Last week, I was on my way back from picking up my mom from work when a police car whizzed past us. A few seconds later, we heard several more sirens.
The last time I heard that many sirens, there had been a shooting in my neighborhood and someone died. I had the sinking feeling that something similar had happened.
As I got close to the house, police cars were everywhere. And a major intersection near my house was blocked off in all directions.
Later, I read a newspaper article that said a woman with a suspended license ran a red light at a high rate of speed and collided with a pickup truck, killing both passengers in the truck, both of whom were in their fifties. The woman was driving so fast that the impact of her vehicle split the pickup truck in half. The front half ended up on one side of the street and the truck bed on the other side (across the median). The driver also hit another vehicle - a jeep. Thankfully, the driver of the Jeep wasn't injured.
My heart aches for the families of the two people who died. And it more than gave me pause, given my proximity to the intersection. I was on that same street at the moment of impact, probably a mile and a half away. The victims very easily could've been my mom and me.
Life is but a mist, the Scriptures say. And boy, is that the truth. I’ve been reminded of that more than once recently.
Not to sound like a soap opera, but these are the days of our lives. This is our allotted time. We cannot even presume to have tomorrow. That begs the question: how are we spending our time right now? On matters that last or on matters that will be burned in the fire at the final judgment (as 1 Corinthians 3:15 says)?
“Are these your items?” the grocery store clerk asked after she scanned them and began placing them into a bag.
“Why didn’t you use the divider bar?”
I’d left several feet between my items and the woman’s items in front of me. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why the clerk didn’t make the connection that they were my items.
Honestly, I nearly asked her if the customer is still always right. But I bit my tongue.
She pulled my four items out of the bags that apparently belonged to the woman in front of me, making sure to slam them on the conveyor belt to make her point that I’d made a mistake. Then she rescanned them.
We completed the transaction without saying anything else to each other. In hindsight, I should have apologized. I can only imagine what she’s been through during COVID-19. Long lines and angry customers come to mind.
I think we’re all a little on edge. Nothing is the same. Our routines have been obliterated. We’re learning new technology. The companies we work for are short-staffed, at best, and at worst, we've lost our jobs. Many of us either know someone with COVID-19 or we know someone who knows someone who has it. And officials continue to tell us a second wave may be coming, which adds even more stress.
In many ways, we're all living on the edge. As if on cue, a friend sent me a text today, inviting me to a mental health break get-together in his driveway this evening.
With all of that said, we owe it to each other to be understanding and patient. We're human, and we'll make human mistakes, but when it comes down to it, all we can control is ourselves.
I have a friend who often quotes his life group leader who says, "Let grace be your default setting." That's great advice for all of us.
About twice a year, my body tells me I’m not doing a good enough job of slowing down and live deeper. I’ve sensed such a season in recent days. But as someone who works for himself, I don’t get a paid vacation. Even so, I’m taking most of next week off.
I became convinced of this while working on a devotional writing assignment this week for a publisher.
I reached 1 Kings 17:2-4, where the Lord told Elijah to, “Go to the east and hide by Kerith Brook, near where it enters the Jordan River. Drink from the brook and eat what the ravens bring you, for I have commanded them to bring you food.”
A drought was on the way and God wanted to provide for Elijah.
As I typically do, I checked several commentaries to get their take on these verses and Matthew Henry’s (concise commentary) stood out: “If Providence calls us to solitude and retirement, it becomes us to go: when we cannot be useful, we must be patient; and when we cannot work for God, we must sit still quietly for him. The ravens were appointed to bring him meat, and did so. Let those who have but from hand to mouth, learn to live upon Providence, and trust it for the bread of the day, in the day.”
I don’t know what state of mind this email finds you in, but if you sense that you need some downtime, find a way to make it happen. You’ll return to your regularly scheduled activities refreshed.
When Samuel the prophet was old and gray, he had some advice for Israel.
“Do not be afraid; you [Israel] have done all this evil [asking for a king],” he said. “Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty” (1 Samuel 12:20-21 ESV).
I’ve been thinking about his admonition to not go after empty things. Commentators say he’s referring to idols. In 1 Corinthians 8:4, the apostle Paul says idols are nothing, meaning they have no power. Yet, humankind continues to be drawn to them, aren’t we?
Power, status, money and sex come to mind. But thousands more exist. Success, self-righteousness, appearance, people and dare I say, even hobbies can make the list.
Tim Keller defines an idol this way: “It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”
We know such things to be empty, but we chase them anyway because they aren’t empty in the moment. Idols are replacement gods. They provide momentary senses of security, happiness or pleasure. But then they fail us and leave us feeling, well … empty.
Most of us probably wouldn’t admit that anything is more important to us than God, but Keller’s definition of an idol challenges us to ask ourselves: What absorbs our hearts and imagination more than God? What do we think about most?
If you carried around a little notebook with you all day and jotted down your primary thoughts in fifteen-minute increments, how many empty things would the page reveal?
Thru-hiking is one of my new fascinations. Thru-hiking is the act of backpacking from one end of a trail to the other, such as the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail or Camino de Santiago, to name a few.
Don’t get me wrong, I would never be able to physically handle a thru-hike or would even attempt one due to various health concerns, but I’ve sort of been living vicariously through people who can do them. I’m drawn to the freedom, as well as to the room a person has to think while on the trail.
You’ll find lots of thru-hike documentaries on YouTube. Here’s the first one I watched. Jessica “Dixie” Mills has several others. In order, here’s her AT video, PCT video, Continental Divide Trail video, and Camino video. And here’s one from Julia Sheehan that she posted about her AT thru-hike.
While preparing for a thru-hike, one podcast I’ve been listening to recommends setting “thought goals.” These are issues the hiker plans to work through while out on the trail.
We’re talking about things such as taking spiritual inventory, potential romantic relationship choices, letting go of something or someone, career plans, finances, grudges, living arrangements, challenging yourself where you are weak, etc.
As soon as I heard the term “thought goals,” I was struck by the fact that I’m often passive. I tend to wait until I’m on a long drive somewhere, and even then, I’m don’t work through a series of planned out thoughts. I randomly contemplate whatever is most pressing.
I’d benefit from setting aside more time in my week to be more intentional about the things I need to think through. Practically speaking, going on daily walks without headphones or taking a daily drive without the radio would be beneficial — all while being intentional about grappling with issues — maybe even from a short list — that I need to work through.
How about you? Do you have thought goals? If so, what’s your process for working through them?