Return, Restore, Revive

Today we take a look at yet another day of importance in September, after looking at 9/11, Rosh Hashanah, and most recently International Day of Peace on Monday, as we are in the middle of the Global Week of Student Prayer which is centered around See You At The Pole which happens today. As we know, school and life looks much different this month than it did a year ago, with the global pandemic that we’re all being affected by. So while we can’t hold hands this year, we can still gather together and pray for our students, teachers, schools and education systems, because prayer is something that can be done by yourself, with a small group or with a larger group spread out across the nation.

This year’s theme is “return, restore, revive,” based on 2 Kings 23:25 “Josiah…turned in total and repentant obedience to God.” (MSG). It’s an interesting theme to choose for this year because so much of this year has led to an incredible need to restore and revive, in ways that go beyond the spiritual revival that’s going to remain necessary until Jesus comes back again.

I was reading a daily newsletter I subscribe to the other day and the lady was sharing about a dream/nightmare she had about being pants-less and some of her high school colleagues were in it. It amazes me how many of our dreams/nightmares return us to high school and those apparently formative years. Most of us aren’t having nightmares about being pants-less at work or having Christmas-and-Easter cousins/relatives showing up in our dreams, we’re having dreams about being pants-less in high school.

The question I got to thinking about as I thought about these two topics is what if we were able to make high school less of a scary or scarring place and more of a place where we were truly nurtured and had some of the best years of our lives? What if it truly did set us up for success mentally, educationally and physically (especially with so many people questioning college with all the changes we’re seeing this year)? What if it wasn’t something we had to heal from (and would pop up in a negative way throughout the rest of our lives)? What if it wasn’t something that God had to bring us through and restore us from, but instead we could build from?

I know, teenagers can be difficult and can cause a lot of pain in the lives of the people around them, but what if fewer young people had to become that defensive and offensive because we created a healthier high school experience for them? What if they were the ones to lead a return and restoration of the world to God because we prayed for and helped them find healing and purpose in life? What if instead of the “classic high school experience” we gave them an experience that was memorable and positively impacted their future regardless of what they chose to do going forward?

Of course those are thoughts and dreams, and for this year we can all just step up to pray that this year’s students will gain knowledge and experience that will benefit them in their future, and that God has more opportunities than ever to reveal Himself to them and help them become the person He created them to be.

Shaping Peace Together

One of my favorite sports is football because of the number of people it takes to make even one play successful. It’s such an important reminder, especially in this year that we’re navigating through, that we are part of a team, we do need the other players on the team to help us with things we’re not capable of doing including help our lives run smoother, and we have a responsibility to contribute too. Today on International Day of Peace the UN is using the theme of “Shaping Peace Together,” encouraging and reminding us that it’s only together that we’ll be able to achieve a level of peace that empowers us to make the world a better place, one where we’re not constantly trying to rebuild.

Can you imagine if we had been in the middle of a war when the virus started to take over our world? It’s been difficult enough to be working through the many racial injustices and natural disasters we’ve faced this year, I can’t imagine if our nation or other nations were also sending men and women into war or that there were families in danger zones. I suppose it’s a small thing to be be thankful for this year in a year where there have been so many challenges.

Looking at the Bible one of the things that has always stood out to me is the huge variety of people that God taps to contribute. He uses big players, small players, people who aren’t known by name by most even if the story they’re part of is well known, people whose very small actions played a role in the lives of some of God’s bigger players, and of course tons of teamwork (even if the players don’t see it as teamwork).

Mark 16:15b says “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.” One of the big topics that the New Testament tackles is that Jesus blew open the door on who was welcome into the Kingdom of Heaven. Historically it was known to be only Jews, but in the New Testament it was revealed several times and in several ways that God wants to save everyone who is willing to be saved. Yes, sometimes people like Billy Graham and Mother Teresa come along and do the work of bringing the gospel to tons of people, but more often than not, the gospel is spread person-to-person, just like peace is spread.

Yes, you can absolutely make a statement that you want everyone to choose peace and even make a law or rule about it. But it’s only when the individuals of a town, county, state, nation or world choose to step up that peace is truly possible. So on this day meant to encourage peace, how can you help peace spread further and be a reality to more people?

Reality Reflection: A Life To Be Proud Of

This year has brought with it, as many years do, a significant number of people we’ve lost who are gone before we think they should leave, or whose loss will forever be noticed. Today the US lost a fierce leader that many looked up to: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died at 87.  She had lived a long life and left a mark that cannot be missed on the world. Even if you didn’t agree with all of the stances she took, you have to be impressed with her attitude, commitment and hard work, not to mention her passion that helped her work through several illnesses while continuing to fight for justice for many people in the US.

Ginsburg was a pioneering woman, who stood strong for what she believed in and thought was right, was committed to her Jewish faith, and touched countless lives through her wisdom and friendship throughout her life. You always know you’ve got a strong, true leader when people on both/all sides of the table are able to talk about her with respect. She is someone that students should study and girls should look up to as they look for role models to learn from as they navigate this challenging world that we live in.

As Jewish people around the world gathered tonight to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of their new year, the celebrations were touched with news of her loss. It’s always hard to lose someone on a holiday, and almost ironic that as much as she was able to move things forward for so many people, she passed on the new year, leaving a void for someone else to hopefully step up.

New years and new beginnings are always hard because there almost always has to be some loss to go along with the forward movement. You don’t know what the future holds, you only know what has happened in the past. So it’s our job to commit to doing our best as we move forward, and hopefully we’re able to meet life’s challenges with the same confidence, commitment and consideration that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did in her long life, and would have continued to do so should she been blessed with more years to live. I think she should be very proud of all that she did, and if we all are able to come up with even a fraction of the legacy she left to leave ourselves, I think she would be even more proud that she helped impact the world through each of us.

“Some things in life are more important than votes.” Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
“And she did it all with kindness, grace, and calm, treating even her strongest adversaries with respect.” Former President Bill Clinton

“Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Time for Practice

One of my favorite sports, football, is back again. I’m thankful and excited that they were able to make it work in this still health-challenged season of our lives. It’s been alternately fascinating and painful to watch this year so far because they aren’t playing as well as they usually do for the first week of football. Why? I assume the biggest reason is because they haven’t had the opportunities they needed to really prep as a team due to the restrictions from the virus. Week one games are hard enough to begin with, and to not have the usual months of prep and practice games to get everyone flowing together both old and new players, added a lot of pressure and forced some mistakes as well.

Football is a team sport in ways that other sports simply aren’t because of the number of players who are actively participating in the game play at one given time. So if you can’t get your team to work together, you don’t have a chance of pulling off a victory (unless the other team is way worse than you). Sometimes other sports like baseball can get lucky off hits from just a couple of people, or basketball off a couple of really high point scorers, but with football it’s not really playing the game if you don’t have everyone moving and involved. Everyone has to be in sync or it’s just failed play after failed play, which makes for really boring games, which is why everyone has to work on their fitness individually and then gather together to practice running different plays.

Something you learn from a very early age is the importance of practice in life, tied in with the fact that you rarely get it right the first time. Thinking about simple subjects like math facts and writing letters, even if you got it right the first time, you practiced pages and pages for years to get to a point where it is more second nature than anything else (especially other than a guess). My hope is that football teams will be able to find the time to practice and feel more comfortable and confident as the month goes on, hopefully getting into a better rhythm before too many games are lost.

The same holds true for us as we work on our victories: sometimes you just need to make the time to practice. If you’re familiar with some of the stories of authors who submitted manuscripts multiple times before they were picked up to be published, or ask them how many stories they worked on before they found one that they were comfortable submitting, both of those numbers are higher than some people would imagine. Most people don’t just arrive at the top of a victory mountain, it takes effort, progress, setbacks, practice, teamwork, creativity, confidence and more to get there. So if you’re realizing you’re in need of a little practice this week, don’t be ashamed, even the big sports stars and musicians spend time practicing, so why shouldn’t the rest of us?

Blessings Required

Everyone is given a name when they’re born. A person’s name is typically one of the few things that doesn’t change in life. Yes, some people are known by a nickname or shortened version of their given name, and some people choose to legally change their name, but the large majority of people are born and die with one name. If you’ve ever been around a parent-to-be, you probably have witnessed the work that most people put into naming their children, which in many ways is fascinating because you have no idea what that baby will be like or what name will really be a good representation of them. Which is why many parents give their child a name that they hope they will live up to, or a name that they think will stand strong for the child through all their stages of life.

The Bible has several interesting name related stories, including in the New Testament with Jesus’ relative John the Baptist who was given that name by a temporarily mute father and mother following instructions by God Himself (see Luke 1 for the story), and Jesus also renames Peter as part of his apostle journey. Of course there are a couple of name stories in the book of Genesis including Adam and Eve, and Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah, but one of the most interesting is Jacob’s story.

Jacob, a twin, does some things he shouldn’t do and so he ran away from home for a season, and as he was returning back many years later with wives and children in tow, has an evening wrestling match with a man who he learns is God. It’s a unique story among the many unique stories that the Bible shares and Jacob actually has several of those unique stories. But this one is different because it is a human interaction with God and God says some special things about Jacob at the end of the encounter:

“”You can’t go until you bless me,” Jacob replied. Then the man asked, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. The man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob. You have wrestled with God and with men, and you have won. That’s why your name will be Israel.”” Genesis 32:26b-28 (CEV)

Jacob has fought really hard for where he is in life at this point and has made some big mistakes too. It’s not necessarily a unique story, it’s one that many of us can identify with, but Jacob has fought for enough in his life that he isn’t willing to just call it a tie and let God go, so he asks for a blessing. God has an interesting way of giving a blessing, and it’s actually a three-fold blessing. First, you’ve got the wrestling match in the first place, which God used as a way to see where Jacob was and if he was really willing to fight for his life. Second, you’ve got the blessing of being named by God. And finally, you’ve got the blessing of God’s compliment and recognition for Jacob having wrestled with both God and man and won.

I’m not big on winners and losers, I don’t think that every situation calls for people to end up in first place (or last place), but I am big on victories, and I think that that’s what this is all about. God is making sure that Jacob is up to the challenge He has for him, the purpose He’s put him there for, and Jacob proves that even though he’s made some mistakes in the past, this time he’s ready to step up. What about you? Are you ready to take up the challenge that God puts in your life? Are you ready to overcome the mistakes you’ve made in the past? Are you ready for forgiveness and a fresh start? Maybe today is exactly the right time for you to step up and into that victory.

Reality Reflection: In Support

One of the most important lessons I’ve worked on (and am working on) in my life is accepting and loving people for who they are, and not judging them based on the job they do, books they write, spiritual path they’re on, way they choose to spend their time, or sports team they follow, just to name a few. This really started out of my dislike for violence but loving and supporting the men and women who choose to be in the military. I may not agree with the decision to go to war or that the default answer is violence, but I absolutely support the men and women and their families who choose to put their lives on the line anyway.

Connected with this, in going through the emotions of another 9/11 yesterday, reading some of the reflections from people of different generations and who experienced different things, learning that more people I’m connected with experienced it on a personal level, and reading some of the posts on social media, one of my favorite was about the world of 9/12. About how so many labels and job descriptions and qualifiers were removed on that day, and we all became humans and neighbors and helped in whatever way we could, even if it was just sending prayers.

One of the things that awes me most about this country is after natural disasters seeing all the trucks from other states who show up to help with the cleanup and putting my small corner of the world back together. Even in this extremely challenging time they stepped up again to support us in NJ as well as in other states in response to this hurricane and tropical storm season. This is just like what happened after 9/11 when fire stations from around the country sent men and women and resources to New York, their trucks and support is part of what got this part of the nation through those dark days, and will always be remembered and appreciated.

But what it all comes back to is being able to see over or through or beyond the lines that are usually so very prevalent. Lines are helpful, they often make things easier to understand, but they can also do a lot of damage. One of the blogs I read each day comes from Seth Godin, and on the blog today he shared about this exact concept, but with regard to teachers. I’ve talked over the years about how challenged I am by the school system, but I forgot to do a better job about supporting teachers at the same time. This year has been a reminder to all of us just how important those men and women are, and how even if the system isn’t perfect, it’s their dedication, emotion, care and compassion that has helped most of us get to the point that we’re at, and is helping another generation navigate this changing world.

Of course, I recognize I’m suggesting a bunch of things that are really challenging to most of us: asking for help, accepting help, meeting new people, and doing the work and being patient enough to see beyond the obvious. But then again, maybe the obvious is what we need to see more than anything and when we see that first we see exactly how similar and connected we are.

The Impact of Perspective

I was recently on the website for my local library system and clicked on a book they were featuring about gig work, with a title talking about how it used to be and the author’s intention to share advice about how to improve/grow it from where we are today. I’ve seen the gig world change over the past 10 years, and do agree that it should improve/grow, and not that it should be a passing phase as it does help many people keep food on the table and/or do something they love as a side opportunity. So I decided to click on the book and see if it was something I’d want to read to blog about as one of my business books of the month on my Family and Business blog.

To my surprise the blurb immediately turned me off and I barely finished reading it before closing the window. Why? Because the author started out by bashing the way certain gig companies have been run and “dark side” (their words) of labor in the gig worlds. I have yet to find a truly perfect company, gig or otherwise, and I know that some people are perfectly happy with how these gig companies are run and the role they play in them. I also love to read, so I’ve read tons of blurbs over my years and in some ways I’m glad they decided to phrase it as they did because I know not to get the book and be disappointed when I read it, but at the same time, if the blurb is an inaccurate description of the book it turned me off from what could have been an educational read.

I often write about perspective, after all, a big part of my “job” is to help others see things from different perspectives. I also appreciate on several levels when people point out what went wrong or what’s not right, because sometimes it’s important and necessary to fix the wrong/not right before you can get to the victory. But I also believe that there’s really a right and wrong way to go about all of this, and bashing or hating on people and things isn’t the way to have a productive or progressive conversation about anything. It’s all part of the consideration of extremes and trying to understand, establish and communicate the value of being so far to one side of a topic. I don’t usually think there is value in being so extreme (with a very few notable exceptions). As the saying goes, you get more bees with honey than vinegar.

Passion is always welcome at the table, but blind faith, unwillingness to hear other people’s perspectives, a negative attitude, lack of communication skills or willingness to talk and listen through things, and inflexible attitudes and habits will only get in the way of making victories (not to mention friends and a team that supports you). Are you so focused on one thing that you can’t see it from another perspective or aren’t willing to try things another way? Consider if the words, attitude and perspective you have on your situation are going to help you get where you really want to be.

Satisfyingly Quiet

I love writing, it’s why I blog multiple times a week on several blogs and write newsletters and a devotional each week (I also happen to love to read both fiction and non-fiction, but one doesn’t necessarily relate to/influence the other). Sometimes when I sit down I’ve got something really specific on my mind or heart to write about, other times I’m sparked by something I read in an email or saw in the news, other times I’m sharing about something I saw out and about in the world, sometimes I write about something seasonal that I probably write about every year in one way or another.

Monday when I sat down to write this blog post I had a couple of ideas to write about but I kept getting stuck. I’m sure if you ask any author even those who are extremely prolific with book writing/publishing and put out several books a year can tell you that sometimes they sit down and either have a block or decide that everything they’ve written so far is better off deleted than shared. Sometimes like in any other aspect of life you decide that you’ve given it your best effort and accept it as it is, or decide that it’s going to fulfill the bridge purpose it has (i.e. it bridges between two books/posts/topics) because not doing something is not an option or you’re being too picky on yourself.

But as I was reflecting on what to write today I came back to something we’ve taken a bit of a step back from in recent days/weeks, and that’s quiet time. We sure had a lot of it in the earlier months of the year, but now we’ve gotten back into some social gatherings and the busyness that comes with autumn and school and I don’t think we’re stopping to reflect and listen and be peaceful and just appreciate being alive like we did several months ago. We’ve scaled back and made changes that can benefit us long term, but I don’t think we should lose the appreciation for life or the quiet moments that we added to our lives through the challenges of this year.

Yes, we like when we talk to God and when He talks with us. Yes, we like when we’re able to gather together, or at the very least chat on the phone or by video chat. But there’s something fulfilling and satisfying about being quiet and just hearing nature or being alone with your own thoughts or just sitting and meditating with God. So this week as you make plans (however tentative they may be) for the rest of the month and maybe the rest of the year, I encourage you to plan in some quiet time each day, or at least each week to give yourself time and space mentally and physically to just be.

Reality Reflection: Historical Passions

This week one of the headlines in the news was “How to weigh a dinosaur.” Yes, you read that right. I had to laugh because it’s so perfectly interesting yet so completely unnecessary, irrelevant, weird and impossible. I’m all for exploring history and learning about the people and things that happened in the past, whether it’s 2 years ago or thousands of years ago. I frequently watch pyramids-era documentaries and explorations as well as Titanic ones, and I’ve been known to tune into some other ones as well. I may not be good with history dates, wars and battles, or keeping people straight but that’s OK because it’s not (currently) my interest or passion, other people have those passions and interests.

I love that we ask questions like how do we weigh a creature that lived tons of years ago and isn’t alive anymore. I love that people go to historic sites and perform reenactments in full regalia. I love that people tell stories about the role their ancestors played in different parts of history. I love hearing the stories of people who have passed on before, and discovering that they’re not just a name on a page, but had passions, interests, dreams and faced challenges too.

I still can’t weigh a dinosaur (and really don’t want to), but I’m glad that someone is taking the time to learn and explore and discover things that matter for one reason or another, at least to them. If that interests or excites them, good! If thinking about people trying to figure out how to weigh a dinosaur makes others laugh, well that’s good too because we’ve had a really tough year this year and always need more reasons to laugh. This weekend I encourage you to find a bit of a tangent that interests you and leave the issues of the world behind, even if it’s just for a couple of hours. The challenges of the world will still be there when you get back, and hopefully you’ll feel a little more refreshed and confident when you get back too.

Digging in to Victories

This week when I took a moment to peruse Facebook I saw the news that a musician I enjoy decided to take a long-term position with a church as a worship pastor. Of course having been in the industry for as long as he has and having worked with all the different other musicians he has, he’s definitely qualified to do it, and I know that church will benefit from it. The post I saw explained that he (along with his family) had been doing what many other people in the (spiritual) music industry do and that’s go to different churches and perform events or fill in from time to time, almost like a substitute teacher, but felt that now was the right time to plant some roots and work within one community for a while.

It got me thinking about creating victories and how sometimes we have to slow or stop our schedule and focus in on one thing in order to really get the most out of a victory or even achieve a victory. Sometimes we have to make a concerted effort, give a focused investment, set aside time and space in our schedule. Sometimes we have to move to or away from something or someone to get to the next step in our lives. Sometimes we have to settle down and dig in for a period of time.

Autumn (which we officially head into later this month) is a great time to be thinking about slowing down or what really needs a bigger investment in from you. This year has been a big year of changes, reality checks, and future reconsiderations, and what has worked in the past may/will not work going forward. We can’t go back to where we were a year ago, we have lived through too much in the past year. We’ve also been given a reminder of how it’s important to prioritize the things that matter most to you, and an opportunity to consider that maybe we don’t need everything in our lives that we’ve filled them with in the past.

Maybe it’s time to put down our own roots in certain ways, whether with a new job, a new relationship, a new home or just new habits in life. Maybe rather than just leaving stuff behind, it’s time to start welcoming in something new. Maybe it’s time to decide or settle on, or commit to things in our lives and not be so committed or attached to being crazy busy with tons of different little things. Are you taking time to invest in something this autumn?