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  • Writer's pictureW. D. McComb

My 888 Challenge

I recently challenged myself to get out of my comfort zone. Tired of the constant barrage of negativity we are faced with today, I decided to use Philippians 4:8 as a tool to focus on positive thoughts for a time.

"Finally, brethren, whatever is TRUE, whatever is HONORABLE, whatever is JUST, whatever is PURE, whatever is LOVELY, whatever is COMMENDABLE, if there is any EXCELLENCE, if there is anything WORTHY OF PRAISE, think about these things."

I decided to craft 8 positive thoughts from verse 8 in 8 days. I called it my 888 Challenge.

For the record, the number 8 symbolizes new beginnings, and 888 represents Christ.

Here is what I came up with:

Day 1 - TRUE: What has never been more true is the faith of millions of Americans. Despite church doors being closed for weeks due to Covid19, our faith has remained strong. We have gathered with “two or more” to worship in our homes, whether live-streaming or watching TV, YouTube, or Facebook recordings, all while eagerly anticipating the day when we could safely come together again. And I think the expression “absence makes the heart grow fonder” has never rung more true.

This word wall was put up in one of our church classrooms this past week - ready for when Bible class begins again. Jesus loves me and the fruits of the Spirit - truths!

Day 2 - HONORABLE: For all those who have served our country in the armed forces, be it as a career or, like my grandfathers in World War 2 who answered when the country needed them, thank you for your honorable service. To borrow a movie quote: “they stand upon a wall and say, ‘Nothing's going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch.’”

I borrowed this photo from the recent post of a friend from my hometown who dedicated his life to the service of our country. He was moving from an assignment as commander at Kadena Air Base in Japan to the U.S. for a new post as commander at a different base.

Day 3 - JUST: I’ll share a simple story from my childhood that came to mind as I thought about this principle.

First, lest you read this and think otherwise, let me assure my father is a nice guy. But that’s not what this story is about. It’s about high expectations and what happens when they’re not met.

Those who played for my dad or were one of his students may be familiar with this look of displeasure on his face and should appreciate this story.

This is circa 1982, and Dad was not happy with something on the football field. And of course, it wasn’t the first or last time his face bore this look that said he meant business. As his son and team manager, I may have seen this scowl more than anyone.

One day, when I was probably about nine, one of the older managers, a high school student, picked on me and pushed my buttons until I lost my cool and erupted in a profanity-laced tirade. I don’t remember the exact words, only that they were locker room lingo of the strongest kind. What the older manager said next - “Ooh, I’m gonna tell your daddy right now” - made me weak in the knees. I begged for my life, but he just smirked and marched right into the room where Dad was taping ankles before practice.

After listening to the detailed replay of my transgression, Dad’s face twisted into a darker version of the one in this photo, and I knew I was dead. But he didn’t kill me. Instead, he eyed that boy, who he must have sensed had been harassing me, and said, “I really don’t like tattletales.” Then he looked me in the eye, with the same knowing frown that made me shrink two inches, and said, “Plus, I know my son doesn’t talk like that.”

Then he told us to get back to work and quit wasting his time. We both got the point.

Day 4 - PURE: The word can mean many different things and bring all sorts of ideas to mind, but is there anything more pure than the elated smile of a child?

This is one of my favorite photos, from a time when baseball was played purely for the love of the game and time spent with friends who share that love. It brings a smile to my face every time I think of it. My son had just hit a home run, and his buddies were just as happy as he was. They are all still the best of friends. I’ve had the privilege of seeing hundreds of these smiles on the faces of all three of my kids and their friends over the years, and it never gets old. I long for a time when we see more pure, unadulterated joy like this in the world again.

Day 5 - LOVELY: This isn’t a word I use much, except maybe in sarcasm.

“Your back left tire is flat.” “Well, that’s just lovely.”

It’s actually a fine word, and the Bible tells me to think on lovely things, so I need to add its proper use to my repertoire. But still, it’s a bit out of my comfort zone, so I wondered, how best to share an example of something lovely? I thought of picturesque landscapes. Favorite songs. Hummingbirds. A dozen other things.

The possibilities are infinite, but for me, one image comes to mind first every time - the faces of my wife and daughters. They are most definitely my shining stars, definitely worth thinking about when I need a lift. Mothers, sisters, wives daughters - it's worth recognizing all the lovely ladies who make life better.

“Women are the poetry of the world in the same sense as the stars are the poetry of heaven.” - Francis Hargrave

Day 6 - COMMENDABLE: During this Covid19 health crisis, if you watch the news, you’ll see story after story from big urban hospitals and the staff who work there. That’s fine, and they deserve to be lauded, but let me tell you about what’s happening elsewhere. All across the country, rural hospitals battle to provide quality care within their community, where their citizens are more likely than their urban counterparts to be uninsured, to have serious chronic health conditions, and to have geographic barriers to access for preventive care. Plus, only 11% of physicians work in rural areas, whereas 20% of Americans live in them. In short, rural hospitals have to do more with less.

Unfortunately, some small hospitals are not able to survive and are closing their doors. Others, however, have not only survived but are thriving and are able to deliver care that rivals any hospital, anywhere. There are hundreds across the country, and they hold a special place in my heart. If you have one in your community, support them!

We have one in Amory, Mississippi where I live and work. I would put the providers, nurses, and ancillary staff of what is affectionately known as Gilmore Memorial, and the quality of care they deliver, up against any, anywhere. I say this today more so from the perspective of being a recent patient than as a physician on staff here. My time spent connected to all these infusions fostered two things within me: deeper empathy for the suffering of my patients, and greater appreciation for the people who so nobly care for them when they come to our fine hospital. The efforts of Gilmore’s staff and those of others like them everywhere deserve to be commended!

Day 7 - EXCELLENCE: Despite the photo, this post is not a tribute to legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi, though he is a worthy candidate, a man known for harsh discipline, success on the field, and a big heart. A man ahead of his time in both coaching philosophy and social justice ideas.

No, this post is about what Lombardi represented - the pursuit of excellence. This is about the people in our lives who have demanded more of us than we thought we had to offer and pushed us to exceed our own expectations. Whether a parent, grandparent, spouse, teacher, coach, friend, boss, or someone else, most of us have had one or more people in our lives who meet that description. My parents and wife, among others, certainly fit that bill.

Those people are worth remembering when you turn your thoughts to positive things and need something to smile about. Thank them if you can. Seek perfection for yourself and expect excellence to follow. And push those under your guidance to be all they can be.

Day 8 - WORTHY OF PRAISE: This one was difficult, and I wasn’t sure if it was because there are so many things that qualify or not nearly enough. Both are true. But what is an appropriate, worthy, single example right now, at this moment in time?

I considered the efforts of thousands of researchers and clinicians who have come together from the private and public sector, from countless disciplines, like never before in history, to collaborate on treatments and vaccines for the scourge that plagues us.

I thought of the efforts of thousands of educators across the country who are working tirelessly to find a way to educate our children despite an unprecedented, and worse yet, poorly understood obstacle in their way.

And then there are the efforts of the currently much-maligned law enforcement community, which of course has some bad apples among it - but hasn’t every group of humans since the beginning of time? Yes, there are also bad doctors in the world, but sick folks sure seem glad the good ones are there when they need them.

After careful consideration though, there seems to be only one logical candidate. Only one who is wholly and perfectly deserving. 𝐑𝐨𝐦𝐚𝐧𝐬 𝐜𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟖 has been called the greatest chapter in the Bible by some. If you haven’t read it lately, I suggest you study it against the context of current events and your worries for the future. To summarize, we aren’t guaranteed very much in this life, but we can always count on one thing: no matter how bad things get, God’s love for us never wavers.

Romans 8:29-29: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Worthy of praise

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