the floor, sweeping up once at the end of the trip (good stewardship of time and effort). If anybody ever vacuums now, I’ve never caught him at it, but since nobody spits seeds on the floor, there’s not a lot of need for persnickety housekeeping.

We love this place that, filled with wonderful memories, has affected our lives far out of proportion to its size and (nonexistent) grandeur. My brother Gene even wrote a great book about it (The Key Place, Leafwood Publishers, 2015), filled with the kind of lessons that perhaps a “key” place in your life might hold, too. The book’s well worth the read!

Long ago, we got the place in nice enough shape that we love to come here, and (don’t read too much into that conjunction) our loving and long-suffering wives are happy for us to come and even happier that they don’t ever have to. For (gasp!) thirty-seven years, twice a year all together, we four brothers, all pastors, have been coming. For a number of sweet years before his death, our father, also a pastor, came with us. In short, the blessings we’ve received at this place can’t be bought at any price.

I’m sitting at the old original table at the Key Place this Sunday evening. For maybe the second time in all these decades, I’m here first. The only other time I recall this happening, I walked in to find that some incredibly nasty insects had arrived first, been fruitful and multiplied, and taken up residence. It was like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. I engaged the enemy, my brothers later joined the battle, and we won. The post-traumatic stress has become manageable enough that I decided, these years later, to take a chance once more and get here first.

I’m glad I did. I unloaded my truck, sat for a while out near the unlit fire pit which will be wonderfully ablaze tomorrow night, and just breathed in the beauty of a deliciously cool and still autumn evening. The country still smells like the recent rain.

I finally came inside to sit at the old original kitchen table, think about what I might write for this column, and eat a quiet dinner. Of course, Grandmother’s corn bread was not available. But the meal I brought chilled from the big city and enjoyed here by myself is a dish I don’t suppose this table’s ever hosted in its 90 years. I’ve eaten goat here with Granddaddy and family. But never sushi. Grandmother and Granddaddy would love my being here. I doubt they’d much appreciate the meal.

Time and tastes, years and generations, keep rolling on. But the deep faith in God that was the real foundation undergirding everything my grandparents built here is still real and sure, true and unchanging, timeless in all times.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“It’s No Secret: I Love the Church!” 

I love the church! Not just (just?!) the church universal, that marvelous, amazing, and miraculous Body of Christ composed of all of God’s children, everyone who ever has or ever will wear Christ’s name, all the sons and daughters of God. Oh, I love “that” church, too.

But I also love the smaller local expressions of that Body, the little bands of disciples—all of them small indeed, whatever their size, compared to the grand Body from which they spring—working in thousands of thousands of places to share Christ’s love. I love the church.

Oh, I know, loving the church is not always fashionable. Many of my generation who were sentenced to too much time in the 60s and 70s decided that all “institutions” are suspect. Many others of later generations—different views and different areas of blindness—have decided that the church is not “relevant.” Not enough of a social service agency? Not (lock)step enough with the latest opinion polls? Oh, I do recognize some of the truth in the charge, but, still, I’m trying to understand how worshiping the One who gives us each breath could ever be anything other than intensely relevant to folks who enjoy breathing.

Some, also like me, grew up in “separatist” traditions or groups who tended to talk more about “the church”—meaning their little walled-off franchise of it—than they did about the Lord of the church. That sad mistake makes it easy to lose respect for the church as seen in the little all-too-human local expressions of Christ’s Body.

Yes, I know, when bad things happen in the church, the ugliness is even worse precisely because we know how beautiful the church can and should be. When a church gets caught up in power struggles disguised as pious piffle, dividing and walling itself off from the rest of the Body over molehills masquerading as mountains, prancing around like the old naked emperor parading “issues” that most sensible folks (in the church or outside it) recognize as no clothes at all, it looks really bad. It’s like a hairy wart on the nose of Miss America, or (and I could really cry a tear over this one) a cow patty dropped on top of a luscious cheesecake.

But, in spite of very real flaws, I still love the church. I’ve seen her beauty. I’ve felt her warmth and been embraced by her love, and the very best blessings of my life have been gifts from the Lord given through her hands.

I love the church, and I love the little church I’m a part of, and I hope you love “yours.” We’re family, you see. Over the years in this little group, I’ve seen walking through our doors and worshiping in our pews folks as diverse and deeply loved as a Cornell-educated F-16 pilot and his sweet law-student wife, a child just born weighing in at less than 4 lbs, a frail (though gigantic in the faith) little widow well into her 90s struggling to church every Sunday on a walker while so many younger and healthier folks slept in unaware that the blessing she claimed while they slumbered was worth more than gold.

I love the church! Vertically and horizontally, all because of a cross, she and her King have my heart.

 

 

   You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“You Must Read and Understand These Instructions” 

I’m considering buying a new weed-eater. It’s an extravagant thought. The old one, older than five of my grandkids, is still working fine but taking longer on first start. My patience is wearing thin, but my memory is still good. I remember when I bought that machine.

It was also an extravagant purchase. Its predecessor was sputtering along just fine in two-cycle engine form, but a couple of my sons had just moved into a different house and needed weed-whacking equipment. In a gesture of paternal magnanimity, I donated the old weed-destroyer to the cause. I didn’t tell them that it will likely out-value anything else left in the estate for them when I’ve departed. But they seemed appreciative.

I ceremonially handed over the old weed-eater and straightway departed (in a less final sense) to procure a new one. The shopping trip was like all of my shopping trips. I wasted gas going to four stores to save money and ended up back at the first store and lined up to pay twice as much as I thought the item would cost.

When I got my shiny new weed-whacker home, I was tempted to fire it up just to check out the brand new thimble-sized engine, but it was midnight. I’d given my (mixed) gas can away, too, and couldn’t buy a new one to get the petrol cocktail mixed up (shaken, not stirred) until Monday. So I parked the new machine on the living room floor for the weekend and actually started reading the instructions.

Once I’d trimmed the two manuals down to the King’s English only, I was left with eighty-four pages of weed-eater literature. Only twenty-six pages counted as “instructions.” The lion’s share was the “safety manual.” It was evidently a vicious machine.

Of course, there was very little plot to the two-volume novel. Most of the pages were covered with lawyer droppings. Safety booklets will soon come, no doubt, attached to every nail you buy at your local hardware store. Restaurants will be including safety manuals with toothpicks, and toothpick manufacturers will be paying hefty fines since they knowingly sold their wares and conned us, poor victims that we are, into thinking toothpicks were safe.

But I read and learned . . .

The muffler would be hot. Good.

The State of California (which, safety labels assure us, can always be counted on to know so much more than other states) was concerned that my sucking in weed-eater exhaust could cause birth defects. (I’m relieved to report that my grandchildren are fine.)

The thing could amputate my fingers. I figured I’d have to be uncommonly determined to be fingerless, but I supposed it could happen.

It seemed that it would also be a bad idea to run it indoors, to use it to shorten power lines, or to operate it when drunk.

And so on.

I’m not sure I finished reading, partly because reading these manuals, I was warned, was not enough. I needed to “read and understand” all of the warnings. I doubted that I’d ever be able to honestly check off that last part.

I can only imagine the size of the manuals that must come with today’s weed-eaters. I see no evidence that common sense is on the upswing. And we have more lawyers.

The Maker of this world was kind enough to include a manual that we really should read and, yes, do our best to understand. He wrote it not to keep Heaven out of court, but to keep us out of trouble. But the main reason he wrote it was to point us not to the law but to the Savior.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

When God Walks with Us in the Fiery Furnace 

One of the finest of many great gifts my mother gave me when I was just a little guy was reading to me. Most of all, she read me Bible stories.

Since I wasn’t a declared English major in my youngest days (that came later), and since Mom was smart, she didn’t, when I was little, read the stories straight from the King James or any other Bible version; she read them from a couple of really good Bible story books. I suspect that she also edited and embellished a bit as she went, at least in places where she found the story books a bit inaccurate or lacking.

The best thing about the story books (I still have them) was that they had great pictures. I still have those, too. They’re tattooed into my brain and, unlike most tattoos, won’t go out of style, leaving you with the equivalent of having your high school senior pic, coolness date long since expired, grafted onto your saggy bicep.

One of my favorite stories was from Daniel 3. It was the story of “Three Men in a Furnace.” Pictured in the illustration is quite a mighty fire, and pictured in the fire are four fellows, not three. The text of both the Bible and the story book agreed with the picture. (Read Daniel 3.)

We called them the “three Hebrew children.” I don’t know why. Children they were not. They were some of most impressive of the Israelites taken captive by the Babylonians. These three—renamed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (I liked the names)—were from Judah and had been specifically trained for service in the king’s court.

I’m not sure how the three felt about their lot, but it could have been worse. Well, right up until the time when it got a lot worse.

King Nebuchadnezzar, suddenly afflicted by the kind of modern-as-tomorrow fit of megalomania that you’ve probably noticed powerful world leaders still regularly fall prey to, ordered a 90-foot-tall, gold-plated idol to be built. When he struck up the band, all of his people were to bow, nose down in the dirt, or else be tossed into a furnace of fire.

You really should read the story. I’m abbreviating ruthlessly as I just tell you that our three men of faith didn’t need more than the one God, would not worship the idol, and, after they courteously and consistently defied the king’s order, were thrown into a turbo-charged fire where they were joined by a strikingly glorious fourth figure. They came away unharmed, un-toasted, and highly respected. And ol’ King Neb learned an important lesson from the highest King.

Oh, I loved that story of great faith in action and of God’s salvation and power. I still do. The outcome is utterly amazing.

But I think that now the most striking part of the story to me is not the obvious miracle but is found in what those three heroes actually said to the king as they affirmed their faith. The “God we serve is able to save us,” they said, but “even if he does not, we will not serve your gods.”

Even. If. He. Does. Not.

God may give me exactly the answer to my prayer that I want. He may amaze and astound me. But you tell me which takes greater faith: to see the fourth figure present in the fiery furnace in Daniel 3 or to trust that he is walking with you through the fiery trial you face right now “even if” the show-stopping miracle you want seems not to be in God’s present plan?

I submit that God’s presence in both is very real.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Trouble Comes with This World, But Drama Is Optional 

NoDrama

Some people live life with their sirens running. They are either creating wrecks, running Code 3 toward emergencies, or chasing ambulances to be sure to have a front row seat to view the carnage. Right in your living room. If you allow it.

My question is, why would you? Offhand, can you think of any way that a siren wailing in your home or church or business can be conducive to peace, good sense, and harmony?

What I’m talking about, of course, is “drama.”

By virtue (more accurately, by the lack of virtue) of the sin-sick human condition and this fallen world, we will all at times face pain, suffering, trouble, and even tragedy. And, oh, yes, swimming in what is often a sea of selfishness means that we regularly paddle into relational challenges that would be difficult even if we were wise enough never to slop around in them like pigs in mud.

But there’s the key. Sorrows, troubles, difficulties—they come to us all. Jesus said it clearly: “In this world you will have trouble . . .” (John 16:33). But he went on to say, “Don’t be such sick fools that you relish wallowing in it.”

Well, that’s not exactly what he said. What he actually went on to say is, “But be of good cheer! I have overcome the world.” Don’t you agree that being “of good cheer” implies making a choice that rules out romping around in our troubles? Getting our jollies from splashing in the mud as we pull others in to join us?

Trouble is bad enough without drama, and embracing drama as we deal with difficulty is—we might as well admit it—a choice that tempts us all on some level. When we introduce drama, the spotlight’s focus shifts, for at least a while, to us. The more drama we create, the longer we own the stage.

It’s one thing to have to pass on bad news; it’s another to relish being the first to report it. It’s one thing to have to deal with difficulty; it’s another to egg it on, throw fuel on the fire, inject more poison with sharp tongues.

Face it. Some people stoke drama because they’re Satan-inspired to create chaos and destroy harmony. Others just get used to living in drama and become adrenalin junkies never completely happy without a crisis. They become perpetual victims or voyeurs of other victims. To be sure, some of the pain, sickness, difficulty, they deal with is real. But their reaction is over the top and drama is their dysfunctional constant, their abnormal normal, sucking everyone in their path into its vortex.

Our choice? To jump into the drama with them and blow into the whirlwind, or to set wise and real boundaries, distancing ourselves from the drama and those who would suck us into it. If we choose to embrace it, exacerbate it, marry it, tolerate it, or otherwise allow ourselves to be infected by it, our predictable misery will not still the storm.

Whoever said this spoke truth: “Drama does not just walk into our lives. Either we create it, invite it, or associate with it.”

Don’t do it! This loud world has sirens enough.

 

        You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

A Rule That Will Bless Us: No Whining Allowed 

[Note: One of the sweetest and best ladies I’ve ever known, Vernell Cotten Nance, my mother-in-law, just passed away. Maybe this is a good time to reprise this column from August 2012.]

My mother-in-law has just moved from her apartment down and around the corner from our house, where she moved around five years ago, to assisted living in a community about 75 miles away.

I don’t like it much. I know—we’ve all heard the jokes about mothers-in-law. And, yes, I’m afraid we’ve all seen some who deserved both to be the brunt of jokes and to be drop-kicked a blessed distance away.

But by far most of the mothers-in-law that I’ve known actually do the job quite well and are a major blessing. And I’m convinced that mine is the best of all. Vernell simply amazes me, and from the first moment over 37 years ago when it began to look like I might become her son-in-law, I knew for sure I was getting the better end of the bargain.

I would describe her first as Christlike, and that means loving and unselfish and grateful and winsome and . . . all sorts of good things. I could talk for a very long time about all the good things she is.

But one thing keeps occurring to me, and it centers on what she is not and never has been. She has never been a whiner. (I wish I was more like her!)

Dr. Charles Siburt, a truly amazing Christian man, professor, minister mentor, church fuss mediator, etc., passed away recently, and a friend of mine remembered him saying this: “There is no way to modulate the human voice so as to make whining an acceptable sound.”

My mother-in-law would have liked him. Vernell is one of the most patient and forgiving people I have ever known, but my wife, truly her daughter in this respect as well, will tell you that her mother has never had much patience for whining or whiners. Juana remembers, for example, coming home from school as a child and starting to fuss about a situation, another student, or a teacher.

“Now, Juana . . .” her mother would say, and then give a lesson on “Why We Don’t Whine, Why Whining Is Obnoxious, and Why You Are Never Allowed to Become a Whiner.” She didn’t actually give the sermon a title, but that’s what the lesson was. For most of the rest of my wife’s childhood, two words were all her mother had to say to silence completely any whiny utterance: “Now, Juana . . .”

The gift Vernell gave her daughter has been passed on. My sons and I know quite well that if we feel like whining, we’d better look elsewhere than to the wife and mom who loves us too much to let us get in the habit of emitting whiny sounds.

Vernell has buried two fine husbands, and she genuinely grieved, but I’ll always remember what she said: “I don’t like this, but if I were the only one this had ever happened to, I might have a reason to complain.” Wow.

She will be happy in her new home. You can count on it. She plans to be.

It’s okay for us to be sad that she won’t be as close by. Healthy tears are allowed. Just not whining.

 

 

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Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.