August 2012


Earlier this week, the Mississippi River was closed at Greenville, MS. Imagine: the iconic waterway closed to traffic! The reason: drought in the Midwest meant less water flowing into the Mississippi, so the water level had fallen to 7.5 feet, not enough for heavily-laden barges to navigate. One barge ran aground. Many others had to wait at Memphis.

The news got me thinking about how our lives are like rivers, and sometimes we experience the effects of spiritual and emotional drought. What can we do about it?

1.  Wait. Like the barges jammed up at Memphis, sometimes we simply have to give in to the reality of the moment and wait on God or somebody else before we can move forward. It’s frustrating to be in circumstances we can’t control and at the mercy of someone else. But one of the key pieces of advice the Bible often gives is “Wait on the Lord.” I often wish God would hurry up and get on with it, but if we wait creatively and well, we may grow through the experience.

2.  Dig deeper. The Mississippi at Greenville had to be dredged to 9.5 feet to let the barges through. In similar fashion, sometimes we have to reach deep into ourselves to find those emotional and spiritual reserves. We may discover we have none and may need to build some or it may be that we find we have resources of the spirit that we did not realize were within us.

3.  Plan for tomorrow. Global warming is, I suspect, responsible for the droughts from which the country is suffering. I can’t help but wonder sometimes if these conditions are the new normal. When we get into a spiritual drought, when the river stops flowing and giving us streams of living water, should we be developing strategies and learning ways of handling the loss, the sense of absence of God, the loss of enthusiasm (remember: to be “enthused” originally meant to be “filled with God.”)? Maybe the flowing, refreshing stream is gone for good or maybe not. But perhaps preparing for a tomorrow in which the trickle and the mud are the norm is a good idea.

One thing I know for sure: whatever comes, God provides.

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

And he [Jesus] said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52).

In my home town one of the main streets is called “Dawson Road,” because, uh, it goes to Dawson, GA. (Go figure.) But even though no one knows it as “new” Dawson Road, that’s in fact what it is, because there is the old way we used to get to Dawson, known for some reason now as “Old Dawson Road.” The two intersect about two miles from the house where I grew up.

As I headed back to Mississippi from a recent visit, I crossed the intersection of Dawson and Old Dawson, and as I did, my car’s odometer turned over to 150,000 miles. This has to mean something, I said to myself. Old and new, a significant mile marker, journeying home…. I was bombarded by archetypes right there in my SUV!

This experience reminded me of why I keep saying life is sacramental, revealing grace through ordinary things. Who of us has not come to a crossroads, an intersection of two options, and had to decide whether to try to balance the two or come to some synthesis? Maybe we chose one, then found out that wasn’t so great, and had to backtrack on the road to try again with a different direction. Could be we found that those old and practiced ways of thinking and those deep and abiding attitudes of the heart and spirit stood us in good stead in a new situation. Perhaps the new and trendy and bright and shiny continually attracts us, and we don’t look back.

And what of those mile markers that come along every year? I’ll pass a significant one in a few months. We think, too, of those other times when the numbers scroll over to a new, remark-worthy figure, as it were: the death of someone we love, the departure of a child for a life of his or her own with a partner, retirement, being elected to a position of influence, getting and starting a new job….

I believe God is creative and imaginative enough that no matter what our choices   and whether there are 200 or 200,000 miles on our odometer, he still manages to grace us with his presence and power. Thanks be to God.

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

“Help us to live as those who are prepared to die”—funeral prayer

“My soul is prepared. How’s yours?”—line from “Indiana Jones and the Lsst Crusade”

Not too long ago I had a piece of church mail that needed to be taken to the counter at the post office. Ahead of me in line was a woman about my age, dressed clownishly, with the most prominent ridiculous feature being huge white-framed sunglasses (which she continued to wear inside) that made her face look like a bug’s. Given her attire, I expected her to act foolishly. (Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.)

Unfortunately, my sense of how she would behave proved correct. She was trying to mail a huge wreath with a back-to-school theme. But she had come to the PO without a box for it, and there was nothing sold by the USPS that it would fit in. She also had brought no bubble wrap. The postal clerk couldn’t give the woman a sense of the cost of mailing, because the object wasn’t in a box,  and the woman had no idea of the ZIP code it was going to. Finally, the very patient clerk suggested that the woman try a particular box while I was helped with my envelope. When I left, the woman was crouching on the floor trying to fit her big wreath in the box.

In stark contrast is the preparation of an Olympic athlete like Michael Phelps. In a piece on NBC, his coach told how he would sometimes hide Phelps’ goggles or fill them with water or make him almost late for a practice or event or have him rush around and not have dinner. All this was to make sure Phelps was mentally prepared for anything. And indeed, what happened in one of Phelps’ races in Beijing at the last Olympics? His goggles filled with water. But he still won, because he had an alternative way of knowing where he was.

One difference between the fool and the wise (to use biblical categories), the champion and the clown, is their preparation. They take responsibility for what they do and who they are, in everything from the smallest activity like mailing a package to the most significant, like being in a relationship or raising children. And they make sure that they are ready to die, that their affairs are in the best order they can be, that the most important relationship of all is attended to.

As Jesus said, “Therefore…be ready…” (Matthew 24:44).

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.