Reality Reflection: Seeing the Signs

The other week I was at the grocery store and saw they had zip bags on sale and decided to pick up a box of the gallon ones. They weren’t on my list but I couldn’t remember the last time I bought any, so I got them. Fast forward to this week and late Friday night after the shopping and such had been done, I discovered the kitchen had been invaded by ants. Exactly what anyone and everyone wants at the end of a busy holiday week. Not to mention the work I still had to do and sleep I hadn’t gotten and had thought I was about an hour from. Several hours, several large storage bags and the box of gallon zip bags later, I had it mostly under control, with some help from some bug spray and a hard object or two.

Closets are one of those things that you look at and say, yea, I probably should clean that occasionally, but it is quite a bit of work to take it all out (although it’s less work when you’re not fighting with ants at the same time). As I stood to survey the scattered kitchen in the light of day today, I reflected on the ant I had seen earlier in the week but not thought much of and on how thankful I was to have bought the bags and have other large zip bags always on hand.  It was a reminder that the universe, God, and others all send clues in our direction. Sometimes it’s something to tuck away, say about Christmas gift ideas. But other things like ants are a little stronger wake up call that something needs to be checked or addressed.

Which also got me thinking about the mixed bag that Christmas can be and the signs and reminders that are so visible and apparent this time of year. Shopping can be an extremely stressful endeavor, some people are in such a rush and somehow don’t care or see that everyone else is right there with them, and it can be stressful if you have to get together with people you don’t really know or like. You also can’t forget the stories of Scrooge and the Grinch, and think of people in your life who may be like them sometimes.

When the stress is overwhelming us and we’re dealing with unpleasant people, it’s important to take in the signs around us and remembered what the season is supposed to be about. If Mary and Joseph can deal with all they did before Jesus was born, I think we can wait a little in line at stores. If we hear Christmas songs, it should remind us to celebrate, to give, to love and find joy in our hearts. Putting up ornaments and decorations that have been passed down should be an opportunity to remember and honor those people. Pay attention to the signs in your life, it may help you have your best Christmas season ever.

Songs of the Season: Come, Ye Thankful People, Come

Every Wednesday to the end of the year we’re going to take a look at a seasonal song or hymn. With Thanksgiving being tomorrow, today we’re looking at a harvest festival hymn written in 1844 called “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.” The first verse is the one that most people recognize if they grew up or currently spend time in more traditional churches, and the one we’ll focus on today:

“Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home!
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin;
God, our Maker, doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come;
Raise the song of harvest home!”

The first word reminds us to gather. That’s what the first Thanksgiving in the US was and that’s what we do with Thanksgiving today. In this day and age we’re able to do so much living from our homes: we can have just about everything sent or brought to us. But this song is a reminder of how important it is to gather together and celebrate all our blessings.

Also highlighted in this hymn is the change of seasons and why we celebrate when we do. We’re just past the end of the regular growing season for our part of the world in the US and winter is starting to show, which is a perfect time to celebrate how successful the growing season was, especially since many transition to a slower pace of life in this new season.

The final part of this verse is a focus on God. Yes, we can be thankful for other people, the things we accomplish together, and the things we individually accomplish, but even behind all of those things is God supporting everything. So much of what we celebrate on Thanksgiving, the harvest and our blessings of food, relies on the weather, something that none of us really has control over. We have some influence over the harvest, but God also plays a big roll. It’s a reminder to thank God for all that He supplies us with, and the blessing and promise of the future Jesus died and rose again so we could have.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

A Psalm of Thanks and Celebration

As we head into this week of Thanksgiving celebrations (including giving thanks for big deals and discounts from our favorite companies), I wanted to talk today about the words of Psalm 100. You may have read them recently, heard them preached on this past Sunday, or read an article about them recently, it’s a popular passage for Thanksgiving reflections. Why? Let’s take a look at it:

“Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation.”

The chapter starts off where all thanks should begin, and that’s with God. Even if you don’t have much to be thankful about this year, you can be thankful for God’s presence in your life and the (good) plans He has for you. It also begins with a reminder to worship God, something we may struggle with between non-church commitments that seem to conflict with church opportunities. Then it reminds us to make time for joy, and to remember that God made us and knows who we are and what’s going on in our lives and the plans He has for us. And just as He is our God, we are His people. It’s a unique relationship that we’re so blessed to have because few relationships with someone in the position God is in (like a CEO or billionaire or other big public figure), are as close and intimate as ours can be with God.

The second half of the chapter is a reminder to celebrate and why to celebrate. Thanksgiving is a day about celebrating the life we have, the country we live in, the people we love, and all the other blessings in our lives. It’s a time to thank others and thank God for their role in our lives. As to why we celebrate? Love is one of the best reasons out there, both God’s love and the love we can have for each other. If you ask anyone who has loved and been loved, they’ll tell you that nothing compares and they would rather know love and have lost it than to never have loved. Fortunately, God isn’t planning on stopping loving us anytime soon, so for generation upon generation we’ll be able to celebrate God’s love for us.

What are you celebrating and being thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Reality Reflection: making an effort

I don’t know if you’ve been following the presidential impeachment story at all, or if you’re only aware of it going on and trying to avoid the details, but it’s clear to everyone how much effort is being put into this and how much attention it’s being given. If you believe that the president has really done something worthy of being impeached, it’s important to make sure he is held accountable and here in this country we believe in due process, so all of the effort going into it makes sense. If you don’t think it’s worth all the effort or don’t think that he did anything wrong, you may feel that all of this is a huge waste of time and effort.

What I’ve really paid attention to is the amount of effort and attention being given this situation. As we’ve established if it’s all true then yes, it should be given attention and effort. But there are lots of other things in the world that much of the population has no idea about or doesn’t realize how serious it is or what the impact on our future could be. Thanks to the internet and number of mobile devices we’re able to spread the word much easier than before, but with the sheer amount of information shared each day, it’s very hard to get something to go viral or really alert many people to a situation.

On a much smaller scale, if we all invested the effort we put into following the impeachment proceedings or some other news-worthy situation into our lives and the challenges we face or things on our to-do list, could you imagine how much less stressed or frustrated we might be? Could you imagine how many good ideas would be created and implemented that could help solve some of the big problems people in the world are facing? Maybe for the first time we can remember in a long time, we might be confident about the state of our world and the relationships we have with the people we share it with, and the future we’re creating for our successors.

I encourage you to think about the effort you’re investing in different parts of your life and if your investments are really producing the results you desire, or if there are better ways for you to invest your time, energy and resources.

Combining Old and New

Can you believe we’re almost to another holiday season? Holidays are interesting because they’re a mix of new and old, traditions that have been around for years and the creation of new traditions, ornaments and decorations we’ve loved for years and new ones we’ve found in our travels, and gatherings of new friends and memories of those who have moved or passed in the last year. Maybe this year you’re going to return to traditions that you loved in the past or maybe this is the year you do something completely different. There isn’t any rule really except that you make time to celebrate with those you love (including yourself).

The concept of mixing old and new is a great one to apply to victories. Sometimes victories are made when we do the tried-and-true thing. Other times we have to remember the definition of insanity (doing the same thing and expecting different results), and know that we have to do something different if we want a different outcome, and want to actually get to a victory instead of getting stuck as we have in the past. Sometimes there is a degree of luck that goes into our victories, especially with things that we can’t control like the weather, but most of what brings us to our victories are things we can control or have a sufficient level of influence over.

Doing something new can be exciting, but it can also be scary. There’s a huge level of unknown that we have to face when adding something new to the mix, so it’s expected to feel some fear. One way to combat those feelings of uncertainty and fear is to find excitement in the process, just like we feel a feeling of excitement even when we add new things to the mix when it comes to the holidays. Focusing on the excitement of what you’ll gain when you accomplish the victory can help you keep going even when moments of fear and uncertainty arise.

This holiday season I encourage you to try something new, and to make some new plans for the new year ahead. Doing something new doesn’t mean you have to leave behind all that you love, it means balancing keeping what you love and works well for you and losing what’s holding you back and add in what will make life easier, better or more rewarding. What new things are you planning this holiday season?

Making Time to Give Thanks

This week in my weekly devotional I shared about the story of 10 men being healed of leprosy from Luke 17, and thought I’d share an additional thought here today. In short, the story goes that Jesus is traveling and 10 lepers call out to him for help, Jesus tells them to go visit a priest, they do so and are healed, and then one comes back to thank Jesus. It’s an interesting story about men who are willing to ask for help and follow through on instructions that may not seem like they’ll do anything, as well as how touched Jesus was by someone making a point to thank Him for helping them.

Most of the stories about Jesus and His interactions with people are short. The Bible gives description so you can feel like you’re there, but it’s not the same as watching a video recording of the whole thing play by play, so while it does make complete sense as you read it, it’s certainly possible that there are some things left out. There’s no mention of if they thought He was crazy or if they questioned how walking to see the priest would help their leprosy heal, if there was anything else said between the lepers and Jesus, or if Jesus and the lepers were alone or if there were other people around. There’s also no mention after Jesus tells them what to do that they said “OK, thanks” or anything like that before they headed off to see the priest.

But the second half of the story is devoted to the interaction between one man and Jesus, and how one of the healed lepers comes back to thank Jesus and Jesus is amazed that only one made a point to find Him and thank Him. I can see why people who were previously outcasts would be very interested in moving forward finally with their lives and being able to embrace those who they hadn’t been able to be near in however long, but the story reminds us of how important those few extra minutes that it may take to thank someone can be. It’s clear that like us, Jesus liked to be appreciated for how He helped.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s no mention that “OK, thanks” or anything like that was said before the lepers took off, which it should have been, but even if it wasn’t one man knew that it was better to give thanks late than to never give thanks. As we head towards Thanksgiving, I encourage you to make a point of thanking others, even if you’re a little late in doing so.

Reality Reflection: Christmas has come early

Lately in the news I’ve been hearing some reports about some groups and towns complaining about Christmas lights being up already. Just the other day I shared a blog post on my other blog about how yes, there are lights up and decorations up already and gifts already on display in some businesses. I’m one of those Christmas in July people, so I’m not offended by the lights being up already. I understand where some people are coming from wanting to get their decorations up early, especially if they’re elderly or many months pregnant and don’t have the health to be out in the snow trying to share Christmas cheer. I also understand where the people are coming from who say that before Thanksgiving is too early to really decorate, especially if they don’t celebrate Christmas and the town isn’t named North Pole.

But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve decided to support it, and not just because I love Christmas. Life is way too short and no one knows how many days they do or don’t have (I’m also not a huge fan of snow so anything that helps get me prepared before the snow arrives is OK in my book). I’m not saying we should have Christmas all year long or anything like that, because then it might lose some of the magic, but why can’t we celebrate every day of our lives? If the closest holiday with big celebrations happens to be Christmas and it brings to life a child-like joy and excitement in all of us, well, even better.

So instead of being a Grinch or Scrooge, I’m going to enjoy the songs, movies, snacks and even the plethora of gift ideas everywhere and let it offset some of the not-so-great stuff that’s in this world including snow, cold weather and inconsiderate drivers. Maybe starting Christmas early will remind us to love and spread good will to our fellow man more frequently and consistently throughout the rest of the year.

Time for Kindness

Today, November 13, is World Kindness Day. It’s so important for us to have a day of kindness, especially before the holidays get all crazy, to remind us about the importance to be kind not just for the sake of others but for ourselves as well. It’s easy to let things escalate or get blown out of proportion, or to get wrapped up in the minutia that really don’t need as much attention as we give it, when a deep breath and pause could give us the opportunity to come back with a response or reaction that won’t be as damaging to our relationships and careers.

I got an email the other day featuring a video with game camera clips from Florida and in it there was a scene where a group of animals walked through some water and it didn’t look that clean. I felt some concern over the fact that we humans may have negatively impacted that bit of water (since the video was taken near what sounded like a major roadway), and was reminded of the fact that we do impact the natural world on a very regular basis through all kinds of actions (and lack thereof), even those we don’t really think about or don’t seem like there might be an impact.

What does this have to do with kindness? It was a reminder to me that kindness isn’t just about the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you give someone a Christmas or birthday gift and they open it in front of you and they’re thrilled, it’s also about the countless little things that we do or ways that we give and never see the impact of.  Kindness is not about what you get in return or what’s in it for you, but about what you give to others without expecting anything in return.

Animals may not be able to express their thanks for us cleaning up the world we all share, but I know they’re thankful that they don’t get tangled in wires or stuck in garbage or covered in oil.  We may give time or resources to organizations that support others and never see how the little we give multiplies to help others.  We don’t know whose lives we support when we donate that dollar or two at the checkout line, but that money goes on to support others who can never tell us they’re grateful. You don’t know what happened in someone’s day when you stop to help them change a tire, reach for a product on a high shelf, hold open a door, or pay for a cup of coffee, but it may turn everything around for them.

When it comes down to it, kindness, giving and thanks go hand in hand.  We can be thankful for opportunities to give, others are thankful to be the recipients of our kindness, and the opportunities to give are endless.  How will you share a kindness with someone today?

Counting It All Joy?

Today in the USA is Veteran’s Day. Veteran’s Day has always been a holiday of mixed emotions for me. I’m excited to celebrate and honor the men and women who have and are fighting for our country in many ways. I’m also thankful for them and the sacrifices they and their families have made to help make not just our country but our world a safer and better place. I also hate that they have to put their lives on the line, that we can’t all just work a little harder to make this world work for all of us and get along better. It’s also a day of sadness because while we do have many veterans who come home and are able to continue life with their families, some veterans gave their lives. It’s also a day of sadness because we’re not able to fully understand or address all of the challenges that veterans come home with like PTSD. And finally, I’m thankful for the large number of organizations that exist that support veterans and the increasing number of people and businesses who have stepped up to support those organizations and the veterans they support this year.

One of the verses that was shared with me this week was Philippians 4:4 which talks about joy and reminded me of another Bible verse about joy, James 1:2, which says “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.” I don’t know about you, but this is one of the more challenging verses for me. I don’t find joy in everything, certainly not in the loss of life of those who die for our country, or the ways that war has hurt the men and women who return. Do I appreciate the work that the men and women and their families do for our country? Yes, but it doesn’t bring me joy that we have to put people in the line of fire, even if they find purpose and reward in the work they do.

The joy can be found when families reunite, when veterans are able to find purpose again after retiring from the military or being medically discharged, and in the many years that families have together after a veteran’s service is complete. The experiences we have in life change all of us, and part of life is learning to live with and adapt to those changes. Every day that God gives you, you can choose to find a little joy in it or waste that day away. Let’s work on making more moments of joy for all of us.

Reality Reflections: Celebrating Veterans

This month is all about being thankful, and today I’m thankful for all of the ads I’ve heard over the past few days, signs I’ve seen, notes posted online, and stories I’ve heard shared about veterans, and the companies and people who are stepping up to support them and their families. Every year it seems like more companies are recognizing that not only is it good business to share that you support veterans, it’s also good for morale within your company, your community and your country. They’re absolutely right that it’s good business and good for morale, but it’s also a reminder that companies have a choice to make about how they lead, and choosing to lead by supporting veterans is a great way to lead.

As people and customers, we too have a choice in who we do business with, who we donate to and how or if we participate in supporting the people around us that we share this world with. Everyone has a need of one kind or another, all of us have basic human needs to be met, and on top of those needs some people have needs because they’ve screwed up in life or have made bad decisions, others have needs because they’ve been dealt a bad hand in life, and others like our veterans may need help because of the sacrifices they’ve made.

So yes, today and every day I’m thankful for our veterans.  I’m also thankful that I’m able to personally support organizations that support veterans, thankful that I’m one of the businesses that supports veterans, and thankful for all the ways businesses are stepping up to not only support but also recognize and celebrate our veterans. Some veterans say that they are who they are and did/do what they did and don’t feel a need to be recognized, but everyone needs to be recognized when they do the right thing, do the brave thing, or put their lives on the line, so make sure you find a way to give back or thank a veteran this weekend.