Unexpected Gifts

shutterstock_148595204.jpgGifts.  It’s always a big topic of every holiday season.  We might be busy trying to buy things from a “wish list” of someone we know, or maybe we are thinking about what we ourselves might receive for Christmas.   But here’s a question:  Have you ever received an amazing gift you didn’t even know you wanted or would have ever imagined?  Unexpected gifts often bring unexpected blessings, and yet when it comes to circumstances in our lives, we don’t seem to have that reaction.

As people of faith, we know that God sees the big picture and has a plan for our lives.   We believe Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”   We hold to Romans 8:28 – “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”   We know what He has promised, but when things aren’t working like we think they should, we start looking at God like He is some kind of a spiritual grinch.  It’s easy to lose sight of the truth of God’s goodness when we are buried in our perspective on what we think that “goodness” should be.

shutterstock_755066917We want things to be good, prosperous, and somewhat easy, but we certainly don’t want and wouldn’t choose for ourselves things like pain, grief, loss, betrayal or being dismissed.  When we endure those things, it’s hard to see them as gifts.  Over the past year, I have been given many of those so-called “gifts,” and if I am being honest, I wasn’t too happy about it.  I have complained, been discouraged and even distraught at times.  I’ve definitely had moments of feeling like God is a grinch and that He just seems to want to take away everything good from us.  That being said, I have also learned that sometimes when we lose things or go through difficult times, it really does start to change our perspective.  It enables us, if we allow God to work, to see things differently.  It allows us to grow, and that is a gift.  I would dare say it is one of His greatest gifts to us – presenting us with situations that challenge us and force us to re-examine our lives, faith and service to Him and to others in whatever place we find ourselves. Sometimes He allows things to happen that force us to reach out to others, and in doing so we often find incredible people and incredible perspective.  When we open ourselves up to what God is doing rather than trying to explain it, we find love, compassion, care, and genuine concern.  We find His word speaking to us through channels we wouldn’t have previously considered, and all of these things we find coming from a source that we don’t expect.   When we stand back and truly see the goodness of God and His mercy in allowing difficult circumstances into our lives, we can become thankful for it.  It’s truly difficult for us to embrace our challenges, disappointments and discouragements or the people or things that cause them, but they truly are for our good.

shutterstock_243236653We have a good Father who loves us and wants the best for us always.  He has an amazing plan for our lives that includes our places of service.  He knows what’s coming, and while we are freaking out trying to see ahead, He is standing there patting us on the shoulder whispering, “I am the one who goes before you.  I’ll be with you, so don’t be afraid or dismayed.  I’ll never leave you or forsake you.”  (Deut. 31:8)  He knows that no matter what we are going through, that there is a PLAN!  Let that sink in for a moment.  I’ve been talking about “unexpected gifts” but they are only unexpected to us and not to God!  He is not only aware of what is happening, but He is working through all of it to bring us to the most amazing places in this life.  Remember, we see the messy threads underneath the tapestry that look jumbled and ugly, but when you flip it over, you see the beautiful image and artwork that God saw (and designed) all along.

In all of my personal struggles this year, it has caused me to truly step back and search out what God is leading me to do rather than making plans of my own.  He has been stirring things in my heart through some painful circumstances.  Would I rather Him stir my heart by providing beautiful scenes in nature or other wonderful experiences?  Of course I would!  But by bringing me to a place where I became too tired to fight, I was finally able to start listening more closely to what HE wants, and not what I would choose for myself.   If I had my way, I’d choose status quo far more often than not.  I would choose to narrow my vision and settle for the “ok” when God wants me to soar into the amazing!  Letting go of my own expectations of what should be, and dropping the weight that comes with pressing forward when God is telling me to be still, has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  It has also been one of the most liberating!  When I get out of the way and step back so that I can listen, it is amazing what I am able to hear.

shutterstock_727967878So as we approach this season of celebration, I am thankful for unexpected gifts and unexpected paths.  I am grateful that God doesn’t just know exactly what we need, but also knows the desires of our hearts that we ourselves haven’t even realized!  I am thankful that He continually works in our lives so that we can change our perspective and come into alignment with HIS heart.  When we trust that He is good and is always working ALL things for our good, then we begin to desire what He desires.  We want what He wants instead of depending on our understanding of what is “good.”  Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  He can do that because when we delight in HIS will and HIS plans, then it’s easy to give us the desires of our hearts because they are the same as His.

Unexpected gifts – things that weren’t even in the realm of our imagination or things we would have never wanted for ourselves, can truly be the greatest gifts we receive.  I guess I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what’s on my own “wish list” for God, because the gifts He has for me are truly “exceedingly, abundantly above all I could ask or think.”  All I need to do is be willing to accept His gifts even when I don’t understand them completely.   After all, when we think He is saying “no” to what we want, just remember that it’s because He has an even greater “yes.”

Merry Christmas and Blessing to you all!

A Flawed Yardstick

shutterstock_321656606In life, all of us tend to measure ourselves by how we compare with the other people in our lives.  Do we have as much as they have?  Do we look as good as they look?  Are we as successful as they are?  We do a lot of comparing and although it can spur us to make positive changes in our lives, it more often makes us just feel worse about our circumstances.  The truth is if we never saw or knew what someone else has or did, we’d be much happier with what WE have.  Right now I wish I could remember that truth more strongly than I do.

My husband and I have a good life.  We have a great marriage, a great (though imperfect) family, amazing friends, a wonderful church, good jobs, two awesome dogs and a home to call our own.  However, like most middle class families, we sometimes (or often) struggle to make ends meet.  We’ve been blessed to, on certain occasions, be able to save a little extra to buy something frivolous that we want or maybe even go on a short vacation.  We don’t have the luxury of taking extended time off or going on glamorous or exotic trips.  We don’t drive glamorous vehicles, but our old vehicles are paid for and they still run decently.  In another year and a half, if we stay on track, we will be debt free with the exception of our home.  I don’t think we will ever be anything but upside down on that!  Welcome to middle class America where you make just enough to get by, but never enough to get ahead.  I know we are not the only ones in this boat!

It’s easy for all of us to sometimes look at the people around us and wonder why it seems that others are blessed with the things we want.  It’s easy to question why we work ourselves to the bone and try to be decent people when there never seems to be any payoff in comparison to what we see others getting.  We see people who are mean, manipulative or even dishonest, being rewarded at every turn while we feel as though we get kicked over and over, no matter how hard we try.  As people of faith, we can even question, like in the 73rd psalm, “Why do the evil prosper?”  It seems that doing the right things, being good to others even when we don’t agree with them, or living by the “golden rule,” will do nothing but wear you out.  We’ve all been there and we’ve all thought it at one point or another.  The interesting thing is that if we didn’t ever have to see or listen to what others are getting, we would be much more content with our own situation.

shutterstock_337724702It is an interesting thing to consider that when we actually look at someone who is less fortunate than we are, we suddenly feel better about our own situation.  For example, when you pass a homeless person shivering in the night, or drive through a run-down and even dangerous area of town, it puts things in perspective.  We find ourselves suddenly grateful that we have a roof over our heads, a warm bed in which to sleep, clothes to wear and food on the table.   But you see, normally we aren’t taking time to consider those who have less than us.  We only consider and look at people who have more.  When you pay attention only on those who have more or are getting the things you want (or have even prayed for) it can be tough to swallow.  And if you believe God is in control, it can be even worse because it can sometimes lead to you feeling like God is mad at you or somehow he doesn’t see or maybe he just doesn’t care.  Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  If that’s true, then what’s the problem?

First of all, we take a lot of verses and twist them to make it sound like God is some kind of cosmic cash-cow with which we just pull the lever and get what we want.  I’ve heard a lot of people (and preachers) who often quote the last phrase of James 4:3 and say, “You have not because you ask not,” and leave it at that.  Is that a truth?  Yes, but we must continue and read the next verse that says, “You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your own lusts and pleasures.”  You see, this isn’t just “Ask God and you’ll get what you want.”  The reality is very simple if we go back to Psalm 37:4.  If you truly delight yourself in the Lord, it means you will come into agreement with His will.  You will seek Him first, and when that happens, the desires of your heart will change.  You won’t be concerned with keeping up with the neighbors, but instead will be concerned with living as Christ lived and being obedient to His principles.  Your desires will be aligned with God’s will.  You will want what He wants because you delight in Him above all else.  And when that happens, you will find the desires of your heart granted.  You will ask and receive because you are NOT asking with the wrong motives.  It isn’t rocket science, but no one wants to talk about this aspect of God’s word.

So back to this issue of feeling unfulfilled as a person of faith.  It really is all in your perspective.  It all comes back to God’s grace and mercy, and how we view it.  God’s grace and mercy are things that are freely given to us.  shutterstock_308297366Grace is getting what we don’t deserve, and mercy is NOT getting what we DO deserve.  For example, even though I’m saved, I still sin.  I don’t deserve for God to forgive me time and time again for doing or thinking the same thing, and yet he has promised to forgive us EVERY time we ask and wipe the slate clean so He can bless us.  That is grace – I don’t deserve it but He blesses me anyway.  On the flip side, I deserve to have to feel miserable and condemned because of the things I think or do, yet God promises to not only forgive us but to forget it completely and then helps us move forward and live abundantly with all kinds of blessings.  More practically speaking, it could also look something like this:

  • Grace – Maybe you don’t always do the right thing financially, but God looks for the areas in which He can still bless you. You end up with nice things, in spite of how you behave at times.
  • Mercy – Maybe you are oblivious or selfish and often make other people feel worse about themselves or their situations (even if it is unknowingly). Instead of leaving you with no friends (which is what you deserve), He allows you to continue to have relationships, and He even continues to help you grow and change.

Grace and mercy really do go hand in hand many times.  If we look close enough, we can see both of them at work in our lives in the very same situations.

We all really love grace and mercy when it applies to us.  We love when God blesses us even when we don’t deserve it.  We love that He forgives us and then helps us through the repercussions of our bad decisions or behavior.  We love that He doesn’t take away everything we have just because we rub it in other people’s faces through our insensitivity to their circumstances, or maybe even if we simply don’t appreciate it.  And when we’ve done something stupid (like my husband and I have done financially on many occasions) and should experience great loss, we let out a huge sigh of relief when God provides a way to minimize the impact.  We love grace and mercy – until it happens to someone else.  shutterstock_74446510When we look at someone who gets something  we think they did NOT deserve, it makes us angry or jealous.  We just can’t figure out why God would do that.  After all, why wouldn’t God punish them instead of allowing good things in their lives?  I must confess I have a big “justice gene” in me, and it’s hard for me to watch people do wrong (or not do right) and just keep landing on their feet.  We’ve all watched people who have made terrible decisions in their lives and still keep coming out on top.  That’s a hard thing to witness when you spend your life truly trying to do the right things and somehow keep coming out on the bottom.  It can be a very difficult thing to handle.

In Matthew 20:1-16, we are told a parable of a landowner who went out at around 6:00 a.m.  and hired men to work in his vineyard.  He made a contract with them to work until 6:00 p.m. for a full day’s wage.  At 9:00 a.m., the owner went back and found some more men to come work for him.  He told them to come and work and he’d pay them “whatever was right.”  The owner did the same thing again at noon, 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.   Remember, no one but the first set of workers had a contract.  When quitting time came at 6:00 p.m., the owner started paying everyone, beginning with those who were hired last.  The owner paid them a full day’s wage.  Remember these guys only worked for one hour!  Then he did the same with each group of men, paying each of them a full day’s wage, regardless of when they started working.  You can just see the first group of men standing there as the process was going on, thinking surely they will be paid MORE since they worked all day long and these other “lazy” men got paid full wages.  When it came time to pay the 6:00 a.m. workers, the owner paid them exactly what they had contracted for – a full day’s wage.  Was that a fair amount?  Absolutely!  Did it make them angry?  Absolutely!  When they complained about it, the owner said, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a day’s wage?  Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.  Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?”  Ouch!  It’s interesting to note that if those 6:00 a.m. workers had not paid attention to what everyone else was paid, they would have been happy with their wages and for the fairness of the owner who kept His word.  They were richer at the end of the day than when they began, but that no longer mattered.

So often we are like the 6:00 a.m. workers, especially as Christians.  We know what God has promised us, so we go about serving Him as we believe He has asked us to do.  We attend church, tithe, sing, teach, and a host of other things, and we even do them with the right motives!  We study and we try to live the way He has instructed us to live.  We strive to be generous, love others and forgive even without being asked.  We stand up for what is right, and take the high road in our personal and professional lives.  And you know what?  WE ARE BLESSED!  If we are doing what we are called to do, then we will absolutely be blessed.  God has promised, and He does not lie.  So then everything should be great, right?  Wrong!  See, God doesn’t care how late in the day someone starts serving Him; He cares about HOW they serve Him.  Someone could spend a lifetime making bad decisions but asking God to forgive him/her, and guess what?  He WILL!  When He forgives, He forgets and wipes the slate clean.  That means He is free to bless that person when he/she makes good decisions or is obedient to His will.  But we cry out “That isn’t fair!” shutterstock_294695897 We sit back and start thinking about all the effort we’ve put in, maybe even the persecution we’ve endured in life for living right, and start feeling slighted that God doesn’t give us more!  Once we get into that cycle, we become ungrateful and resentful not only of what others have, but of the fact that God now seems so unfair.  Sometimes it shakes our faith to the point that we start considering becoming selfish and living however we want, because in our minds, obviously that’s what pays off.  We feel we have a right to complain about it, just like those 6:00 a.m. workers did, and God’s answer is the same as the owner of that vineyard:  “I am not being unfair to you, friend…Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?”  The truth is, we are envious because He is generous, and the entire problem begins when we start looking around and comparing what we have to what others have.

God is a gracious and merciful Father.  All of us count on Him keeping His word.  We count on the way He forgives and restores us, even when we don’t deserve it.  We count on the fact that He blesses us any time we serve him with the right motives, instead of punishing us for when we don’t.   We each have our own walk, and I don’t know exactly what is going on in your life, just like you don’t know exactly what is going on in mine.  You don’t know where I’ve been or the state of my relationship with God, just as I don’t know yours.  So before we get too judgmental with others (or ourselves), or become too critical of God Himself (because that is the reality of what we are doing), we need to step back and remember who He is.  God IS love, and He is continually forgiving ALL of us when we ask and blessing us far beyond what we deserve.

We need to stop determining  our opinion of God’s mercy and grace based on how we all compare to each other.   If we look at what anyone else has as a measure of His generosity, we are in danger of using a terribly flawed yardstick  to judge both those who we think are better OR worse off than ourselves.  The truth is that if we have more than others, it isn’t a sign that we are better than them or that God likes us more.  And if we have less than others, it isn’t a sign that God likes us less!  Focus on what you do have instead of what you don’t.  Consider the faithfulness of God in your life instead of being upset that He is faithful in someone else’s.

Grace and mercy – two beautiful aspects of God’s character that we twist and turn to fit the way WE think, but thankfully His ways are not our ways.  He is more loving, forgiving and generous than any one of us could ever be, and I am grateful.   If He has made specific promises, He will always keep His word (like the owner with the first group of workers).  But in those areas where His promises are what He will do, but not HOW He will do it, we must trust that He will always “do whatever is right.”  Very few people spend their entire lives in true service without sliding backwards every now and then.  Every time we sin, we lose time – work time, service time.  We are the equivalent of the “lazy” workers who didn’t put in a full day’s work.  That puts almost all of us in the category of the other workers.  When we lose time, we must trust God that He will reward us with “whatever is right.”  It is quality, not quantity for which He is searching.

shutterstock_130134731So today, I will look to Him and His faithfulness to me instead of looking at the possessions, successes or blessings of anyone else.  Will I stay in this place?  Unfortunately not, but through the beauty of God’s grace and mercy, I can return to it with a simple refocusing and the promise of His forgiveness whenever I ask…no matter how many times it takes.

Blessings!

Light at the End of the Darkness

Annette Ness blur cropOn Saturday, it will be 17 years since I lost my best friend, Annette…however, it was a Thursday evening 17 years ago today, January 16th that I saw her for the last time.  Even the days of the week this year coincide with the days of the week when she passed away.  I had no idea our time together that Thursday evening would end up being the last moments we spent together and I suppose that made it all the more beautiful.  I told someone yesterday that I could not have been blessed with a greater or more perfect “last” visit with Annette.  Every single thing that happened that night was beautiful and complete.  It truly was completely perfect.

When we lose someone, we long for completion.  We long for closure and finality instead of unresolved situations or feelings.  Unfortunately, it is an extremely rare occasion when we actually GET the completeness we so desire.  I have lost many people in my life and almost all of these situations did have some kind of final closure for me.  That doesn’t mean I have forgotten these beautiful souls, but it means that I was able to experience some kind of commemoration of their lives that made me feel like they had truly been honored…or at least I had honored them if no one else did.  It is important to me.  It is just as important as my perspective on the brevity of life.  It is that truth that we are not promised another day that has always driven me to ensure the people in my life know how I feel about them.  I am not morbid; I simply think it is SO extremely important for us to express our love and gratitude for those special people around us.  It not only makes goodbyes more tolerable, it can actually add a sweetness to it.  It doesn’t make it easy, but it does make it more complete.

Annette and I did not have a perfect relationship, but we had a perfectly beautiful connection.  And in the end, our final time together truly was perfect.  As I reflect back to that night…this night, I am immersed in beautiful sensations.   There are no earthly words to truly express what I feel in my heart and soul when I remember that evening.  One of the things that stands out in my memory is a song I sang to her that night.  She wanted me to put on a tape I had made for her of me singing her favorite songs, so of course I did exactly that.  The music was playing in the background but then she asked me to sing along, even though it was already my voice on the tape.  There was one song in particular that Annette always loved.  It is called “Light at the End of the Darkness” and over the years she often asked me to sing it at church for her.  There was just something about that song for Annette that spoke to her and lifted her up from whatever difficulties she was enduring at the time.  It’s quite an old song, but it was never outdated in Annette’s mind.  I haven’t sung that song since Annette died and today I realized just how much I miss it.

Saturday, January 18th, is a day often filled with the memories of Annette’s actual death and of the terribly heartbreaking experiences of that entire day, but Thursday, January 16th, brings memories of the most beautiful kind.  It reminds me of how blessed I am to have been given such a night of perfect completeness with someone so important to me.  It makes me appreciate every single moment, word, touch and breath of that night.  It makes me thankful to God that He knew what was coming in less than two days so He provided me a night that, for most people, only exists in movies.  It brings back the sights and sounds of that night and brings such a sense of completeness that my heart doesn’t know what to do with it.  And then it hits me…I miss her so much it hurts.

So today, I have been listening to that song…but this time, I hear the words coming in the voice of my dear friend.  I see her smile and feel the warmth of her spirit…and truth be told, it is a special gift that continuously, simultaneously breaks and heals my heart.

Blessings!

Gratitude Meltdown!

Last week I had a meltdown.  It wasn’t the type of meltdown that comes from too much stress or difficulties in life, but rather a meltdown of gratitude.  I know that sounds odd and maybe even foreign to some of you but let me explain.

BlessingLast Tuesday night, I was on my way home after an amazing seminary class filled with all kinds of discussion.  As I left, I found myself feeling extremely emotional and grateful for so many things in my life.  I am normally an overly thankful person who appreciates even the smallest things, but this was different.  As I thought about the path I have been on the last year or so, I couldn’t help but see how God has continued to work in even the smallest things in my life.   I was speaking with a friend of mine and told her, “I wish people could step into my soul for even a moment so they could have some kind of concept of how deeply my gratitude runs for them and how much I love them. “ 

There are things I believe I have been called to do in this life.  I have felt this way as long as I can remember, but there have been a few times here and there along the way when I believe God has made it abundantly clear what I needed to be doing.  Interestingly, the “calling” or purpose for my life has never changed.  It may have been manifested in different ways, but the underlying purpose has always been the same.   I have not always followed that calling, but I have also never been able to escape it.  When God reveals your true purpose to you, no matter what age that occurs, you are never the same.  You either live in fulfillment of your calling or you fight it.  Sometimes that decision changes from year to year, day to day, or even moment to moment.  The one thing you can no longer claim is ignorance.

As I reflected on my own calling and purpose last week, I was overwhelmed by a deep acceptance of what I know in my heart.  Then I was flooded with a sense of gratitude for situations and people who have helped me over the past few years more than they will ever be able to understand.  Most of these people have no clue what part they have played in the continual “gelling” of my purpose.  They have no concept of how God has used them to help guide the trajectory of my life.  I could write volumes on each one specifically but it would still only express a tiny fraction of what I feel in my heart for them. 1009759_10152000392095299_569841632_n Even in my professional life, God has used countless situations, and some very special people, to bring me to deeper realizations about myself and life in general.   I am blessed to be part of a company I believe in, owned by a man I deeply respect.  God used him to bring me to a place where I could grow not only professionally, but emotionally and spiritually as well.  I am not the most normal person on the planet, but he and many others in the office allow me to be true to the things I believe in most.  The freedom I have found in my work environment has given me the ability to follow where I am led both inside and outside the office.  It has strengthened my spirit beyond comprehension.  It has not only helped make me a much stronger and authentic individual, it has made me a more passionate and committed person of faith.  How many people can say that about their work environment, owner, boss or coworkers?  It is overwhelming.

My point is that we ALL have a purpose to fulfill.  We may try to ignore it or even fight it when it comes up but we can’t escape it.  Sometimes our calling is to something that seems entirely different than the job or circumstances in which we find ourselves.  That’s when we need to step back for a moment and consider that maybe we are exactly where we are supposed to be…for now.   Maybe God has us in places where our purpose is going to be fulfilled through unexpected means.  Maybe we feel called to ministry but find ourselves in secular professions.  Does that mean we have strayed from our true path?  Of course not!  Yes, sometimes we hide in our professions to try and avoid the fear of stepping out into the truth of who we are, but we must not forget that where we are is much less important than WHAT we are!  If you are called to love, then love!  It doesn’t matter if you work for a church or the government.  If you are called to teach, then teach!  It may be in the school system or within your own home.  If you are called to sing, then sing!  Do it in your car or the shower if nowhere else.  If you are called to minister, then minister!  You don’t have to be in a pulpit to share the truth of God’s love, grace and mercy with others.

shutterstock_157249559If you are truly called to do something, you will do it no matter what…even if no one applauds you or appreciates it.  You will do it no matter what it costs you in time, energy or finances.   You will do it because you cannot keep from doing it!  You will do it with humility.  You will do it with grace.  You will do it with compassion.  You will not demand the spotlight and you will not be angry with those who aren’t impressed with your passion.  You will simply live as you are called and let God take care of the rest.  It is my job to follow the truth of my calling and it is God’s job to take care of the results…even when it doesn’t seem like anyone notices.  When I live with that perspective, I live in a very different kind of peace.

I am so grateful for what this past year has brought and all the people in my life who have affected my path.  When I truly consider it all, I am overtaken with emotion and fall to my knees in earnest prayer for them all.  None of us can know what tomorrow holds, but we can decide to live today paying attention to just how blessed we really are.

And if that realization takes your breath away and you cannot stop the flow of tears…then let them come.  Maybe a “meltdown of gratitude” is exactly what you need to be able to see clearly again.

Blessings!

Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of…UGH!

Now that Halloween has come and gone for another year, I have to think about how much work goes into costumes and decorations for one day.  Yes, I know that every holiday is really just “one day,” but at least Thanksgiving and Christmas are more like seasons than days.

D pirateThis year, my work team and I decided we would be pirates for Halloween.  I work for an amazing company, owned by an amazing man who allows us to be freely festive and decorate everything we can find in the office.  Each area went all out and we had many visitors and trick-or-treaters who came to enjoy the atmosphere throughout the day.  But this year was different for me.  We started planning for Halloween in August.  We spent a lot of personal time, energy and even money on putting together realistic props and other things to make our area totally amazing…and it was!

The problem for me wasn’t that I felt others didn’t appreciate us for being in the spirit; it was how all the details of what we had accomplished went totally overlooked.  We crafted handmade dice, used real turkey drumsticks, turned our aisle into a wooden pier complete with pilings, made cargo crates and spent hours gluing gold coins to a tablecloth to create a treasure pile, etc.  I even brought items from home for my “captain’s quarters” that were old and valuable, including eyeglasses from the 1800s and some antique books worth several hundred dollars.  We had lights that made the walls look like water reflecting on them.  We had paid attention to every detail, but in the end, no one really noticed.  They enjoyed the theme but I think they would have been just as happy if we hadn’t gone to such great lengths.  It was disappointing and even discouraging.

As I reflected Halloween night on the disappointment I felt over such details going unnoticed, I was struck with the eerie similarity it all had to “real” life.   For those of us who pay attention to details, even the seemingly insignificant ones, it’s hard to understand how people can look at the same things we are looking at and not see the countless hours or huge amounts of energy and effort put into something we have either created or completed.  shutterstock_159315767We’ve all experienced great disappointment after having worked tirelessly on a project for work, home, church or some other organization, only to have others overlook the details that made it what it was.  Most people don’t see the details; they only see the overall picture.  For example, if you clean a spot on the carpet, no one really cares.  People don’t notice if it isn’t there, but they sure notice when it is!  One of the things Disneyland does so well is the details.  Every tiny detail is paid attention to so that the guest is immersed in an experience like no other.  Guests don’t notice the tiny details, but if they were missing, the experience would be lessened.  It is the details that create the experience, but it is the experience that stirs the soul.

The vision we have for our lives, or the things in it, is important, but that vision only comes to life when we spend the time and effort on the details.  It is the painstaking hours, days or even years we spend on the details of our lives that creates an overall experience that stirs the soul.  It is the thankless and overlooked work we do that creates an end product or result that is appreciated, even though there is no concept of the amount of blood, sweat and tears we may have put into it.

shutterstock_156549593People appreciate the scenes around them; few appreciate or even stop to consider all the “little” things that had to be taken care of for the scene to come to life.  These “scenes” might be something as major as creating or building something amazing or as routine as making dinner, but each requires “behind the scenes” work that, in most cases, will not be appreciated.  We must learn to find appreciation within ourselves for the hard work we do for others.  Sure, we can decide it’s not worth it and resign ourselves to just doing what is necessary to get by, but nothing can replace the sense of accomplishment we get from doing something well.  The harder you work on something, the greater the sense of accomplishment…and that is a feeling no one can take away from you.

We need to stop looking to outside sources to appreciate all the little things we do.  We need to stop waiting for others to say “good job” when we already know in our hearts we did a good job.  We need to stop pinning our feelings of success on the opinions of those around us and start understanding that true success comes from within.  Taking care of the details to ensure an amazing experience, is not something we do for others; it is something we do for ourselves.

shutterstock_73650523 (1)And the next time you find yourself enjoying a “scene” or person around you, maybe you should stop and look at little closer at all the intricate details that made it possible.  You might be surprised to find that what is under the surface is far greater than anything that meets the eye.

Blessings!