Rock and Sand

When I was young listening to or reading the story of the Nativity, I imagined it taking place in a dusty small town surrounded by sandy desert with mountainous terrain created by jutting rock. Now with Google Earth and other internet sources, I don’t have to imagine, because we can see for ourselves without traveling there how Bethlehem and its surroundings may have looked in the days leading up to the birth of Christ.

We know that Jesus masterfully used imagery that the people could understand in explaining his Good News to them. On December 7, during the first week of Advent, we heard Matthew’s Gospel about Jesus telling his disciples that not everyone will enter the kingdom of heaven. He uses the example of the person who built his house on rock and it withstood the wind and floods, but the person who built his house on sand saw it collapse and ruined when the strong winds and floods came. The reading from Isaiah on that same day includes the passage, “Open up the gates to let in a nation that is just, one that keeps faith. A nation of firm purpose you keep in peace; in peace, for its trust in you.” (Is 26:2,3)

How do we build a house on rock instead of sand? Some call it grit, others, perseverance, and still others, determination. Whatever term used, the elements that describe it are similar: the ability to learn from failure, to be resilient, to be optimistic in the face of challenge, to continue to practice, to try, and to learn something from each attempt rather than keep falling into the same traps time and time again. At Archmere, we believe that this is an important ingredient to students’ success in anything that they do.

Advent is a time for us to pause and take stock of ourselves and our actions, to be sure that we are building houses on rock that will sustain us when we have to manage through truly difficult times. Isaiah calls us to be people “that keeps faith,” with firm purpose to discern God’s will in our lives, and in so doing, to know peace. Isaiah is prophesying about the Promised Land to a Jewish nation that has been exiled from Egypt, chosen by God, and journeying in faith through the desert to an unknown destination. Isaiah’s words for us today are just as relevant as we are journeying through this life, often not knowing what choices or decisions we will have to make, and where they might lead us. All that we can do is “keep the faith.”

My wish is that our Christmas celebrations fortify our faith foundation in such a way that allows us to manage well the wind storms and floods in our lives. May you, your family, and friends know God’s peace.

Wishing you a Blessed and Merry Christmas!

Happy Thanksgiving

My wife and I just celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary, and we are in the process of planning the wedding for our daughter and her fiancé next November. How did we get here? It was just a few years ago that we were married and a few years after that we raised our children. Where has the time gone?

We recently received an anniversary card from a dear friend that included the following reflection by Penny Schwab, entitled, “What Makes Love Last”:

For our golden wedding anniversary, my husband, Don, gave me a card with a picture of a cat hugging a dog. The caption read, “Weird, but it works.” That phrase summarized our day.

First, the vacuum cleaner broke. Then the pressure switch on the water system got stuck. My phone died and took all my contact information with it. We spent the day solving problems. Finally, we ate our anniversary dinner in the car – hamburgers and French fries at our favorite fast-food place – and enjoyed it!

As I thought about the “celebration,” I realized Don’s card also summed up the years of our marriage. We like different thing, and we disagree about money and politics. I love mysteries, and he only reads nonfiction. My idea of a great vacation is Disney World and he prefers fishing. He roots of Oklahoma State’s basketball team while I’m a true Kansas Jayhawker. Our personalities are different, too, but we make a good team. I appreciate Don’s calmness and the way it balances my tendency to panic. He’s even-tempered and always has a positive attitude – attributes I’m still working to develop.

We’re happy together because we love each other and God. We’ve learned to rely on God’s amazing grace to handle not only our differences but the many times when everything goes wrong. It’s weird, but it works.

I don’t know that my wife and I are so different as Penny describes – I don’t fish and like Disney World as does my wife – but it is true that we have our differences, and in many ways, they complement each other. We have learned over the years to be more open-minded and to talk through those “tense moments.” And I believe that we have become stronger in our marriage and in our individual selves to be able to be present for our children, family members, and friends.

In a world and country that seems so divided around issues and about fundamental beliefs, my Thanksgiving prayer is that we can find ways to come together in peace to give thanks to our God for all of creation – that with which we can identify, and those parts that require empathy and compassion to understand and accept.

May you and your family enjoy a Thanksgiving that is filled with wonderful reunions, particularly with those who, perhaps, may share different ideas and thoughts that could set us apart, but instead cause us to dialog and learn a perspective we may or may not respectfully embrace.