From Negative to Positive Thinking

In the July 3rd blog post I announced that I would be taking my usual summer reading break and not post any INsights & OUTbursts until September . It’s good to be back.

The Reading
For the past two months I focused on reading widely, checking out books by authors new to me, stretching my mind with new ideas, and following mental paths I have not trod before. As part of our daily devotional and prayer time, my wife, Jo, and I read a book together that God used to stir up some things that had long been dormant in my mind. The author focused on Philippians 4:8, in which the apostle Paul urges us to think on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy.

The Discussion
Jo and I talked about our attitudes concerning numerous types of activities that married couples do in life together: sharing chores, having discussions, hauling garbage, maintaining vehicles, praying together, mowing lawns, cooking meals, making love, vacuuming floors, raising children, following a diet, planning vacations, and shopping for groceries, etc.

The AdviceThe Advice
Jo pointed out an area of our life together where I had sometimes expressed dissatisfaction, bringing up memories of negative experiences. She suggested I think of some positive memories instead. I immediately saw the wisdom of this, and after praying together, I started a Positive Highlights to Remember file to combat negative memories from the past and undesirable thoughts in the present.

The Remembering
I described in anecdotal form every good, positive, true, praiseworthy, and pleasant experience I could remember enjoying in this particular area of my life. Since I intended to read some of the anecdotes when I was tempted to focus on the negative aspects, I wrote with vivid detail, including as many sensory areas as possible. I felt quite pleased when I finished writing and noted I had racked up nearly 2,000 words.

The Writing
Later that day, while on my regular solitary walk, several more noteworthy incidents popped into my mind. I jotted down these good memories that the Holy Spirit awakened and dredged up from the deep past to present to me. By the end of the week, the well seemed to have run dry. I had written well over 7,000 words—all clear memories of positive experiences in an activity that, until then, I often tended to think about negatively.

The Therapy
Since then, I have read and reread those anecdotes, thanking God repeatedly for the privilege of enjoying these experiences. Currently, I am sharing them with Jo, one or two at a time, and we are happy that this therapy is working. When Satan brings up something negative in this area of life, I counter with one or two highly positive incidents and he takes a hike.

The Results
Although I have no plans to publish this project, it has already made a difference in my life and my relationship with Jo, which says something since we have been married well over 50 years.

How I wish I had started collecting and writing positive remembrances many decades ago!

(Note: This post is adapted from an article Writing for Therapy not for Publication which I wrote this summer for a professional writers’ blog.)

Confessions of a Hypocrite

If hypocrites are people who tell others to do something they don’t do themselves, then I’m one.

For years I’ve been telling people to remember the “God-stories” in their lives, and tell them to their families. I even do workshops in churches teaching people how to write them up for their grandchildren. Just recently I was sitting with my wife, dredging up some reminiscences when up popped a memory of forty years ago, with details we had never told our youngest daughter, Cheryl, who was the main character of the story.

When Cheryl was only a few months old, we noticed one of her eyes was slightly turned in. “She has a lazy eye,” the optometrist said, “she’ll need glasses in a couple of years to correct the problem.” As we left for Brazil a few months later, we committed our whole family to God’s care, praying especially for Him to take care of her eyes.

Cheryl's Trachoma

During our first session among the Canelas, however, an epidemic of trachoma swept through the village. Hundreds of Canelas suffered the highly contagious eye infection. We prayed much and brought in cases of antibiotic eye salve and bandages to treat the villagers. Soon each one in our family was also infected, first in one eye, then in the other. After we took off little Cheryl’s bandages, we saw that our toddler’s lazy eye had turned in noticeably. As soon as we returned to the city we took her to an optometrist who prescribed glasses and an eye patch to wear over the good eye to force the lazy eye to work. Each year her glasses needed a new and stronger prescription.

Early in our fourth year of service in Brazil we had an upsetting visit from our field director. “You are due for furlough in December,” he said, “but I strongly suggest you start your furlough at the end of June at the end of the school year. It will be much easier on your children if they don’t have to change schools in the middle of the year. I don’t want you to wait until next June because you are so short of financial support you are borrowing money from other missionaries to buy groceries. You need to go home six months earlier to gather more financial partners”

Jo and I were disappointed since we were making good progress in learning the Canela language and culture. But we realized our financial situation was not improving, so we left that summer. There was, however, another reason for returning to Canada early that neither our director nor we knew about. As soon as we arrived we went for full medical checkups, including, of course, an eye exam for Cheryl.

The eye specialist gave a sobering report after examining Cheryl. “It’s a good thing you brought her in to see me today,” he said, “her prescription is totally wrong and in another month or two it would have been too late. Her lazy eye would have gone completely blind.”

He prescribed new glasses, and an eye patch and spoke of surgery if that didn’t work. The new prescription, however, was effective and year by year her eyes improved so much that by the time she entered college her eyes were near normal.

Jo and I told Cheryl about this incident the next time we saw her. “You mean if we hadn’t been so poor you would have stayed till the following year and I would have gone blind in one eye? I never knew that. Why didn’t you tell me earlier!”

Yes, why didn’t we? Very simple, we just didn’t sit down and deliberately think through our lives and look for God’s working. Hypocrite that I am, I did not do for Cheryl what I am always telling others to do.

In this story, what a convoluted way God worked! Instead of simply healing Cheryl’s eye, either instantly or gradually, in response to our prayers, he took her, and us, through years of concern, eye exams and treatments. Then He used another very negative situation, our low financial support, to move us back to Canada just in time to get the right treatment and prevent total blindness in that eye.

There’s got to be a lesson in there somewhere.