Yesterday Kathy and I went on a hike through the Cahuita National Park along the Carribean coast of Costa Rica. We had a guide who had an amazing eye to pick out wildlife far off in the trees. The diversity of life that we saw was remarkable, yet everything fit together and you had the feeling that it all belonged together
When my kids were young they would often play a game called Opposites Day. During this particular day, whatever they said was actually the opposite of what is true. This was really just a way of trying to catch the other sibling- kind of a trap. Really just a kid’s game. But I think that in actuality, it is more than just a game.
This past Saturday I headed downtown to a ministry where Kathy and I have been serving for the past five or so years. We get up early each Saturday and pick up surplus baked goods and head downtown to distribute food to the needy. I can attest that it is tough some Saturdays to head downtown. Yes, sleep and comfort are issues, but the work can be frustrating and unnerving. We see some moments that make the whole thing question what you are doing. The need is overwhelming and you can’t be unaffected by palpable feeling of hopelessness that hangs in the air. We have also seen some pretty ugly situations. Tension from actions viewed as unfair. Deep neighborhood wounds. Indescribable family dysfunction. Crazy stories of pain that you struggle to untangle in your mind. One thing is for sure. You can’t keep score here. It will drive you crazy. You simply give and let God take care of the rest.
Amidst all of this, is the heart. We have made great friends and have had the privilege of living our lives with them. Each week we share and get updates. Victories and failures. We have seen it all. Stories of success and stories of death. Sometimes the reality is just too much to carry. We try to help but we are not in it. No matter how we try to step into their shoes we are not really with them. We try to get there, but cultures and lives are so different that the gap really can’t be crossed. So we meet in the middle each Saturday. A circle between two circles and we do what we can. Anything more is just cultural arrogance. The two crazy assumptions are that we can truly understand what is going in the tough areas of the city while they can understand what it’s like to have a servant’s heart in suburban America.
This Saturday, I was leading a walk that we take each week through the neighborhood. We carry bags of groceries and hand them out as the Lord leads us and we pray for the families and the neighborhood. The groceries have always been the minor item. When we approach folks in the neighborhood and start conversation and ask if they would like prayer, they will open up and share what’s going on in their lives. This has lead to relationships as we return each week and visit with the same folks regularly. This Saturday, I suggested that we visit a lady named Vera who lives on the outskirts of our walk, yet is always a treat. Vera is a grandmother and takes care of her family although she has very modest means. We knocked on her door and waited. After a few minutes, she came out and her face lit up in delight. We hadn’t made it to her house in a while, probably several months. She quickly caught us up on what was happening with her and her family. She pains for her family and their struggles. You can feel her pain as she describes her family update. Yet, she refuses to stay there. She immediately turns the story to the day- this day. She thanks the Lord for the blessing that this day brings. She is thankful that we have visited her. She radiates real love. It makes you tingle. Not the polite kind of stuff. The deep love of the Father.
Vera loves to pray. We generally pray as we make our way through the neighborhood but at Vera’s house we want her to pray. So she offers and we smile and nod yes. Vera breaks into a powerful prayer- thankful and a prayer of a grateful heart and worship. None of this is the I want- I need kind of prayer. This was a celebration of life. Then she shares something new. Vera breaks into song and sings a portion of her prayer to her Father. The Spirit is thick. He is here. She finishes her prayer and a bird begins to sing. Vera shares that God loves music. I agree with her, sharing that even the birds sing to Him.
So what happened? It was Opposites Day! We set out to help bless others and instead we were blessed. We left Vera and we all were visibly uplifted. This is what we needed. A refill. A reminder that He is always there and He is always faithful. The Bible says that he sings over us. He knows every hair on your head.
Thank you for the song of our lives. Thank you for the birds singing each morning. Thank you for Vera and her heart for her Father and her family.
Remember to sing today. No matter how hard it is. It’s Opposites Day!
Have you ever had an Opposites Day? Please click on comments and tell your story!
I have to admit: I get pretty frustrated with the Christmas season as it has become.
The commercialization and extreme excess of the holiday is overwhelming to me. I want a quiet day in which we can just relax and reflect on the importance and meaning of Christmas. The true meaning of the season- the birth of our Savior and the indescribable and outrageous gift that Jesus is to believers. What I experience is generally far from quiet and spiritual. The gift giving and preparation for Christmas is overwhelming. It seems like an abomination of a religious holiday. And it is. But the key word here is religious.
My friend Brian shared a Christmas revelation with me this morning. He was also a bit frustrated with the events of the day. He felt like he was not giving the Lord the focus that He deserved. Then the Lord spoke to him and reassured him: It’s OK to celebrate. It’s OK to have fun. It’s OK to exchange gifts. Go ahead- have a day of celebration. I am still God and I still love you!
My experience Christmas day was also the typical day of gift giving and excess, yet there were sweet times with family and friends. In the midst of the chaos of the day, I was able to connect with them in a deeper way. And through the time together and the gift giving, I was able to receive the feeling of being truly loved by them. So, like Brian, I was given a glimpse of the Father’s love for me.
My take away from this years Christmas is this: Christmas is a bit out of control, yet it’s good to celebrate, to appreciate others and enjoy the sweetness of the season. I must be intentional to connect with family and friends and enjoy the opportunities of the Christmas season. Rather than getting frustrated and trying to change things, I need to embrace the good of the Christmas season and let God take care of the rest. The correct response is gratitude and worship, not frustration and guilt!
So going forward, I must focus less on the excess and commercialization and focus more on the amazing opportunities of the Holiday season. Opportunities to reconnect, mend or deepen relationships. Opportunities to show my love for my wife, family and friends. Opportunities to appreciate the incredible and amazing blessings that the Lord has provided to me and my family. For me, this revelation is my greatest gift this year. And my response must be like the shepherds in the Christmas story: To bow and worship the Savior King!
So what do you think? Click on comments and share your experiences and thoughts on the Christmas season!
Ah- the American Dream! Big house, fancy cars, fat retirement account, 2 kids, a dog and a white picket fence. Is this really a dream or is it a curse? For your typical overachiever (like me) the pursuit of wealth can be all consuming. It can swallow you and ALL of your energy. Is this what life is all about? Is this really the DREAM?
If you ask any successful person about their life goals you will likely get a response that refers in some way to money. While I understand that money brings a level of security and clarity to the future, I am convinced that we place far too great an emphasis on the need to have money and possessions to feel successful.
I remember telling the lady who took my high school senior pictures that my only goal in life was to be happy. Have I really lived up to that statement?
In my mission travels and service work, I have had the pleasure to meet the most remarkable people. In many cases these folks have very little money or possessions, yet they live as though they are wealthy with an amazing attitude and a genuine zest for life. I have other friends who have abundant resources and wealth and they are simply miserable. This is an amazing paradox- Those with less are often happier than those with more. As I have examined this phenomenon, I have begun to redefine my view of what it means to be rich.
How can the poorest folks in the world be so happy? How can they have any feeling of security and peace not knowing where they will get their next meal?
Living the rich life is really about depth. The truly rich people that I have met take the time and make the effort to cultivate deep relationships and love for their families, friends and communities. This is so contrary to our modern lifestyle today. We try so hard to be everywhere and everything at once. We typically have nothing but “drive-by” relationships. Even our relationships with our families can be weak and superficial. And the worst part is that we model the behavior to our children and coworkers.
We must take the time to value others.
We must take the time to give back to our community.
We must take time to see the beauty that is all around us.
We must take to time to pour into others.
What we all have to give is truly priceless- and it cannot be duplicated. We must fight the urge to remain on the surface. We must go deep.
Yes- it is dangerous.
Yes- it is complicated.
Yes- it can be painful.
However, the rewards far outweight the risks. So here is your “get rich” plan:
Put Things In Perspective: Carve out things in your life that are consuming you only for the purpose of making money. Yes- We all need to eat. Yet, what kind of life are you living if you are killing yourself to make a living? You will not starve. You will be fine.
Slow Down: You do not need to be the fastest at everything. You are missing the world- it is passing you by! Slow down and really SEE what is going on around you. If you have conditioned your boss, friends, or spouse to expect lightspeed this may be a tough transition- but this is your life! Take control of your time and your life. We all experience stressful times but your life should not be a constant race.
Go Deep: Take your relationships deeper by asking questions and sharing your own personal struggles. To “go deep” you must be transparent and vulnerable. The root of superficiality is really self-centeredness. You must be willing to get closer to friends, family and coworkers in order to enjoy the richness that results from the deep bond of great relationships.
Get Involved: Get off of the sidelines and get involved! Give back to your community and those in need. My wife and I have been in dirt floor huts and been offered food from the poorest folks you can imagine. They get it! They want to serve us! Find a service project or get involved in your church. Find a young person and pour into them. Share your knowledge and your life experiences. Take time to train up the next generation. They want your help. They NEED your help.
The rich life is a choice. You can choose to chase money, fame, or possessions or you can choose to go deeper. You can break free of the bonds of superficiality and enter a world of true love focused on others instead of yourself. Are you ready? Would you like to be rich?
Are you ready to enter the life of the rich? Will you get serious about making the tough choices to add depth to your life? Click on comments and let me know what you think!
I am an avid gardener. I love to grow just about anything. I tell folks that I am really a farmer trapped in a carpenter’s body! I particularly love growing two flowers- roses and dahlias. Now these flowers are a real challenge in North Florida. Roses are susceptible to disease from the excessive moisture. It’s a constant battle with black spot and fungal diseases. Dahlias don’t grow well in Florida. Sun is too strong; soil is not rich enough, spider mites, etc. Both of my favorites are ridiculously difficult to grow. A crazy passion that few understand. My family often thinks I am crazy to put forth the lopsided effort necessary to grow a few good flowers. But I love it. I get so much satisfaction from an outstanding flower. I’ll admit- it is a bit of an obsession!
I have often wondered what makes a flower beautiful. So what makes something beautiful? A sunset, a mountain range, a song, a building, a boat (for you Ed), a dress, a meal, a face. There are so many things that we measure with beauty. Why is blue better than black? Why is green better than brown? Why are we drawn to beauty? What is beauty?
I believe it must be written on our hearts by the Creator. A picture of what is to become. What is truly good. Something that we cannot explain, but points us forward. To something better. Something beautiful.
So what is a beautiful life? Can we measure our lives the same way we judge a painting? Do you know someone who lives a beautiful life? I’m sure you know someone that lives an amazing life. Maybe they are very successful, or influential, or wealthy, or charitable, or a spiritual powerhouse… Yet- is their life really beautiful?
I believe that your life can be like a flower- truly beautiful. So how can you live a beautiful life? Here are some characteristics of the beautiful life:
- Balance- This is really important. If something is out of balance it just doesn’t look right. For instance, you can have the most beautiful flower, but if it’s missing petals on one side it’s just no good. Balance in life is super important. A beautiful life must include all of the elements- family, faith, friends, love, work, learning, fun, giving, and health- in balance. The most insidious components are the areas that are essentially good that can become damaging and all consuming. Pastors can fall into this. They will pour themselves into their flocks- essentially a good thing- and neglect their wives, families, health, etc. I think even Mother Theresa could be another example. Jesus promised life to the full. That means all components of life!
- Color- Beauty is often defined by color. A brilliant sunset of orange, pink and purple would be much less impressive in a black and white photograph. So it goes in life. If you are truly alive, then your life should be vibrant and colorful. Colorful people are attractive. They may or may not have raw beauty, but they are different, not afraid to be noticed. If you hide in the shadows and remain dull you are not living, you are just surviving. What can you do to add color to your life? Do something different. Take up a new hobby. Learn to play an instrument. Go back to school. Volunteer. Be outgoing. Be funny. Be different –don’t follow the crowd. It’s OK. Different is good and you will enjoy it!
- Scale- The majesty of a mountain range is defined by the grand scale of the image. Yet the beauty of the tiniest flower can also be truly amazing. Scale needs to stay in proper proportion in order to be beautiful. How are you doing on the large and the small? You may be enjoying a season of great success as examined by others, yet there may be smaller items that can derail your journey. One of these may be your health. A serious health problem can destroy your future. Do you have some bad habits or addictive behaviors that need to be addressed? Don’t underestimate the power of the small things. They can take you down in an instant!
- Groups- A single flower in a field will not have the same impact as a field full of flowers. You may be living a beautiful life, yet you will do so much better in community with others. We are designed to be in community. Isolation is lonely and it can be a very dangerous place. Realize that our society celebrates individualism and this is not always healthy. You must fight the urge to withdraw. Join a group of folks that are like-minded to do something fun. Get involved- do not stay on the sidelines or hide in the shadows. Living in community will help to strengthen your relationship skills and enrich your life. Do it today!
- Soothing- Music has a way of bringing relaxation. I love to put on music to unwind and relax. Beautiful music has a way of soothing the soul. Would you say that you are soothing to others? If you tend to be loud, abrupt or have a need to be heard, maybe you should work on a quieter approach? Along with music, I get great relaxation from conversations with particular friends. Do you focus on kind words and words of encouragement coming from your mouth? The soothing counsel of a great friend can be a huge comfort. Turn down the volume a bit and relax!
Appreciating beauty is really the result of the connection. When you see the majesty of a mountain range, you are connecting to it through the image. You can see the snowy mountain caps, the colors of the rocks and the slopes to the valleys. As you observe, you become wired into it. The beautiful life is also about the connection. By truly living a beautiful life and connecting with the amazing gifts that are part of the journey, you will be experience those moments of wonder and grandeur in everyday life. No need to go to the mountaintop. It’s right in front of you. Are you ready to experience it?
What makes a beautiful life? Am I missing something? Please click on Comments and tell me what you think!
When I was a very young man I was convinced that knowledge was the key to success. I was sure that it was “what you know” that was really important. So, I worked very hard in school. I really felt like learning was the key. If I could just learn as much as possible and gain experience along the way, I would surely be very successful. I was very driven and serious about school and also soaked in as much practical knowledge as possible. I was absolutely sure that this was the key. Learn and gain experience and this will be the pathway to success.
Once I finished college and had my initial experiences in the career world, I changed my viewpoint. I could see the value in networking and knowing the right people. I was sure that it was “who you know” that was really the key. In order to excel in this area I worked hard to network and get to know as many people as possible. I would join associations, meet and greet, and collect and organize business cards. I watched as some of my friend’s careers skyrocketed because they simply knew the “right” people. I was convinced that if I could just meet more people that this would be the catalyst for my pursuit of success. Not “what you know” but “who you know” was the important component to success.
As I have matured, I have once again changed my view on this subject. I don’t believe that the key is either of my earlier conclusions. Although knowledge and networking are valuable and necessary at least on some level, I feel like there is one key that is even more important. Much more important. I now believe it is “how you know” someone.
Not “what you know” or “who you know” but- “how you know”.
This may sound strange and certainly deserves explanation. I truly believe that the key to success in life is the depth of your relationships and your ability to really connect with someone. Not volume of relationships, but depth. This is tough for those of us who want big. We want to make the huge numerical impact. We want the big following, the big audience, the big appearances. We are planners and producers. We need numbers to think that we have made an impact. We want the stage.
But really, the important number is ONE. You must learn to be satisfied to impact and connect with one person at a time, and, one-on-one is the best way. You must value that one person the same way that God does. What is the value of one soul? Infinite value- can’t be measured. Priceless- just like the credit card commercial. The same is true when you deal with everyday people. Take it down to the true reality. No matter who they are- they are priceless.
The homeless man, the President, the co-worker, the sibling, the mechanic, the boss, the grocery store clerk, the landscaper- the ungrateful, the arrogant, the depressed, the unlovely.
So how will this make you successful? I have watched people that understand the priceless value of a person in every walk and responsibility. Successful sales people get it. Great managers get it. Good parents get it. Great friends get it. They give you their 100% attention. They are not afraid to show their heart. They will go above and beyond to help you- not to help the situation or themselves- but to help you personally. They make you feel like you are worth a million bucks (make sense now?). These folks get it. And they are generally wildly successful. They draw a following. They are always in demand. They use this skill daily and are masters of connection. One person at a time!
So what are you going to do about it? I am sharing this because I struggle in this area- I am a big net guy. So, this has not been my strength, but I am working on it. I have personally witnessed the power that is available to anyone willing to open up and take the chance. Are you ready? Will you take the time to deepen your relationships in order to unlock this power? Go ahead, get started- because now you have the key!
Is there someone that you know that has the key? How can you help those you lead to understand this concept? Let me know what you think!
I think we are all wired to go deep. This could be learning to be the very best in your career or seeking answers to really tough questions. I am wired that way. I want to know more, understand better and dig below the surface.
It frustrates me that we can be so superficial in our relationships. I have been involved with two men’s groups recently where one of the primary goals is to go deep. This is unique and unusual for most male relationships. Men are notorious for skimming the surface. It keeps you clean and it’s safe. ”Did you see the game last night?” “How is your boy doing at school?” ”I shot an 84 on Saturday” This is the kind of stuff that would be the depth of typical male conversation.
While sharing in these groups, I have witnessed something that is really amazing. When one of the brave guys shares a really deep and painful story from their past, there was generally someone in the group that could really relate to the story in a very personal way and there was an instantaneous connection that occured between the men. This connection was actually visable and palpable. Often times there would be a jerk of the head and deep eye contact between the two men. You could actually see and feel the wires being connected.
The common feeling we tend to have is that no one understands our wounds or the pain that we have experienced in our life events. We feel isolated and alone in our pain and this shuts us down and encourages us to attempt to bury these events in our memory. The fact is that no matter how sensational the event and the pain, you are not alone. There is someone who has experienced a similar situation and often that person is much closer to you than you think.
I have watched this repeated over and over again. The feeling that you are alone in your circumstances is a lie straight from the pit of hell. These wounds from your past are an anchor to your growth and influence. You must rid yourself of this anchor once and for all. In many cases it is about forgiveness. You have to forgive the wrongdoer to finally move on. The Bible says that God forgives our sins as far as the east is from the west and remembers them no more. This is the model for perfect forgiveness.
In order for this connection to take place you must provide a safe environment of trust and confidentiality. The person who is sharing must feel that he is in a safe place. However, regardless of the level of safety, you still have to be willing to risk. I witnessed amazing bravery by men who have shared deep and painful secrets from their past. And with men, bravery feeds off bravery. If you are trying to get men to share, it generally takes one brave soul to get it started. Are you brave enough to share things in your past or things you struggle with in order to help others deal with their past? Can you drop your guard as a leader, push your pride out of the way and share purely for the sake of others?
The connection won’t take place unless you are willing to go deep and take the risk. If you are tired of the surface relationships, then maybe it’s time to take for you to go for it! Ask the uncomfortable questions, go deeper. Once you risk and the connection is made you will have a friend that is bonded to you in a very special way. You will be willing to continue to share with them and work through things that are troubling you. You cannot continue to go it alone. Try it with someone you trust. Going deep provides the pathway for growth and healing!