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Ann Spangler's sensitivity to the ever-changing spiritual and cultural climate in which we live has enabled her to address themes of profound interest to many readers.
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Live What You Believe

Live What You Believe

a long road heading into the mountains

Peace Pilgrim embraced a life of voluntary simplicity, gradually paring down her possessions and attachments over a period of fifteen years. Looking back on her life, she referred to a mountaintop experience in which she experienced what she called “the first glimpse of what the life of inner peace was like.” That experience set the course for the rest of her journey.

She came to realize that peace was impossible for people whose lives are not in harmony with the laws that govern the universe. “Insofar as we disobey these laws,” she remarked, “we create difficulties for ourselves by our disobedience. We are our own worst enemies. If we are out of harmony through ignorance, we suffer somewhat; but if we know better and are still out of harmony, then we suffer a great deal.

“So,” she explained, “I got busy on a very interesting project. This was to live all the good things I believed in. I did not confuse myself by trying to take them all at once, but rather, if I was doing something that I knew I should not be doing, I stopped doing it, and I always made a quick relinquishment. You see, that’s the easy way. Tapering off is long and hard. And if I was not doing something that I knew I should be doing, I got busy on that. It took the living quite a while to catch up with the believing, but of course it can, and now if I believe something, I live it.”1

Wish you could say the same? I know I do. Why take the long, hard way to peace when we have it in our power to do the things we should and not do the things we shouldn’t? Let’s ask God right now for the grace to embrace a very interesting project—to start living what we believe.

  1. Peace Pilgrim, “My Spiritual Growing Up: My Steps toward Inner Peace,” chap. 2 in Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words, Peace Pilgrim website, http://www.peacepilgrim.com/book/chapt2.htm

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Extreme Peace

A photo of the Peace Pilgrim walking

Mildred Lisette Norman was seventy-two when she started walking across the country for the seventh time. Possessing nothing but the clothes on her back, she wore her trademark blue tunic emblazoned with the words “Peace Pilgrim,” the name she had come to be known by. This silver-haired woman began walking when the Korean War was underway and kept walking right on through the conflict in Vietnam. Remarkably, she managed to live on the road without money, never once asking for food and shelter but receiving what she needed. Wherever she went, she spoke to people not only about the need for peace among nations and peoples but of the need we all have for inner peace. The following are among her many memorable quotes:

This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love. There is nothing new about this message, except the practice of it.

You have much more power when you are working for the right thing than when you are working against the wrong thing.

Only outer peace can be had through law. The way to inner peace is through love.

Since steps toward spiritual advancement are taken in such varied order, most of us can teach one another.1

Peace Pilgrim lived what many of us would consider an extreme life. She was forty-four when she undertook her first pilgrimage and seventy-two when she died in an accident while being driven to a speaking engagement. She lived prayerfully and with faith, desiring to tell others the vital truths she had learned about peace. Whether she was a Christian or merely a Deist I am uncertain, but I am sure she knew something important about peace.

  1. See Peace Pilgrim, “Steps toward Inner Peace,” Wikisource, http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Steps_Toward_Inner_Peace.

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What If?

a person walking on a city street casts a very tall shadow

Besides adding joy to one’s life, children can add plenty of anxiety. When you love a person, especially someone as vulnerable as a child, you can begin to feel a lot more fear.

I was voicing my own fears recently when a good friend opened his heart, telling me not to waste my energy. He went on to say that he had spent years worrying about one of his two sons.

“Max,” he said, “was always my greatest concern. When he was five, he tested positive for a rare disorder that could eventually debilitate him. The doctors told my wife and me he would probably start showing symptoms by the time he was a teenager, maybe sooner. I was so afraid for him that I couldn’t sleep at night, worrying about what to do.

“But I never thought twice about Josh. He had always been so healthy. He was smart, well-liked, funny. I knew he was going to be successful in whatever he did. Then, suddenly, his life went into a tailspin during his senior year in high school. We found out that he suffers from bipolar disorder. Sadly my fun-loving, capable kid has vanished. Josh’s case is so severe that he has been in and out of psych wards for the last several years and he can’t hold down a job.

“The odd thing is that all those sleepless nights spent worrying about Max were completely off track. It’s been twenty years since we heard about the likelihood of his developing that disorder, but he hasn’t exhibited a single symptom, and the doctors now say he probably won’t.”

My friend’s point, of course, is that worrying about what might happen is a waste of precious energy because it means we are preparing for eventualities that will probably never materialize. As Mark Twain once quipped, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Or as a Swedish proverb puts it: “Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.” If your life is overshadowed right now by anxiety, ask God to bring you out of that shadow and into the light of his presence, enabling you to trust him for whatever is troubling you.

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I’ll Fly Away

an eagle soars high in the sky

“Good News for Ann Spangler!” That was the headline on a postcard I recently received, indicating that some generous company stood ready to fork out $14,480 for my funeral expenses. Plus, this company would give me a free Walmart gift card. All I had to do was sign up for a special insurance plan. I can’t tell you how excited I was! I thought about what I might buy with that gift card—maybe a beautiful floral arrangement for my casket or perhaps a new outfit to wear when they laid me out. So many possibilities.

When it comes to news that is genuinely good, you can’t beat the best news of all, which is that anyone who belongs to Christ will live forever. How exactly this works, no one but God knows. But I like to imagine it something like this: say your deepest desire is to travel to the outer reaches of the universe. Amazingly you find a spaceship that is capable of taking you there. Under your own power, you know you will never get there. But as a passenger on that powerful ship, you will make it.

I think something like that happens in our relationship with Christ. Say he is your deepest desire. Wherever he is, you want to be. United to his power, you push past the limits of your mortality, contradicting the usual expectations.

The psalmist says, “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10, NIV). And he was right as far as the usual course of things. But our life expectancy goes from eighty to infinity with the coming of Christ, whom the Bible calls “the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2, NIV). What does that mean? Among other things, it means he does everything first and then we follow. Like him, we will die. And like him, we will rise again. United to the Source of life, we are destined to live forever.

Now that’s good news, even without a free gift card to Walmart!

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Smooth Sailing

a sailboat on a wave

What comes to mind when you hear the word peace? For me it’s the cliché of a pond in perfect stillness or a sea with just enough breeze to allow for smooth sailing. Turbulent water is nowhere in the picture. All is quiet and serene. But the truth is, if I possessed that kind of peace all the time, I would probably go crazy. I would certainly become fat, sleepy, and bored. Surely that can’t be what God intends when he offers us his peace.

I like what Charles Spurgeon, the great nineteenth-century preacher, had to say about the blessings of trouble. He is talking about how not to raise a son, but the same advice would apply, of course, to raising a daughter.

“If you want to ruin your son,” Spurgeon says, “never let him know a hardship. When he is a child carry him in your arms, when he becomes a youth still dandle him, and when he becomes a man still dry-nurse him, and you will succeed in producing an arrant fool. If you want to prevent his being made useful in the world, guard him from every kind of toil. Do not suffer him to struggle. Wipe the sweat from his dainty brow and say, ‘Dear child, thou shalt never have another task so arduous.’ Pity him when he ought to be punished; supply all his wishes, avert all disappointments, prevent all troubles, and you will surely tutor him to be a reprobate and to break your heart. But put him where he must work, expose him to difficulties, purposely throw him into peril, and in this way you shall make him a man, and when he comes to do man’s work and to bear man’s trial, he shall be fit for either.”1

Could it be the trials that often throw us into such confusion and cause us to question God’s love are in the end meant not to rob us of peace but to make us people who are filled with shalom—whole, healed, confident, safe, prosperous, complete—able to hold our heads high not because life is easy but because we belong to a Father who loves us and teaches us how to live?

  1. Charles H. Spurgeon, “A Mystery! Saints Sorrowing and Jesus Glad!” (sermon, Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, August 7, 1874), transcript, Spurgeon Gems, accessed November 18, 2011, http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols10-12/chs585.pdf.

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Got Milk?

a close-up of the mortar in a brick wall

I remember receiving a note from my daughter’s school informing me that though the school year was nearly over, Luci’s milk account still had more than forty-five dollars. Further investigation revealed the not-too-surprising news that my daughter had not been drinking her milk. So I sat her down for yet another lecture, trying to convey the importance of establishing enough bone mass when she’s young so that when she reaches my age and beyond, she won’t suffer from fractures that could have been avoided. As you might imagine, my lecture didn’t convince.

Luci’s aversion to milk reminds me of a point Mark Buchanan makes in his book The Rest of God.

“God,” he says, “gave us the gift of Sabbath—not just as a day, but as an orientation, a way of seeing and knowing. Sabbath-keeping is a form of mending. It’s mortar in the joints. Keep Sabbath, or else break too easily and oversoon.”

Mark goes on to say that “Sabbath imparts the rest of God—actual physical, mental, spiritual rest, but also the rest of God—the things of God’s nature and presence we miss in our busyness.”

I remember working for a man who was a workaholic. Joe would spend hours at work every night. Though he was devoted to his work, he never seemed to stay on top of things. The more time he put in at work, the less productive he was. Or to say it more colloquially, the harder he worked, the behinder he got. At least that’s how his employees saw it.

Just because we devote boatloads of time and energy to something doesn’t guarantee a good return. Because time is such a precious commodity, let’s give some of it to God, who is able to transform the time we spend with him into mortar for our joints, ensuring that we will break neither too easily nor oversoon.

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Practical Peace

a little girl wearing bunny slippers pets a puppy

Are there practical ways to build more peace into our lives—things we can do to alleviate the stress and tension we feel? Happily, there are. You have probably considered several of these ideas already. If so, take this opportunity to review the options and then try a few.

  • Don’t bottle up your concerns. Instead, connect with friends who are able to provide a listening ear.
  • Limit your caffeine and sugar consumption.
  • Soothe yourself with a cup of tea. Green tea and black tea contain theanine, a substance that may have a calming effect.
  • Distract yourself by cooking a nice meal.
  • Drink a warm glass of milk. Milk contains tryptophan, a substance that can calm you.
  • Eat a little dark chocolate.
  • Hire help.
  • Take a bike ride.
  • Play with a pet.
  • Go outside for a few minutes every day.
  • Take a bath with lavender bath salts or oil.
  • Watch a funny movie.
  • Dedicate one evening a week to do something simply because you enjoy it.
  • Lie down and begin tensing and then relaxing your muscles, starting with your toes and working your way up to your neck and head. Tense each muscle group for five seconds and then relax for thirty.

None of this is rocket science. That’s the advantage. The psalmist’s vision of green meadows and peaceful streams isn’t just about heaven. We can begin to taste God’s rest right now. Adopting a few simple practices may be what you need to ratchet down your stress levels.

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a man with steam coming out of his ears

I am a self-confessed news junkie. Last month, however, I hardly tuned in to television news, preferring to get my fix through print media instead. As news reports kept pouring in, I surprised myself by remaining calm. Then I made the mistake of turning on the television, with very different results. Though the news was identical to what I had previously read, my response was notably different. As I watched commentators speculating on every possible scenario, I could almost see my anxiety rising like the red line on a thermometer. The takeaway was clear: watching televised news tends to trigger my anxiety. If I want to remain peaceful, I need to find a way to limit my exposure.

What are your triggers—the things that ramp up your anxiety, making it difficult for you to remain peaceful? Maybe it’s talking to friends who have a tendency to look at negatives more than positives. Perhaps it’s pressuring yourself to be perfect or comparing yourself to others or checking the stock market too often or packing too many things into a day or making a habit of asking, “What if, what if, what if?” We all have triggers that rob us of the peace we desire, draining our energy and making it difficult to live positive, productive lives. Avoiding these makes practical sense.

In the next few days, ask God to help you identify the unconscious triggers that threaten your peace. Then seek him for the wisdom to know how to handle them.

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a basket of speckled eggs, with one broken on the table

In the gripping novel Sister, a character by the name of Beatrice writes to her younger sister, Tess, about uncovering the roots of her own pervasive insecurity. The final abandonment came, she says, when her mother packed her off to boarding school. That was when her younger brother’s death and her father’s desertion coalesced into the overarching message that she was unwanted and alone. But now, as an adult, she has discovered a surprising truth. Rather than rejecting her, her mother had been trying to protect her by sending her away. Yet her essential problem remains: she is still broken, even if that brokenness is based on a misunderstanding.

“The problem was,” she says, “knowing the reason I was insecure didn’t help me to undo the damage that had been done. Something in me had been broken, and I now knew it was well intentioned—a duster knocking the ornament onto the tiled floor rather than its being smashed deliberately—but broken just the same.”1

Like Beatrice, we may suffer from unintentional wounds inflicted during childhood. While greater self-understanding can be helpful to the healing process, understanding alone cannot put us back together because broken is still broken. But unlike characters in a novel, we have access to a Healer who is able to transform us, using the hurt we have suffered for a purpose yet to be revealed.

Today as you seek the Lord, who is our healer, ask him for a deeper understanding of the roots of your brokenness. Then pray that he will touch you with his healing and redeeming power.

  1. Rosamund Lupter, Sister: A Novel (New York: Broadway Books, 2010), 117.

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Be Kind To Yourself

a seedling grows out of moss and is fed by the rain

Imagine your heart as a garden. As the plants grow, enriched by sun and rain, other things begin to grow as well. Tiny seeds, once dormant, have begun to sprout. Now imagine that the gardener comes along and is surprised by what she sees. The garden she once envisioned has been replaced by one that includes several strange plants, already deeply rooted.

Disheartened, she could simply throw up her hands and walk away, leaving the garden to fend for itself. Or, disliking the invaders, she could try tearing them out, risking damage to the other plants. Or she could approach the situation more calmly, deciding to become familiar with each new plant so she can tend the garden more effectively.

In the garden of your heart, emotions like joy, happiness, awe, and compassion spring up. But other emotions grow there as well—anger, shame, fear, disappointment, jealousy. Like the gardener who is surprised by what’s growing in her garden, we can be taken off guard by our emotional reactions. Disliking what we see, some of us respond like the disheartened gardener, thinking nothing can be done about our most deeply rooted feelings. So we let them run riot, allowing them to overrun the rest of the garden. Others of us are like the gardener who is so distressed by what she discovers that she destroys the garden in her haste to rip out the unwanted plants. We do that when we treat ourselves harshly, with self-condemnation, trying to suppress or destroy feelings we would rather not have.

Like gardens, our hearts won’t flourish under harsh or neglectful treatment. Far better to treat ourselves with kindness and compassion as we learn to handle feelings we’d rather not have.

The next time you feel angry, disappointed, hurt, anxious, or ashamed, don’t rush to bury the feeling and don’t scold yourself for having it. Allow yourself instead to experience the feeling and think about what caused it. Remember that emotions are neither good nor bad. What matters is how you respond to them. Taking a more accepting approach to unpleasant emotions will keep them from controlling you, enabling you to experience greater peace and emotional healing as you begin to understand yourself better.

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