Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Lesson from a Canceled Trip

This past week, public radio re-ran The Prairie Home Companion's 2005 rendition of its annual "joke night." Among my favorites: A control freak's Knock-Knock joke. The freak says, "Knock, knock. Okay now, you say, 'Who's there?'"

A control freak would be driven to distraction by what's happened to my family and me this morning, I suppose. We had plans to fly to New York City for a day trip and return later today. After a short night's sleep, we woke at 4:15. My son-in-law, one of two family members whose employment with an airline makes these little trips possible, checked our flights again and discovered that the one we were going to take back home had been canceled. We needed to take this plane back in order to accommodate his work schedule. So, we won't be going to the Big Apple today.

Life sometimes throws us curveballs, many of them far more consequential than getting a day trip scrubbed by circumstances beyond our control. At times, those "curveballs" can bring us tragedy or pain.

Good baseball hitters learn how to hit a curveball. They know that sometimes, it's better to smack a single to the short field than to "go for the fences" on a pitch they're not likely to hit that far. Good hitters make the best of adverse circumstances. Learning to do the same thing in life is a fine art I haven't yet mastered. But God is starting to teach it to me.

In one of my favorite passages in the New Testament, James, the earthly brother of Jesus, writes:
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money." Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast of your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16)
One of the great things taught to me by the people of the first congregation I served as pastor, in northwestern Ohio, was the importance of "going with the curveball." In fact, this past Sunday, in an aside during my message to the congregation I currently serve, I mentioned that almost to a person, the folks from my former parish I witnessed going through all sorts of difficulties did so with patience, fortitude, and cheerfulness.

I'm not saying that they were fatalists who resigned themselves to life's worst. Instead, they were people of serene and trusting faith who knew that even in downright tragic circumstances, God is still God, Jesus is still risen, and theere is still everlasting hope for the Jesus-Follower. Jesus, Who died and rose for us, was the reason these wonderful people could live through the curveballs of life with that patience, fortitude, and cheerfulness I saw in them.

In a nutshell, they had hope! This is what another of the early apostles, a guy named Paul, was talking about in the book of Romans when he wrote:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith [we have a right relationship with God by virtue only of our humble trust in Jesus], we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
I'm not comparing a canceled flight with learning that your child has died in combat or being told you have cancer. But it's certain that if you can't handle a canceled flight, you're not going to do very well dealing with the tougher issues in life. Or with all the circumstances over which, in spite of all human pretense, we have no control.

I have learned that those who know the art of placing themselves in the hands of the God we meet in Jesus Christ can handle anything. They live with another truth that Paul writes about in his letter to the first-century church at Rome:

"If God is for us, who is against us?" (Romans 8:31)
I'm going to take a nap now.


RRogers said...

Tis better to deal with a canceled trip early in the morning, from home, than later in the day, from New York with no way of getting home. If you are open to God's care and love, you recognize it every time.

Deborah White said...

You really must publish such insights as this one in a book!

Mark Daniels said...

R: You're usual!

Deborah: That's one of the kindest things anybody ever said to me. Thank you for it!


Cheryl said...

I understand this very thoroughly. God sent several curveballs my way last week as I directed Vacation Bible School at my church. First, Monday morning found about a third of our classrooms flooded and unuseable for the week (Thanks, Dennis). Fortunately, though, it had flooded the previous week, too, so we knew to rearrange rooms for the next storm. Second, I came home that day to water pouring into my basement from a broken water pipe. Again, fortunately, my husband came home for lunch at the same time and was able to turn off the water and get a plumber. Of course, THAT plumber had a minor car accident on the way over, so he had to send someone else. The second plumber was terrific, very kind, and we got to have a good conversation.

Finally, we had a stomach virus go through the volunteers, and lost some crucial positions halfway through the week. We had been terribly short-handed to begin with, and this was beyond anything I had planned for. But I asked a few people, and found some willing to step out of their regular comfort zones to pitch in. And afterwards a couple of them said they had had a great time and would be back next year!

This could have been really stressful--late Monday afternoon I just had to laugh and ask God if he was trying to see how far I could bend. But I kept my eyes on the important things, kept on praying, and my family and I came through this smiling, knowing that God can grant peace and bring order out of chaos.

Oh, and I've decided to direct VBS again one more year.

Keep up the great blog, Mark. I enjoy reading your thoughts.

Deborah White said...

My comment was meant to push you! :)

Mark Daniels said...

You did have a week full of curveballs. But I'm glad that you got through it and experienced God's blessings to the persevering along the way!

Thanks for your kind comments about the blog!

Yesterday afternoon, during a visit to Half Price Books, I picked up a copy of the 2004 edition of 'Writer's Market.' So, I think that your push had its desired effect. Thank you so much!