Reality Reflection: Beyond our Attributes

One of the more well known quotes of Martin Luther King, Jr. is: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” As I was looking over some of his work before Monday and thinking about this interesting time that we find ourselves in the part of the quote that echoed for me was the last phrase. For many years we’ve found it very easy to make judgements based on the easy stuff: skin color, sex, age, nationality etc. because you can see it and for good or bad there are things that often enough hold true that those generalizations were (and are) able to be made in the first place. But when we look at the world in that way we miss out on a lot both good and bad.

The past few years have definitely raised the awareness about how some people are treated because those easy-to-see attributes, and that’s a good thing, but they haven’t really talked about the importance of then moving beyond those attributes to taking the time to get to know someone’s character. That only happens when you talk with someone, when you’re willing to put aside what are very possibly incorrect assumptions or at least that you’re willing to look beyond those initial facts to find out the fuller picture.

As awesome as it is that we celebrate the visual diversity diversity of the world, there’s so much more to people than their appearance. Everyone has dreams and stories and experiences that make them who they are. And then there are all the relationships that they’re in and people they’re connected to that add even more layers to who they are. I wish there was a way for us to visually represent or communicate a person’s character, so that you could start with that knowledge in addition to the attributes we usually look at. In some ways the internet does allow you to do this because in about a minute you can know about not only their attributes but also some of the things that make them who they are.

So as we honor the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. over the next few days I encourage you to remember that just like you’re so much more than your appearance, so is everyone else, and that when we get to know people beyond their appearance, we can get to know some pretty cool people.

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Redefining Victory

Last year we did a lot of thinking and working in different ways. It also caused us to rethink what one word that means a lot to me meant: victory. For some of us a victory in 2020 was getting up out of bed in the morning, getting off the couch for a reason other than food and the bathroom, wearing something other than PJ’s, or only standing in line for 5 minutes to get into a grocery store. For most of our 2019 selves some or all of those things sound absolutely absurd, and would never have qualified as a victory. Yet here we are in 2021 and much of that is still true.

In some ways this was a very important reminder because sometimes we’re so stuck on an old definition, habit, or set of values that we can’t see or appreciate any other facts or perspectives. This reconsideration of victories helped us remember, as I’ve always said, that the small victories are just as awesome as big ones. Those who have been seriously injured or has struggled with depression have had to learn this, but the rest of us tend to forget this as we become an adult and get deeper into our adult lives and growing responsibilities, or those small victories just didn’t seem like enough at the time. Yet here we are being super proud of ourselves when we manage to eat something other than packaged/processed food in a day.

We just finished celebrating the Christmas holidays, during which it’s pretty much the norm to put up and decorate a Christmas tree. Could you imagine if you didn’t add light to your tree or didn’t put balls or chains or other ornaments and decorations on it? Or what about your Christmas cookies? What if you didn’t add any sugar or seasoning? They would be less than delicious right? Or what if, in a normal year, you didn’t turn on the headlights of your car when you went over the river and through the woods to see grandmother on a dark late December night? It’s all these little details that make make the holidays not only special but work.

So don’t be ashamed or frustrated if your biggest victory is getting out of bed today or reading through the 50 emails you got today. Celebrate the opportunities that come your way, the little moments that made the day special, the little steps that you’re taking towards consistent and even bigger victories. I do hope we can get back to making some big victories some day soon, but at the same time I hope that we’re able to see continued value in making the small victories as well too.

Searching and Seeking

Discouragement is one of the challenges we have to face in life. It’s frustrating when we work so hard and it seems like the goal line just gets further and further away from us rather than closer to us. Or when we work really hard and put in the effort that’s supposed to get us there and it doesn’t seem like we’re making any progress. Sometimes it just seems like the answers are few and far between and the questions just keep piling up, or you can’t figure out the right question to ask to find the answers to your problems. Part of the challenge is that as long as we’re in this life we won’t get all the answers, some will remain with God and we’ll only have the answer when we get to Heaven. Which brings us back to where we started which is with discouragement and feeling disheartened. I don’t have all the answers, but I thought there were a couple of Bible verses that would encourage us as we do our seeking and searching:

“But may all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you. May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, “The Lord is great!”” Psalm 40:16

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:33

“The humble will see their God at work and be glad. Let all who seek God’s help be encouraged.” Psalm 69:32

“Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” Proverbs 3:6

“Seek the Lord while you can find Him. Call on Him now while He is near.” Isaiah 55:6

“Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you.” Matthew 7:7 (CEV)

I don’t know what you’re searching for this year, what you’re working towards, what you’re waiting for, but I encourage you not to give up. Maybe God will lead you down a different path than you thought would work or ask you to continue to be patient in how long it will take, or maybe God will give you a new dream to fulfill. But don’t give up on learning, talking with God, exploring His world, discovering the truth, and being open to the path that God has for you.

Reality Reflection: When Will it Get Better?

Lately it has only seemed like things have gotten worse or at least certainly not better. We hoped that with the change of the calendar we might be on the progress to better things, but then the events this week at the US capitol happened and it felt like we were just getting pushed back a bunch of steps. The question we’ve been asking for well over 9 months is when will things get better?

The tough answer that I think we have to face first is that it will take longer than we want it to for things to get better. If we’re seeing experts think we’ll be back to somewhat regular life in 6 months we should expect more like a year. It will take time for people to adjust, to accept life as it is and whatever the new normal may be, and it will take time to deal with this virus challenge that we haven’t had to deal with so far in our lifetime.

Another answer is that it will get better when people choose to be a responsible adult. It’s hard always being an adult, but an extremely necessary decision when push comes to shove, and important for the period of time each day/week/month/year that we take responsibility for earning our living and making sure we keep a roof over our head. I work every day for at least a couple of hours (some days I work all day and into the night), so I make a point of just about every day taking some time to read a book or take a nap or do something else I enjoy doing that doesn’t have to do with work. I don’t mind working every day if that means I also get time to do some of the other things I enjoy, but at the same time I understand that I have to be attentive to and responsible for the aspects of my life that involve others like having a clean home and supporting my clients.

Finally, in line with the previous point it will get better when we take personal responsibility. This includes taking the time to really think through things, including consequences and impacts, before taking action, in other words understand and accepting how our words and actions impact others and the world we share. If I drop a piece of paper and it blows away in the wind, sooner rather than later that paper will dissolve and be returned to the natural cycle of things. But if I drop a water bottle research says it will take hundreds of years for it to decompose. In a more extreme example, when someone murders another person it’s not a closed bubble, 99.9% of the time they’re not the only two impacted, that bubble grows and grows and sometimes bursts with how many people’s lives are impacted because of their connection to person who murdered or the person who was killed. Of course, it doesn’t do much good if we accept that we’re responsible and act otherwise, doing things that won’t help advance our world to a better place or even choosing to do things that will drag it back years if not decades.

Even after the discouraging and disheartening happenings this week in Washington DC I still have hope that it will get better, that we will be able to come together as a united nation again and I hope that the next couple of weeks. Maybe the question that needs to be asked is if we really want to be a united nation, if we really want to come back together in ball games and parties, and if so, what we’re willing to sacrifice in the short term to make that happen.

What Can It Really Hurt?

The past year was painful to many of us, many of us getting nowhere near our victory goals for the year because of the pandemic changing so much about our everyday lives, however temporarily. Even if you’re not into politics the past few months, even back as far as four months ago, it became really difficult to avoid hearing about politics and being caught up in what the different people were saying, sides they were taking, and varying expressions of uncertainty over the results. It was also hard to miss seeing people engaging in violence in the US capitol and in other capitols around the US yesterday, something unprecedented in so many ways. Needless to say, the past 13 months have raised lots of questions, some of which we’ve talked about here. As I was watching some of the news coverage this morning I thought of an odd question, as the post title indicates: what can it really hurt?

This question can be applied to tons of the situations we have dealt with for years but totally changed our perspective on in the past 13 months: What can it really hurt to go into work sick? What can it hurt to attend a protest? What can it hurt to/not to vote? What can it hurt to go on vacation? What can it hurt to eat a second dessert? What can it hurt to let people get past a fence? What can it hurt to send out a social post? What can it hurt to buy products from a certain company?

I think that we need to understand that the initial act may not cause an issue, but it’s what can come next that would be the issue or issues. To use one of the examples we learned in the beginning of last year, it may not typically hurt anyone to go into work when you’re sick, but when you’ve got the virus that’s taken over the world, as we learned it could cause a lot of problems. Even before the past year we knew that if we open a gate or fence and leave it open, whether in a zoo or a friendly neighborhood, it’s possible a wild lion or tiger or treasured pet could get out of the fenced area and either cause great damage or great heartbreak.

I wish that we could remain innocent and not have to travel down the dark road, and it’s great to want to achieve victories, but as we’ve learned in the past year especially, it’s important to really evaluate possible consequences, however unintended. Or however implausible, because as we’ve learned in the past year, sometimes the implausible is so very possible. And sometimes things can go very, very bad. Of course, the hope is that thinking of consequences is mostly a way to plan for and stop potential issues that may hinder you from getting to a good, successful victory. And it’s my hope that this year goes up from here, not down, and our victories increase. It’s my hope that we’ll do better in this year to think of others and not just the consequences our actions may have on their lives, but also the ways that we can work together to build a better future for all of us.

Prepare the Way for the New Year

There are a lot of unknowns that come with this new year. Last year we started the year with lots of good thoughts and dreams were then blindsided by the pandemic and the virus, and this year we know we’re going to be dealing with it for at least a while, and mostly what we know is that we’ll be dealing with a lot of uncertainty. So I can’t really say what this year ahead will hold, although I do have hope that it will be a better year for more of us, or at least a year that provides some more stability in our lives. So if I’m not suggesting we make a plan like we usually do for the year, where do we turn? I think we should start with John the Baptist.

John is a special player in the world of Jesus because he’s like the guy who introduces the big act, the person who helps everyone get into the right mental space to really appreciate what’s about to happen or the person you’re about to meet. But John the Baptist is introducing someone a lot bigger than a rapper or country star, he’s introducing Jesus to the world. As John 1:6-9 says: “God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.”

What a big opportunity, to be a light for God! But it’s not an opportunity limited to John only, it’s one that each and every one of us who knows the Good News about Jesus is called to. So I may not know what the year ahead may hold or what we should plan for this year, but I do know one thing we can do, and that’s follow the words of Isaiah 40:3-5 that were written originally about John the Baptist, many years before he was born: “”He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for Him! The valleys will be filled, and the mountains and hills made level. The curves will be straightened, and the rough places made smooth. And then all people will see the salvation sent from God.”‘ (NLT/Greek Translation)

How do we prepare the way for the Lord? By doing everything from choosing love, kindness and honesty, and donating our time and resources to help others, to telling others about the Good News of God. We don’t have to know what’s coming in the year ahead or even have a “normal” year to be able to do any or all of those. We just have to choose to be a light and make way for God however He wants to show up this year.

Entering 2021 With A Grateful Heart

The new year is here and normally lots of people would be talking about resolutions and goals and getting fit and things like that. But the past year was challenging in so many ways and on so many levels, that most people are just happy to be done with it and moving into the new year and not even considering things like resolutions. As we ended the year it was rewarding to get some emails that shared the work that they had accomplished individually or as an organization despite all the challenges. I was a little surprised how many good things did happen this past year when I really thought about it, they just weren’t the usual victories we talk about.

After the year we’ve had it was almost odd getting emails in the past few days with people talking about their word or phrase or theme for the year. In many ways I appreciated that bit of normalcy because it’s a reminder of the fact that life does continue and even though there may be changes, the calendar still changes, days march on and we all get a little older and more experienced each day. I didn’t pick a word or theme last year (interesting given how the year went), but this year as we finished out the last year and moved into this one, there was one primary focus in my mind and heart, and that was on gratitude (which may not surprise you if you read Wednesday’s post). I don’t think that I’ll apply gratitude in the way that I have done in past years with the word or theme, but what I’m hoping will come of this year is that I’ll be able to work on living in 2021 with a grateful heart.

We have a lot to work on and learn this year, much of which will be difficult and challenging. Change, while sometimes welcome, isn’t often easy and takes time to process and it’s clear from how 2020 went, we’ve got lots of change to work on and process, and the future won’t look like the past. But isn’t that how history and life has gone? That things looked much different in 1921 than they do today in 2021 not to mention extremely different than 1621? Those changes weren’t easy and they didn’t happen immediately, but I’m very thankful that our ancestors pushed through, survived and even learned to thrive so that we could be here today working on today’s changes. Maybe if we remember that we’re changing and building for a future, hopefully a better, brighter and healthier one, it will help us be a little more at peace with all the hard work and discomfort.

Are you going with a theme for this year? What lessons have you been working on in 2020 that you’re bringing into 2021 to continue working on?

So Much to Be Thankful For

I’m a bit in awe that we’ve reached the final days of 2020. Over the past couple of days I’ve watched some episodes of one of those emergency service drama TV shows, finished my business book of the month, and thought lots about what’s ahead, what still has to be finished or at least looked at, and all that this year has been. As I was reflecting on it all, the words that came to mind are from a Josh Groban song my partner loves (he and I have a long standing Josh Groban/Michael Bublé debate): “There’s so much to be thankful for…”

It was far from a perfect year, in fact many of us would say it tops the list of worst years of our lives. It was hard wearing masks and not giving hugs and smiles. It was hard not helping each other by grabbing for falling items or helping others carry their things when they needed a helping hand. It was hard seeing people only through video, live or otherwise. It was incredibly hard for people who for perhaps for the first time in their lives they were on food lines and thought they would lose their housing. It was hard for people to be able to bring in a good income for perhaps the first time in their adult lives. And more than in most years we were made very aware of the fragility of human life and how little control we have over how long we get to spend here and when our end will be.

And yet, as I write this last post of the year, I’m finding reasons to be thankful. We usually go into the new year with lots of excitement and hope, but like many others, I don’t have specific reasons or plans that make me hopeful for or excited about the year ahead of us. Of course I would love it if 2021 was a better year in many ways, so I’m open to all possibilities while still being reserved and cautious. But as we turn the calendar page I am stepping forward in thanksgiving.

I am thankful that we have all that we’re blessed to have, that we have the opportunity to turn this year into something better for the future so that maybe, hopefully no one has to go through what we did, and that we’ve even just made it through this year with so many challenges. I’m thankful to have people I love and people who love me. I’m thankful that you’re here and I get to share my thoughts with you. I’m thankful for people who are honest even (especially) when they don’t have all the answers. I’m thankful for everyone who has stepped up in whatever creative, diverse, extreme and simple ways they did this year. And most of all I’m thankful that God has given us another day and hopefully another week, month and even year ahead of us to learn to be better, to love more, care more and cherish more. What are you thankful for today?

Where Have All the Miracles Gone?

There are some days, seasons and years (2020 I’m looking at you!) when the questions that keep coming up are ‘Where are you God?’ and ‘Why aren’t there miracles any more?’ Something you may have heard or learned over the past month in Christmas Church sermons or devotions is that for some 400 years before Jesus was born God was pretty distant. Yes, people still prayed to Him, they still worshiped Him, He was still God over their lives and played a role in their lives, but overall He was pretty quiet.

I was listening to a Christmas Eve sermon while wrapping presents and writing blog posts in the wee hours of Christmas morning and due to all the restrictions they were having church outside in a tent. With the weather parts of the country had on Christmas Eve they were experiencing some rain and wind, which died down during the service and what appeared in the sky perfectly positioned over the tent but a rainbow. In this digital age we live in they were able to share that image during the service as a visual reminder of what was said back in Genesis when God sent the rainbow after the flood.

I grew up in a church that never had altar calls (the industry term for publicly indicating that you accept Jesus as your Savior during a Church service), we never raised our hands or said “praise God!” during the service, and we definitely didn’t talk much about divine action in the world today. Later I was blessed to work with a church for several years that was almost an exact opposite, and we often looked for signs of God’s presence, prayed over people for healing and talked about God in public spaces.

Some people question if God only shows Himself in the big churches (something that could be said about the Church that had the rainbow) or for only certain people, and I don’t believe that’s the case. God shows up for the faithful, for those who trust and believe in Him. God shows up when He knows an intervention is the right thing to do. God shows up when it’s necessary to show people He still cares about us. God shows up when the world needs a swift kick to be reminded He’s still here. I believe God can show up anywhere and for anyone, but does so especially for those who are open to Him doing so. As we plan for the new year ahead, I encourage you to be open to God and His miracles. I believe He still does them and will do more in the new year.

Love at Christmas

Growing up we always had a fake Christmas tree because my dad is allergic to real Christmas trees. As a kid I was always a little disappointed we couldn’t have the real thing and smell it all the time or go out each year and pick one or cut one down, but that also meant that we could have it up as long as we wanted and there was no watering involved. The biggest challenge was usually at the beginning of the season where there were muffled curses over trying to figure out and fix the light strands before they were put on the tree (or we caved and went out to buy new ones).

My partner has always had real trees, but the past couple of years we haven’t had the space to have a tree, so we’ve done a lot of Christmas lights and Christmas music, but that’s about it (and presents of course). But this year he was planning to do a social media video for some stuff he was giving away from his business so we got out some stockings we had from previous years for gift-giving and he went out and bought one of those fake (tree) garlands which I thought was a fantastic and festive idea.

So I did my weekly house cleaning a couple of days ago and after I had finished I was walking through the hallway and on the floor I saw one of those fake tree needles lying there all innocent looking (yes, after I had vacuumed). And I could only shake my head and be taken back to my childhood and how we would find those fake needles throughout the living room for months after the tree had been put away.

After this year all of those memories seem like they were an even longer time ago than they were. I can imagine that Mary felt the same way when some 30 years after this special day she was looking at Jesus up on the cross. How did we get from that incredibly special manger scene with angels and shepherds and eventually wise men with gifts, to being there at the foot of the cross with Jesus being crucified? It all comes back to love. As John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV)

There’s a lot to love about Christmas, even with all the stress it usually brings us, the biggest thing being Jesus of course, and the gift of His birth which was a very visual demonstration of the love He has for us. This year even though you may not celebrate as you usually do, I do hope that there will be at least a few moments that will take you back to better years and better Christmases, and moments you can remember fondly for years to come. But even more than that, I pray that this special day will remind you to be a light to the world, sharing hope and love whenever you have the opportunity to do so. Merry Christmas!