Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Many people will go on a vacation and take an empty suitcase or bag with them to hold their souvenirs. This way they have plenty of space for the things they want to bring home as part of the memory of their experience.
I encourage our mission teams to do the same thing from a mental and spiritual perspective. We come into these trips with varying expectations and levels of experience. Even though we travel together and see many of the same things, we also perceive those events very differently. Practicing the meditative thought of carrying an empty duffel bag with us gives each person the freedom to pack the piece of our shared memories they wish to keep. It can be the first sight of life on the reservation, a sweet interaction with a child, an opportunity to pray over someone, or even just a new glimpse of a piece of creation.
I can't determine what each person will pack in their bag of keepsakes. I can only encourage them to hang onto a part that has had genuine impact and to let it be a reminder of a special experience when we return to the normal pace of life.
Sunday, April 24, 2016
One of the things I've been looking forward to in Arizona was running in the morning. As much as running has now become part of who I am, I love the experience of running in new places. Even though the territory out here is familiar, it isn't the same neighborhoods and routes I am accustomed to traveling.
I enjoy the scenery when I run, but I am also focused on keeping my training goals in mind and making good time. I use a running app to track my speed and have it set to let me know my mile intervals so I can adjust my pace. When I was running yesterday, I was hitting a good stride (especially for being at 6500 feet above sea level) and crested a hill to see the sun peeking over the trees. Normally, I don't do anything to break my rhythm, but I decided I needed to stop and take a picture to capture a moment that would be gone very quickly as the sun continued to rise. I paused my running app and quickly snapped a photo before continuing on my way. It was worth the momentary stop to capture a moment.
I probably need to practice that concept more often. In the hectic pace of trying to keep moving forward and keeping up with the flow of life around me, I forget to stop and capture the simple beauty of what is happening around me. Life isn't just made up of forward progress and productivity, but it's also in the moments you stop and enjoy along the way.
Life is filled with potentially powerful opportunities if we take advantage of them. Short-term mission trips are one of those unique moments. The entire process of putting a group together is a tremendous process. Each team has been a combination of diverse personalities with interesting stories of how they chose to go on the trip. The preparation and fundraising phase is always gratifying as we see needs met and an outpouring of generosity. On the mission field, the collective efforts of a team are fairly amazing to observe as projects come together and people are ministered to.
The greatest moment on the mission trip might be somewhat selfish in its focus, however. I've found the longest lasting impact is in what I discover about myself. Choosing to serve others provides a mirror in which we see ourselves more clearly. Consciously putting mental and physical efforts into thinking about the needs of others removes barriers of selfishness that normally prevent us from recognizing certain truths about who we are. In the vulnerability of working to help people, we open up our souls to truths that help us grow and show the possibility of who we could become.
Thursday, April 21, 2016
It's time for our mission team to head west to Arizona on our yearly adventure. As always, it's a blend of new and veteran team members which always provides a unique experience. There are some things which are the same each year, but there are always new experiences which add to the memories we make together. These short-term mission trips give us an incredible opportunity to grow closer together while serving others. There is power in a group of like-minded people who have sacrificed personal finances, time, energy, and pride to willingly focus on making a difference.
I place great value on these annual trips and can see how they have all had an impact on my family's life. While it reminds me of the potential benefit when we choose to serve others, it also heightens the need for us to have this mindset in our own community. There is something special about traveling to a different culture, but there can also be great power if we adopt the attitude of a compassionate missionary in our own hometown.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
There are seasons in life when it seems as if everything around you is shifting. The formerly solid ground you stood on has tilted and it is difficult to gain traction and maintain your footing. Circumstances have changed to the point where you aren't quite sure what is happening and you feel a sense of losing control.
Hopefully these periods don't last too long otherwise it leads to other issues which are much deeper. Sometimes when you are working to survive you've got to grab control of something small to help keep you focused. This could be as simple as rearranging the furniture in your living room, choosing to get up early to run even when you're tired, mowing your lawn, or taking an afternoon off to rest. Being able to have influence in these small areas can bring a sense of peace when all around us seems uncertain.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.
This is sound advice no matter what your particular religious beliefs might be. In a more simplistic perspective, we should do what's right to help people when we are able. There might be some debate about there always being people in need and how our resources won't stretch that far. I don't know that it always has to be about money either though. I think it's counsel encouraging us to look for ways to do good and how not to withhold it when we are able to make a difference in a life.
What is within your power to do? What do you have that will help others? Perhaps it is an encouraging word for a family member when they need their spirits lifted. It might be a home cooked meal for someone who is sick or asking a neighbor's family over for dinner. Sometimes it's as simple as a smile and a good tip for a stressed restaurant employee. Our engaged presence can be the good thing our family needs instead of being preoccupied with our work and hobbies.
We've all got good things we can offer to people in need around us--some of whom are in close proximity on a daily basis. Why don't we offer what we have to them? We would certainly want the same thing done for us.
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Words come to me easily a majority of the time. I'm usually able to sit and write or engage in conversation to share what I'm thinking without a great deal of effort. However, there are those seasons in life (even brief) which seem to take the words out of me. I can strive to put some things together during these periods, but it takes extraordinary effort and the results are not always very fruitful.
This past week has been that kind of difficult period. I have had to conserve my words because I have haven't had extra to share. Several times when I sat down to blog I found myself staring at a blank screen for long periods of time before giving up. Even my personal journaling suffered as I couldn't clearly articulate the things I was thinking and feeling. It wasn't necessarily a lack of desire as much as it was an inability to create the coherent, constructive thoughts I normally can craft.
There isn't a quick solution to this ongoing dilemma, but simply a call to be patient in the process of seeking healing and clarity. When words won't flow smoothly, it's sometimes best to just let silence fall. The lack of words will often communicate more clearly than we expect.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
There are not sufficient words to express how difficult this week has been. It's in these incredibly trying times we need the powerful reminder to seek God. He is the only unchanging variable in constantly fluctuating circumstances. His faithfulness will be the anchor we need to endure and help each other find the light of hope in the darkness.
Monday, April 11, 2016
I’ve worn glasses or contacts since I was in the third grade. I honestly needed them before then, but didn’t realize it since my vision was getting more blurry over time instead of all at once. There is a distinct memory of getting my first pair of glasses and suddenly being able to see things I didn’t know existed in such detail.
Recently I picked up a trial pair of contacts with a new prescription. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to be completely correct as my vision was slightly off from my old ones (and not in a good way.) I wore them for a few days to see if I just needed to get used to them, but my vision didn’t get any better. I suppose I could have just continued to wear those contacts and hope I adjusted to them, but that was never going to correct my vision problem.
We can’t settle for blurry vision in other areas of our life either. If we see something isn’t quite right, we should commit ourselves to doing something to correct the problem. Even if we convince ourselves we will get used to it that doesn’t provide a real solution to a lasting problem.
Saturday, April 9, 2016
While I understand the mentality behind that phrase, isn't that a fair description of us all? Our relationships, overall health, and self confidence all vary somewhat on a daily basis. Hopefully, we are building positive habits that will bring overall improvement.
Maintaining a day-by-day attitude helps us stay focused on continuing to do the good things that have led us in a positive direction.
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
What would it be like if you were publicly judged each day by your performance in areas of your life? How would you react to online stories of your successes, failures, and mediocre moments?
I've seen that happening with one of my current favorite New York Mets players, David Wright. Last year it was discovered that he has a back issue which he will have to battle for the rest of his career. It has obviously caused some limitations with his game and he is having to work diligently to continue to be able to play. As a professional athlete playing in New York City, he is obviously subject to a high level of scrutiny. Even so, I found it interesting to see the headlines for the first two games of this new season.
After a less than stellar performance in the opening game of the season, writers were penning articles about how the game has passed him by and that there weren't many adjustments he was going to make. One of the articles even suggested this was as good as he was going to get and Mets fans needed to prepare for this to continue. Two days later after a much better showing, journalists were writing about his ability to still play and how his talent will carry him forward. I found it rather humorous how his career demise was only separated from a potential Hall of Fame career path by one game.
It's difficult when we are characterized by only one day in our life. The truth is that neither our best day nor our worst day really define who we are. We are the sum of all our good and bad days and they add up to a something that is a more accurate representation of who we truly are than just one moment. I'm just grateful every day of my life isn't dissected in the court of public opinion.
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
For years I would play a game with my weight loss and gain. I would commit to a healthier pattern of eating until I lost enough weight to feel better about myself. Shortly after my pants got a little loose I would revert to old behaviors and forget about the good things that brought about change. Naturally, this cycle would continue to repeat itself over the years. It's funny to look back and see how quickly I would shift from eating a salad to dipping my Oreo cookies in bacon grease for a snack. This created a toxic cycle of moving from moderately decent decisions to old practices and back again.
This isn't just true of our dietary habits unfortunately. There are times when we commit to new ways of engaging in our relationships, transforming our thinking, or processing stress through constructive behaviors. Once those new practices start to deliver mild improvement we often start to ease up and forget to keep doing the positive things that brought change to begin with. We either think we've got the old habits completely under control or we just get lazy. Before we often realize it we are right back in those old haunting choices that led us down a path of destruction. We've stopped doing the right thing and have slipped into negative routines like putting on a well-worn pair of shoes.
The key to continued forward momentum is to keep doing the new, right things even if we think we've got it under control. That might mean eating salad for a little bit longer than we would like, but the long-term changes are worth the commitment to better living.
Monday, April 4, 2016
Do you ever feel absolutely clueless? Maybe it's in a social situation when you aren't real sure what's going to happen or who is going to be there. Perhaps it's a situation in your job when you aren't sure what will happen to your company or the people you work with. It may be an unsettling relationship ordeal and the lack of a clear, healing solution. There are many moments in parenting when cluelessness kicks in especially as your children enter new phases of life.
I can speak of this state with a certain amount of (uncertain) authority as I have been here many times in my own life. While I don't have an immediate solution for this lack of clarity, I do believe there are things we can do until the waters are less murky.
- Keep doing what you know is right.
- Pray consistently and faithfully.
- Seek out the counsel of wiser, more experienced people.
- Do everything with respect and love.
This doesn't guarantee the immediate appearance of a clear direction, but it puts us in the best position to receive it when it finally arrives.
Saturday, April 2, 2016
I will readily admit I am not all I could be. There is always a gap between who I would like to be and the man I am right now. It's not always a comfortable reality to confront, but I'm learning to be at peace in the process of growth.
The truth is that my family probably deserves a better husband and father. The rest of my family deserves a better son and brother. My friends certainly deserve a better friend. The people I am called to minister to deserve a better pastor. In spite of what they may all deserve, however, I'm the one they have. This doesn't diminish the value of my role or the importance I play in their life. Instead it energizes me to be the best version of myself I can be.
We have options when we are faced with our own shortcomings. There is always the option to take the path of denial and try to pretend they aren't real even though they are apparent to those who know us. We can choose to let them overwhelm and discourage us as we allow the weight of our human imperfections to crush our spirit. The path of transparent growth is our best option. This motivates us to have a realistic view of who we are while striving to become better people. It's the healthiest, if not the most simple decision to make for our future.
Taking this path will actually shape us into being the person the people in our life need the most.