Love in Action

The act of love is not convenient by any means. It requires sacrifice in times of suffering and patience to endure our struggles. A love with the aim of pleasing oneself will soon fade away to nothing. To love another above yourself is the very love Jesus Christ portrayed over two thousand years ago when he sacrificed Himself for the benefit of humanity.

What manner of love would give way to such a sacrifice? Christianity is a worldview in which a deity took up in a very personal way the suffering of humanity. Some people believe that penance through actions is a way to earn our way to a better life. My own actions are not an attempt to earn my way because I don’t believe that we can. Any act of love portrayed through me is because God first loved me. My desire is only to be useful in His hands. I believe that Jesus is the way. Not because my parents believe it, nor because of my blind acceptance of the unknown. Years of study and personal observation have led me to this conclusion. Any good that comes out of my life is from Christ living within me. When you see me fail, it is because my will was done, not His.

Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He sees the flawed ways in which we secretly hide our sins from others. But ultimately no sin is hidden from God, who knows our innermost being, the one many of us would be ashamed to reveal to others. Jesus warned us that if we even conceived something in our heart it is the same as if we had already gone through with it. It’s like he knows the outcome of our actions before they ever happen.

History is filled with tyranny and injustices committed against human beings. At the very core of some of these atrocities is the wickedness of the human heart. When a person at any moment devalues a human life, they are violating something which is sacred, beyond human comprehension – pure love.

Much of humanity’s love is impure and stems from selfish reasons. We love another because of what they do for us or how they make us feel. Its transactional love and when the transactions cease, then so does the love. Like the picture above, when a strong enough wave comes, the love washes away, leaving no trace that love was even there.

If we are honest with ourselves, most of us get stuck in a rut. On one side, we love those who care for us. On the other side, is loving those who do not or cannot love us back. For me, I’m at a place in life where I still try to refrain from praying down fire from the heavens to consume my enemies, similar to two of the disciples at the end of Luke 9 in the New Testament. All kidding aside, God is always working on me, chiseling down the edges and smoothing out the rough spots. When I look at the spec in others’ eyes, he reveals to me the log that is in my own.

The process is unwelcome because it is often painful. But I’ve come to believe it is because God sees a better version of me, the one that reminds Him of His son Jesus. When my actions are in line with His, His love becomes my love because my love is transformed. It now goes beyond exclusivity for those good to me. Christ’s love compels me to extend beyond my comfort zone and a personal world that revolves around me. We are instructed to love each other. In doing so, we must take whatever list of restrictions we have for who we will love and throw them out the window; preferably into a recycling container or at least a trash can. A new earth may be coming but let’s not destroy this one in the mean time. Let’s not limit loving our neighbor to the person next door. Let it be anyone around you. Regardless of what color their skin is, what they are wearing, what their beliefs are… love them. Sometimes a kind word is all that is needed to brighten a person’s day. Sometimes words are not enough and further action is required to demonstrate love. But by all means, find a way to genuinely love somebody today. Make a decision to love them and then take appropriate action to show it.

Beauty of My Scars

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One day while crawling up a branch, I looked down and saw the most beautiful of butterflies, perched on another branch. In that moment, my Creator showed me a vision of what I could become. However, doubt filled my heart. How could something like me become something like that? Unsure of what to make of it all, I continued to crawl my way up. Was this to be my fate? Was I to spend the rest of my life crawling on my belly?

The wind stirred and blew against the branches below. The butterfly flapped its wings and flew up into the bright sunny sky. Its magnificent colors contrasted with the deep blue skies behind it. If only, I thought to myself. Yet the promise of what I could become remained at the forefront of my mind. If I were to give up my life as it was, in total surrender, I could be transformed into something new. Do I risk foregoing this change by remaining who I am today? Dare I not give myself to the Almighty?

Other questions filled my mind also. How long will it take? How painful will the process be? Yet no answers were given to me. I had to be willing to trust in Him, no matter what happened, and endure until the end. If I left at any point in the process, my future would be highly uncertain. All I knew was that I no longer wanted to be a caterpillar. I had potential to become something more and longed for the freedom to become it. I was given the first step; to spin myself into a silky cocoon. All other steps were promised to follow sequentially after each step was taken. Had I known all the steps beforehand, I likely would not have taken that first step. But in my ignorance, I stepped out in faith for the first step.

I underwent the changes, one by one, in my cozy environment. But over time, it became extremely uncomfortable. I wanted to be free and pressed with all my might against my surroundings. Alas, I was too weak. I tried again repeatedly but my efforts showed no results. With the utmost determination, I continued to work at it, and eventually grew stronger during the struggle to free myself. Suddenly I bursted forth from the cocoon and stretched my splendorous wings outward. The sun’s warm rays shone brightly upon me.

The promise was fulfilled; I was given a new life. With my newfound freedom, I soared the winds of the skies. I could do so much that was once impossible. The thrill of it all captivated me. My powers took me places that I never dreamed I could go. But they also took me to places I should never have gone to. In such places I was badly hurt. Some did not appreciate my beauty and shoved me aside. Others saw it but tricked me with smooth words and empty promises. With wings torn and tattered, I felt devalued and unappreciated by the world. I realized then I was not created for them but for the One who created me. Thus, I returned to my Creator.

My gaping wounds oozed with rot and disease. I yearned to be healed from the wounds and in time I was. Why leave the scars though, I wondered. A brief look into the waters returned my reflection. I saw scars that reminded me of the poor choices I made along the way. I also saw where others hurt me. My last fleeing thought occurred before leaving the water’s edge; I saw a survivor.

When you see me from a distance, you will see the grandeur of my beauty. But get any closer and you will see the beauty of my scars.

Backup Plan

The voice on the other end of the phone call was one of concern. My dad fell earlier that morning. Despite my warning not to move heavier objects, he chose to move a small but heavy five tier plastic shelf from one room to the other by himself. It was the kind that easily falls apart if not picked up from the bottom. I mistakenly moved it into another room two days prior, not knowing it belonged to him. He didnt want to trouble me. While I admire his resolve to undo my mistake, I never want to see him get hurt.

In the process of carrying the shelf, it fell apart. During an attempt to minimize the damage, he ended up falling forward, and his chest rammed into the corner of the shelf. At first, my mom was startled but he didnt seem to think anything was too bad. However, shortly after the bruise got much worse. When she saw it again a little later, she was strikingly alarmed by its newly formed appearance.

“That looks terrible,” I exclaimed when I walked into the house and saw the damage to his chest. I had to turn away at first. After looking back at it again, I noticed the swelling protruded nearly an inch outward from his chest. It was all manner of awful looking. I agreed he should have it checked out by a doctor. I was surprised he wasnt in more pain, but the pain did increase as time passed. We started to think maybe a rib broke and puctured something inside, causing internal bleeding. Being that he is on blood thinner, we are careful any time he bleeds.

I waited for them out in the waiting area at the urgent care center. Mom came out later to inform me it was a hematoma. After looking up what that meant, I was still a little unsure of his condition. In the meantime, they were taking a chest xray to make sure nothing else was going on. Afterwards, we were called back to the room with him to hear the doctor’s prognosis. The doctor told us it happened because of him being on blood thinner. If he were to drain the blood from the swollen area, it would simply fill back up, causing a loss of blood. The terrible swelling is what actually stopped the bleeding by putting pressure on the areas damaged by the unexpected trauma.

From what we could see, the bruise continued to worsen as time passed. The discoloration of his skin tone spread reaching across a large portion of his chest and even onto his stomach.
As awful as it looked on the outside, God had a plan in place which we were totally unaware of. Unknown to us, it started working the moment the injury took place. It took no effort on his part to get his body to do what was needed to start the healing process. Much like other miraculous powers built within us, this one too laid dormant until his body was attacked.

It’s interesting to see just one of God’s plans put forth into action. His ways are higher than our ways. When things happen in life, we may not be able to understand what is happening. From what we can see, it may look bad. It might even seemingly get worse before it gets better. But when you learn to trust in Him, you’ll come to recognize that this happens more often than we know. God is always at work in our lives, whether we see it or not. When we make good decisions and even when we make mistakes, He is there. He is never surprised and always has a backup plan.

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!”