Rise to the Challenge

Are you quick to give an excuse as to why you cannot start something? Without missing a beat, we can name ten things that keep us from starting something that we’ve wanted to start for the longest time. The point is, it takes a great deal of effort to start something and little effort to stop before we gain enough momentum to get things moving smoothly.

If life is filled with obstacles now, when is it ever going to change? There is no such thing as an obstacle free life. When you stop to think about it, life has always been complicated and obstacles change but never disappear the further you go. In fact, they often get bigger and even harder to overcome.

Think about how many obstacles babies face. They are completely helpless in the beginning until some giant human comes to their aide. But along the way, they experience a growth process which helps them overcome each obstacle in their present situation. From childhood to adulthood, they face all kinds of obstacles differing at each stage of life.

Each obstacle overcome builds on the previous ones. Relationships. Aging. Children. College. Health. A host of issues will always arise. If you wait for the day when there are no obstacles, it may never come. Instead, remind yourself of all the things God has brought you through. Remember your childlike faith and reignite the passion within you that declares, nothing can stop me. Rise up and overcome the obstacles that lie before you. The world needs what you have to offer.

Soul Sucking Moments

Has your soul ever felt sapped of the life force that drives you inside? While positive quotes are helpful, during these times uplifting words do not always help. I call them the soul sucking moments of life that leave you feeling completely drained. We push others away because we loathe the pain so much we wouldn’t wish it on anyone else.

Isolated on these lonely islands of despair, we still desire to connect – somehow, someway. It brings great satisfaction when we finally do connect with someone. Perhaps they have been through the same type of pain or knows someone personally who has. A powerful bond forms when people who share similar experiences connect with each other.

An important thing to remember when sharing painful situations is that they are not all the same. It can drive people away when you claim to know what they are going through. You may think you understand their pain but chances are high that you don’t unless you have been in the exact same circumstances. You may argue, pain is pain. True. Apples and oranges are both fruits, but they are also very different. In a similar way, our pain is unique to our circumstances and experiences.

When you haven’t felt the same type of pain and try to compare your pain to others, they may feel cheated. For example, the death of an elderly loved one varies significantly from people expericing the death of a child. But when you’ve lost a sibling and come across another person who also lost a sibling, there is a level of pain that you now share with that person. No longer do you bear the pain alone. Alas, there is another who shares in this struggle. That is a major reason why I believe support groups work so well. People share in a struggle and help support one another. While no two persons share identical lives, their relatability can revolve around these similarities.

There are times when that support may not be there. We flip through song after song, in search of one that will lift our spirit. It’s like being on a deserted island, finely tuning an old CB radio in order to find someone on the right frequency, somebody who gets us, who knows what we are going through. Then something miraculous happens when we find a song that stirs our soul to the core and it becomes “that song”, the one we turn to when bad is breaking loose in our lives. I have many songs like that to redirect focus off my worries and problems. When I change my focus to being on God alone, it helps more than anything else I’ve ever done.

I recently found myself feeling sapped of energy and strength, caught in a soul suck moment. I turned on a song and suddenly, I could feel myself being lifted out of the pit. Out of nowhere came the sound of a squawking bird. It was not a continuous squawk, nor was it a one time occurence. The hackeling sounds came in between moments of relief while I was trying to let go of my worries. Like a crab trying to pull me back into the mess with all the other crabs, the squawking pulled at me. However, captivated by freedom, I knew I had to let go of the squawking. Gripping on to the freedom instead, required effort. The squawking, however, was completely out of my control. Sure, I could have tried to silence the bird, but another would likely take its place. Instead, I let the bird squawk because that is what squawking birds do. After that, I clung to my freedom song and climbed my way out of the pit.

When you try to climb your way out of whatever trouble you find yourself in, there will likely be some people who have something to say about it. Let them squawk. Focus on your freedom and climb your way out.

A Helping Hand

I went to the hardware store to pick up a couple of shelves. When I got to the isle where they were, a man was looking at the same shelf set I wanted to buy. He walked a few steps away when I approached. These were the tough, heavy duty kind of shelves made of metal. The gigantic box said it required two people to lift it. They were stacked high enough that I could slide them off onto a flat cart. However, it was not as easy as it sounds. The cart rolled around, banging everywhere. It was too short, about half the length of the shelf, so when it sat on the cart it nearly toppled over. Meanwhile, the man who I had seen on the way in stood only a few steps away. He paid me little attention, despite all the clanging, and checked out other shelving while I struggled. Occassionally, he glanced over my way but quickly turned back.

I thought the second one would be easier, but not so. However, I managed to get the second one loaded by myself as well. I walked toward the checkout counter and thought to myself, if that would have been me standing by, I would have offered a helping hand. Of course, I didn’t ask for help. I don’t know what it is about asking for help, but men hate it for some reason.

I checked out and went out to my truck. When I opened the tailgate, a man was walking by and asked me if I wanted help. While I won’t repeat his humourous words, I greatly appreciated the offer and accepted his help. Moments later they were both loaded, I shook his hand, thanked him again and we parted ways. On the way home, my back ached a little, likely from the effort I exerted on my own. I thought how much worse it could have been if I wouldn’t have gotten help.

The irony of it all is that they were literally within three minutes of each other. How could so different a result occur so close to each other. Another question popped into my mind. Which guy do you think you should be like, the first, or the second? Indeed, the second, although most of what I see is the first. This is why you must be the second was the thought that followed. I knew I read a verse that could relate to such thinking, Galatians 5:13-14. It mentions humbly serving one another in love. This is not to imply the first guy did anything wrong. But not doing anything wrong is not necessarily doing anything right. He may have been consumed by thought, which is how we all get at times. Whether the second guy realized it or not, he was living out the scriptures.

The secular version of this could be referred to as random acts of kindness, which has become increasingly popular. Whether it is trendy or not, does not matter. Do good. The world needs as much kindness and generosity as it can get. It sometimes takes a conscious effort to look for ways you can help. Look and then help. The second guy recognized a need outside of his own world and jumped in to see how he could help in mine. To that man, I say thank you my friend, may God bless you for stopping just a brief moment to help make my day better.

Future Self

No matter how dark my hair gets, my blonde roots make an appearance now and then. When I opened my mailbox there was a single letter inside, with no return address. Much to my surprise, the handwriting was my own. I gasped. My future self was writing to me! Perhaps to warn me of something. Seconds later, I thought, you idiot, that is the self-addressed envelope you sent a few weeks ago to the local tax bureau for a receipt.

Leaving this ridiculous moment in the past, a thought often intrigues us after receiving hindsight. That’s because we have made countless mistakes in life, many of which could have been avoided. But unfortunately we do not have the luxury of steering ourselves in that fashion.

What we do have though, alternatively, is an urgent need to steer those who come after us. As “experienced lifers”, we have an obligation to young people, a duty to fulfill to any who will listen. If you were hearing your words instead of speaking them, what would the message be? What message are we sending our young people?

There is a scripture in the Bible, Judges 2:10, that mentions a new generation that came up that did not know the Lord or what He had done for the people of Israel. How does something like that happen? How could an entire generation turn away from God? Perhaps the previous generation spoke more of today’s troubles than yesterday’s victories. Until young people have experiences of their own with God, all they have to rely on is what information they are receiving from others who have had experiences with Him.

There is a weird connotation with some testimonies, not knowing whether they are real or not. But when we come across one that is false, it shakes our faith. A seed of doubt is planted and if given the chance, it will grow. But not all testimonies are false. Some are very real and cannot be dismissed. I don’t believe God changes the way we do, nor that He is a respecter of persons. We can add to our faith by building on the faith of others. Even if there is the smallest chance that God will do it for me too, I would want to know that it was possible.

But what if we are silent, no longer telling the stories of all that God has brought us through? Miracles start out miraculous, but when time elapses, they became less of a deal to the point which we may be tempted to not even tell the tale any more. However, telling the next generation how God worked in our lives accomplishes two things. First, it illustrates to them the possibilities of how God can work in their life too. Second, it brings to remembrance in our own minds what God has done previously for us, which helps reinforce our faith for the challenges we face today.

There are no do-overs. We cannot erase our past. But while this future self isn’t likely to tell us about what will come, it is in our power to do the next best thing. We have a responsibility to help those who come after us. We can tell them the stories of how God brought us through the struggles and challenges we faced along the way. If they are open to hearing our past mistakes, they have the potential to learn from them without having the often painful experience of living them. If they can build on the foundation God has started in us, then think of the heights they can achieve beyond what we did. Progress is made possible by those who continue to strive to do more and become more. If there were a future me out there, I have a feeling what he would tell me.

“Reach higher!”

Big Brother’s Birthday

40. What an old bat you are? But only I am allowed to say that. I guess if our dad surveyed back when Moby Dick was a guppie, then where would that leave you and I? Old together, yet apart. Together, through God’s unfailing love. Apart because you live in a world immeasurably greater than mine. When you left this one, I grasped for answers as to why. I’ve never gotten that answer but I’ve gotten something of far greater significance. A new life.

Had you not left here, I doubt my path would look the same as it does now. Before I cared only of money and material things. The indescribable pain I felt later altered my course. I wondered before if I was a Christian just because I didn’t want to go to hell. Since then, I’ve dedicated my life to following Jesus in a whole new way. Might I add, not just when everything is going well but even when life feels like a tortuous, inescapable, living hell.

Before, when things didn’t go my way, I resented God. I would question everything with my own superior intellect. But as time passed, I’ve realized that all I’ve come to know or could ever know in this lifetime would make for a silly comparison with that of our Almighty Creator. His ways are higher than my ways. I do not always comprehend what happens, or why. While I am a firm believer in expressing gratitude for everything, I’ve found new meaning in giving thanks. My heart now melts when I express my gratitude for what God has given me beyond material things. Things come and they especially go. I remember the emptiness, the vast seas of anger that clouded my thoughts, and the intense pain of loss that caused me to become a different person. I was convinced that I would remain in that state of mind for the rest of my life. No one could convince me that I would ever be released from that prison, and no longer held captive by terrible imaginations.

I believe the human heart longs, whether knowingly or not, to be satisfied. The societal bar seems to get lower and lower with each passing year. In the pursuit of pleasing ourselves, I fear we have lost ourselves. What is now considered immoral is muddier than ever before. As a society, we slip further and further. Things that were once an outrage, are now commonplace. I used to think deprivation was a most terrible thing. I’m starting to wonder about the opposite now as well. In seeking to pleasure ourselves, especially in American culture, we’ve lost sight of significance.

Stress seems to be a normal part of everyone’s day, an excuse to further separate ourselves from others. If the television is turned on, it will be only a matter of seconds before finding a program in which people are killing each other, lying, cheating, needlessly swearing, or any number of unspeakable acts against fellow human beings. It has become so commonplace that when we see it happen in the news, we continue eating our dinner and briefly shutter at the thought of it. We raise the question, what is this world coming to, and then dismiss it and move about our busy lives.

We become outraged at the mistreatment of animal life, which is rightfully so. But when we see a fellow human being suffering, we turn our cheek, sure not to make eye contact. We pity them less and less because we have lost our sense of compassion for each other. If anything, I feel as though we have torn down the walls of compassion in order to build monuments to ourselves. Front and center of our lives is a statue of me, my life, the way I want it. Don’t get in my way. On one side of the coin we endeavor to make our lives easier. On the flip side of that same coin is a most damnable pursuit of pleasure without regard for the cost to ourselves or humanity.

With every inch that we give, another is demanded. I shutter at the unspeakable acts committed by people who desparetly need help. They seek it from anywhere and everywhere, by any means. Their hearts cry out for love and acceptance, but the world gives back a false sense of hope, despicably packaged with a fancy label and an empty promise. All claim to bring satisfaction to our longing hearts, yet fail miserably, leaving us broke and destitute. Tossed aside are those who lay in ruins. Hopeless, they dare not lift their eyes. Devalued by others, they do not see their own worth.

Our society has mastered the art of selling lies. In the advancement of this new age, we have done away with spiritual matters. Many claim to be Christian, yet do little to show it. We have taken the throne of God and put ourselves on it. Piece by piece we lose a part of what is sacred, I ask, when will the whole be gone? Is nothing sacred any more?

The news has always informed us of the terrible acts committed. Kidnap. Rape. Murder. When I read that children, even babies, are being sexually abused, it makes me want to scream. I ponder the question of why. Why is this allowed to happen? In our disgust, we turn to God, looking for answers. Or at times, rather, we turn to Him to place the blame. With fierce judgment we condemn Him for not doing anything to stop such atrocities.

Nevermind the fact that we sit in our air conditioned homes in our comfortable furniture, living a life many in the world would consider one of ease. We have so many things going for us in America it is almost repulsive. Yet most of us do little to prevent such acts. Sure, there are a handful of people working tirelessly to stop it. But ought we all be outraged? Ought we all get behind one another and put an end to such heinous crimes? Ought every door hiding such atrocities be kicked down and the accused brought to justice?

But our self-indulgent, lackadaisical selves refuse to take ownership under the assumption that someone else will take responsibility over these problems because we have our own to deal with. May God forgive us for not seeing the wickedness in our own hearts, and refusal to turn from our ways. Our own sense of self has hindered our view of God and that of each other, putting the needs of ourselves above, ultimately violating the two great commandments Jesus gave.

It does not take one of us, it takes all of us. Each person has a responsibility to take ownership of. Each gift we are given has a purpose. Yet when we do not use our individual gifts, humanity as a whole suffers. Every single day that passes, tears fall and hearts mourn. The grave swallows up the potential that lies within so many who never tapped into it. People are killing themselves because they see no way out. They are poisoning their bodies with all manners of substance for even a few short moments of relief. Our world is full of hurting people who need help, who need hope. I see that now.

I cannot speak for everyone, but I can boldly speak for one, whose life will never be the same. In your short 27 years here, your life mattered. Even after your passing, your life still matters because it matters to me and to our family. I’ve come to appreciate life as never before, acknowledging that all life matters from the moment God breathed life into it, even in its tiniest forms.

In my search for truth since your passing, I am coming to know the One who is the way, the truth, and the life. Never before have I felt this much alive, this much hope, this much peace, this much joy, this much compassion. On and on the list goes of the goodness God has shown in my life. I know this much, I do not deserve it.

But as 1 Peter 3:15 reminds me, I must be ready to give an answer to the hope that lies within me. That hope is my life, my light in this world’s dark places, Jesus Christ.

Thank you for helping me find my way.

Happy 40th Big Brother! I love you very much and will see you again one day!

Doubt in the Midst of Pain

Uncertainty has a way of creeping into our minds. During the dificult periods of our lives, we are found questioning. What is going to happen? When? What is next for me? How will…?

On and on are minds are barraged with thoughts. Some are good, yes, but many are not and must be swiftly dealt with before they take root in our hearts. Any thought we allow ourselves to dwell on will grow into fruition, for our minds care not whether they are good or bad.

Our minds take in so much information, they are truly magnificent. But they quickly dismiss thoughts that are not pertinent. They only care for the ones shown in the spotlight. All around the spotlight, people and things are moving, but the mind focuses all its attention on whatever is centered in front of that beaming light. We have the power to shine the spotlight on whatever is on that stage. The question to us, is, what are we shining the spotlight on?

That stage is made up of our lives. Characters come and go all the time. A tremendous number of events occur, moving the story along from one scene to the next. If we were watching a play and the person behind the spotlight refused to move it, as a participant in the audience we would grow weary. At first the scene may have gripped our hearts but eventually we recognize it is time for a change.

But how can we shift the spotlight on to something else? The truth is, we can’t shift it on to another thing until we first decide to take the spotlight off the thing it is currently on. Simply said, we cannot shine the spotlight on two separate things. We must choose the better of the two and change our focus.

If the spotlight is the storm that surrounds us – the ripping of the waves, the roar of thunder, the coldness of the night, then our hearts will be arrested. Paralyzed with fear and seized by doubt, our tiny ships will be tossed about in the raging sea. It is easy to see the evidence that fills our hearts with fear and doubt, for it surrounds us.

But there is a different area we can choose to shine our spotlight on. By faith, we can choose to shine our spotlight elsewhere. Right in the midst of our storm is Jesus, who calmed the winds and the waves in Mark 4:39. Even in the most turbulent sea God offered us hope in Jesus. This hope is an anchor for our soul, Hebrews 6:16-19. It keeps us from drifting off into a sea of despair and utter hopelessness.

When life is good, doubts seem scarce. But when we are hurting physically, mentally, or emotionally, doubts will flood our minds. In these moments we must change the focus of our spotlights from what troubles us to the One who knows the solution to our troubles. But it’s not just that He knows the solution but that He is the solution. Jesus is the way!

Give me a Smile

Symbols are used everywhere to convey a message. Smiles work that way too. It is one gesture that seems accepted all over. Perhaps one of the reasons is that babies smile all the time. When they smile, we smile too. Somewhere along the way, when life has crapped on you enough, you stop smiling as often, if at all.

But the amazing thing about babies is that they get over things quickly. Once they get fed, they are happy again. Life is good! They have no idea when or how the next feeding will occur, but they aren’t worried about it right now. When they have a messy situation they are rescued from, they are filled with happiness. They don’t dwell on that stinky mess they were just in. They stay fresh in the moment! Babies smile like no other. Perhaps we could learn something from them.

Some people are self-concious about the condition of their teeth. Fake teeth, no teeth, a few teeth, all teeth… I don’t care. I’d rather see someone give me a genuine smile with whatever they had than a fake smile with perfect teeth. A sincere smile is priceless and must be freely given. For something that is free to give, it’s a wonder smiles aren’t shared more often.

When you smile at people you interact with, it can change the tone of a conversation. But what happens when they don’t smile back? Smile anyway. Some people cannot muster up a smile for whatever reason. Don’t let that distract you. Smile for them. Smile big. Enjoy life!