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Take No Bitterness into the New Year

Many people regard New Year’s Resolutions with the same disdain they attribute to the much maligned fruitcake. I am a proponent of both. For several years now I have made the same New Year’s resolution and I do my best to keep it. I will take no bitterness into the New Year. Whatever has happened during the past twelve months that tends to sour my disposition, cause me pain and create separation, I resolve to let go. Whatever offenses I have suffered will not be dragged into the New Year. As the years pile up, keeping my resolution doesn’t get any easier.

Forgiveness is not as easy as it might sound. Partly it requires developing a thicker skin and realizing that I take far too many things personally. I need to lighten up. This is one of the concepts my friend, Dr. Monty Knight, discusses in his book, Balanced Living; Don’t Let Your Strengths Become Your Weaknesses. Continuing with Monty’s philosophy, I don’t have to go to every fight to which I am invited. That is a major concept. Let it go. Tom Newboult, a minister of religious education, once told me that sin is giving more importance to the moment than it is worth. In other words, don’t dwell in the negative. I think Tom hit the nail on the head. What a great concept!

Turning a negative into a positive is another methodology for dealing with difficult situations. Since I administered a not-for-profit agency for most of my career, I am often attacked with, “Well, Mitch, you are just an idealist.” My reply is, “Thank you. I hope so.” The main thing about forgiveness for those of us who are Christian to remember is that we are able to forgive because we have been forgiven.

Susan Sparks in her book, Laugh Your Way to Grace, suggests that we rediscover the power of humor. She maintains that we take ourselves far too seriously. We need to repackage some of the comments that cause us pain.

Bitterness is a terrible task master. It will ruin your life and suck all the goodness you receive into a dark hole. I recommend a proactive approach. Go on an active campaign to make those around you glad that you are there. Build them up by helping them feel good about themselves. Say something nice. Compliment her or him in a real genuine way. Call the person by name. Offer a specific compliment about a real accomplishment. On the other hand when you receive a compliment acknowledge it graciously with a simple “thank you.” In my book, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, I discuss the power of words, but I am by no means the first to come to that conclusion. The psalmist said, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable unto thee, oh God, my strength and my redeemer.”

Dr. Arthur Caliandro gets right to the heart of the matter with a three word solution. “Life is now.” That statement is stunning in its simplicity. Live in the present. Don’t drag past hurts into today. I was part of a vivid demonstration of this principle. We were planning one of the annual John Hamrick Lectures while Dr. John was still living. A potential speaker was being considered. I called the speaker to extend an invitation. He told me that because he and Dr. Hamrick had been involved on opposite sides of a controversy, he would only come if Dr. Hamrick approved. When I told Dr. Hamrick of my conversation he didn’t hesitate. “That was then. This is now.” Wow!

I make no claim that getting rid of bitterness is an easy task. You and I have experienced great hurts. Unfortunately we have also inflicted great hurts. I know that I am in the process of becoming and that God is not finished with me. Practicing my resolution of taking no bitterness into the New Year has helped me live a more productive, less stressful life. I believe you will experience the same happy results if you give it a try. It will not be easy, but it is worth the effort.

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A New Adventure Dawns

A new year is dawning and a new president will soon be sworn in to fill the most important job in the world. The rest of us are wondering what the New Year holds and what is our place in it.  I am filled with gratitude for the friendships, adventures and surprises that came my way in the year about to close. I am excited and a little anxious about the year ahead.

I know that there will be good things in the year ahead. How do I know that? I know because there have been good things in every one of the past years for me. Yes, there have been tragedies from which I thought I could never recover even if I wanted to. There were some so deep that I was not sure that I wanted to survive, but survive I did.

I know that I face some overwhelming challenges in the year ahead, but I am just as certain that the good will outweigh the bad. I have a loving family, good friends, and a caring support system. Most of all I know that even though I am still working out my salvation I am confident that the grace that has sustained me through these many years is still there surrounding me, upholding me, and beckoning me to take another step into faith. One step at a time is all that I can muster and I know that it is enough.

I have had an unbelievable life. No one could have dreamed it other than God and my mother. For some my life seems ordinary and dull, but to awaken every morning with joy, thanksgiving and a sense of awe is all the assurance I need to sustain me.

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The Attack on Pearl Harbor – A Family Story

I was seven years old when the attack on Pearl Harbor took place on Dec. 7, 1941. It was a Sunday morning. My most vivid early memory of the aftermath was that my Uncle Jack was drafted and sent for basic training to Ft. Jackson near Columbia about 100 miles away. My grandmother Carnell was at our house every day begging my dad to take her to see him. Of course that was impossible. Dad became an air raid warden. We had air raid drills at Northside Elementary School which mostly consisted of us getting under our desks when the alarm sounded. When I was in the 4th.grade, my dad and three of his friends went to visit Uncle Jack and three others from Woodruff at Camp Chaffee in Arkansas near Ft. Smith. I always have thought it was Camp Cook. None of the four men had much money so they ate a lot of chili on the trip. My teacher’s, Miss Woods, boyfriend was one of those visited. Uncle Jack sent me a horned toad before he went to France. We know that at one point he was stationed near Nancy, France, because in a letter he congratulated my parents on the birth of their daughter, Nancy Francis. Somehow this got by the censors.

Carl, my Aunt Sally Lou Hanna’s son, served in the Navy. He was clerk to Admiral William “Bull” Halsey. Her son-in-law, Dwight Knight was in the invasion at Normandy. My great Uncle Mitch’s two sons, Dewey and Dan Easler were also in the war.  Marion P. Carnell, Uncle Calvin’s son, and longtime member of the South Carolina House of Representatives also served in the Navy. Clarence Wehunt, husband of Sarah Carnell, served in the Army.

My late wife, Liz, and her family were in the Philippines at the time of the attack. Her parents were Presbyterian missionaries, who decided to stay. They were there for the duration of the war without pay. They credit the Chinese Christians for keeping them alive. During the war they relocated to Manila from the Island of Leyte. My sister-in-law, Joan, kept a diary of her experiences. She later wrote and delivered a paper, “A Child’s View of the War.” She delivered the paper at a 50th. Anniversary commemoration of the war. She also included some observations from her younger sister, Liz.

in 1991, my brother-in-law John Wallace and I visited the Arizona Memorial and the American Cemetery in Hawaii.

The Second World War changed all of our lives forever. It changed our nation and the world. President Franklin D. Roosevelt became my lifetime hero followed closely by James F. Byrnes of South Carolina. In more recent years I have grown to appreciate the accomplishments and straight talk of President Harry S. Truman.

 

 

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The Cuban Missile Crisis – A Family Story

The death of Fidel Castro has brought a flood of memories and reminded me of one of the most unexpected and rewarding experiences of my life. I recorded this story in my book, Our Father: Discovering Family, published last year by www.WipfandStock.com. This began in October 1962 and continued for the next several months.

The Cuban Missile Crisis ignited while we were in Baton Rouge and the city was flooded with Cuban refugees.  Somehow I was asked to teach a course in oral English for them at the YWCA.  The television program, Sing Along with Mitch (Miller) was popular at the time; therefore my courses quickly became known as Speak Along with Mitch.  What a turn of events.  Remember I flunked Spanish at Mars Hill College.  This exposure and acceptance by members of a different culture broadened my knowledge and appreciation for people whose backgrounds were far removed from my own.  Again the teacher learned more than the students.

This is a story that has played an important role in my development and in my understanding of who belongs in God’s kingdom. Who would have ever believed that I would have this brush with history.

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