Curve Balls

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As the baseball season in the U.S. proceeds to the epic World Series, those who love the sport are watching every pitch, swing, and strategy. One of the balls that spell a challenge is the curve ball and it’s designed to do exactly that. A curveball is a breaking pitch that has more movement than just about any other pitch. It is thrown slower and with more overall break than a slider, and it is used to keep hitters off-balance. When executed correctly by a pitcher, a batter expecting a fastball will swing too early and over the top of the curveball. Trouble for sure.

Curve balls are meant to be unexpected to keep the hitter off balance, but baseball isn’t the only arena where curve balls happen. Most of you know curve balls happen and come at us in life more than once or twice in our lives and the result of throwing us off-balance is the same.

In life they come in every area and variety. It can be financially because of a job change or loss or a collapse of the economy. It can be relationally when out of nowhere our family is torn apart for some reason we didn’t see coming or when a close friendship radically changes, and we suffer loss. It can be spiritually when a belief we held dear is upended by any number of devices the enemy has up his sleeve. It can certainly be physical when an illness or accident comes at us that we are helpless to stop.

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What curve ball has come at you most recently? How did it impact you? What sustained you?

Whatever your answers, the most skilled hitter can tell you the whole deal about curve balls is they can never be conquered to assure you are not upended because you have no control.

That’s how curve balls in life can feel as well even though how we have lived, what has sustained us and served us on ordinary days do make a difference in how we handle the ordeal and its results. Those little habits you utilize every day in every area of your life can make a difference when that crunch time comes whether that is in how you manage money, how you disciple your spiritual life, or how you steward your health.

I know they have been happening to many of you who write blog posts as I read about them week in and week out. I suspect others when a writer who posts regularly suddenly is not there on the usual days with words of encouragement and inspiration. When they write again, I hear some of the story and glean what served them well during that time.

I have had my fair share of curve balls, but I don’t always write about them. Perhaps that is because I am aware whatever curve ball comes or when is not predictable but the reality that they come isn’t. None of us are singled out. It goes with living on a fallen earth where sin, disease, sickness, etc. are the norm.

For the first time since I started this website in 2015, a curve ball coming at me has meant I have not written anything for two weeks. For some of you who visit here regularly, you may have noticed.

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My curve ball came while I was in another state enjoying the celebration of a bridal shower for our oldest grandson’s future bride. With the abruptness of a sharp wind blowing open a door, I was hit with a severe strain of influenza that sent my temperature soaring and my sleep perpetually interrupted with a cough that wouldn’t quit. My daughter jumped into action as we sought to protect my husband from the illness and got me to an ER and recommendations that I have been following ever since I arrived home again a week ago.

Even so, this virus has been relentless in not being willing to totally release its grip. Each day is a small improvement until today I am back at my computer while not having a full voice or usual energy.

It was a fresh reminder of the suddenness of curve balls, a reminder of needing to trust in the Lord who has seen me through other curve balls, and never to take my good health for granted. Never have I had the flu like this, and it has been many years since I have been as ill as I have been, but God still protected me from what could have been worse. Friends brought meals when we returned home, and my husband has been ever attentive as I move on the road to recovery.

In this life, curve balls will keep happening. Hold fast to the One who has brought you along the journey thus far, no matter where the ball comes from. He will never leave or forsake you on the journey.

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Do or Do Not

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For many of you reading this title, you may recall it has a familiar ring to it. Some of you will identify the source because the film that featured the lines has been seen by millions of people since it was first released in 1980.

The Empire Strikes Back was a second in the initial series of the Star Wars movies that have captured the attention of viewers of varying ages and multiple generations since it was first released. If you know it well, you recall the movie begins scrolling with these words, “It is a dark time…” and continues a few lines later talking about a brave group of freedom fighters led by Luke Skywalker.

Luke is young and passionate, self-confident, and eager, but his mentor, Ben Kenobi (better known as Obi-Wan), reminds him there is much he does not know to be a great warrior. He tells Luke he must travel and train with the greatest of trainers, Yoda, to become a true Jedi knight to face the evil Darth Vader. Luke seems skeptical but flies off to the planet in search of Yoda.

When Luke arrives to search for Yoda, nothing is as he expects. The planet is creepy at best and the expectation of what such a legendary Jedi knight would look like is shaken when Luke first meets Yoda. (A great way to remind us all not to be shaken by appearance or believe that is all there is to a person, or to a Jedi knight.)

Once the training commences Luke is not always convinced Yoda is as gifted as he truly is, nor does he recognize the wisdom and necessity of the training needed to use the power of a Jedi knight for good and not darkness.

One of the training tasks Yoda implements with Luke is asking him to lift something using only his mind and thoughts. It requires a lack of distraction and a great deal of belief that he can accomplish the task. Luke has some success but gets distracted when his space craft sinks into the water where it had first landed. Luke believes the spacecraft is lost, but consider the dialogue and the admonishment of Yoda in the situation:

“Luke: Oh, no! We’ll never get it out now!

Yoda: So certain, are you? Always with you, what cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?

Luke: Master, moving stones around is one thing, but this is… totally different!

Yoda: No! No different! Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.

Luke: All right, I’ll give it a try.

Yoda: No! Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try.

[Luke tries to use the Force to levitate his X-Wing out of the bog but fails in his attempt.]

Luke: I can’t. It’s too big.

Yoda: Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.

Luke: You want the impossible. [sees Yoda use the Force to levitate the X-wing out of the bog and gets flustered when he does it] I don’t… I don’t believe it!

Yoda: That is why you fail.”

You may wonder what that has to do with the usual themes I write. Consider what I have put in italics in the dialogue above.

It contains principles for all who would believe and are called to be warriors for the cause of Christ. (Christ, the Father, and the Holy Spirit have power far beyond the mythical “Force” of the Star Wars epic series we enjoy.)


We also face an unseen dark force determined to erode any light emanating from the Godhead and shining through us. We (like Luke) can sometimes get ahead of ourselves and not recognize the power available to us is great but can only be wielded wisely as a result of training with a master warrior. Or we can be foolish and minimize the skill and tactics of the dark evil’s attempts to upend us and persuade is to leave the light and go “to the dark side.”

The more subtle weakness that can result in defeat is one less recognized by most of us. Yoda’s message is key: “Do or do not. There is no try.” You see Yoda knows the first step is to make a determined choice to do or not do what must be done. To say we will ‘try” does not show a determined belief and commitment to “do or do not” and that alone will result in a lack of success in battle, discipline, or life itself.

Fictional tales often show us a valuable lesson in life.

We too may see life around us not unlike the words scrolling at the beginning of the film – a dark time – and if we are to be light in the darkness and warriors for the good, our commitment must be sure and our belief unwavering.

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

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Are You a Good Listener?


G.K. Chesterton has said, “There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.” I agree.

If you have been reading my recent posted articles, you are aware there has been a theme about listening. Yes, I have been reading an outstanding book about listening, The Listening Life, by Adam McHugh, but this is a subject and area that has been a keen interest of mine for likely the whole of my life.

If I were to ask you if you were a good listener, many (if not most) of you would say you are a “decent” or “pretty good” listener. Some of us may be and so we are factually answering the question. More of us are not but know we should be good listeners, or we want to be good listeners. No matter where we are on the continuum, ALL of us can grow in this area.

I am not giving you a “listening quotient” quiz, but perhaps you can assess how you’re doing by looking at some of the traits of a good listener and how you fit with each one.

A good listener

Doesn’t try to rescue, correct, evaluate, impart knowledge, or fix others. It can be so very easy (often with good intentions) to do just that. The problem is that it seems to position us as someone above the one we are listening to and suggests we know more, are better equipped, and thus covertly devalues the person. Adam McHugh writes that it can seem as if we are “standing over people rather than sitting with them”.

A good listener

Seeks to spend time with great, seasoned listeners. We can learn more from them than any book with a list of techniques. How do we know if they are a great listener? One way is how we feel when we are with them. They make us feel as if they have heard our hearts, not just our words. Their questions are not casual because they desire first to truly know us. They never try to dominate the conversation or manipulate us.

A good listener

Is not one who seeks to “one up” me when I share, nor are they waiting to turn the conversation back to them. They do not try to project who they are onto me  to suggest they understand me perfectly because of that same experience or feeling. They also do not make me feel as if I am sitting at the FBI being grilled and questioned because they are just curious, looking for information, or because they read a book that said asking questions was a key to good listening.

A good listener

Remembers the conversation is not about him or her. Even though he or she may be eager to share something, they are focused first and foremost on the interests, needs, heart, and spirit of the other person. When we ask open questions (ones that cannot be answered by “yes” or “no”), we show true interest in the person versus asking questions out of courtesy so we can get back to talking about ourselves.

A good listener

Seeks to understand before being understood. If you have gone through the Stephen Covey material (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People), you know that is one of the habits you are taught. Covey reminds us that “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

A good listener

Doesn’t assume they know you so well they have nothing more to learn. They are open to surprise and hoping to know you more deeply as the relationship grows. They are willing to listen a long time and savor the nuggets of the essence of who we are.

A good listener

Even listens to the silence when it occurs and listens to the tone, the emotions behind and in the words, the feelings behind the thoughts, the things that seem to be left unsaid without pushing the person to say them. They hear our doubts and uncertainties even if we have not succinctly stated them.

A good listener

Knows that conversation is (as McHugh says) “a sacred art”. McHugh further states: “Sacred conversation seeks to listen for that divine drama, that redemptive story, the tale of lost and found again that is written in our souls. With this perspective, a conversation does not have one speaker and one listener but always two listeners. When two or more listen in his name, Jesus listens too.”

A good listener

Is patient and listens long when we are in pain. They know themselves and the Lord well enough that they can be present with us without expectation or a desire to escape since they cannot fix us.

They do not rush to quote scripture passages or ask how they can pray for us. They instead take time to respect, honor, and value us by listening long and well. They know what we experience matters and has meaning for us. Too often Christians stumble with timing here and offer truth before they offer their hearts and ears. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because Christians are talking when they should be listening.”

Of course, there are more qualities that describe good listening, but those I have mentioned are certainly key.

Learn to be quiet enough to hear the genuine within yourself so that you can hear it in others.” Marian Wright Edelmann


The Proper Time


Patience is such a challenge for most of us.

We don’t like waiting for much of anything. There is that piece of demandingness that lingers in us long after we are toddlers. We usually want _ NOW! The challenge of putting something on hold seems to be a lifelong learning laboratory for us.

One of the things I admired about my dad was how patient he was about nearly everything in life. As I consider what he did for much of his life, I see how that occupation helped shape that in him. A significant part of his life centered on running his family farm. Even as he was older and working at other jobs and a major part of the farm was sold, he continued to plant a large garden. Fruit trees of all kinds, and berry bushes of several varieties were planted and tended on the ten acres he kept of the original farm.


Farming is often an unsung and under-appreciated occupation that young people today don’t think much about and don’t usually choose as an occupation. Yet it is vital to our survival and the economy of any country.

Farming may not appeal because it is very hard work with long hours and uncertain results. Farmers are held hostage to the weather despite their best efforts. The careful preparation of the soil and its nutrition, the quality of the things planted, the tending of the young plants and trees, the elimination of weeds and pests that attack, and more, must come before a harvest results.

As a child growing up and watching all this, I didn’t really appreciate the significance of all that. I very much enjoyed the results, however.

Nothing can compare with the fragrance of my dad’s smokehouse filled with slabs of bacon and ham, the taste of fresh veggies picked earlier that day from our garden, or a warm cherry pie made with cherries picked from our own trees.

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Even so, the lessons I observed from those years and the fruit in my dad’s life have provided me with a treasure trove to glean from.

Farmers must learn to hang on to hope in the spring when the fields and gardens are being tilled and prepared for the seed. They must hang on while they wait to see what comes from the soil. They must wait and hang on when there is too much rain or not enough rain, when there is too much heat, or it comes at the wrong time or when an early or late frost destroys that hope.

Farmers also must learn to let go of the many things over which they have no control and how that might destroy their income until another year.

Unless farming has been in your background, these are things most people never consider or appreciate.


As I read It’s All Under Control, the author, Jennifer Dukes Lee, listed some powerful reasons to hang on. If you haven’t read her book, you might want to pick it up (and maybe the Bible study as well). Here is a portion of that great list:

“Hang on. Yes, it’s hard, but it might not be time to let go.

Hang on. You might be the miracle someone was praying for.

Hang on. This might be only a season, with relief around the corner.

Hang on. A great crowd of witnesses is cheering you on.

Hang on. When you hang on with bravery, you emotionally strengthen others who are struggling to hang on themselves. You’re showing them that it’s possible to do hard things.

Hang on. If you are uniquely positioned to do something to make the world a better place, even if it’s hard, you should do it.

Hang on. For your marriage. For your kids. For your church. For the people that your ministry bravely serves. For the hurting. For your friends who don’t know if they can hang on anymore.

Hang on. Because Jesus will meet you in the middle of your hardest battles.”

When you consider the wealth of illustrations that can be made regarding farming, it isn’t surprising that so many appear in scripture. It’s clear that the Lord doesn’t want us to give up.


And so, we wait.

We hang on.

And we let God be God.

We look to the proper time, the harvest, and his return for us from the earth He placed us on and asked us to steward.

We look to Paul’s words in Galatians 6:9 (NIV):

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

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Who Did We Think He Was?


When we first come to know the Lord, we are looking to find a new life, a better life. If we’re honest, some of us are looking to escape a life that became too much for us or held us in chains of our own making oftentimes.

If we’re honest, we also don’t really know a lot about what we are in for. We are just counting on it being different, better, and more. Some of us may have heard stories of the Bible that gave us glimpses, but most of us don’t really know their meaning or how they apply to us.

It’s odd that when we make the decision to follow Him, we tend to think we are initiating the relationship with the Lord. Sometimes we have a chorus in the background with words like “I have decided to follow Jesus” and miss that we are responding not initiating.

He called us first!  He chose us first!

He knew what He was getting when He chose us. He knew that when He chose the first disciples as well. He knew they were not the most highly educated in the rabbinical teaching of the day. He knew their life had been coarse and hard without rank or privilege. He knew one of them would deny Him and another would betray Him before it was all over, but He still chose them.

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I sometimes wonder if He chose such an assorted group of disciples to show us how welcoming He would be of us no matter what our situation, status, background, or mistakes.

Perhaps the bigger challenge we faced was dealing with our expectations of the life after we decided to follow Him. Some of us were exposed to some bad theology right off the bat and expected we were entering into “the good life” here and now where prayers were answered as we desired, and the worst things wouldn’t happen to us because we were His. Some of us weren’t exposed to any theology at all and made it up as we went along to fit our circumstances or desires. Few of us understood what lay ahead. We were and are not so much different than the disciples we can sometimes read about with a certain smugness about how different we may think we are.

We didn’t know what the beavers of Narnia knew about Aslan, that He wasn’t safe, but He was good! We were somehow sure he would be safe!

Photo of Forest, Walland, TN, by Pam Ecrement

Then when we got sick or didn’t get the promotion we were hoping for after working so hard or when our marriage fell apart or we walked through cancer with someone we loved, we couldn’t even see how He could be “good” and allow all that to happen when we were sure He had the power to make it otherwise.

Perhaps we missed that the Lord doesn’t waste anything EVER. He uses it all for His glory and our good. When He fed the 5,000 and the 4,000 on the hillsides, multiplying the few loaves and fish available, there were baskets left over and all of the crumbs were picked up. The Bible doesn’t say what He did with the baskets of leftovers, so I am left to imagine.

Today when we have a gathering around food and as usual, there is more than we need and many leftovers, what do WE do? We don’t throw them away. We wrap them up and often send them home with those who were there. I wonder if they sent the leftover baskets with the multitudes that had walked miles to be there, sat for hours listening, and then needed to walk home again. After all, these were poor people, likely the poorest, and He had fed their hearts, spirits, AND stomachs. Even if what was left were just scraps, I might guess they would be grateful.

He uses everything in our lives as well.

He uses the darkest periods of our lives to shine forth His light more brightly and blesses it for others to gain hope in their dark places. He uses the doubt that plagues us even after we thought we had conquered it, to remind us of His faithfulness. He uses our loneliness to draw us into deeper intimacy with Him and discover the deepness of His love. He uses the times of plenty to prune us of our selfishness and share with others. He uses our exhaustion to remind us we are finite and need to steward the body that we are encased in. He uses our fear to show us how to depend on Him and that He is with us even when we cannot see Him. He uses our stubbornness to break us of our self-will that keeps Him at arm’s length from Him and those we love. He uses our heartache to grant us comfort that multiplies in us and we pass on to others.

This Jesus of ours is more than we ever knew He was at the beginning of our walk with Him and we, just like Peter and the rest of them, come to know Him better while we walk with Him. He also shows us more of ourselves than we knew.

You see, He is more interested in our character than He is our comfort. It is our character that reflects Him…or doesn’t.