Sacrifices and Gifts

This year has been an exercise in sacrifice for many of us. Some of us have put our lives on the line to try to help heal others, some of us have put our lives and energies out in great excess to keep essential services running, some of us have sacrificed what should be big milestones in our lives, some of us have sacrificed reliable income, some of us have lost what could have been many more years with family members had they not gotten sick. Sometimes sacrifice is necessary to get what you want next, for example the sacrifices that are involved with selling and moving from your current residence to a new, bigger/better one, or the sacrifices involved in starting up the business you’ve always wanted, or the sacrifices you make to have and raise kids and not just support you and your partner. But other times there isn’t much reward on the other end, it’s just something you have to do for the greater good.

Of course, that doesn’t take into account what God can do outside of or separate from the sacrifices that you’re making, or what can happen when you see the work as something other than painful and difficult. Luke 6:38 says: “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”

While the year is far from over and there are several hurdles to get through for most of us, I don’t see why we can’t think and pray positively and ask God to bless and return in abundance the sacrifices (that we’re now going to look at as gifts) that we’ve given over the past 8 months. Do take note though that in this verse in Luke 6 it talks about how much activity may surround the returning of the gift, so be open to the blessings God sends your way to be wrapped in some unusual wrappings or that they may take a little work to uncover and incorporate all of the goodness.

We can all count up the challenges of this year, so what have been some gifts that you’ve received?

Facing Challenges with God’s Love

We’ve talked a lot this year about how challenged we’ve been and how we’re relying on God for so much. It certainly has been a year unlike any that most of us have experienced. Every year comes with challenges, just like every life comes with challenges, and some years have more challenges in them than others. Sometimes God gives us challenges because they help us become stronger and wiser and more prepared to be the leader He has called us to be. Other times we experience challenges based on the choices we make in life. And sometimes, challenges are just part and parcel of the human experience.

We know that God goes with us through all the challenges we face, because He’s awesome like that and doesn’t leave us alone to fend for ourselves. Even if He’s not ready to provide answers or get us out of situations, He doesn’t leave us alone to work through them. Can you imagine being God and having to go through all those challenges with each of us? I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be when time and again we’re making the same mistakes or getting ourselves into the same challenges that He’s helped us through before. And then you add to that the pain and hurt of people who walk away from God, for however long or brief a time, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed at how much God manages on a regular basis all the while supporting and encouraging and doing miracles. And yet, He continues to be the God of love:

“God’s love is an extravagant love and God has an infinite amount of it to give. Hear God’s reassurance: I love you. I have plenty for everyone and I will give you the provision you need.” Br. Jim Woodrum

“O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help.” Psalm 86:5

“The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.” Psalm 103:8

If God is able to love through all that we put Him through, surely each of us can find a little more love, patience, compassion and kindness to share with the world too. God doesn’t expect us to be Him, but He does hope that we learn from His example and from the experiences that we have, so that maybe the next time our tempers flash or we face a challenge, we’re able to handle it even just a little better.

Reality Reflection: What is Essential?

One of the terms we’ve been using in record numbers over the past almost six months is essential. We’ve been talking about essential businesses and essential workers, and yes, these conversations have reminded us exactly how important these people are to our lives and to the movement of society as we know it. But with the damage that hurricane Isaias has caused over the past week, I’ve been revisiting that word and thinking about what in our lives is essential anyway.

For those of us living in the US and other developed nations around the world, we live the way we do because we have electricity and most of us have reliable access to internet. It would not be possible to live in an Amazon/Ebay/online shopping world without those things. If we’re going to be without power for an extended period of time we have to revisit our very way of life because we rely on the power for the stove and the refrigerator, both of which are truly essential to helping us not have to stop at the store every day for food and buying things in small quantities because we can’t store them for longer than ice stays frozen (which in the summer months isn’t very long).

We also can’t do our jobs virtually or run virtual businesses without internet (which requires electricity or power of some form), and we’d see even more people out of work than currently are because of the virus. Entire industries that have helped propel many parts of the world into financial success would be gone overnight if we’re not able to have reliable internet and power.

I think we’ve learned over the past few months that it’s essential to have income coming in to be able to keep roofs over our heads and food on our tables, plus how important it is to make an effort to be clean and not spread germs around. But being without power again has reminded me how essential power is, even if we don’t have internet that’s quite as reliable (although it is essential if you want business to continue growing as it has over the past few decades).

We may be able to work only during the daylight hours; or hold off on reading some of our emails and doing some communications every day, but we can’t hold off on having a reliable means of communication to talk with family and friends, especially with everything else that’s going on in the world; and I don’t want to be without the ability to keep food cold reliably for a long period of time which means our revived definition of essential also has to include power and internet, or we have to rethink the world as we know it. We may need to make a few changes to our world, but I think most of the changes that have happened over the past few decades have brought us to a better place, including our usually reliable power.

Winning in Worst Case Scenarios

We’ve talked a lot over the past few months about how things have changed, and that we hope many of the changes are temporary. After all, I don’t want to live in a world where I can’t go to a baseball game or have to have tea with friends over Skype only. I miss watching commentators and others (chefs, interviews etc.) working together live and in person rather than over an oft-suspect virtual connection. Some things I’m open to changing forever (like getting more people a decent internet connection they can afford), but many things I can’t wait to get back to.

When it comes to victories, we often talk about the importance of considering options and different paths to victory, but sometimes the right thing to do to think worst case scenarios so that you’ve got a plan for what to do so that you can come out of a problem on top and not fighting it the whole way or having to admit defeat when there’s a better way of doing it. I was reading an article the other day about some medical professionals from California who came to NY during some of the most challenging moments of the pandemic so far and they’re now using those terrible experiences to prepare their colleagues and networks to have a better chance of keeping more people in their state alive and through the virus successfully.

Anticipating what might go wrong isn’t fun, it’s not something that motivates us unless that’s what we’re into (doomsday planning etc.) since most of us are either realists or cup-half-full people. But making victories and planning for success sometimes means that you have to think about what will block you from success. No, you shouldn’t only think about what could go wrong or focus on that so much that you’re not giving sufficient energy and effort to making positive plans and progress.  It’s not about derailing a successful victory journey, but about anticipating what might go wrong, discovering before you get in too deep that you’re not going in or won’t end up in the direction you were hoping for, or preparing yourself for challenges you may face and have to answer for.

This week I encourage you to take some time to think about what could go wrong; not a lot of time, but think of a couple possible things that could go wrong and think of some alternatives or ways to deal with those challenges.

Reality Reflection: Making Choices

This year so far has been a challenging one when it comes to making choices. We’ve been put in a very strange and different place with this virus and it’s forced us into places and actions that we’ve never considered or had to make decisions about. Some of these decisions are very difficult to make as many of us have been forced into choosing to work and risk exposure to the virus and not having any money to buy food or pay for expenses. There’s been a level of unpreparedness that almost everyone has had to deal with, some kids have been forced to grow up rapidly and deal with more adult situations and a level of responsibility than they shouldn’t have to based on their age, and we’ve been asked to get along with people in a single space for a longer period of time than most of us ever have.

I love choices, I think they’re really important and we need to have good decision making skills to be truly successful in life. There’s often a level of risk involved in making a choice, and sometimes you do have to choose between the lesser of two evils or the more preferred among two choices you don’t really like. Sometimes we make a choice based on what’s good or better for others than our personal preferences (for instance it’s better for others if we wear masks right now, even if we don’t enjoy wearing them). It doesn’t make me more excited to do something I don’t enjoy if I know it’s good for others, but it does make me feel a bit better about doing it.

The good thing about even the tough choices and teaching the tough choices, is that there’s usually some room for making them yours. For instance with the current mask choice, it’s another way to express your personality or express your unity with or support for a brand or organization. Other choices do have room for negotiation or have an out that gives you the ability to remove yourself from the situation. Sometimes we get lucky with last minute reprieves or extra options, but not often. But as the saying goes, even when you choose not to make a decision, you’re still making a choice. What have you learned about choices over the past few months?

Reality Reflection: Disappointments, Past and Future

The other day I watched a show that I don’t usually watch because it was covering a subject I found interesting. They did a lot of press for the show and I was excited to watch because it sounded like they were going to dive into the story and give more information than what had originally been released. It turned out to be a giant disappointment and huge waste of time. There were parts of it that were fascinating but all of it could have been done in a much shorter period of time and it would have tied up the story in the neat bow that I think viewers would have appreciated more.

But it got me thinking about how much this year has been a disappointment to so many, which is so frustrating with all the hopes we had for this new year and new decade. I hope that all the destruction and devastation and disappointment that we’ve gone through so far this year will make for a really rewarding and fulfilling rest of the decade, that everything we’ve gone through will help us make this decade exactly what we were hoping for when it started, even if we had to start off with this huge challenging event.

I’ve lived long enough that I know that sometimes things can turn around on a dime, and other things take a lot of effort and time to turn around. But you can’t change the past, it’s essentially fact because it happened. You did have a 16th birthday, you did get that grade on your history paper, you did go out for drinks with friends, you did have a pizza for a late night snack, you did get married. Those things, and countless others, can’t be changed. Yes, we can change how we feel about them or what we do as a result of them or because of them, but it’s almost impossible to rewrite the events of the past. We may never get over our dislike and unhappiness over how this year has gone, just like we’ll never get over tragedies like WW2, the Rwandan genocide and 9/11. The challenge is to work through enough of the present that it becomes the past and you can do something different with the present and future.

Representing Jesus

Over the past week my heart has been breaking all over again with regards to some of the people that we share this world with. We’ve learned in recent days of violent acts with no pursuit of justice, and tons of rude, inconsiderate and violent acts of people towards others with regard to social distancing, masks and plain and simple human courtesy and decency. We’ve seen many signs of people supporting each other in whatever ways they can right now, but there’s also been an embarrassing amount of lost human decency over the past few weeks. Almost as if the virus has had two different influences in the population: one good, one bad.

Colossians 3:17 says “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

There are lots of ways that we can live up to what this verse says, and Jesus certainly showed a whole variety of them. Sometimes we are a representative by doing or talking about spiritual things, but more often than not it isn’t specifically about or through a spiritual action or word. After all, faith is a very personal practice. Yes, God asks us to share about Him with the world, but there’s a lot more that goes on in any person’s life than what they share with the world, and God has a personal relationship with each of us.

But there are some words are used in the Bible and encouraged by Jesus that speak to the most basic ways to be a representative for Jesus: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5). You don’t have to have one specific faith practice to be able to do any of them, nor would it be assumed that you were of a faith practice by doing any of them.

There’s still a lot of struggle to work through, a lot more patience that’s needed from all of us around the world, and a lot more teamwork than we’ve probably ever seen before. I can’t answer to the medical and scientific side of this virus, but I can definitely answer to the human side and where it has to go from here. If we aren’t willing to accept the value in the lives of the other humans around us, if we aren’t willing to be patient with each other, if we can’t learn to truly care for others even a fraction as much as we do ourselves, then we’ll never be able to even come close to realizing the dreams we have for our world, let alone be able to look back on this virus many years from now with any kind of positivity or pride.

Navigating Confusion

The word that can describe much of our world right now is confusion. While we’re all experiencing an event that can create a lot of opportunities, connections, and community especially in the future but also now, there is so little known about it and how it will all unfold that it’s hard to get to the point of opportunity from the confusion. Many people haven’t experienced anything that has shaken their world to this extent, but as we’ve learned from past natural disasters, when our world is negatively impacted it can take weeks and even years to get people back to a version of normal. Not to mention how confusing or disorienting it is to spend tons of time with different people than we usually spend our days with and not see many/any others, to be doing a lot less than usual or a lot more than usual because you’re taking on work and parenting full time. Added into this challenge is that we don’t know when a true end will arrive (we can’t say easily that the fire is out or the storm is gone or the flooding has stopped), we’re being told that we could be dealing with this for months if not years before we get clarity and a conclusion. And that’s not to say that we won’t experience something similar in the future which is another layer added onto all of this.

But back to the topic of confusion. It’s easy to get stuck in the swirl of confusion, to listen to all the different voices sharing their different opinions and theories and possible plans. But plans aren’t easy to make right now (at least not plans of action) as opinions and theories seem to change more often than most people shower, which makes it even more confusing. So what can we do about this confusing time and what lessons can it teach us about making victories?

One of the biggest keys to successfully navigating this time with more rather than less sanity is to control what you can, to stay as active as you can, and to not dwell on the negative or the confusion. Do the laundry regularly, clean up the kitchen each day, run the vacuum regularly, spend time outside as regularly as possible, cook what makes you happy (and is healthy for you too), spend time doing hobbies that make you happy (like painting, drawing, exercising etc), read and watch shows that make you happy (I’m reading a book each day), stay on as much of a normal schedule as possible with work or personal growth things you do (I make time to read all my emails each day, blog regularly and send out my newsletters regularly), spend time talking with people you love, and limit your news checking (I check twice daily and that’s it) . These are all things you can control, simple victories you can make consistently even in this challenging and confusing time.

You may not be making your usual victories right now, but that doesn’t mean you should let confusion rule your life or that you shouldn’t try to make victories. Everyone is dealing with this challenge differently, so you will too. Don’t worry as much about what everyone else is doing or how they’re dealing with the confusion, do what works best to keep you strong, healthy, and happy.

Reality Reflection: Questions and Faith

One of the secrets of success is asking questions. It’s something I’ve learned the hard way, either in trying to work with clients or in having a healthy relationship with my significant other, but going the extra mile in some cases to ask a question (or three) is usually worth it because it means I’m not repeating anything or having to redo something. But lately we’ve been dealing with a question that doesn’t have an answer, or at least not a good one: this virus that’s sweeping the globe. It has given me a new appreciation for families who are dealing with cancer and other currently unfixable or not easily fixed disabilities or illnesses, including Alzheimers which we’ve dealt with in my family. It’s tough to face a question that you can’t answer or get answers to and there are so many unknowns at this point, and so many people affected or potentially going to be affected.

Everyone faces some challenges in their life, some of us seem to be gifted more challenges than others. We all have to decide how we’re going to face those challenges and how we’re going to deal with questions that we just can’t answer at this time. We shouldn’t handle each challenge with the same action steps or plan of attack, because each challenge is different. This virus has taught us though that it’s important to have some items in stock with at least a month’s supply and to have a bigger plan about work and school and other things that could be impacted by a challenge.

We have to decide if the questions that we raise are really that important to answer, and if so how can we individually and collectively make steps, baby or big, in the direction of finding out what is or isn’t true and what the answer is to the question. As part of that investigation, we have to consider whether we’re even asking the right question(s) or if there are other questions that better address what we’re dealing with or questions that have to be answered before we can get to the question that’s really on our minds.

Some questions we may struggle with for our entire lives and never really come up with any good answers, and I think that’s part of life. We’re not all knowing (that’s God’s job), and some things are beyond our ability to understand. One thing I’ve been blessed to not question seriously throughout my life is my faith. Sure, I have moments that I don’t know where things are going or I can’t see how they’re really going to resolve themselves or I’ve dealt with depression, but time and again God has sent me a little reminder, reassured me or been the one constant that’s been there through anything.

As we head into Holy Week on Sunday with Palm Sunday, all the questions and uncertainty we’re dealing with right now and how very different this Easter will be from past Easters, I’ve decided to share a post a day for the week, starting on Palm Sunday and ending on Saturday before Easter (with an Easter post on Monday since many churches and faith leaders will be sharing special messages around the internet on Sunday). We’ll take a look at some of Jesus’ story, the Holy Week events, and discuss some of the topics that we’re dealing with as a world right now in this unique situation.

It’s important right now to keep the faith and believe in our ability to get through this together, even as physically separated as we are.  With the free time and different situations we’re facing, it’s a good time to be asking questions and really working through the answers so that you’re prepared for what may happen in the future.  And if I’m asking one question right now more than any other, it would be for God to send an Easter miracle to our world.

Victories for Today

I’ve been working on some different victories in my life while much of my regular life is on hold like yours may be as well, and in reading back through some emails from the beginning of March I’m reminded of the tornado in Nashville again that happened in the beginning of the month. No one was predicting our lives would look like they do today when that tornado happened, and now that we’re immersed in this virus challenge people around the US are dealing with things that occur on a semi-yearly basis: other tornadoes and an earthquake. I pray that we’ll have this under much better control by the time hurricane season shows up or the unfortunately seemingly annual fire season begins.

All of these thoughts got me thinking about (and feeling) sayings like “when it rains it pours” and being “beaten while you’re down.” While there may be some value behind the idea of just getting everything out of the way all at once, it’s definitely a hard choice to make, and a lot harder to deal with when resources are stretched as far as they are right now, and no one really chooses to face as many serious challenges as they possibly can.

What does it mean? Well, maybe we need to hit bottom, or close to bottom, to get a reality check on how we’re living or how we’re treating each other or the effort we’re giving to living lives that fulfill us and prepare us for situations like this. Maybe we need this reality check to do something about how people around the globe live in poverty and can’t avoid situations like this, thus causing (potentially) high casualties. Maybe we need this reality check to help us advance to a better level of work, both to improve our companies and help us be more consistently able to support ourselves. Maybe it’s a reminder to update all your important information so that the right people know your wishes and you don’t leave a mess for anyone to deal with after you’re gone.

Or maybe this is just a reminder that we need to take time outs from time to time, whether they’re mental health days, vacations, or a day dedicated each week to keeping our to do lists short, or even just time each day to process what’s going on in our lives. Maybe it’s just a reminder to take advantage of what you’re given and not worry about stuff you can’t control. Maybe it’s an opportunity to be light and love in a world that desperately needs it.

It may rain and pour for a little while yet, the questions are what we’re going to do while that happens and what we’re going to after it’s stopped raining (how are we going to pick up and move on from here)? I hope you’re working to achieve at least one victory each day right now, whether that’s to eat something tasty, enjoy watching a dog video, read a whole book, get out for a walk, or take a step closer to completing an item on your to-do list (or even complete a whole item!). After the rain is done, we’ll need to take stock and evaluate what went well, what needs to change for the future, and then take steps to make our future better. Some of the action and planning you can do while it rains, but much of it we have to see how things go before you can truly establish a plan for a better future. So focus on accepting and being at peace with your current situation and making whatever victories you can make for now, and worry about the future when it arrives.  What victory or victories will you achieve today?