All posts by Patty LaRoche

Optimists by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

Optimists see opportunity in every danger; pessimists see danger in every opportunity.”

Winston Churchill

If there were a category somewhere between “optimistic” and “delusional,” my husband would land there. Need proof?

All I have to do is tighten the screw and the door will shut.” It did not.

This ladder is steady.” It was not.

I’ve found a new glue that will hold the water pipe together.” It did not.

Duct tape and zip ties will look fine on our outdoor lights.” They did not.

That kayak cannot tip.” It can, and it did.

Flex-Seal will stop this hose from leaking.” It did not.

Our boat is running well.” Except for needing a new battery, it probably was.

I tend to favor the pithy attitude of people like Walt Disney who once said, “I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.” That last part has been hard for Dave to nail down (pun intended).

Personally, I lean more towards a healthy dose of realism—you know, hope for the best but plan for something short of “best” (no doubt because that’s how my life has played out). John Wooden put it this way: “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.” I have to admit, Dave does that. He never gets upset; he just plods along with his next, grand, Gorilla Glue and duct-tape idea.

Now, if you’re like me, you would much rather hang with an optimist than a pessimist. I know no one who wants to spend time with a curmudgeon who sees only what’s wrong, and even if they are right, their stubborn disposition does nothing to draw others into agreement with them. When I think of pessimists, I am reminded of the man who belly-ached to his neighbor, “My hen hatched out 12 chicks, and all of them died but 11.” Have you met someone like that? Worse, are you that person?

Real-deal Christians are not pessimists. They live by Romans 8:28: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. No matter if screws are stripped or ladders are uneven or batteries are dead. No matter what.

Optimistic people find ways to brighten other’s lives. Take, for example, major league baseball, which recently began its shortened season. Because no fans are allowed in the stands, the Los Angeles Dodgers came up with the idea of having cardboard cut-outs to replace the loyal, season-ticket holders who typically fill the seats. Then they allowed supporters to submit their pictures, pay a fee, and have their faces used. Remaining chairs hold large, stuffed animals and even celebrity cutouts. The life-size cutout of Tom Hanks—whose first job was to sell hotdogs at the Oakland A’s field—stands erect on the stairs dividing two sections behind home plate.

Before the game, the cameraman caught one of the Angels’ players walking amongst the Oakland “fans,” placing Angels’ t-shirts over the cutouts. How fun is that? They are finding good in something bad (Covid-19). We all should be doing likewise.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Dave just headed to the garage with some wire and electrical tape. Something tells me there’s a story in what is about to unfold, and being the optimist I am, no doubt it will be a good one.

Oops by Patty LaRoche

Mmmm-mmmm. Looks pretty tasty, don’t you think? Three ice cream balls coated with chopped nuts and topped with whipped cream and, of course, a juicy, red cherry. Now, I’m not a dessert eater, but when Dave and I saw this picture on a menu at a Florida restaurant, I figured it couldn’t hurt to give it a try. I asked the waitress if it was as good as it looked.

We don’t have any,” she replied.

Oh, you ran out?” I asked.

No. We never had it. We just copied the picture off of the internet.”

It took me a few seconds to digest (excuse the pun) what she had said.

You mean you just thought this looked appetizing and added it to your menu?”

Yep. We get a lot of requests for it.”
I burst out laughing. “So, you just pretend? Oh my gosh, that’s hysterical!”

With that, our waitress turned on her heels, not finding it as funny as Dave and I did.

Can you imagine being so gutsy? Surely our waitress wasn’t supposed to tell us the truth. Surely she was to simply explain that they had run out of that particular dessert that particular day. Whatever the motive, I wondered what would happen if the restaurant got caught…you know, by the actual creator of those treats. What possible good could come from such pretense?

Then again, they aren’t the only ones who pretend. We all are guilty. It might not be as blatant as this menu, but I see it all the time, especially in Christian circles. We act peaceful. Non-judgmental. Loving. Giving. Maybe even Holy.

Oh, if such pretense could be our reality!

I love how Socrates put it: “The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.” What would it be like not to pretend just a little… like when I encounter telemarketers or slow drivers or people who don’t keep a six-foot distance and manage to bite my lip instead of biting off their heads?

Today I made a call to “Janet,” a Covid survivor and one I wanted to question about some political issues. I began by asking how she was feeling. She shared that she was surprised to hear from me (probably since we last talked 18 months ago and weren’t close friends), that she was doing great and had just made a four-state trip with her husband. Since Janet had not been anywhere due to the virus AND this woman’s voice sounded nothing like my friend, I realized that I had dialed the wrong Janet.

As it turned out, in our hour-long conversation, this Janet soon was sharing her spiritual struggles, and I was the ear she needed. When it was time to hang up, she said, “I cannot believe how God used you to call me out of the clear blue. How I needed to talk to you!” This was my chance to tell her the truth and not pretend, and that’s what I did…well, sort of.

Neither can I, Janet. Neither can I.”

I Choose Jesus by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

I choose Jesus. I’m not sure I’ve ever wanted him more than I do now as I watch this country make decisions that make no sense. The horrific death of George Floyd incited behaviors that make me question how the moral chasm in this country has gotten so deep, that make me wonder what happened to church-going families who, no matter their socio-economic status, valued life and the rule of law and order. How do people who scream “injustice” see no injustice in their own destructive rebellion? When did politicians become so single-minded in their pursuit to retain their positions that they cower to disorder and disregard for what has made America the most powerful, most blessed country in the world?

Jesus, fill these peoples’ hearts. Turn them back to you.

When I was pregnant, in my mid-twenties, and watching a ballgame at Main Street Park, I politely asked a young, black girl to watch her language, since several young children were playing within hearing distance of her foul mouth. When she flipped open her pocket knife and called me a slew of white-trash names, I chose to leave the park. I hadn’t taken 30 steps when I heard her behind me, turned and saw that she was running after me. Fortunately, I was near my car and was able to get inside and lock the door. I was terrified. This made no sense. What had happened to this young gal to cause such hate?

I had grown up in this town and was friends with the few blacks with whom I attended school. Dave was a professional baseball player, and we had black player friends who frequented our home on multiple occasions. We hung together. We took care of one another. Some had been raised in the ghetto but made determined choices to overcome.

Today, I dream of revival in those cities where blacks are not given a fair chance. And they aren’t. I cannot imagine what it must be like to fear being pulled over by a policeman because of the color of my skin. Or having my children receive a sub-par education because they live on the wrong side of the tracks. Or living in poverty so that drug-sales become my livelihood.

I pray for a day when potential athletes and musicians and artists and entrepreneurs (no matter what color) develop their talents and become a blessing to others. I want young girls to understand their value to God, to know that they don’t need men who promise their loyalty but run for the hills when the pregnancy test comes back positive. I want young men to see the potential that God has put inside them and know that their strengths can be used for good and not gang-warfare.

I want blacks to stop killing each other while decrying “Black Lives Matter.” Of course they matter! So do Jews’ lives. And Chinese lives. And Hispanic lives. And Muslim lives. God made us all in His image. Each of those ethnicities has been persecuted, yet they don’t spend weekends killing their own. I want Reverend Sharpton to not only speak at funerals when the cameras are rolling, but I want him to start a revival on the South side of Chicago where 80 people were shot over the Fourth of July weekend.

Tell those poor souls about Jesus, Mr. Sharpton. He is the answer, the beginning of the heart-change they need so desperately. Their riotous lootings are not.

The revered leader, Martin Luther King, once said, “Riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. I am convinced that non-violence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and justice. Violence will only create more social problems than it will solve.”

There are hundreds of God-fearing, brilliant black leaders who are speaking out against violence. Why is it that many refuse to listen?

Jesus, fill their hearts. Turn them back to you. Oh, dear Readers, let that be our prayer.

Count Your Blessings by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

Happy Fourth of July! Today, I sit on my deck, recovering from the Covid-19 virus, grateful that I live in a small town in the Midwest where friends and neighbors have gone out of their way to bring food and run errands. One lake neighbor dropped off chocolates and Twizzlers and flowers on our steps while another, on his drive from Kansas City to Tulsa, stopped to shop for items we needed, including a miracle-find of Clorox Wipes. Pam, my Utah friend, called her homeopathic guru and over-nighted me herbs and vitamins. Cards have arrived, and daily, friends and family members text, asking about my improvement. Many have phoned Dave, my husband, when it was difficult for me to maintain any breath control to speak.

I can’t say enough about Dave. He has been a saint. I was quarantined to the basement for 14 days. Dave made sure I had a thermometer and an oxygen reader, and even though I had no taste buds, I never was without a plate of fruit (a wonderful, stocked refrigerator treat from our Stilwell friends). When I progressed to being able to walk up the stairs and sit on the deck, he stayed a step behind me to steady my walk, brought me blankets and disinfected the area.

All of those were wonderful blessings, but what has touched me the most has been the out-pouring of prayers. Oh, how I relied on those prayers! When I would cough so hard I thought my lungs would explode, when I would chill and sweat and be incapable of taking a deep breath, when every bone ached, when I was so unsteady I could barely make it to the bathroom, I remembered the prayer-warriors who were lifting me up.

And so, today I sit on my deck, taking time to thank a mighty God who, it seems, is not calling me Home quite yet. He is calming my normally-frantic brain and causing me to concentrate on the beauty of life. I am blessed to watch as three fishermen, unaware they are in my eyesight through our deck rails, patiently row around our dock, casting their lines in various directions, enjoying the moment, even though no fish are biting. Two squirrels, playing “tag” for the past hour, have found my peanut feeder and leave not a shell for their friends. Birds, hidden in the cascade of overgrown tree limbs, noisily chatter while a butterfly comes near enough for me to touch it. A sweet visit.

But then 14 geese, determined to visit every morning and leave their “mess” on our newly-concreted sidewalk, show up to eat the grass seed we planted a few weeks ago. Dave makes the walk to our dock, waving frantically to run them off. With their ruffled feathers, they honk and jump into the lake, but it is only a matter of time before they return. Life, as we all know, is not perfect. But a small town in the Midwest comes close.

In a few days, the lake will be a place of celebration as jet-skis and boats and campers come for a day of recreation and entertainment. Fireworks will be shot from docks, music will blare, and we all will be reminded of those whose sacrifice proved just how “unfree” freedom really is. This year, we small-towners have much to be thankful for. Here, we don’t have to worry that our shopping areas will be taken over by misdirected rioters who set up camp and intimidate gutless, city officials into acquiescing to their desires. Here, parents of toddlers playing in the front yard or youngsters watching television don’t have to guard against flying bullets. Here, store owners don’t need to plywood the windows on their stores or protect against thieves helping themselves to whatever loot they can carry away. Here, the American flag is revered, not burned.

Let us count our blessings, and even though there always are reminders (like unwanted geese) that small-town life might not be perfect, I imagine that most of us wouldn’t live anywhere else.

Be On Guard by Patty LaRoche

He’s something, isn’t he? He and his friends hang out on the pier where my stepdaughter Nanette lives in California. Last December, Dave and I were there, and on our early-morning walk, “Birdy” perched harmlessly along the rail. Other pelicans—not as large or arrogant—occupied space nearby, but my eyes were drawn only to this stately creature, wings outstretched, as if showing off his finest Yoga move.

On our return, Dave was several steps ahead of me, fascinated with the local fishermen’s catches. I lingered to watch an elderly woman, encircled by Birdy’s friends congregated at her feet, begging for their morning ration of bread crumbs.

Birdy, not one to lower himself to mere croutons, sat, loftily looking down at the feeding frenzy below. I was drawn to him, enticed by his self-importance. That’s when I shot this picture…and that’s when the unexpected became…well, in my case, the expected.

I turned my attention to where Dave had sauntered, just in time to get hit upside my head with what felt like a bowling ball, causing me to stagger enough that some passersby caught me before I rammed into the rail. Suddenly I was getting more attention than Bird-Feeder-Woman. “Wow! He hit you really hard.” “Are you all right? I’ve never seen anything like that, and I come here every day.”

(Like I said, “expected.”)

Apparently, Birdy had attempted to take flight, but his body acted more like a 747 than a normal, 12-pound pelican. Or he was punishing me for taking my eyes off of him. All I know is, my “harmless” bird-buddy was anything but. My head was proof.

Have you ever been stunned when something you considered harmless, wasn’t? It could be as simple as a bad shrimp or leaving your purse in a shopping cart or an impromptu bet gone bad. Or maybe it was something more. A life-long friendship turned sour. A brotherly investment in which you ended up holding the empty bag. A one-time, sneak-peek at a porn sight that betrayed your spouse’s trust. The list is endless. I’m betting we all have a Birdy story.

Adam and Eve sure did. Enticed by the “harmless” serpent, they tasted the forbidden fruit, and sin entered the world.

Samson sure did. One “harmless” look at Delilah caused him his ultimate blindness and death.

King David sure did. His “harmless” lust for Bathsheba turned to immense grief for him and his family.

Your Birdy won’t by my Birdy, but we deceive ourselves when we foolishly fail to recognize the warning signs. Birdy’s wings were not a harmless Yoga move. They were a “Get out of my way, Dummy! I’m getting ready to take flight” move.

Jesus warned us to beware of what we treat as “harmless”: sin and evil. He said: “Watch out! Be on guard” (Luke 12:15). Had I applied that with Birdy, I would have saved myself one gigantic headache…which, yes, I realize, is better than an eternal one.

Make a Difference by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

A visiting pastor attended a men’s breakfast in the middle of a rural farming area. The group had asked an older farmer, decked out in bib overalls, to say grace for the morning breakfast.

 “Lord, I hate buttermilk,” the farmer began. The visiting pastor opened one eye to glance at the farmer and wonder where this was going. The farmer loudly proclaimed, “Lord, I hate lard.” Now the pastor was growing concerned. Without missing a beat, the farmer continued, “And Lord, you know I don’t much care for raw white flour.” The pastor once again opened an

eye to glance around the room and saw that he wasn’t the only one to feel uncomfortable.

 Then the farmer added, “But Lord, when you mix them all together and bake them, I do love warm fresh biscuits. So, Lord, when things come up that we don’t like, when life gets hard, when we don’t understand what you’re saying to us, help us to just relax and wait until you are done mixing. It will probably be even better than biscuits. Amen.”

I have to wonder if God isn’t doing a little blending in America. A country that started off so strong has taken a turn that (hopefully) is teaching us much, mainly that God remains in charge. He is fully capable of making warm, fresh biscuits out of some pretty unpalatable ingredients, and yes, some of us require a little more kneading than others.) So, if we agree that this blending is our answer, then 2 Chronicles 7:14 KJV gives us instructions on our goal: If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear.

To do that, we need to make Ps. 139:23-24 our daily/hourly prayer. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the way everlasting.

Examining our own hearts is pointless, no doubt because we will find a way to justify our evil actions/attitudes. After all, we haven’t killed anyone. We didn’t loot those stores or throw iced water at the police officers. We merely sat in our comfy living rooms and watched on television as the wickedness of someone else’s heart played out. But that’s not what God calls us to do. He wants us to lay our ugly hearts at His throne and ask Him to reveal any wickedness in us (even though it is so much more our nature to find the wickedness in others).

Get that? Any wickedness. Any times when we have remained silent and not spoken out against bigotry and violence. Any times we have secretly celebrated payback between our race and theirs. Any times we have allowed others’ prejudiced behavior to affect ours. Any times we have not asked God to help us examine our hearts, to call our wickedness into account and to change our ways.

Last night I watched Just Mercy, the true story of Harvard law school graduate Bryan Stevenson’s defense of wrongly condemned Walter McMillian who was sentenced to die for the murder of an 18-year-old girl. Stevenson quickly learned that in the South, he, a black man, was himself a target, simply because of the color of his skin.

Refusing to return hate for hate, he founded the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. He and his staff have won reversals or release from prison for over 135 wrongly condemned death row prisoners and won relief for hundreds of others wrongly convicted or unfairly sentenced. Black and white. Blending at its finest.

If God is stirring something in your heart like He is mine, then we need to agree to be part of the blending process. Granted, we’ve come a long way, but until we determine what we can do to make a difference, we will have a long way to go.

  

 

The Last Word by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

Theologian Dallas Willard wrote, “I’m practicing the discipline of not having to have the last word.” It’s a discipline I definitely need (just ask my husband), and I can’t help but wonder how much better off our country would be if everyone did likewise.

Recently we have watched unspeakable carnage as thug-protestors chose to get the last word under the pretense of seeking justice for the death of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin. Buildings and vehicles were set on fire and stores looted as angry mobs defied curfew orders and stood nose-to-nose with officers attempting to seek order. Post offices, banks, book stores, CNN’s headquarters and a church were among the targeted areas. My girlfriend in San Francisco shared that protestors took over a freeway in nearby Oakland where some used baseball bats on windows of the stopped cars… their way of getting the last word, I guess.

I’m sure that we all have questioned the hatred in Chauvin’s act. How was he so determined to get the final say that he callously dismissed the desperate last words of Floyd, calling out for his mother? But Chauvin’s behavior is not the only one I find alarming. How could someone stand by and video an officer kneeling on a man’s neck and not intervene?

And then there are the violent rioters. Is it possible that they believe that answering hate with the “last word” of more hate is a justifiable action? Will the new Samsung television they just stole from Target improve racial tensions? Will the desecration of a monument to the victims of Armenian genocide (itself dedicated to fight racism) in Colorado help others recognize with more clarity the horror of Floyd’s death? Does the destruction of 580 pair of eyeglasses in a privately-owned optometry shop bring resolution to the injustice done to blacks? How does spray painting city buses or tossing fireworks into a jailhouse prevent further vitriol? Are we now filled with more compassion for the arsonists as we watch the newscasts of burned police cars, paid for by our taxpayer dollars?

The point is this: Do these violent rioters not know that their “last word” has done nothing to help reduce racism in our country?

How tragic, that instead of creating unspeakable carnage, they don’t follow the example set by the Des Moines, Iowa, protestors. According to the USA Today newspaper, following a tense situation, they knelt and then asked for police officers to do likewise, saying that they would obey the curfew and leave the area if the officers took a knee. “At the urging of a pastor from the community, senior Des Moines police officers Irvin Franklin and Jack Kamerick knelt and said a prayer.” Other officers as well as a group in riot gear agreed to the protestor’s request.

The “show of peaceful solidarity” proved that the “last word” can be one of unity and not division, and practicing it, like Willard suggests, just might be the answer we all are seeking.

Encouragement by Patty LaRoche

 

Beginning in 2016, Lewis Miller and his floral elves began an ingenious project in New York City. Loading buckets of flowers into a van, they began to secretly create arrangements designed “to make people smile.” And just like that, with their pop-up installations, “Floral Flash Art” was born.

According to Miller, “Our goal is to create a positive, emotional response through flowers…If you can just stop, pause and just have one second of joy, that’s amazing because that’s one of the things that’s so lacking and it’s hard.”

Once a month, Miller’s workers begin around 5:45 A.M. and complete their task before sunrise. Their arrangements are found in trash cans and near monuments, subway stations, construction equipment, statues, and street corner hot dog carts. Passersby are encouraged to take a flower to brighten someone else’s day, and when the arrangements are removed, they are taken to local care facilities.

Lewis’s love for flowers began at the age of seven when he would create (and recreate) designs using the same flowers. As a teen, his first job was to pick weeds at a local golf course where the lone female member, a 70-year old lady, took a liking to the young man and asked if he would be able to create floral arrangements for her home. He was eager to try, and before long, he was designing for her frequent parties. The word spread.

And that’s the part of the story I love. It took one person to give a weed-picker a chance, and now that weed-picker has evolved into a world-renowned florist who is giving back. One elderly lady saw potential. Was it that Lewis didn’t complain? That he was clean-cut? Diligent? Punctual? Cared about the grounds? Whistled while he worked? I have no idea, but this golfer looked beyond the lowly position and saw something she liked.

I’ve been there. When Carol Kent asked me to speak with her agency, I had no credentials like her other speakers. I had authored no book, held no PhD, and had very little background in public speaking. Yet, she gave me a chance, and it was life-changing. Of course, we all know that the ultimate one who saw potential was Jesus. Not one of his disciples had impressive credentials, yet he groomed them to grow into a bold, brave group of believers whose impact continues to impact the world.

We might not have the talent of Lewis Miller, but we all are capable of turning a weed-picker into a smile-bloomer with words of encouragement, and I’m thinking that today would be a great day to start.

Hospitality By Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

The world needs more tackle boxes and less Xboxes.” The clever meme made me think of how life used to be. You know, when people sat on their front porches every evening, swatting mosquitoes and wiping their sweaty faces with weary handkerchiefs. Where they rocked in squeaky swings, visited with the parade of families out for an evening stroll, sipped on their iced tea, discussed the latest happenings and talked to their kids about their dreams and plans for tomorrow.

No invitation necessary.

And yes, I realize that younger readers have no idea what I’m talking about. Sad.

Nightly, men gathered on the steps, listening to their favorite baseball team on the radio, whooping and hollering when Stan Musial rounded the bases or Bob Feller struck out the side. No one considered hiding away in dark living rooms while Netflix or Prime TV became their life-line of relationship and entertainment. Who would waste their time on that when there were fireflies outside, beckoning to be placed in jars or turned into engagement rings? When fresh hop-scotch box lines were blurred by the footsteps of giggly girls, and young boys played stickball under the streetlight, no coaching allowed?

Car doors were unlocked, keys in the ignition, no club to lock the steering wheel in place, no alarm that shook the neighbor’s house if someone neared the car. Yards had no fences. There was no need for warning signs that houses were being monitored, no cameras attached to doorbells and garage eaves.

During the day, window drapes were open, inviting. Mothers prepared family meals, often taking extras to an ailing neighbor or elderly church member. They cleaned and sewed, spanked the front porch welcome mat and brewed fresh, sweet tea, waiting for the evening pattern to repeat itself.

Hospitality was key to civility and friendship. Everything shouted an invitation to join in. Be a part of our family. Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!

No more. The last two generations have moved towards privacy, and now, with Covid-19, they are realizing a new kind of isolation. Yet, the more isolated we become, the more insulated we become. Look around and you’ll see few front porches. Most home “socializing” has turned to the fenced-in back yard where the BBQ and patio and cornhole make it clear that people are to stay out unless invited in.

And yet, I find it ironic that today many are barking at the unfairness of being forced to stay away from other people. “Our rights are being violated”…you know, the rights to hang with people in close proximity, the “rights” that we discarded when we adopted the mantra “Mi casa es mi casa,” built homes with no front porches, closed our shades and self-isolated. Because that’s the way we wanted it. But now, we protesteth much.

So, I have to wonder, once the restrictions are lifted, will we open up our homes and engage in others’ lives? Ummm, probably not. Instead, we will return to our bubbles where we will meet in restaurants instead of our homes (after all, guests are soooo stressful), where we will spend little (if any) of our lives engaging with our neighbors. How many witnessing opportunities are lost because of our selfishness?

Dr. Rosaria Butterfield has written a best-selling book, The Gospel Comes with a Housekey,” challenging us to practice radical, ordinary, biblical hospitality as we use our homes to make strangers into neighbors, and neighbors into the family of God. This book is not for the excuse-makers. It is for those who want to see others come to know Christ.

So now, if you will excuse me, I need to brew some sweet tea, shake out my welcome mat and sweep my deck. Feel free to drop by. No invitation necessary.

Focus On Jesus by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

A Catholic priest and a Methodist pastor from two local churches are standing by the side of the road, feverishly pounding a handmade sign into the ground with a large rock. The sign reads: “The End is Near! Turn Yourself Around Now Before It’s Too Late!”

As a car speeds past them, the driver yells, “Leave us alone, you religious nuts!”

From the curve they hear screeching tires and a big splash. The pastor turns to the priest and asks, “Do you think the sign should just say ‘Bridge Out’?”

Have you ever met a person who has a knack for complicating things? The other day, as some of us were visiting-while-distancing on our deck, a woodpecker began thumping away on a nearby tree. “Jon” was the first to locate the intruder. “He’s right there,” pointing to where he spotted the bird. None of us could follow his finger’s guide. “Right there. Go up to the first branch. Then it splits a little and goes a different direction. Follow that aways and then go right. To the left of that is the bird, hiding behind the leaves.”

T.M.I. Now it was my turn. I simply followed the sound of the pecking…and put on my teacher hat. “Follow the trunk to the height of our deck. Where the first branch splits to the left, follow it about five feet…” Specifics.

You get what I’m saying if you ever have tried to learn a new card game when the explainer cannot start at the beginning or dumb it down. My frustrations are in high gear whenever we play games with a certain, unnamed family member named Dave who has a tendency to assume that we get what he is saying. Although I’ve played the game 100 times, even I am confused. Most times, our kids or grandkids or friends will turn to me and ask for an interpretation…a dumbed-down interpretation. (I do not take that personally.)

Recently, I’ve been asked to give my opinion on a doomsday video that is circulating, prompting people to question if we are in End Times, and last night a friend forwarded an email in which a leading doctor proposed the Covid-19 is a conspiracy to depopulate the world. Both were way above my retired paygrade, so I forwarded them to brilliant friends who could “dumb them down” for me and give me their take on what they heard.

I quickly learned that some people are incapable of simple explanations. There was one, however, whose brilliance did not deter her from speaking at my level. (No comments necessary.) Line by line, she presented facts opposing what the reader had presented. Analysis such as “a sweeping generalization without one shred of evidence” or “If truth is subjective then each group has their own truth,” etc. were specific to the writer’s critique. Perfect! I copied and pasted her response to my doubting friend…who answered, “So what if truth is subjective?” Round and round we go.

After several days of watching videos, seeking experts’ opinions and attempting to explain the fallacies in what I was seeing/reading, I knew it was time for something drastic. The “bridge is out” story gave me my answer. People needed to “turn themselves around before it’s too late.” Period. I would do what I do best, dumb down my answer and share this: “I want to focus only on Jesus, and every minute I spend analyzing end-of-the-world theories is one less minute I have to think about him.”

Actually, that’s not dumbing it down at all. That might be the smartest thing I’ve said in my entire life.

Help By Patty LaRoche

We all need a little help every now and then, and sometimes it comes from the most unexpected places. It might be the Walmart employee who wipes down our cart before handing it off to us, or the hardware store salesperson with curbside service so we can buy the shovel to work in our garden, or even a picture like this to lift our spirits.

Let’s face it. Times are tough…uncertain…maybe even a tad bit discouraging. Chances are, if you’re like me, a little spirit-lifter won’t hurt.

But before we get to that, maybe we need to understand where discouragement comes from. The following story explains it well.

It was advertised that the devil was putting his tools up for sale. When the day of the sale came, each tool was priced and laid out for public inspection. And what a collection it was! Hatred, envy, jealousy, deceit or pride…the inventory was treacherous. Off to one side was a harmless-looking tool priced higher than all the rest, even though it was obviously more worn than any other tool the devil owned. “What’s the name of this tool?” asked a customer. “That,” the devil replied, “is discouragement.” The customer asked, “But why have you priced it so high?” The devil smiled and explained, “Because discouragement is more useful to me than all the others. I can pry open and get inside a man’s heart with that tool when I can’t get near him with any other. It’s badly worn because I use it on almost everyone, since so few people know it belongs to me.”

Discouragement does not come from God. It comes from you-know-who, and it shows up in many forms: rejection; impatience; anger; sarcasm; lack of energy; ingratitude; fear; blame, etc. The list is endless. Some people go to bed, put the covers over their heads, and try to sleep it off. Others put on a happy face and play super-Christian. (“Why no, nothing is wrong. Praise God, I’m fine.”). But those who seem to deal with it best understand the source of their discouragement and turn to the One who can make a difference. They find the answer in Ps. 42:11 (MSG)

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—

soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.

He’s my God.

Our eyes cannot be focused on ourselves and God. When we need a little pick-me-up, it would be nice to have someone pull us from the front and push us from the back, like the toddler in the picture. But there’s a better solution: Begin praising God for His goodness and His blessings, an easy thing to do when we realize Who initiates our “lifting.” As Ps. 30:30 says, I will lift You up, O Lord, for You have lifted me up.

The Hope That Matters by Patty LaRoche

I don’t know who wrote this, but I love the optimism, the encouragement, the hopeful side to this pandemic. We need that confidence, don’t we? Bret Baier, a news anchor, daily offers a message of expectation when he ends his television program with this: “We are one day closer to putting this all behind us.”

I envision the day when Baier’s statement will be our reality and we can learn powerful lessons from it…lessons, I pray, we never forget.

We all know that this silent killer has sneaked in unnoticed, and as we battle this foe, I am mindful of another enemy we are warned about in Scripture. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8) See any similarities?

Could there be a more frightening warning to those unaware of our enemy’s attempts to destroy? If we compare Covid-19 and Satan, we can’t help but recognize likenesses: Both prey on the weak; both remain unseen; both are contagious, and both appear intent on destroying humanity.

Still, if we remain vigilant, we can remain hopeful by understanding a few more things about these enemies:

  • They sneak in unannounced. (“So what if I run a few errands I probably should postpone?”/“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Hebrews 3:13.)
  • They come through friends (“There’s nothing wrong with hanging with our pals at the beach.”/Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Prov. 13:20.)
  • They come when we ignore the warnings. (“Wear masks”/“Put on the full armor of God.” Eph. 6:11.)

Yet as contagious as this virus is, as contagious as sin is, the antidote is simple. We must isolate ourselves from anything that causes us to fall victim to their death traps. We must be mindful that there are bad things seeking to destroy us, both in the physical and the spiritual world. We cannot allow ourselves to so much as sniff these deadly evils. Instead, we must do what is smart…what is hopeful. Trusting in our medical professionals is one way to do that, but to be eternally careful, we must turn our lives to Jesus Christ and know that he is the ultimate hope.

So, as the meme above says, “Hang in there, World.” How do we do that? The answer is found in Deuteronomy 31:6: Be strong and courageous… for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. One day we will “put this all behind us.” The choice we make now will determine what will lie ahead.

That, Readers, is the Hope that matters.