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Archive for the ‘Excellence’ Category

 

 

As I left the hospital Sunday evening, my attention was drawn to two little boys cavorting back and forth in the corridor, jackets winging behind them. In their father’s arms nestled their baby sister, barely visible in her hooded pink coat. Mama and Daddy were deep in conversation.

While passing them by, a strange phenomenon caught my eye: Mama was barefoot.

 

 

One of my alter egos, Sherlock Ruegg, began ruminating why a woman who was otherwise well-dressed for a Midwestern March evening, would be without shoes. Did she just receive emergency care for one or both of her feet? There was no sign of bandages.

A few moments later as I loaded my belongings into our SUV, the family of five came into view again. Poor Mama was still barefoot and hobbling along on her heels, no doubt to lessen the impact of freezing cold pavement on her feet.

Then I spied the evidence I’d missed before, and the explanation became clear.  Mama was clutching stiletto heels in her hands.   Obviously, the pain inflicted by the shoes was worse than that of frigid concrete.

 

(Don’t these look comfy for a long trek?)

 

Oh, what we’re willing to suffer in order to look fashionable, glamorous, and beautiful.

“Beauty” became my word of intentional focus for 2019 when I kept encountering such quotes as:

 

Beauty is a fountain,

emanating from the core of our souls

and bubbling outward,

overflowing.”

—Kristen Armstrong,

Work in Progress

 

What lovely imagery Kristen provides for the beauty that begins in our souls and bubbles up to our faces in cheerful expressions, ready smiles, and twinkling eyes. Such beauty overflows into deeds also.

 

 

But an ever-flowing stream of loveliness is impossible to maintain on our own.  We must allow God to do the work within us.

 

“God in his mercy

is shaping us into

what is useful and beautiful.

—Eugene Peterson,

Run with the Horses

 

And what does our Heavenly Father consider beautiful? (I’m pretty sure high heels don’t make his list.)

Thus far I’ve collected these descriptors and scriptures:

 

 

  • Strength and dignity (Proverbs 31:25)*
  • Wisdom and kindness (Proverbs 31:26)*
  • Encouragement, peace, blessing, and witness (Isaiah 52:7)
  • Godliness and good works (1 Timothy 2:10)
  • A reflection of his glory (1 Corinthians 3:18)
  • A calm and gentle spirit (1 Peter 3:4)*

 

 

Such a fountain of beautiful attributes can’t help but overflow into the lives of others. 

 

“Every time we reveal [God’s] attributes…

share the good news of Christ…

reflect patience in the middle of an upsetting problem…

smile from the heart or offer an encouraging word…

we are displaying the beauty

and glory of our God.”

—Joni Eareckson Tada,

A Quiet Place in a Crazy World

 

That’s the key to effervescent beauty. It’s not about our reflection in the mirror; it’s about reflecting to the world the beauty of our Heavenly Father and his attributes (Psalm 34:5a).

 

 

“Those who look to him radiant,” wrote King David (Psalm 34:5a).

And just what does radiant mean? In part, glowing or emitting brilliance.

Think of a fresh, dew-drenched rose or a multi-faceted diamond glittering on black velvet or the dancing glow of the Northern Lights—all examples of radiance.

What’s our response to such sights? We’re mesmerized, compelled to stare and take in the glory of such luminosity.

 

 

Radiant beauty does that; it seizes our attention.

Just so, there is within all of us the potential to be captivatingly beautiful people—drawing attention to our God of luminous Light who is perfect in beauty (Psalm 50:2).

 

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Heavenly Father, as I strive to take in all your glorious magnificence, may I be open and mindful, allowing such meditation to achieve full effect upon my heart. Then I’ll become transparent, able to reflect your beautiful, radiant Light.

 

(Psalm 19:14; Colossians 3:1; Philippians 2:14-16)

 

*Yes, Proverbs 31 highlights the virtuous woman, and 1 Peter 3:3-4 also addresses women, but such qualities as strength and dignity, wisdom and kindness, composure and gentleness, are mentioned elsewhere in scripture and are just as attractive in men.  Am I right, ladies?

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.pexels.com (Daria Shevtsova); http://www.pexels.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.flickr.com (Javcon 117); http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.canva.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.canva.com.

 

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Tony always loved team sports. In his teens he focused on football, and at the University of Minnesota he distinguished himself as a talented quarterback.

 

 

But no pro team picked him up after graduation in 1977. He finally signed on with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a free agent.

Over the next three years he played for three different teams.  His career seemed to be going nowhere.  And at the end of that third year Tony anticipated transitioning from football to something else.

But his alma mater drafted him as assistant coach for their team. And the following year he was offered the same position with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

 

Over the next fifteen years, Tony held two different coaching positions with two more teams before becoming head coach for Tampa Bay.  The Buccaneers did well for five years, making it to the playoffs three years in a row, 1998-2000. But the fifth year did not go well, and Tony was fired.

Now what, he wondered.

Within days Tony’s question was answered.   The Indianapolis Colts offered him the position of head coach. And in 2007 they won the Super Bowl. Tony Dungy became the first African-American coach to achieve that distinction.

 

Then-President George W. Bush receives an honorary jersey from the Super Bowl champs of 2007.  Quarterback Peyton Manning is to the president’s right, Tony Dungy is to the left.

 

It certainly hadn’t come easy. But after thirty years of ups and downs and hard work, Tony had finally achieved a long-held dream.

Tony’s story and the experiences of countless other persevering people have proved:

 

“The desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.”

–Proverbs 13:4b NIV

 

However, there is much more to that proverb than success in one’s work, as valuable as that is (Ecclesiastes 5:19).

 

 

And there’s much more to Tony’s story than a struggling football player who became a successful coach.

Tony is a Christian. And while he taught and trained athletes all those years, Tony was diligently applying himself to desires of eternal value.  He always felt that Christian principles were more important than everything else. Whatever position he held, Tony kept his faith at the forefront.

Proof of that statement lies in the choices he’s made—on the field as a calm, self-disciplined coach and off the field as a dedicated servant of God.

 

 

He’s been the national spokesman for “All Pro Dad,” and has worked with a number of organizations like Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Athletes in Action, Mentors of Life, Big Brothers/ Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs, and the Prison Crusade Ministry.

In addition, he and his wife Lauren have adopted seven children to round out their family of three biological children.  They also established the Dungy Family Foundation that works with Christian organizations, including pregnancy centers and youth ministries.

Tony says he loved coaching and winning the Super Bowl, but that was never his ultimate objective. “My purpose in life is simply to glorify God,” he says.*

 

(Tony receives the prestigious American Spirit Award

in November, 2007.)

 

There’s the secret to satisfaction in life.  Those who diligently desire to glorify God are the ones fully satisfied in their spirits.

But diligence requires effort—efforts such as:

 

  • Conditioning of the mind (Romans 12:1-2)

 

 

Tony would be the first to tell you the positive impact of scripture study in his own life. To highlight its importance, he put a Bible in his Hall of Fame locker, prominently displayed on the top shelf.

 

  • Humble submission (1 Peter 5:6)

 

 

Tony surrendered his expectations, knowing that God would bring fulfillment to his life, though not always in the ways Tony anticipated.

 

  • Patience (Galatians 6:9)

 

 

All the while Tony was playing football and coaching, he was learning to be a man of integrity, self-discipline, and courage.

Years spent in the public eye has also provided Tony a unique platform for: 1) mentoring players and coaches, 2) speaking at meetings and conferences on such topics as integrity, personal discipline, and overcoming adversity, and 3) writing books, including Quiet Strength and Uncommon–all endeavors of eternal worth.

 

 

  • Allowing pressure to achieve purpose (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

 

 

At the onset of each setback in his career, Tony wondered what God was doing. But he knew God could be trusted.

Then came the most painful setback of all—the suicide of his son in 2007.

Even then Tony did not falter. He allowed the pain to press him closer to his Heavenly Father, and he set about to use the tragedy as a way to honor God and help others.

In the final analysis, satisfaction is the outcome of diligent surrender to God’s purpose and diligent rest in God’s providence.

 

 

Just ask Tony Dungy.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

I thank you, Father, for brothers and sisters like Tony Dungy who diligently spend their time and energy in usefulness to you, and all for the praise of your glory.  May I, too, diligently follow the narrow path of such uncommon people.

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.org (2), http://www.georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.bibleversestogo.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.macdill.af.mil; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.canva.com.)

 

*https://www.I/20160802/hof16-tony-dungys-faith-is-central-to-his-success.com

 

Sources:

  1. https://www.cantonrep.com/special/20160802/hof16-tony-dungys-faith-is-central-to-his-success
  2. https://www.faithwire.com/2018/08/30/former-nfl-coach-tony-dungy-one-of-the-reasons-god-has-me-at-nbc-is-to-give-christians-like-nick-foles-a-voice/
  3. https://www.l/20160802/hof16-tony-dungys-faith-is-central-to-his-success
  4. http://www.bpnews.net/22595/tony-dungy-voices-the-pain-and-lessons-from-his-sons-suicide
  5. https://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/fl-xpm-2007-01-31-0701300302-story.html
  6. https://billygraham.org/story/tony-dungys-31-year-faith-journey-to-canton-ohio/
  7. http://www.enccylopedia.com/people/sports-and-games/sports-biographies/tony-dungy

 

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The eagle that soars in the upper air

does not worry itself how it is to cross rivers.

—Gladys Aylward

 

That’s a worthy quote to keep on file, don’t you think? I love the imagery of flying high through life close to God, the One who empowers us to traverse challenge.

But I wonder, who is this Gladys Aylward? Author? Teacher? Did she soar in the upper air? What rivers of challenge did she have to navigate?

A bit of research revealed that Gladys’ life began in the challenging river of the working class in London, 1902. By age fourteen she had to leave school and become a maid, to help support the family.

Two events changed her course, however. One, Gladys met Jesus at a revival meeting, and two, she became impassioned about China, after hearing a pastor speak of several missionaries who worked there.

 

(Millworker in Henan, China, 1930)

 

Gladys’ thoughts turned toward China frequently and to the millions of people who had never heard about Jesus. She longed to be one of those to tell them, so she applied to the China Inland Mission.

Gladys was turned down. They said she didn’t have the aptitude or education necessary to learn such a difficult language as Chinese.

The rejection was a deep disappointment, but it did not stop her. She spent four years working extra hours, scrimping and saving every possible pence from her meager wages, in order to pay her own passage.

During that fourth year, word reached Gladys that an elderly widow missionary, Jennie Lawson in Yancheng, China, was in need of a helper.

Several months later, in October of 1932, she set out on the dangerous, weeks-long journey through Europe and Russia, mostly by train. (Passage aboard a ship would have provided a shorter, safer trip, but train travel was cheaper.)

 

 

When Gladys finally arrived, she found Jennie—not directing an established mission, but living alone in a ramshackle inn. Within a year, however, Jennie, Gladys, and their Chinese cook and friend, Yang, had completed the needed repairs.

The two missionaries were finally able to host the mule drivers who caravanned through Yancheng, transporting their various wares.  In the evenings, Jennie told Bible stories to the guests.

It wasn’t long before Gladys was also telling the stories. She learned Chinese quite readily while conversing with Yang and the muleteers—a feat she later called one of God’s miracles.

 

(Gladys Aylward)

 

No sooner did their situation become secure than Jennie fell, and died several days later. Gladys couldn’t sustain the inn on her own. But God made provision for her to stay. The Mandarin of the area offered Gladys a job, inspecting women’s feet!

 

(foot-binding shoes)

 

A law had been passed in China forbidding the ancient custom of binding girls’ feet in order to keep them dainty and small. The practice also caused lameness and pain. Gladys accepted the position, eager for the opportunities it would offer to tell people about Jesus.

But life still did not settle down into a comfortable, peaceful routine, as Gladys faced a number of seemingly impossible situations. And she soared over them all with God.

When a prison riot occurred, the Mandarin sent for Gladys—all 4’ 10” of her—to settle the inmates. God gave her the wherewithal (in spite of her fear) to command attention, ask a representative of the prisoners to explain the reasons for the riot, and then act as liaison with the prison guards to improve conditions.

 

 

In 1937, the war between Japan and China grew into a full-scale conflict. Gladys became a spy for her Chinese countrymen. Her foreign status gave Gladys the ability to cross into Japanese-controlled areas. When they became aware of Gladys’ espionage activities, a bounty was posted for her capture—dead or alive.

One time, Gladys narrowly escaped the bullets of her Japanese pursuers. As she hid in some bushes, Gladys used her padded coat as protection, wadding it up like a shield.

But the day came, she had to seek sanctuary elsewhere.  It was not just her life that was in danger; Gladys was concerned for the orphans who now lived with her at the inn.

She chose to flee to a government orphanage at Sian. When word spread through the community of her plan, other orphans were brought to her, so they too could escape the war zone. Soon 100 children had gathered for the trek—mostly four to eight years of age.

 

 

They walked through the mountains for twelve days—on rough, little-used trails where they could remain hidden. Some nights they spent with welcoming hosts; other nights they slept on the mountainsides. Most of their cloth shoes wore out before they reached Sian.

Miraculously, all of them arrived safe and sound, except Gladys, who was suffering from typhus and pneumonia and collapsed into a coma. She almost died, but did finally recover.

And as soon as she could, Gladys returned to what she loved: helping others in need and telling everyone about Jesus.

Gladys Aylward certainly proved she knew how to soar in the upper air, with God as her strength. And he did indeed carry her across many rivers.

Postscript:  Among the many that accepted Jesus into their lives as the result of Gladys’ efforts, was the Mandarin of Yancheng.

 

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

May I also soar, O God, resting in the confidence that you will never leave me or forsake me. You have promised to be my Helper. May I focus on you, my loving and powerful God, and not my circumstances, because you are the Lord of every situation. 

(Isaiah 40:31; Hebrews 13:5-6; Ephesians 1:11)

 

(Some of you may recognize Gladys’ story. It became the basis for a movie in 1958, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, starring Ingrid Bergman.)

 

Sources:

  1. https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1901-2000/gladys-aylwards-impossible-mission-to-china-11630754.html
  2. http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/73.html
  3. http://www.thetravelingteam.org/articles/gladys-aylward
  4. https://urbana.org/blog/gladys-aylward

 

Photo credits:  http://www.pexels.com; http://www.wikimedia.org;  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.dailyverses.net.

 

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English poet, William Blake (1757-1827) penned those words of the title.

We don’t have to look far to see that he was right:

 

 

  • Children pick up mannerisms, inflections, even body language from their parents.
  • Couples who have been married a long time often begin to look alike (1).
  • Transplants to another part of the country frequently pick up the accent of that region.

In addition, modern neurological research has proven Mr. Blake’s statement in ways even he never imagined.

Here’s what scientists have discovered: Thoughts travel along specific pathways to various destinations in our brains. As we consider the same thought frequently, the pathway for that thought becomes more deeply entrenched. The final result? The more often we contemplate something, the more it will affect our thought patterns, how we feel, and how we behave (2).

No wonder God inspired Paul to write:

 

 

According to that research mentioned above, to behold (observe and take in) such things as Paul lists will lead us to become honorable, pure, admirable, etc. In fact, we’ll gradually begin to resemble Jesus.

 

 

But how do we contemplate the Lord’s glory on a day-to-day basis? How do we train our thoughts to etch worthwhile pathways in our brains, so we’re thinking, feeling, and behaving in Jesus-like ways?

To begin, we might check the stimuli for our thoughts:

  • the book(s), magazines, and websites we read
  • the programs and movies we watch
  • the music and podcasts we listen to
  • the kind of entertainment we choose
  • the conversations we participate in—in person and on social media

 

 

Can we describe these activities with the adjectives Paul used in Philippians 4:8? Is our reading material pure? Our entertainment admirable? Our conversations worthy of praise?

 

O God,

 

 

 

Second, we set-aside a quiet time with God each day.

It is surely one of the loveliest and most excellent activities for beholding him, as we immerse ourselves in truth for life from his Word, revel in his glorious attributes, and talk to him about the concerns on our hearts.

 

 

“Look up into his lovely face and as you behold him,

he will transform you into his likeness.

You do the beholding—he does the transforming.”

—Alan Redpath

 

Third, we infuse the hours of each day with praise.

All those descriptors in Philippians 4:8 apply to Jesus. Day in and day out we can enjoy the uplift of praise, celebrating that he is:

  • the epitome of truth (John 14:6).
  • honorable and worthy of all tribute, because he lived a sinless life and sacrificed himself on the cross for us (Revelation 5:12).
  • right in all he does (Jeremiah 23:5).
  • pure in all he is (1 Peter 2:22).
  • lovely, as the radiance of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3).
  • admirable, as the only man tempted in every way and yet never sinned (Hebrews 4:15).
  • excellent in all ways, including his servitude, humility, and obedience (Philippians 2:6-8).
  • praiseworthy, as ruler of all things (Matthew 28:18).

 

 

In addition, Jesus was a man of peace, joy, wisdom, kindness, courage and more (3).

And God wants us to be the same, to become like his Son (Philippians 1:6).

Can you think of any greater aspiration?

 

_______________________________________________

 

Notes:

  1. One theory to explain this phenomenon: We unconsciously mimic the facial expressions of our spouses, as we empathize with their experiences and emotions. Over time, repeated expressions shape our faces in similar ways.
  2. https://www.maxanders.com/we-become-what-we-behold.
  3. John 14:27; John 15:11; Luke 2:40; Matthew 9:36; Philippians 2:8.

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.canva.com.

 

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(Wilfred Grenfell, 1865-1940)

 

Dr. Wilfred Grenfell listened to the ill fisherman’s labored breathing. He took note of the patient’s fever-flushed cheeks and chill-induced tremors. The diagnosis: severe pneumonia, and possibly tuberculosis as well.

With little equipment and scant supplies at hand, Grenfell was unable to save the man. Left behind were the man’s wife and six children, subsisting in a tiny sod house.

 

 

Who would care for the destitute family? Everyone in the fishing village of Battle Harbor, Labrador was barely surviving. In fact, up and down the coast similar tragedies occurred frequently because of the primitive living conditions.

The year was 1892. Dr. Grenfell had just recently arrived on the northeastern coast of Canada.

 

 

Over the next three months of summer, he treated about nine hundred people for a variety of medical conditions. And God used those experiences to stir him into action—action for which he had been preparing Grenfell for his entire life.

During his childhood, Wilfred’s parents, Reverend Algernon and Jane Grenfell, provided a strong Christian upbringing for their four sons. Grenfell then studied medicine at London Hospital and London University under the mentorship of the highly respected Christian surgeon, Sir Frederick Treves.

 

(Sir Frederick Treves)

 

But a life-changing moment occurred for Grenfell in 1885 when he attended a tent-revival meeting held by D. L. Moody. Grenfell accepted Moody’s spirited challenge to serve Christ with passion and courage.

Not long after, he heard the Cambridge Seven speak—famous student athletes at the time, serving as missionaries in China. Wilfred felt further inspired to follow God’s leading toward Christian service.

 

(The Cambridge Seven in Mandarin garb, 1885)

 

Upon graduation from medical school, Wilfred joined the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, on recommendation of his mentor and board member of the mission, Sir Frederick Treves.

The RNMDSF already provided floating libraries, clothing stores, and chapels. Now Grenfell could add medical services to the other benefits.

 

(The Royal National Mission to Deep-Sea Fishermen,

still in operation since its founding in 1881.)

 

His travels with the mission brought Grenfell to Labrador where the living conditions were so dire he felt compelled to do what he could to improve them.

In addition to offering medical care, Grenfell held simple church services, preaching what he remembered from his father’s sermons. Numerous people chose to follow Jesus; others were strengthened in their faith.

Over the course of the next four decades Grenfell built six hospitals and opened seven nursing stations. He established fourteen industrial centers, a number of churches, and  four boarding schools.

 

 

At first, the Royal National Mission to Deep-Sea Fishermen financed his work. But it soon became necessary for Grenfell to raise monies himself. God equipped him for this aspect of the work also, and very quickly he became a successful fundraiser and charismatic speaker.

One close-call adventure Grenfell relayed often on his speaking tours, and it finally became a book. (He wrote more than thirty books—all for the support of his mission work.)

 

 

In April of 1908 he found himself drifting out to sea on a chunk of ice with no hope of survival. He’d been dog sledding across the frozen Hope Bay, headed for a remote community in Newfoundland where a young boy needed surgery.

But conditions on the bay changed overnight while he rested. The ice began to break up. Though Grenfell tried to jump from one ice chunk to another in order to return to shore, he soon realized it was wasted effort. The floe was moving too fast.

 

(Drift ice off the coast of Labrador)

 

For a day and a night, Grenfell continued to drift. He was sure the rough seas would make rescue impossible. But a small group of fishermen in a boat did spot him and came to his aid.

Later, he described his rescuers as five men “with Newfoundland muscles in their backs and five as brave hearts as ever beat in the bodies of human beings” (Adrift on an Ice Pan, 1909).

Two days later, Grenfell was able to perform surgery on the young boy, who was brought to the local hospital by boat—a much more satisfactory solution.

In addition to his accomplishments and great adventures, Grenfell’s full life also included disappointment and doubt, trouble and sorrow, even failure. But he knew where to find strength and encouragement:

 

“The word of God is the Christian soul’s best weapon,

and it is essential to have it with him always.

In doubt it decides; in consultation it directs;

in anxiety it reassures, in sorrow it comforts;

in failure it encourages; in defense it protects;

in offense it is mightier than the mighty.”

–Wilfred Grenfell

 

Thus empowered, the great doctor accomplished his divinely appointed mission–day by day, year after year—with passion and courage.

 

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

That is what we desire as well, Father, to accomplish the mission you’ve divinely-appointed for each of us. May we embrace with faith, courage, and passion the possibilities you present before us, in honor of you, and because your pleasure always becomes ours as well.

 

(P.S. The winter after the ice floe rescue, Grenfell met Anna MacClanahan of Lake Forest, Illinois. They were married in November of 1909, and she quickly became Grenfell’s private secretary, editor, and adviser. They had two sons and one daughter.)

 

 

 

Sources:

  1. http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/grenfell_wilfred_thomason_16E.html
  2. http://www.canadianchristianleaders.org/leader/wilfred-grenfell/
  3. http://www.cdnmedhall.org/inductees/sir-wilfred-grenfell
  4. http://www.greatthoughtstreasury.com/author/wilfred-grenfell-fully-sir-wilfred-thomason-grenfell
  5. http://www.grenfellhistory.co.uk/biographies/wilfred_thomason_grenfell.php
  6. https://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/society/grenfell-mission.php
  7. https://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/fifteen-canadian-stories-wilfred-grenfell-the-daring-doctor-who-brought-hospitals-to-newfoundland

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com;www.wikimedia.org; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.geograph.org.uk; http://www.flickr.com (2); http://www.picryl.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.picryl.com.

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We’re all familiar with the extraordinary accomplishments of:

 

 

  • Beethoven—composing masterful concertos, symphonies and more while deaf
  • Michelangelo—creating over-sized artworks with awe-inspiring realism
  • Shakespeare—writing dozens of plays and hundreds of sonnets with words that flowed “like a miraculous Celestial Light-ship, woven all of sheet-lightning and sunbeams” (Thomas Carlisle)

Geniuses indeed. But even more important than brilliance was their willingness to exert great effort.

 

 

Beethoven rewrote nearly every bar of his compositions at least a dozen times.

Michelangelo produced more than 2,000 preparatory sketches for “Last Judgment” alone, a painting considered by many as one of the best artworks of all time. It took eight years to complete.

Even Shakespeare must have revised again and again before his words approached the sublime eloquence he is known for.

 

 

The more we know of such masters, the more we realize: their works required enduring patience, tenacious persistence, and sharp focus.

It just so happens that God values those three attributes also. And since he’s working in us to foster all positive traits, we each have the potential to create masterpieces.

Of course, works of genius include much more than symphonies, paintings, and plays.  Are you part of a ministry, community project, or volunteer organization? Are you a parent, grandparent, mentor, or friend? These are just a few ways you and I contribute to the most valuable masterpieces of all—the people around us.

 

 

But there is effort involved. God chooses not to do it alone; he invites us to join with him in the work.  So what might be our part in developing those important qualities of patience, persistence, and focus, necessary for developing our genius?

The following steps may provide a good start.

 

Step #1: Practice waiting.

 

 

It is a fact: most worthwhile endeavors take time. Usually lots of it.

In addition, patience requires stamina to endure delay.

Consider Dr. Albert Sabin, who researched polio and developed the oral vaccine.  His mission required thirty-one years of painstaking effort.

 

 

Step #2: Expect to be stretched by struggle.

Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest, likens the believer in the hands of God to the bow in the hands of an archer. God stretches us beyond what we think we can bear. And when his purpose is in sight, then he lets fly.

Consider Dr. Jason Fader, son of medical missionaries who now serves as a medical missionary himself in Berundi, Africa–after grueling medical training, intense language school, and challenging fund-raising.  But in 2017 he was chosen as the first recipient of the Gerson L’Chaim Prize for Outstanding Christian Medical Missionary Service ( Jason’s story).

 

Step #3: Persist—with the application of faith, prayer, and hope.

We must be willing to tolerate discomfort, perhaps for an extended period of time.

However, the genius-in-the-making under God’s tutelage does not plod along as he perseveres; he plots. He sets his coordinates for the course ahead by faith, prayer, and hopetrusting in God’s promises, asking for God’s guidance, and embracing the possibilities of tomorrow as well as the challenges of today—because in all of it there is good.

Consider George Muller of Bristol, England, whose five orphanages housed over 2,000 children at any one time.  Muller not only wanted to care for these children but demonstrate that God would meet “all their needs as a result of prayer and faith, without any one being asked or approached” (www.mullers.org).  His story includes miracle after miracle.

 

 

Step #4: Remain focused on the task at hand.

A genius does not allow distraction or discouragement to sidetrack him. He takes delight in the present moment while: composing one bar of sublime, symphonic fusion, getting the light just right in one small area of the canvas, or choosing specific, rhythmic words for one line of imagery.

But even more important for the believer, she is inspired and directed by God himself. His plan may include an exceptional piece of music, art, or writing. Or, perhaps even more importantly, it may include exceptional input into the lives of others–through kindness, encouragement, and integrity.

 

 

It is God who is the Supreme Genius, masterfully weaving a tapestry of circumstances and relationships among his people. The full beauty of this masterpiece will not be revealed until we all arrive in heaven.

Then we’ll see the results of the God-given genius in each of us, our patience, perseverance, and focus, woven into God’s perfect design.

And what a celebration will ensue.

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.wikipedia.com (2); http://www.ramstein.af.mil; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.vi.wikipedia.com; http://www.georgemuller.org; http://www.flickr.com.)

 

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(In honor of Black History Month)

 

(Mary McLeod Bethune)

 

Mary turned over in her bed for the umpteenth time seeking a restful position, even though she knew discomfort was not the cause of her sleeplessness–excitement was. Tomorrow morning, October 4, 1904, she would stand in front of her first class of children in her own school: The Daytona Literary and Industrial School for Negro Girls.

Mary smiled, remembering the miracle of learning to read for herself when she was a girl of ten—miraculous because: 1) the provision of education for African-American children was rare in 1885, and 2) out of the seventeen children in her family, she was the one chosen to attend.

 

(Cabin where Mary was born, the fifteenth child out of seventeen)

 

The school was five miles from home, and she had to endure harassment and assault from white children on her daily treks. But Mary knew: this opportunity meant God had purpose for her life.

In 1886 a Quaker missionary financed the continuation of her education at Scotia Seminary in North Carolina.

Seven years later she entered Moody Bible Institute in Chicago as the only African-American among hundreds of white students. Instead of harassment and assault, however, Mary encountered acceptance, proving that “blacks and whites could live and work together with equality” (1).

While at Moody, Mary sensed God leading her to Africa as a missionary. But when it came time to apply, her denomination’s mission board denied her request because she was black.

The disappointment was deeply painful, but Mary soon turned her attention to those of African descent in America, and became a teacher—first in Augusta, Georgia and then in Sumter, South Carolina. She worked tirelessly, not only for her students but also for the surrounding black communities.

Thank you, Lord, for those nine years of teaching experience, Mary prayed. You prepared me well to found this new school.

Granted, there would only be five little girls greeting her in the morning, but it was a beginning. And Mary was confident God would make her school grow.

She chucked to herself. Of course, Lord, you left an awful lot of work for ME to do!

First she found a community in need of a school: Daytona Beach, Florida. Numerous African-American families were moving there, in order to be employed by the newly formed Florida East Coast Railroad.

 

(Workers on the East Coast Railway Extension, 1906)

 

Next Mary found a run-down cottage to rent for eleven dollars per month.  She convinced the owner to accept $1.50 as a down payment.

To supply her school with furniture and other necessities, Mary foraged at the city dump and behind hotels for anything useful. Old peach crates became student desks and chairs, an old barrel became her teacher’s desk.

She retrieved discarded linens, kitchen ware, and cracked dishes for the homemaking and skilled trades she would teach. Everything was scoured, mended and repurposed. Even charred wood had value as substitute pencils.

To cover expenses, Mary sold sweet potato pies and fried fish to wealthy tourists. She canvassed neighborhoods, spoke to church groups and clubs, and distributed leaflets.

Now, opening day was hours away.  And as she finally drifted off to sleep Mary wondered, What might the future hold?

If God had told her, even Mary’s strong faith would have been stretched.

That tiny handful of students in 1904 would grow to almost 250 by 1906, requiring more teachers, an advisory board, and a bigger facility. Among the influential men (black and white) on the board was James M. Gamble of the Proctor and Gamble Company.

 

(Mary and her students, ca. 1905)

 

In 1923 her school would merge with the Cookman Institute, a co-educational school for African-American students in Jacksonville, Florida. Mary was chosen as the first president. Later the Bethune-Cookman Institute became a college and then a university. (Today, nearly 4,000 students attend the school.)

 

(Faith Hall, built in 1907 to accommodate Mary’s growing school;

now part of Bethune-Cookman University)

 

In 1935 Mary helped organize the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) “to connect African-American women across the country and establish a national voice for them” (2).   Mary served as the first president.

A White House Conference of the NCNW met in Washington, DC in 1938. Then president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, offered her the position of Director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration.

Mary met one-on-one with President Roosevelt several times a year and became good friends with Eleanor.

 

(Eleanor in the middle; Mary to her right)

 

Her participation on various government committees actually spanned the terms of four presidents, from Calvin Coolidge to Harry S. Truman.

 

(Mary’s home in Washington, DC)

 

Mary often said:

 

 

The impossible events of Mary’s life offer ample proof.

 

(Mary McLeod Bethune, 1875-1955)

 

Notes:

(1) http://www.talbot.edu/ce20/educators/protestant/mary_bethune

(2) https://savingplaces.org/stories/mary-mcleod-bethune-bethune-cookman-university-hbcu-history#.WnzP3pM-e8U

 

Sources:

http://www.talbot.edu/ce20/educators/protestant/mary_bethune

https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ969859.pdf

https://savingplaces.org/stories/mary-mcleod-bethune-bethune-cookman-university-hbcu-history#.WnzP3pM-e8U

http://www.wciujournal.org/journal/article/mary-mcleod-bethune-an-agent-of-change-and-leadership

 

Photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.nationalparkservice.org; http://www.wikimedia.org, http://www.canva.com

 

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