Focus on Faith

“Time for Bed, Child! Go to Sleep!” 

When I learned that CBS’ 60 Minutes news program was doing a story on sleep, I was interested. Sleeping is one thing I’ve always been really good at. But if anyone has pointers to help my technique . . . So I made sure to watch what was a fascinating program, and I learned a lot.

In 1980, a study was done using rats who were kept awake indefinitely. After five days, they began dying. They needed sleep as badly as they needed food. All mammals do.

Modern folks in our society have been a little snooty and dismissive about sleep, as if needing to snooze at all is something of an embarrassment, a luxury we could likely do without if we weren’t lazy and unmotivated.

Not so.

Recent studies show that sleep is every bit as important to our health as diet and exercise, and that we need 7 1/2 to 8 hours of it each day. The lack thereof seriously impacts our memory, our metabolism, our appetite, and how we age. A recent study at the University of Chicago School of Medicine restricted the sleep of young, healthy test subjects to four hours a night for six consecutive nights. At the end of that time, tests showed that each of the subjects was already in a pre-diabetic state (which would be naturally reversed when they resumed sleeping normally).

They were also hungry. Lack of sleep caused a drop in levels of leptin, a hormone that tells our brains when we’re not hungry.

A lack of sleep? No problem. If you don’t mind being fat and sick. One researcher said that sleep deprivation should definitely be considered a risk factor for Type II diabetes. The program host went on to mention studies done all over the world linking lack of sleep to obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke—not to mention the mood swings that make sleep-deprived people “hell on wheels” to harmony in their homes and workplaces, and whose brain activity on MRIs mimics that of the severely psychiatrically disturbed.

To those who say they have trained themselves to do fine with little sleep, the researchers reply, “Nonsense.” For a day or two, artificial “counter measures” such as caffeine or physical activity may mask the problem, but it is cumulative and real, and can’t be hidden for long.

“People who are chronically sleep-deprived, like people who have had too much to drink, often have no sense of their limitations,” said Dr. David Dinges at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “It’s a convenient belief,” he says. But he issues a standing invitation for “any CEO or anyone else in the world” to come to his laboratory and prove it.

We easily adopt society’s lie that our true worth is in what we produce. We’re so impressed with ourselves, our indispensability, our strategies and plans. We quit “wasting time” by sleeping much. Then the wheels come off even as we slog on physically and emotionally as if through molasses. And the God who is real Rest and Peace but who himself never needs to sleep, chuckles and says, “Time for bed, child. Go to sleep and let me do within you what you can’t do for yourself.”

I think there is a lesson in that, but right now I need a nap.

    You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“The Face They Deserve” 

Granddaddy Key, Curtis.ver.02,Curtis.ver.01, unknown puppy (clockwise)

“At [the age of] 50,” writes George Orwell, “everyone has the face he deserves.” Well, that kinda hurts, largely because I suspect it’s true.

Not that long ago, I happened to rush past a mirror at church, shot it a quick glance, and then almost broke my neck in the subsequent double-take. Somebody else was looking back from that mirror!

I might not have been particularly surprised to see one of my brothers staring back. A couple of us have been told many times that we look alike. What I didn’t expect, though, was to see my Granddaddy Key looking at me out of that glass. Good grief! When did that happen!?

On one hand, the experience is all the more pointed because it was so utterly unexpected. Such completely unbidden “lightning strike” impressions are usually accurate impressions.

On the other hand, I take a little comfort in the fact that I’ve looked in the mirror since then, and all I’ve seen is some obvious resemblance, not the dear man himself. Character-wise, I’ll never be that good. Physically speaking, I’m sure that reflection was indeed a sign of things to come. I’m just hoping that maybe I was really tired that day. Sixty is a few clicks back in my rearview mirror, and my grandfather in that mirror was, well, I thought he was older than that. Was he? Oh, boy. Back to the gym, Curt, for gerbil activity. Not likely. Maybe a little hair color. Nope. Gray is a color. Okay, I’m heading toward mostly white, I admit. Oh, well. It looked good on Granddaddy.

I’ll never forget a fascinating seminar I attended one day in which the subject was “face-reading.” The presenter was supposedly an expert in “reading” the physical characteristics of the human face. He purported to be able to look at facial features and come up with a fairly accurate description of at least some important characteristics of the person behind it. To some extent, we all do that, whether we realize it or not. (By the way, the factors I now mention are not faces, just near them, but my personal policy is that I don’t fully trust a guy with a squirrel perched on his head or a Bluetooth phone stuck in his ear until my first impression has been proven wrong.)

I was fairly skeptical when the seminar began, but I was interested. I knew that the guy was regularly paid well by lawyers to read the faces of jurors. And I admit that the longer I listened to him and the more examples of his craft that I perused, the more convinced I became of at least some validity in what he claims to do.

It probably follows, by the way, that faces over 50 are easier canvases to “read” than younger faces not yet as painted by life and all the experiences and attitudes that come with years.

You don’t have to be an expert to engage in a little bit of face reading. All humans do it all the time. We recognize laugh lines, furrows of worry, scars of bitterness, or the cold tell-tale marks of hatred. The terrain of faces that are good at smiling or given to scowling paint quite an accurate picture of human hearts. Consciously or not, we react to what we see. If we take it too far and refuse to alter our first impression, we’re being judgmental. But taking our impression into proper account is discernment, and we live in danger without that.

Right now, I’m remembering “reading” the most beautiful faces I’ve ever seen. They’re the faces of my grandchildren the first times I looked into their eyes. I hope they liked the face they saw as well. I was enthralled by theirs, captivated by love at first sight. I won’t be around to see their faces at 50 to see what they’ve made of them. But God grant that those fine faces are etched unmistakably with their Creator’s love and joy.

    You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“Trapped on a Ledge, a Guy Prayed, and…” 

Question: What is the proper attire for a person attending a mask-burning event?

Answer: a smile.

I laughed when I learned that our local senior citizens’ center was hosting a “mask-burning” a few weeks ago. It was partly “tongue in cheek.” Ditching your mask is very helpful if you’d like folks to know that your tongue is in your cheek.

Those good folks really weren’t engaging in civil disobedience, thumbing their noses, or extending lengthy middle fingers toward anyone—except the blasted COVID-19 virus. Though they did burn some of those annoying masks (good riddance!), their meeting was mainly an opportunity to get together (getting together, we now realize, is a fine blessing) and get a report on our community’s latest virus statistics. (Unfortunately, I was out of town, or my lighter and I would’ve joined in.)

The short version is—here’s my take on it—in our community right now, you’d have to be pretty serious about catching the virus even if you wanted it. For weeks now, our case numbers have been from none to a handful.

Why? No surprise, mostly because of vaccinations. In conjunction with our local medical and other authorities, our senior center was instrumental in helping get vaccinations to around 3,000 folks. For us, that’s a big bunch.

I wondered how they could possibly get computer chips in that many doses. I was quite concerned about one of the known side effects, that pregnant women who were vaccinated had a high likelihood of giving birth to naked babies.

Okay, the last paragraph is tongue in cheek. But, seriously, I’m button-bustin’ proud of how our community handled the vaccinations.

Remember the old joke about the fellow trapped on a ledge who prayed to God for help? It’s told in a hundred varied versions, but, in most, help arrives, in turn, on a jeep, a boat, and a helicopter with proffered rope ladders, and the guy waves them all off, shouting that he’s waiting on God to save him. After he falls and dies, he complains to the Lord about the Almighty’s absence. And God says, “What do you mean? I sent a jeep, a boat, and a helicopter!”

The vaccine is a rope.

I know. It’s virtually impossible to convince folks whose minds are made up. For me, getting the vaccine brought an incredible sense of relief and no lasting arm harm. I admit that now I can’t bench press 300 pounds. But I never could. A little fever and a day or a few at home would have been a small price to pay.

Everybody I know who has had symptomatic COVID-19 says, usually with deep feeling, “Get the shot!” I don’t personally know anyone—not one person—who has had truly serious side effects from the shots even a smidgeon (medical term) as consequential as those from the real deal virus. (A few years ago, I had a friend who died from the flu vaccine. Sad story. The decision to get it is for me still an easy one. It’s stats, folks, it’s stats.)

But I do know folks who have died from the virus. I’m thinking of yet another one right now hanging on by a thread. And I recently talked to a good friend and pastoral colleague who said he wasn’t sure if he was “madder or sadder” as he’d done a series of funerals for friends and members who thought it wise to wait on or take a pass on the vaccines. Bad enough if they’d just died, but they and their families went through weeks of needless but very real misery before they arrived at the cemetery. Then their families got to continue the grief. For. No. Reason.

I’m told that, across the U.S., 67% of adults are at least partially vaccinated, 47%, fully. I hope those numbers grow quickly.

Life in my community is becoming wonderfully close to “normal.” I like it that way. I still occasionally see someone walking masked in the wide open outdoors. Why? Neurosis?

Still, it’s no time for complacency. The “delta variant” is becoming the dominant strain of the virus, showing increasing numbers in many areas (among the unvaccinated). It’s more contagious and—mark this—connected to worse illness in young adults (who really are not bullet proof). I could give you a list right now of friends I know who have the virus and very much wish they’d taken the vaccine. Is there any good reason to doubt, with the new variant, that our nation will almost certainly see, at the very least, an uptick in cases this fall? To me, this says, roll up your sleeve. Your kids and grandkids need you here and intact. Lots of us love you. And I don’t want to be ticked off at your funeral.

If you choose not to be vaccinated, that is most certainly your right. But you might consider taking a vaccinated person out to lunch or sending them a nice card. You’re counting on them.

Personally, I think I know where the rope is coming from, and I hope you’ll grab on.  Your choice. But not just your consequences.

I’d put my chances of being right on this at about 93.5%. But I could be wrong. And, for my part, we’re still friends.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Mercy Received Should Also Be Mercy Given 

  Some things never change. Most things, in fact. “In times like these,” said one wise man, “it helps to remember that there have always been times like these.” Yes, and people, too.

  While no one is absolutely one or the other, people here will always be by default basically cold people or warm people, institution people or “people” people, and, at heart, grace people or “law” people.

  I remember a Bible study at our church when we found ourselves discussing Jesus’ “Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector” (Luke 18:9-14). It’s short, pithy, and to the pointed point. A “respectable” toxically religious man stands praying “about himself,” thanking God that he is “not like other men,” sinners who fall far short of God’s mark. But a nearby (despised) tax collector won’t even lift his eyes to heaven but prays, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus indicates that the latter pray-er is the one God approves.

  This was fresh on my mind as I was reading another of Ellis Peters’ delightful Cadfael Chronicles.

  Brother Cadfael is an old soldier/seafarer turned Benedictine monk in 12th-century England who often finds himself acting as a sort of ancient detective/CSI operative solving mysteries in the village of Shrewsbury and surrounding Shropshire. (Hmm. My Grandmother Key’s maiden name was Shropshire.)

  In one Cadfael story, a new parish priest has just been welcomed, but the welcome turns out to be premature. The fellow turns out to be a “law” person of the most ultra-conscientious, unbending, meticulously scrupulous—and odious—sort.

  I disagree pretty completely with the theology in the examples that follow, but that’s not the point; the attitude is the point.

  A child is born but so sickly that death is certainly coming soon. The priest is quickly sent for lest the child die unbaptized, but the priest is busy saying his prayers and refuses to be interrupted until he is finished with his holy observances. The child does die, unbaptized, and the priest then refuses to bury him in consecrated ground. He believes that he has no choice. (“Law” people never do.) He felt some sadness about it, but, no, no choice.

  A weak and pitiable woman makes another in a sad line of mistaken alliances, bears a child, and asks for absolution. The same priest refuses, won’t admit her to mass. She despairs and ends her life. What else could he have done? No choice, he thinks. She had choices and made the wrong ones all down the line. A shame, but . . .

  This priest stands not with his parishioners as a fellow struggler making his way through life and seeking to honor God even in the midst of human weakness. He is sure he is “not like other men,” completely dependent upon God’s grace. Sure that he needs little mercy, he has little to dispense. Too much grace and God’s holiness and justice will surely suffer, after all. (And if you think this man’s self-righteous arrogance is the property of any one religious group and not easy to find among any “flavor,” I think you’d be mistaken.)

  Some things never change. We meet this fellow and his kinsmen every day, maybe even under our own hats. Those who choose to live by “law” will die by it, religiously cruel. We would do well to ponder Jesus’ words: God desires “mercy and not sacrifice.” And when our Lord says that “the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath,” I’m betting he’s telling us not just about a law or two but teaching us an incredibly important principle about living meaningful lives, lives filled with blessing.

  When God walked this earth, he walked with us, full of grace.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Freedom Must Be Cherished–or Lost 

Freedom. It is not a gift any government benevolently bestows upon its citizens; freedom is the gift of God to everyone created in his image. It is a serious blessing to live in a land founded by those who believed that the responsibility of our nation’s leaders was to recognize and protect the freedom that is already the birthright of those given life by their Creator.

It’s a blessing to be able to celebrate on July 4th the birthday of a nation “conceived in liberty.” And, whatever our national citizenship, it is worthwhile at any time for citizens of God’s kingdom to spend some time reflecting upon the nature of genuine freedom.

How important is freedom for Christians? So important that the Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

Freedom carries with it both deep privilege and deep responsibility. If we twist it into license to be as selfish and self-centered as we wish, how long will we as individuals, as families, as any group, as a nation, as God’s church, still be truly free?

Because it is “for freedom that Christ has set us free,” the apostle proceeds to issue a serious warning: “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

In this context, St. Paul was warning the Galatians not to allow themselves to be misled by those who trusted in what they could do by human effort (and thus boast about) rather than humbly accepting what Christ had fully accomplished by divine strength and love. A needed warning still!

Freedom is easily lost. Ironically, if we loudly claim our “rights,” all the while allowing most of our relationships to be ripped apart by our own selfishness, meanness, pettiness . . . If we allow ourselves to be enslaved by our own worst attitudes, addictions, and base instincts, we can yell and demand and whine continually about our freedom even as we are the ones throwing it away. No one is free who chooses to live like a slave.

As a Christian, I need to remember the price Christ paid for my freedom with his own blood. Whatever my earthly citizenship, whatever the nation in which I live, my highest citizenship by far is in Christ’s kingdom. I can and should thank the Lord for all that is good and best about the earthly land in which I live, and, wherever I live, in a land governed by those whose heritage is a love of freedom or in a land governed by brutes and despots whose deepest fear is that citizens might speak truth and develop a taste for freedom, I should live to honor my King. Wherever I live, if I don’t cherish and honor the Giver of genuine freedom, I easily become enslaved by my own worst passions. Then, whatever else I am, the one thing I am not is truly free.

As July 4 approaches, what, I ask, about my citizenship in America? Oh, my deepest allegiance by far is to Christ as the highest King. Still, I think it very true to say that for me a lifetime of love and devotion to America and all that is best about this grand experiment in self-government is not enough even to begin to pay back the debt of gratitude every citizen of this land owes. 

We don’t have to be blind to our nation’s flaws; we don’t have to agree with the domestic or foreign policy of a particular administration of government or to have voted for this or that governor or president or particular politician, to begin to pay back that debt. We just need to be immensely thankful to live in a land where the voices of the people are heard—even if we sometimes wish they spoke with deeper wisdom and the loudest weren’t so often the ones whose voices we should listen to the least.

We’re free not to acknowledge the gift of freedom. Free not to appreciate it. Free not to cherish it. We’re free to be selfish and self-seeking, ignorant and arrogant, ungrateful and blind, even as we take advantage of what we don’t appreciate. And, at least as long as enough better people still love this land unselfishly, our nation will still be free.

But we won’t be. And the prison of our unhappiness will be one of our own making and our slavery, self-imposed. Freedom must be cherished—or lost.

    You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Riding the Rails 

I like trains. I always have.

I’m not sure what it is that particularly fascinates me about them; maybe it’s the whole package. I like the sounds of their whistles. I like the sounds of their various linkages and mechanisms. I like the look and sounds of steam locomotives. (They seem magical to me, even if you don’t bump into Harry Potter and his friends on one.)

I like the deep guttural roar from diesel locomotive engines. I like the massive “clang” when train cars are coupled. I like what is to me a mystery and a wonder that so many incredibly heavy train cars of so many sorts can be linked together and pulled by locomotives whose power boggles my mind.

From the time I was a boy old enough to know what a train was, I was fascinated by them. (Oh, how I wish I still had the old Lionel model train we played with when I was a kid!)

I remember our family taking Dad to the train station in Amarillo where he would board a very real and very large train to travel to all sorts of places to preach the good news of Christ Jesus. The places were interesting to me, but the idea of riding a train that far was enthralling. (Book idea: Trains, Plains, and Automobiles and Fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission. Hmm.)

And so, no surprise, I loved the late spring semester outing when kids like me from Amarillo’s San Jacinto Elementary School got some real life education added to their schooling, and Mrs. Faulkner’s third grade was ferried by bus to a passenger train in Amarillo to board and take a wonderful trip all the way to Canyon, Texas, a bit less than 20 miles away.

We never left this planet; we were boarding a train, not a spaceship. But we seemed to ascend into a brand new world as we climbed up those steps and were conducted into a fascinating adventure. The door closed, the whistle whistled, the engine roared, and that steel monster began to pick up speed. I loved the clickety-clacks and soporific rocking motion as the old world outside our windows slid by.

Years later, when I was traveling to Indiana myself to preach—trips to Indiana were some of Dad’s most oft-repeated travels—I checked into booking passage on a train for myself and a son. I never could make it work.

But I did manage to take a granddaughter on the Polar Express once (out of snow-poor Lubbock, Texas). And I later bought a new Lionel train to make trips, for many years now, around our Christmas tree many times every year.

I like train stories. I like train mystery stories. I like train Christmas stories.

Maybe, if I may wax a bit philosophical here, trains fascinate me and many other folks because they are their own microcosmic worlds. Like stories, they ferry us to exotic locales, all the while reminding us that the journey itself is an adventure. They carry us with fascinating people. Unless we’re dull as dust, a train trip surely might even tempt us to get our faces out of our phones long enough to quit phubbing (phone snubbing) life’s fellow passengers and find out that all people are fascinating if you just listen awhile. A train trip is a great time for that and a fine time to learn some important life lessons about the life journey we’re on.

Lessons abound, but let me mention just a couple.

If you want our society to go off the rails, the easiest way is to convince as many people as possible that there are no rails. Or that what the rails are made of is of no importance. Or that how far apart you place the rails is unimportant and simply a matter of personal preference.

You see, if we want to go on a successful and rewarding journey via rail, we need to pick a good destination, ride the right train, and be sure the rails are strong and trustworthy and consistent.

I figure it’s also vital on our journey through life to make the trip on rails that are good, true, solid, and trustworthy. Not everything is good. Not everything is true. Not everything is right. Not everything from the multiplication tables to gender to the law of gravity is up for grabs. Not if you want to avoid derailment or being squashed like a bug by a locomotive you try to ignore rather than to ride.

One of the verses in the Bible that scares me the most is found in Judges 17:6 where we’re told that in Israel in those days, “[E]veryone did whatever he wanted to—whatever seemed right in his own eyes.”

That is chaos, a terrible train wreck just about to happen. I like trains; train wrecks are another matter entirely. In our journey it’s more than a little important to listen to the Conductor who knows the train, the rails, and our journey perfectly. And, above all, there is this: he loves the passengers with all of his heart.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Bowling, Physics, and Fatherhood 

“I didn’t remember it being quite that far down. I don’t remember being so tempted to ‘loft’ the ball. And what in the world is wrong with these rented shoes? Or maybe it’s the lane surface? This just doesn’t feel right; in fact, it feels kinda terrible.”

“It” was a recent attempt at bowling. I’d taken maybe a 15-year break. (Probably more like 25.)

When my dad was in his 80s, one of my brothers asked him what age he thought of himself as being. He said, “Oh, probably about 38.” I’m not 80. But if asked the same question, I’d probably say, “Maybe 42 or so.”

This is a good thing. It is possible to fool oneself in ways that are ill-advised and even dangerous. But, within reason, not worrying much about what you can’t do, and assuming, until proven otherwise, that you still can do what you always have, is more often than not, fairly harmless. (But exceptions are noteworthy.)

On rare occasions, I used to climb up to mess with the lights on our church steeple. One of our church elders, older than me, did the same thing fairly regularly. (Thank the Lord for better lights!) Both of us are pretty sure we still could. And he probably would. I would, too, at great need. But we’d not tell our wives. And, for my part, I now can hardly imagine a need great enough. But I’m confident that I could; I’m just feeling no need now for that particular type of exhilaration.

I used to really enjoy playing racquetball and tennis. It’s been too long now since I’ve played either. But I feel like I could, and I plan to continue feeling like I could until a grandchild shows me otherwise. You see, it just wouldn’t occur to me that I’d lost those skills until it was proven.

So when MawMaw and I took our just-turned-10 grandson out to the play place he recommended—too many people in one place, folks of many different ages but mostly young, loud, and prone to writing on themselves (I’m eternally grateful that I didn’t get the styles of the 70s tattooed on)—we went. He’s such a great kid, and we had such a great time.

My favorite thing was the bowling. I’ve always liked bowling. But, as I said, it’s been a while. I did sort of okay. A few strikes. But it felt funny. It felt bad. And . . .

Bingo! I figured out the physics. (I’m reminded of figuring out the physics of a too-large life preserver after I was tossed out of a raft into Grade 5 rapids of the Nile River a few times a decade or more ago. It went too far up as I went too far down. This bowling “Aha!” experience was less consequential but real.)

Physics, I say. I was not sliding properly. The “approach” felt awkward because at its end, my used-to-be-usual slide wasn’t happening. The release felt terrible. And so did my spine.

But physics became a self-esteem preserver. The years mattered some, but the slide, or lack thereof, mattered more! Shoes? Lane surface? Both? In my old bowling days, the shoes always slid quite nicely. And now, after an internet search, I see that bowlers seriously debate slide preference and control methods. (No surprise, it seems to be like skiing. You need your own stuff. Buying my own ski boots, and then adding other equipment fit to me, has been a wonderful gift to my feet.) But back to bowling.

I do like bowling, and I want to give it a try again soon with some properly sliding shoes. But the fact is that I like a boy named Mickade a lot more than I like bowling. If bowling, which I like, and a loud arcade, which I do not much like, make him smile, then I smile, too.

Living life with some sweet grandkids often brings back, fresher than ever, memories of my own young life. Yes, when I was growing up, our family would go bowling. I thought my “Uncle” Curtis was a thousand years old, but he could destroy those pins! Talk about a slide! And spin!

And Dad? What I really think of now is that, yes, Dad enjoyed bowling with the family. But pretty regularly, just with me or my younger brother and me. Even then, that almost surprised me because Dad was incredibly busy and committed to important work. But he still took time to take me bowling.

Of course, I know why now. Dad didn’t at all dislike bowling. But he absolutely loved me.

I hope you’ve had that kind of priceless blessing. Dads, I hope you’re being sure that your kids have that kind of blessing.

And, whatever your situation, I hope you know right now that you do have a Father who absolutely loves you.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“Courage Is Almost a Contradiction in Terms” 

“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms,” writes G. K. Chesterton. “It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.”

Yes, and we wonder, don’t we? We always wonder how much courage we really have, for how can we know until we’re tested?

I still have my draft card. I remember when I was still in high school, Amarillo’s Tascosa High, being required to make the short trip over to an office in the even-then historic Herring Hotel (est. 1927) to register for the draft. As I recall, I made the trip in my old VW beetle. Considering that the Vietnam War was winding down, it was a bit of a somber trip, but not nearly as bad as the trip a number of upper classmen had already made to the hotel, and thence to Vietnam. Guys my age were among the last in that era who had to register at all.

A friend who is nine years older tells me of being in college during that war. He remembers that two groups of guys got drunk on the evening of the lottery: those whose numbers were called, and those whose numbers were not. I’m against drunkenness, but if you want to find someone who blames either group, you’ll need to shop elsewhere.

Had my number been called, and had I been shipped to a jungle on the other side of the world, I can’t help but wonder how successfully I’d have faced, well, whatever I’d have faced. I don’t know. I’m glad I don’t know. But I wonder.

My father-in-law was tested many times in the long years he served in World War II. He led men, fought battles, lay wounded in the snow in Normandy, and came home with medals—and shrapnel. He had “a strong desire to live,” but so did many who died. We’ve got the letter an officer wrote to him in the hospital in England expressing relief that he’d learned that Mick had survived: “That hole in your right chest had me really worried.”

We owe more than we could ever repay to those who made such sacrifices—and to those who still are. We see a bunch of courage still “in the DNA” of those who serve. And, yes, I’m afraid we’ve also seen more prominent in our culture a genetic propensity to selfishness and whining. It’s not really in the genes; a sinful nature is common to us all, but we seem to be uncommonly willing to let ours run loose and be perversely proud of it. Did I mention that we whine a lot? Me, too. I hope we can at least muster enough courage, if that’s what it takes, to be a lot more grateful to folks who didn’t—and folks who don’t—whine. A lot of whining and a lot of gratitude rarely mingle much in the same soul.

Ironic, isn’t it? Sometimes courage means “a readiness to die.” But sometimes it means a readiness to live during the times when it would be easier to die, times when breathing and consciousness bring deep pain, physical or emotional.

A fellow pastor told me recently about preparing a funeral service for a sweet elderly church member he’d known for years. Only after her passing did he learn a number of stories from her earlier life detailing tragedy upon tragedy, any one of which would have been enough to throw most people into lifelong despair. Death would have been easier than life, but she chose life, and hope, and faith.

When my father-in-law died, I watched my mother-in-law and realized how well-matched they were. She went through some very hard years, harder than we realized. But no one who knew her would use the word “whine” in the same paragraph with her name. “If I were the only one this had ever happened to,” she’d say, “maybe I’d have something to complain about.” Oh, I’d have complained long and hard. But she chose life, and hope, and faith.

Do you want to see real courage? Some stories are written on battlefields across the ocean. Some stories are written in police cruisers and fire trucks.

But for some of the best stories, just look around you. How many “ordinary” people are showing extraordinary courage simply by getting out of bed in the face of pain and struggle and heartache? They’re heading to a cancer treatment. Every day they’re caring for a spouse being lost to Alzheimer’s. They’re carrying the grief of the loss of a spouse or the death of dreams for a child.

So many people could easily play the victim, embrace that role, and be defined by it. Almost everyone qualifies on some level. I’m awed by those who quietly choose instead for life, and hope, and faith.

You won’t need a large room with many people in it to be surrounded by more than a few heroes. Just look around. You may not see the medals, but just open your eyes. You’ll see a great deal of courage. Thank God for it. Honor it.

And, by the way, thank you for your courage.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 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 Cat, Some Kittens, and Some Surprising Joy 

True confession #1: I don’t feel the least bit guilty about my next true confession.

True confession #2: I have never been much of a cat person. I’ll pick a slobbering dog over a condescending cat every time.

I do admit that those types are not necessarily the only choices. But enough truth lies in the stereotypes that we all chuckle knowingly at Winston Churchill’s variously-quoted truth: “Cats look down on you, dogs look up to you. Give me a pig! He looks you in the eye and treats you as an equal.”

I’ll take his word about the pigs (though the feral ones I’ve seen are improved only with a bullet), but we all know he’s right about the canines and felines.

So I was a bit surprised to find myself—and more surprised to find my wife who likes animals “over there” but not “over here”—consorting with a cat. A black one. Technically, I’m sure, a feral one.

Bella or Runt, as she is called, depending upon which of two yards she’s scavenging or mooching in, is at least a two-family cat. She may even have more names and homes; I don’t think so, but I wouldn’t swear to it. A dog is an open book; cats are secretive, close-mouthed, shifty-eyed creatures that tend toward duplicity.

I’ll give her this: she’s a gentle cat, especially for one of the feral variety. I warned a granddaughter not to try to pick her up; the next thing I knew, the three-year-old was wagging the cat around. No bites. No scratches. And an older granddaughter was naming her.

About that same time, Bella (if I may use her Shelburneshire name) and I started “mousing” together. I have some birds—doves, a pheasant, etc. —in a rustic aviary I built out in our back yard. Bird seed on the ground means the occasional mouse under the ground. The cat and I discovered that if I turn on the hose, open the door a bit, and shoot water down a mouse hole, a half-drowned mouse or a few will likely scamper out. And she’s ready. Oh, yes, quite ready. She likes to play with her food. She should chew it more. But she enjoys it a great deal.

A few weeks ago, Runt/Bella gave birth to two kittens behind a couple of fenced in rain barrels I have in the back yard. I’m not sure about her morals, but I’m quite sure about her reproductive capacity.

I will admit that watching the little ones grow has been a lot of fun. One is black and white; one is gray. One, my pet-skeptical wife has named Sweetie Pie; the other, she has named Sugar Plum. Whatever you think about cats and dogs, I suppose everybody loves kittens and puppies.

Cats rarely ever condescend to coming when whistled at or called, even by name. And we’re not very sure yet if these are girl cats or boy cats. Maybe the other human grandparents next door could come up with a couple of boy cat names for use if needed. I’d hate to throw these kittens into unnecessary confusion. But these days, if one wakes up feeling distinctly like a dog trapped in a cat’s body, I suppose we may have to call it Fido or be considered brutish and cruel. (I still doubt it would come when called.)

But, seriously, ya know what’s been most amazing to me? The joy. I know some biologically necessary reasons exist for some of the romping and playing, rolling and chasing, frolicking and jumping (both fur-balls have amazing “verticals”) these kittens engage in between themselves and their mom. But you’ll not get me to believe that it’s all just zoology.

It’s too much. But it’s just right. It’s a smiling Creator’s gift. It’s joy. Deep. Real. Joy. And he gives it to us, too, when we open our souls to it.

I’ll wager that he’s always willing to help us do that. If we just ask.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Real Joy Never Runs Out, Never Runs Down 

Entropy.

What pops into your head when you hear that word?

Well, just to prove that I listened some in a science class forty-plus years ago, here ya go: “The tendency of a body in motion to remain in motion and a body at rest to remain at rest.”

Impressive, right?

Not so much. Because, I’m now reminded, that is the definition of “inertia,” not “entropy.”

Okay. Let me think. “Entropy” is “a wasting away or progressive decline due to disuse or disease—for example, a muscle due to neurological disease or trauma.”

Nope. That’s “atrophy.”

So I should look it up?

Yes, I should, and, overcoming inertia on my couch, I did, and it, like life, is much, much, much more complicated than one might think. Just read a little of even the Wikipedia article, and you’ll find that the concept is integral to classical thermodynamics, statistical physics, information theory, chemistry, etc.

But then I looked the word up in my favorite online dictionary. Yep, thermodynamics is there. But jump on down to definition 2b: “a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder.” Bingo!

Inertia may keep me on the couch, but entropy just might be behind my inertia. Yes, and I suppose all of this could be connected to mental atrophy.

Stuff, as a rule, just runs down. “Downer” examples are depressingly easy to find.

I drive past what was once a beautiful lawn, one the previous owner was justly proud of. New owner. Grass is already history. A car or two parked on what was the yard.

Even really nice hotels have a shelf life. Without a lot of continual work and many dollars, what-a-great-place quickly becomes what-a-dive.

Didn’t we just have the house painted? Rats! It’s already peeling and begging for more paint.

Most cool cars don’t stay cool; they start to creak and rattle. Like their owners.

Didn’t I just drop ten pounds about ten minutes ago? So why am I now up fifteen?

Once-respected media outlets degenerate into National Enquirer wannabees.

Joe Cool thought the tattoo on his chest looked, well, cool. I wonder if he likes it now that it’s a lot nearer to his stomach?

Great tans turn into not so great skin damage and wrinkles. 

Cosmetic work can put off the inevitable, but when raising a left eyebrow causes a right pinkie toe to wiggle, that’s entropy, not progress.

And can I still list “gray” as my hair color or has entropy robbed me of even that?

Entropy. Harsh reality. So much around us seems to be running down.

But, amazingly enough, some things don’t have to.

My attitude might actually get better! Long shot, but it’s possible.

I might even lose a little weight but, better, I might lose a chip off my shoulder.

I might pray for, and find, God’s help to heal a relationship.

With the Lord’s help, my spirit might actually grow faster than my waistline.

Yes, a person’s hair might be turning white or loose, but maybe some wisdom is accruing in his cranium.

Maybe her heart is becoming younger and more vibrant. Maybe laughter is making laugh lines much more than worth their downside.

Entropy may be as pervasive as the law of gravity, but even if our backs hurt worse with time, our souls can learn to dance longer, better, and with more joy.

Real joy never runs out, never runs down.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.