Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ready, aim, fire!

The beginning of "doing" something may actually begin in the "wanting" of something bad enough we start to make a movement or two toward whatever it is we want.  In everyday life, we "want" certain things and then we set about "doing" things to get or accomplish whatever it is we want.  Recently, I have been working in the backyard to add some raised beds.  It began about a year ago when I shared my vision with my son and he set about to make the first "addition" to the yard in the form of three nice tiered raised beds and a small deck in between.  This gave me the start for what became the next extension of the deck and a cover to shade me while I barbecue under it.  Now, I am collecting old pallets (with the help of my sons).  I am busting those apart and seeing what I can create from them.  The latest addition to the yard is about a 10 foot long diamond-shaped raised bed about one foot high.  It was totally reclaimed wood (with the exception of the four "facer" boards I used to frame the top to give it a finished look.  In beginning this project, I had to envision what I wanted.  I have more pallets in the backyard now, just waiting for my next attempt at creating some beds.  I have a corner picked out which has the composter discreetly hidden behind some lattice work.  I am going to build a set of beds against those lattice pieces, creating a trellis of sorts for some of the vine-type veggies and flowers I hope to plant there.  Each one of these changes to the yard began with something called "desire".  Desire fuels our creativity, initiates our actions, and brings about a great sense of satisfaction when whatever is desired is finally achieved.

Hate evil, you who love the Lord.  He protects his followers and saves them from evil people.  Light and happiness shine on those who want to do right. Good people, be happy in the Lord!  Praise his holy name!  (Psalm 97:10-12 ERV)

The first thing we need to remember about desire is that it must be pure.  When we desire things which are "evil" in nature, we are simply going to realize the accomplishing of things we might have done much better to avoid in the first place.  We don't have to work to embrace evil, but we do have to work to let it go from our lives!  Something so simple as desire can become kind of twisted and "out of proportion" pretty quickly if it is left to the devices of this world's influence.  So, in order to ensure we are pursuing the "right stuff", we need to bring each and every desire to God first.  As we do this, he exerts his influence to help us recognize where there is any impurity in the desire.  I learned something from my pastor this weekend about prayer.  He said to add the tiny word "so" to our prayers to help us understand if they are coming from a pure motive or not.  For example, if our prayer is, "God, make my kids mind me...", we might add the word "so" and then finish it off with, "...so I don't have to spend time parenting them."  Really, this isn't a bad prayer, but it reveals our motive pretty clearly - we don't want to take the time to parent our kids, so we are asking for the easy way out.  Maybe you wouldn't label this as "evil", but there is some "intent" in this prayer which reveals a little bit of a selfish heart. Another way to use the "so" word in our prayer to help us understand if our motives are pure is to pray something like this, "God, help me to parent my children well, so they might become righteous adults."

The next thing to keep in mind is this whole idea of right motives (desires) leading to right action.  Somewhere in-between desire and action is a little thing we call momentum.  Momentum is something akin to the stimulus which causes us to react or take action.  It puts things into motion.  The firing pin in a rifle is simply not there to be pretty - it puts things into motion when the rifle is loaded with a bullet. The firing pin is nothing apart from the trigger, and the whole rifle is pretty much non-functional without the bullet.  The bullet is kind of lame without the gun powder, so what really is the most important part?  I'd have to say it was the finger of the one firing the rifle!  A loaded rifle is just that - loaded, but lame without someone to fire it!  We can have lots and lots of good desires, but they are kind of lame without someone behind them, "pulling the trigger" of sorts, to help them be launched into motion.  There can be a whole lot of "triggering forces" in our lives, so we want to make sure we are not just letting anything trigger us into motion.  We want to be aiming in the correct direction, finding the target in our view, and be calmly moving into action when we find ourselves responding to that trigger.  As I was learning to fire weapons, the instructor always told us of the importance of a quick breath and then to exhale slowly, taking aim and then gently pulling back on the trigger.  Why all this preparation?  It steadied our aim and allowed us to see the target better in our sites.  The right target is imperative, but the right momentum is only achieved when we take things "in order" in our lives.  We cannot step outside of the timing of God, nor can we propose the actions God should take in our lives. 

Get the right desires motivating us, add to it the right amount and timing of momentum, and then we are ready to be taking the right actions which will help us to realize the right goals / targets!  Just sayin!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Not just another scavenger hunt!

Have you ever been on a scavenger hunt?  As kids, we did this once in a while as a "group activity" when we'd all have to work together to find all the items on a list.  We'd make our way through the neighborhood asking the neighbors if they had a blue button, yellow tissue paper, one sock with a hole in it, etc.  As our bags filled up we'd become more and more excited because we planned to be the ones to finish our hunt the first, returning back to "home base" with the "loot" of our hunt and being declared the winners.  There was always that one item on the list which no one had!  It was something absolutely weird and almost impossible to find.  It was like we had to go to exactly the right house to find it, but who knew exactly where that was.  It could have been a broken Timex watch, or a cooking pot with a hole in the bottom.  They weren't things people would keep around because once it was declared to be "not useful" anymore, most people threw it out!  Then...as if by some miracle...you'd happen upon "just the right house" where someone had a craft workshop set up in the garage - where they saved little bits of this and that, knowing someday they'd be able to use the discarded object in some other way.  It was like you hit pay-dirt!  You could check off dozens of items just from their "stash"!  It can take a while to find "just the right place" in life, but once you do, you know you have arrived!

God, you are my God.  I am searching so hard to find you.  Body and soul, I thirst for you in this dry and weary land without water.  Yes, I have seen you in your Temple.  I have seen your strength and glory.  Your faithful love is better than life, so my lips praise you.  By my life, I will praise you.  In your name, I lift my hands in prayer.  When I sit down to satisfy my hunger, my joyful lips hunger to praise you!  I remember you while lying on my bed.  I think about you in the middle of the night.  That is because you are the one who helps me. It makes me happy to be under your protection!  I stay close to you, and you hold me with your powerful arm.  (Psalm 63:1-8 ERV)

One good part of being on the "hunt" on these lazy summer nights was the way we'd all work together to figure out where to go, who to ask, where we might find that particular item.  The time together actually helped us to work together as a team a little.  Another thing it taught us was to ask the right question at the right house!  Some of these hunts actually limited us to asking for only one item at any particular door, so we'd have to judge carefully about what we knew about our neighbor.  There is much to be said about "planning carefully" and "working well with others", but the truth is, if we did all we could do, sometimes it was just not possible to find that one object of our seeking.  We just didn't plan well enough!  There is one thing for certain, we sometimes exert a lot of effort "seeking" or "searching", but come up empty-handed in the process.  Why is that?  I think it may be two-fold: 1) We didn't look in the right place, and 2) We didn't ask the right questions.  

When we'd see a lady come to the door who was obviously a little older and wearing an apron, we'd just automatically think to ask her for some wax for canning.  She "fit the picture" of someone who might do canning.  Imagine our surprise when we'd find out the younger mother down the way was the one who actually put up fruits and veggies each summer!  We sometimes think we will find the answers to our needs in one place because it seems reasonable to our way of thinking.  This just goes to prove our way of thinking isn't always the most reasonable, nor the most trust-worthy.  We need to take what we think is reasonable and submit it to the test of "reality" which is found when we bring things to God for his view on the matter. I don't suspect there were too many of the teens asking God where to find the broken Timex or the pot with a hole in the bottom, but you get my drift.  When we face the common issues in life, we tend to rely upon our own knowledge maybe a little too much - thinking we have life under control.  What gives us the edge in life is when we have prepared ourselves to "think through a filter" of sorts - the "filter" which comes from having spent time with Jesus himself.

Looking in the right place is often a matter of knowing the one who has prepared the place in advance of us needing it!  Asking the right questions is often just done because we have learned how Jesus thinks and where it is he provides the answers.  We want to make this seeking and finding, hungering and thirsting thing kind of mystical or magical.  The truth is, it is quite practical! It is not in the deep study of theology, nor the intentional pursuit of the supernatural, but in the making of oneself available to just sit in his presence, enjoy his company, and engage in conversation with him.  In those times, we find praise escaping our lips, because we cannot help but worship in his presence.  In those same times, we find peace invade our souls, wearied by the heaviness of the day.  The right place and the right questions make all the difference in what it is we find and enjoy!  Just sayin!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Source + Means = Outcome

Gain:  To get, usually as the result of your own efforts.  There are a lot of ways we "gain" in life, but the common thing is that we are the ones "doing something" in order to realize that gain.  Even if you consider weight gain, we are doing something to cause it - overeating, making poor eating choices, and/or exercising way too little for our body's metabolism.  We can gain from saving and structures spending - living within our means, methodically putting away small sums of money into savings, etc.  In the end, we gain a little wealth, nice things to wear, comfortable things within our environment, etc.  Seriously thinking on this, we might think of gain as that which we accomplish ourselves - there just isn't a whole lot of reliance upon anyone else to provide what it is we are seeking to gain.  To "have" is a little different because it might also lean toward this idea of receiving something from another.  Gains can be quickly there and almost as soon be lost to the sudden fall of the price of the stocks. When we "have" something, it is usually possessed - in our possession, for our use, or using us!  Using us?  Think of a cold virus - we "have" it resident in us for a while, but it is using us as the base of operation for the work of replicating and causing us, and others, a little misery for a while!  Whether we gain or have something in life, we need to consider the source, the means by which we obtain it, and what it does in our life once it is there.

It is worth nothing for you to have the whole world if you yourself are lost. (Mark 8:36 ERV)

The source:
Not all things which come into our lives, either by our own doing or because someone "gifts" them into our lives, are from "reliable sources".  When something is of our own doing, it may not bear the test of time, nor the wisdom of the ages to keep us safe and help us to realize only the best for our lives. Stop long enough to consider the source of some of the things you have or consider as "gain" in your lives, and you may not be fully impressed with them. I have one nail which will not grow correctly simply because I have a cyst which keeps forming at the base of the nail bed.  I apply pressure now and again to keep the cyst "down", but it returns in a short while simply because that is what "fluid filled cysts" do.  The source is unknown to me, but I understand I "have" a short, ill-formed nail on that thumb as a result of "having" the cyst growing where it has chosen to grow.  It was neither welcomed into my life, nor was it expected.  It is part of what is happening to my joints as I age and I guess I live with it.  We may not immediately know the source of whatever it is we have "gained" in life, but if we get a little deeper, the source is usually able to be discovered.  We may be surprised at how unreliable, or unyielding the source really is.  We want things in our lives which are from trust-worthy sources and which will provide "ideal" outcomes for our lives.

The means:
Simply put, this is the method we use to attain whatever end might be desired. If we think of this in a very simple sense, it might be likened to a recipe.  What does a recipe do?  It lays out the ingredients, step-by-step instructions, and even tells us what our "yield" will be in the end.  Combine the ingredients as instructed, bake for the length of time at the temperature outlined, and you should have "x" cookies in the end.  Unless I buy those ready-made, already portioned out for you cookie dough, I always come up with some different "yield" on the recipe, though.  How is that if it says I should have 3 dozen when I am all done?  Well, first I "sample" the dough a little here and there, adversely affecting the "yield".  Then you factor in that I don't always "measure out" specifically the amount of dough I drop onto the cookie sheet for each and every cookie, and you can see how the "yield" can be adversely affected yet again. I followed the "method" of making the cookies - but only up to a point!  After hours of baking, the last few sheets of cookies are just lucky to make it into the oven, regardless of size!  It is easy to see that the "means" is able to be manipulated to fit the "demands" of the individual who is attempting to accomplish something.  We want to enjoy whatever we are hoping to gain or have at the end of our activity, but in the end, there are multiple influencing factors which can "alter" the means if we aren't extremely vigilant.

The outcome:
All action has a reaction in turn.  Even ignoring something yields some outcome we may not want to deal with in the long run.  I am sitting here this morning looking out very water-spotted windows in the den.  I haven't been at this computer in a week since my sister uses the den when she is staying here.  So, as I glance toward those not so pretty windows this morning, on a very hot and sunny day here in Arizona, I am contemplating how on earth they got so spotted since we haven't had any rain!  I am thinking my sprinklers need a little adjusting again as one or more of them must be turned toward the window, causing the hard water spotting to occur.  Now I have to adjust the sprinklers AND wash the windows!  I didn't mean to ignore the sprinklers - but somehow they were overlooked and their effect is very evident on the once clear glass of my den windows!  I can choose to ignore this another week, or get it fixed.  If I ignore it, I will have so many hard water spots on the window, it will take a cleaning chemical to dissolve them (or lots of vinegar).  Anything which is left to its own devices will ultimately give us more of a negative outcome than we might have wanted!  If the source is good, the means are pure, the outcome should be good and pure, as well.  If the source is filled with all manner of stuff with corrodes and builds up in bad ways, the means goes unchecked or unmonitored, the outcome will probably be a build-up of some nastiness!  Just sayin!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Good friend or acquaintance?

I don't know how easily you make friends, but it is not something which comes easy for a good many of us.  We find ourselves wanting those close friendships, but actually getting past the "surface" of acquaintance-type relationships is something which is much harder for some than others.  What some might call being "extroverted" makes it look as though those individuals who make friends easily are "really good" at making friends.  In other words, we associate the sheer number of friends they have with some kind of "successful" friendship-making ability on their parts.  I have met many an extroverted person, surrounded with a good many "friends" who have pretty close to no one to stand with them in the hard times!  The sheer volume doesn't guarantee anyone to come alongside in the moments of testing and trial - it just means we have a "gaggle" of guys or gals who all enjoy a good time with us!  

Good people are careful about choosing their friends, but evil people always choose the wrong ones. (Proverbs 12:36 ERV)

I may not be surrounded with a "gaggle" of "gal-friends", but one thing is for sure - the ones I have selected to get the closest to me over the years have meant the most to me in the times when I am struggling as well as when I am celebrating.  I am rather "careful" about choosing my friends.  In younger years, I was probably like the rest of the adolescents growing up - wanting to hang with the "popular" group.  If I couldn't hang with them, I wanted to be like them.  Sound familiar to anyone?  As my kids began to grow up, I saw exactly the same thing in their relationship choices - if they couldn't be part of the group, they yearned for it so badly it almost hurt.  Isn't it kind of eye-opening to be a parent and see the stuff we did as kids acted out in the lives of our kids? 

I can remember a few conversations with my daughter about some of the girls she wanted to hang out with.  They were all nice girls - none of them were going to lead her down the path into gangs or guns!  Yet, if you watched closely, you could see the "signs" these girls weren't going to be the kind of friends who could endure the "fire of the furnace" with her.  They were fine for the fun times, but come a little bit of a challenge in the relationship, and off they'd go! Then my daughter would be left devastated and feeling so rejected, used, and just didn't understand their "cruelty".  I know she wasn't alone in this reaction to their seemingly "two-sided" friendship.  Many will handle this by pulling in, telling themselves they won't put themselves "out there" again because they don't want to be hurt by people.  In doing this, they lose out on what God intended when he created us as "relational" individuals!

Instead of pulling in or away, we need to figure out how to make those choices in relationship which will prove to be lasting, meaningful, and a little challenging to our status quo.  Notice I didn't say they'd just "fluff our feathers" and make life all cheery for us.  If we are to be honest with each other here, the "best" relationships we have had over the years are not only the deepest ones, but those which have challenged us to become better individuals.  In order to do this, we didn't always see eye-to-eye and had to work out a few things.  We might have had to compromise on a matter here or there, but we never expected the other one to compromise their convictions or beliefs.  We were patient with each other as the other one "caught up" with us, or we gave them time to take a breather if things were going a little too fast for them.  We "read" each other like books and we learned to "fit' together rather than working to "write our own stories".

Every now and again, one of my daughter's friends from the past crosses her path.  It is always a moment of decision - for she can slip back into those moments of trying to be friends with them again in the way they want her to be a friend, or she can remain faithful to her choice to just accept they will never be the kind of close friend she had hoped for.  She is kind and loving toward them, but she also recognizes they just aren't the kind of friends who will be there through the trials, helping to strengthen her and sometimes being the voice who brings much needed wisdom, encouragement, and even correction. This is the "metal" of a true friend - one who will not only be there in the thick and thin of life, but who isn't afraid to be genuine in relationship.  Given all we know about relationship wherever we are at today, one thing will probably ring true in our hearts - we all want genuine people in our lives!  

We don't want phonies who are just "passing through" - we want those who will stand the tests of time, treasure, and testing!  To learn to be this kind of friend is actually kind of hard because we need to be willing to let another be at the center of the relationship!  It isn't the other guy or gal who is at the center - it is God. The best relationships are held together not because the two people are "good at relationship", but because they are willing to let God be at the center of it!  Just sayin!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Just thinking

We encounter all kinds of "thinkers" in this world.  Some are "deep thinkers", always into the "heavier" matters of life, mulling over the greater or harder philosophical questions and "weightier" matters.  Others may be a little bit of the "dreamers", constantly thinking about how things "could be" if we just did this or that.  Still others are kind of down to earth and pretty "practical" in their thinking, but may get labeled as a little too "dull" by the dreamer and a little too simplistic for the deep thinker.   Does it really matter what kind of a "thinker" you really are?  If you get down to it, you will soon see the advantages the "practical" thinker has over the dreamer or deeper thinker.  The practical thinker tends to be able to see a little bit of a bigger picture, but isn't so caught up in the thinking they cannot put into action what they are thinking about!

Intelligent people think about what needs to be done here and now. Fools are always dreaming about faraway places. (Proverbs 17:24 ERV)

Here and now kind of thinking may be criticized by some - feeling we limit our creativity by not "thinking big" or "dreaming a little".  It is possible to be very "here and now" and still have dreams, or desire to settle tougher questions in your mind and heart.  It is just that the here and now kind of thinker is willing to use the knowledge they have today to work out the issues of today while preparing for the probably issues of tomorrow.  Although we never know what tomorrow's issues may be, we can count on some being pretty consistent - like the need for food, water, and shelter.  The practical thinker - one grounded in the here and now - isn't forgetting the needs of tomorrow, or the greater lessons to be learned in today - they are just committed to making the most of today, letting tomorrow take care of itself, and trusting God with both!

I saw a cute little "minion" cartoon on Facebook this morning.  The caption read: "I think I need a time out.  Send me to the beach and don't let me come back until my attitude changes."  Now, we all have had days where we wanted to escape whatever was right there in front of us and this type of "beach therapy" would actually appeal to us.  What this message really says is that we all need "down time" to recapture some of our ability to "think on the right stuff".  If we are truthful, most of our "attitude adjustment" in life is really a matter of changing the way we think - reordering our thoughts, worrying less, relying more, etc.  We find we move from thinking about this one thing so much to just letting our minds drift a little into something entirely different and we get "refreshed".

So, "faraway places" thinking may be a good thing, but keeping our minds on the "in the future" kind of stuff for way too long will either get us too depressed when we realize it isn't becoming a reality soon enough, or we will get way too distracted by all the day-dreaming and never get things done in the present moment. There is a fine balance between "far away" thinking and the practical. We need both.  In essence, our passage is reminding us of the importance of wisdom - gaining understanding, but knowing how to use it in an appropriate manner within the appropriate timing.  Yet, there is a sensitivity to the creativity of "faraway thinking" and the moments of "deep, contemplative" exploration. As a general rule of thumb, either of the latter two will be just too limiting for us, but when we balance them out, we find we gain understanding, turning it into practical steps we take today to accomplish the mission before us, while preparing our hearts and minds for the mission which may open up to us in the future.

The deep thinker has his attention "too focused".  The "faraway thinker" has his attention too freely distracted.  Notice I said his attention was "freely distracted".  He willingly engages in distraction.  The wise will reign in their minds when they begin to wander too far, or too frequently, recognizing the needs of today will not be addressed if we are gazing too far into the future! This kind of "faraway thinking" can bring ruin to relationship, because there is no investment in the "here and now".  Relationships need both the here and now kind of commitment and action, but they need a little bit of the "dreamer" in all of us.  To get caught up in the "dreaming" about the relationship usually makes us discontent with the present.  This may not always be a bad thing if the "present" isn't what it should be - we might just need to spend some time working on it.  If the present is neglected because we are too busy dreaming about how things "could be" or "should have been", then we run the danger of seeking relationship elsewhere.

The way we think matters.  The way we respond to our thinking matters more! Just thinkin!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Don't just stick your finger in the leak!

In high school, one of the offered extra-curricular activities was debate team. You could join a group of other boys and girls who liked to present the arguments to a particular topic - some pro and others con to whatever the topic might be.  In a short period of time, you were presented with the subject and then you needed to be willing to take to the podium to present your side of the argument.  In reality, we don't always "think on our feet" all that quickly in most of the real life situations, nor are we given any real chance to prepare for whatever argument we are faced with.  In debate team, they taught you to not spend a great deal of time researching the topic and preparing your "outline" of responses, but you could perhaps write out a series of 5 one word "points" you were going to make in response.  For example, if you were asked to stand on the "pro" side of charter schools, you might write 5 one to two word "prompts" to help structure your arguments such as "class size", "publicly funded", "specialized", "advanced curriculum", etc.  You would use those "points" to discuss your "view" (pro or con), attempting to sway the listeners to your "side" of the debate.  In the end, someone would give you a score - determined by how well you presented the topic and the points you zeroed in on which made your side of the argument all that much more "salient".  The point of the entire debate was to "manipulate" the audience to "see things" your way.  If you haven't figured it out yet, the point of most arguments is really around what someone isn't seeing "YOUR" way.  The one who instigates the argument is often the one who feels their "side" isn't being supported as it should be and they want the other guy to know it!

The start of an argument is like a small leak in a dam. Stop it before a big fight breaks out. (Proverbs 17:14 ERV)

The important thing I didn't want you to miss there is that arguments are really subtle forms (and sometimes not so subtle) of manipulation.  We engage in them because we want someone to see things our way - they just don't know it yet, but we are about to unload our "opinion", "view", or "feelings" on them right now.  In so doing, we are going to use our "argument" to manipulate the circumstances one way or the other.  Most arguments may not be as well prepared as a formal debate, though.  We don't get a whole lot of "prep time", nor do we always know the "topic" which will be "on the table" at that particular moment.  A debate team knows there are about 50 or so topics which could be discussed, so they have actually become moderately familiar with those topics so they can "argue" either side of the topic if called upon to do so.  In real life, we don't get this "prep time" - nor are the topics of an argument really all that "predictable" or "understood".  In fact, many an argument is something which is spur of the moment, simply because something isn't going "right", and stems from a "disorganized" thought process rather than a highly organized one!

In real life, the start of an argument is indeed like the small leak in a dam - one drip may not seem like much to an observer, but that little leak signals there are "internal problems" with the dam!  What is the purpose of the dam?  Isn't it to hold back the waters.  Is there supposed to be a leak in the dam?  No!  In fact, when the first sign of a leak occurs, we can pretty much count on more water finding the way through that small crack and then more water, until we have a full-fledged flood!  I am not advocating that we "dam up" our emotions, so I want to set us straight on that right up front.  I am advocating we pay attention to the "little stuff" which escapes our lips, comes across in the quickness or speed at which we perform an action for someone, etc.  These can be subtle signs of "small leaks" which are bound to bring more of those snippy words or curt actions if the "leak" is left unchecked.  When a leak occurs in a dam, the engineers go to work to examine where the leak seems to be occurring. Why?  They have to assess if the leak poses a threat to the safety of those who are "downstream" from the dam!  The same is true when "argumentative words" begin to escape our lips - those "downstream" are not going to fair well if the entire dam begins to break!

As a kid, we were told this little story of a boy who tried to stop the leak from a levy with his finger.  He came across the leak, stuck his finger in it, and this stopped the flow of the water.  It wasn't long before he recognized he could not move without the leak coming back again!  In essence, he was captive to the leak.  He became the stabilizing force which kept the levy from breaking down. Now, if you have ever tried to be the "stabilizing force" who is "stuck" with your "finger in the dam" so to speak, you know just how limiting that position can be! In truth, you are captive to the leak - it has you in its clutches.  Arguments have a way of doing this to us - we try to stop them by doing things which we think will "hold them at bay" for a while, but in essence, we cannot hold back the forces of the "raging waters" just behind that dam!  Eventually our "small plug" which worked for a while will not hold for the long term.  The best way to stop an argument is to stop it right where it starts.  To do this, we often have to "look behind" the leak to see what forces are pushing against the place where the leak is occurring.  If we will realize nobody "drilled" that hole purposefully, but the forces of life created it because of the stress placed on a weak portion of the relationship, we might just begin to realize how to strengthen the portion which is weak and keep the stress from constantly allowing the leak!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Where do you find your source of wisdom?

If you are even a little like me, you might have a bit of trouble just hanging around people who are always talking "nonsense".  You know, the kind of talk which is just trifling and most of the time is just unimportant - like they are just talking to hear themselves talk.  I like to be engaged in meaningful conversation, either because it unburdens my soul, feeds my spirit, or lifts my emotional well-being.  You are probably the same way - you want to walk away from that conversation with some "meat" - something which actually mattered to have listened to.  Lest you think I am some kind of major scholar, engaged in these deeply philosophical discussions all the time, think again!  I enjoy just unwinding from the hectic day with a few stories which elicit deep laughter, learning about the weekend of a good friend, or just listening to the present struggle of a companion in this walk.  There is something healthy about these times and they bring us closer together or build us up for the work of the day. God encourages the positive conversation, but he totally understands our frustration with the "nonsensical".

Listening to wise people increases your knowledge, but only nonsense comes from the mouths of fools. Wise people say things that give you new knowledge, but fools say nothing worth hearing. Fools hate to be told they are wrong, so they refuse to ask wise people for advice. Intelligent people want more knowledge, but fools only want more nonsense. (Proverbs 15:2, 7, 12, 14 ERV)

The wise in our lives actually say things which bring us new knowledge - either into their own lives or ours.  This is the neat thing about having these close relationships we can just be ourselves within - we find ourselves sharing in meaningful ways which actually help us BOTH grow.  Again, it isn't the largely "philosophical" discussions which have helped me grow the most, but some of the most "common" sharing of frustrations, hopes & dreams, or the wear-and-tear kind of stuff which is really having a hay-day in my life.  The fool engages in all manner of "twaddle" - that trivial, sometimes tedious, and mostly silly prattle.  The wise will have moments of laughter, intertwined with silence, and sometimes capped off with just an insight they are learning or trying to grasp from various perspectives.

Wise people say things which give us new knowledge - if we are always listening to those who don't bring any new knowledge into our lives, we may have to change who we are listening to!  We need new knowledge - perspectives outside of our own limited view of life.  We don't always have to embrace everyone's perspective, but when we get a little more than our own perspective into a matter, we may be surprised how limited our perspective has been!  William Shakespeare once penned the words, "The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool."  I don't know about you, but there are times when I act foolish - and I know it!  In fact, there are probably more times when my actions reveal the foolishness of my heart than I realize - you may see those actions and be able to shed a little light into my "actions" which will help me realize how foolish I am behaving.  I relish that insight - I don't run from it!

Although Oprah Winfrey is not one of the women I would turn to for deep wisdom, she did say something which caught my eye once that I'd like to share with you this morning.  You see, she is a woman who has experienced some deeper wounds in her life.  In those times, she evidently did some introspection and here is what she said:  "Turn your wounds into wisdom."  Now, chew on that one a bit and you will see there is something "deep" in what she said in those five simply words.  They weren't a great dissertation on the woes of life, nor was it a lengthy sermon preached from a pulpit on Sunday morning.  Yet, in those words there is found "meat" for us to chew upon.  Wounds come - what we do with them makes all the difference in how well we will recover from them. She chose to turn those wounds into wisdom - giving her insight into how to avoid the same "wounding" influences again in her life.  Small words with huge nuggets of truth we might just find helpful later in our lives or right now, for that matter!

Sometimes we need to be on the "lookout" for the words which will bring us insight into who we are or are on the journey to becoming - other times we need to be on the "lookout" for the words which will bring us insight into who the other individual is or is becoming.  Our words may not always be deep, nor philosophical, but they can be "revolutionary" when they are spoken in love, emanating from a heart of love for another, and connected to the source of all wisdom, Jesus himself. Just sayin!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Making memories

You are probably not unlike me in that you put things away "so carefully" on occasion, and then you cannot remember where you put them when you need them.  Right?  Then there are times when you think this present thing you are engaged in will live on for eternity in your memories, but in a matter of time you have the hardest of times recalling the details of the event or activity you were engaged in.  Why is that?  Didn't the event or activity have enough "meaning" to form a "lasting" memory?  It was probably because other stuff crowded out the detail of that memory, causing it to fade into more of a vague recollection. I have to ask a question this morning:  What are the memories you are leaving in your "passage" through this earth?  We are all "passing through" on this journey into eternity - either into eternity with Jesus, or a not so enjoyable one in the presence of Satan and his host of demons.  On our "passing through" there is an opportunity to leave a legacy of sorts - memories of our "passage" which either bless and help others on this journey, or memories which are just not all that "memorable".  

Good people leave memories that bless us, but the wicked are soon forgotten. (Proverbs 10:7 ERV)

How do we leave memories which become a blessing to others in our lives?  If we want memories to live on long after we are gone, we probably need to figure this one out.  First of all, I don't think it is as much of what you "do" as much as it is what you "are".  In other words, we might stress about making memories by the actions we engage in, such as winning the biggest contract for our employer, or competing to win in a marathon, but the most memorable moments of our lives may just be when we are "being" what God calls us to be. If we are truthful here, we remember some of the moments when someone just connected with our heart in a simple gesture of love like coming to our bedside when we were scared before going to surgery and just holding our hand.  Maybe it is the moment when they just sat beside you on a crisp, clear day and took in the passage of the day enjoying the beauty of the hillsides and animal life scurrying around you.  Perhaps it is the times when you burst into song spontaneously when recounting the songs you could both remember ALL the words to!  It doesn't matter what we "do" as much as what we are "becoming" together.

Herein is the "secret" to a good life - living so as to form those relationships which really matter, then "being" on this journey as "co-walkers".  We spend so much time "doing" and so little time "becoming" that we miss the purpose of our calling - to "be" in relationship with Jesus and then to "be" in relationship with each other.  Good people leave memories that bless because they are less concerned with all the activities of life and most concerned about the relationships of life.  Some folks have a hard time understanding how I can put some things "on hold" in my life while I take time to just "be" here for my mom. If you have been a caregiver of an elderly parent, you probably know what I mean here.  Folks just don't "get" that these are the last years to be making those memories of just "being" together.  They may not be the most "thrilling"of days, but they are filled with memories which will live on in our hearts forever, aren't they?  

We are all on a journey to "becoming".  In just "being" with Jesus, we are becoming all the things he has declared us to "be" in the moment he redeemed us from our selfish pursuits of "doing" everything on our own to be "good people".  We might have thought we were "doing" a pretty good job at living as "good people" apart from Jesus, but once we actually say "yes" to Jesus' invitation to be the active center of our lives, we find all our "doing" pales in comparison to what Jesus is helping us "become".  In the "becoming" we find we are forming lasting memories which will live on.  These memories are not the type which can be displayed in trophies or photo albums, but in heart connections which have ministered deeply to the needs of those hurting all around us.  As we go about "being" the hands and feet of Jesus, we find we connect with those who need another person to just "be" with them in the struggles of life.  We don't need to have all the right words, nor the insight into their problem - we just need to "be" what God is to them - embracing arms and an understanding heart.  In that moment of connection, memories are being made.  Just sayin!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Telling and Trusting

Yesterday, we explored the importance of just calming down long enough to recognize God in our situation - to really just settle our emotions, physical movement, and mental chaos long enough to realize we cannot bring everything that is needed into play in the moment.  We need God to do it for us - and he cannot do it until we give him room to do it.  As an important part of giving God room to work in our lives, we also come into the place where we just need to unload our problems.  Whenever we God enough room to actually take control of the circumstances of our lives, we find ourselves being more willing to "unburden" ourselves by sharing our problems with him.  As long as we think we have it under control, we don't usually "spill the beans" about the pressures which are mounting, the problems we are being inundated with, or the pressing demands of everything all at once.  An important part of trust is the ability to tell the other person almost anything - if not everything!  Trusting God this much isn't possible until we actually slow down long enough to recognize him in our lives - then we begin to develop this relationship of sharing.  At first, the types of things we share with him are not much different than the stuff we share with our new friends right here on earth - basic, superficial, and kind of like we are sharing just to "test the waters".  One thing is for certain, unless we move past the superficial and basic sharing of "facts" with God, into the place of sharing our true heart thoughts and desires, we will never grow into the depth of trust we really need to develop.

People, always put your trust in God! Tell him all your problems. God is our place of safety. God says there is one thing you can really depend on, and I believe it: “Strength comes from God!” (Psalm 62:8, 11 ERV)

As I said, part of trust is the ability to "spill the beans" with the other person - knowing full-well that those confidences are going to be respected and held closely to their heart.  We may not have experienced this too much in our physical relationships here on this earth, but let me assure you if you give God the chance to actually "listen in on" your deepest concerns and toughest issues, he won't violate that confidence.  In fact, he holds up those confidences and helps us through whatever those issues are.  I talk a lot to myself.  Don't go sending me to the "funny farm" now.  Admit it - you do, too!  We have these "conversations" going on inside our heads all the time.  It is part of reasoning - we are presenting the situation to ourselves and figuring out how it is we will react to it.  If we can converse with ourselves that way, why is it we have such a hard time being as free in our communication with God?  I think we might just trust ourselves a little too much - having misplaced where our trust really belongs!

When we "tell" something to someone we are really doing a couple of things:

- We are giving an account of a matter through our eyes.  This can be quite revealing, actually.  We often give an account which reveals we have only one perspective on the matter, revealing quite quickly that we haven't considered all the other "sides" of the issue at hand.  This is sometimes one of the simplest ways to settle issues and reveal the specific actions we should be taking - getting the other sides of the issue.  When I consider purchasing a new item, I go to some of the websites where people "rate" the product.  Why?  They have used it, and in the course of time, we can find rather helpful feedback about the product.  Some will be content with mediocre performance, while others will candidly tell you not to waste your money.  I weigh all these "inputs" of information and make an educated purchases based on the feedback.  When we begin to come to God to share our perspective and then remain open to hearing his, we often find out there is another whole "side" to the issue we may not have been able to see and he is willing to walk us through the issue from that perspective.

- We are expressing in words what may not have been expressed before.  It isn't hard to see how "revealing" this can be, because when we put into words what we feel or have been experiencing, it can be a little bit like we are "walking naked".  There are a whole lot of things I think throughout the day which never make it into words and I am thinking that may not be a bad thing!  There are also a whole lot of things in my mind and heart which cannot be dealt with entirely until they make it into words.  Herein is the rub - we have to trust enough to put into words what we haven't been able to share with anyone else up to this point.  The good news is that God already knows what we are dealing with.  You may ask why it is necessary to put those things into words then, but I'd just have to remind you of the importance of us sometimes being willing to bring our the "truth" of our struggles.  In the moments we reveal our struggles, it is like we are also yielding ourselves to him - allowing him to not only take the matter into his care, but to "right" within us whatever has been the matter.

- We open ourselves up to two-way dialogue.  When we finally take a moment to calm ourselves enough to sort out our deepest thoughts, then begin to share those with God, we find he brings answers we might have only glossed over previously.  The truth is, the answer was probably right there in front of us the whole time, but we were so caught up in the frenzy and chaos of the moment, we just didn't realize the answer was there all the time.  God has a way of bringing the stuff which really isn't "new" into focus in our lives - giving us a fresh perspective from which we can appreciate the answer to our issue.  Some of the time we simply need to make confession of something we have been doing or neglecting - allowing God to help us redirect ourselves back onto course in the matter.  At other times, we find he simply gives us new insight not previously recognized or available to us while we remained closed off to hearing from him.  

We learn to trust as we learn to open our hearts in dialogue with the one we desire relationship with.  If we never open our hearts, we will never develop the place of trust which ultimately shares even the deepest and darkest of secrets. There are few who can handle those secrets, my friend.  Isn't it best to develop the relationship with the one who always handles those secrets well?  Just askin!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Not just a weekend

One of my Facebook friends posted a cute thing the other day:  "Chocolate is to women what duct tape is to men - it fixes everything" (a quote advertising Cafe Escapes).  It kind of caught my attention and immediately made me chuckle, simply because all of us women know this is so true!  Some weeks we just need a little more "duct tape" in our lives than others!  If you study the effects of chocolate on the human brain, you will find it releases some type of chemical akin to the one which makes us feel "good".  Some think this is caused by a release of "endorphin-stimulating" ingredient which causes our brain's receptors to just "perk up" and release the "feel-good" chemicals in our system.  I don't know what receptors chocolate reaches in your brain, but it works this way for me!  Maybe this is why we turn to chocolate when we are not feeling "good" for some reason - either because the stress of the day is building, or we just don't have enough positive affirmation to help keep our spirits up.  One of the benefits of this release of "feel-good" chemicals into our system is this sense of being able to just relax.  It isn't the sugar high which is causing you to relax, it is this release of chemicals.  I think there is "divine chocolate" we need to turn to maybe a little more frequently than our favorite dark or milk variety, though! 

I must calm down and turn to God; only he can rescue me.  He is my Rock, the only one who can save me.  He is my high place of safety, where no army can defeat me. (Psalm 62:1-2 ERV)

We all have those moments when we just need to "calm down" - those times when we are spinning out of control for one reason or another.  The pressures may be external to us, exerting forces against us which make us work harder, do more than we were comfortable committing to, etc.  There may also be internal pressures adding to that sense of discomfort, such as our desire to succeed, a deep sense of feeling we are "alone" in the matter, etc.  Put all of these together and we have a recipe for physical, emotional, and mental disaster.  These moments of craziness are often defined by what is "happening" in the day. We didn't intend to get out of control, nor did we have some of the control to stop what has ended up spinning so wildly out of control - it is just what it is and we are not dealing with it all too well.  We turn to what makes us "feel good" in the moment - hoping for some immediate release.  Well, there is something scientific behind that response, as we have discussed, but there is something even more beneficial to us if we will choose a little differently in that moment.  We can tap into the most calming peace if we just "tap into" some time with Jesus.

Looking at what our psalmist says, he recognizes when he is spinning out of control (for whatever reason it might be), he has to bring himself under control. This is often the only thing we can do in the circumstance.  We can control nothing more than ourselves - try as we might, the circumstances and people involved in our muddle are just not going to do it for us.  So, if we want to change the moment, we must control what we can control in the moment - our response.  You have probably heard me say it more than once - we cannot control things out of our own realm of influence - change begins with us, not the other guy!  It is when we "right" ourselves, changing our focus, that we begin to see the issues at hand differently.  David is reminding us to do just that - calm ourselves down and then turn to the one who can sort things out.

I cannot tell you how many times I feel myself beginning to spin out of control and I just step away from whatever it is that is putting that pressure on me at the moment.  It is in the simple act of stepping away that I recenter my attention.  You know it is true - you get a different perspective once your change your own perspective of the situation.  David simply states we need to stop focusing on the issues which are getting us all riled up and turn our attention toward the one who not only brings peace, but who is peace.

Another friend posted a picture of a rather frazzled looking "minion" and the caption read:  It has been a rough week, but on a positive note...I didn't need any bail money and I didn't have to hide any bodies!"  Now, we probably all chuckled at that one because we ALL have had weeks when we imagined ourselves just doing something crazy or strangling the life out of someone! Why? It is usually because our peace had been disturbed to the point we had a really hard time "re-centering" on what really mattered.  I think this is why God may have given us the Sabbath - that seventh day in the week when we are to just bring or give rest to our bodies.  It may not be just the day to worship him (although this is definitely important), but it may also be the day we get to renew and find our peace again.  Not a bad thing when you stop to consider it - but you do have to stop to appreciate the Sabbath if you are ever to get any benefit from it!  Just sayin!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A colony of families

There are times you just read over stuff in the scriptures and totally miss what is being said.  You can do this year after year, without even "getting" something. I kind of think this may be on purpose because God has a season and a specific time for certain things to catch our attention.  In those moments, he pours something into our lives by sometimes even the shortest of passages. What we do with what God gives us is ours to determine - he can provide the feeding, but he cannot force feed us.  He can spoon feed us, but he doesn't cram it down our throats!  One thing is for sure - remain open to what he provides and you will have your "fill" of good things and "stuff" you can actually use in your own life!  Did you ever stop to consider for just a moment how much "scripture" is declared in the things around you, not just in the written words between those leather bindings you call a Bible?  It is true, for even the heavens tell of his glory and the world of nature all around you bespeaks the creator's power, honor, and majesty.  Sometimes all that is needed is for us to just sit back a little and take it all in - contemplating his greatness in the expanse of what we behold.

The heavens tell about the glory of God. The skies announce what his hands have made. Each new day tells more of the story, and each night reveals more and more about God’s power. You cannot hear them say anything.  They don’t make any sound we can hear. But their message goes throughout the world. Their teaching reaches the ends of the earth.(Psalm 19:1-2 ERV)

My BFF and I have discovered the little ground hogs are back in the field behind our hospital.  It seems like we see them each year and then all of a sudden, it is like they are gone.  I don't know if they hibernate, move to different parts of the field, or what, but they are there now and we are enjoying them.  There are lots and lots of wee ones, not much bigger around than my thumb, but cute as a button.  We happened on them this year quite by accident, but were both bowled away by the tiny one who came running up to us, actually approaching within just a couple feet of us, obviously looking to see if we had brought them anything good.  It is kind of like the ducks at the park, feed one and the entire flock zooms in.  This tiny critter left a little disappointed that first day, but we have been out there at least 3 times a week since then with left-over morsels, fruit, and the like.  We just sit down on the bench and watch them come out of the various burrows scattered around the shade of the trees and under bushes here and there.  We even have named the "communities" similar to those around us - like that set of burrows is Apache Junction, the other is Cave Creek, and the ones closest to us are Mesa!  So as the "families" emerge, we welcome them from their "township"!

As I stop to consider their little lives, I see just how fragile they are, but also how resilient the can be.  They are tiny, but mighty.  With those tiny little feet, they carve out vast tunnels, inter-related communities, entering one place and emerging in just seconds at a totally different location.  They can scamper with quickness akin to race car drivers going from zero to sixty in under a few seconds.  Yet, they are also constantly attentive to their environment - scouting for those birds who might swoop in and carry away their young.  They must compete for their food, with grackles and black birds and sparrows zeroing in on anything left for them to feed upon.  Their constant "hunt" for food is unending, emerging in the coolness of the morning, the stillness of the evening, and likely the cover of darkness to gather seed pods falling from the mesquite trees. When we come along, there may not be one in sight, but when we call for them, one emerges, then two, and then you hear these tiny high-pitched little cries. Within minutes, the older ones emerge, followed by the tiniest of the colonies.  Each sits at attention, awaiting the treat of the day.

We are kind of like those wee creatures - buried deep in the "regular" part of our days, not really aware of what is going on around us, until all of a sudden we catch a glimpse of something good.  In just that short moment of time, our worlds can change.  We can go from being absorbed in the day-after-day existence we are enduring into the delights of something magnificent and totally unexpected.  Yesterday, we took them cherries.  A couple of days before that, we took them grapes, and even an orange.  It was comical to see them race hither and yon, gathering up their new-found treats, and even more comical to see the wee ones hold them in their front paws and chow down.  The "good stuff" is constantly different for them - just as it is for us.  We can count on one thing - God isn't boring!  He delights in giving us new things in new ways, but really their are simply "old things" reborn in a way we just don't fully understand.  

As we sat there a couple days this week, the humidity was high, but the clouds in the sky were delightful.  Big, fluffy, and filled with rain!  June isn't usually a wet month in the Phoenix area, so we are delighted with even the "prospect" of rain!  Those clouds filled the sky, drifted by and changed shape with such rapid succession, that we just pondered them for a while.  Just like kids on a lazy summer afternoon, my BFF and I just sat their gazing into the skies.  Anyone coming by must have thought we were a little strange - feeding the wee critters, talking with them, and then gazing into the vastness of the skies.  I don't know what was running through the head of my companion as much as I do know what was deep within my heart.  There was an appreciation for the smallest of blessings in life - the simplicity of enjoying God's creation spurring the recounting of the blessings of family (as I observed the ground hogs scurrying about), the treasure of friendship (as I sat in companionable silence with my BFF), and the greatness of grace (as I looked into the highest of heavens and considered the awesomeness of our Creator God).

You don't have to look far to see the greatness of God declared, my friends. Sometimes all you need to do is stop long enough to look!  Just sayin!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Just praying

I am not an alarmist, nor am I one to live with my head in the sand, either. I just find myself wanting to avoid the newscasts each night these days because they are filled with all manner of misbehaving people everywhere.  The media makes their money and wins their Pulitzer's on the hype they can muster around certain media topics.  Race riots, wars, and terror plots seem to abound, so there is no lack of "fodder" for their fancy.  In fact, if there isn't really anything much behind some story, I honestly think they find ways to blow these little stories into bigger ones and then before long, the whole thing gets really out of control.  I can recount a couple of times in the past year when a simple action gets huge hype.  The mother who left her kids in the car so she could go to a job interview and then when arrested, despite her wrong action, the media made it possible for the world to begin to send her money in the form of donations for the "poor mother forced to do resort to this".  The sad state of affairs is made all the worse by the mother refusing to actually spend the monies she received in donation as the court has ordered her to do so - to provide for the welfare of her children.  Causes leading to violent bloodshed, the loss of innocent lives, and the destruction of properties galore in an already poor nation riddle our screens with images of the extreme devastation nightly.  Yes, ware is awful and lives are unnecessarily lost.  I have to wonder if all the infighting in some of these situations isn't made all the more "valid" by the hype we give it in the media.  We should always be reminded of this one truth - God is at the helm - regardless of what the media might hype or bring to the forefront of our imaginations.

Look at the powerful things the Lord has done.  See the awesome things he has done on earth.  He stops wars all over the world.  He breaks the soldiers’ bows, shatters their spears, and burns their shields.   God says, “Stop fighting and know that I am God!  I am the one who defeats the nations; I am the one who controls the world.”  (Psalm 46:8-10 ERV)

We spend millions of dollars producing these "media campaigns" related to wars, riots, and ill-behaved individuals.  We give our time and attention to these stories, but can we say we give our time and attention to their plight?  As I went into a my local cell phone store to obtain a replacement for my "expanding battery" in my old one, I noticed something which stirred my heart a little.  Two young men, probably not a day over 18 or 19 stood on the sidewalk with an Army recruiter practicing their salutes and standing at attention.  They were preparing for their enlistment and they showed such enthusiasm and commitment to the cause they were about to embark upon.  I don't know what stirred within their hearts, but it reminded me of my own enthusiasm and the stirring of emotion which still occurs when I see a man or woman in uniform, setting out to do whatever it is they are called to do in service to our country. I used to wear that uniform - with much pride, similar enthusiasm, and deep love for my country.  Once a member of the armed forces, I recount that feeling of swelling urgency to do as commanded, go where directed, and give your all to whatever is the place you are called to serve.

The sadness began to well in my spirit which I fear is the sadness of many families these days.  The sadness is related to the potential of loss - knowing very well that war is an ugly thing, producing ugly outcomes and the potential of the greatest loss of all - life.  The long periods of absence from their homes, coupled with the tremendous "unknown" of what one will see, much less experience personally is almost overwhelming to some.  Men and women return home all the time - but they are seldom the same after their experience of warfare.  You cannot see the devastation and extreme loss of life without it affecting the core of your being.  If we might just for a moment stop what we are doing today and just take a moment to do just one thing, I'd be ever so grateful.  Let us pray for those who serve our country - whether it is in battle in a far-off land, or on the streets of our home town as a police officer, EMT, or member of our fire departments.  We may not be able to preserve their lives, but we can certainly lift them up before the one who can!  

As we pray, let us keep in mind the prayer of this Psalm:

- Recount all God has done on our behalf already.  Herein is where we begin - in celebration of our God and Savior.  He is the focus of our hope and he is the beginning of the end of the wars, riots, and wrongful activities everywhere.  

- He can break the weapons we use against each other quicker than anyone or anything else.  We fight with physical weapons - he engages heavenly warriors! We raise arms against one another - he raises his one hand and sets things in motion we do not see, nor do we sometimes even understand or appreciate. 

- Declare his power throughout the world.  Herein is the crux of our prayer, for he is the one, who by one word spoken from his lips, stop the wars everywhere. He is the one, who with one breath from his nostril, set right the hearts of those struggling to find purpose and a sense of hope in a world riddled with all manner of division and strife.

- Lay those before him who might not even understand these things, or have any awareness that there is a God who controls it all.  It may seem like all is out of control right now, but remember this - God never relinquishes control of those who call upon him!

We cannot stop the wars ourselves - for human beings have dealt with the ugliness of their own selfish nature since the beginning of time.  We may not be able to stop the riots over race, color, or creed, but we can stand assured in the presence and peace of the one who looks beyond race, color, or creed and sees a soul in need of a Savior.  We may not be the ones about to embark on a mission into warfare, but we can do our part as a member in the "armies of the Lord" by lifting them up in prayer before him.  We can shut off the TV, my friends.  We can stop reading and listening to all the media hype.  These are things we "can" do.  Listen to God's voice - lean into his arms - lift his name in the nations - and pray for peace everywhere.  Just prayin!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

More than a hug

I just want to pause for a moment or two today to take a little time for those who are caregivers of one or both of their parents.  In today's rush-rush, get it all done world, we sometimes work ourselves to a frazzle and forget about the many blessings taking care of this loved one actually places in our lives.  I know there are moments when mom, with failing eyesight can't see what she cannot see, creating a little more more work for me in the long run; and her hearing becoming less and less acute, that I just want to throw up my hands and get a little frustrated when I have to repeat what has just been said not once, but multiple times until she gets it.  Yet, in the moments in between those moments of seeing the little extra work, or repeating the same things again, I relish the times we spend just hanging together as companions.  To those who are caregivers, I salute you.  I reach out to you with a heart of understanding, knowing full-well that your life gets a little "bogged down" on occasion especially when you'd like to be foot-loose and fancy-free.  I also know how challenging it will be to have only the memories of that loved one with you long after he or she has departed this earth for eternity.  

A widow who really needs help is one who has been left all alone. She trusts God to take care of her. She prays all the time, night and day, and asks God for help. (I Timothy 5:5 ERV)

Some things you may not want to miss right now in those moments you have that mother or father at your side, are really captured in one simple action - a hug.

- It doesn't have to be for a reason, and it may shock them once in a while to just reach out and envelope them in a big bear hug, but do it.  You may not realize it, but they need that hug as much as you needed to give it.  The benefits of a hug have been studied over the ages have recognized not only the emotional benefits (such as reducing loneliness and anxiety), but the physical benefits which actually help to reduce the effects of disease in the body.  

- Did you realize that a hug builds and reinforces trust.  When two bodies draw close together, almost as though one heart is touching the heart of another, close enough to actually hear the other breathe and even hear the beat of their heart, trust is shared.  There is a deep sense of safety which passes between the two.  In your younger years, that sense of trust was established when they hugged you - now it is your turn to pass that sense of safety onto them!

- Something is released in a hug deep within the center of our brain - a chemical response which gives us a sense of well-being and just a "good feeling".  I don't know about you, but sometimes there aren't enough "good feeling" actions in my day to make up for all the "bad feeling" actions I must endure while dealing with the pressures at work.  That simple action of whatever is released (I think it is the chemical known as oxytocin), opens our hearts to renewal and our minds to peace.  Not a bad return for a couple of seconds just holding someone close.

- If you aren't a "toucher" or "hugger", you probably won't understand this next one, so hang on.  Touch actually builds self-confidence, or what some might call a sense of self-worth and value. When someone cares enough to touch you - to make that connection - there is something exchanged in that moment which says you are a valued part of their life.  I don't always stop to hug mom, but we do take hands as watch TV or listen to a book on CD.  Either one of us just reaches out to the other across the couch and takes a hand for a moment or two.  Those bony fingers, worn by time and lots of hard work, just encase mine. Herein is the passage of something not well-studied, but certainly "felt" in that moment of connection.  Don't forget even the simplest of embraces can make all the difference in a person's life - even when it is just reaching out to take a hand for just a moment.

- Hugs also help us release what is being held up in our bodies - like the tensions of the day.  I often hug my BFF, not because I have to, but because we appreciate each other.  We also can sense the tension in the other's life at the moment and there are times when that hug just lingers a moment longer, or is a little "tighter" - when those pressures of the day just seem to melt away. It goes without saying - we all need this "pressure release".  Even our elderly parents have their pressures, for they worry about their failing health, think about the needs of the family as they see them growing up and moving on, and then they feel the pressures put upon you as their caregiver, knowing full-well you had enough already to do in your busy world.  Help them as much as you help yourself - hug away that tension!  You may one day reach out to hold them near and find the time has passed you by.  Don't let it escape you - hug them now and hug them often!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I choose gate number 1

If you have ever pondered some of the meaning behind the illustrations given in scripture, you probably are like the rest of us - wondering why Jesus or the disciples just couldn't come to the point and be all out forthright in what they said.  One such method of providing an illustration was through the method of comparing one thing to another - such as a narrow path against a wide path.  We all can see the reasonableness in this illustration - the wide path may look more inviting - but just because it is "well-traveled" doesn't make it the right path for us to follow.  The narrow path may hold the greatest scenery and the most awesome outcome!  Being savvy about these choices is what Jesus had in mind when he presents the comparison - knowing the way of the "crowd" may not be the easiest, but not always give us the greatest reward is important for us to grasp.  The comparing of the two is something designed to give us just a moment to consider where it is we might have chosen the easiest or "least restrictive" path in life.  We don't like restrictions, do we?  In fact, when I wear a pair of shoes which are too tight, I am miserable all day long until I free my tootsies from their captivity!  We want "less restriction" in life - the easy way.  Jesus is simply presenting two options - the popular way or the way with a few more restrictions.  

You can enter true life only through the narrow gate. The gate to hell is very wide, and there is plenty of room on the road that leads there. Many people go that way. But the gate that opens the way to true life is narrow. And the road that leads there is hard to follow. Only a few people find it. (Matthew 7:13-14 ERV)

We resist restrictions because they seem to "bind us in" and make the walk a little harder.  I say they "seem to" make it that way for us, but in truth, we often need the support of a little "binding" in our lives.  For example, when we are going to be doing lots and lots of lifting, we may don a back support.  Why? That small amount of restriction reminds us to use our knees and lift things correctly, while protecting our back a little more than if we weren't wearing it. I use knee supports when I am going to be doing something very strenuous such as hiking a pretty aggressive trail.  Why?  My knees aren't as strong as they used to be and I don't want to have them give way when I am hiking.  I want the "support".  Restriction often provides support for the journey, not less freedom.  If we are truthful here, the times when we have gotten ourselves into the most trouble are when we have had the least "restraints" in our lives!

True life is entered only through the narrow gate.  There is a wider gate, but it doesn't lead to the same result.  Lots and lots of people may travel through the wider gate - because it is easiest.  It also provides a means by which they can bring all the mess of stuff they want to carry with them in this life.  The narrow gate required the one determined to "fit through" the limited space to actually unburden themselves and their "beasts of burden" in order to get through. There is a double message here then - the easiest isn't always the best and the way through is by unburdening oneself.  Now, in context, Jesus is telling us that there are lots of choices in life, but one will outlast and outdo all the others.  It may not be the most popular choice, but it has the greatest reward.  It may not be the "easiest" choice, but it offers the greatest relief to our weariness and unnecessary carrying of burdens.

The narrow gate presents some challenges to the one desiring to get in through that gate.  Here are but a few:

- We cannot bring all our burdens inside - we leave them at the gate.  To some this may actually present the hardest concept to grasp, for bearing their own burdens has become a way of life and is a hard thing to even imagine.  Life without burdens just seems kind of strange to the one who is committed to carrying them all themselves.  Jesus is offering a way to unburden oneself, but if we are honest, some of our burdens have kind of become like "pets" to us - we hold onto them, nurse them along, and just cannot seem to put them down. To Jesus, the only way to enter is to simply unload it all.

- We might see the gate as inviting - but will we actually do more than just step inside?  I think the challenge to us is one of doing more than just confessing Christ as Lord - for many can do that!  We must actually come into the place he has prepared for us - in deep relationship with him.  The narrow gate represents more than a passageway - it is an entry point, but entry is not the main objective.  We enter in order to explore and experience.  When we simply say "yes" to Christ and then stop there, it is like coming into the city through the gate and then saying we have "experienced" the city!  How silly is that?  Until we have eaten at every restaurant, explored every back road, and walked every pathway within the city, we cannot say we have experienced the city!  We cannot experience Christ by simply saying "yes" to him - we have to enter into all he has for us and this requires committed relationship with him.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Clearing the land

When I first moved to my neighborhood about 26 years ago, I was surrounded by cotton fields on the north and south sides of the subdivision, equestrian property to the east, and a newer subdivision to the west.  Today, I am surrounded by all manner of growth, from houses to shopping centers and even a new fire department building.  The last of the open lots has just been subdivided and it will soon be occupied by shiny new houses.  As they were plowing up the land around me in various phases of development, one of the things I noticed was the increase in ants, those really big and hairy spiders, cockroaches (those big ones which come out of the storm drains), and even a few rodents here and there.  Field mice were almost never seen in the housing area, but they had no where to go but find a new home while all that heavy equipment plowed up their happy haunts.  Unplowed fields have a tendency to be the gathering places for all manner of disease-carrying, rather obnoxious things.  Even the "fields" of our lives which remain unplowed for a long period of time have a tendency to become the dwelling places for some pretty "foul" stuff!

Your fields have not been plowed. Plow those fields! Don’t plant seeds among the thorns. Become the Lord’s people. Change your hearts. (Jeremiah 4:3-4 ERV)

Dormant land becomes the home of those things which like to hang out, but aren't really welcome too many other places.  The ants like to make their homes there because they face too many pesticides and "anti-ant" activity everywhere else.  The field mice like to dwell in the high weeds of the field because they have little hiding places to escape their natural predators and still make a home for their young.  The other bugs and crawly things like it, too, because that which falls to the ground and is just left to rot becomes both safe haven and food for their livelihood.  Things which like "hang out" are not always the best for us, though.  We put out ant traps and lay down "anti-ant" crystals because we don't like their bites, nor their invading lines of hungry hoarders.  We set mouse traps to bate the unsuspecting field mice because we know they carry disease and will tear apart our attic spaces in short order.  It goes without saying that if they had not been left to their own devices for so long, there wouldn't have been so many of them!

The "un-kept" or "un-watched" or even "un-observed" things in our lives are like the dormant, unplowed fields.  They make good places for the over-growth of things we don't really like, definitely don't want, and which will give us all manner of grief until we are rid of them!  Too many times we wait until there is such a huge amount of "ugliness" in those "fields" that we are almost forced to finally plow down some of the "weeds" which give a safe-haven to the "under-growth" below.  The problem with just cutting down the weeds is that the seeds of those weeds are just scattered!  We get another good crop of weeds in rather short order and before long, we are right back where we started.  Unplowed fields are only dealt with once and for all when they are plowed into fertile soil again, free of the weeds, driven clean of the pesky "under-growth" below!

Too many times we attempt to plant good seed among the "thorns" of our lives. We somehow think the good stuff will grow up and over-take the "not so good stuff" which has inhabited that space for a really, really long time.  The truth is quite evident - that which is "native" to the land is more likely to survive!  The thorns will win out unless they are weeded out first.  You don't plant good seed among thorns - you deal with the thorns and prepare the soil - then you plant the seed.  We all are subject to the desire to take short-cuts once in a while, aren't we?  We want the easy way out - the quickest route to whatever it is we are hoping for.  So, we might cut a few corners here and there when it comes to dealing with life-dominating patterns which are not good for us - but in the end, the outcome will be a little good stuff springing up in the midst of a whole lot of thorns, field mice, ants, crawly things, and the like!

The field takes on a whole different purpose (and "resident") when it is prepared well for that which will be sown into the soil.  The former "residents" have to be evicted and dealt with (eradicated) in order for the new to take up "residence". The only way to live differently is to have a change of heart.  Too many times we think of this as a change of mind - we will just "will ourselves" to be or do better.  How's that been working for the rest of you?  If you are like me, it hasn't!  The truth is our minds are not what controls our every action - we have this plethora of emotions and then our own selfish will to deal with in the mix. Until we allow the "plow" of God's Spirit to work out the "unwelcome residents" of our hearts, we won't be sowing seeds in "thorn-free" territory!  The worries will return, the beasts of that field will soon re-inhabit that place, and what's worse - they bring friends!

God's plan is simple - come to him and allow him to change the heart.  In so doing, the weeds will be removed, the pesky and crawly things will be trapped for good, and the "soil" of our hearts will be opened to new growth - fruitful growth.  Just sayin!