While traveling from North Carolina to St. Louis, I was seated on an airplane next to a nice young man who was on his way to Colorado Springs. Polite conversation led from, “Hello, my name is ---” to “would you like to see a photo of my son?” He reached into his back pocket, brought forth his wallet, opened it to the first picture, and proudly displayed the photo of his three-year-old son. Divorced from his son’s mother, his opportunities to spend time with the boy were restricted; but his love and affection for the child seemed to be without limitation.
We talked about the task of parenting, benefits of loving and being loved, and changes that occur once one becomes a parent. He commented upon the depth of love that he had discovered upon the birth of his son. And, even though he was only in his early twenties, he realized that the responsibility of another human being, his son, rested upon him.
After we deplaned and parted, I couldn’t erase the conversation from my thoughts, his dancing eyes from my mental images, or his sincere words from my ears. If this kind of genuine love could flow from one not far from being a boy himself, how much purer is the love which flows from the heart of our heavenly Father unto his children on earth. The Bible tells us that God is love (I John 4:8); but that reality seldom arrests our attention, at least not to the degree to which my attention had been arrested that day.
God has fashioned and created mankind with the capacity to give and receive love. As a matter of fact, all people actually need love. If this were not true, so many of our activities and actions would not be directed toward social acceptance, romance, and family ties. Psychologists, therapists, social workers, (not to mention grandparents) herald the virtues of raising a child in an environment soaked with love and acceptance.
Being the object of unconditional, unbounded love produces within the love’s recipient a sense of self worth and well being that cannot be found elsewhere. Once we acknowledge our basic need for love, it is not a distant or far step to also acknowledge our need for the love of God, who reveals himself as our Father.
If fallible and frail human love is so powerful, imagine the impact of God’s unfailing love upon the soul of a man. No, don’t just imagine it. Experience it!
Nestled in a narrow, shallow valley just 100 yards from my back door is a lovely little pond. Folks, who have lived around this area longer than I, tell me that this pond was here when this land was a farmer’s field. Fed by at least one natural spring, the waters are usually clear and bright. The subdivision developer took advantage of nature’s setting and laid out the parcel of lots so that homes could be built around the pond. Houses were constructed on just the correct angle to get a view of the water; backyards were landscaped to augment and enhance the shoreline; small docks were built at the water’s edge. It was almost as if those of us who built around this pond were imposing upon it our expectations of the amenities and the ambiance of a large lake.
I’ve often said that this body of water was a pond that said, “I wish I were a lake.” However, as I have contemplated that comment, I think the landowners are saying that we wish it were a lake. The pond appears to be content to be just what it was created to be. Undaunted by our expectations of it, the pond seems pleased to support a variety of fish and wildlife. Almost anytime my husband wishes, he can stand on the bank, cast in his line, and pull out a medium size bass. The catfish are large and sport themselves rulers of the water, refusing to bite any hook or take any bait. Some evenings, the symphony of bullfrogs croaking creates a better musical score than the best Disney theme song. The spring and fall bring in the ducks and the geese. Many mornings during those seasons, the honking of a flock of geese, as they are flying overhead and preparing to land upon the pond, will awaken me.
This ‘not quite a lake’ body of water also invites the activity of human life. On summer days, the pond welcomes the neighbors to come for a paddleboat ride, a fishing trip, or even (for the brave) a swim. On winter days, if the temperatures remain low enough for long enough, the waters freeze and provide the platform for local kids to engage in a game of ice hockey. At every season, the rippling waters invite me to linger a little longer at my kitchen table to behold the peaceful and picturesque setting painted upon the landscape by the neighborhood pond.
I suppose one ought to go to nature and be instructed, as the Bible tells us to do. How often do we find ourselves wishing that we were more than what we are? How many times have the expectations, which others have placed upon us, caused us to feel inadequate or inferior? Some wish they were taller, while others are sure that shorter would be better. Most wish they were smarter. All want to be richer. Regrettably, few can attest to having the wisdom of the neighborhood pond, which appears content to be what it is. It invites all to come and enjoy what it truly has to offer – no pretense, no affectation, and no imitation.
The pond is simply a pond and it feigns nothing beyond that. Satisfied to be the genuine article, no matter what that article may be, might just be an important aspect of life. Perhaps God knew just what He was doing when He chose not to make every body of water the same or every person the same. Perhaps He knew we could learn a life lesson from the little, neighborhood pond.
Each day I open my email to find an inspirational gem sent to me by a friend. Julian and I met at seminary where we had each enrolled to complete the doctoral program. Both of us had been in full time ministry for years when we decided to finish our graduate studies. Before our first class had ended, I realized that Julian, himself, was a gem and a source of inspiration. In the administration of his pastoral duties, he had elected to send out daily reflections to his congregants. He offered to include me in the emails; I gladly accepted. I have now been a recipient of his efforts for many years.
Pastor Julian is faithful day after day to communicate comforting, edifying, instructing, or entertaining tidbits to those of us on his list. I am sure that he must have to search for stories. He undoubtedly has to research, read, and explore. He is obviously proactive to gather his resources. He must continually ferret out the inspirational and dispense with the insipid, because he always selects items that serve to kindle positive motivation.
The English word inspire is based upon a Latin root that means to breath in. In the process of breathing, we inhale the air that surrounds us. That which we inhale has an immediate effect upon our physical condition by way of our lungs and blood stream. Our body instinctively warns us if the air is smoke-filled or pungent with a malodorous aroma and informs us to limit our inspiration.
The words, actions, and attitudes of those near us can also create an atmosphere in which we live. People can be critical, complaining, or condemning. They can fill the environment with talk that is injurious, insalubrious, and ineffectual. If we breathe in that type of atmosphere, our souls may become noxious; although we may not always immediately detect that we have inhaled contaminated soul air.
Naturally, we seek oxygen-rich, contaminate-free air. Spiritually, we should desire inspirationally-loaded, emotionally pollutant-free influences. Julian has made a practice of delivering just that kind of environment. The mind and soul thrives upon the inspirational words he conveys.
What about you? What about me? I cannot say that I am a Julian; however, I do believe his example is worth following. I wonder what my days would be like if the first thing I did each morning was to ferret out a bit of inspiration that I could distribute to others throughout the day. Maybe friends would seek me out just to get a breath of fresh air.