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Blog Encouragement Featured Never Give Up

Keep Doing The Hard Things

I have so many friends right now who are doing the hard things.

Some by choice though others would choose anything thing else. They are taking care of family members with cancer and dementia. They are fostering broken children, rebuilding storm-tossed houses, waiting for the power to come back on.

They are not just waiting for normal. They want more than getting by. They are trying to mean something.

So, they attempt the hard things. They gather research, they dream dreams, they apply hope and summon courage. They gather teams and pool resources. They pray prayers. Then they begin.

It doesn’t always go well.

In fact, it usually doesn’t. They tackle a daunting, overwhelming challenge with every intention of mounting a comeback like Tom Brady. Maybe they will. But nobody will make it easy.

Easy sits in a recliner, drinks cold beverages and posts a concerned Facebook comment. Easy joins the popular cause where they can hide in the crowd if things get rough. And possibly sneak out unseen. Easy demands a government agency or group of experts to fix things. Easy waits until tomorrow.

But the friends I see do not go for easy. They are compelled to take the dangerous step of trying. They see a need that no one is meeting and assign themselves the thankless job. They see that, if they don’t, it will probably never get done.

The reason I know they are out there is because these doers of the hard things have come to my aid in nightmarish times. They didn’t ask for anything. They didn’t ask if I needed help. They didn’t ask permission. They stepped in, like it or not, and stood alongside.

It’s breathtaking when you see them come for you. You know there is no benefit at all, no money or fame or power to be had. The really surprising thing is that they are everywhere – except on the news or in magazines or even blogs.

If anything, they run from such noise. They swear they are not heroes. They say ridiculous things like, “Anybody would have done it.” But we know that’s not true. Most people will not take the heart from their chest and fry it in the intense heat of these situations.

Doing the hard thing hurts. It costs time and money and emotion and blood. But there are people out there doing it every night and every day. Right now. Right here. Lots of them.

I hear people with fire in their eyes talking about how they are going to change the world. But mostly they are talking about their world. They’re thinking about computers and conveniences and glory. They want to surf the wave of the future and rack up a high score for the cameras on the beach.

But the Doers of the Hard Things are out of sight and mind, picking up the broken pieces in the shadows. You can see them if you look but you will have to look closely. They will not pose in the spotlight. They are too busy changing lives to notice the side effects of what they do . . . as they change everything.

With bowed head and fist over my heart, I solemnly salute you all.

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Encouragement Featured Uncategorized

My Wake up Playlist

Whenever you talk about music you find people divided along lines of style, tempo, production, age and the other dividers of the cool from the uncool. It becomes a statement of their personal worth and the value of their opinions.

Don’t

Just don’t get sucked into that place this morning. You’ll miss a lot of great things and divide people up in yet one more way. How about another mindset.

Celebrate!

Life can be divisive misery and loneliness OR life can be a glorious celebration of the good things we have. I generally try for the later and get dragged toward the former by the commoness of it.

Unless

I can change that by connecting early and often with the love and creativity and hope and inherent goodness of God and His creation. There are uncountable miracles for me to explore if I look for them.

In That Spirit

So, for those of you interested, here is my morning playlist of the day . . .

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 6.55.22 AM

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Blog Change Courage Encouragement Featured

The Only Way To Start A New Year . . . Seriously!

Every day is the beginning of a new year. A year from now it will be a year later . . . or something like that. But sometimes, like today, we can see the new year ahead in better perspective. We make plans to make this year different, better even. It’s the best time I know to remind myself that there is only one way to begin anything new . . . BADLY!

I’m going to start adding more video to TAoS in 2016. This is my first attempt at using Adobe’s Voice app on my iPad. It’s a start.

[s3video s3url=”StartingBadly.mp4″ responsive=”on” /]

 

Cover Photo by Andi Sidwell via Flickr
Categories
Blog Courage Encouragement Endurance Featured Never Give Up

The Tree That Saved Christmas

A Most Unusual Christmas

The summer sun was still sweltering when I had my first clue that this Christmas would be different. I’m not normally known for being observant, much less prescient of things to come, so it had to hit me over the head. Suzie looked at me with a mischievous sparkle in her eyes and announced, “I’m finished!”

“Finished with what?” I asked. I had no idea what was up but she was obviously pleased with herself.

“Finished Christmas shopping!” She smiled in triumph. I couldn’t believe it.

“No way!” was my eloquent response. Suzie had, for the first time ever, begun buying presents during January sales at the beginning of the year. But I didn’t realize she’d kept it going. “Wow, why?” I asked. I’m prone to imaginative responses under pressure.

“I don’t know. This year I just felt like being smart. Once I got started, it was a challenge.”

“So, what did I get?” That rapier wit again. She threw something at me. She has little tolerance for rapiers in the house. In fifteen years we had never finished shopping until a few days before Christmas. Or moments. I’d never even thought of it. I’m not sure I knew it was possible. Yet somehow Suzie perceived that this Christmas required a new strategy.

MorningChristmasTreeWe bought our Christmas ornament early, too. Suzie had long been taken with Hallmark’s Nostalgic Houses series. It had become a tradition with the goal of building a tiny Christmas village on the tree itself. We had a few laughs the year we had a kitchen fire and the ornament turned out to be a red brick fire house. Maybe we should have taken notice earlier when the current ornament was a drugstore. At the time we just thought it was cute. Nostalgic, even.

Thanksgiving changed all of that. A routine check up had prompted more tests and our worst nightmare came true. Breast cancer. Suzie’s mother had died a slow and painful death from it. Her aunts all had it. After surgery and radiation they lived but we concluded, for Suzie, it was inevitable.

What we didn’t expect were three separate primary tumors, breast cancer times three. A bilateral mastectomy was not on our Christmas list either but we were relieved when they sent Suzie home with a positive prognosis. Chemo after the holidays then reconstruction and she’d be fine, they reassured.

The doctors gave up with the brain tumor. They didn’t tell us, of course. Two weeks after her surgery Suzie awoke to find she couldn’t put together a sentence. She thought clearly but words wouldn’t come out. She was trapped inside her brain. An MRI confirmed that the tumor was huge.

The difficult surgery went all day and late into the night. In recovery we were ecstatic when Suzie could recite tongue twisters. The doctors were happy, yet restrained. We had no way of knowing metastatic breast cancer spread to the brain was usually fatal. We couldn’t imagine why they told us we could go home instead of looking for more tumors. Why would we wait?

We really didn’t understand their joy when the biopsy showed it was not breast cancer but a different kind. We thought that was bad. They thought it was a blessing. Their joy turned somber, however, when more tumors were discovered in Suzie’s kidney, liver and spine.

“I want you to know, your situation is not entirely hopeless,” was her oncologist’s idea of encouragement.

This time Suzie was given no option but going home. Even life-saving super doctors took holidays. The new year would begin with more surgeries and exploration. For now, it was Christmas. Since Suzie couldn’t travel, close family decided to bring Christmas to us. No one said out loud that it would probably be Suzie’s last.

There would be two weeks before her next doctor visit. Two weeks to think. Two weeks to try to pull together a semblance of a holiday for the children. Two weeks for Christmases past, present and future to play through our heads. Two weeks to ponder what the new year would bring before the long winter ahead.

When I saw the strange car pull into the drive, a wave of emotions swept over me, an all too familiar mixture of gratitude and guilt. It was another family taking time out of their busy Christmas season to bring us food. I checked the room quickly. The kids were watching TV, toys were everywhere, a busy mess. Not up to Suzie’s standards but it would have to do.

Not that we didn’t need the food. Suzie had been unable to cook since Thanksgiving and I was no substitute. My answer was usually fast food but there was no money for that kind of extravagance anymore. A hot chicken casserole delivered to the door was a welcome treat, not to mention the bar-b-que, roast, pizza, cakes, homemade pies and cookies. The kindness was overwhelming and humbling. At the same time it reminded me of the fact that we really needed the help, hence the guilt.

As the car door opened this time I saw, not a casserole, but a Christmas tree emerge. Well, this was different. It was four feet tall, green and covered with red ribbons. Behind it I caught a glimpse of Richard Gay, the preschool minister at our church. Suzie had answered one of the church’s endless calls to keep toddlers while adults were in class. I came along to help. Richard was in charge of it all but he’d never been to our house.

I opened the door and he reported taking up a collection for us in the children’s ministry before I realized what was happening. When I looked closer I saw the ribbons on the tree held green bills folded like origami ornaments. The tree was covered in money!

I asked him to come in but he forced the tree into my hands and walked away while I was still in shock, saying he didn’t want to interrupt us. My mouth opened and closed a few times and I think I got out a thank you before he closed the car door and was gone.  I glanced down at the armful of tree. On the corner of one of the folded green decorations I saw a 20.

Christmas trees naturally attract kids, as does money, so Rebekah, Sandy and Billy made enough of a stir to wake Suzie. She called from the bedroom to see about the commotion. With white silk tape and bandages cocooning her head, Suzie’s eyes widened as I squeezed through the door and popped when I told her the decorations were made of cash.

In forty years of living it was the most unexpected and generous gift either of us had ever received. It came from total strangers. We were the only teachers in our class and had barely met anyone else.

I set the tree on the dresser so Suzie could see it and we pondered how much money was there and what we should do with it. There was no question we would need it. The question was, how long could we keep it? And what could we do with it that would be worthy of such generosity?

The week before Christmas was peaceful, kind of like the quiet that settles in the eye of a hurricane. For a while the sunshine and bird calls seem surreal compared to the raging storm that just passed. We decorated the house. The kids played video games, argued and giggled. Meals were eaten.

Suzie couldn’t get out of bed much but managed to sit up and join us for brief moments. She directed things from her bedroom sanctuary but tired easily. I was on a mission to be encouraging and make this as good a Christmas as possible, under the circumstances.

We didn’t talk about the looming issues of life and death. We didn’t talk much about the previous month of constant crisis. We didn’t speculate on the tests to come. Instead, we enjoyed life in an almost studious way, trying to soak in all of the rare and precious everyday moments, to heighten the experience with the urgency and perspective of near-death.

It can’t be done. It’s exhausting to try.

We did manage to lock worry away for hours at a time. It made no sense at all to ruin the short time we had left worrying about the short time we had left. Foolish, in fact. So, we soaked up the sublime beauty of such perfect moments as washing the dishes together. Chores of daily life became events to be cherished and memorized.

The endless needs of children took our minds, thankfully, off of ourselves. We felt like a family for the first time in weeks.

The big issues were still there, packed firmly away, building pressure. The stress grew as we got closer to Christmas and family visiting. Having been scattered by a rolling crisis, we grew jealous of our time alone, just our young family. We clung selfishly to each moment and simutaneously felt bad about it.

The tension broke through occasionally as a lack of patience with the little things. Things that normally wouldn’t matter. If things were normal. The flare ups of frustration also scared us a little. We were striving to be strong and reassuring for the kids and each other and had managed the nightmares relatively well. But if we couldn’t handle simple tasks like housecleaning or getting ready for company, what would happen when the coming storms broke again? Were we finally losing it? Were we past the end of our strength when so much more would be needed?

The breaking point finally came when my Mom, Dad, brother, sister-in-law and nephews arrived the day before Christmas. They understood the situation and were the model family, kind, helpful, sensitive, loving. They stayed in hotels so they wouldn’t bother us. There wasn’t a cross word spoken. I was even on my best behavior. So, when I found Suzie in her bed crying I was surprised.

“What’s wrong?” My crisis alarm pegged. Suzie was one of the strongest women I knew and had faced the horrors of the previous month with barely a tear. Now they poured.

“I’m sorry. I’m just overwhelmed. I’ve ruined Christmas” she answered.

“That’s not true, and if anybody has a right to be overwhelmed it’s you.” As usual, I only made it worse. Tears welled again.

“Everyone’s here and I can’t clean my house or cook or do anything. I feel helpless. We have no money. There’s no food in the house. I can’t even take care of my children!”

Suzie is one of the strongest people I know. I’d seen her mad and I’d seen her snarky and I’d seen her in pain and I’d seen her exhausted but I’d never seen Suzie in tears for herself. I knew she was at rope’s end.

“It’s not you or anyone else.” Seriously, she was apologizing. “I feel terrible because everyone’s being so nice but I just want to be left alone with my little family!” For Suzie this outburst was the equivalent of Mt. St. Helens erupting. She hadn’t used the phrase “my last Christmas” but it hung in the air. Not sure what to say, I sat on the bed and found myself staring at the dresser.

“We could use the money tree,” I finally said.

“But we were going to save that for something important.” I saw a flash of hope on her tear-streaked face. This was not a time to be sensible.

“I think this counts. How much do you think is on there?” Her eyes lit up.

“I don’t know but it’s a lot,” she said. By the time we got through untying ribbons and smoothing bills there was more than five hundred dollars spread on the bed. From total strangers. We were amazed.

We could have been more sensible and fiscally responsible with our gift, but we weren’t. We could have treated the money from the tree as an investment, but it wasn’t. It was a gift. And a gift is more than a paycheck. It holds the spirit of the givers. It is undeserved, earned by the sacrifice of others.

So, in that spirit, Suzie made a list, I went to the store and bought a feast. We turned our thoughts to the meaning of Christmas, God’s gift of a son who loved us enough to sacrifice himself in our place. We thanked God for the blessings of family, friends and total strangers.

On Christmas day the house swirled with aromas of food, spices, chocolate and coffee. The tree was decked, the ornaments hung. The kids opened presents and played. My father blessed a sumptuous dinner. Before we knew it they were all packed into cars and driving away, waving.

It was a meal provided by strangers in the spirit of the One Christmas celebrates. A free gift we got to share, provision both for ourselves and others. Christmas itself is such a gift.

May you have a blessed one.

 

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Blog Encouragement Featured Purpose Service Spiritual

Even You: The Kind of Trouble We Need

People Don’t Get Me

I have a friend who doesn’t get what I do. Well, not actually a friend. An acquaintance that could have been a friend if he’d wanted. He didn’t. Because he didn’t get what I do. He didn’t need it.

For almost four decades I’ve worked in music. I’ve played and sung and written and engineered and produced. That’s a lifetime of trying to create something beautiful and, according to this man, I’ve failed. Some days I agree with him. Creation and doubt are twins.

Ridiculed

“You music guys,” he laughed. “I’ve lived my life without any connection to music at all.” He was proud of it. Later he made fun of my entire musical family. Nice guy if you meet him and don’t talk about music. Or maybe not.

There’s a little known disease of the brain that causes some people to be unable to process music. It sounds like bashing pots and pans to them. Maybe he has it. Maybe he’s just a heartless soul. I don’t guess it matters.

He has more money than anyone I’ve ever met and I’ve sat in control rooms with a lot of wealthy people. From that standpoint he is an unqualified success. If that’s how you measure it. Few do.

My One Life

The point is that who you are and what you do is not up for a vote. You get one life and it belongs to you.

That’s not a popular idea right now. So many people want to approve or, more likely, disapprove of you. They claim to get offended if you don’t act as they wish. They want you to fit into their preconceived ideas about what a person your age and your color and your sex from your area of the country and with your education should be like – in their opinion.

In my experience, the best people don’t fit. They are larger than an opinion and deeper than their surface. They are simply too full and too rich and too complex to categorize. But they don’t look it. Because you can’t tell such things by looking.

Simple Brain, Complex People

Placing a label on anyone is a function of our limited resources. Our brain can only think one thing at a time and that thought is usually about the one named Me. Complicated people complicate things for a single-thought brain. We prefer labels to people. Our brain thinks people are trouble it doesn’t need.

That’s not true, though. People are exactly the kind of trouble we need. God makes sure of it. He created us to be thoroughly, intimately dependent on each other.

Without two humans as different as male and female we would not exist. Neither alone is sufficient. Without human touch after we arrive we wither and die. At birth we cannot feed or clothe or protect ourselves. Alone we are not enough.

Complex Needs Met

We need plants to breathe. They live on what we exhale and we drink in what they exhale. Again, it takes more than me alone. It’s a repeated refrain throughout the planet, a rhythm, a melody with harmony. It’s day with night, sun with rain, water with dirt.

The sun touches the water and purifies it into clouds which rain on the plants which combine the water with sunlight and dirt to make food for the herbivores and omnivores which provide food for the carnivores which provide sustenance to the scavengers and parasites which make dirt for the plants which make oxygen for us all.

Science now tells us that life as we know it has over 200 requirements. But science has always been shortsighted. There are many more. It is all far more complex and wonderful than any one brain can comprehend. But that doesn’t change the facts.

It is an illustration, a parable in solid form, showing us the way and the truth and the life. We need. All our needs are provided. But not by us. Hmm.

Self-insufficient?

For example – this man who hates music created the system which created the hospital that saved my wife’s life. He once asked me to sing for his guests at a party. For them, you understand, not for himself. And yet there it is, the circle of dependence. The repeated refrain. The rhythm and music of life.

We all need. We all receive more help than we realize from sources we don’t fully understand. And yet with all of our needs, we still exist. That should tell us something.

So I try to appreciate my friend who hates music. Though he dismisses me and devalues who I am and what I do, he helped save my wife’s life and therefore my life. And in a small way on one day I might have helped him a bit.

It’s a kind of miracle from the right perspective, all of this underestimated need filled so dependably in so many unexpected ways. It’s almost as if it is coordinated. Planned even.

We Need Even You

So here I am, sharing what I know in the hope that it might fill a need. Maybe mean something. Maybe give back a tiny piece of what has been given to me.

Be you. We need you. Even if we don’t know who you are. Even if we don’t know what you do. Even if you’re not quite sure yourself.

We live every day with total faith in millions of things we need but cannot provide for ourselves. Millions. Those needs are faithfully provided to all. I can think of no greater illustration of the love of God. And no greater lesson that all of us are important to Him.

Even the people that don’t get it. Even the days I doubt myself. Even you, here, now.

 

 

 

Photo Credit: robertDouglass via Compfight cc

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Encouragement Exercise Featured Health Nature Uncategorized

The Power of a Perfect Day

A Day That Couldn’t Be Ignored

This morning I decided to treat myself. I really should have worked and written all day but it was an amazing morning. Amazing! On the first day of August at 8AM it was 62 degrees and cloudless.

If I could have ordered a day in a catalog it couldn’t have been better. But to have such a day surprise us in the middle of a long, hot summer made it more precious, a gift too valuable to waste.

Easy Optimism

On such a day anything is possible. Nothing is too far to reach. You can achieve miracles. You believe in the beauty of life, the victory of good over evil and that love will triumph. The idea of sitting in a messy office all day was the only impossible thing I could imagine.

Unfortunately, I was alone. Suzie had to work. My son was busy. Whatever I was going to do it would be solo. I don’t really mind being alone. It gives me time to think, time to let my mind unwind and spin easily.

Having such a beautiful day all to myself, however, I was going to have to work hard at not feeling guilty. Okay, maybe not that hard.

The Revelation

So much has been written about the restorative power of being in nature – the anti-depressive quality, the stress relief and health benefits of activity – that I shouldn’t have to mention it here except for one thing. Invariably, consistently all of those studies leave out one thing:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.
~Jesus, Matthew 10:29 (NIV)

They will never, ever mention God.

If you connect the vast complexity and detailed co-dependancy of nature with the powerful creativity and care of the Creator then nature is infused with the richness of purpose and meaning. The benefits are multiplied.

Adventure Time!

I headed out in a direction I hadn’t been in a long time to explore. I took Lewisburg Pike out of Colombia with a vague plan to find the state park Suzie and I had seen once years ago. As I marveled at the brilliant sky and lack of humidity, I rose through a set of ridges. Just beyond a bridge over a deep gorge that intrigued me, I saw a sign proclaiming Stillhouse Hollow Falls State Natural Area.

That’s all the information I needed to stop. At the trailhead I found a map and signs indicating a short walk and two trails but I knew better. The sign didn’t show the 175 feet of elevation change. It was like hiking seven tenths of a mile down a seventeen story building . . . and back up.

The last sentence combines both bragging and complaining, each equally being the explorer’s favorite pastimes.

But was it worth it? A 75 foot, crystal-clear, ice-cold waterfall on a perfect day? I think so . . .

The Day’s Rewards

I didn’t worry. Nature turns off the worry button.

I didn’t get angry – not even at the news. You know the news. I didn’t even think about it.

I exercised and I didn’t even mind! Two miles and a 17 story building worth of up and down means I’m sore today but it was far more fun than the gym.

I saw wildlife: some beautiful spider webs, a tiny praying mantis, a baby brown thrush from two feet away and a squirrel. Nature is full of surprises.

I was reminded that God is in charge of all, no matter how I fail. I was left with a peace and joy that have lasted long enough to crank my stress levels down and let my faith shine through.

I was pulled outside of myself and my spinning brain and my small perspective. My problems got smaller with the bigger perspective. I can close my eyes and go back there in my memory knowing that the real thing is out there right this moment, waiting for me to return.

I can’t wait . . .

 

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Blog Encouragement Featured Purpose Uncategorized

Good Today Or Perfection Tomorrow?

Note to self:
Don’t postpone doing something good until you are perfect. Otherwise nothing good will ever get done.

I’m not perfect. I’m not going to make myself perfect. Perfection is God’s business. What I need is forgiveness. And love – a lot of love.

So, why do I put off doing something good until I’m good enough? Does that make any sense to anyone?

Yet, that’s what my brain tries to do to me. It says,”You’re not good enough to be trying to do that.” What nonsense.

What I need to do is face reality and go back to God’s forgiveness soon and often. Then, I need to do as much good as possible. I need to love as much as I can today. I need to forgive others as generously as possible.

I need to start over when I lose my temper or my patience. I need to begin again when I forget my highest goals. I need to stop talking when I go on a critical rant.

But even more important, there are active positive things that need to be done. If I don’t do them then they are opportunities that don’t come back. Life doesn’t work that way. Time passes.

So, the longer I beat myself up or feel guilty or unworthy the more opportunities for good pass me by never to return. The less good there is in the world.

There are two contrasting truths about people:

Perfection is not possible,
but good is.

My goal for today is simple. Stop expecting perfection (of myself or anyone else). Start attempting good. Let forgiveness and love fill in the cracks.

(P.S. This post is not perfect. The picture isn’t perfect. It doesn’t meet several professional blogger’s standards for blog posts. This is what my brain is telling me. I’m now pushing the publish button anyway.)

Photo Credit: CJ Sorg via Compfight cc

Categories
Blog Encouragement Featured Perspective Service Uncategorized

The Gratitude Attitude – Thanksgiving Leftovers

Thanksgiving is a great reminder. And we need them. Because whatever we have and see every day becomes less important to us. We have it. There’s nothing to do here. Time to move along.

Finding meaning and using our time means we want to achieve something with the day. We want to have purpose. To matter – to others but, more importantly, to ourselves. We don’t want to get complacent and be less that we think we should be, than we dream of being.

“Be less than you can be!” will never be a lyric in a commercial.

Learning To See It

A quick story: a well-travelled friend once called me rich. I laughed, of course, because I was a broke high school student at the time and my family were never considered wealthy. But then she asked a question.

“Do you have a car?” she asked.

Rather than quibble about the fact that the car I took to school was my parent’s and I was a mooch, I chose the explanation that make me feel better and answered,”Yes.”

“Then, you’re rich,” she said with an I-told-you-so look in her eye. I wisely waited for her to explain.

“Where I grew up no one had cars,” she continued. “We all rode buses or walked and the busses were full to the point of people hanging onto the sides and riding on top.” I knew this to be true.

“Anyone with their own car, no matter how old or wrecked, was very rich.” She ended with this.

“You Have No Idea What You Have!”

The Right Hemisphere

From that moment on I saw my car. Really saw it. I didn’t complain because it wasn’t fast or new or red or impressive. I didn’t slink down and try to wish away the four-door-family-land-yacht shame.

I saw it, for the first time, as a gift, a blessing I hadn’t earned. It was as if I’d been taking a miracle for granted and had suddenly been hit in the eye with the truth – I hadn’t done anything at all to deserve it.

I had done nothing in my short life to earn the right to be born in the hemisphere I occupied.

Parents

It was impossible to deserve the great, hard-working, car-owning parents I had. I didn’t even understand what bad parents were until I hit college and a friend’s dad stole his self-earned college fund. I never saw that friend again.

Best selling author Dean Koontz’s father was an alcoholic sociopath that tried to kill him. Why didn’t I have that Dad? No answer.

Freedom

The freedoms I enjoyed were reserved only for royalty in other times and places. Some of my ancestors were slaves and political prisoners. Arbitrary rule and cruel power are the historical norms.

There are many places where if you can manage to own a car your travel is severely restricted by borders and roadblocks. Why can I drive the length of a continent without fear or passport? No answer.

Love

There has never been a time in my life when I wasn’t loved. My wife took over this dubious duty after long service by my parents. My children love me without any logically supportable cause.

I spent Thanksgiving being chased by a crawling ninja of joy who called me Gan Da Da over and over again. Trust me, there is nothing I’ve ever done in my life to merit the overwhelming love I felt when Coraline fell asleep in Granddaddy’s arms after dinner.

You Don’t Deserve It

I’m sorry to be so blunt but if you think you’ve earned your blessings then you’re wrong. So very wrong.

Don’t beat yourself up. You’ve probably just drifted into a dissatisfied habit of seeking the best you can be and always looking for something better. That’s not so bad. However . . .

But do not spent another day on this planet walking around blessing blind – sightless to your obvious unearned graces.

It’s rude, arrogant and the person it hurts the most is you, yourself. It’s like the teenager in my kid’s school who had a $90,000 sports car and was upset because his father, who bought them both, tooled around in the same car customized to the tune of $120,000.

How can you have a car whose value approaches the median home price in the state where I was born and still be unhappy? Apparently it’s easy. Just keep your eyes laser focused on the car you don’t have.

 It’s All About The Attitude

Dean Koontz is a remarkably happy man but it doesn’t have anything to do with the $20,000,000 or so he earned last year. He could always focus on the fact that he was only the 11th highest paid author of last year and remain miserable.

But no. He was happy before last year. He even says he had a happy childhood. With psycho dad.

Instead, he says it’s because he made a decision. His personal mantra is:

Happiness is a choice.

If Dean Koontz was happy as a child, it would be downright ungrateful for me to be miserable. If I have a car, even if it does currently need brakes, then I should see it for the blessing that it is. If I am loved, then I should be deliriously giddy, because who would sign up for that?

If we (currently) live in a country that takes a national holiday off to consider our blessings, then we should consider the outrageous blessing of time to “see” our good fortune and appreciate it. Even McDonald’s is closed!

Black Friday

If, however, you are one of the employees relegated to long hours of abuse and craziness during Black Friday, which now starts at sundown on our national day of gratefulness, then my prayers and blessings are with you.

I beseech you on behalf of all such underpaid, under appreciated souls to be patient – or better yet, stay home.  Or maybe you could take up my mantra . . .

Be nice to Wal-Mart employees.

You could be working there waiting on the likes of you. Trust me, that’s a blessing. Count it.

 

 

 

Photo: Cranberry Candles by Chris Potako via Flickr

Categories
Blog Encouragement Endurance Featured

Overwhelmed

Today is a day of overwhelming responsibility.

I did not officially over-commit myself. I was a little slow to start a project. I ran into technical difficulties on another project. I got sick for three days, exposed because of another project. My computer nuked a necessary program that will take time to get re-authorized. The net result is that I’m out of time.

I, while attempting to do something good, got overwhelmed – by circumstances, by underestimating my own speed and by forgetting that even good things requires time.

So, what do I do about it?

1 – Don’t stop
I can’t let emotional feelings stop progress. I can’t lose the time I have worrying about the time I don’t have.

2 – Prioritize
Sometimes urgent things take precedence over important things for awhile. I have to do them even if I think I have better things to do. I have to trust I will have more time later.

3 – Act
There may actually be a better way to do what I’m doing but I don’t have time to find it. Committed, focused effort works miracles. I’m always amazed later on at how much I got done.

4 – Don’t Make It Worse
While digging out of a hole, I have to remember not to dig a deeper hole. During the few moments I have to rest, I need to resist the impulse to say yes to some future commitment because I think there will be more magical time later. I have to get things done before I agree to more things.

That’s It

Stay calm. Work hard. Don’t add more work. Oh, and one more thing . . .

5 – Smile
Things have been worse. (Much worse.) Things can get better. (Much better.) Life, after all, is good.

That’s all I have time for today. If you have any comments or suggestions about how you get through crunch times, please add your thoughts below in the comments section. Thanks for taking time out of your busy day to read.

Categories
Blog Connections Emotional Encouragement Featured Prayer Service Spiritual

Heroes Don’t Meet In Bat Caves

I write, not because I have great thoughts that need to be shared, but because I see greatness that must be reported. Three times in my life I have stumbled upon an unexpected safe harbor, a place where deepest feelings can be carefully expressed, where vulnerability is allowed freedom, where needs and failings can be admitted.

Soul Sanctuaries

I didn’t know such places existed where the courageous met and shared stories of unimaginable struggles, of battles and victories, of failures and redemption. I felt honored to be in the midst of such quiet heroes, unassuming, unheralded, unconscious of their own magnificence. To watch them stand against the tide, taking on life’s greatest struggles as if it were natural, as if it were normal to be so strong. To hear them humbly share their failures and ask for help was akin to watching Superman apologize for being weakened by Kryptonite and therefore not saving the world faster last Thursday. Where do such miraculous places exist? You might be surprised.

Sunday School

Well, I said you might be surprised. But it is true. In some places people are actually being the salt of the Earth, the light of the world. I have witnessed it. I have seen men buy and deliver coats for the homeless. I know a woman who has lost two husbands and still knits scarves to sell so she has money to help a young couple that she barely knows finish their education. I’ve seen highly paid medical professionals travel a world away to perform life saving surgeries for free – instead of a vacation. I’ve seen earthquake orphans get new homes, built not by contractors but average folks with hammers, hands and aching backs.

Anonymous Angels

The grieving are comforted, the sick visited, the jobless employed, the homeless sheltered, the divorced moved to new quarters. Tornado victims are helped to start over. The addicted are encouraged. The violently attacked are walked through recovery. I’ve personally witnessed these things. They are not myths or publicity schemes. No one takes credit or advantage. When I have tried to do interviews with these people, they have declined. They do not want ego to infect this place, not because they are self-righteous but because they are suspicious and genuinely humble. They have the humility of soldiers denying they are heroes because they have seen others sacrifice far more. They do not believe the cost touches the gifts they have been given freely. But do not think there is no cost. It costs a great deal of time and money. It demands emotional strength to stand alongside. It takes courage and grit.

And Prayer

Oh the prayers, fervent and tearful, joyous and relieved, persistent and patient. To be prayed for by these people is powerful and humbling. And it’s not a random event. They spend time every week diligently collecting prayer requests. They update each step of progress and persevere through each slip backwards. They email the list to all each week. It takes a lot of work. They persist because they believe in the power of prayer and they have examples of God’s provision ready to share. It’s not a theory or a mental exercise for them. Not a self-focused, self-help technique. It’s practical, applied theology, the result of a connection with God.

And Fun

It’s not all solemn-faced spirituality. The way to find these people is by their laughter. The jokes and jabs flow easily without fear of misunderstanding. There is none of the disturbing crassness and cruelty comics dish out. They naturally gravitate toward humor like it’s oxygen or water. When you have often travelled life’s hard places you feel no need to point out inconveniences. Humor is a shock absorber. It softens the blows. It’s a survival skill of the highest order. It comes easily because they each find reasons to laugh at themselves. The unspoken lesson is that we all take figurative pratfalls from time to time and we may as well grin about it. And by the way, some of the humor may be pretty goofy, to the point of groaning, and often self-depricating. Every once in a while it rises to biting jabs and a swift parry but it will never sting too badly. Love doesn’t do that.

And Food

You can count on comfort food and a few healthy snacks thrown in (or out) when you find these people. It’s hospitality, the milk of human kindness, along with some cake and chocolate. And probably a few sausage balls. They know the significance of breaking bread together. It’s the time to catch up with friends, a time that is all too short and anticipated. These are people you miss when you are gone or when they are. It’s hard to get overlooked in a caring group this size. But you will not lose weight at the Christmas party. Just saying.

The Reminder

Bible study underpins it all. This is the source of all of the above, the caring, praying, sharing, joking, hugging. It is the reason for the patience and the determination. We may have heard the verses before but the repetition reminds us they are still current. They apply today. Studies show that prayer and bible study increases self control and gives us more resistance to temptation. But they didn’t need a study to know that. I have sat restlessly in classes where the message seemed dry and dusty, but not in the best classes. The words are fresh because people have been living them all week. They have real life examples of love and truth to draw from. They are anchored no matter what crazy, dangerous, unloving fad the media spins at them all week. The Bible is not a book or a reference manual for these people. It is truth and love in action.

Truth And Love In Action

I thought that deserved the repetition, because it is really a shocking statement when you take it all in. Truth – not spin or sales or manipulation. Love – seeking the best for others regardless of your own situation. Action – no theories or studies or conferences but doing these things in the real world of blood and bone.

It’s remarkable

As striking as a candle flame at midnight. Like a beam of sunlight breaking through storm clouds. Like angels appearing to shepherds. So shines a good deed in a weary world. They are not perfect. They are not exceptional. They are not elite. They are just people who believe deeply and act accordingly. And that, along with God’s love, is enough. In fact, it’s astonishing. Mistakes are made but there is humility and forgiveness. Love cushions many mistakes. Grace takes care of the rest.

Thank You

To those who have meant so much to us I would like to say a public thank you. During our rougher days you people have fed us for months at a time, prayed with us in hospitals, stood nearby while death prowled, handed us money, urged us to sleep and eat, kept and comforted and entertained our children, given lessons for free, provided rides and clothes and sticky-sweet deserts. You have brought casseroles and pizza and soup and lasagna and countless chocolate pies. In a word, you loved us like your own. Though we were strangers. To this day it leaves me speechless. It makes me want to sing ancient hymns in hallowed halls and light candles. This post has taken me months to write to try to do you justice. I do not exaggerate when I say . . .

You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. ~Mt 5:13-14

Photo Credit: Canon in 2D via Compfight cc