What’s Beautiful Isn’t Always Good

This week I was reading about a project that’s been ongoing for more than a decade to remove a group of dams from a river. The picture that was included was a shot of the river as it goes over the dam (a short one, not like the Hoover Dam or the height of Niagara Falls). It looked peaceful and beautiful and I had a moment of ‘why remove something that’s in working order and looks good’? But then I read into the article and they listed some really good reasons as to why the dams should be removed and the hurt that they’re doing to the river. Yes, dams can serve one or more of several important purposes, but this article was a reminder that along with serving the purpose, sometimes there’s damage that goes along as well, and a choice has to be made as to which is more important.

Which got me thinking about dams and about our lives as well. Often we have to make similar big decisions regarding our lives. Sometimes it’s something you can do for a bit or make a choice without creating a permanent result, but other times it’s a very serious decision to make that regardless of the decision you choose will create an irreversible result. It’s not wrong to make a permanent decision, but it’s a very good idea to really consider things from all angles before committing.

It’s one reason why it’s important to consider multiple possible options before committing to something, regardless of how good it sounds initially.  It’s also a good reminder of how important it is to look below the surface, and that there’s always a second side to the story.  I saw a beautiful dam and waterfall in the article, they saw multiple things that aren’t healthy or could improve both nature and human life.  It’s not that I encourage you to look for the bad, but to look for what’s the best option, and not limit yourself to only considering one.

Reasons to Listen

As we finish another month and head into a new one this week, one that’s often thought of as the month of back-to-school, today I want to talk about a topic that’s crucial to learning: listening. Listening is one of the most powerful and crucial skills we can learn. It can make or break our relationships. It can be the deciding factor in whether or not someone accepts an invitation to a spiritual event. Listening can be what helps you get that promotion at work or sets you back several positions. Listening can mean that you continue on the path God has for your life or you have to keep re-learning tough lessons. Listening means people feel valued and important. Let’s take a look at a few things the Bible has to say about listening.

“Those who love your instructions have great peace and do not stumble.” Psalm 119:165
This verse is a pretty straightforward one: if we want a smooth path and peace, we have to follow God’s instruction, and the only way we can know His instruction is if we listen to Him. We’re welcome to try and figure it all out on our own, but why would we when we’ve got God who’s willing to give us hints and sometimes tell us flat out which way to go.

“I love the Lord because He hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” Psalm 116:1-2
This set of verses is an important reminder that God listens to us. As much as we’re supposed to listen to Him and learn from His wisdom, He’s also not only willing to listen to us, He’s eager for us to talk to Him.

“I praise God for what He has promised….” Psalm 56:4a
Throughout the Bible God promises us some pretty awesome things, but this verse reminds us that the only way we can know what God promised is to listen to and for those promises. It’s also a reminder that God does have good things for us in our future, we just have to listen for them and work towards them.

“You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:67
Of course this is one of the best reasons to work on listening: eternal life. If we didn’t listen to the call of God in our hearts, if we didn’t listen to that friend who invited us to Church, if we didn’t listen to the speaker at that rally or summer church camp, or if not for that missionary, we wouldn’t know God or have eternal life.

So how good of a listener are you? How often do you follow through on what you hear? How often do you remember what you hear? Do you make a point of actually listening to what people are saying? This week I encourage you to work on being a better listener. Not only will you get to hear some great stories, you may learn about some of the reasons that God’s got you in the place you are at this time.

Appreciating Your People

This month we’ve been talking about some of the simpler things in life, and over the past week again I’ve been reminded how important the very simplest thing is to appreciate: each other. We’re surrounded on a daily basis with people whether we’re watching TV, going to work, on the internet or doing countless other things. Sometimes we take retreats and separate ourselves from others, but it’s really hard to get away from the other people who share this world with us. Which I think can be a good thing and a bad thing.

The reason I want to talk about today is the idea that because we’re so surrounded with others we don’t often appreciate them. Last week the world lost two great souls, Aretha Franklin and Kofi Annan, and this summer quite a few well-known individuals passed away as well including Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. You don’t know when life will reach an end, when you won’t get to see someone again or talk to them again, or make memories again with them.

I know that it’s cool and fun and exciting to do new things, go new places, try new foods and meet new people, and it’s healthy to do so because we do need variety in our lives, and we do need to work our brains in different ways to keep it healthy. But sometimes we’re so focused on the new and different that we don’t take the time to appreciate what we already have, and the people who are already in our lives. I think this is one of the reasons that our romantic relationships fall apart; we’re so busy trying to keep up with life that we don’t take the time to nurture and love on what we already have.

With these last few weeks of summer upon us, I encourage you to take time to rebuild some of the relationships that you may have let fall by the wayside to do other things in your life. Start with taking a really good look at how healthy your relationships are, and consider if they’re in the condition you want them to be in, or if it’s time to work on them before they’re too damaged or distant to fix. If you’ve got great relationships, now’s the time to let the people in your life know how much you appreciate and enjoy them.

“Sometimes, what you’re looking for is already there.” Aretha Franklin

The Simplicity of Love

This month one of the things we’ve talked about is simplicity, and when we think about that topic it’s often with regards to how we can simplify our lives. While there are some more things going on now than there were years ago, simply because we can get things done faster, I think the bigger change is in that we’re aware of all that’s going on around the world. So it’s not technically that there’s that much more going on, it’s that we’re aware of what’s going on in cities and homes around the globe, and not just in our little town where we live.

To an extent we see this with all of the traveling that was done in the Bible, because if the people who are the main characters in the Bible didn’t travel we wouldn’t know about all of the other people who existed with them. Jesus too touched so many people because He traveled to where they were. Yes, some came to see Him because they heard great things, but a big part of His ministry was going to the people where they were physically and meeting them where they were in their lives.

Aside from Jesus being the Son of God, people came to see Him for one big reason: love. While Jesus didn’t recommend or celebrate sin, He didn’t turn away the people who were sinners, especially those that the world looked down upon for one reason or another. Jesus chose to love them for not only who they were but who they were made to be. Jesus could give them the forgiveness they needed to move on with their lives as well as the love to help them break free from their past.

We aren’t able to do all that Jesus can, and I don’t think we have to. We just have to choose to live with love. When we choose to love others regardless of who they are or what they’ve done it gives us a greater chance to build a healthy relationship with them, and for them to see that not everyone is a judgmental jerk. It’s a simple and complicated as choosing love as your first emotion, feeling and thought whenever you are with others.

“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

Enjoying the Simple and the Complicated

As I’ve been thinking about the simple things of life and about taking a break, I’ve been realizing how not simple life really is. Some of the not simple things are awesome like washers and dryers and roller coasters, but some of the not simple things aren’t so great like all the chemicals that have been added to products we use and consume in our daily lives. And while over the past few years it has been slowly changing with technology, the number of people who used to be involved with bringing one product or service to fruition was quite large. The fact is we’ve done a really good job of including complications in our lives, and sometimes that’s not a bad thing.

I’m not interested in going back to a life that’s overly simple. I like being able to call half way around the world and talk with someone in moments. I like to collaborate with people in Australia and Africa as well as just a few blocks away. I like that the internet works when I need it to without me knowing the ins-and-outs of how it works. I like that I don’t have to be responsible for creating all the food I eat or the products I use. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not important to make time for the simple things.

There’s incredible value to be found in taking time for the simple things. Whether you take time to pick up and enjoy the color of an autumn leaf, you dance around in the first snow flurries of the year, you sit down beside the fire with a good book or coloring page or knitting project, or you enjoy a meal of locally grown products, they’re opportunities to slow down and to appreciate the individuality of life.

As we roll through these last weeks of summer I encourage you to take time to discover exactly how complicated life is, how many parts make up the whole, and how awesome those little parts are.

Peace for the World

As I’ve been thinking about resting and simplifying life this month I’m also surrounded by the almost panic of back to school events. From the stress of getting supplies to finding out the clothes from the previous year no longer fit to finishing up the assigned work and reading for the summer, everyone’s moving out of the relaxed pace of summer and into the busyness that is September and autumn.

But as I was thinking about the seasons some more, I got to thinking about what each season really makes me feel. Winter is a season of quiet, spring is full of excitement and new life, summer is happiness and then you’ve got fall which often makes me think about feelings of peace. I know, that sounds like it’s in direct contradiction to the thoughts I just expressed about the almost state of panic that people enter into during the transition from summer to autumn and as many schedules become quite busy. But there’s something that’s so soothing about the autumn colors and scents and temperature that speaks to a sense of peace.

However, God doesn’t care what season it is or what’s going on in your life. He shares peace in any and all situations and at all times of day and night. It’s not peace that only happens when life is going well or when you’re feeling like it, it’s peace that passes all understanding. It’s peace that God is willing to give you whether you feel like you deserve it or not. It’s peace that’s just a prayer away if you need it today.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14:27

Reality Reflection: Faithful to the Moment

For the past couple of days I’ve been thinking about the topic of being faithful. I’ve also been dealing with a headache that just won’t seem to give up, no matter what I try. As I had a tiny bit of relief tonight and was still reflecting on the topic of being faithful, I realized that sometimes being faithful means that you have to not be the person you usually are. Sometimes being faithful means doing what’s needed or right, even if it means taking some time off or turning down a responsibility or opportunity you would normally jump at.

Are you being faithful in your life right now or stubborn? It’s OK to push through sometimes, but other times what you really need to do is something different. As much as faithful is about being “true to one’s word,” “reliable,” and “dependable,” faithful is also about being steady in allegiance. So sometimes that allegiance can be with regards to being faithful to who you typically are, the responsible, caring, considerate, outgoing, giving person. But other times that allegiance needs to be to your needs at that moment.

This week I encourage you to be open to hearing, believing and doing more than just what you typically do. Break away from the patterns that normally serve you well and embrace spontaneity, do what feels right in the moment, or just explore something that you’ve taken for granted for a long time. Your life won’t fall apart for doing things differently for an hour or two or even a day or two, and you might even learn something from being faithful to the moment.

Dealing with Life Experiences

“Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don’t have to like it… it’s just easier if you do.” Byron Katie

Byron Katie is well known for “The Work.” If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a simple process anyone can do to understand and address problems with clarity. It’s a simple process but can bring honest healing to yourself and any others involved.

When we talk about personal victories, one thing that has to always come up is that before the victory comes the challenge. You can’t be victorious in something if you haven’t gone through the journey to get there. Sometimes the journey is more challenging than others, but each journey comes with the opportunity to learn something, to experience grace, to share forgiveness, and to grow personally or professionally. The sooner that we accept that life is full of challenges which bring us to victories, the easier it will be to approach those challenges.

When you fight something every step of the way it only becomes more difficult. When you complain about the terrible lot in life you’ve received it makes it more difficult. When you impatiently wait for the pot of gold to just show up in your lap instead of searching for a rainbow it makes things more difficult. One of the biggest choices we each have to make in our lives is whether we’ll accept the simplicity laid out by Byron Katie or continue to fight our lives and our journeys every step of the way.

I encourage you to see what happens in your life journey this week as a gift, not as a hardship, not as God spiting you, not as punishment, and not as a chore.

Remember Again

Recently I’ve been thinking about the topic of remembering. I’ve been remembering those early back-to-school days, contemplating summers at the beach, about the joy of eating watermelon in a backyard on a hot summer day, of taking walks on warm summer nights, of summer Vacation Bible Schools, hymns of old and songs of new, and of Noah and of the rainbow that is a reminder on several levels.

A big part of our lives is centered around remembering. We’re supposed to remember birthdays, appointments, where things have been put, people’s names, songs we’ve heard, books we’ve read, things people have told us, the list goes on. But not only are we supposed to remember what goes on in our lives we’re supposed to remember what goes on in the lives of our coworkers, friends, family members, significant others and/or kids. We’re also supposed to remember what God has taught us. It’s not surprising that we find ourselves forgetting things and feeling overwhelmed, it’s a lot to remember, more than most people can remember (which is one reason I write a ton of stuff down and feel very little guilt about it).

Much of the Bible is about remembering as well from Noah’s rainbow to the 10 Commandments to the Psalms to the many genealogies to the stories and traditions. One thing that sticks out with many of the remembered events of the Bible is repetition. It’s one of the greatest tools for remembering and most challenging as well. Repetition as seen in both hymns of old and songs of today, in the verses of the Psalms, signs of the Cross and occurrences of rainbows continue to be present in our lives, sometimes bringing hope, other times bringing frustration.

As frustrated as some people get with the repetition, it’s a crucial part of our lives and an important way of sharing about God. Someone may not believe or understand the first few times they hear something, but as they hear it repeated again and again they can reflect on it and learn from it and let God speak to them through it. Sometimes it’s exactly the reminder that we need to pick ourselves up, or turn ourselves around. If they can repeat the same lines throughout the book of Psalms, why can’t we repeat the same lines in the spiritual songs of today?

So the next time you’ve got a song stuck in your head, take the time to consider what the words are really saying. Thank God for the reminder and take a minute to discover what He may be trying to tell you.

Simple Starts

This month one of the topics we’ll be talking about is the topic of simplicity.  Today I thought we’d talk about a few ways to simplify our lives.

Food is one of the topics that challenges most of us but there are some things we can do to make it easier to deal with. First, have healthy snacks on hand so that you’re not tempted to reach for the unhealthy stuff. Second, buy what you know you’ll eat in a couple of days’ time, and not more than that. If you’ve got a bigger family this can be a bit more challenging, but food stores and farmers markets are a lot closer to where we all live than they used to be, so it’s not as big of a deal to stop at the food store twice a week so you can have fresher items on hand. Finally, there are tons of recipes out there that call for shortcuts (like the store-cooked rotisserie chicken) or are only 5-10 ingredients, and one of my favorite tools is the crock pot. Take advantage of all these great resources and recipes to add not only variety to your culinary life but also simplify it too.

People are one of our greatest joys and one of our biggest challenges. I’m glad that we’re finally moving away from the seeming need to be friends with each and every person in the world, and working now on more meaningful connections. I’m not saying you have to unfriend or unfollow everyone you’re not really good friends with or that you should never make new friends, just that instead of saying to people that you should get together more often and not mean it, you prioritize the time to invest in the relationships that really mean the most to you, and let new relationships be a much less time-consuming event.

Finally, let’s talk about our stuff. I’ve got no issue with people having stuff. As much as I love clean and simple lines when it comes to decorating, I also really value having options and choices and holding onto the things that truly mean something to me. However, I’m also a big supporter of getting rid of stuff that’s not helping you, doesn’t mean much to you, is old and outdated (and you’ve moved on to other things and won’t be going back), isn’t healthy for you or doesn’t fulfill you in the way that it used to. I don’t believe in having stuff for stuff’s sake, there are lots of other people in the world who could benefit from what you’ve got and no longer use or appreciate.

So this month what’s one thing you can and will do to simplify your life?