How will you be remembered?

IMG_3301 (1)The latest edition of The Rotarian Magazine came in the mail yesterday. Before I ever opened it I recognized the face of Bill Gates on the cover and the familiar Rotary call for the eradication of polio. This is a passion for Rotarians around the world and over 2.5 billion children have been immunized thanks to Rotary International. The call has been put out for Rotarians to give 50 million a year for the next three years and it will be matched 2-1 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Awesome challenge and goal but this blog post is not about Rotary or The Gates foundation.

 

Most of the people who read this do not have billions or millions of dollars to leave as a legacy so what will you and I leave behind? I think about this a lot and find myself more and more philosophical about it. Already this year I’ve had the opportunity to assist over 40 families by conducting memorial services for their loved ones. I ask the same questions with every family. “What were they like? What did they love to do? Who were they?”

 

Sometimes words are easy to come by and families have lots to say and other times there is awkward silence because they really don’t have much to say. For me my prayer has been that God would give me the ability to see what’s important and what matters to Him and the people around me that are in my sphere of influence. What can I do to influence and motivate others? What resources do I possess that I can pass on? I’m pretty  sure it won’t be money. Here are a few things I’m an thinking about.

Faith: OF course I want to pass on my faith in Christ. I want my kids to know that anything short of full surrender to Christ of everything we are and do is to settle for way less then He intended. My faith in Him carries me through every circumstance whether good or bad.

Failure: I will leave a legacy of the fact that I wasn’t perfect and that while I had some notable failures they didn’t write the last chapter. God redeems our lives from destruction. I want to include my failures in my testimony  because it is important for people to understand the grace, compassion and mercy of God.

Words: I hope that words I have spoken will leave a lasting impact. I am not talking at all about words used in sermons or classroom lectures. I am talking about words spoken to the hearts of other people. Words of encouragement. Words of thankfulness. Words that built someone up when they were at a low point. Words of praise for jobs well done. Words of correction laced with love. Loving words. Kind words. Words of peace. Words spoken to someone that others ignore.

Listening: I hope to get better at this. Most people have little genuine interest in what you have to say but will sure love you if you listen to what they have to say. Too many times I walk away from conversations and realize I talked way too much. Being a good listener is an art.

Memories: Memories are made by taking time to do something with someone else or for someone else. Memories that I cherish are time spent with my children when they were younger. There were some trips that we made to other parts of the country usually scheduled around my preaching somewhere. For me as a child I remember other adults that took time to do things with me. There was the man that took me on motorcycle rides every now and then. The men that picked me up on Saturday mornings and took me hunting. The men that let me pick up their guitars, mandolins, and banjos over the years and helped me learn a chord or two. Because of them I have always tried to pass on my time to others and especialy kids. I love having a part or playing a role in the growth of kids intellectually, spiritually, and even emotionally.

 

Grace: For sure I have not always been good at this but after my own unforeseen failure I welcome every opportunity to extend grace to others that need it.  I hope that it is more than a passing “nice to see you” kind of grace but one that actually responds by walking closer to the person than ever before. And I never want to walk away from someone no matter how repulsive their actions. If Jesus taught anything by His walk and words on this earth it was to love the broken and bruised.

Compassion: What a huge word! Compassion is so expansive. Compassion for needs around the world. Compassion for people with addictions. Compassion for people in poverty. Compassion for the uneducated that make ignorant choices. Compassion for the educated that make ignorant choices. Compassion comes from a soft heart and a gentle spirit. It is not hateful. Compassion never gives you the right to be mean to anyone behind their backs or to their face. Compassion never laughs or finds delight in the struggles of someone else.

Serving others: There is no substitute for serving others. No matter what titles I have ever held or positions I have enjoyed in the workplace I love to step away from my day to day responsibilities to lend a hand to someone else. Time and schedules often hinder this but serving should always be a part of who we are. Be willing to serve and not always be the one receiving. Someone used this phrase to describe churches. They said, “They are either about “service” or “serve us.”  I am confident my oldest two kids got this. I hope that the kids I get to influence these days will be the kind of adults that think of others first and see something that needs to be done and just do it. Currently we are working on actually rinsing the dirty dish instead of leaving it for someone else to deal with hours later or actually replacing the toilet paper roll when the other one runs out. (Lol) I mean it’s the little things. Service begins at home.

Loving the “least of these.” Jesus taught it with force. He tied it into the judgement day scenario. We will be judged on how we engaged or ignored the “least of these.”  This is a tough one because of generational poverty and so much mental illness but the “least of these” isn’t always the extreme cases. Sometimes it is the person that is standing in line in front of us or the person across the street.  Every chance I get I remind the girls I live with as I am dropping them off at school to love somebody today that others are not willing to love or talk to. Someone once said, “We won’t get into heaven without a letter of reference from the poor.”

Priorities and reminders for me:  Put Christ and His principles first. Love Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Spend your precious time on things that matter. Open the Bible daily because it is your roadmap to living. Pray often throughout the day and stay connected to God. Listen for His voice at different moments throughout the day. Sometimes just see how many times you can give God a mental assent of thankfulness in one day. Divorce yourself from this world and its priorities. When we were young it was about what kind of tennis shoes or clothes we wore to school and then you get older and realize that you are judged by the car you drive or the house you live in. Reject the pull to respond to such nonsense. Write more notes to others. Pass out smiles and kind words more often. Be less sarcastic . . . it’s really not all that funny.  Put people and conversations before your cell phone. Spend more time with your family. Time is short. Love aggressively and work on being Christ-like always.  Thank you Francene for the reminders of how to love others.

“May the words of my mouth and the mediations of my heart be pleasing to you oh Lord my Rock and Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14 NLT

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The struggle is real . . . but finally there is help and hope.

On June 26th 2017 I stood on the scale and was filled with dismay and disbelief. Thethumb_IMG_2087_1024
number loomed larger than life and for sure larger than it has ever been in my 56 years on this planet. I wish I could describe the feeling of despair I was overcome with. I have battled my weight most of my adult life but on this day I hit a new low. (actually it was a high) I couldn’t believe my eyes when the scale read 289.5 pounds!

Fortunately my wife offered to take a 30 day clean eating challenge with me to see if it would make a difference . . . and what a difference it made! We just completed our second thirty-day challenge for a total of 60 days of healthy and clean eating. I’m down 37 pounds and she is down 18. (I hear guys always lose quicker.)

I am filled with joy at the prospect of dropping another 40 pounds over the next few months. Already my clothes that have hung unworn for many months now are starting to fit again. I feel great. I am sleeping better. I have way more energy and mentally feel like there is hope. At my highest weight I was struggling to get in and out of the car. Putting socks on was becoming an issue. Even taking a walk was a challenge. My blood pressure was sky-high.

I could analyze why eating is such an issue for me but in all honesty I don’t know why. What I do know is that I am not hungry during the day and that makes all the difference in the world. I am thankful, very thankful. I am filled with “great”fulness.”  Thanks to Francene for not judging but encouraging me and worrying about my health. Thanks to IMG_2860.jpgGod for allowing me to have this chance at correcting a lot of bad habits. Thank you Arbonne for making healthy and nutritious shakes.

I’m not lookng for “atta boys” or anything else but I want to offer hope to anyone that is struggling with their health. The struggle really is real. Gone are the feelings of hopelessnes. I can do this. We are doing this. You can do this. Be healthy. Take care of yourself and talk to us if you want to know more.

 

God’s mercy . . .

This is a quick post from a recent study on mercy and done in preparation for teaching an adult Sunday School class. It touched me so I am sharing it with those of you that read this blog.  All I would add is that God sent His Son in the form of a man to accommodate and relate to my brokeness. Somehow God finds a way to love you and I even when our life takes turns that leave permanant scars.

There is an affecting story, told by the surgeon and writer Richard Seltzer in his book, Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery, about a young woman with a tumor in her cheek. In order to excise the tumor, Seltzer is forced to cut a tiny but important nerve which controls the muscles on one side of her mouth. The woman is scarred for life, her face slightly droopy on one side, her smile crooked.

Dr. Seltzer writes of his visit to her hospital room after the surgery.

I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of her facial nerve, the one to the muscles in her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. As a surgeon, I had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh, I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.

 Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. “Who are they,” I ask myself, “he with his wry mouth who gaze and touch each other so generously?”

 The woman speaks:

 “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.

 “Yes,” I say. “It is because the nerve was cut.”

 She nods, is silent. But the young man smiles.

“I like it,” he says. “It’s kind of cute.”

 All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful of my presence, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I’m so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate hers, to show her that their kiss still works.

I remember that the gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals, and I hold my breath and let the wonder in.”

So God came to us in the form of a human Son,  accommodates His lips to our’s, to breathe into us the breath of life, and, yes, to give us the kiss of joy and delight. He is a merciful God and does every thing He can to show us His mercy. No matter how scarred or broken God will not walk away or leave you. He will not forsake you and when you feel as though you can never be good enough again or project perfection like others around you He will come and hold you. He will not let you go and He will place His perfections against your imperfections until others will see only Him if they are looking with pure hearts.  God bless you and may you feel His grace in your life this day.

Not my words this time . . .

We were able to spend last weekend with my three siblings. I love these gathering andIMG_2672 they are much needed I think for the four of us. My oldest sister blessed me with the handwritten copy of something my mother wrote and presented to a group of ladies. I am not sure of the context and it really doesn’t matter to me.

Her title was: Seeing Your Worth in God’s Eyes.  Here are some thoughts contained in these handwritten pages. I’m not including every word or a couple of stories she shared but here is the heart of her message:

“There is a need to feel loved, to have a sense of belonging, the need to feel acceptable., to have a sense of worthiness, the  need to feel adequate, to have a sense of competence. . .

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Picture of Scotty from around 1974

One day I noticed that my youngest son had a new playmate. He was a little red-headed boy — four years old. This little boy, whose family had moved in 2 blocks way, spent all day and evening into supper time at our house. His father was in the penitentiary and his mother was epileptic and never attended church. Scotty and his 6 year old sister began coming to church. They always came in the clothes they had slept in the night before. No one cared what they did. The came in the Sunday after Halloween  with faces painted with mascara and lipstick — walked down to the second row from the front so they could sit with me. As Christmas time approached, I assembled outfits for them and told them to come early before the Christmas program so I could wash and dress them. They marched onto the platform and soon it was his time to speak, he proudly stepped to the mike saying “Here I come” and then burst forth in gales of laughter. It was the best part of the program — a little boy that felt worthwhile in his new garments and someone that cared about him.

You have only to read John 3:16 to recognize that you were included in His great love. The apostle Paul wrote: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who hath blessed you will all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world. . . ‘

In Romans 2:10 we read, ‘For we are His workmanship, created in Christ  Jesus unto good works.’

Isaiah 43:7 ‘ Even every one that is called by My name: for I have created him for My glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.

1 Peter 2:9 ‘But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.’

 “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.‘ 1 John 3:1

If every person could conceive how completely God forgives, the world would see more joy.

 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:10-12

As the songwriter wrote:  ‘Wide, wide as the ocean, High as the heaven above. Deep, deep as the deepest sea is my Savior’s love. I, though so unworthy, still am a child of His care. For His word teaches me that His love reaches me, everywhere!'” –Virginia Humble

You are loved and remember that God’s mercy is greater than we can even begin to comprehend.  He loves you, seeks after you and never quits looking for you to come back to Him.  And when you come back . . . all heaven will rejoice and sing of the mercy of our Great God.  –W.

 

 

just stuff . . . thankful stuff

19990201_10159113453640370_8983252058991158193_nLife happens and sometimes it is life changing. Sometimes it exceeds anything you’ve ever experienced before. Both of my parents passed away but because of age and failing health those transitions seemed natural and for their sakes timely. Those deaths were hard but “normal” passages of life.

Sometimes things happen that completely change everything. Many times they are described as traumatic because when something really big happens in your life everything you have known is both challenged and changed. Normal is not normal anymore. You are in uncharted waters. You are in a wilderness and finding your own way out. My favorite metaphor is the desert description. It is a time of exploration, learning, listening and living. It is very different but living and life are precious gifts and somehow when big things happen it forces us to slow down and take deeper breaths and process the days and even relationships at a deeper level. When brokenness happens it is not all negative. Sometimes brokenness is what heals our hearts.

I am thankful for my life. I am thankful to be alive. I am thankful to be loved and to love. Every so often I have this sense that slowly and surely God is healing my life and heart from the inside out. It’s as though something deeper than my comprehension is happening and while it may not move as fast as I might think in reality all of life has slowed down so I inhale a little deeper and calmly wait to see what each new day brings. “Slowed down” is a very relative term because I am busier than ever but I think I mean that internally things are slower and more steady. I reflect more. I ponder more. I try really hard to be self-aware and in the moment.

It’s been a journey and I want to say thanks. First of all, I am thankful for my family . . . all of them. Each person in my family is unique and touches my life, challenging me to be  a better man, husband and father. Thank you Francene for loving me daily.

I am thankful for people.  I know at times in this blog I have grieved the loss of people I thought I was close to or others that have drawn conclusions and lines of division without ever talking to me or us or asking any questions, but this is not about them. This writing is about the people who have been kind, gracious and merciful.

There are some men and women that have loved unconditionally. Not once have i ever taken your love and support as endorsement of things I did wrong or should have done better. I can’t imagine how hard this has been at times but their support and grace never waivers. I struggle here because I want to name names but know if i do I will unintionally leave someone out. So let me try to do this and cover everyone.

Thanks to:

My siblings. I know I disappointed you but you have loved beyond my expectations. Your grace, kindness and support, though unmerited has been given freely and with love. Words truly fail me and I can not thank you enough.

The closest of friends that I talk to almost daily. Your availability has been life giving and life saving and that is not being dramatic.

The couples that are always up to hanging out and letting us be a part of your lives

The handful of pastor friends that have never wavered or pulled away but have urged me to follow God out of the brokenness and even given me chances and trusted me to share with their people. They actually treat me as though God really forgives and heals the broken. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The friends that call me and check on me or just to talk about life. Those “normal” conversations are so important and vital to the healing process.

The men that have trusted me with your life stories. I share your hurt and pray for you often.

The people I’ve bumped into in public that don’t run or walk the other way.

The people who extend a hug and a genuine show of care and concern every time I see you.

The hundreds of people who read this blog and have responded with stories of their own or private messages sharing the hurt and brokenness that they have or are experiencing. We are in this together and I am glad to be a part of your life as well.

The people who pray for me . . . those prayers are so important and God is listening.

The people who hit “like” on something I posted on Facebook. As dumb as that may sound there were times early on when I felt pretty isolated and alone and seeing someone acknowledge me in that way was encouraging. This goes beyond the little high we all get when someone hits like. lol  In the context of brokenness those “likes” say so much more.

The people who from the first moments I left the church and failed in my marriage sent private messages of hope mostly through Facebook or email. Amazing to go back and read but at the time they were life-sustaining.

The community around me outside the church that has been loving, generous and kind.

The men and women I work with daily who continue to let me be a part of their lives. So thankful for my job and the opportunity.

My dog . . . well he’s not mine. Everybody at the house says he’s their dog but daily he remains happy to see me and that’s worth a lot!  He has stayed by my side this morning for the last two hours while I have written and prayed and tried to prepare myself for gathering with the people of God on this Lord’s Day.

Most of all I am thankful for God. He IS the God that doesn’t walk away. He is the God that will turn toward you if you turn toward Him. He is the God that will draw near to you when you draw near to Him. He is the God that will punish you to help you turn back but He puts up with a lot before He goes to that option. He wasn’t shocked and has loved in all the ways He promises to.

That’s just some of the “stuff” I am thankful for.  I guess it’s not stuff . . . it’s people. Please know that I am so thankful for you. All of you.

 

 

 

Finding the light . . . Light.

IMG_2185When you walk through a particular dark time in your life it is easy to fall into patterns of depression or at best negativity. There is the temptation to believe that those moments may define you and in some ways control you. Many people spend years looking for light in the darkness of the trail following personal heartbreak, personal failure and devastating loss. Events can completely change everything about us and in some cases threaten to push us into places of darkness instead of light.

Life happens. Life is precarious and challenging. You may wake up one day and find yourself estranged from everything you once knew. Life is different. Life may not look like anything you’ve known in the past. Death, divorce, loss of vocation, and a hundred other things may cause your life to turn upside down.

There is hope.  There is light. You still have value and reason to live.  Yes, it is new. It may all be new and unlike anything you have known in the past but God never changes. He is the same. He is not shocked by your circumstances. He calls you to keep following. He longs for you to reach out to Him especially in your brokenness and vulnerability. He will lead you through the new and find ways to use you that are beyond what you can see now. Just follow the Light. Jesus is the Light.

In our journey, both Fran and I have read a lot, allowing others journey’s and words to bring healing. Brokenness is not easy and if you are not very attentive it may lure you into a stuck place. You might be tempted to let people, opinions and judgements without the facts stifle your future.  Sheryl Sandberg’s book Option B includes these words of admonition:

“We plant the seeds of resilience in the ways we process negative events. After spending decades studying how people deal with setbacks, psychologist Martin Seligman found that three P’s can stunt recovery: (1) personalization—the belief that we are at fault; (2) pervasiveness—the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and (3) permanence—the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever. The three P’s play like the flip side of the pop song “Everything Is Awesome”—“everything is awful.” The loop in your head repeats, “It’s my fault this is awful. My whole life is awful. And it’s always going to be awful.” Sheryl Sandberg, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy. 

Life is not awful. Life is here to be lived. You have family and friends. Some of those friends or even family might be new but you have people to love and people to give back to. You have things to do and God wants to do them through you. He has never shied away from the broken and hurting and more often than not He uses people who are broken to show the way of mercy and grace to those around them.

I keep writing this blog for those that have gone before me and those that will no doubt come behind me. Your responses both private and public often tell the stories of hurt, shame, discouragement and even depression but also many of them ring with the sound of hope. You’ve found Jesus in the shadows like you never found Him before when things, at least on the outside or publicly, were at their best. So relax . . . give yourself a break . . . let Jesus continue to call you and heal you. Let His Light shine on you in you and all around you.

 

 

 

He’s in a coma . . .

I wrote this blog two days after Otto Warmbier was returned home. Sadly he has passed away in the last 24 hours.

The tragic story of Otto Warmbier was in the news recently and it doesn’t look like a happy ending. Much of his story was buried by the shooting at the Repub636331232262094896-WarmbierFredAPlican Congressional baseball practice. His father stood and talked at a press conference and answered questions the day after Otto was returned home. As Fred Warmbier represented the family his voice only cracked once and that was when he identified the jacket he was wearing as the same one his son was last seen wearing in a North Korea propaganda video.

He was a vibrant and very much alive college student when he left home but since January of 2016 he has been held by this rouge and ugly nation. A few days ago he was flown home in a medical plane and the news was shared . . . he is in a coma.

I watched the three doctors from the University of Cincinnati explain that his chances of functioning again were very slim.

There are things that can happen in our life that literally turn everything we know upside down. There are moments that threaten to paralyze us and send us into a voluntary retreat. There are events that are life changing, traumatic, heartbreaking and even stifling to our lives and future. I am made to pause and think about the possible scenario that Otto may live with the rest of his life.  He is in what his doctors call “a state of unresponsive wakefulness.

When I heard this phrase I couldn’t quit thinking about it. It reminds me of what can happen to us if we allow traumatic circumstances or life issues to paralyze us from our future or even our today. Supposedly Otto will open his eyes but it is not connected to anything going on around him.

What is it like to be in an emotional coma? Because of things that have happened in your life you allow yourself to emotionally barely breathe or function. You shut down and if you are not careful you shut others out. You are awake but you dare not be responsive because to do so will make you vulnerable and you have learned that people can be cruel. People will judge you without knowing the whole story. People will take sides. I have yet to have anyone ask me point blank what happened? (I’ve told my story to a few people but most assume they know enough to judge.)  People will walk away from you and shun you. People will protest you by trying to hurt you economically if you are running a business. (I guess the logic is “We will show her or him just how much we disagree with their actions by pulling our business or friendship away.) People are flawed, even the ones that think they are not or can’t give themselves permission to be honest.

So . . . it is easy to want to drift into the solitude of an emotional coma. It is easy to want to narrow your friendships down to a precious few and run from the crowd. I don’t think it’s healthy. I don’t think it has to be or should be this way.

I hope that against the odds, Otto finds his way back to his family and out of his “state of unresponsive wakefulness.” And I hope for you and I, that we don’t allow ourselves or our story to keep us in an “emotional state of unresponsive wakefulness.” Allow yourself to be alive. Allow yourself to find joy. Allow yourself to accept the new. Allow yourself to laugh and even cry when it is healthy. If you need forgiveness from God, He offers it unconditionally and if He has forgiven you and He hasn’t walked away from you rise up out of the coma and let God fill your life with His goodness.