Who is influencing whom?

When I turned 16 years old, with my brand new driver’s license, my parents sat me down to have a serious conversation. With the privilege awarded to me by the state, it was important for my parents to remind me of my responsibilities in my life. During this heart-to-heart, they brought up my history of choosing good friends. My parents knew all of my friends and their families. I never had a friend of whom they disapproved.

As I grew older and more independent in life, I have come across a broader range of people and behaviors. When you leave the confines of high school, the world gets very different, very quickly. Whether you go off to college, or you enter the workplace, you’re going to be exposed to a whole new world. It can be very enticing to explore and experience new things.

It can also be dangerous.

As a Christian, it can be very difficult to know how to balance hanging Influencearound people who are good influences, and being around people who are not. It is important for us to be an example to those who need it…if we are strong enough to do that. It is necessary to spend time with people who hold us accountable and are good examples to us. However, it is very easy to get caught up with people and crowds who do things and go places that look and sound exciting, but perhaps cause us to compromise our character.

It is easy to justify our time investment in people who say and do things that we might not like our family and friends to see. We can convince ourselves that we are influencing them. Are we? Am I? Are they becoming more like me, or am I becoming more like them?

Whether it’s as a young person transitioning into a world of greater independence, or an experienced, seasoned adult, we have to take inventory. We need to honestly evaluate who we are and what is the greater influence in our lives. Are we different around one group of friends than we are with others? If one friend or group saw me involved in this particular activity, would I be ashamed?

I’m at the stage of life where many fall into what is commonly known as a ‘midlife crisis’. I have observed too many men and women in the past several years who have walked away from their families and friends in order to pursue some new relationship and lifestyle. This is something we need to guard against throughout our lives, not just as adventurous young adults.

True character is consistent in any setting. We cannot be one way with one friend, while something completely different with another. Examine yourself. Be honest. Are you consistent? Are the influences in your life healthy? Are you spending time with people who make you better? Are you spending enough time with them? Are you positively influencing those who need it? Really?

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”

~1 Corinthians 15:33

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Thankfulness during the storm

As we enter Thanksgiving week here in the United States, so many people have been and will be taking time to express things in life for which they are grateful. That is something we should all do constantly.

I have much for which to be grateful. I don’t know if I would have had the same attitude six months ago. That’s because I was in one of those cycles where life was more challenging and uncomfortable than we like. But right now, my life is in an upward swing. Why am I more grateful now than then? I’m ashamed that I fall into the trap of forgetting the blessing of life when things are difficult.

Even as I am celebrating good things in my life, I don’t have to look far to see people who are in pain. Someone very close to me is on the verge of losing his mother to cancer. I know more than one person who is enduring serious marital problems. I have another friend who had a recent medical scare. She got relatively good news from the doctor, but they recently contacted her to say they want to take a closer look just to be sure it’s not something more significant.

There, just off the top of my head, are a handful of people facing serious difficulties. In one way or another, I have communicated with each of them in the past couple of weeks. Even while facing the fear of the unknown…and inevitable, they see the blessings that they must lean on in order to get through this difficult time.

I am making it my personal mission to pay attention to the need that surrounds me. So iStock_000004330295Medium-300x200many times, I get caught up with tunnel vision. I lose sight of the things going on around me in the lives of others. I don’t expect that there is anything I can or will do that will make life easier for anyone. But I can’t let that stop me from praying for them. That can’t stop me from making myself available to them in case there is something I can do. That can’t stop me from asking God to use me in some way to bless them.

Life is cyclical. I know that despite this calm I now enjoy, it’s just a matter of time. May I find the strength to be like those in my life who still see the blessings during the hardship.

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

~Philippians 4:6-7

Finding success in failure

I posted a lot of what you’re about to read and see on Facebook, but I understand not all of you use Facebook or are connected to my page to have seen it. I have enhanced my thoughts on this matter here, so even if you did read my Facebook rant, there is more to it here.

Here is a video I hope you’ll watch. It’s only 78 seconds long. But it is very revealing. This is a political issue, but the final takeaway is something that applies to all of us in life. Thus, I believe this is a teachable moment no matter your political leaning, or lack thereof.

In this video, the President is blaming Republicans for the disastrous results and the humiliation of it STILL being in a state of disrepair? This is shameful. Can you imagine the neverending victory lap he’d be on if things had worked out the way he sold it?

Let’s just say a friend of mine is thinking of buying a house in a terrible town and neighborhood. I advise him repeatedly that he is setting himself up for disaster. Even so, he does it anyway. When he runs into the inevitable and predicted results, am I somehow to blame for what he did on his own, against my protestation and without my involvement? Am I somehow responsible to get him out of the problem he brought on himself and those under his care? I’m not keeping him from fixing it. I’m not interfering. Was I “invested in failure”, or did I just have the wisdom of forethought? He got what he wanted, and is facing the consequences. How he responds to those consequences is revealing, and something we all can learn from.

The takeaway:  A real leader, a real man of character takes responsibility for his own character_humility_Snapseedactions. He doesn’t blame others. A real leader, a real man of character attributes success to all those who made it happen, yet takes full responsibility for failure. Real character can be thankless. It is humble. Real character may not be recognized as such immediately. True character doesn’t seek applause.

In life, we will make good decisions, while others will blow up in our faces. Most decisions allow us time to think things through. We can get advice. We can do research. We can weigh the pros and cons. Whether or not we have the luxury of time, we make decisions based on the best information we have at the moment. Sometimes thing will work out well, and other times, unforeseen things can happen that ruin everything. No matter what, we must stand by our decisions. Our character is revealed in how we respond to the successes and failures. When we maintain our integrity, we have ultimate success regardless of how the decisions turn out.

Results can vary. Good character is consistent, regardless.

Unbroken

Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

~Ecclesiastes 4:12

In recent days, I have witnessed beauty in some ashes. In one case, the marriage of a friend of mine has been put to the test due to an unplanned extended absence due to some legal issues. The husband is stuck in Ohio for three months, while his wife is holding down the home front in California. If this wasn’t challenging enough, there have been those close to them who have offered “advice” along the lines of giving up on their marriage.

In another example, the mother of a friend of mine passed away just a couple days ago. It automatically took me back to when I lost my mom. It is a painful experience to lose the woman who brought you into the world. I believe there is truth to the theory that it is especially difficult for men when they lose their moms. It sure was for me. And right now, my friend is right in the midst of these very difficult days.

In the case of my first example, this couple has had to constantly reinforce one another with love. I’m sure they’ve had numerous conversations by phone, but I’ve also seen the outpouring between them via Facebook. At times, they shared their individual frustrations. Other times, their doubt that attempts to get together for Thanksgiving would bear fruit. But through it all, they stuck together. And now, they are on the eve of being together for the upcoming holiday.

In the second example, I have seen, also via Facebook, the loving support of my friend’s wife. She, too, lost her mother in recent years. I’m sure that through her experience, she is providing a support to her husband that he so desperately needs right now. When I lost my mom, I wasn’t in a relationship. At the end of each day of working through the details of her funeral and plans with family, I returned to an empty apartment. No one to talk to. No one’s shoulder to lean…and cry on.

It is in life’s difficulties when we discover a special purpose in our relationships. Sharing good times, vacations, day trips, parties and date nights are all wonderful. But it’s in the tragedies, the hardships in life in which relationships are forged. It’s in these times when we see what we’re made of. Anybody can enjoy good times. But it takes determination, fortitude, perseverance to stick together during the troubled times.

Ecclesiastes-4-12-web_Snapseed

So many relationships fall apart during difficult times. We are human. We can only take so much at times. But as a man of faith, I find comfort in knowing that the load I might have carried on my own is made lighter with the support of someone who loves me. But even more so, keeping God in our midst, the third cord, is what holds us together and gives us strength.

We must be able to trust one another. We must put our needs aside when those we love need us most. But most importantly, we must fortify ourselves with God’s love, power and wisdom. When one is weak, it’s up to the other to keep things moving in the right direction. In doing so, we build trust. We build credibility. We create an environment of loyalty that can only be created in times of distress.

When the dust settles, and the one who was weak can look into the eyes of the one who was strong, they will know that love does, in fact, endure all things. There is no shame in being vulnerable. There is no shame in feeling pain. But we cannot stay there. And those who love us will not let us.

God simply didn’t intend for us to go through this life without someone who loves us and believes in us. Especially when we lack in love and belief in ourselves.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

~1 Corinthians 13:1-3

A new voice

About a week or so ago, I received an email from a lady in the choir of my former church near where I live. As you may know, singing has been a big part of my life going back to when I was 19 years old. But within the last couple years, my opportunities to sing were decreasing, and with them, so was my desire. My friend from the choir was reaching out, inviting me to come back to sing. It was very nice and sincere, but there was nothing in me that felt any desire to return.

I took a couple days to really ponder my response. To do so, I had to truly examine myself and where I am in my life these days. I had some legitimate frustrations that led to my decision to stop singing publicly. But now, a good year and a half later, I want to be sure that my reason today isn’t rooted in bitterness.

As I contemplated my feelings and attitude, I am really at peace. I loved singing. I still do it from time to time while in my car. I have some songs that are special to me on my iPod on a special playlist. They are background tracks so I can just sing the songs my own way.

But it’s just for my audience of One.

As I crafted my email response, I wanted to focus on where I am today, and where I’m headed in life. It’s not about what I did for all those years. It’s about what is ahead of me. I am not a songwriter. As such, when I sing, I’m communicating the words, inspiration and experiences of other people. Now, I feel more liberty and fulfillment in communicating my own words. In a way, God is giving me a new voice.

There are simply times in our lives when we need to hit the reset button. I don’t feel as if I’m reinventing myself. I’m simply tapping into an area that was largely overshadowed by other things. It’s a little weird calling this my “new voice”, being that this post is literally my 400th on Crossing Paths. But I do feel a surge of energy and new significance in writing.

I don’t have any idea to what extent my focus on writing will go, for how long, or how often. What I do know is that it’s not unlike God to take us in new directions in later stages of our lives. My parents were a great example of that. When I was growing up, they had always threatened to move to another country to get away from me. Of course, in jest. (Or was it?) But several years after my dad retired, they made good on their promise. But it wasn’t to get away from anything or anyone. It was to follow a new path, led by God.

New things are on the horizon in my life. Maybe they are in yours, as well. Maybe you don’tfind-your-voice even yet know about it. Or maybe you have some hidden talent or desire that you’ve been putting off. Whatever it is, what are you waiting for? I don’t know about you, but the past couple weeks have brought me painful reminders that life is short and unpredictable. Whatever it is, put your touch on it. It’s your voice. Don’t try to be someone else. Do what you do in a way only you can do it!