Is It Friday Yet?

How many of you have uttered that phrase? Now how many of you have uttered that phrase within minutes of walking in the door of your job on Monday morning?

Here’s another one. I’ll be OK once I have a cup of coffee.

Among some of the status messages I’ve seen on Facebook recently have been things like,

  • totally thought today was thursday…. just cried a bit realizing it was wednesday… I want the weekend already!!
  • “It is Wednesday, we are almost to the weekend!”

I’m not going to get all holier than thou on this topic because I’ve been guilty of this myself, many times! I do, however, want to draw attention to this attitude we have developed of being so over dramatic. We complain about everything. We tend to be really negative with this, “if I can just hang on” mentality.

Why are we this tired? Because you have a job? Because you’re in school? Because you have kids? Because you have a house to take care of? Because you have a spouse? All of the above? What are we saying when we are negative about the things in our lives that a great percentage of the world can’t begin to dream about.

We get so peeved by filthy rich athletes who whine because they feel that instead of the $20 million dollars they were offered, they feel the are more deserving of $23 million, so they aren’t going to play. Yet, we complain about the blessings we have in our lives. The degrees of wealth between us and the spoiled athletes are different, but the scale of our complaining is the same.

Let me reiterate, I have been guilty of the same thing. What I’m writing is more of a challenge to myself than it is to you. But I do want to issue a challenge to all of us. Be positive today. For the next 24 hours, don’t allow yourself to say anything negative. If you say something negative, or even think something negative, catch yourself. See if consciously being positive changes your outlook on things. Then, if you can make it 24 hours, make it another 24 after that, then again after that. Make it a lifestyle!

I’m interested in your feedback on this topic. Well, I’m always interested in your feedback, but I would really like to hear of your experiences with this little experiment and your observations.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
~Philippians 4:8

Finding Your Voice

It was twenty five years ago that I accidentally and involuntarily wandered into the world of singing. It is no exaggeration when I say that when I was growing up, I was convinced that singing in front of people was the single most embarrassing thing I could do, next to running through the mall in my underwear.

After I was thrown into a situation where I was forced to sing a solo, (another story for another time), I found that somewhere deep inside, something was awakened. It was many, many months later before I took the next step into this new world. When I did, I had made a friend who was much more experienced and kind of mentored me along in that next step. He introduced me to the world of background tracks. These are cassette tapes of individual songs with everything but the lead vocals on them. My friend and I would go to our church on Saturdays, when no one else was around, and we would just sing for hours.

As I was brand new into this, I really had no idea what I sounded like. I had a tendency to mimic the voice and style of the original singer. I figured that whatever the song originally sounded like was what it was supposed to sound like. It would be quite some time before I discovered my own sound, and that I didn’t have to sound like someone else to make a song work.

In the ensuing 25 years, I have developed my own style. My own sound. Through those years, I have been able to do other people’s songs, but personalize them with my own sound. This hasn’t necessarily made a song better or worse, but it’s been mine. I’ve even had many occasions where people would hear a song on the radio and think of me because they knew my style so well, they felt it was one I really should do.

Whether in the arts or just in life, we have to find our voice. We have to find our own way of communicating what is deep within our hearts. It may be artistically, or it may be in acts of service. A week or so ago, I wrote about my friend “Ruth” who found her voice in the world by making a difference in the lives of underprivileged children and abused women. Others have found their voice in their marketplace by being a positive influence to their co-workers.

I saw a quote by Oscar Wilde yesterday on Facebook. I had never heard it before, but it was both funny and profound.

Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.

Great advice! The fact is, you have your own unique voice. Your voice has been molded and influenced by your environment and your experiences. These influences are what make your voice different than everyone else. Have you even tried to find it? It’s there. If you haven’t, it may be a bit awkward at first. You may even find yourself mimicking the voices of those who have influenced you. That’s OK. They’re kind of like training wheels for you. But keep plugging away at it. Your voice is in there. You just have to let it out.

If you’re not sure where to begin, here’s a tip. What is your passion? What fuels you? For me, it’s this. It’s sharing my thoughts and experiences with you in hopes that it will serve to encourage and motivate you. At the same time, it’s serving to help me take the lessons in life that I’m learning and make them more tangible for my own growth. More and more, I’m finding this “new” voice, which isn’t so new at all, is propelling me into a new trajectory in my life. It’s exciting, it’s challenging, and it’s serving a purpose which goes way beyond anything I ever expected. This is why I want to encourage you to find your voice. You have lives to touch that I can’t.

Your voice is one that someone is dying to hear. It just may be that neither one of you knows it yet.

Awareness To Action

If you watch professional football, you may have noticed that the NFL is recognizing Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In honor of this, many NFL players are sporting pink accoutrement on the field.

This got me to thinking. C’mon, you had to see that coming.

I think it’s wonderful to bring awareness to causes such as this. But there is a huge difference between awareness and action. I’m aware of the horrible affects of breast cancer, but I have to be honest…watching a millionaire wide receiver streaking down the sideline in his fuchsia cleats isn’t going to cause me to lunge for my checkbook.

I don’t think many of us are actually motivated by different colored ribbons, even when we’re aware of what they represent.

What tends to genuinely inspire us is knowing someone whose life has been changed by whatever it is.

The same can be said of our spiritual lives. Does having a little fish decal on the back of your car cause those behind you to pull over to the side of the road, (unless said road happens to be in Damascus, perhaps), for the purpose of surrendering their wayward life to God? I’m thinkin’ no.

However, people will watch how you are living your life. Are you really different? When difficulties come, do you show strength, confidence and peace which come from your relationship with, and faith in God? Or are you whining about it like everyone else? Why would they want what you have if you’re not handling life any better than they are? If your life story includes victories which can genuinely be attributed to your faith in a living and loving God, people will be inspired by seeing that in you, not the “NOTW”, (Not Of This World), decal on your car’s rear window.

Even if you haven’t had to endure some traumatic obstacles in your life such as drug addiction, cancer, divorce or whatever, people who are dissatisfied with the direction their lives are going aren’t going to be inspired to action by ribbons, t-shirts or decals. However, a life which has been changed by the love and power of God is the very best advertising there is.

St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Go and preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.

If your life isn’t bringing positive awareness to the cause of Christ, now is a good time to start doing something about it. And really, that’s all it takes to instantly become more powerful than any bumper sticker, silicone bracelet or colored ribbon ever invented.

Here’s Your Sign

You may be familiar with the comedy routines which talk about how stupid people ought to wear a sign saying “I’m Stupid” as a warning for the rest of us so we know what to expect when engaging in communication with them. This random thought popped in my head, (it happens), when I was considering a comment from my friend Michelle in Seattle to my post yesterday on giants.

I feel a little bit like Larry King. “Michelle in Seattle, hello.”

Michelle made a good point that I had thought of, but not very deeply. But she was absolutely right. She said, “Too often though we become comfortable with our “giants” and fail to see that they are preventing us from realizing our personal promised lands.”

This is so true. Sad, but very true. I know a guy who looked me dead in the eye and told me, “I’m probably the most selfish man I know.” While they say that admission is the first step toward recovery, I think they imply that that first step is actually followed by a second step. I’m not exactly sure what that second step is, but I’d be willing to bet it has something to do with fixing the object of the first step. In the case of the man who told me he was selfish, he hadn’t. He was basically saying, “I’m selfish, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.” In so many ways, so many times, he lived up to the label without remorse.

How many of us are guilty of hosting our flaws, our “giants”? How many of us have allowed them to take up residency in our lives to where they have become part of us, like a sign around our neck.

“Here comes Nancy the gossip. Be careful what you say around her!”

“There’s Paul the womanizer. Don’t be charmed by his attention to you.”

Are we guilty of nurturing those things in our lives which damage our character and integrity? Are we dealing with those things which keep us from being our best and being able to have healthy relationships? Have we simply accepted those things to be part of us because they’re just too hard to overcome? Have we accepted those things as being part of us because our parents were that way?

As Michelle stated, we have become comfortable with those things in our lives which hold us back. It’s like we have some sort of weird version of Stockholm Syndrome where we become sympathetic and attached to that which holds us captive. We become attached to these qualities because it’s easier to accept them than hate them. It’s easier to be loyal to them than be miserable and responsible for the negativity and hurt they cause. It’s easier to give in to them than to beat them.

It’s time to break the chains. It’s time to take responsibility for patterns we’ve held on to for so long. It’s time to take control of what has controlled us for so long. Believe it or not, it is in your control. That doesn’t mean you can do it alone. But you have to choose to beat it. Consider this some kind of cyber intervention. No one can make you do it. You have to want it. Take the first step of admitting something has been stealing your very best from you and those who love you. Then, follow it up with another step. Surround yourself with people who will hold you accountable and support you in getting past it. You already know who they are. They are people who have your best interest at heart and will walk with you through it. They won’t tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to hear.

It’s time to take that sign off that you have carried around for so long. It’s time to face the giant and beat it once and for all. It’s time to enter your Promised Land!

It most certainly is my time to do precisely that.

Beating The Last Giant

No, this isn’t a postmortem on the finale of the baseball season for my San Francisco Giants. Instead, I was inspired by the sermon yesterday at my church. The reference was about the 40th and final year in which the Israelites were wandering in the desert after escaping slavery in Egypt, and just before they were about to enter the Promised Land. As you might imagine, those 40 years presented many serious challenges, and that was after the miraculous task of getting out of Egypt in the first place.

After all they had gone through, they had to defeat two kings and their people as their final challenges. If you’ve ever played video games, well, you probably get the idea of having to go through several different levels in order to get to the next challenge.

When my pastor was reminding us of this story, my head went to the old Bruce Lee movie, Game of Death, in which he had to fight his way up several levels of a pagoda. Each level brought a new and more difficult opponent. The top and final level found him face to face…well, not literally, with a giant who was a good two feet taller than he was. (You can look it up on YouTube if you want to go back and watch the scenes.)

Where am I going with this? Thanks for asking. I find myself at a place in my life where I have gone through a lot of recent challenges. Who hasn’t? But what is unique to me as I look back is that the past couple years have found me circling back to many things which have popped in my life through the years. Old and familiar foes. In other words, I don’t know that I had really progressed to new levels because I never really beat some of the giants it takes to move on to new heights. But now, I look back on several challenges which have confronted me in the past year or so, and I see the carcasses of many old nemeses from my past. Things which would have set me back before, now litter the path behind me, lifeless and defeated.

I believe my personal Promised Land still lies ahead of me, but at the same time, there is that one giant in my way who has kicked my butt many times in the past. Before you get sidetracked thinking it’s some sort of scandalous moral thing, don’t go there. It’s not that. What it is for me is not what is important. The point is, we all have these things in our lives which have been our Kryptonite. It’s that thing that sneaks up on us when we’re sailing along, or that thing that is the “last straw” that breaks us.

The key is, don’t give up! The land has already been promised to us! The victory is already won! You’re right on the edge of the breakthrough! It is so tragic that so many people give up when the promise is just on the other side of the hill. If you look back, you’ll see the remnants of the victories won. Yes, there is a giant ahead of you, but despite his appearance, he’s no match for you and God!

It is a new week. This week will have its challenges for each of us. I know I’m facing my giant. But I also know that there are blessings lined up ahead of me. I can actually see some of the challenges and blessings coming my way, while others are unforeseen. All, however, are in God’s timing and control. Whatever is in front of you, God has given you the land! I don’t know what level of the “pagoda” you’re on. But wherever you are, face it, defeat it, and move on. Don’t sit there and celebrate it to the point that you become satisfied. Enjoy the moment, but move on to the next level. Remain persistent! Remain passionate!

God has more for you, but you have to want it, and you have to go for it!

The Nerve of Some People!

I think if there is one area where I might actually have something in common with God, it’s in the area I want to touch on today. In reality, I’m sure He handles stuff like this very differently than I do, but I think I understand Him a little better knowing how I feel about this.

About 10 years ago, I dated a woman who lives in the Sacramento area. Now that I live up here, we live about 20 minutes apart. Shortly after I moved up here, we got together for dinner once just to catch up. Nothing big. Since then, I tried to keep in touch with the random text message just to say hello and see how things are going. But literally, the only time I ever hear from her is when she wants something. First, she needed help moving from her apartment to another one in the complex. So I went to help. A few months later, her broken down second car had been tagged and was going to be towed if she didn’t move it from the parking spot it had occupied for several months. I showed up to push it to another part of the parking lot. A few months later it was a phone call to help her map directions to a place she needed to drive to because she didn’t have the internet and couldn’t do it herself. This week, it was to tell me her son is selling something for a fundraiser.

I have to admit, I get really annoyed when someone sees me and reaches out to me only when they want something from me. There’s no, “hey, how are you?” just for the sake of genuine interest and respect for the other person. There is no relationship. She rarely even responded to my messages saying hello. I’m her personal Santa Claus. Does she have such little respect for me or awareness that she blows me off except for when she wants a favor? I have actually gotten to the point to where I don’t even respond to her requests anymore, much less fulfill them.

If you think I’m writing this just to rip on someone, you don’t know me very well.

This person’s actions have caused me to stop and take a good look at myself. I have had to ask myself if I have been guilty of treating God like she treats me. I’m completely certain I have. I probably don’t even want to know how often I’ve been guilty of it, or even how recently.

You’ve probably heard the saying that there are no atheists in foxholes. Well, God is not looking for foxhole Christians. I don’t want to be one who only calls upon Him when I am in need. Am I so self-absorbed that I expect Him to be at my beck and call whenever I get into a scrape or just want Him to fix something for me? Is he reaching out to me, and I just ignore Him?

It’s not enough to even go to church every Sunday and sing songs and take notes during the sermon. It’s not enough to even talk about Him with friends, or to write about Him in a blog.

These things are all good, and they’re all a big part of my life. But I must serve God because He is God. He is not my own personal Santa Claus. How can I justify being annoyed at a person because they treat me the way I sometimes treat the Creator of the universe?

Thankfully, God is much more forgiving and understanding than I can be. Despite my sometimes cavalier attitude toward Him, He remains faithful to me. When I call Him, He’s there. I just have to make sure I’m not only calling out to Him when I want Him to do something for me.

The resilience and buoyancy of a relationship, any relationship, is revealed during the storms of life. The building and maintenance of that relationship is done at dry dock.

Character Building…Patooey!

I heard someone say that experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.

Man, do I have a LOT of experience!

I have to say that throughout my life, I’ve been surrounded by people who were living out my dreams. There were times when I was really resentful about it. Other times, I’ve been very mature about it and happy for others. But what happens when someone you think doesn’t deserve it is loaded with good things?

I have learned through my vast experiences, (see the quote above), that there is much more in life that I can’t control than that which I can. I can’t even control the events of my own life, so why should I spend even the amount of time it takes to blink my eyes being bitter about stuff that is happening in the lives of other people?

When I find myself surrounded by people who are living my dreams, good people and the not-so-much ones, I believe two things to be equally true. First, God has His own agenda for my life. Second, He has His own agenda for theirs.

No matter what I think I know about their life, I don’t know what God is up to. Frankly, it’s none of my business. I must focus on the first truth and concern myself with what He’s up to in my life.

Character building is brutal. Doing the right thing is almost always more difficult than cheating. Especially when no one is looking, and no one will know. I had come to a place in my life where I absolutely hated the phrase, “be the bigger man!” This simply meant that if someone else did you wrong, don’t sit around waiting and expecting them to make it right. Being the bigger man meant forgiving them. It may even mean going to them and asking for their forgiveness for even the most trivial thing you may have done to escalate or prolong the matter. There have been times when I’ve been the so-called bigger man, but my motives still weren’t pure. My expectation was that in being the moral compass, I would be the recipient of accolades and a tearful plea for my forgiveness. But more often than not, none of that came.

I had to learn to do the right thing simply because it was. Not for any rewards.

I believe I am in a place in my life now…finally, where I feel as if I can accept that other people are being blessed in ways that I long for in my own life. I have come to realize there isn’t a finite amount of blessings in this world. They aren’t being blessed at my expense. Their good fortune doesn’t mean there’s nothing left in the vault for me. At the same time, I don’t need their blessings to be stripped from them in order to be blessed myself.

God is more concerned with my eternal well being than my temporal comfort.

The blessings God is giving me will serve to benefit me when and where it matters most.

Character is the vehicle which will determine the route you take in this life. The path you take cannot contradict the character vehicle you have built for yourself. For people with poor character, the path of their lives may even look good…for awhile. Eventually, it all catches up. (see: Rob Blagojevich, Bernie Madoff, etc.). If you are of this ilk, your deepest desires and intentions will eventually come to the surface, exposing anything which appeared good for what it really was.

For those who build a strong character, the quality of their path may actually go unnoticed. I remember attending a funeral of a man I knew who was a very sweet and caring man. But it wasn’t until his funeral that I saw the lives he touched throughout his life. One by one, people from different parts of his life came to the podium and shared a unique story which shed light on the depth of this man’s character. The co-worker, the waitress in his favorite restaurant, his customers, his neighbors, children…right down the line.

Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.
— Charles Reade

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
–Galatians 6:7-10