Start With One

I’m not certain that it’s always blindness that keeps us from seeing the problems around us every day. To an extent, it’s apathy. Or a desperate feeling of hopelessness to affect the situation, so we do nothing. Whatever the reason, doing nothing when we should do something is as bad as ignoring or turning a blind eye to the injustices around us.

It is easy to throw up our hands in defeat. “That giant is to big. You’ll never defeat him.” It’s easier to drive past the man with the sign. We look the other way, pretending to be preoccupied, hoping he doesn’t make eye contact so we won’t feel obliged to give him the change in our cup holder.

We have all been in that situation. It’s easier to look away. If we don’t, we may give empathy an opportunity to change our perspective.

I often see strangers I pass on the street or in a store and wonder, “What’s their story? What brought them to this moment in their lives? How are they coping with life’s trials?” So many times I walk past that person with a scowl on their face, avoiding any form of engagement for fear I might make them angrier. But maybe, in their moment, they need to hear a kind word or be greeted with a comforting smile.

I’m not presuming to tell you that you should go out into the mall and attempt to solve all the problems of each person you see by a simple smile or a hello. I’m not saying that you should give money to every person you pass on a street corner. I’m not even saying you have to reach out to that neighbor that no one knows who seems to have isolated themselves from the community around them.

I’m simply saying start with one.

One smile. One hello. One moment to get past the snap judgement that the person on the corner is a lazy alcoholic. Try to understand that there is a person there that needs to feel loved and cared for, just like you. Don’t rush out the door with your cape, ready to cure all societies ills in one fell swoop. Edna warned us about capes. They drag us down, choking the very life out of us because we can’t possibly bear all that extra weight. But we can help one or two carry their load.

Look past the differences you see and find the things that make us alike. Even if you have to start with the basic principles of food, oxygen, and water, start somewhere. Because we all need those basic essentials to live. And we all need love. We need each other.IMG_8127

The Lie of Tolerance

There is a terrible word floating around in our society: tolerance.

Now before you starting arguing that I am a bigot, hear me out. Tolerance is teaching people to accept everyone regardless of their differences. It inspires people to accept everyone by the method of keeping their opinion hidden. That changes nothing!

True change means we set aside our differences and respect our similarities. Find our common ground and build relationship from there. One person at a time….

The idea that a nation of 300 million plus suddenly will overcome years of wrongs done to any specific people group or perceived by any specific people group by simply tolerating each other? Ridiculous and asinine!

This will take the courageous among us actually standing up to intolerance. By the way, the opposite of intolerance is not tolerance, as the world would have you believe. Intolerance is motivated by fear. The opposite of fear is… LOVE. That is why, when someone courageous, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stands and says, “I have a dream today, that all God’s children could say free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty we are free at last!” that he is silenced by the hatred and fear of intolerant people.

King is one example of many who allowed courage to push them to make a stand for what is right. I am the color I am because I was born to parents who lacked pigmentation in their skin. You are the color you are because of the region of the world where your family originated. There are many reasons for this but the prevailing scientific explanation points to proximity to the equator and the amount of hair you have on your body.

Hair keeps you warmer in colder climates. Colder climates have less intense exposure to sunlight. Intense exposure to sunlight causes the human body to adapt through melanin, the element that adds color to the skin as a means of protection from sunlight.

We are all part of the human race. We all need to love, united against hatred and intolerance. We need to be willing to hear opposing viewpoints without judgement through the eyes of love, not the learned hatred that consumes so many. Tolerating something or someone only encourages me to lie, to myself, the individual in question, and the world around me. I want to appear to be a person of great acceptance so I tolerate all those who I disagree with publicly while inside I still harbor the secret hatred that causes judgement based on something so insignificant as a difference of opinion or skin color.

How do we overcome years of hatred? Not by glamorizing the problem for the profit of the mega rich media. Individuals stand on the commonality of all God’s creation. We truly seek to find common ground and build strong relationship individually from that position. Common ground is strong! It can hold against the weight of oppression, against the storms of extremism, and against the aggression of violent bigotry. We will not change everyone, but we must try. We must love blindly.

It is our humanity that is under attack by the extreme segments of our society. Will we stand back and watch as a few try to change the many, encouraging the whole to embrace ideology motivated by hatred? We are better than that. Love is greater than any force anyone can bring against you. Don’t match hatred for hatred. Two wrongs most definitely do not make a right. Stand on love. It is patient, kind, not boasting of self… completely the opposite of the ideologies the news is exacerbating through glamorization solely for their profit but completely at our expense. Stand for what is right. Stand for love.IMG_8007.JPG

Trust in the Hard Times

hardships-quote

Trusting God in every aspect of life should not be hard. After all, He did create everything. He has an intimate knowledge of the most minute details from the very simple to the complex. He certainly knows how it all works together better than we do. Trusting God should be easy, but it is difficult.

Human beings like to be in control. We like to believe we have prepared for every situation and circumstance life brings. But people let us down. We struggle to trust. We fear the next bit of bad news. The ring of the telephone inspires feelings of dread and apprehension. Depression consumes so many, both the nonbeliever as well as the believer.

Christians are supposed to have the answers. They are supposed to be strong and full of faith. Yet fear, depression, and anxiety are found throughout society, even within the local church: from the congregation to the pulpit. Pastors regularly find themselves battling fear of failure, overwhelming anxiety, and depression.

We as believers have adopted an appearance that all is well. We hide the truth from others for fear our weaknesses will be exposed, or worse yet, manipulated and gossiped about throughout the congregation. The Church is supposed to be a place of safety but, all too often, breeches of confidence and trust turn people inward rather than toward the model the Bible teaches. We fear “bearing each others’ burdens,” or allowing others to bear our own because we have been hurt.

It is only natural that we would transfer that hurt to God. After all, He created us. Logically, in some way, we think He must be like us. But in reality, mankind is created in His image though we commonly fall short of God’s character. Our need for acceptance and approval make it hard to trust because we know who we are. We work so hard to hide it from our brothers and sisters, hoping to avoid the pain of being the latest fodder at the gossip mill, that we deceive ourselves into believing we can hide it from God.

But we can not hide who we are from Him. Accepting that fact is incredibly difficult and amazingly freeing for the spiritual well-being of a believer. We can not hide our true selves from Him and yet, He loves us with a perfect love. That is inconceivable to us because no matter how righteous we believe ourselves to be, we all struggle with the concept of unconditional love. As long as believers attribute the characteristics of man to God rather than man becoming more like Him – adopting His character – we will struggle to embrace the safety that comes when we fully embrace the love of Christ. But it is that love that conquers fear.

People will fail because they are people. They have the same fears that we struggle so hard to keep hidden. But God is not a man that He should lie. God is truth. God is love! Trust in that. Trust in Him and give control to the one who has your best interest at heart.

Power of the People

The idea that one person hundreds, if not thousands, of miles from the majority of Americans can change the nation more effectively than the millions of individuals that make up the constituency, is ludicrous. Yes, a president has a great deal of power to influence the course of a nation. However, the power is still with the people.

We, the American people, have the power to greatly influence and change the course of the nation. When an individual takes responsibility to affect positive change in their community, the course of the nation is impacted. Change happens one community, one relationship at a time. Power lies with the populace if that populace seizes the opportunity to bring change to the communities of which they are a part.

Waiting for the government to bring about change that improves a person’s quality of life is like playing the lottery as a retirement plan. An individual is still the best person to represent that individual’s best interest. The individual who gives responsibility for their future over to elected officials will be disappointed.

If all Americans would do what they can to make an impact within their area of influence, the people would take back the power that has been given to those who can easily be swayed by the interest of a select few. Find an opportunity to improve the life of someone in your community. Be the change our nation so desperately needs. Stop waiting for an elected government to solve the problems within your community. Take initiative and change what you can. Be engaged. Make a difference.

ACT!

Do you know where you’re headed? Do you have a plan to get there? You’ll never reach your destination if you don’t take the first step!

Everything we attempt in life requires planning. No matter your age, a plan is necessary to achieve whatever goal you set. Maybe your goal is to write a book or to be a better parent. The only way to reach that goal is to strategically plan a course to accomplish the desired result. You have to begin to begin. Take a small step forward today. Don’t wait until tomorrow. The things we plan to start tomorrow become the regrets we face later in life.

Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” What is the first step? Write out a goal and then, ACT on it. Planning is pointless without action to put the plan in motion. Don’t bury the plan hoping that it will happen “in time.” ACT! That single action puts things in motion.

Author Katherine Anne Porter said, “I am appalled at the aimlessness of most people’s lives. Fifty percent don’t pay any attention to where they are going; forty percent are undecided and will go in any direction. Only ten percent know what they want, and even all of them don’t go toward it.” Most people get caught up in the busyness of life. They feel helpless to change their situation so they drudge ahead through the same routine without hope of accomplishing the things about which they used to be most passionate.

The person who aspires to write a book will only dream about it until they take pen to paper and begin to write. (Or put hands to the keyboard!) Many people never start toward a goal because they don’t know where to begin. One sentence on paper is closer than an entire book written in the mind. The idea is to begin. Start writing. It may never go any further but it is necessary to achieve the goal.

The parent who struggles with their child desires a strong relationship throughout their child’s life. It takes time to build the foundation for that strong relationship. So look at your calendar and plan time now!  Intentional time is more valuable than passive time. A child, from birth throughout college and beyond needs a parent to focus on and encourage them. Focused activity doesn’t just happen! It requires a plan and then setting that plan into action.

Goals are necessary to achieve a desired result in every area of life, be it relationships, dreams, or career aspirations. If you aren’t planning to achieve the next goal and putting action to the plan, you will not arrive at the desired result.  An object at rest stays at rest, but even the slightest motion has the power to bring great change. Once it has begun, it is nearly impossible to stop. God’s plan for your life requires your action.

Pray, plan, and act upon that plan. That is the only way to get to the destination!

Walls

“You are confined only by the walls you build yourself.”
Andrew Murphy
 
If there is anything we as people are good, even great at, it’s building a wall. Maybe not the standard stick and mortar walls that give us shelter from the elements, I mean proverbial walls that we create to give shelter from the pain that life can bring.
 
The problem with those walls is the illusion of security they bring. Truth is, they do more to trap than to secure. And while you’re trapped those same hurts that bond the blocks of your wall together begin to consume you with a toxic outlook on life and the people around you.
 
Look, you will be hurt from time to time in this life. It’s a part of the refining process. Some hurts sting more than others, generally those are the ones that hit closest to the mark, those secret things we hold on to hoping to fool the people around us. Some hurts are just petty attempts by someone else trying to feel better about themselves by holding you down. It’s sad. The same physical walls that provide safety can become the mental walls that prevent life from being lived.
 
I’ve trapped a few animals in live cages. They never seem happy about it. In fact, they show signs of panic and aggression similar to people who have placed themselves in similar cages. The only difference is I trapped the animals to move them to a safer place where they might be able to live a long happy life away from the dangers of fast cars and city streets. Those people willing went into the cage to prevent others from coming in.
 
The animal desperately wants out. The human willingly hides inside, hoping the walls will protect them from the hurts that drove them to be trapped in the first place. But they brought the existing pains that haven’t been dealt with into the trap with them. They dwell on them from inside their confines, further trapping themselves in the illusion that they are safe. They trade happiness and joy for the false hope that life will never hurt them again.
 
It will. Life is filled with moments, some happy, some sad. You only experience the good in life if you’re willing to risk the pain of the bad. Locking yourself away won’t protect you from the pain, it confines you with no hope of overcoming the hurts that sent you inside the walls in the first place.
 
Choosing to avoid life because you might get hurt only avoids life, the pain is still there. Don’t allow the hurts of you past to prevent you from living the life you want and were meant to live.

Empowering your Teen

As parents the desire to protect our children is often deep-seated and can consume the relationship. We don’t want to be overbearing, but we don’t want to see them go through pain we believe might be avoided due to our experience. Finding balance is tough. We often struggle with the question, “Do I step in or should I let them learn this lesson on their own?”

Something happens as we assume the responsibility of parenthood. We remember the pain of our mistakes but tend to forget the frustration we felt when our own parents would step in and try to stop us from making a poor choice. It’s an interesting cycle. We don’t want them to hurt so we try to assert our parental authority to avoid the pain of a bad decision or the hurt of rejection, but sometimes the hurt is a necessary part of growth.

I would love to say that life can be lived without pain or grief but that contradicts the teaching of Christ. When He promised, “In this life you will have trouble,” He didn’t say, “until you come to me and I will make it all easy,” or, “your parents will make all your choices for you so you never make a bad one.” No, He said, “Take heart! I have overcome the world.”

In other words, He had experienced life and come through it. He sets the perfect example of how to parent without being overbearing or smothering. He brings us comfort.

As parents, we need to offer wisdom, but we can’t make their decisions for them. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will mot depart from it.” It’s so important that we live a consistent example in front of our children, regardless of their age. Our example will set a foundation in their life that they will default to when making difficult decisions. The path God has set for them may require a different set of instructions than our own. It may be different than the road we think is best for them.

As parents, we have the power to encourage a child to pursue their passions or derail them from the call God has for them. If we equip our children to succeed, there is no limit to their potential. Whether they end up in the place we hoped or something beyond our wildest expectations, they will always remember the support you gave and appreciate your belief in who God created them to be.

It’s a difficult course of action because we want to help them avoid pain. We may even feel guilty for inaction. Pray! God will tell you when you need to move and when you need to let them grow. Trust the love of Christ to guide them even when you aren’t there to catch them when they fall.

Back to Balance

Back to school is upon us. If your family is anything like ours, this time of year is a mix of relief because the kids have something to do and frustration because of the little unexpected extras a new school year brings. New fees, meetings with teachers, and practice schedules can play havoc with the family calendar. How do you find balance between school, work schedules (if your kids are older), extracurricular activities, and church, let alone time with family? It can be incredibly overwhelming!

Typically, the two things that suffer the most are time with family and church. Finding balance can be so difficult! If we aren’t intentional with our time, we find ourselves quickly becoming enslaved by the calendar. Waiting to get settled into a routine doesn’t work because routines tend to change so quickly. Before we realize it, the holiday season approaches and we are asking ourselves where the time has gone.

When we get caught living for tomorrow, today passes by quickly. We miss the moments where relationship could be built because the schedule demands we live life in fast forward, speeding from one event to the next. The modern family rarely eats a meal together that isn’t from a sack. It’s enough to make you want to pull your hair out while screaming, “No, I don’t want an apple pie with that! I want time to get to know my family better. You got any of that?”

Relax! Take a deep breath and let go of the clown’s throat. You can get through this school year with your family intact. All it takes is a little discipline and some planning! The hardest part is sticking to the plan when we so desperately want to hit the easy button.

Intentionality is crucial for a family in the hectic pace of society. Make a point of sitting at the table and eating a meal together, apart from electronic distractions. Take a few minutes to talk about their dreams and hopes. It doesn’t have to be an hour to make an impact. Fifteen minutes each day can build a solid relationship between parent and child. Make the moments you have each day count.

Planning out your mealtimes helps but you have to avoid the temptation to take the easy way out. Try a weekly menu and make it fun! Go for a walk together as a family. Once you establish a habit it’s so much easier to maintain. So make a plan and stick with it. Yes, it is hard, but remember what David said. “I will give the Lord nothing which costs me nothing.”

The Touch of a Father: Connecting with Your Teenage Daughter

f you are the father of a teenage girl, you have been entrusted with a great responsibility. It can be daunting. It’s not unusual to feel inadequate for the task. You may feel you have nothing to offer your little girl turned young woman.

In a dad’s eyes, she will always be a little girl. The idea that she will grow and become a young women is incomprehensible. We hold on to that image of our daughter in a beautiful new dress twirling for daddy’s approval. Our opinion mattered. We hugged and wrestled with her, building a relationship that engendered trust and a feeling of safety.

Then something happens beyond our control. Adolescence brings changes to our little girl that make sustaining the relationship downright awkward. She is becoming a young woman both inside and out. We don’t know exactly how to touch them without making them uncomfortable. Often, we withdraw at this formative time in a young woman’s life and defer to their mother’s wisdom. After all, she has an understanding of what our little girl is going through that, as a father, we can’t match.

We wonder why so many young Christian women find themselves in failing relationships. They know God’s plan for marriage and raising a family but they find themselves in compromising situations. These often lead to teenage pregnancy, increased school attrition rate, and a higher prevalence of depression.

There is a connection between a father’s feeling of inadequacy and a teenage daughter’s need to find love and acceptance. They need the touch of a father. The safety they became accustomed to is vital at this stage. Dads assume they know this is still there for them, but daughters often assume it is no longer available because Dad has withdraw.

In the space of a few months to a year, we go from wrestling and hugging each other with abandon to uncomfortable side hugs and strained communication. She questions what has changed and even looks at her body as unacceptable in her father’s eyes. She looks for acceptance else where and often finds it.

Fathers have to take the lead in this situation. Her opinion of self is based highly on her perception of your approval. Her ability to trust, love, and set strong, healthy relationship patterns is based on her relationship with you. It’s equally awkward to your daughter and she may reject you for a time, but pursue her. Show her she is worth fighting for. Make a point to hug her each day. Write her a note each week. Take her on a date monthly. It will establish a foundation for the love of her heavenly Father to grow and take her to places she wouldn’t dare dream. All from the touch of a loving father.

Selfless Service

Remember full service gas stations? When I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, they had begun to disappear. Those that were still operating had lost a great deal of the romantic novelty of the 50’s and 60’s versions where a crew of uniformed attendants would swarm over your automobile performing basic service like checking tire pressure and fluid levels while filling your gas tank. Instead a single person, typically a man in some sort of coveralls with their name stitched on their left chest pocket, would come out of the station, smoking a cigarette, and ask, “Regular or unleaded?” Then they would place the appropriate nozzle in the gas fill, and while wiping their hands on a faded red rag, they would indifferently ask, “How much you want?”

Chances are you won’t find that kind of service anymore unless you’re out in the more rural areas of our country. The desire to serve has been replaced by a mindset that gives just enough to keep us coming back because of a need that can’t be met anywhere else. Most of us would drive halfway across town at the thought we might save a couple of cents on a gallon of gas oblivious to the fact that we nullified our savings by driving there in the first place. It placates some part of us that wants as much as we can get for as little effort as possible.

For the vast majority of people today, that mindset is the way of life. Gone are the days when people would drive across town to help a friend in need simply because their friend needed a hand. Chances are if it doesn’t benefit the individual doing the giving in some way, they probably won’t give at all. When someone offers us something purely out of a desire to serve someone, we look at them and think, What’s the catch? We secretly keep score and dread the idea of accepting something from someone else out of a self-imposed obligation to the person who gave selflessly. How ridiculous is that?

I long for the days when people would go out of their way to do something for someone simply because they wanted to be bless that person. Selflessly sacrificing their time and energy to show love to someone in need is a prescription our society needs administered, stat! Our motivation for serving others is revealed when we hold what we’ve done over the heads of those we’ve helped. If we could simply take hold of the ideals set by this verse found in the book of John, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

A noble thought, right? But it’s about so much more than a willingness to die for your friend. The very notion of “lay down one’s life” speaks to the idea of placing the needs of others before self, or serving with no thought of gain. Another verse comes to mind, “The greatest among you must be a servant.”

In the book Three Feet from Gold, the author sought audience with the most successful people in our nations to ask them what lead to their achievement. He was astonished to find that those at the top had an attitude of service for those they encountered daily. In nearly every exchange, he was greeted with the question, “How may I serve you?” It brings to mind another bit of wisdom, “To whom much is given, much is required.”

But the term servant has such a negative connotation in society. We would prefer to be served. We deserve it. We’ve worked hard for what we have and want to enjoy it. What if, hypothetically, the next time your server came to your table you stood, offered them your chair, and proceeded to give them a glass of water? Ridiculous? How much better would the world be if we all sought out opportunities to serve rather than judging the poor service of those around us? After all, it’s better to give than to receive. And better still to give motivated by love without expectation of return, simply because you care and you can.