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!

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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.

A Smile That Isn’t

No doubt about it! A smile livens up the room! There are so many kinds of smiles from cheesy to roguish. It says something about the person. In fact, we assume that the person wearing the smile feels like this: beaming, joyful, happiness, twinkle, elation.

We make a lot of assumptions based on a smile, even more when a smile is lacking. The problem with those assumptions is often the person who’s always smiling is doing it to hide a deeper pain. We use our smiles like women use makeup. We cover up our true selves in an effort to put forth something more attractive to the world around us. 

Don’t get me wrong, smiles are great, but they are more than the way we hold our mouth. Smiles should be felt. They should rise up from a place deep inside. A smile should be the outward reflection of our inside condition. Regardless of how goofy it might look, then it’s a true testimony to the joy you feel.

Think about the last time you were so moved to laugh that you couldn’t stop. I mean side-splitting laughter. It happens a lot at my house and is typically preceded by one of the family making a ridiculous declaration or some embarrassing moment that I can’t discuss here. However, the result is truly amazing. You laugh so hard, you’re moved to tears. Your entire body is consumed in the moment of good humor. And what expression adorns the face in that moment? Most definitely, a genuine smile!

Have you ever tried to laugh without smiling? I don’t think it’s possible. In fact, it would be a little disconcerting. It certainly wouldn’t be jolly.

When I was in choir, my director had a favorite saying, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” Though when a smile is forced to hide the pain it loses the sparkle. We shouldn’t just assume that the smile we see is a sign that everything is well with the bearer. Look beyond the smile to see the real person. It may be a distress signal. It might be camouflage for the world around the person. It might be, deep inside, the person is fighting to make it in this life.

Go beyond the smile to see the real person underneath. Don’t make assumptions because of what you see. A person is more than what the exterior shows. It’s what’s on the inside that truly tells the story of the people we see everyday. Go deeper. Make an investment in the world around you! Smile more, but smile for the right reasons! There is so much in this life to smile about and a true smile comes from joy felt inside.

The Hope of the Prey

The human capacity to do hurtful things is unimaginable. People take advantage of others in their most vulnerable state. It saddens me to know that no one is off limits, in fact, those who deserve a certain respect seem most often to be the target of societies predators.

I have seen a number of things through the opportunities I have been given that make me incredibly proud to call myself a part of this human race. I have also seen things that bring me a great deal of pause. I question the morality of those who would take advantage of a child or the elderly amidst tragic moments in life. Not just the morality, but their humanity.

I feel we all have a moral responsibility to watch out for the weak among us but some, who live by a different code than I do, see them as opportunity for personal gain. I feel a sense of outrage when I hear of an elderly widow taken advantage of by a group of people who meant nothing but harm through their own personal gain. That people would take advantage of others in the midst of disaster or personal loss and tragedy is sickening.

I ask this question, “How would they feel if it were their mom, dad or child being mistreated?” The sad answer is, they probably wouldn’t care or their outrage wouldn’t move them to action, only remorse that they hadn’t acted quicker on their own behalf.

The elder population should be cherished for their experience and wisdom, not targeted to make an easy dollar. Our children are our hope for the future and they shouldn’t be exploited, they should be encouraged to become something greater than even the child could dream!

Unfortunately, throughout history, there have been those who lacked the moral fortitude to stand on principle. None of us are perfect, but most have an imprint deep inside them that guides their conduct. Be it a conscious or a moral absolute, we all have deeply ingrained ideals for what is societally acceptable. Some of us chose to ignore the leading of that still small voice, but it still exists.

Whether it be a natural disaster or the loss of a loved one, there are those moments in the lives of those around when they need us to be morally strong. They need us to make the right decisions in moments when they are weakened by circumstance. Those moments bring out the best in most people and the worst in others.

I’ve seen it countless times while serving as a pastor. Some people only care about what they can get out of those around them. I pray for them because that’s a sad way to view the wonderful people we encounter each day. Better that we think of what we can do to serve those around us. Let their experience mold us as we mold those who look to us for answers. Not to be cheesy, but a circle of life kind of thing. Not for us to prey on each other, but to pray for the best in the lives of those who cross our path.

There is a hope for the future! It’s you and I, standing in the midst of human depravity and bringing a message of encouragement to that person who has been steamrolled by life. Instead of sitting back and questioning, “What can I do, I’m weak or poor or whatever,” charge forward, arms outstretched and stand alongside those who have no one. Be that one! We can make a difference if we determine in our hearts to not stand back and hold what’s most important to us close and forget about the world around us.

Imagine if each one made a moral stand when they saw those society calls weak being preyed upon. I saw the result in Pensacola! It was beautiful and hope was given to people who had none. Ultimately, isn’t that what we are called to do? It’s doesn’t require that you be financially secure or the strongest or the wisest, it requires your willingness to be a servant to the world around you. You are the hope of the prey.

Iron Out the Wrinkles

There is something relaxing about ironing. Now I’m sure the professional ironer might disagree, but I find it soothing. You take this wrinkled piece of fabric and with little effort you make it smooth, even crisp if you add starch.

 

I know some of you may think I’ve lost my mind, but I haven’t. It’s a peaceful process. Sometimes I wish life were as easy as ironing the wrinkles from a pair of slacks or a nice shirt. Unfortunately, life’s wrinkles are more complex. At least I wouldn’t advise trying to iron them away… not in the conventional sense. You might burn yourself! Still, wouldn’t it be awesome to simply press the steam button to smooth out those stubborn, wrinkly moments?

 

I used to laugh at people who spent so much time ironing. I do a lot of physical activity and I wear a lot of t-shirts. It never made sense to me to iron out the wrinkles. I thought it was a waste of time! Forget about ironing my jeans, gheesh! My wife would look at what I’d put on and say things like, “That could really use ironing,” but I’d just laugh. It didn’t matter to me! If a shirt was really bad, I’d throw it in the dryer with a damp towel for 10 minutes. Sort of a cheater’s way to loosen the wrinkles, but they were still there, just not as noticeable.

 

It really was quite silly that I would go to such extremes to avoid ironing. I have even thrown clothes that were clean back in the wash because they were too wrinkled to deal with! I realize how absurd this must sound, but it was as though I thought ironing made me a little less tough. Like the wrinkles in my clothes were the mark of hard work and determination when really, I just looked sloppy.

 

It may seem like a strange comparison, ironing a t-shirt and struggles in life, but really, they are quite similar. It was my pride that kept me from ironing the wrinkles in my clothes but it translated to a lack of concern for my appearance to those around me. We often hide our struggles in much the same way. Because of our pride, we put on the appearance that all is well. We wear a false smile and resist asking people for the very thing that’s needed, good ironing.

 

Iron sharpens iron but our pride keeps us dull. We need to iron out the wrinkles! Instead of holding onto our struggles for fear someone will discover our weaknesses (which is another, very destructive form of pride), we need to find someone we can trust to help us through the process. Then, we need to return the favor. Accountability isn’t supposed to be hard and uncomfortable! We all need people around us who can help keep us sharp. We need to be able to accept their help without being offended by what they say to us.

 

Love often requires the difficult situations to be addressed head on, but we often avoid them for comfort’s sake. It would be like a bride or groom dressing in sweats and a wrinkled t-shirt because they couldn’t be bothered to present their best on the wedding day! I’m sure it’s happened, but what does it really say? I love you, but I don’t want to be uncomfortable, so I didn’t try.

 

Real love doesn’t avoid uncomfortable situations because it is understood that the discomfort only lasts for a short time. After the discomfort of being sharpened, we are stronger than before and ready to cut through the trials that come! That’s hard to do when we aren’t sharp because we refuse to let the wrinkles be ironed out in favor of comfort. In fact, it’s impossible.

 

Have you found someone to help you smooth out the wrinkles in your life? If you haven’t, you really need to! Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and trust someone with your struggles. You might discover that they needed someone to help them iron things out too!

Stuck On Repeat

Sometimes I think my children are intentionally trying to drive me crazy. I mean it! Some of the things they do lack reason… there is little logic in their thinking! They remember movie plots, song lyrics and the books they read but they can’t remember to do their chores. And regardless of the school test results, I think they may be hard of hearing.

Unless it’s something they want to hear. It amazes me the minute details they recall from trivial conversations and yet, they can’t remember what you asked them to do an hour ago. Let someone reveal an embarrassing story from mom or dad’s past and it’s sure to be remembered forever the first time they hear it. Tell them to put their shoes away while standing right next to them 3 times in 30 minutes and chances are they won’t remember if they hear you at all.

Sometimes I think it would be easier if there were cameras everywhere recording every moment of our interaction. If something is forgotten, simply go back to that moment and retrieve the information. Sure, it would be awkward at first but not nearly as awkward as repeating everything you ask them to do 52 times and still they forget.

I remember when I was a child. It seems like yesterday (don’t even say it). I know how easy it is to get distracted and I had my share of forgetful moments. I would sit down to watch a few minutes of TV and before I knew it, my parents were pulling into the neighborhood and I hadn’t done anything I was supposed to do before they got home. There I was, setting world records and personal best times in events like synchronized sweeping and dusting or the dirty clothes stuff. I could clean house in 30 minutes flat, quicker if I was under pressure of losing some privilege I enjoyed.

No matter how good I got at the speed clean, I always ended up forgetting something and it apparently was the one thing that really mattered because none of the other things I had done were mentioned. Only what I had forgotten or didn’t hear that I was to do. If they had only told me that switching the clothes around was more important than straightening the living room, sweeping, dusting and dishes, I’d have done that and left the other stuff for another time.

I guess my kids come by it naturally. My wife would probably tell you that I still tend to forget things on occasion, but, in my defense, she does tend to ask when I’m half asleep. Bottom line, you just have to accept that you’re gonna be doing some repeating in this life and that’s okay. Yes, it’s irritating and can make your right eye start twitching ever so slightly, but think back to all the things that had to be repeated before you got the message. It’s part of the human condition and it always will be.

I know that, in my life, I’m thankful for those who have had the patience to repeat themselves to me. I wouldn’t be who I am today without their investment. I’m also thankful for a loving Savior who, though He’s already told me all I need to know, will take me aside and lovingly repeat himself until I get it. He’s had to repeat Himself a lot.

You know, He’s probably laughing when I look at my kids and say things like, “I told you that already! Don’t you ever listen?” or “We’ve been over this a hundred times! Pay attention!” Remember that the next time you’re ready to pull out your hair because your kids are getting on your last nerve. Somewhere in your past, someone repeated themselves over and over again before you got it. Listen to yourself from time to time and ask yourself, “Does this need repeating?” Sometimes it’s what we repeat that’s the problem. I’m thankful all those people who have repeatedly told me they love me and those who have prayed for me time and time again. It’s taken some time, but I’m getting it! Thanks!