Photo Friday: Walking in the Clouds

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This is a picture I took about 8 years ago in Costa Rica while on a mission trip.  I shot this picture while walking on a mountain above the central valley above San Jose on a magical and verdant ridge that connected two mountain tops.

Have you ever walked in the clouds?

Most folks will not get the chance to do it.  Not because they can’t- but because they won’t. They will not step out of their comfort zone to see the world.  They will continue to tell themselves the lie that they can’t do it.  We get so caught up in our little corner of life and miss that we live in a great big world.

Are you ready to step out?

Kathy and I have seen some crazy stuff while seeing the world.  We travel and explore every chance we get.  We made a point to show the world to our kids as they grew up and I am convinced that it helped to open their eyes to the world.  The great big world.  No matter where you are or what your financial situation is you can see the world.

You need to take the time and resources and make it happen.  Now.  Not later.

It’s time for you to walk in the clouds!

So what do you think?  Have you ever walked in the clouds?  Click on “leave a comment” and tell me your story!

 

 

Opposites Day

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.

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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!              

Living the Adventure

Last Sunday night, my wife and I went to a party at a friends house.  It was a cool night, at least by North Florida standards.  The house had a great outdoor patio with brick walls and garden areas.  In one corner of the patio was a firepit that turned out to be a very popular spot.  I settled into a comfortable couch next to the fire- I knew I wasn’t moving.  The only distraction was that the fire was a bit smoky.  I knew my jacket would need a wash when I got home.  I was comfortable and drifted away in conversations about books, travel and the restaurant business.

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After about an hour, my friend Ron joined us.  Ron was just beaming.  Ron is generally a positive and upbeat guy but today he was particularly aglow. 

“Ron you look great”, I commented.  He proceeded to update me on what he was up to.  He told me that he was painting (artist) again and that he was really enjoying it.  Ron told me that he has been waking up each morning and having coffee with Jesus before he starts his day.  He also told me that he was feeling good physically.  Ron and I often trade bad back stories as we both suffer from back pain from time to time.  Normal type chit-chat until he made this statement: 

“Joe, everyday I wake up and I look for an adventure each day.” 

He proceeded to tell me about a clerk that he friended who has children and is struggling to make ends meet and how he has been helping her and encouraging her.  He shared stories of how he has been buying the book “Love Does” by Bob Goff and giving away copies to friends and folks that he meets along the way during his adventures.  All along, I couldn’t help but see the delight in his face. 

Ron could easily stay secluded in his world.  Ron is semi-retired and lives by himself.  He could be lonely and bored.  But Ron chooses the adventure.  Ron knows that the world is built on relationships and service.  Ron is not afraid to make the introductions- he has seen how it works!  Ron is not satisfied to stay inside of himself.  He seeks the adventure.  And it has made all the difference.

So how can you live the adventure life?  Here are a few ideas:

Dump the Routine:  Look at ways that you can do things differently.  We are such creatures of habit and efficiency.  Yet, do you want to live an efficient life or a life of fullness and adventure?  Mess with your schedule a bit.  Leave early for work and relax a bit when you get there.  Try new restaurants, new music, new places.  Get out of the rut!  When you change things up you will see opportunities for new relationships, skills and service.

Slow Down:  When you are always in a hurry the world is travelling at the same speed.  Slow down and give yourself time to really see what is going on around you.  I guarantee you will be surprised.  I am often the worst offender of this.  I am so tuned in to speed and efficiency that it really hurts to slow down sometimes.  Yet, I know I have to.  When I am operating at warp speed, I am missing- not gaining.  Tunnel vision will not allow you to see the opportunities to enjoy life and serve others that are all around you.

Be Observant:  By learning to be observant, you will also begin to see opportunities for fun and learning.  You must learn to really look deeper.  Additionally, there are often clues that identify the need for service to others.  It could be a simple frown or some tattered clothing that gives you a glimpse of the trouble that exists.  These clues can be subtle and the ability to see within someone often takes some practice.  You will not always get it right and you may be rejected.  As you hone your skills, you will get better and you will begin to see the impact of careful observation on your life.

Take a Risk:  Adventure and risk go hand in hand, right?  We understand risk in terms of jumping out of a plane, yet we generally don’t get the connection between adventure, risk and relationships.  In order to be allowed into a persons life, someone has take the first step which involves risk.  Simple small talk will provide only the superficial- to get deeper you need to be prepared to ask the risky questions.  Yes, you may get rejected.  However, when the time is right, they will let you in.  And when they do it is beautiful– even if the story is messy.  Now you can serve.  Now you can make a difference.  Now your day has adventure!

Are you tired and bored?  You don’t need an expensive vacation to add adventure in your life.  The world is happening all around you.  Are you going to slow down, change things up, and look for opportunities to make a difference?  Living the adventure.  It’s waiting for you!  

What are some ways that you have found that have added excitement into your life?  Are you ready for some new excitement?  Click on comments and let me know what you think!

Warm Bread: Irresistable!

Back in the early 90s,  Kathy and I particularily enjoyed a restaurant that had an appetizer specialty called teacup bread.  The bread would arrive warm and still nested inside of a teacup.  This was a really special treat.  The bread was light and soft and had a sweet flavor.  You really could eat this bread for dessert.  We loved the food at this place, but really, the bread always brought us back.  We would get several servings.  Warm, sweet bread.  I really want some right now!

Slices of French Bread

Warm bread is a great way to invite guests into your restaurant.  The smell, the taste- every sense gets bathed with great bread offered as an appetizer.  I remember several restaurant experiences where the most memorable part of the meal was the bread.  Warm and inviting.  Something really special that leaves a lasting memory.

I have also had the pleasure to meet people that I would say have the characteristics of warm bread.  Upon meeting them you are immediately enveloped in warmth.  You can feel the love ooze from them.  Like the bread, they leave a lasting memory.  You can’t help but think about them.  They are like the teacup bread- you want to go back for more.

What makes a person that you meet like warm bread?  What makes them irresistible?  Here are a few observations:

Focus:  They are completely focusing on you.  They look you straight in the eye as you begin to talk to them.  You are the only person in their world.  They have the skill to shut off everything else.

Smile:  They start with a smile and have a way to continue to smile throughout the conversation.  The smile is a powerful tool.  A smile disarms.  A smile invites you in.  A smile tells you that they are enjoying your company.

Genuine:  They are genuine in every way.  They want to know about you.  They are humble and authentic.  There is no agenda.  The focus is personal.

Listen:  They are skilled listeners.  The questions are based on getting to know you.  They do not lead you in a particular direction for their benefit.  They allow you to tell your story and let you enjoy doing it.

Connect:  They are skilled at connecting the wires between you and them.  They will seek out common characteristics and interests.  You will share ideas, struggles and experiences.  You will feel like you have known them for years.

Easy:  They have a way to navigate through a conversation that makes it fun and enjoyable.  No awkward quiet moments.  No challenges.  You will have the opportunity to share a little or a lot- your choice.  Time flies by as you talk and connect.

Have you been there before?  Can you think of someone you have met who is unusually warm and engaging?

OK- confession time.  I am not that person.  I would characterize myself as crusty rye bread- not tea cup bread!  I struggle with focus.  I tend to be serious, so I typically have to remember to smile.  I tend to talk only when I need something.  I am content to sit in silence.  This is my nature, however, I am aware of it now.  I have to make an effort to be the warm bread.  It doesn’t come natural to me, but I am learning and I recognize the power that warm bread has.  My typical nature is selfish and I know it.  However, I am getting better- much better!

We often overlook the effect that we have on others.  A smile goes a long way and it is such a simple gesture.  Are you a warm bread person? Do you focus on others instead of trying to get out your story?  Are there areas that you can work on as you interact with others to make yourself inviting?  Like the tea cup bread, once you master the skills of warm bread you will bring them back over and over again- a warm and sweet relationship!

Do you know someone with these skills?  Share your story by clicking on comment below!

Natural Goodness

 Every July 4th we would travel as a family to Frankfort, Michigan to enjoy the festivities.  Frankfort is an idyllic northern Michigan town located on the shores of Lake Michigan (OK- look at your left hand and it is located just below the end of your pinky finger- this is mapping Michigan style!).  The 4th was big stuff in Frankfort.  They would have a whole list of happenings which always included a parade down Main Street and a grand fireworks display.  I am sure that they still are celebrating the 4th of July the same way.  These towns are locked in time- you can come back years later and it’s exactly the same.  It’s comforting really.  In the midst of the light speed world, it is comforting to know that you can go back and things are pretty much the same.  But this is not the topic here.

English: Frankfort Light in Frankfort, Michiga...

Frankfort Light- Wikipedia

Our trips to Frankfort began one year after we found a great campground and we enjoyed the weekend so much that we returned the next year.  And the next.  And the next.  And the next.  I am not entirely sure how many years we returned, but we were probably close to a run of ten years in a row.  We even started to bring other families who also returned with us year after year.  A great place to be for the 4th.  But this is not the topic either.

My kids loved this trip.  It was really the highlight of our camping summer.  Not because it was really super great.  We camped at many places that were more spectacular.  Yes- My daughter established a relationship with the daughter of the guy that owned the hardware store on Main Street.  Yes- We loved the clean goodness of the town, the activities, and Lake Michigan.  Yes- It is a strikingly beautiful area.  Again, not the topic this time.

The thing that made this trip great was that it was a family tradition.  There was no question about where we were going for the 4th.  We were going to Frankfort, Michigan.  Period. 

Traditions are really important for families.  We had a few good ones, but Frankfort on the 4th was really special.  Traditions have a way of binding you together- really tightening the bond of a relationship.  I can’t completely explain it.  It’s a strange thing.  I only know that it’s important and powerful in families.  Traditions can have a similar effect outside of families.  They are also great in work environments and other group settings.  Drawing you closer.  Binding you together.  Giving you an identity.

Here are some characteristics of a good tradition:

Repeats:  A tradition must be repeated.  Can’t be a one shot deal.  You absolutely can’t miss- must repeat as scheduled.

Improves:  A good tradition will improve over time.  This can be a challenge, but it needs to have a flavor of being new each time.  At least a little twist.

Total Involvement:  Everyone needs to be involved.  100% participation.  Again- this can be tough but you can do it!  Make it something universal. 

Fun:  Absolutely has to be fun.  And really- goofy can be great here.  Come up with something that is out of the box.  Kids really love this stuff and we are all just old kids- right?

Planning:  Planning is an important part of it.  Talking and planning extends the experience and the power of the event.  Start planning the next year while you are wrapping up the previous year. 

Leaders should take advantage of traditions.  If you host an event that just explodes in popularity, why don’t you repeat the event and make it a tradition?  I believe that traditions are essential in families.  They give you something special that gives you a unique identification.  Take advantage of this!  Come up with a few traditions for your family.  Traditions are natural goodness- just like Frankfort, Michigan over the 4th of July!

Do you have a family tradition that you would like to share?  Please click on comments below and tell me your story!