How to Change a Life

“God’s kingdom is at your doorstep.” Six words. Millions of possibilities. God’s kingdom, his creation, his splendor, his creatures great and small…your opportunity. What are you going to do with it?

It’s a bit daunting, really, when you think about it. God’s kingdom is in your backyard, on your street, at your school, your workplace, the bank, even Starbucks. Have you impacted Gods kingdom today? Makes you a little uncomfortable, doesn’t it? And it should. How many times a day is our focus truly on someone other than ourselves or an immediate family member? God’s kingdom is at our doorstep and we are missing it! Not just because of missed opportunities to offer the proverbial cup of water to the least of these, but in the “God moments” that happen multiple times a day.

Have you impacted God’s kingdom today? Do you want to? There’s a lady in the drive-thru behind you who needs to know there is goodness in the world, why don’t you pay for her items? There’s a mother who’s embarrassed that she can’t pay her library fines, why don’t you pick up her tab, and someone else’s too? And, oh, by the way, the librarian is under appreciated and underpaid, so why don’t you bake her a batch of muffins and write her a thank you note to drop off while you’re there. Speaking of under appreciated and underpaid, and over worked, your child’s teacher sure could use a note of encouragement, thanking her for helping your child and so many others, why don’t you send that note with some of those muffins you made? And another thing, and this one’s easy, everyone you meet today is going to need a big, genuine smile and a sincere greeting. Some of them may need a few minutes of your time to share a difficulty they’ve been going through, be prepared with an encouraging word, and maybe a quick prayer.

Don’t worry, I know you’re thinking this is a lot, but you’re going to be receiving too, so keep your eyes open. Remember those “God moments” I mentioned earlier? As you slow down and become more aware of the ways you can impact Gods kingdom, you’re going to see some amazing things. That sunrise in the morning is going to astound you as God nudges you to see the kingdom he made just for you. The drawing your child made for you will bring tears to your eyes as you see their love for you beaming out of the swirl of Crayolas on the page. The compliment from a coworker on the project you’ve been working on is going to come at just the right time in your day, reminding you that good does come out of the chaos. The elderly gentleman who holds the door open for you at the bank is going to smile in just the right way, reminding you of your grandfather and the legacy he left behind. Just tiny moments, but if you slow down and anticipate them, instead of letting them pass by unnoticed or taking them for granted, oh…what joy they’ll bring.

God’s kingdom is at your doorstep. Millions of possibilities. What are you going to do with them?

Luke 10:9Image

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Remembering the “Human” in Humanity

In the past few minutes I have come across several comments on Facebook about the death of singer Amy Winehouse.  Most of theses comments have been somewhat sarcastic in nature, pointing out her drug and alcohol abuse.  My cousin-in-law, Mark Whitaker, posted a comment that made me stop and think.  Instead of stating the obvious drug addiction issues Amy had, the comment pointed out her connection to us all:  she was one of God’s  creations.  Each of us stands within a hair’s breadth of being in the same situation.  When we see a person so immersed in a destructive lifestyle it is easy to jump in with, “Well, saw that one coming” instead of “I wish she could have experienced God’s endless love.”

Because that’s the bottom line.  God loves each one of us beyond what our minds can comprehend.  And he weeps over every soul on this earth that, for whatever reason, is unable or unwilling to accept that love.

Today’s news of this tragic death should challenge us to take every opportunity to live out and demonstrate God’s love to EVERY SINGLE person we come in contact with today and everyday.  This doesn’t mean saying, “God loves you!” to everybody.  It means living out God’s love.

My favorite story that demonstrates how to do this is about St. Francis of Assisi and one of his apprentices.  They went into a town one day to preach the gospel of Christ.  Upon entering the village they encountered a sick family in need of food, so St. Francis fed them.  As they continued their journey they were repeatedly met with human needs and St. Francis addressed each one.  At the end of the day as they were leaving the town, the apprentice said to St. Francis, “We did not preach a sermon.  I thought we came here to preach the gospel.”  St. Francis responded, “Preach the gospel everywhere you go.  Use words when necessary.”

God’s love is to be shouted at people through actions that speak louder than words.  I am saddened that Amy Winehouse and  thousands of others like her haven’t experienced enough pure love and compassion to convince them of how very, very, very much they are loved.  I challenge you to make it your mission to change the world, one person at a time, through love.

The Little Prince (or Swallowing an Elephant) or (Don’t Let Others Dictate Your Talents)

The Little Prince

If you’ve ever read The Little Prince by Santoine de Saint Exupery (which I’m sure you all have!), you are familiar with the pictures the narrator presents at the beginning of the book.  These are shown as his reasons why he was unable to become an artist.  The first picture is of what most people would deem a hat, which in fact is a boa constrictor who has swallowed an elephant.  Now, the “grown-ups” discouraged the narrator from being an artist because they could not see beyond the simplicity of the drawing to the true creativity that lived (or perhaps, more accurately, no longer lived!) inside.  Ah, the grown-ups…

We let them turn our elephant eating boa constrictors into hats all the time.  We do something we are proud of, we have a dream, we work hard on an idea that is close to our hearts, and then show it to the “grown-ups.”  The grown-ups have no vision.  They have no sense of adventure.  Their emotional compass continuously points to “wet rag.”  We know this, yet we put ourselves out there anyway, sharing our dreams and blood/sweat/tear-stained projects only to be met with disappointment when the grown-ups “don’t get” our boa-constrictor with an elephant inside.  Now, it’s not the grown-ups’ fault.  They are who they are and aren’t likely to change.  The creative spark began in us.  We cultivated it.  Loved it.  Grew it into something wonderful.  And then let it die.  With the first hint of, “Well, I don’t know, it’s never been done before”  or “You know it just doesn’t look like what I expected” we say, “Yeah, it’s just a hat” and hang it on the hat rack or wear it around when it is meant to be a boa constrictor swallowing an elephant.

Or, instead of swallowing a big helping of confidence and continuing on anyway, WE swallow the elephant.  I don’t know if you’ve ever tried, but swallowing an elephant is hard stuff. They’re big, tough, and a little dirty!  And once you’ve swallowed an elephant, you can’t think about much else for a while!  The discomfort kind of sticks with you.  That grand idea or project gets put aside, no matter how great it actually was, because all you can think about is the effects of swallowing the elephant.

You know what?  The grown-ups just shouldn’t have that much power.  This is a lesson I’m continually learning, one I’m learning even as I type.  My elephant eating boa constrictor was called a very plain hat today.  The elephant I swallowed stuck around all day, and is just now beginning to dissipate.  Even though I knew my boa constrictor was a masterpiece, I let someone put a hat on my head and shove an elephant down my throat.  Instead of sharing my “drawing” with others who would celebrate my accomplishment, I took heaping servings of depressing elephant pie.  It completely squashed my joy, creativity, and dream, and I let it.

Advice #1:  Don’t let ANYONE turn your boa constrictor swallowing an elephant into a hat.

Advice #2:  Don’t swallow the elephant.  Let the boa constrictor do that!

No matter how big or small your dream is, go after it.  No matter how big the objection you hear, ignore it.  And never, ever take in the negative criticism you hear.  Learn to be a duck in a rain storm.  The rain drops just roll off their backs.  Let the negativity of the grown-ups do the same.  Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”  I gave my consent today, I’m hoping you won’t do the same!

Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own

Watching the storm.

Life is hard.  At this point in my journey, that is an understatement.  Lately, my husband and I have been hit from every direction imaginable, by tiny things that may seem insignificant, to major life tests.  I have been riding on a choppy sea of ups and downs, treading water and trying to stay afloat.  Sometimes I succeed in being buoyant, in keeping a joyful/peaceful spirit, other times I’m choking as the waves beat against me and pull me under into a sea of despair.  One of the ways of escape for me is music.  A lot of my inspiration comes from (BIG GASP!!!!) non “church” music.  U2 has created some of the best soul-searching music of our time.

One of the songs that has been in my head lately is “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own.”  The first lines of that song describe me pretty accurately.

Tough, you think you’ve got the stuff
You’re telling me and anyone
You’re hard enough

I want to do things on my own.  I can do it myself.  I AM TOUGH!!!

But in reality, I’m just a weakling, doing my best to keep my head above water.  It’s hard for me to admit that I need someone else’s help, when really, I can’t make it on my own.  Can you?

Why do we run from help?  Where does this desire to do everything ourselves come from?  Life is raging around us, our world spinning out of control, and our hands are grasping desperately, holding tightly to anything we can grab on to in order to maintain some type of control.  And that’s the answer.

CONTROL.

Do you have it?  Are you in control?  I’m not.  As hard as I am fighting to keep things in order and to stay afloat, I am slipping.  My weakness is showing, and I don’t like it.  And yet, there is an answer, but it requires letting go of my control and reaching out to someone else.

You don’t have to put up a fight       You don’t have to always be right

Let me take some of the punches       For you tonight

Listen to me now       I need to let you know         You don’t have to go it alone

U2

The apostle Paul was tormented too.  He had the right to cry and complain, but instead he did something crazy.  He boasted about his weakness.  He asked God to take away this thorn, his cause of trouble and weakness, but instead God responded this way:

2Cr 12:9 Each time he said, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me.
2Cr 12:10 Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Can you do it alone?  Paul couldn’t.  I can’t.  I need gracious favor and power that works best in my weakness.  And the really crazy thing?  Paul became CONTENT with his hardships!  I know it will take a lot of work and effort for me to be able to say that.  Because even though I fight it, I am weak.  My hardships, persecutions and calamities are pulling me down, but I must remember, in HIM I am strong!

I can’t make it on my own.  Can you?

One Step Closer

I’m ’round the corner from anything that’s real
I’m across the road from hope
I’m under a bridge in a rip tide
That’s taken everything I call my own

I’m on an island at a busy intersection
I can’t go forward, I can’t turn back
Can’t see the future
It’s getting away from me
I just watch the tail lights glowing

U2

Dark times.  Sometimes they sneak up on you like an earthquake, with no warning, leaving your sense of security in a massive pile of rubble.  And sometimes they steal in slowly, softly like a thick morning fog that limits your view and distorts everything all around so that you become disoriented.  No matter what form they take, dark times steal from you.  Hope is sucked away.  Joy is crushed.  Passion is buried.

But, with each downfall, with each setback, with each new turmoil, something happens.  We keep walking.  And when we keep walking we become one step closer.  One step closer to knowing.  Because in the dark times there is a lack of “knowing.”  Knowing why, knowing what to do, knowing how.  The questions keep rolling through your mind, churning up feelings of despair, depression, and defeat.  But remember, “A heart that hurts, is a heart that beats,” (U2), and a beating heart means you are still alive, and as long as you are alive, there is Hope!  In dealing with heartbreak in the movie Sleepless in Seattle, Tom Hanks’ character says in response to coping, “Well, I’m gonna get out of bed every morning… breath in and out all day long. Then, after a while I won’t have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breath in and out…”  With each step we take we are one step closer to the end, one step closer to an answer, and if we are including the omnipotent, omniscient creator of the universe in our search for these things, we become one step closer to him.

“In this world you will have trouble, but I…I have overcome the world!”

Don’t you remember who said that?  He’s the one who put the stripes on the zebra and the freckles on your nose.  He’s the one who halted a tempest with just his voice.  He’s the one who suffered a thousand sufferings, even those you now suffer, and yet overcame so that he could take us by the hand and gently lead us to overcome.

Is he a quick fix?  Sometimes.  But mostly, he guides us slowly, nudging this way and that, often without us even realizing it.  If you will keep walking, you will keep advancing towards the “knowing.”  Be patient my dear one, and hold on for just a moment longer.  Take one more step.  And if you can’t, ask him for the strength you are lacking.  You will be closer to knowing…

Where the Wild Things Are

Where-The-Wild-Things-AreRecently my husband and I took our daughter to see the movie Where the Wild Things Are.  Although I do not suggest it as a kid’s movie (too dark and depressing with attempts to address serious human emotions), I found there were several things that gave me pause.

When Max, the main character, arrives in the land of the “Wild Things,” Carroll, a wild thing, is in the midst of an emotional and physical battle against hurt, rejection, and anger.  He is acting on this by destroying the wild things’ homes.  As the others watch, not sure how to handle the situation, Max steps in and joins Carroll in his destruction.  Carroll is in awe as this outsider understands his frustration and is willing to stand with him.  Later, when Max is made “King of the Wild Things,” Carroll talks with Max about his worries and remarks, “It’s better when we have a king.”

Isn’t this true for us?  So often we become bogged down with the human condition, giving in to the hurt, rejection, and anger that is bound to come with human existence.  And we need a king.  We need an involved leader who is willing to come to our wild land, get dirty and say, “Hey, I know what you’re going through because I’ve been there, too.”

And the great news?  We have such a king.  Two thousand years ago he came to this wild land we call home and lived the same life we now live.  He got dirty from our human condition, and he felt every emotion we have ever felt.  Rejected?  As he was being judged, beaten, and then crucified his twelve followers, his brothers, denied and rejected him.  Angry?  He responded to the mockery that was made of his father’s house by upending tables and throwing out the vendors from the synagogue.  Sad?  He sees each act his creation, his children, make that leads to their destruction, and yet he feels Hope…because to each of his children he stands with open arms, beckoning, offering a chance for change and renewal.  No act of rebellion, no crime, no addiction, no secret sin is so big that Christ’s love can’t cover it.  He came to our wild land, to live among the wild things, so that he could understand our human condition and offer a way out.

It’s better when we have a king!

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