Several weeks ago, I left home for a brief business trip to Macon, Georgia. I boarded a plane west bound to Wichita, Kansas where I would change planes to return east and south to Atlanta. (This was one of those fare-saver flights where you go twice as far for half the cost – you know – one of the great mysteries of the modern world!) Anyway, as I took my window seat on the Wichita to Atlanta leg, a middle-aged woman sat down next to me. We struck up a conversation. She and her husband were on their way to Boston to vacation. (They didn’t have to go west before going east, but they were routed southeast before catching their second plane going northeast.)
Our conversation was surface stuff. She worked in the aviation industry in Wichita as a design assistant. We talked about her career, job security, and such in the wake of an ever-changing industry. Next, we discussed vacation spots. We had both been to Los Angeles, Orlando, and Hawaii. I had spent two weeks in Boston; this trip would be her first in the New England region. We talked about sites they planned to visit.
After a little over ½ hour, our conversation turned to family. She began to tell me about her 21 year old son whose life had started to take a down hill spiral in his senior year of high school when he began having panic attacks. As she rehearsed the grief that the whole family had experienced in the last 3 to 4 years, the warm, gentle countenance on her face disappeared and was replaced by a weightiness that furrowed her brow, turned down the corners of her mouth, and took the sparkle out of her eyes.
I listened much more than I responded. I never appreciated someone offering three, easy steps to victory as a solution to a situation that has consumed most of my waking hours for month after month? Therefore, I was slow to become the ‘answer man.’ The family had enlisted the aid of medical doctors, psychiatrists, and support groups – all to no avail. The young man had progressively withdrawn from life. He barely completed high school; college was too great a challenge; even a steady job had become an impossibility. In the most recent years, he had chosen to identify with peers that were not the quality of friends his parents would have selected for him.
This precious mother described dashed hopes and dreams. We talked for the whole plane ride. Mostly, she talked and I listened. I realized that she just needed someone to share her load, even if only for an ever-so-brief period of time. At one point in the conversation, I reached out and touched her hand. She didn’t recoil and pull away as though a total stranger had just invaded her space. The warmth of my hand touching hers caused tears to instantly swell in her eyes. Someone connected with her burden. Someone cared about the pain and disappointment in her world.
The plane landed; we said our good-byes; and I told her that I would pray for them. We smiled and parted. I will not see her again. I offered no long-term solution. Her world will not be forever altered because we shared this momentary span of time. The Bible tells us that we are to bear one another’s burdens. Perhaps, just perhaps, that small window of time that she was able to download her burden to me will enable her to endure a little longer, hope another day, find the strength to go a little further. And maybe, that little extra distance will be just enough for her to arrive at an answer to her dilemma.
My husband and I are about half-way through our two-week vacation in Orlando, Florida. Each year we make our temporary residence at a lovely, three-bedroom condominium on the property of the Marriott World Center. Then – the family comes. Children and grandchild join us to play, swim, and exhaust ourselves at many of Orlando’s famous theme parks and attractions. Ordinary and fantasy merge together; household tasks and castles in the sky amalgamate; family unit and fictional characters unite. Orlando – the place where dreams come true!
I have been reflecting on the vast difference between the fantasyland and the harsher realities of everyday life. We all must deal with living in the real world, walking with our feet on the ground, and facing life as it really is. However, long experiences with tough issues and the hard grind can leave marks upon us. We can find ourselves with a negative perspective, a skeptical outlook, if not even a hardened heart. When these scenarios try to set in upon us, they diminish our vitality and productivity. The challenge before us is to learn to endure the rough battles of life without losing the romantic hope of victory and the innocent wonder that makes the battle worthwhile.
An occasional trip to a fantasyland is just what the doctor ordered. That land may be the world of the grandchild, a favorite TV show, a walk through the woods, or a bicycle ride in the park. The place of our renewal is not as important as the renewal itself. No one would advocate a continuous lifestyle of play, adventures, dreams, or escape; but a ‘now and then’ visit into this realm is the counter weight that gives our lives a balanced point of view. Pulling away from the demands, the problems, and the pressures in order to renew the imagination, restore the strength, and revitalize the stamina sends us back to our daily activities with a brightness of mind and a freshness of energy.
The Bible teaches us about this needed balance in the principle known as Sabbath rest. The pattern is found in the creation account where God is seen to work six days and to rest on the seventh. Throughout the pages of scripture, God admonishes man to follow His example and to rest one day out of the week. Apparently, seven hard work days makes one weak.
What is a weak man? Weakness is found in the realist who is without imagination, in the person whose firm resolve lacks tender compassion, the hard worker who has forgotten how to smile at life’s little ironies, or the entrepreneur whose bank account is full while his home is bankrupt. Weakness is manifest in the inability to enjoy a sunset, reflect upon the events of the day, pause to hear the laugh of the child, or remember to thank God for His tender mercies. Weakness is self-importance overload.
In our busy, hurry-up world where achievements are publicized, opportunities are limitless and boundaries appear to be non-existent, we can find it hard to resist the temptation to ignore the weekly Sabbath rest and to replace it with months of ceaseless activity. And often, the price we pay in our minds, bodies, and relationships is much greater than we estimate.
Perhaps this week would be the right time to begin striking the balance between work and play, between realities and wishes, between worry and faith. Perhaps your trip to fantasyland is closer than you dreamed.
The months of May and June bring us to graduation time. Last year, I was invited to four kindergarten promotion ceremonies, ten high school graduations, and one college commencement. This year those numbers are a little less intense. I only received invitations for two kindergarten, one high school, and two college graduations. I was able to be present at all the ceremonies but one. All these friends and loved ones, having achieved their designated goals, were anxious to share their triumphs with those of us who have made investments into their lives.
Graduation is the seal of accomplishment, the crowning touch of promotion, the finish line at the end of the marathon. Who of us, having crossed that line ourselves, does not turn around to cheer the runners who are also pressing toward the end and straining for the prize? To the graduates of 2019, may I extend heart-felt and sincere congratulations!
Promises that lie before us motivate our behavior. For example, the benefits available to the graduate with the diploma in his hand outweigh the cost of hard work to gain the certificate. The vision or the goal that we are seeking to achieve motivates many of our deeds. The more precious the reward, the higher will be the price that we are willing to pay.
Easily earned, shallow gains are insufficient incentives to produce the tenacity necessary to overcome great obstacles. Hence, we have the saying: ‘easy come, easy go.’ Conversely, great promises can extract a great cost. Long hours, hard toil, mental strain, personal discomfort, forfeited pleasures, and financial investment may all constitute that cost. But, once the goal is attained, once the individual has persevered and the success is immanent, the price disappears from view in light of the earned reward. Such is the stuff of which champions are made. Graduates are champions. They have conquered. They are victorious. They are the objects of our applause and of our admiration.
This year as I sat in the graduation ceremonies, my heart swelled in pride for both the valedictorians and the students who were awarded scholarships for further study. Tears filled my eyes as I beheld the diplomas and degrees being presented. As I listened to the challenges proclaimed in the commencement addresses, I was assured that those who have attained their goals are poised to meet their destinies; because every goal accomplished validates a person’s abilities. Graduates have applied their abilities, expanded their surroundings, and released their potential. Graduates are testifying to us that their courses were not made of aimless drifting, unintentional luck, or any unplanned venture. They have not walked through a succession of events absent of purpose. Rather, their aspirations and hard work have converged; their dreams have become realities.
Congratulations to all graduates of 2019.