Hope For The New Year

shutterstock_731389564Well, we’ve just come through the first week of 2018 and have heard the words “Happy New Year” over and over.  We rang in the New Year in all different kinds of ways, and now we are back to the day to day grind.  Some of us made promises to do something different this year, while others are just trying to not rock the boat and keep things the same.  So now what?  And why do so many of us focus on making changes at this time of year?  Is it because we are unhappy with the current state of our life or is it because we are discontent with decisions we’ve made in the past.  Change at the turn of the New Year is enticing because, after all, who doesn’t want a clean slate (or even a “do-over”)?

The New Year brings exciting, and often motivating, potential for change.  We are energized for new things, but what do we do with the changes that happen to us?  It’s easy to jump in to try and make ourselves or our lives better, but how often do we actually keep the promises we make on January 1st?  A study by the University of Scranton revealed that only 8% of people achieve their New Year goals.  That means a whopping 92% do not succeed, but why?  It’s my opinion the main reason we fail in keeping on track with our goals for changing is because we don’t change US!   We don’t change our perspective, so we instead look at our goals as nothing more than a task.  Tasks are something you do; resolutions are something you become.   We talk about “New Year’s resolutions,” but a resolution is not just an intent, or even commitment, to do something better.  It is defined by Webster as “the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict, problem, etc.”  A true resolution is not the intent to get a result; it IS the result. It is change that brings the resolution, not the other way around.

shutterstock_627074813Change is a constant part of our lives.  It happens to us all the time, often against our wishes.  When things are going well, we don’t want change.  When things are going poorly, we want change, but only on our timetable and on our terms.  Real change often interrupts our intent to change.  We make promises to ourselves (or others) to do something different but then something outside out control happens, and we are derailed.  How many of you are dealing with unexpected changes right now?  Some of us are dealing with difficult changes in our jobs, families, health, etc.  Some of us suddenly find ourselves as patients while others have been thrust into the role of a caregiver.   It is difficult when the New Year brings change to you instead of you bringing change to the New Year.   There are also positive changes for some of us.  Some have become parents, homeowners, financially stable, and many other things.  It isn’t about whether or not change will happen, but how we deal with it.

We each decide what we are going to focus on when things change around us.  Sometimes all we can see is the loss or what seems to be the destruction of our hopes and dreams, but we do have a choice in our perspective.  We need to remember that ALL change brings loss.   It’s part of the natural process.  In order to have something different, whether good or bad, we have to let go of something else.  Sometimes that loss makes us say “good riddance,” but other times it makes us scratch and claw while screaming, “NOOOOO!”  But what if we started looking at change differently?  What if we could become better at rolling with it?

As a person of faith, I know God is working all things for my good (Romans 8:28).  We all know it, but we constantly scramble when things aren’t going the way we would like.  We seem to lose sight of the fact that life is full of seasons, ups and downs.  Solomon said it beautifully in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

  • There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: 
  • a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 
  • a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 
  • a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
  • a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 
  • a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 
  • a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 
  • a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

shutterstock_568487266There is truly a time for everything, and our definitions of good and bad are usually based on limited information.  The question is: do we trust the One who actually knows everything or not?  Are we going to live through the changes in life like a wind-up toy, going along until it hits a wall and then bounces off and goes another direction until it hits another wall?   The reality is that we really do have a choice and the result of our choice will either bring peace or anxiety.  If we approach unexpected change as though it is totally up to us to figure out the problem and fix it, then we are going to live a life full of constant stress, because there will always be circumstances we cannot control.  On the other hand, if we could realize that what we see as “unexpected” is never a surprise to our Heavenly Father, and that He has promised He is working all things for our ultimate good, then we can live a life of confidence and peace in the midst of every storm.  It doesn’t mean it will always feel good, but we can trust that it will eventually all work out.

So back to the fact we have just started a brand new year, if you think this year will be different, you are correct.  If you think there will be changes this year, you are also correct.  If you think you will have total control over those changes, think again.  It is a beautiful thing to take the time to reflect on your life and make plans for positive changes or better decisions.  It is good to hope, but we need to make sure our hope is not inappropriately placed in ourselves or others.  As the old hymn says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.  I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.  On Christ the solid rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand.”  He knows everything we are going through and what is to come.  He cares intimately about every aspect of our lives as His children.  He has the power to handle any and everything in our lives, and He will always work things out when it is for our ultimate good.

shutterstock_484456384So I wish you all an amazing 2018!  It is my prayer that all of us can learn to lean on what we know in our hearts instead of going it alone.  We can become better parents, children, employees, bosses, church members, pastors or whatever other role we may fill.  The best way to do that is to fall back into our Father’s arms and let Him show us the paths to walk.  And when the next January 1st rolls around, we will be able to share not only our hopes for another year, but our resolutions – our results – from the journey we are embarking on right now.  That, my friends, is what a resolution is all about.


Time For A “Face” Lift

shutterstock_351834119Our society places a lot of value on beauty and outward appearance.  We think nothing of having work done (or of others having work done) to try and circumvent the effects of aging, and yet we are paying less and less attention to how we look on the inside.   We are losing our ability to be civil and courteous, and nowhere is this truth more apparent than on Facebook and other social media sites.  Over the past 6 months or so, I have been spending less time on Facebook and much of the time I’ve spent was, or is, hiding posts from people on ALL sides of varying issues (political or other).  My tolerance for the intolerance shown by so many people on so many subjects has really worn thin.  Before I go any further, let me just say that if you think I’m one of those people who just wants to stick their heads in the sand and not care, or are not willing to be engaged in thoughtful or even passionate discussion, I can assure you nothing is further from the truth.  I choose to be very engaged, just not online.

These days, there is turmoil all around us.  For one thing, the recent election cycle in our country has really taken a toll on most people and some people are very concerned – some for the same reasons and some for very different ones.  Then we look around us at other divides caused by different belief systems (whether religious or not), and it seems we are in a constant state of disruption and disagreement.  I have news for you: It has always been this way!   We think our debates are deeper or more enlightened.  We think the consequences are greater.  Guess what?  Every generation from the beginning of time has thought the same things.  And yes, people have always fought (and disagreed) passionately over what they believed.  From the beginning of time, there have always been people who were nasty and mean when trying to prove a point or argue a position, but it was different.  They didn’t have access to instant communication with the entire world!  We are bombarded with opinions and even mean-spirited lies about different positions or events.  We have instant information when something happens, and sometimes that information is not always accurate.  shutterstock_516722350That’s part of what is wrong with instant news.  Stories used to have time to develop before everyone heard something and reacted.  We’ve seen many stories that turned out not to be as they were originally portrayed, but it was too late to stop the reactions or public opinion – even when the facts finally come out.  On top of that, there is so much “fake” news that now exists for the sole purpose of stirring people up, or even worse, slandering or attacking them.

We live in a world where we can fire off our opinions immediately online, almost with impunity.  We no longer have to resort to picking up the phone and calling someone to discuss something.  We don’t have to wait until we are “around the water cooler” or face to face with someone before we throw out what we think.  There is something very valuable about waiting before we speak or give an opinion.  It gives us time to rethink HOW we want to give that opinion or state that comment.  We have lost our civility, and it has only escalated the meanness and fueled the fires of anger and hate.  Then we start choosing sides and refuse to listen to anyone who disagrees.  It’s true in our government as well as our own lives.  It needs to stop, but there are days when I fear we are too far gone.

Online we lose so much of what makes us human.  We lose tone, facial expression and body language. We lose accountability, and most of all we lose the trait of being courteous.  It’s easy to be rude when you don’t have to look people in the eye.  It’s easy to tear people down (including those we claim to love and care about) from behind a computer or phone screen.  There are no bounds to what people say or how far they will go to destroy someone who thinks, believes or lives differently.  As I mentioned earlier, even if we do not actively engage in the arguing, it is affecting us.  Even though we think we are ignoring it, we still feel its effects.  Think of it this way:  If you were in a room of people where the noise level and arguing (or fighting) was that loud, you would most likely leave even if you had an opinion that you wouldn’t mind discussing civilly.  Most of us would condemn the behavior we were witnessing and refuse to be part of it, but social media is different.  We’ve turned differing opinions into blood-sport.  We don’t care if a news story is real or fake; we use it as a weapon to go after people who disagree with us.  We’ve become more rude and intolerant as we hide behind our devices.  And that goes for ALL people of ALL beliefs and opinions.  shutterstock_74446510We don’t walk away from people who are rude or aggressive anymore, instead we devolve into them ourselves.  We forget that we are talking to human beings, and instead treat each other like animals.  We are bullies.  We are arrogant and insensitive asses.  We devolve into everything we say we aren’t or that we preach against.  We watch our friends tear each other down and just sit there.  We think, because we don’t read or react to the garbage that rolls through our feeds, that it isn’t affecting us.  But it is.  It wears on us until we finally crack.  I’ve fallen victim to it on several occasions myself.  “It” being that almost uncontrollable urge to fight back or snipe back at someone who is being unreasonable or, God forbid, wrong!  I’ve given into it on occasion, but it has almost always come with regret at some point.

The truth is, Facebook has become Face-less book.  We see photos but not each other.  We’ve become social voyeurs.  Voyeurs see others as objects and have no problem victimizing them as a result.  We, ourselves, have become less human and yet feel more entitled at the same time.  Everyone screams about intolerance, yet everyone IS intolerant.  Why?  Because it’s easy. Because even though we might love the people in our feeds, we feel faceless to them too.  The old saying that “character is what you do when no one is looking” is very true.  People sometimes ask, “What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t get caught?”  The answers are always interesting, but we are actually living in an age where we have created places where we think we can act like Neanderthals because we can’t be touched.  And then we wonder why our relationships (personally or professionally) are suffering.  We are so used to letting words fly out of our mouths without thought for others that we’ve started doing it in our real lives.  It was bound to happen, and yet we never saw it coming.  I see people who should be leaders acting like children, or even worse, teenagers whose only concern is being part of in the “in” club.  I see people snickering in corners about fellow workers, family members, church members or friends because their minds are being trained to think it’s normal to behave that way.  Just like we do on social media, we are watching it even if we aren’t actively participating.   And just like on Facebook, it is affecting us whether we want to admit it or not.

shutterstock_57395806So why does it matter? It matters because we are conditioning ourselves in ways that are harming us as individuals and as a society.  Our “real” lives are in turmoil.  We hear of tragedies almost daily where someone has attacked or even killed others.  We hear of relationships of all kinds falling apart and everyone is more concerned with blaming each other and making sure they are the one who  comes out “looking good.”  We watch kids bully and be mean to each other but then whine and cry when someone does the same to them.    We wring our hands and wonder why this selfish behavior has become so common, but we refuse to look in the mirror and admit we are part of the problem.  Whether we are actually fighting or being a voyeur, we are part of the problem.  We are more and more desensitized which makes us less and less self-aware.  In our “real” lives, we are becoming quicker to point out others who are being rude, offensive or a host of other negative traits while not seeing our own.

I said earlier there are days I fear we are too far gone, but there IS hope!  We actually can change, but we first have to want to change.   There is a passage of scripture (James chapter 4) that affected me very deeply the first time I read it when I was a teenager.  The entire chapter is great admonition as to how we should live, but it ends with this verse: “Therefore, to the one that knows to do good and doesn’t do it, to him it is sin.”  We forget that not doing the things that are right and good are just as sinful in God’s eyes as doing all the wrong things.  It’s time for us to stand up for what is good instead of defending our positions.  It’s time for us to “think on these things” that are “true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report.” (Phil 4:8) We must remember that our hearts and the hearts of others are not protected behind a wall of perceived immunity.   shutterstock_290171423We are ALL humans.  We are all imperfect and we all are tempted to get caught up in the drama with which we are constantly bombarded.  Instead, let us hold each other close in heart.  Let us truly love each other instead of tearing each other down.  Let’s purge our social media feeds AND our lives of the things that continually remind us of how we are different we are and start looking at how we are all the same.  Yes, it’s time for a “face”lift of a different kind, so I will leave you with this:  “Therefore, we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)


What’s In a Name?

shutterstock_146424497When someone asks the question, “Who are you,” most people respond with a name.  Some people might respond with their occupation or title, but for the most part, we consider our name to be our most important identifier.  But what happens when your sense of identity is actually wrapped up in your name?  Are you defined solely by the family you were born into or raised by?   What happens if your name reminds you of someone you have great disdain for or of a childhood that was less than perfect?  Should you change it?  Should you leave it and spend your life resenting it?  It can be a dilemma when you look at yourself as only a name.

Who you are is so much more than a name or a title.  It is the choices you make and the things you do.  God made you unique and gave you special gifts and abilities.  Your name or title has nothing to do with it.  We need to quit tying ourselves to a man-given name and feeling privileged or disadvantaged as a result.  Yes, being born into certain families (celebrities, royalty, rich or popular) can provide more opportunities and advantages than most people get, but it CERTAINLY doesn’t guarantee you will have a happy life or be a decent human being.  Being born into families where your name is associated with something negative or has already been dragged through the mud before you even existed can make it more challenging to overcome.  It is a fact of life that our name matters…but to what degree?  How much of it can we affect?  Is our only choice to feel bad about ourselves or to change our name?  Is our only option to get rid of it?

shutterstock_153833735What we tell ourselves about where we come from is not nearly as important as what we tell ourselves about who we are.  If we came from an abusive situation, we need to acknowledge our past but we do not have to be defined by it.  If we came from a past of being bullied or made fun of, we don’t have to continue to feel less than acceptable.  If we came from circumstances in which we did not have our needs met, whether physically, emotionally, mentally or even spiritually, we do not have to continue to settle for being empty.  If we lived with a person or people who were an embarrassment (or worse) to us, or made us want to become someone else, we don’t have to continue to run away.  There is another choice: Face it…then start changing your perspective.   I know that is easier said than done, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

Our names sometimes carry great weight and responsibility, and sometimes they can carry pain and embarrassment.   If your name is such a burden that you cannot escape it, then it is not wrong to consider changing it.  BUT if you change your name and nothing else, nothing else is going to change.  You will gain nothing but new letters to sign on a check.  Instead, consider the fact that you can take back your name from the person or persons who degraded it.  You can redeem your name by living a life that is filled with love, kindness, compassion and generosity.  You can live a life that does not judge others, but lifts them up.  Live in the moment.  Live to help, not hurt.  Live to build up, not destroy.  Quit blaming your past (or your name) for your “bad luck” and take back the power from the ones who took it from you and reclaim your God-given identity.

shutterstock_15258877On the other hand, maybe you were fortunate enough to be given a name that is associated with success, intelligence, authority or sincere acts of compassion and generosity.  Maybe you had parents who were well-respected, highly regarded by others or accomplished great things.  It is easy to fall into a mindset that somehow your parents’ or family’s successes are also your own.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t be proud of where you come from or the way you were raised, but you cannot live your life based on what others before you have done.  You must make your own mark on the world.  Quit assuming the successes of others as though they are your own and then putting yourself on a pedestal as a result.  Count your blessings that you had a family who loved and cared for you.  Be grateful for the opportunities afforded you because of the circumstances into which you were born, but above all, be who YOU are supposed to be.    You have unique God-given abilities and desires that have nothing to do with your name!  They have everything to do with the amazing journey in store for you if you will let go of your sense of entitlement and leap out by faith into the true calling for your life.

So what’s in a name?  I guess the true answer to that is found within each and every one of us.  Your name is what YOU make of it.  It doesn’t matter what it contains; what matters is what you fill it with.


A Literal Gift of the Heart

In keeping with my theme of love in February, I wanted to share something with you that happened 15 years ago this month.  My mom and I appeared on the Montel Williams Show to be united with the family of my mom’s heart donor (Kim).  The video clip of our segment on the show is at the bottom of this post.  Let me back up for a few moments and share the basic details of this story with you.  I’ll share the full details at another time.

Heart donorIn the mid 1990s, my mom began having serious heart troubles.  She had surgery to repair a valve in 1995 that was unsuccessful and in February of 1996 she was told her only hope was to have a heart transplant.  Nothing will wake up a family like an illness that brings death to your doorstep.  After much consideration, my mom and dad moved (temporarily) up to San Francisco to be near Stanford Hospital in case a heart became available.  She was supposed to be a “quick transplant” but ended up having some complications that almost caused her to not be a candidate at all.  In September of 1996, mom and dad got “the call” and she received her new heart on September 20, 1996.

I thank God constantly for the genuine love that a family of strangers showed to my own.  They were losing their daughter and sister but even in their grief they reached out in love to people they had never met.  Recognition did not matter to them.  This family looked at their own great loss and decided they would share a literal gift of life with someone else.  It was a selfless act in spite of how deeply they were hurting at the time.  The resulting effect in our world was an ecstatic sadness…a bittersweet sensation embracing life and death, joy and pain.  It is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.

Love in its true state prefers others.  It is not a feeling, but a decision…a commitment.  Love gives us the strength to do things we could not (or would not) do on our own.  It can take our weakest moments and turn them into our most triumphant.  It causes us to look outside ourselves even when our world is crumbling.  It allows us to give even when we feel as if we’ve lost everything.  Love does not demand gratitude but if you have been touched by a sincere and selfless love, it is impossible to not feel gratitude that runs deeper than any earthly expression.

Me and Mom in Maui lightKim’s family demonstrated a selfless love for others in their decision to donate her organs so that others may live.  As a result, our family has been blessed with over 16 additional years of my mother’s presence and she is still doing well.  Because of their gift, Mom not only got to be present for my wedding, but also the wedding of my sister and eventually the wedding of her granddaughter.  She has watched both of her grandchildren grow up.  She has seen the birth of her first great-grandchild!  She has been here to hold our hands and our hearts.  She has been an inspiration and example to everyone who knows her and has changed lives as a result.  I know it was my mom who actually received the heart but it’s the rest of us that feel like we got the greatest gift.

Love for others, even total strangers (sometimes especially total strangers), can have effects you would have never imagined.  You may not ever be recognized for it but love does not seek to elevate itself.  It does not want to be put on a stage.  It is enough to be content in knowing you HAVE loved, genuinely and with all you are.  To love fully and without condition means to do so without expectation of anything in return.  Loving is the one thing we can all do that allows us to change the world by changing our little corner of it!  And sometimes, just sometimes, we find ourselves blessed enough to come full circle and see it face to face.