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wrecking ballI stood there staring in astonishment, and it was hard to fathom. I mean, I am a self-proclaimed gardener, and a pretty good one too, I thought. This was something different though. It made my gardening efforts look like amateur hour.

Our summers always involve back-to-back weekends of family reunions. This has been going on for over twenty years. The reunions are on both my mom’s and my dad’s side, so I get to bump into aunts, uncles, and cousins too. The reunions are usually at a neutral location, close to most of the people. This can involve a drive of a hundred miles or so, which translates to a full day commitment.

My wife’s birthday usually falls on one of the reunion weekends, and with so many other things going on in the summer, it can be a press to make them regularly. This year, I was waffling about going to one of them. It was at my cousin’s house for the first time, which I had never been to, and the next day we were celebrating my wife’s birthday. In other words, the whole weekend was taken up. 

Ugh! What to do? After some poking and prodding from my dad, I decided to go. 

Now, my cousin and her siblings can look a bit rough around the edges. They lost their father when they were young, and their mother gave them over to our grandparents to raise. It was like they were basically starting over, with three new kids to raise. Growing up with them was a little like seeing these wild children trying to be raised by grandparents who were overwhelmed and under-prepared. What transpired is that the kids entered adulthood with alcohol and drug issues, abuse issues (not from the grandparents), and general instability problems.

It is funny how these impressions of them have become permanently etched in my mind. My only connection with them now is at the annual reunions, and not everyone makes them every year, so really, it is less than that. 

My cousin is now in her sixties, living in rural America with her longtime boyfriend. When we arrived, their place looked pretty nice. They have a modular home on a lot of a little over an acre. The lawn was well maintained, and everything was neat and clean. We hung out in the garage, which was well organized and super nice. Why do I mention that? Because, maybe I was subconsciously expecting some sort of junky, run-down home. 

grillsmokeMy eyes burned as the smoke blinded me. I knew I had to stay there and finish the job, but smelling like a chimney all day wasn’t what I had in mind. I closed the cover and stepped back. There were only a few more hours left, and I knew it would be perfect—if I had the patience to wait that long.

As I stood there staring at the beef brisket barbecuing in my charcoal grill, I thought about how brisket, being a cut of beef from the lower chest, has a significant amount of connective tissue. The meat must be cooked slowly, over a long period of time, to tenderize the connective tissue. The result, if done properly, is a tender, tasty, beautiful piece of meat. If not, it can be a disaster—tough, overcooked, chewy, and dry. 

The key to breaking this down is cooking at a lower temperature for a longer period of time. This could be twelve hours or more. This takes an investment of time and effort. You have to plan ahead and be patient with the process. It can be a labor of love if you know the results. If you do, you will be rewarded with a meal that doesn’t compare with much else.

While I waited, the Lord brought to my attention the similarities between the process of tenderizing tougher cuts of meat and the process of helping to tenderize other people’s hardened hearts. 

The process is a consistent level of love over a longer period of time. It isn’t a flashy, in-your-face, get-your-act-together mentality. It needs time and patience to have its perfect work. 

“But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:4 NKJV)
Patience is an act of love. You are willingly enduring a level of suffering without complaint. I am not saying it is easy to do, but the Lord tells us the result will be worth the effort.

I was reminded of Julie’s letter last month, and the hope she placed in being able to affect a certain classmate’s negative attitude over the course of the semester. The easy thing to do would be to just avoid contact with this person and try to stay happy through dodging her.

Well, she has an update, and I will let her finish the story:

vialschemistryI was a bit on edge already, and my class just started! I just couldn’t handle being exposed to the poison. I had a couple of weeks to prepare myself for what was to come and thought I was ready for anything that would be thrown at me. I got sideswiped by a poison that had nothing to do with chemistry, and it had the potential to knock me off my feet. I couldn’t get away from it, and the longer I was exposed, the more damage it was doing to me. I knew I had to do something.


My summer college class started last week, and I saw firsthand the impact the poison of negativity can have on a group of people. There are about 25 of us in the class, and there was one person who continually spewed forth negativity about everything. With her untamable tongue, she interrupted the professor with rude commentary, and on our lunch break, she complained about the college’s academic advisors, our younger classmates, the lab activities, the long school day, the short lunch break, her parents, her job, the weather, and on and on.

She had a chip on her shoulder about everything. The world was conspiring against her, apparently. She talked like a victim that had no control of anything in her life, and she oozed negativity with every breath. It didn’t take long to see that no one wanted to be around her. We were all being infected.

Poison, in any form, is insidious. Sometimes it tastes sweet and goes down fine, only to cause problems later. Other times, the poison has a bitter taste, and even a small exposure causes immediate damage. This was the latter, and everyone knew it.


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