Get Ready for the Maybe

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Gwen Bristow’s 1970 novel, Calico Palace, has immersed me in the early days of California and the gold rush era. The novel is not new to me. We have had it on our bookshelves since not long after it was first published, but I enjoy diversity in my reading. I nearly always have a novel going at the same time I am reading something a bit meatier.

I pulled this one off the shelf recalling we kept it because my husband and I had both read it and I thought I might want to read it again some day. I knew it would take me a few pages to get settled into the story that wends its way through nearly 600 pages.

During the timeline of the book, San Francisco was a tawdry little town filled with men looking for a future on the other side of “the States” without any awareness gold was about to be discovered. Before long men who were eager to get rich were filling up the town on their way to creeks and hills where they hoped to find gold.

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The town (if you want to call it that) grew up around those arriving initially by ship after a perilous journey around the Horn of South America or by traveling across the Isthmus of Panama in frightful conditions. No one was interested in creating a town, but there was a need to get supplies and information to get started on their adventures.

The “buildings” were largely thrown together out of cloth, sticks, and whatever could be found. There was little question it was primitive and conditions didn’t improve as men filled up the place. There was no governing body so garbage was thrown wherever one would please and rats were in abundance. Fresh food was in short supply and heavy rain would turn the area into a sea of mud. Some grew tired of the search for gold.

But people kept coming and buildings got thrown together in days where men slept on the floor in places no bigger than a closet and took their leisure in gambling houses that sprouted up. The conditions were ripe for any number of disasters and one of the biggest was fire.

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Men gave little concern to ashes from cigars despite the flimsy construction of the buildings and other men looked at fire as a means of opportunity to get rich through looting if their own dreams of gold had faded.

Fires tore through the town repeatedly before a fire brigade developed and over and over again those trying to live or do business in the town lost everything.

One piece of advice offered by a main character in the story after multiple fires was this: “…the way to live is, get ready for the maybe. Then forget it.”

The statement left me puzzling and wondering how one gets ready for the maybe, the uncertain something that might happen, but I realized most all of us do that in one way or another.

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When we buy insurance to cover our homes or cars, we’re preparing for the maybe. Depending on our mindset, some of us do it in other purchases and how we live our lives.

The word “prepare” in Hebrew connotes things like readiness, foundation, and equipment, to get ready beforehand. Though we may try to prepare for some eventualities, how well do we prepare for the “maybe” and what we need spiritually? 

How often do we prepare for the unknown of what each day may bring so we will stand in the midst of difficulty?  Do we consider preparation for the “maybe” of the Lord’s return or do we only manage to look to the moment?

Paul writes a powerful admonition about being prepared to the church at Ephesus that we would do well to take for ourselves.

“Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.”

Ephesians 6:13-18 (MSG)

That’s good stuff, but the key is to pause at the first two words. The admonition assumes we recognize that we must be doing this before a threat comes or we need the tools Paul writes about. We prepare when the weather is perfect, we are healthy, and there is no hint of any kind of threat to our safety.

There’s the rub. When all is well with us, it can be easy to forget we need to prepare for the maybe. But prepare and get ready we must and it cannot wait till we are in the midst of a hard challenge, a disaster, a dashed hope, or the sound of a trumpet.

Jesus reminds us of that clearly in Matthew 25 in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. You may recall the story of five who were prepared with fresh oil in their lamps and five who had allowed their oil to run out and not taken any more to be ready. The peril of the foolish virgins is clear:

“In the middle of the night someone yelled out, ‘He’s here! The bridegroom’s here! Go out and greet him!’

 “The ten virgins got up and got their lamps ready. The silly virgins said to the smart ones, ‘Our lamps are going out; lend us some of your oil.’

Matthew 25: 6-8 (MSG)

One thing is sure: uncertainty is the norm. We will face it many times in our lives. We cannot know or fully prepare for the unknown, but we can prepare for what will sustain us when it happens.

In the novel, Kendra reminds us from her own early experience with a wise grandmother:

“When I would run in, all upset about something that might happen next week, she used to say to me, ‘Little girl, the way to live is get ready for the maybe. Then forget it.”

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If We Only Knew


It takes a little while to discover that life is always full of surprises. When we are growing up, it can be so easy to see our days as boringly repetitious. It’s as if we are waiting on life to happen and often missing that we are already using up precious minutes longing for the next season ahead. We associate “surprises” as unexpected, delightful things that brighten the routine of our daily life.

In childhood we have such a great lot of time. The clock appears to tick slowly.

Wendell Berry’s novel, Jayber Crow, introduces us to an insightful perspective on time that I doubt we can conceptualize when we are young. Listen to these words on the subject:

“Back there at the beginning, as I see now, my life was all time and almost no memory.”

We can be full of can’t wait till…” moments. We can’t wait till we get our first bicycle, get our own room, are able to walk or ride to a friend’s house in the neighborhood unaccompanied. We can’t wait till we are tall enough to ride that great coaster at the amusement park that measures how tall we are to give us a “thumbs up” to ride. The list goes on and on. We fail to recognize or value we have already started creating a scrapbook of memories.

It doesn’t stop in adolescence. We can’t wait till we get our driver’s license, get our first car, or go to our first dance. We dream of life on our own and want to be free to make all our own choices. We are so busy wishing for tomorrow that we sometimes are shocked when high school graduation comes along. We look ahead to what seems like a long journey of things to discover, experience, acquire, and accomplish. Of course, there may be some jitters, moments of uncertainty here and there, but we rarely admit it to anyone. Not even to ourselves. Isn’t this what we have been eager to enjoy?

Our feelings become contradictory. We want to be on our own, but perhaps for the first time we take a backward glance at home and the life we have known. It’s a momentary glance very often because the road ahead still beckons us onward. It still doesn’t occur to us the road will take many turns ahead. There will be more intersections than we can imagine. We may get a hint here or there that the road will have an end when some distant aunt or uncle dies. When a grandparent dies, it will occupy just a few more moments of thought. That thought will be short-lived because they are “old” after all. The idea that it will happen to us is not on our radar screen.

Early adulthood will bring with it the awareness that we need to sort out this new season we have so much desired. Choices are not as straightforward as we had thought. Our days fill up with advanced education, getting a job, and finding a person to share the journey with us. We return to that old habit of “can’t wait til…”

We can’t wait till we find the “dream job”, move to that place we always wanted to live, have enough money to buy our own place. And it doesn’t stop there, little by little almost without our awareness life keeps happening. We meet that “perfect someone” and can’t wait till we get married and start a family of our own. Getting older is not something we give much thought to after looking forward to it throughout our childhood. When a certain pivotal age comes along, we may pause and wonder how we arrived there so soon. After all, isn’t that the age my parents are?

In Jayber Crow, we hear the main character reflecting on the discovery we only find as we see the end of the road appearing in the distance,

“And now, nearing the end, I see that my life is almost entirely memory and very little time.”

Those memories are a patchwork of sorts with some of the pieces in bright, bold colors and others in duller shades. Perhaps they become more precious to us because we alone know the intricacies of our story.

After all, as Jayber reflects:

“Telling a story is like reaching within a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told…there is also more than needs to be told, and more than anybody wants to hear.”

It is unlikely we would have believed those farther ahead of us if they had articulated this to us. We were, after all, different than they. Our life was and would be different, wouldn’t it?

And yet as we approach the end, our vision is enhanced by a wider-angle lens. We know more, but now we see there is less time ahead and we would slow the ticking if we could. We start to take stock of what we did with all the time (now memories) and assess what sort of steward we were.

Jayber understood that as he looked back and ahead:

“And so there would always be more to remember that could no longer be seen. This is one of the things I can tell you that I have learned: our life here is in some way marginal in our own doings, and our doings are marginal to the greater forces that are always at work. Our history is always returning to a little patch of weeds and saplings with an old chimney sticking up by itself.”

If only we knew back then, but maybe we were not supposed to know. Maybe we are supposed to discover that all life has meaning, that time is precious, and the end is always closer than we think.

Photo by Pam Ecrement in Stowe, Vermont

The Crux of Character

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Our tendency to pursue success and idealize those who achieve it can sometimes result in paying less attention to the character of the person. Sometimes that may come because the tangible evidence of success is more often material things like promotions, awards, and monetary gains. More and more evidence of that other less tangible issue of character have shown up in recent years as we see persons who have reached high levels of success in all areas experience public disgrace for issues related to lack of attention to development of good character. We see it in the lives of those who are in sports, performance related fields, politics, education, and ministry.

What happens along the way that brings a sudden downfall?

The answer may vary from person to person but if we are honest about it the seeds of the downfall were planted long before the problem is often exposed. Character is something that develops over time. Many small choices and decisions and our response to experiences we encounter daily are weaving character together. Without attending to those it can be easier than we realize to excuse or deny the little weeds growing in our character that can later result humiliating exposure of what has been growing underneath our outward self.

“Every good choice strengthens one’s inner resolve to make another good choice next time, while every bad choice leaves one inclined to further bad choices down the road.”

David C. Downing from Into the Wardrobe
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Not unlike a garden, weeds in our character need to be attended to regularly or they will develop such a tenacious and broad root system that it will be difficult to remove them and may well damage the good growth in the process of trying to remove all of them. The most avid gardener will tell you keeping the garden weed free means vigilance daily. A garden free of weeds by the end of a morning can show the beginning of new weeds here and there by the next morning. Left to itself a garden will be overrun by weeds and destroy tender new seeds and plants in a very short time. Weeds in a garden are visible if we are looking for them but weeds in our character can be harder for us to see at times and far easier to ignore or discount as something that just happened because we were tired or had a “bad day.”

Do we even have a clear understanding of what character is?

“So, what is character? It’s moral excellence. But we don’t talk about morality anymore.”

Matthew Kelly in Life is Messy

Too often we look at the word “moral” and associate it with only the areas of sexual transgressions of some sort, but morality extends to a much broader definition than that. In our digital fast-paced lives we lost track of some of those key words that were central to the lives of those we admire from past decades or centuries. Morality is just one of those words seldom used or attended to. Another is the word “virtue.”

“Virtues are the building blocks of character. Think about this short list of virtues: patience, kindness, humility, gentleness, perseverance, truthfulness, courage, temperance, justice, faithfulness, and goodwill. Would your life improve if you had more of these virtues, in both number and degree?”

Matthew Kelly in Life is Messy

The answer to that question should be obvious. We would be a better spouse, child, friend, employee, believer, neighbor – better in every area if it were true. It’s evident that Paul understood what could bring that about in his letter to the Romans:

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Romans 5:3-5 (ESV)
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We don’t start climbing in the mountains without strengthening our bodies or learning how to handle higher elevations. There are skill sets we need to develop to climb mountains safely with endurance and enjoyment. Practicing those skill sets can produce a set of skills that give us a lifetime of adventure and pleasure.

And it isn’t going to work to simply read about these things or talk about them. They need to be put into action for them to become a part of us for the climbs we dream of taking.

If small choices and decisions are building blocks to develop virtue and character, what are some tips we can use to help us in our quest for character?

Reading Matthew Kelly’s book, Life is Messy, gives us some ideas on that as he describes a set of tools developed in the early 1900’s. They are called “The Four Absolutes” and Kelly describes their use and outlines them as follows:

“They have been described as: a way to keep in tune with God’s will for your life; moral standards; ideals to live by; yardsticks to measure actions against; a guide for anyone trying to live a good life; and a tool for anyone trying to live intentionally.

The Four Absolutes are:

1. Honesty. Is it true or false?

2. Unselfishness. How will this affect other people?

3. Purity. Is it right or wrong?

4. Love. Is it ugly or is it beautiful?”

Matthew Kelly in Life is Messy

I think most of us would agree that these questions and this list would help us keep more weeds out of our character and move toward greater morality and a higher degree of virtue.

It could be that beyond pursuing the latest and greatest inventions, technologies, methods, and ideas, we need to consider moral standards and a pursuit of higher virtues. Because you see the very things we enjoy about “now” were created and developed by men and women who came before us whose center was founded on character and the higher virtues what built that character. The future will be brighter for each of us and all of us if we do.

The Gift of Companionship

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It’s a sad commentary that despite the many ways we have to connect and communicate with others so many people still feel isolated and alone. Some are in that place after wounds or efforts that didn’t bring fruit and even though they feel isolated and alone, they now choose to be alone rather than risk more hurt and disappointment.

Others are in a season of loneliness as a result of a change in their life or location. Sometimes a move, change in job, change in church, change in health, or a death brings about a loss of companionship.

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Others still miscue on discovering companionship. It doesn’t happen in sound bite moments. It doesn’t happen in 280 character tweets or snapshot moments on Instagram or Facebook.

Companionship comes from a span of time spent with intentionality with another person where your conversation moves beyond the current topics of the day to risk unveiling your heart.

It can happen over long walks, time spent lingering over coffee or tea, unhurried moments on a front porch, or intimate moments around an open fire. It rarely happens unless we pause. It’s doomed to fail if we are only looking for what we can get.

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It happens best when we are committed to another person’s highest good. It happens best when we do not set aside who we are at our core to simply please the other person.

We see it happening as Jesus walks with his disciples from one place to another. Sometimes Jesus is teaching a crowd, but sometimes it is only time spent intimately with a few or all of the disciples. Sometimes Jesus is feeding thousands and other times He is breaking bread with only them or washing their feet. They experienced Him in varied contexts and despite their failings, they were his closest companions on earth along with his friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

Over time the disciples came to see the same truth and share it. Perhaps that is the secret to the deeper friendship of companionship.

It brings to mind Amos 3:3 (NKJV):

“Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?”

In spite of times and seasons where the Lord may pull us away from all that distracts us to be with Him alone, most often our lives are richer and healthier when we develop companions to walk with us. A companion can challenge us when we falter or drift away from truth and the highest good he or she believes for us. A companion will listen well, but not hesitate to speak what is needed.

Companions are easier to develop when we first have companionship with the One who will never leave or forsake us. Over and over again God reminds us through the Bible that He will not leave our side if we walk with Him. He is there when others cannot be for whatever reason. And if He is not there first, we are not as likely to know companionship.

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How can we be committed to the highest good for another person if we do not have love? The Lord can demonstrate best what love is when we (like the disciples) spend time with Him in many contexts so that we come to share the same truth − His.

To know companionship is a gift of grace, grace received and grace offered.

“Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”  ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

In the epilogue in the beautifully written book, Becoming Mrs. Lewis, by Patti Callahan, she writes a reminder to us about grace that applies well to our intentionality about companionship:

“Grace does not tell us how long we have in our life, or what comes next − that’s why grace is only given in the moment.”

Patti Callahan

Grace moments woven together one upon another opens the door to companionship.

“When we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative.”

Henri Nouwen
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The Epidemic of Offense

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Recent years seem to have resulted in a growing epidemic of offense. No matter who you are or what you think or believe someone seems to take offense. It often doesn’t matter how you say it, the tone you use, or the choice of words, a person is tempted to take it personally and come blazing back before even clarifying what you are trying to convey.

Sadly, I think we have failed to recognize how deception is running rampant and what the source of the rise of the offense is.

Do we not recognize the enemy in our midst?

Who else is so clever to set us up so that we see ourselves as victims of someone else’s beliefs, values, opinions, or positions? It results in us attacking each other and guess who wins?

Our tendency to blame others keeps the fire going and escalating while Satan gleefully stands back watching the scenes play out one after another. He uses anything and everything as props for the drama that unfolds.

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John Bevere makes the issue plain in his book, The Bait of Satan:

“When we blame others and defend our own position, we are blind. We struggle to remove the speck out of our brother’s eye while there is a log in ours. “

Reading this might tempt us to start pointing out others who are doing that in our personal, church, or political life, but that shows the snare. We miss that we are no less guilty.

One of the consequences of this growing problem has been the division and walls it has created between so many of us about more than a few things. We unfriend and unfollow people on social media and start opening our lives to only those who agree with us.

We make assumptions and develop expectations that run through the filter of our own perceptions.

What a web the enemy has woven and how skillfully he has used it.

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He has divided families, friends, churches, cultures, and nations for starters and he won’t be satisfied until we destroy everything and everyone we once held dear.

Strongholds have developed that set up the patterns of how we process information, communicate, and respond.

“…the soil of an offended heart is barren, poisoned by bitterness.” (John Bevere)

One of the tools of the enemy evident even back in the Garden of Eden was to get a person isolated. We are more easily seduced, swayed, and defeated when we are isolated. And if he succeeds in erecting more and more walls, few of us will not succumb. To only trust our own counsel is foolishness and deception.

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God created us to live in the context of relationship – first with Him and then with one another. Of course Satan would want to take the legs out from under us in this arena.

I have heard it said that it seems like everything that can be shaken is being shaken. The enemy may be doing the shaking, but God has a purpose.

John Bevere’s wife notes in his book “there are five purposes for shaking an object:

  1. To bring it closer to its foundation
  2. To remove what is dead
  3. To harvest what is ripe
  4. To awaken
  5. To unify or mix together so it can no longer be separated”

What hope that gives if we correct our perception and do not fall prey to fear because of the shaking.

That does not mean we are to compromise.

Jesus never compromised the truth in order to keep others from being offended, but He also was not pulled in by being offended. He was crystal clear in his knowledge of who He was, where his trust lay, and what foundation of truth resided within Him.

That reality…is it ours?

It brings to mind the refrain in the hymn, “I Know Whom I Believed”, written by Daniel Whittle in 1883:

“But I know Whom I have believed, And am persuaded that He is able To keep that which I’ve committed Unto Him against that day.”


No one of us can turn back the tide by ourselves, but one thing each of us can consider doing: we can resist Satan by not becoming offended.

It isn’t about abdicating the truth, His truth. It is about having our hearts, minds, and spirits planted in that truth based on the witness of the Holy Spirit as we read the Bible in context (not pulling out certain verses or passages to support our own position).

“Jesus offended some people by obeying His Father, but He never caused an offense in order to assert His own rights.” (John Bevere)

If we have been confused, perhaps it is time for us to confuse the enemy.

God has a story about that in 2 Chronicles 20. Things were looking pretty grim for King Jehoshaphat.

The armies of the Ammonites and the Moabites were about to overrun Israel and Judah; but as they began singing, the Lord confused the enemy camp and these two enemies began attacking and destroying one another.

The armies of the Lord defeated the enemy in the midst of his people.

Aslan is on the move.  

Will we join Him?