Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Individual Battles

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Plato

We have no idea the battles people are facing. Some are engaged in internal struggles, some are fighting with the pain of their past, while others are combating physical ailments that can’t always be seen externally. Many of these fights are are on a mental level yet sap spiritual and emotional strength as well. The outward signs of these struggles may not always be noticed, but the effect is real nonetheless.

How do we respond to the people we encounter on our life’s journey? It’s not as if we aren’t dealing with our own individual battles. I would suggest we treat people as we would like to be treated. Don’t diminish the battle they are facing and try to “one-up” them. Show compassion for their journey. Stand strongly with them without demeaning or ridiculing their fight.

There is great love and respect shown when we can acknowledge the journey someone is on without having to compare it to our own. It’s enough to know we are fighting together.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

I Don't Know

Our staff meets daily to have a brief devotional thought and pray together as we get the day started. I shared something this morning that has been rolling around in my mind for a while. I had to admit it wasn't a complete and neatly summed up thought however. It really centered around a couple of questions and concepts I had been pondering, but didn't have complete answers to. Even though I didn't supply any valid solutions, it led to a great discussion as we each contributed without ever landing on one perfect answer.

Not everything can be answered quickly and easily and I'm learning to be okay with that. I tend to think by asking questions, but I'm also learning the value of meditating on those questions without coming to an immediate resolution. It requires patience and a willingness to wrestle with thoughts even if the pace is slower and more difficult than I might hope. For someone who likes to accomplish things this isn't an easy process, but I'm discovering great growth in the journey even if it takes me longer to get to my destination than I might desire.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Open for Business

This past summer I was at camp getting ready for a week with 160 middle school friends and adults and wanted to get dinner with our set up crew. I asked one of the camp staffers what he recommended and he sent me to a local restaurant with good healthy options and a decent cost. We were looking forward to trying a new place, but were quickly disappointed. When we arrived the sign on the window said they were open for business and their posted hours indicated they should be ready for us. Sadly, it was clear no one was there and we weren't going to be able to try this place after all. Even though their outward signs might have indicated they were available for our business, they obviously weren't.

I wonder how often I portray that some conflicting message to people around me. Am I really making myself available to others or is that an inaccurate representation? Am I "too busy" to be available to my wife and my children? Am I taking the steps to clear my mind and be in that moment when someone says they need to talk? Am I actually open to people who are seeking guidance or mentoring? Am I am available to my neighbors for more than just a casual wave as I drive down the street? Am I even available to God or am I too busy filling my conversations with Him with my own requests for what I think is important? 

I can't just give lip service to the idea of being there for people, but need to show a willingness to participate in life with them. That means I've got to set down my agenda and schedule and focus individually on the person in front of me. This takes extra effort, but genuine relationships are only built when we actively engage in each other and are available for developing community that lasts.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

At the Edge

When we lived next door to good friends on the lake I was able to use their zero turn mower for our yard. It’s an impressive piece of machinery and it made yard work quicker and much more fun. I remember the first time I used it and how cautious I was as I learned how to maneuver. This was especially true along the outer edge of our yard next to the lake. I was afraid of moving too far and sliding off the wall and into the lake on a very expensive mower. It didn’t take long before I stopped worrying about that and got more comfortable being close to the edge. After all, I had been this close a number of times by then and had already proven I wouldn’t fall in.

If we take the same approach with our morality we can find ourselves in more trouble than just a waterlogged mower. Getting as close to the edge of danger reflects a mindset of trying to see what we can get away with before experiencing damage. We might initially be fearfully cautious of the boundary between safety and harm, but lose that fear as we spend more time near the edge of smart behavior. It reflects an attitude of “how close to the line can I get?” before doing something that harms our relationships and diminishes our character.

Perhaps the smarter alternative is to decide to stay away from that “line” and stay close to the center of what is good and safe. This is less about testing the limits of Christian behavior as it is about doing everything we can to maintain close contact with God. Ultimately we’ve got to decide which edge we want to be close to—one that can cause us great damage or one which keeps us closer to God’s best for our life.

Friday, September 25, 2015


This morning I was able to have breakfast with 20-30 like-minded leaders in our community. We met in a local civic center to pray and to discuss the state of our town. I was able to see friends I know very well and was also able to meet new people who invested in the health of our community. It's hard to determine what will come out of today's gathering, but at the very least we were in agreement about the need to be engaged in making a difference. Sometimes there is great benefit gained just by knowing we don't stand alone. 

In circumstances where the odds might seem stacked against progress, we can be encouraged by a strong-willed, purpose-driven group of influential individuals. The desire to see positive change, redirected lives, and hopeful options can be the impetus for a community revival. All movements of restoration had to start somewhere. Why not with us?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Closing the Gap

One of my favorite things to do on previous mission trips to Arizona was to take groups hiking in Box Canyon. It is a decent two-mile hike down to the bottom with decent trails, some challenging alternative routes, and fresh cold water on the canyon floor. While the main trail isn't too difficult to climb down the other routes require much more agility. Some times you were left with a sizable gap between safe climbing rocks that would require you stretch to bridge the gap or choose another route. There was a tension of adrenaline as you wondered if you could make the leap or just choose to stay where you are.

I think we deal with a similar tension when we face the gap between our self-perception and our self-ideal. This is a tension separating our idea of who we presently are and the person we think we should be. Depending on the size of that gap this can be a frightening concept to manage. We can either be discouraged by the distance and slide into negative behaviors or rise to the challenge and find a way to cross that chasm. It really reflects our desire for maturity over our doubts and fears.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Cross Training

One of the things I've recently learned about running is the great value of cross-training. My simple logic tells me I would get better at running by running more. While that is true, I'm discovering improvements from the in-between days of weights and other activities as well. These "off days" are good for resting, but they also make me better as they stretch me in different ways.

I realize I should be taking this approach in the rest of my life too. It's not just the big moments that help me get stronger, but how I use the moments in between that make a difference. Reading books/blogs/articles that stretch my thinking, talking with new people, listening to different voices, and using my own gifts in new ways are all effective methods of making me better overall. It's not easy to think about doing this on a personal level, but I believe it makes us more well rounded people. We are stronger overall as a result of varying influences and our willingness to make better use of the time in between the big moments of life.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Look Around

I loved teaching at Mainland High School. I struggled through it some in the early years as I figured out what I was doing, but soon discovered a passion for teaching. The classroom was a place of enjoyment for me (mostly), but the most powerful education was shared in other ways. I quickly discovered greater impact through non-traditional "teachable moments." These would present themselves in small group interactions, discussing societal events that impacted all of us, and one-to-one conversations in non-traditional environments. The key to taking advantage of these was to always be on the lookout for a time to share. My willingness to share and the student's desire to learn could be shaped through all of these apparently random moments.

Life is full of teachable moments even today. Our life experiences, relationships, and personal interactions are always providing learning opportunities. What we read, watch, and listen to can stretch us in new ways while causing us to think in deeper levels. Regardless of our age, all of life can teach us new things if we are willing to learn. Are we paying attention to the possibilities all around us?

An open mind, a desire to grow, and a willingness to put things into action are all that are necessary to take advantage of the teachable moments life provides.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Find Your Second Wind

I read a running article today which shared a simple yet complex bit of wisdom. This author wrote, "Everyone has a second wind. Most people just don’t run long enough to find it.” I can relate to this from a runner's perspective as I've often felt exhausted on a run only to find another burst of energy that carried me through to the end. In those moments I had to fight the urge to quit and only then was I able to find the second wind that enabled me to finish strongly.

We need that same mentality of perseverance in other areas of life too. Without an attitude of endurance we can give up far too quickly on relationships, jobs, changes in behavior, and new plans. Sadly, we will often decide to quit before we find out what we're really capable of doing. When we are willing to push through barriers of resistance, we will discover we're able to go further than we thought. Our character will be stronger and we'll be more confident in our ability to persevere as a result.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Take a Hint

This week has finally brought some pleasant temperatures to us here in Georgia. It has made running in the morning much more enjoyable, allowed us to open our windows at night, and finally decreased the sweat level overall. I'm not fooled into thinking the warmer weather is completely over, but these lower temperatures are providing a tease of fall. This little hint of autumn is causing me to think about changes in seasons, cooler nights, college football, sweaters, and long runs in brisk temperatures. The heat of this summer has caused me to look eagerly ahead to a different season. It only took a small change before I started thinking about what was on the horizon. 

The bigger question is whether or not I pick up on other hints of change in my life. Am I aware of slight shifts in my relationships? Do I notice when people around me are struggling? Can I pick up on small hints of change in my community? Am I able to sense when God is leading me in new directions and is slowly transforming me? My ability to pick up on these subtle hints will help me keep pace with the rhythm of life and hopefully be a benefit to the people I care about in my life.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Toughest Love

I wrote yesterday about the honor of speaking at a drug court graduation. My intent was to share some motivating thoughts (and a little Jesus at the same time) and I spent quite a while thinking about what to say. My desire was to provide some benefit while being part of something larger than my small portion. I hope what I had to say helped someone there, but for me the most powerful things said were by the graduates themselves. Each person shared a letter they had written about their experiences and how far they had come through the program. There was power in all of these shared stories, but there was one comment in particular that hit home with me. It was shared by a graduate who said that they "had to become a person I could love again."

There is a ton of powerful, personal truth in that statement. I could feel their pain from where they had been and the poor choices they had made. There was also a sense of resolution from not wanting to return to that lifestyle. This transparency revealed the heart of a weary traveler who realized they had given up on themselves like so many others in their life had done. It also revealed how far they had come in walking down a better life path and reestablishing the person they wanted to be.

Self-loathing and negative self-talk are terribly debilitating devices. These can become heavy burdens which press down on us until we can't think about moving forward. When we are unable to love ourselves we lose our sense of worth and struggle with the idea of life transformation and redemption. It's in the middle of this terrible hopelessness that we need a lifeline. We need someone who is willing to love us no matter what we've done and where we've ended up. People who are willing to love unconditionally provide a hint of hope and a chance to be pulled out of the pit of dark desperation.

Are we willing to step into that role for people in need? Are willing to offer gracious love, hope, and help to people wanting to make life changes? As people start the recovery process they need to know they don't have to rediscover love on their own. We can stand together with them-as difficult as that may be-and continue to be a source of consistent love. It's the best way of helping people find the path of restoration.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Invested Community

A friend gave me a unique opportunity to speak at a drug court graduation today. I'll admit this was a first for me, but I looked forward to the chance to share some encouragement. Speaking to a new crowd of people is always a pleasurable challenge even when some of your audience isn't there by their own choice. I anticipated it being a blend of people who were striving to make changes in their lives with some of them farther along the journey than others.

Today was the celebration of a tremendous amount of hard work from many different people. There are the faithful workers in the program who endure great successes and repeated failures. The room was full of family and friends there to celebrate the success of their loved ones after long times of shedding tears. There were seven graduates who had persevered for close to two years (and some for longer) and are now ready for the next phase of their life to begin. It was a poignant reminder that while an individual's choices may have led to a point of desperation it was the collaborative efforts of many that would lead to better life choices. All of us are better as part of an invested community.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Portwood Unplugged

I have been consistently writing my blog for close to three years now and until we went on vacation I had been writing every day. This wasn't always easy to do and there were some days I struggled to put together decent content and go through the process of writing. My wife encouraged me to take a break, but I resisted because I didn't want to stop the streak I had started. I had planned to set up blogs to post while I was on vacation, but time got away from me and I didn't get that done. I had a difficult time letting that stretch of daily content go, but came to realize it was better for me in the long run.

I want to continue to write helpful content and I also recognize that sometimes it's best to take a short break. This gives me a chance to be reenergized and refreshed and will hopefully lead me to tackle writing with new enthusiasm. Choosing to step away and unplug is a good choice for a lot of things we do: work, hobbies, and even exercise. The brief time away can actually be better than continuing to doggedly push forward hoping to maintain a streak of habit.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Benefits Package

When my wife and I travel to Arizona (which we love to do) we have certain routines we stick to. While our airline will vary depending on the best possible price, we always rent our vehicles from National Car Rental. I have a contact there who always takes fantastic care of us from the reservation all the way through our return. In fact, he usually makes sure our vehicles are pulled forward and waiting for us when we arrive and expedites our check-in process. There are certain benefits from knowing someone and being a consistent customer.

We all like to receive benefits whether it’s a perk from our employment, privileges from club membership, or other positive results from our relationships. I think most of us look through this lens of personal fulfillment to make decisions about relationships, opportunities, and where we invest our energy. Before we engage in something we usually want to know how it will personally benefit us.

What if we shifted our perspective on this idea and spent the same amount of energy determining how we beneficial we are to other people? How much richer would our personal relationships be if we asked two questions: Am I adding benefit to the people around me? Are others enriched by my presence? I believe this focus will not only strengthen our key relationships, but will radically transform the way we view our community. Actively looking for ways to help other people adds value to all of us.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Home Town

We spent our family vacation hiding out on the beach in my home town last week. It's a place of strong memories and great comfort that can only be found in the home of your childhood. This doesn't decrease the love we have for where we currently live, but there is something about a place so firmly cemented in my mind and spirit.

The calming presence of the salt air, the heat of the sun (even under our umbrella), and the sound of waves crashing on the shore quickly bring to mind the life we shared there. They bring back vivid recollections of my time at Mainland High School, our children's early childhood years, walks on the
beach at night, buying our first home, my call into the ministry, and so many more. All of those things are part of the beginning of who we are now and how our family has grown together. Even when we return to our present home we bring part of this back with us and look forward to the next time we can visit. It's a pleasant trip of nostalgia which I never tire of making.

The truth is that every now and then we all need to go back home. It's a place which reminds us of where we began and how we've become who we are today.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Stained and Scarred

My wife and I both drive older vehicles. I have a 1993 Volvo which was generously given to me by my mother-in-law several years ago and Dana drives our 2003 Dodge Caravan. There are two good things about these cars: they are still on the road and they are paid for. They no longer have the new car smell, but have been made comfortable through regular use and familiarity. Each one has its own quirks as well: windows that won't go down, radio/odometer that no longer works, stains on the carpet, straight pins holding up the inside liner, door handles that don't always open, doodles on the back of seats from when our kids were younger, and even dings in doors. Most of these have a story behind them of some mishap, an accident, a family mess, or a malfunction. We laugh about them even as our vehicles continue to age because these stories and incidents are part of what make our vehicles belong to us.

I think our lives are like this too. We are no longer fresh, clean, or unmarked, but have scars and weird quirks developed over the years. We have lived out stories (sometimes painful and sometimes humorous) of why we are the way we are and the journey we've taken to arrive here today. We might feel well worn, but this comes from the sum of our experiences both good and bad. It's these imperfections that make us human and allow us to appreciate the scars and limps of other people as well. All of these things are key parts of the foundation of the person we are becoming and tell the story of how we have arrived.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

One Year Later

It's been one year since I decided to change my life for the better. We had just returned from our annual vacation and I was tired of the constant roller coaster of healthy vs. unhealthy. My weight had shifted up and down for years in a 20-30 pound cycle and I realized it was not going to get any easier to keep off the pounds as I got older. My wife committed to helping me stay focused and I began a journey of healthy eating and exercise that has carried over to this year. One of my goals for 2015 was to complete a full calendar year of making better lifestyle choices. In that time I've become a runner, tried to encourage people who are making life change decisions, and shed 55 pounds. I keep telling myself that I won't go back to my old way of living and insist on continuing to make decisions that reinforce that conviction.

This might seem like a blog seeking out affirmation from others, but my intent is to actually encourage people to get started on the changes they want to make. Lasting transformation is a journey and it won't happen simply because we wish for it to be true. We are pulled to change due to the tension we feel between our current status and where we would like to be. Some days will take tremendous discipline and willpower, but hopefully the right patterns will be developed which help us all make better choices. Once you start to see positive changes it will only increase your commitment to the right course of action. Transformation won't take place in the next year unless we are willing to do something different from what we are currently practicing. As I often tell people, "You can't change in a day what took a lifetime to create." While this is true, I can start doing something new tomorrow which will eventually bring the change I'm looking for.

What new next step will you take to be transformed?

Monday, September 7, 2015

In the Moment

My family and I just returned from our annual vacation and we chose to forgo all technology while we were gone. We discovered it wasn't as difficult as it might have seemed and gave us the power to enjoy our time without being distracted. While I did take a few pictures of our week I wasn't caught up in trying to capture every moment for sharing on social media. I didn't spend any time scrolling through status updates, political/social opinions, or Internet rabbit trails leading nowhere. Together we read, sat quietly while watching the ocean, shared stories, and spent time in meditative thought. It was a subdued pace of life that already has me envying the next time we can withdraw.

There is an ago-old philosophical question which asks, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound?" I suppose the parallel to how we live today would be, "If a moment happens and it's not posted on social media, did it take place?" The answer is obvious even if we struggle with how to live without feeling compelled to record all we experience.

Life should be measured in the memories we make and not in likes, shares, favorites, and retweets.