Category Archives: perseverance

Would you die for your faith?

Such a big question.

The mainstream media has only recently shared the story of Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian pastor, who was arrested in October 2009, after he protested a government policy that required children to study the Qur’an in school.

Pastor Nadarkhani has two young sons.

Despite the Iranian constitution permitting freedom of religious practice, secret police called Nadarkhani before a political tribunal and arrested him for protesting. The charges were later amended to apostasy—he left Islam to follow Christ—and evangelism of Muslims. Nadarkhani was tried and sentenced to death for apostasy on November 13, 2010.

Nadarkhani’s case was reviewed in July 2011 to determine if he was previously a practicing Muslim. The court ruled that Nadarkhani was not a practicing Muslim before becoming a Christian but that he remains guilty because of his Muslim ancestry.

There are reports that execution orders for Pastor Nadarkhani may have been issued.

All because he refuses to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ.

I’m reminded of the following scriptures:

“Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God (Luke 12:8-9 NKJV).”

“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels (Luke 9:26 NKJV).”

“Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter (1 Peter 4:16 NKJV).”

We, on this side of the globe, live in free countries and have the ability to freely choose our beliefs. Which leads me to wonder how many would die for theirs?

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A sweaty, I mean sweet, deal

A newly negotiated gym membership means more coins in my piggy bank. But, don't think that means I love the art of negotiating.

It’s not a secret that I shy away from conflict. This plays out in a variety of ways. For today, let’s focus on the art of negotiating. In particular, the art of negotiating better deals on goods and services. I do not like doing this. Not because I do not like better deals, but rather, I do not like the action of attempting to get better deals.

If someone puts a price on something, I assume that is the price they want for it. I then decide if that price is something I am willing to pay. Yes? Pay it. No? Walk away.

Husband, on the other hand, sees prices as negotiable. Jumping-off points. Conversational ice breakers, if you will. Sure, someone is asking for that specific amount, but if he really wants to sell whatever he is selling, he will lower his price. The only non-negotiable in a sale is that everything is negotiable.

Sigh.

While I genuinely appreciate this attribute in my husband, it’s not one that I have. No, I do not frequent garage sales, flea markets or auctions.

Six days ago, I received a phone call from my gym, reminding me that my membership is coming due and asking do I want to re-up and pay in full for 12 months or would I prefer to make bi-monthly payments and, oh by the way, if you pay in full, you will receive a cool gym bag, but please decide soon because the new HST begins on July 1, and your gym membership will include a new tax. I was then quoted the same price I paid upfront last year. Not unreasonable, but not amazing. Especially considering gyms are plentiful in our area.

You can see where I’m going with this.

“This is great news!” said Husband. “Now you can negotiate a new, lower price.”

“But, really, you’re the negotiator in this relationship,” I said.

“Nonsense,” he said. “You can always learn. Tell them you can get a great deal at Gym B, since I’m a member. Just remember: You need to be willing to walk away. If they aren’t willing to budge, you have to walk.”

“Awesome,” I said. “Blast!” I thought.

I finally bucked up and went to the gym today. Friendly Ashley was happy that I came in (after three phone calls), and she pulled out my paperwork.

“So, you would like to pay in full?” she asked. Or, kinda stated. Questioningly.

“Well, actually, I’m considering cancelling my membership,” I said. “My husband is a member of Gym B, and they’ve offered me a $25 monthly membership. If you can match that, I will gladly stay here. I do like this gym. But, I can’t turn down $25 a month. Neither can my husband.” All the while, I managed to not glance away, stammer or clear my throat, and I even threw in a smile.

“Oh,” she said. “But, why isn’t your husband a member of Gym A (operated by the same company as mine)?

“He’s loyal to Gym B,” I said. “Has been for years. And, he thinks it would be nice for us to belong to the same gym, especially if it has a better price point.” I smiled again.

“Well, I’m not prepared to offer you $25 per month,” she said, punching numbers into her calculator. “Right now, you’re around $30 a month. But, since you’re willing to pay in full, I can give you two free months. That gets your monthly total down to just under $25 a month. Plus you’ll be a Gold Member, meaning you have access to all of our gyms across the GTA.”

“That sounds great. I’ll do that,” I said. And, I thought, “Did I just negotiate a deal? Wooooeeee! Look at me! I’m a negotiator! Negotiating things! Right here! Right now! I’m goooood!”

She finished up the contract; I looked it over, very pleased with my efforts, and signed up for another year. Or, 14 months, to be exact.

Then, I went home to share the good news with Husband. He was proud.

“Twenty-five dollars a month?” he asked. “That does it. I’m definitely going to my gym and telling them that my wife belongs to Gym A, and ask them to match that. Or, maybe I’ll go to Gym C (the brother gym) and tell them you’re paying $25 a month and that I’d like to see them match it or else I’m prepared to go elsewhere.”

“Well, just remember: You have to be willing to walk away,” I said with a smile.

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Taking down King Kong

Poor King Kong. Poor aloe vera plant. Poor Husband.

Once upon a time, Husband owned an aloe vera plant. It wasn’t just any aloe vera plant. It was the King Kong of aloe vera plants. It was giant and green with pokey blades that look like tentacles. And, giant. Mostly giant.

For the record, no aloe vera plant should ever be that size.

Anyway, this plant was given to Husband as a baby (the plant, not Husband) by a sister-in-law long ago. Husband loved the plant, actually using the aloe from its blades (Is it normal to open your boyfriend’s fridge and have a tentacle fall out on you?), and essentially nurturing it into the King Kong monstrosity it came to be.

At least, the monstrosity it was up until three weeks ago, when I decided (with Husband’s permission) to break it up into smaller plants and transplant those starters into new pots. Because, if there’s anything better than one King Kong aloe vera plant, it’s several King Kong aloe vera plants.

So, now it is separated into multiple pots. And dead. Or dying. Well on its way to being dead. Poor split-apart, King Kong aloe vera plant. Poor Husband.

I don’t know where I went wrong. I’m pretty sure I followed all the planting “rules.” Sandy soil that succulent plants like? Check. Plastic bag spread out on ground to catch mess? Check. Extra pots to plant starters into? Check. Plants staked for support? Check. Waiting a day to water them as per the sandy-soil-for-succulent-plants-bag instructions? Check. I did it all.

And now King Kong and his offspring are mostly dead. And every day, Husband comes home from work, walks by our balcony and says, “I think the aloe vera plants are dead.”

Sigh.

I’ve considered quitting gardening. Succulent plants are, like, the most hands-off plants a person can grow. If you kill one of them, you probably ought to give up growing things. But, I’ve opted not to let King Kong’s death affect me. I will plod on. I will redeem myself.

Hopefully without losing a lot of plants in the process.

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Children of the Corn

It was all corn for as far as our little eyeballs could see.

I was eating a sweet potato earlier, and got to thinking about the colour orange. It made me think of carrots, because they are orange. And then vegetable gardens, because carrots and sweet potatoes grow in them. And then how my mom used to have a vegetable garden that yearly produced 49,205 zucchini. And how we learned to cook the zucchini 27 different ways, but, in the end, they all tasted like zucchini because zucchini is zucchini is zucchini.

But, this isn’t about zucchini, it’s about corn.

You should know that I simultaneously had 14 other unrelated thoughts in there, but I don’t want to sidetrack you.

Growing up, we had a vegetable garden, and it was large. I’d guess it to be the size of half a volleyball court, only more rectangular. Maybe bigger. Now, I don’t believe my mom would label herself an active gardener, but when you live on a farm and your husband grew up on a farm with a vegetable garden and a canning queen for a mother, you, too, have a vegetable garden. And, you learn to can, because you now have a garden that produces yearly bumper crops. And, you also have four children who eat like horses.

So, garden and can Mom did. And, she did a mighty fine job of it, too.

One summer, Dad decided to plant sweet corn alongside his regular field corn. He would plant three rows, thus moving the sweet corn out of the garden, making way for other vegetables. To tell you the truth, I can’t remember what those other vegetables were, because that summer was The Summer Of Corn. Capital letters.

For all of you non-farmers, fields tend to run on the large side. Think football field. Some run a bit smaller. Some much larger. For our purposes, keep thinking football field. One row of sweet corn the length of a football field produces a lot of sweet corn. Three rows of sweet corn the length of a football field produce A LOT of sweet corn.

My brothers and I soon became Children Of The Corn. Capital letters, again.

We picked corn. We hauled corn. We husked corn. We de-haired corn. We de-cobbed corn. Mom canned corn. We picked corn. We hauled corn. We husked corn. We de-haired corn. We de-cobbed corn. Mom canned corn. We picked corn. We hauled corn. We husked corn. We de-haired corn. We de-cobbed corn. Mom canned corn. We picked corn. We hauled corn. We husked corn. We de-haired corn. We de-cobbed corn. Mom canned corn.

It was an unending cycle.

“Mom, can we go see our friends?” No. Husk the corn.

“Mom, can we take a break?” No. Husk the corn.

“Mom, can we do our homework?” No. Husk the corn. OK, we didn’t do homework during the summer, but I almost think that if we had needed to she would have given us the same answer.

We had corn coming out of our ears. OUR EARS.

One evening, Mom thought she’d get a jumpstart on the next day’s canning by taking the corn off the cob and placing several containers laden with kernels in the walk-in cooler overnight. The next morning, she was off with bang. I’m not sure how many batches she canned before she noticed the finished product was looking more brown and less yellow. Like a lot more brown.

Corn isn’t meant to be brown. Not even the canned variety.

No. But, Mom deserves a medal.

Mom was befuddled. She had done everything the same as the previous days. The pre-canned corn was not over or under-ripe. The jars were sealed. Looking for an answer, she called the local agriculture-extension agent.

“You took all the corn off the cobs and had it sit overnight in a cooler?” the agent repeated back to Mom. “Oh, that’s not a good idea.” Something about extra caramelization from the sugar in the corn being exposed to cold air for too long.

Oops.

Oh, those long hours of picking and hauling and husking and de-hairing and de-cobbing and canning! What did we have to show for it all? BROWNNESS. Jar upon jar of brown, brown corn. So much for working ahead. I think my brothers and I decided right then and there to never work ahead on anything ever in our entire lives. Just in case.

So, the corn, while possibly edible, was much too brown to serve, and it was dumped. But, Mom was not down. You know why? Because there was plenty more where that came from.

Back to the field, kids! There’s more corn to be had.

I know that was the last year Dad planted sweet corn alongside the field corn, and I think that was the last year Mom canned corn. And, possibly, the last year she canned anything. Unless that was the same year she spent a week in September turning 29 bushels of apples into applesauce that would last us the entire winter.

Or, the month of October. That was some delicious applesauce. Poor Mom. Feeding all those starving children.

Anyway, thanks to Mom, I have enough canning experiences to last me a lifetime. No need to go create my own. Thanks, Mom!

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Closing a fat-daddy chapter

Many gold stars to you, Liz, for finishing your thesis!

I mentioned back in November that several of my graduate school pals were on a race to the finish line, as they work to complete their master’s degree requirements before the Summer 2010 deadline.

Today, my friend Liz will cross that finish line, as she defends her 150-page thesis in a few hours, thus ending her long, long, long journey toward earning a Master of Science in Journalism at Ohio University.

Congratulations, Liz!

And, kudos to those who will also be finishing their theses and professional projects and defending in the coming days and weeks. And, really, to all of us who made it through the coursework all those years ago.

We all get gold stars in my book.

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What to say when people hurt

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about people who are hurting.

In the past few weeks alone, I’ve watched Haiti crumble into a pile of rubble and heard about collapsing marriages, strained relationships, broken relationships, terminal health issues, emotional distress, you name it. Near and far, pain is everywhere.

Unfortunately, pain is a guaranteed part of life thanks to Adam and Eve’s actions long, long ago in the Garden of Eden. Of their own free will, they bit into an apple and their world of peace became our world of pain. Hooray, free choice! Boo, world of pain!

The hardest thing about pain, other than experiencing it yourself, is knowing what to say to someone who is hurting. “I’m sorry” sounds lame. Giving unwanted advice = pretentious. And, pretending nothing is happening is ignorant.

I’ve had some seasons of pain in my life. Physically and emotionally and to the point where I wasn’t quite sure how I’d get beyond it. People would say to me, “You’ll get past this. It’s not the end of the world. You’re stronger than you know,” etc., etc. And, in hindsight, they were right. But in the moment, the mountain of pain looked insurmountable.

And, I think it would’ve truly been insurmountable had I needed to climb on my own. As a Christian, there is nothing in this world that I face alone. God is always by my side even, and especially, in seasons of pain. And, if God was willing to sacrifice His only Son for me, how much more willing do you think He is to take care of me? Me AND all of my needs?

A few years ago, I came across a song that really spoke to me at time when I was hurting and trying to give all my pain over to God. It’s funny how giving one’s pain to God can be a struggle in and of itself. But, that’s another story. Anyway, the song’s lyrics:

“Oceans From The Rain” by Seventh Day Slumber

And I’m amazed by You. Cause You’re never far away
And all that I’ve been through, Your love has never changed

Chorus:
You make oceans from the rain
Breathing life into this place
And I will drown inside your love
Until I see your perfect face

And nothing I’ve acquired means anything at all
Cause you’re everything I needed
You’re so much more than I deserve

(Chorus)

And I thank you Lord (repeat 4 times)

(Chorus)

The blood of Jesus can wash your pain away

[Note: You can listen to the song here. Someone not related to the band made this particular music video, but the song remains the same.]

To be reminded of God’s continual, non-stop love for me was and still is overwhelming. And the amount of tears I’ve shed in one lifetime could, no doubt, fill an entire ocean. I made it through seasons of pain, and I know that I’ll make it through future seasons of pain. Because “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). And, because I’m never alone.

And, to those close to me and far away who are struggling with pain, I’ll be praying. Because a lot of times, there are no words.

Getting ready to face our Goliaths

david-goliathI have a niece, and she is cool. She’s 12, and she just made the volleyball team at her middle school. Her aunt is proud.

I was chatting with her dad last night, and he was telling me about the last match she played in. The match went to three games. Nat played in the first two but didn’t make an appearance in the third. “It was strange,” said my brother. “She had been playing pretty well and then, all of a sudden, she wasn’t playing.”

Not one to jump to conclusions, I immediately thought, “Typical jerk-of-a-coach who probably has never actually played volleyball is trying to make a statement, no doubt.” Ha. What can I say? I’ve known a few. Anyway, my brother said that after the match he asked Nat why her coach didn’t play her in the third game.

“Coach asked me a couple of times if I wanted to go back in,” she said, “but I said ‘No,’ because I missed a serve in the second game.” It turns out, the coach tried to play her, but Nat refused. More than once.

My brother was surprised. I was surprised. “Nat,” he said to her, “How do you expect to get better if you don’t play? If your coach asks, ‘Natalie, do you want to play?,’ you say ‘YES, COACH!’ and you go play.” Natalie didn’t seem so sure.

My brother told me that Nat is finding out that volleyball isn’t coming to her as easily as clarinet-playing did. When she decided to take up band a year or so ago, she took the first-chair spot in a matter of days. Volleyball, on the other hand, is taking some work. And because it’s taking some work, she isn’t sure she should be playing it.

So it goes, my niece and I WOULD have more in common than just height and good looks. Unlike Natalie, I have no musical talent; it’s true. But, volleyball took some work for me, too. That’s the thing about it; it’s a sport of repetition. Just like many other sports/activities. You get really, really good by practicing, practicing, practicing and practicing some more. You’re bound to make errors; it happens.

Especially when trying to pick up a new skill and grow into your body at the same time. While on the phone, I had a flashback to junior high volleyball camps I used to run. I’d have a gaggle of girls in the process of growing into their bodies, who were really concerned with what the equally gangly girl next to her was thinking about her. One shanked ball or missed serve would be enough to cause tears to well up.

I remember saying on repeat: “It’s volleyball. It’s a game. You’re going to make mistakes. And then you’ll make some more mistakes. Those mistakes will make you better.” Trust me, I’d think, I used to be one of you gangly junior-high volleyball players. I know.

I was reminded, again, of a mindset that I held onto for too many years. If I was pretty certain that I wasn’t going to be good at something, you can sure as heck bet I wasn’t doing it. The problem with that thought process is that I spent a lot of time missing out on fun activities* just because I was concerned I wouldn’t be any good at them. Ah, yes, that was the perfectionist in me rearing its ugly head. Who knows how good I might have been at any number of activities had I given them a chance.

And, it’s not just a junior-high thing. Oftentimes, our concern about what others think about us keep us on the sidelines of life. Our unwarranted concerns keep us from doing what we would maybe like to be doing and even what we were meant to be doing. It’s how we end up letting a lifetime pass us by.

This morning I was reading a devotional about how David didn’t become an expert marksman just as Goliath showed up, or a master harpist at the moment King Saul requested he play at the palace. David disciplined himself by practicing. He didn’t know what his future held; he simply found joy and fulfillment in discovering and developing his gifts. My best guess? David didn’t hit everything he set out to hit when he first picked up a stone and sling. And his first harp tune likely wasn’t his best. But, that didn’t hold him back. And look at the place God brought him to! King of a nation and then some!

So, my brother has been practicing with Nat to increase her enthusiasm in playing while knowing she may make a mistake or 600. He said they walk around the house, and every so often, he’ll ask, “Natalie, do you want to play?”

“YES, COACH!” she replies.

Trust me, Natalie. You don’t want to be someone who lets some fears of what others think hold her down. Go have fun. Go make mistakes. The girl next to you will make some, too. Go get ’em, Ace!

“Sad is the day for any man when he becomes absolutely satisfied with the life he is living the thoughts he is thinking, and the things he is doing; when there ceases to be forever beating at the doors of his soul a desire to do something larger which he seeks and knows he was meant and intended to do.”
—Phillip Brooks

*I don’t count tennis or golf or softball as fun and not entirely because I’m no good at them.

Plain old perseverance never hurt anyone

I like the word “persevere.” It’s fun to say, but hard to do.

The beginning of a new year always gets people thinking about goals and what they’d like to accomplish as they set out to conquer another 365 days. There’s just something fresh and clean about January 1. It’s like we’ve been given a metaphorical clean slate upon which we can write anything, do anything, accomplish anything.

And yet, accomplishing something…anything…is difficult without perseverance.

As Christians, we are called to persevere in (and through) life. In Galatians 6:9, we read “We will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Oh those tricky cause-and-effect statements. Notice it’s not “We will reap a harvest. Period.” It’s “We will reap a harvest IF we do not give up.”

Too often we set out to do something great, something like lose weight, eat more healthy foods, quit smoking or move to a foreign city. Maybe we start a job search or desire to read through a list of books. We begin with a youthful zeal, and we make it a few hours or days or maybe even months. And then, we fall off the horse. We lose interest. Perhaps self-doubt sets in. Maybe those Twinkies look way too delicious.

Suddenly, we say, “Oh, I’ll do that later today. I’ll start that tomorrow. Or maybe next week.” More likely we say, “Oh, that will be a New Year’s resolution next year.” Or worse, we say, “I just can’t do it,” and we give up entirely.

That puts us right back where we started. Wanting to reap. But, not wanting to sow. Wanting all the benefits of something without having to put in any effort.

We can hardly expect to blessed in life just because I am me and you are you. Not one of us is entitled to anything. We can, however, expect great things if we focus our attention on the One who is capable of bestowing blessings. We can expect blessings. We can expect results.

We can succeed because we are determined, not because we are entitled. We can succeed because we put forth effort. We can succeed at whatever we put our minds to, if we persevere.

If we seek and trust God, first and foremost. If we set goals, and we practice being relentless. If we continue on until a task is done. If we recognize that life isn’t about being easy, but about living and learning and leaning on God, trusting that He will run our race alongside us.

After all, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). We surely can persevere.

So, what’s keeping you from persevering?