Where Do We Start?

I’m not the type of person to really watch or listen to the news but I do check in and skim headlines each day so I’m at least somewhat aware of what goes on in the world. There’s been a lot of hate in the news of late, and to an extent you can understand some of it: there are people around the world who suffer greatly and as a result of their suffering they believe that the only way to deal with it is to obliterate anyone in their path to showing the world who they are and making a statement about how hurt they are, even if they won’t admit it that that’s why they’re doing it. Too many people hide their pain behind bitterness, nastiness, brutality, humor and sarcasm, or just plain hide.

I can’t imagine how God felt after the Garden of Eden incident when He knew that there would be so much pain and suffering in the world; knowing that we would suffer so much as a result. The worst part was probably knowing that most of our suffering and pain to the degree that we experience it is because we’re too stubborn to get help, to be vulnerable and admit that we’re not perfect, that we have our failures and weaknesses, and because we can’t accept that it’s OK to fail or be imperfect.

In some ways it’s totally understandable that we don’t want to admit our vulnerabilities to others, that we don’t want to be honest about how we feel deep inside because we’ve been hurt or seen others experience the wrath, laughter, criticism and hate for not measuring up to other people’s expectations, unrealistic or not. It makes us question our relationships, question people’s motives, curb or go overboard in our thoughts, actions and reactions, and not choose to fulfill our potential.

There are lots of reasons to doubt and question other people, and we think that we’ve got some good reasons to question God as well. We think that because God hasn’t responded to our call immediately that He’s busy or doesn’t care, and when it’s been long enough we think that He’s forgotten about us or what we shared with Him about or that He doesn’t want us to have good things in our lives. But I think we’ve forgotten who God is.

Ecclesiastes 11:4 says “But there are some things that you cannot be sure of. You must take a chance. If you wait for perfect weather, you will never plant your seeds. If you are afraid that every cloud will bring rain, you will never harvest your crops.”

The thing about people and God and our lives after Eden is that we have to be willing to take chances if we really want to live. We have to take a chance in trusting God and opening up to other people and asking for help, not just complaining. We have to believe, and even more than that know, that God cares for us and that not only is God interested and cares about us, but He cares about other people too, and He wants us to as well. We need to take the chance that God really does have a plan for our lives and to be open to God’s creative purposes and plans for us, and not box ourselves up before we have a chance to explore the potential He placed inside of us. We need to accept God and the person He has created us to be, and the people He has created and placed around us. We need to be honest with God and with ourselves and with each other. And we need to make sure that we honor each other with the respect and knowledge that God created each of us so each of us deserves to be treated as such.

Reality Reflection: Focusing on the Real Issue

This week I was visiting the Facebook page of an author I enjoy and saw that their PR person (and friend) had posted an update sharing a little on the health issues the author has had, explaining some of the delays to books being published or written and had some choice words for the people who leave negative comments about how long it takes for books to get done or why the author hasn’t written books they’ve been promising for years.

I know it’s not easy to be disappointed and to wait for things that you’re looking forward to, but no one actually schedules into their life getting sick, divorces, job loss, flat tires or rebellious kids (or any of the other things that pop up into our lives).  I also understand the interest in and need for schedules and deadlines, it’s an important way to make sure things in life (including work) keep moving forward.  But when you’re more concerned by the work than your own health or the health of someone else, I get worried.

I personally love to read, and of course I’m a little sad when I hear that it’s going to be another 6 months or year until one of my favorite authors is coming out with a new book, not to mention how bad I feel for the author and all they’re going through.  But one, I’d rather know the author will write again, than that they’re dead or done writing.  Second, there are so many authors out there in every genre to read that to say you’ve only got one author you read and be completely dependent on them for books is pretty silly.  Finally, if you’re so worked up over the fact that a fiction book isn’t being published or written yet that you have to leave nasty comments, I would have serious questions about your attitude towards life and about what goes on in your life.

But this is about more than just one author or one book, it’s about how we treat each other.  What gives you the right to bash on someone else?  It’s one thing to give feedback to someone or a company in a private manner, it’s another to tell the whole world how they’ve failed you and how pissed you are.  There are a few situations when that’s appropriate, but that’s not the typical case.  There’s also a difference between helping someone move on from a person or situation in their life and being rude and nasty about how stuck they’ve gotten and how stupid you think they’re being.  I know it can be a difficult line to find and not cross, especially in this very public world that we live in, but my encouragement to you would be to take a step back before you offer criticism or say what you’re thinking before you think about it.

I encourage you to choose words that will help, encourage and support this week, and look to build up your relationships, not destroy them.

Reality Reflection: At An End

This week I got the news that a family friend is getting very close to the end of his journey.  He’s had medical problems for years and things have worsened and now he and his wife are working with hospice.  The man has always had a great sense of humor, is good to his friends, loves his wife, and has really endured through serious medical issues in a positive way that you don’t often see.  He’s not perfect, none of us are, and I’m sure that he’s had his moments of anger and frustration, as well as fear and sadness, especially at this point in time.

It’s not easy to know the end is very close, whether it’s your life or that of someone you know well, especially when they’re one of those ‘good people.’  No, it’s not good to wish anyone were dead or think it’s better to lose someone who has some not so great habits (everyone has a family and a mother), but when the world loses a bright soul it seems like it’s felt even more.  What would you do if you knew that your end was near?  I would hope that you would take advantage of every moment you have with those you love, and maybe even do a splurge or two that you’ve always wanted, like take a special trip with your partner or kids, maybe even take the opportunity to try and mend a few fences.

As I was reflecting on the impending loss of this friend it got me thinking about the other side of death and loss, the side of the living.   We don’t go anywhere when someone we know or love dies, we’re still here.  And often we end up at a funeral or life celebration talking about them with other friends and family.  It’s not often that we’ve got the opportunity to let someone know what they meant to us and how thankful we are that they’ve been in our life before they pass.  It adds something to the grieving process for both sides, to be able to share that with them and support and love them, and it can make their last days very meaningful and happy, instead of painful and sad.

Loss is never easy, especially when it’s someone we’ve known for a very long time, and known on a very personal level.  But the way things work right now, everything comes to an end.  So I do encourage you to take a little time to reflect on how you want your end to go and make sure that you’ve got things clearly written down, but more so I encourage you to make as many memories as you can, to love as big as you can and to enjoy as much of life as you can.

Supporting Each Other

This week I’ve been thinking again about my place in this world, and yours too. It’s challenged me to really consider who I am, what I’m good at, why I’m here and how my imperfections work into all of it.  If you can’t admit that you struggled with something this week, shame on you.  Unless you buried your head in the sand for the whole week, I know that you’ve been challenged by something this week.  I’ve really been challenged by how much I can’t do.  I’m OK with it, but at the same time, not being able to excel at everything gets to me occasionally.  If I’ve had a particularly bad day lists of my faults and failures can parade through my mind without my permission.   Maybe you’ve dealt with some of these insecurities too.

These struggles really reminded me why it’s so important that we let others in our lives, that we not try to get through this life alone, that we make the effort to build relationships and support those we come in contact with.  Often it’s those relationships and those other people that challenge us the most, but they also make life the most rewarding.  So how do we get past the challenges and let others into our lives, let others take control in areas that we’re not so strong or capable in and they are?

First, I think we have to be humble and admit that we aren’t alone in the world and need others. It’s not easy to admit that you have weaknesses, especially if you have an image with someone.  But opening up and admitting that you’re not perfect creates an opportunity for you to grow a deeper relationship with them.

Second, Galatians 5:22 says “But the fruit that the Spirit produces in a person’s life is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.”  When we choose to enter into relationships, and sustain relationships, with the fruit of the spirit, not only will we pave the way for a satisfying relationship on our end, the other person will benefit too.

Finally, find the point of reference, point of unity, or common ground you two have.  Everyone has something in common.  It may take a while to discover it, but it’s there.  For many people, a common point of interest is faith, especially faith in Christ.

Our relationships should make us stronger because they force us to work together, make us learn how to work together, and to learn how to communicate what we need and want.  This week I encourage you to be honest with yourself and the people who matter most to you in life about what’s going on in your life, where you stand and what you need.  Most people would be thrilled to step up to the plate for you and give you a hand if you would just ask.

Reality Reflection: Winners and Losers

Tuesday this week in the US was election day.  When people woke up on Wednesday morning some were quite surprised with how it turned out and who won.  People were surprised for many reasons including the facts that winner has been someone who has said a lot of controversial things throughout the race and that the winner is not a traditional politician.  As with every race there has to be a winner and a loser, sometimes the underdog wins, sometimes the bad guy wins, and sometimes the winner is the one everyone thought was a shoe-in.  I’m not going to technically reflect on the result today. What I want to talk about is what we can learn from the result of the election, and there are tons of lessons regardless of which side of the very divisive fence you are on.

First and foremost I believe this is a wake-up call. If you listened to the news or lived in the US for the months and years leading up to the election you’re familiar with the unrest that is being experienced  most often as shown with shootings and between the police and minorities.  There have been countless calls for change and change has been slow moving, if it has really even happened. The reality is though that you can’t expect change to happen if you aren’t willing to do anything to change. Sometimes those changes are relatively easy like switching breads because your favorite company went out of business.  Others are much more difficult like learning how to walk again after spinal surgery or after you lost a leg.  The type of change that people have been calling for isn’t the bread type of change, it’s the learning to walk again type of change.  And as the well-known definition of insanity says: insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  (While that may work for flipping coins it doesn’t work in the situation of human life and tragedy.)

So this very real wake-up call, that the divisive non-politician would be elected, means that people are really sick of how things have been run for a very long time and are finally willing and able to step up and say so.  Maybe what we had wasn’t so bad and we were getting along OK with it, but I believe that we can do better as a people and as a country. Maybe what we need most is someone with a big set of brass balls to step up and make some changes. No one makes all good changes, but the hope is always that the majority of changes that are considered are given careful thought given to how other people will be affected by the intended result before changes are made, and that decisions aren’t made based on superficial qualities like money, skin color or sex.

The second lesson here is that there’s always a chance you’ll lose or fail.  We don’t like losing or failing especially on such a grand scale or in front of so many people, but sometimes it happens.  When the loss or failure happens it is important to take a step back and see why the loss or failure happened.  Maybe you weren’t the right person for the job, maybe you don’t have all the qualities that are needed, maybe you didn’t bring enough confidence to the table, maybe you were trying so hard to make yourself look good and fit the mold that you missed that the mold was no longer a mold, maybe you didn’t throw enough money in the ring, maybe you didn’t give it enough hours, maybe you didn’t try something new, maybe you secretly needed to fail so you could finally have a day off, maybe you needed to lose because there’s something bigger and better for you to work on, and maybe the reason you lost or failed isn’t apparent today but will be revealed years from now.

I close with a thought that I heard as part of one of the reactions to the election result: whether you agreed with the election result or not there’s nothing we can do about it now, it has been decided.  What we can do though is decide how we will live each and every day.  You still have control over the attitude you live with, the career you pursue, the people you’re in relationship with, what you do when you lose or fail, and how hard you work to accomplish your goals, dreams and purpose in life.  One leader can do a lot of good or a lot of harm, but they are only one person, just like you are only one person and I am only one person. We may not have the platform that the president has, but that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to do our part to make the world a better place, regardless of whatever hate or violence others around the world choose to try to throw around.  Don’t let a single loss or failure determine the rest of your life. Don’t stop working after a single victory.  Each day is a new opportunity to resolve to do your very best and make the very best impact on the world you can.

A Generation Cries Out

This week we have two unique opportunities for students with regards to faith: See You At The Pole on Wednesday, and The Global Week of Student Prayer which began on Sunday.  See You At The Pole has been a practice for the past 25 years and is now done in countries around the world.  This year’s theme is “We Cry Out.”  I think it’s a fitting theme for the things we’re going through as a world, and the pressures that teens are experiencing now more than ever.

Each generation has their own challenges, but thanks to social media and other various kinds of technology around the world it’s easier than ever to know about the challenges that teens today are experiencing, but it’s also made the challenges increase.  For example it’s easier to communicate a secret drug buy with all the apps and text scramblers, and it’s easier than ever to bully or talk bad about someone thanks to social media.  But with that there are also more ways than ever to make your mark on the world, even among all the other people of the world that have great skills, abilities, talents and gifts, so it’s not all bad news for this generation.

Some say that See You At The Pole is more about appearances than actual faith, and that the numbers that show up at the pole don’t reflect or support spirituality all year long among students.  While I know this can be true for some, I think it’s still an important practice, especially if done by people of year-long (and life-long) faith.  I do believe it’s important to stand up and show that you believe at events like See You At The Pole, especially if it’s a practice that stretches your personal comfort zone a bit.  If it’s done by people of faith that actively live their faith, it’s also an opportunity for those who don’t have faith but are dealing with challenges personally or at home to know which of their peers they could turn to for some support and an open ear.

So to follow this year’s theme I encourage you to speak up for those who can’t as well as those who can, speak out against the practices that are harming the world we live in and the people we share it with, and pray for the wisdom to know how to lead as we move forward into the future.  There can only be change if we choose to speak out against the wrong in the world and speak up and make change for a better future.  What’s your cry for this teen generation or even your own?

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?  Who may stand in his holy place?  The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.  They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Savior.  Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob.”  Psalm 24:3-6

It’s Simple in the Light

Last week on the Business and Family blog I spent some time talking about the concepts of simple and easy (you can read the 2 posts here: business, family).  As I was working on my weekly devotional yesterday I saw a verse that reminded me of those posts and thought I’d bring the conversation over here today.  The verse is Psalm 119:130:

“The teaching of your word gives light, so even the simple can understand.”

What I like about the verse is how it highlights what may seem like a very obvious but important factor in how simple things are: can you really see clearly enough for something to be simple.  Think about what happens when a light bulb burns out: you change it.  Sounds simple, right? But it’s much easier to change in the day time than at night because of how much easier it is to find a replacement, remove the old bulb and replace it with the new one.  Without any light it’s much more difficult to do what is a very simple task.

If you’re struggling with an emotion, with a problem at work, with a challenge with your partner, with something your kids are involved in, with your purpose or even with simpler things like making dinner or cleaning, maybe it’s time to get some light on the situation. Ask for the clarification you’ve been avoiding, schedule a time to talk with the people involved, make a plan for how you’re going to work through the darkness and get into the light.  Don’t give up because what seems so simple isn’t turning out to be simple.  Turn on some lights and see if you can see things better.