Monday Thought: Spurgeon

Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom. Charles Spurgeon

Empty and Barren. Full and Bountiful.

During a recent walk at the park, I stopped to stare at these trees, contemplating how the two different trees reflect people’s lives. Or, at least resemble differing seasons in their lives.

One person can be the empty, impoverished, stark tree – yet, they work, travel, parent and operate in the world alongside other trees whose lives are abounding in growth, bursting with color and fullness. Sometimes we are the depleted, defeated one…other times, we are full, complete, abundantly blessed.

Why do some lives flourish more than others? 

Similar to the photo below, I also considered how siblings on the same original “branch” veer off as twigs in different directions – one blossoming and succeeding, the other empty and dry.

While God is Sovereign and guides our lives, He gives us enough free will to create or destroy-grow or become stagnant-give up or persevere. Yet, there are those who devote just as much positive effort as the next person but hit concrete walls at every turn. Their circumstances are real and it’s discouraging.

I was standing at my kitchen island last week, across from a beloved person in my life. Our relationship is a curious one as he is the husband of my oldest step-sister. I refer to him as my brother-in-law, because he feels more like family than my blood relatives. He and my husband have become deep friends over the years, bonding over muscle cars (which someday I’ll have to post on this site). He loves to talk, is very relational and covers a variety of topics, including politics. We all love him.

He is battling serious cancer and yet, refuses to bemoan his circumstances. He’s not in denial but he is unlike anyone I’ve ever seen walk through this. He chooses to redirect his thoughts away from the non-stop challenges including his limp, pain, inability to taste or even eat much. I can’t adequately convey the heart-wrenching injustice of this homicidal disease. It rips the person’s dignity away when they are the most vulnerable… they want to be seen as whole when all people see are the physical signs of their illness.

As we caught up on each other’s week, my three 20-something kids gathered around the kitchen island with us. They began bantering with me, pulling food out, asking him questions, and then began a series of everyday, regular chit chat with each other. I looked over at my brother-in-law and saw his eyes following the kids. His eyes spoke before his words emerged, he again reminding me how blessed I am to have these three. Reminding me that our parenting challenges over the years were really nothing. Years ago, I might have thought catching one of them in a lie was Armageddon (strong indicator of how I am as a Mom), but looking back, my parenting-teen troubles were indeed little ones.

His only son has been battling addiction since he was a young teenager. He’s 30. Legal fees drained their savings more times than I can recall. My brother-in-law speaks more openly now than ever before, and I have glimpsed their parental sufferings in new ways. They too set out to be strong parents, worked hard to give their child a positive life and my heart is broken for their plagued family history. Through this barren land they have walked, they have built treasures in heaven. Despite their own parenting difficulties, they took in three different adolescent children over the years when the biological parents had issues. There was sacrifice involved that made my husband and I admire them. They gave up their own comfort to bless others – even those who may never appreciate the level of sacrifice to their daily life, marriage and finances. 

We used to flip pages of magazines once a month and wonder why the glossy good fortune, perfect genetics and posh vacations laid before us couldn’t be ours. We had 30 days in between deliveries to get over ourselves. Now, we scroll. Hourly for some. Every 2 minutes for most. Social media makes it easy to assume that others’ trees are flourishing while ours are not. People tend to indulge in the ‘what if’s’ or ‘if only’s’ as they scroll. For those of us at mid-life and beyond, we are better at laughing now than coveting. We’ve been through some life and know the reality vs. the fantasy. Most importantly, we trust that the depleting times are usually followed by new abundance. Perhaps not in the same ways we were previously accustomed to abundance, but blessed nonetheless.

If we are going through an empty, stark, unproductive or sad season, let us persevere as best we can in our weakened state-allowing God to be our strength. If we are presently experiencing ease, comfort and few worries, let’s count ourselves deeply blessed to possess a free, uncluttered mind for as long as it may last.

Peculiar Situations and Strange Sights These Days

Many of us have surpassed the month (or longer) mark of residing nearly 24/7 within our respective homes. We are glued to the newscasts, read endlessly about COVID-19 and talk to family and friends who are essential workers. Despite our deep interest in what is occurring to the world at large, most of us are experiencing this bizarre historical occurrence in a quiet containment, wondering, questioning what is really happening. We are the fortunate ones.

There has been chaos in hospitals and nursing homes. They have been operating on 24/7 high alert. There was early confusion but orderly response. Thankfully, the infamous infection and death curve is flattening and the non-stop pace for healthcare workers is slowing. They have been soldiers at war. They deserve our respect and gratitude. They have sacrificed. 

There has been loss of family members and friends. The survivors of the virus and  survivors who are now without parents, children or grandparents do not want to hear you tell them that the flu kills more people annually than Coronavirus. 

21 million food and shelter providers known as ‘Mom and Dad’ have lost their jobs. No doubt, that number will increase.

These peculiar circumstances are accompanied by peculiar sights. Some are humorous. Some are unnerving. Here are a few strange sights and peculiar circumstances these days…

  • Swing sets without swings – to reduce the risk of sharing the virus.
  • Nets and rims removed from basketball courts to deter kids playing games.
  • Empty napkin aisles and paper towel aisles.
  • Empty meat counters at Wegmans.
  • My 401K.
  • Church on the laptop.
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  • More humorous sights include grown men wearing longer hair😄. When my 23-yr son complains about how awful his hair is, I remind him that when he was 15 yrs old, he thought his hockey-flow hair peeking out from the back of his hockey helmet was “sweet” :). 
  • Children re-appearing to live in the nest… One was sent home from her university. The one we just moved to a stunning oceanside town seven states away said 3 1/2 weeks alone in her apartment was enough. With my son still here, the nest is officially full! What an unexpected Easter table!
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  • My work, my daughter’s virtual university work, my other daughter’s professional work covering our dining room…Skype classes and conference calls and laptops and phones…
  • My husband’s work strewn about the back sunroom…Zoom videos and laptops and phones…
  • Huge, electric signs on the thruway yelling, STAY HOME.
  • Broken eyeglasses that can’t be fixed anywhere but at home. I’m guarding my prescription reading glasses like they are a brick of gold. 
  • Children’s playgrounds with “no play” signs.
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  • “Currently unavailable” being stamped on products sold on Amazon such as isopropyl alcohol, disinfectant wipes, tissues…even good hand soap is a tough find. This is AMAZON. The company with “too much” of a supply of absolutely anything and everything. 
As I walked my local park recently, I observed an older woman stop in front of the American flag we walkers all lap by every 30 minutes as we round the path. She put her hand on her heart, whispered something brief and started walking again. I’ve been walking that park over 10 years and have never seen such a thing. Are we more grateful these days for our country? Its strong and protective response to this crisis?

All of us have different lives in some big or small ways as a result of COVID-19. The inconveniences may last a couple more weeks, while the economic impact may be more detrimental than we even imagine. Will the remaining anchor stores make it? Macys? JCPenney? Will the smaller ones like Ann Taylor and LOFT survive? Will our local restaurants close shortly after they attempt to reopen?

Will America begin manufacturing their own antibiotics and other medicines? Who knew that 80%-90% of all vital pharmaceuticals are made in China? Not me. Further, I’m disappointed in myself for never noticing the litany of articles from the last few years literally warning the U.S. of the profound dangers of permitting merely one country to supply Americans’ critical medicines. The implications of this are endless. 

Was this global shift in every society on every continent the result of a nefarious plan or was it purely accidental? I don’t think much about that, but others are diving into the theories all pointing to Wuhan. 

We all look forward to freely moving about society again someday. But when will we literally move about “freely”? 

When can we shop for Kleenex because we actually need some and find that it’s in stock?

As for me, I try to keep my eyes above the empty shelves, above my monotonous computer screen filled with work, higher than the frightening economic months ahead…to Him will I bow down and cling, remaining closely attached to the Vine Whose love spreads higher, wider and deeper than any rapidly contagious virus.