Reality Reflection: Thriving Independence

Today in the US it’s the Fourth of July, the day we officially declared independence from Great Britain many years ago. On the blogs this week I talked about some different aspects of where we’re at with independence and the challenges that we’re working through currently. I don’t think that the founders believed that declaring independence would perfectly fix everything instantly, I think they knew that for as long as we were/are a nation there would be work to be done, challenges to face and our nation would develop as the people who call it home develop.

What declaring independence and moving to America in general was really about, was choosing to not just survive in life, but to be given, to create the possibility to thrive. It doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to make life work and to just get by in life. Yes, you have to do some work (basic income, home care, personal care, health care) and you have to come to some kind of peaceful agreement with the people you share the country with, but overall, it’s not super challenging to get everyone to a place where they’re surviving in life. And if the colonists had stayed in Great Britain (and everyone else who came over to the US over the years stayed where they were), they could have survived and been OK with life.

However, they desired something better for themselves and their descendants, and even other people around the world, so they chose the more challenging path and came to America. It wasn’t easy then and there are still lots of challenges to work through, but I think most people would agree that many have been given the opportunity to do more than just survive in this land we call home. So what does it mean to thrive? Yes, it means that you have to work a little harder and give life a little more effort. It also means we have to be proactive and more open about talking with each other and working with and supporting each other to get to the point of more people being able to thrive rather than just get by, something that we’ve been working especially hard on over the past few years and months.

Thriving shouldn’t be a mountain top experience, it should be a way of life, and it’s my hope that this Fourth of July we can all choose to be inspired by our founding fathers and consider how much better our nation could be if we did the work to thrive. What would thriving mean for your life and that of your family?

Contributing with Compassion

There are some people who die before anyone really acknowledges their potential, but others have already made a great contribution and their loss seems more significant because it’s not possible to know what else they could have done with their life. This month is the birthday of someone who made a positive impact on the world mostly by being who she was, and not necessarily because of the number of tangible contributions she made, although she certainly did make those. Princess Diana died when she was only 36, and this year she would have turned 59.

The world has changed much since Princess Diana (and Mother Teresa who also died the same year) lived. But much of what they’re both known for is the heart they had and kindness they shared with others regardless of illness or social standing. This is one of the biggest freedoms you can have in the world: that you’re free to treat others with respect, without fear, without judgment, and with the belief that they’re just as worthy of a good life as you are.

I’ve often said that the best victories are win-win-win victories. Sometimes there’s good to be found in knowing who can come out on top (i.e. first place) but more often that not it’s those types of competitions only hurt others and don’t truly foster a community of growth and teamwork towards a better future for many instead of just a few.

As we think about Independence Day this weekend and celebrate the freedoms we have and are working hard to develop for more people, I think it’s important to reflect on the victories that people like Mother Teresa and Princess Diana were able to achieve in their lifetimes through kindness and consideration of others. As selfish as the move to America was, it was also done out of selflessness and the desire to create a different and better future for future generations, something that many people believed in over the years and still believe in because they’ve chosen to immigrate here. So this Fourth of July, I encourage you to follow in the footsteps of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa and work to not only better support yourself, but the communities you’re part of as well.

“Everyone of us needs to show how much we care for each other and, in the process, care for ourselves.” Princess Diana

A Question of Blessings

Recently I’ve started rereading the book of Genesis. I wouldn’t say that I forgot some of the stories in there, but there seem to be more stories there than I remember! It’s almost like the holidays when you see family you haven’t seen in a while and they tell the old stories you heard when you were a kid; it feels like reconnecting with family and friends you haven’t seen or heard from in a while. One of the stories I read recently was one featuring Jacob and Esau, Isaac’s two sons (Genesis 27). The story is at the end of Isaac’s life and the practice was that when the father felt it was time he would call in his oldest son and give him a blessing. The story goes that Jacob tricks Isaac and gets his brother’s blessing. When Esau finds out he talks with his dad about it (Genesis 27:34-35, 38):

“”Oh my father, what about me? Bless me, too!” he begged. But Isaac said, “Your brother was here, and he tricked me. He has taken away your blessing.” …Esau pleaded, “But do you have only one blessing? Oh my father, bless me, too!””

Isaac manages to come up with something, but it’s not the blessing that Esau was expecting or the one he should have gotten. But Esau’s second question caught my attention: do you have only one blessing? Right now it certainly seems like the number of blessings we have access to are as limited as toilet paper was several months ago. It seems like for every blessing we get there’s another setback or challenge we have to face, that there’s not even enough to go around for everyone to get at least one blessing.

Yes, some people do hoard blessings: some people aren’t willing to share with others like they should or don’t feel that others deserve blessings like they do. But that’s kind of the beauty of a blessing, it happens in your life regardless of being deserving or not, at least according to human standards. When it comes to God, He often chooses to bless and bless abundantly, especially to those who have a heart like His. If you ask me, I don’t know why you’d want to stop at one blessing if you really have a choice, I’d love to be able to bless many people, more than I already try to, if I had the resources to do so.

Often being a blessing has more to do with being in the right time and place than financial or related resources. So this week I encourage you to try to bless many people, and don’t limit yourself to the blessings you think you can give, give in partnership with God through His abundance. Start with a kind word on social media or hold a door open for someone so they don’t have to touch it, and then be open to other opportunities God will give you to be a blessing, as well as the creative and new ways He may want to bless you that you aren’t expecting.

Reality Reflection: I Choose the Future

The other day I read a great quote that we can all learn from, regardless of what challenges we’re facing or what’s going on in our lives:

“Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.” Lyndon B Johnson

I believe that all days are important: yesterday, today and tomorrow. I’ve learned a lot from my yesterdays as well as the yesterdays of many people in my life and throughout history. I’ve tried to improve on some of my yesterdays because I know I’ve screwed up and know the best thing for my future is to try to fix those things or do better next time. But some things from yesterday (or however many days before that) should be left there and not revisited. I don’t need to revisit the men I’ve previously dated, I don’t need to revisit the colleges I’ve attended, I don’t need to eat again some of the things I’ve eaten, I don’t need to re-read some of the books I’ve read, and I don’t need to have some of the conversations I’ve had again.

I believe there comes a time that you either have to choose to keep apologizing for or living in the past, or you have to choose to live in today and tomorrow. You can’t truly erase the past, although in parts of history we’ve done a really good job of trying, and yet most things and people are able to live on, or at the very least their stories are. I would rather work on winning today and tomorrow than try to fix or change what already happened. Yes, apologies absolutely have a place and are necessary, and it’s important to be aware of the past so you can make necessary changes for the future. But the future should not always be based on or structured from the past. The future should be filled with new dreams and new directions and new relationships. Sometimes that future will compliment the past, sometimes it will take the past to a new level, but other times that future will be in a different direction from the past.

You’ve got a choice what you want to do with the rest of today, as well as all the tomorrows that are ahead of you. Some days you have to call it a wash, but most days are able to be improved upon in big and/or little ways, declared a win, or at the very least able to be completed satisfactorily. What choice will you make?

Simple and Straightforward

I was watching a rerun of a crime investigation series I enjoy the other day and the investigation revolved around the question of whether someone’s death was a murder or a suicide because it was initially ruled as undetermined. They took quite a bit of time to talk with experts to understand how it was ruled undetermined and get insight that would hopefully guide them in one direction or another to be able to close the case. In this particular case both experts they spoke with were able to come up with a scientific and physically possible way that this person could have committed suicide. But when asked the question of whether they’ve ever seen this manner of death for a suicide, they both had to say no, there are much simpler and more logical and more likely ways to do a suicide (thus leaning much more towards a murder).

This is true about so many aspects of our lives. In just about every situation there’s more than one way to get something done. To use a very simple example that’s on some people’s minds, you can win in baseball if you get one RBI in the first inning, and you can win if you get 10 home runs in the ninth inning. As long as you get more runs than the other team, it doesn’t matter how many runs you get, how many they get, how you get them, or when you get them. Of course baseball isn’t as predictable or repeatable as many parts of our lives, but as any baseball fan can tell you, the game isn’t won or lost until it’s over.

But, as they discussed in the investigation I was watching, there’s what could work and what’s more likely to work or what’s easier to make happen. There are tons of ways we could achieve our victories each day, but there’s typically a more challenging way and there’s an easier and just-as-effective way. Of course, sometimes the more effort-filled and time consuming steps are there for a reason and under careful consideration should remain; for example in hospitals the practices that doctors and nurses have to keep everyone as clean and disease free as possible, or in an addiction recovery program helping to keep people sober and recovering mentally and physically. But in most cases we’re setting ourselves up with red tape to work through or mountains to climb repeatedly for unnecessary reasons.

I’d really like to say that the challenges and victories of the past few months with the virus, racial justice, and equality have taught us a lot and that what we’ve learned about ourselves will help us close out this month well in the coming week, and do a better job with the rest of this year than how it has started. But the jury is out on that. It’s still a case of some people choosing complicated and divisive over simpler and win-win-win oriented. While it may not feel like it’s possible for you or I as an individual to do anything about all of this, there’s always one good place to start, and that’s with your own life and getting it into the best shape it can be. I encourage you to look at your life and how you’re living and what you’re doing and see if you would benefit from doing things in a simpler and more straightforward manner.

The Plans God Has For Us

Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”

It amazes me that after everything we’ve gone through in the past few months and everything that it’s possible the rest of 2020 holds for us, that God planned for you and I to be here at this exact time. I’ve been holding on with hope to the idea that sometimes the most unassuming things or biggest messes lead to some of the best things; for example how a tiny seed produces lots of food for us, how you combine/knead/bake ingredients together to make bread, or how you have to destroy a building that’s falling down or dangerous and then clean up the mess before you can build a new one.

I have to believe that even as devastating and challenging as the past few months have been that even if we have a little more struggle to go, we’ll be able to recover and build an even better and stronger and more prepared future. I have to believe in each one of us being here at this time to be able to support each other and the world with our specific gifts. I have to believe that everything we’ve worked to win these past few months won’t be a waste. I have to believe that God did make us wiser than some of us seem to be sometimes and that we will figure out how to work together to deal with things. I have to believe that God didn’t bring our world through world wars, plagues, floods and other natural disasters only to give up on us now (unless of course it’s time to go Home).

I believe in fresh starts, in making changes and improvements, being forgiven and being given a second chance. It’s not often that we all experience a life transformation or calling to step further into the plans God has for us and the abilities He’s given us, but here we are. As we look to what comes next in the coming days, months and year, what is God asking of you? What is God calling you to do? Is God asking you to make some changes in your life, to do something new and different? How are you seeing the plans God has for you coming to fruition?

Reality Reflection: Summer Thunderstorms

Today is the first day of summer and as usual I’m very excited. Summer is my favorite season for many reasons, including because of all of the fresh produce, longer daylight hours, and of course much warmer weather!! I also love all the fresh inspiration it provides to us because we’re able to go out and do lots of exploring of our world. Winter provides inspiration, but I don’t think it’s as varied, diverse, colorful and deep as summer or even spring and autumn. In summer we can go explore green mountains, drive through wide empty plains, see lots of animals out living their lives, watch the sun shine on the blue seas, get a little color on our skin, and of course take time to visit with extended family around the country and world.

But there’s something else that happens in the summer that doesn’t happen other times of the year or in other seasons except in locations that are warm or hot all year long, and that’s summer thunderstorms. Summer thunderstorms are different from thunderstorms that we have during other times of the year because they typically strike quick and hard and then move on their way and everything dries up and everyone can go back to their lives. That’s not to say that we don’t have days of rain or clouds in summer, because sometimes we do, but frequently the precipitation we have are these summer thunderstorms. And of course the power and beauty of the lightning and storms are part of the magic that is summer.

Where am I going with all this? Well, for one it’s another reason I love summer, but also because it’s a relief in a sea of challenges we’re facing right now. Looking at the weather and knowing that there’s going to be a thunderstorm isn’t the same concern or day wrecker that it would be during another time of the year. It means you just have to have a plan for where you can go to be dry for the short time when if/when it does storm. It doesn’t mean you have to cancel your plans, avoid having fun, avoid experiencing summer, not see people like you planned, or that the sun will be hidden for the whole day. Summer thunderstorms also often bring in a breath of fresh air and a little cooler temperatures that helps break up the heat and humidity that comes with summer.

So if you get a summer thunderstorm in the coming days I encourage you to take a moment to enjoy it and all the gifts it brings.

Responsibility Transformation

On Monday I used a phrase that I think really fits with what has gone on over the past few months. It is applicable only because it seems like things have/are actually changing. No, not everyone is or will be part of this change, but for whatever reason we’re finally seeing sweeping changes, not just a couple of adjustments here and there that while helpful and important, weren’t necessarily sufficient enough to get the ball rolling on change in these areas. The phrase? Responsibility transformation.

I think most of us are aware that we’re responsible to feed ourselves, earn a living, take care of children or other dependents we may have, and keep our living space at least reasonably clean. Most of us also feel a responsibility to recycle, plant a garden, support nonprofits, or help our neighbors/community. The issues rise when not all of us act on the feelings of responsibility we have towards ourselves and each other. We’re not truly able to claim or fulfill responsibility unless we act.

Theodore Roosevelt said “Much has been given to us, and much will rightfully be expected from us. We have duties to others and duties to ourselves; and we can shirk neither. We have become a great nation, forced by the fact of its greatness into relations with the other nations of the earth, and we must behave as be seen as a people with such responsibilities.”

I’ve had discussions with people about some of the differences between the Spanish Flu epidemic in the early 1900’s (which killed 50 million people in 2 years), and what we’ve so far experienced with this virus. One of the biggest differences for a portion of the world now versus then is how advanced communications are. In the early 1900’s it took a long time (days/weeks/months) for news to travel, but now news travels in seconds if you have access to the technology. Unfortunately there are many around the world who don’t yet have that access, and we have yet to see how devastating the virus may be if/when it gets there.

So what about all the other transformations that are taking place, for example with regards to women being treated with respect, employment rights for the LGBTQ community that were won this week at the Supreme Court and the transformations that are taking place with regard to how people regard race and what is and isn’t within the scope of actions of a police officer? Why are these transformations only gaining traction in recent years and months if we’ve had this communication technology around for many years?

Yes, I do believe that there’s a tipping point to some extent, that enough people have finally gotten upset with things that they’re taking action and causing the big actions to happen. But I think the virus has a big part in this because it showed us we have a choice of either caring for the others that we share this world with or being careless about their health (and possibly ours) which could mean life or death. So maybe because the awareness of the importance of caring for each other has been so high, it’s finally creating the breakthrough for learning to treat each other with more respect and care regardless of the color of our skin or faith we have or sexual orientation we are or any other things that make us different.

So let’s talk about the responsibility transformation we could hopefully go through here. I think we need to be better about balancing our responsibilities. About balancing remembering history with living in the present and future (museums exist for a reason). About balancing making smart choices with your bank account with spending a little extra/effort to support businesses belonging to people of all different backgrounds (everyone is trying to earn a living). About balancing safety for all people regardless of color of their skin or illness they have or the job they’ve chosen/we’ve asked them to do (99.999% of people want to go home or be alive at the end of the day). About balancing our needs with the needs of others who can’t help themselves or need a little extra help for a season (almost everyone needs help at some point in time in their life).

Honestly I think things will be at least a little easier if we stop the fighting and racism and inequality and start working together. That doesn’t mean that everyone has the same amount in their bank account or lives in mansions or eats fancy meals every night (or whatever other qualifier you want to use), but it means that everyone has a fair shot at having a life that they’re proud of and supports them and they’re in turn able to support others. What are you learning as we go through this transformation?

Our Faithful God

There’s so much in the world that’s challenging and uncertain and changing at an unpredictable pace. While some things remain the same and I believe will always be the same (that dogs are cute and should whenever possible be allowed to have long and happy tails, and taking a walk with your significant other is one of life’s little pleasures), change is almost more the guarantee than that things remain the same. Even our preferences and interests can change as we age and have new experiences, things that we never thought would change. The other day a verse popped up into my inbox and I felt it was an important reminder and bit of encouragement, and spoke about a word that relates to both things staying the same and change being prevalent: faithful.

2 Thessalonians 3:3 says: “But the Lord is faithful; He will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.”

Faithful is one of those old fashioned words that we haven’t really found/made any word that better/newer that means what it means, but we don’t use it as part of our everyday language. I think we should dig it out of the word closet because it’s has so much power, like love and hope that we still use, and could add so much to our culture and world both from a depth perspective and as part of our responsibility transformation that we’ve been facing and working through over the past few months.

2 Thessalonians 3:3 talks about one of the only things that we can truly trust to remain the same, and that’s God. Remembering that the Lord is faithful in times like these can give us a moment of peace before we have to go and deal with the challenges we face again. It can keep us going, knowing that He will not let us down or leave us to navigate life alone. It’s a reminder that God is love and God does forgive, and that even when we face big battles, He will give us the strength to keep marching toward victory.

No, every challenge won’t end with victory, every relationship won’t last for decades, every person won’t be able to die of old age, every prayer won’t be clearly answered. But God will remain faithful to you as you remain faithful to Him. If you’re in need of a little extra strength these days, maybe the place is to start by researching some of the other 200+ references to the word faithful in the Bible. What have you learned lately about how God is faithful?

A Satisfying Life

What satisfies you? You know, those moments when you sigh, and feel content in life? We live in a society where being satisfied is something everyone wants but no one gets. Why? Because no one stops long enough to discover what they actually have and if they are content with their life as it is. Many people go from one job to another, relationship to relationship, location to location only to discover that they aren’t satisfied no matter what they do. So they keep going and going and eventually they die unsatisfied with their life.

What’s the lesson here? The truth is that satisfaction is a moment to moment choice. You will never be satisfied with your life and who you are if you don’t stop and choose to be. I may not be a millionaire (yet) but I am satisfied with making more than I made a year ago. Does that mean I don’t try to achieve dreams that are bigger than where I am right now? No! It means that I take the time to appreciate where I am and what I have. It means I don’t go to bed at night mad that I didn’t get another client today, but thankful for the client I was with.

Being satisfied is a choice. I choose that I will be satisfied with what I have and where I am, but I will never give up my dreams and become complacent. Yes there’s a fine line there, and each person must decide where they can stand on that line without jeopardizing their future.

Being satisfied also means accepting your failures, learning from them and putting changes in place so that you won’t keep replicating your failures. You can be satisfied at the end of the day, even if you experienced a big failure, if you have your plan in place that will help you do something different tomorrow.
What about you? Are you satisfied with your life? Does something need to change for you to be satisfied or are you just not choosing to be satisfied?