Remembering The Liberator

July 18th was the birthday of one of the great men of the world: Nelson Mandela (celebrated as “Mandela Day”). No one is perfect (Mandela included), but he’s someone who showed throughout his life that he was a true leader. A 2013 article on Mandela called him a “Dissident, Liberator and Statesman.” Those are 3 big titles that all say something important about who he was, but the one I wanted to focus on today is “liberator.”

Mandela knew what it was to be not free, he spent 27 years in prison for his efforts to make South Africa a better place for people. Some people, having had his experience, would throw in the towel and spend the rest of their years quietly, thankful to be free. But Mandela never gave up on his dreams of and plans for a better life for himself and the people he loved, and people around the world too.

We take time each year to remember people like Nelson Mandela and the dreams they had for a reason, a reason that seems more important than ever with the violence over the past few weeks and months around the world. People like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, and countless other men and women who have passed on would not be proud of the people some of us have become. I think they would be happy to see that some thing have changed and are changing for the better, but sad that we are fighting on many of the same things that should have already been addressed, and creating issues that shouldn’t be issues and haven’t been in the past.

What it comes down to is that the world is always in need of more people like Nelson Mandela. You don’t have to be in a traditional position of power to make a difference, you have to decide that you’re going to give your best effort to fixing or alleviating the problem(s) you see in the world. Whether you make that effort in jail, on the street, in your office, in a school, or as a president doesn’t matter. What matters is that you choose to step up and let people know that they too can be liberated and choose what they want to make out of life.

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Do You See What I See?

I love writing and reading, it’s something I’ve always loved. I enjoy the story as well as the process of doing the writing, and creative outlets like writing are an important part of my life and health. You may be familiar with the debate that’s been raging for some time about how many blogs and books there are and how sometimes it seems like everyone is saying or writing the same thing. Maybe there aren’t any new ideas, but I haven’t read too many books or blog posts that were exactly the same. Everyone and just about everything is different in at least a couple of ways, and I believe we can keep writing and reading because everyone sees things a little differently, and, even more importantly, I believe that there are still some new things and thoughts to come.

If you had asked someone in the 1800’s about what they thought the future would hold, they might have come up with some interesting ideas, but I have my doubts that they would come up with laptops and iPads, or the ability of the internet to connect different parts of the world instantly. So I don’t think it’s possible for us to run out of ideas, we’re just in a phase where we’re working with what we have and not ready to make a big upgrade yet. When it comes to the concepts that people say are overdone and overrated and overused, I’m always amazed when I read a new author or article about a topic and see things differently because I’m seeing things through a new perspective, their perspective.

Yes, there will always be someone who sees too many similarities and can’t appreciate the creative output. There will always be a critic in your life that you can’t stand. Why? Because some people just can’t see beyond their personal box. That’s not wrong, it’s just how they are. But I believe life is to be lived and can’t be fully lived if you’re not willing to see beyond where you are.

“Faith is raising the sail of our little boat until it is caught up in the soft winds above and picks up speed, not from anything within itself, but from the vast resources of the universe around us.” W. Ralph Ward

A Summer of Celebration

Today is the summer solstice.  It’s a day of celebrating the summer ahead, reflecting on the seasons past and celebrating being alive and having the sun to warm and feed us. Many groups of people take time on days like the solstice to stop and reflect or have a practice or something they say to honor the transition, and it got me thinking about taking time to thank and honor God.  So today I thought I would share a few verses to inspire and encourage you to recognize God’s presence in your day to day life and in larger moments like the solstice.

“This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.  Psalm 118:24

“Sing praises to God and to his name!  Sing loud praises to him who rides the clouds. His name is the Lord—rejoice in his presence! Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, whose dwelling is holy.”  Psalm 68:4-5

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God.  The skies display his craftsmanship.  Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known.”  Psalm 19:1-2

“O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!  Your glory is higher than the heavens…When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?”  Psalm 8:1, 3-4

“Sing out your thanks to the Lord; sing praises to our God with a harp.  He covers the heavens with clouds, provides rain for the earth, and makes the grass grow in mountain pastures.  He gives food to the wild animals and feeds the young ravens when they cry.  He takes no pleasure in the strength of a horse or in human might. No, the Lord’s delight is in those who fear him, those who put their hope in his unfailing love.”  Psalm 147:7-11

I encourage you to look and see where God is working this summer.  Don’t give up hope because it seems like all you see is sorrow and hate.  And if you can’t see God working, maybe He’s waiting for you to do something to share some joy and sunshine with someone.

Reality Reflection: Flying Flags

This coming Tuesday in the USA is Flag Day.  It’s the day that we stop and remember the journey our flag has gone through and the people who have given their all for it and our country.  As I was thinking about Flag Day it got me thinking about lots of things about flags in general.  I shared a few on the business blog post this past week and will share a few more thoughts in my business newsletter this week, but today I wanted to talk a bit about the flag and what it means for our lives.

The concept of flags is really a simple one, it’s a visual way of bringing together people from a certain group and a way to identify those who are aligned with that group.  It’s a way we honor the past, a way of celebrating the things that unite us and a reminder for what we are working towards in the future, or of things in the past that we’re building a new future on.  Whenever we see an American flag it should remind us of the men and women who have made all kinds of sacrifices for our freedoms that we enjoy and treasure, and occasionally take for granted.

Flags that you personally relate with should be a source of pride, it shouldn’t be something that fills us with hate when we see it or ambivalence.  We should want to raise it high, know its history, and display it proudly.  We should want to support and know about the men and women who have played a role in its creation and have worked and do work to keep it flying.  That doesn’t mean that you have to salute every flag you see, have one hanging in every room or attend every parade, but on special holidays for Americans like the 4th of July, Memorial Day, 9/11, and Veteran’s Day you should fly a flag or even just put out a small one in a pot on your balcony if you can’t really hang one.

But just because you don’t know the history behind a flag and it’s not “your” flag, it doesn’t mean you can’t be respectful of it and the people who are proud of it (as long as it doesn’t represent bad things).  If you meet someone who is proudly displaying a flag you’re not familiar with I encourage you to ask them about it and hear the story behind it and what it means to them.  And I invite you to share the stories of your flag(s) in the comments section today too!

What flag will you proudly fly on Flag Day?

Creativity and Perfection

As an artist, and slight perfectionist, I often struggle to find a happy medium between the two.  It isn’t ever easy, but I’m learning to let the creativity win and relax on striving in my art, in whatever form it happens, to be perfect.

Perfection is a worthy goal most certainly.  I love knowing that I’m truly satisfied with the appearance of something.  Knowing that I’ll get more praise than criticism, and that I won’t look at it and always pick out the imperfections.  But the concept of art was designed almost as the opposite of perfection.  Some art is perfect in some people’s eyes, and others can’t see any beauty in it.  That is one gift that art gives us.  Some people enjoy dancing and work hard to perform well.  Some do yoga and work on their form and stretching.  Yet others don’t appreciate dancing or yoga, but do find value in painted pictures or needlepoint.

Another aspect that is definitely prevalent with perfection is the acceptance of their art with others.  For some their art is a performance and they live to get the approval of others.  For others, the approval factor is a downside to art.  I think it works both ways.  With the criticism of others you can become a better artist.  If you can’t see that your legs are in the wrong position, you need someone to tell you so that you can perform better, or feel better.  You can improve your painting and drawing with a little constructive criticism and critique too.  Someone’s advice about your garden or about your creative decorating may give you a good idea that will help you get closer to the desired perfection.

Most importantly when struggling with the challenge of perfection, don’t forget to enjoy the experience.  Art is all about the experience, about learning about yourself, about healing, about sharing yourself, about opening the world to your perspective.  Many of the biggest “mistakes” and “imperfections” have revolutionized aspects of the artistic world.  There wouldn’t be new dance styles without imperfections, there wouldn’t be new plant species without mistakes, some of the most beautiful paintings wouldn’t have occurred without imperfections.

What encouragement will you find and new doors open from welcoming a little criticism?  Try it this week and find out!

Imagining the Future

The past couple weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about what life holds for you and me. I received an email recently about a blogger I enjoy reading who has decided to stop publishing; somehow it didn’t occur to me that at some point in time someone I enjoy reading from would choose to pack it in. It got me thinking about life and how things change. But that’s the way life goes: we travel a path for a season and when it ends we go in a different direction. It’s not bad to end things, but we don’t always think about the end or when it’s coming. When things end all too often we’re at odds with life. We ask ourselves “what do we do now?” and “what’s next?” and we don’t have an answer.

So as I was thinking about this I was reminded how important it is to see life as a journey. Journeys aren’t made up of one part, they’re made up of stretches and seasons, of moving from place to place until the final destination (death) has been reached. The journey doesn’t end because you reach an age or an accomplishment, that’s only the end of that part of the journey, which is why it’s so important to keep the bigger picture in mind at all times and not exclude parts of your life while you’re on that part of the journey.

The other thing I was reminded about was how important it is to dream throughout our lives. We can get so wrapped up in things that we forget what it’s like to have passion and dreams. I’m not (just) talking pipe dreams and dreams of retiring to our own private island, I’m talking about the realistic ones like being in a long-term happy and healthy relationship or raising kids or making a difference in the world in a way that’s personal to you. The past 2 weeks have reminded me how little I’ve been dreaming and as a result I’ve started again. I’ve started reaching for that which makes me feel and that which excites me rather than just plodding through where I am.

What about you? Where is life taking you right now and are you prepared for the changes that are coming, or will they take you unawares?

“Einstein was entirely correct when he said that imagination is more important than knowledge. You are where you are today as a result of where you’ve allowed your imagination to take you. It either spirals you down to greater depths of despair or propels you upward to greater levels of success” Chris Howard

Working with God

Today I’ve got a couple verses to share with you, verses of encouragement and challenge.

Encouragement: “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”  Ephesians 3:20
God has big plans for each of us: He doesn’t create us without ability or purpose, He’s always got plans for us.   But more than just having plans for us, they’re big plans, plans bigger than we could come up with, which is kind of both awesome and intimidating at the same time.

Encouragement: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6
God doesn’t give up on people, He always has hope that they’ll turn things around, get back on track or be able to pull things through and finish what He has called them to.  He will keep working with us, guiding us, and providing for us until our mission is complete, and then He may have another one for us!

Encouragement: “The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles.” Psalm 34:17
It’s a serious question: does God hear us when we talk to Him or is it more like talking to someone on our phone without actually dialing the number (which means we don’t talk to them)?  Throughout the Bible God strives to answer this question because lots of people question whether He’s there or not.  After all, He doesn’t always take out a billboard or even send us a simple text or email confirmation to let us know that our prayers were heard or how our prayers will be addressed.  But over and over God tells us that He does indeed hear our prayers.  We just don’t always see how they’re answered, understand the answer or like the answer.

Challenge: “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?” Luke 6:46
We’ve established that God has a point for each and every one of our lives, He’ll be with us every step of the way as we work on completing them and He really truly does hear us when we pray to Him.  But what we don’t always get is that we have work to do.  God doesn’t complete the tasks for us, make us get out of bed each day, or make us say our prayers, that’s up to us.  We have to take the initiative to follow through on what He has called us to do.

So this week I challenge you to look at what God has called you to and what you’ve been ignoring or slacking on.  God is after a partnership with each of us, not a one sided speech or lesson.  We’ve got work to do, are you doing it?