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Friday, October 7, 2011

Appreciate the rain

As I was driving home in the rain yesterday afternoon, I found myself eager to sit down and begin writing. There was a certain inspiration I felt as I considered the scene of sitting down at the computer, facing the window and watching the rain fall.

When we think of rain, we think of a variety of things. For some, it's the clean air. The smell of the outdoors after a rainfall is refreshing. In California, it means the hillsides which turn brown in the summer will soon be returning to a lush green. For others, the rain means inconvenience. The roads can be hazardous.

All these things are true.

In our language, we attribute positive and negative qualities to people using weather terms. We say positive people are a "ray of sunshine", while negative people "have a cloud over their head". When we try to find something positive in a negative situation, we say "every cloud has a silver lining".

As I felt inspired to come home and begin to write as the rain fell, it dawned on me that we need the rain of life in so many ways. I remember as a child, rainy days kept us indoors. No playing outside. A day or two...no problem. A week or more, and you felt like a prisoner. But when we were confined to staying in, we had some special times. Sitting by the fireplace, playing board games. Watching old movies. Eating some great hot meals. Listening to music. Talking. It brought togetherness, rather than the typical routine of everyone off in different directions.

Life hands us a lot of rainy days. And no, I'm not talking about the weather anymore. Things happen which alter our routines. It can be the loss of a job or business. A broken relationship. Health problems. Emergency repairs on your car or home. Nobody enjoys these things. But it is in times like these that our lives must slow down. It's in times like these when we must find togetherness with our families and true friends. It's in times like these that we must spend time talking to, and more importantly, listening to God.

The rain brings balance to the earth, and our lives. While the sunshine is wonderful, too much of it can lead to a drought. If everything went smoothly and easily in life, it would be easy for us to not appreciate our blessings. We would end up in a spiritual drought. Don't you appreciate good health right after you've been sick? Isn't it nice to be able to eat solid foods after you've had the flu? To be able to swallow pain-free after suffering through a sore throat? Do you even think about these things when everything is "normal"?

The "rain" in life brings an opportunity to appreciate. The relationships we've built in life were made for times like these. Remember, it wasn't raining when Noah built the ark. But when the rain came, what he built protected him and carried him through the storm. So right now, if the rain in life isn't coming down on you, it will. So build that "ark". Maintain it. Fill it with the things you'll need to endure the storm.

When the sun comes out again, appreciate it. And appreciate the rain that made the sun a welcome sight.



Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hoarding

Recently, I found myself in the home of a hoarder. You've heard of hoarders. It's easy to watch the TV shows or hear of hoarders and think, "how could somebody let their lives go like that?"

I would dare to say that we are all hoarders in one way or another. It's just likely that ours isn't as visible and tangible as these extreme cases you see on TV.

It is so easy for us to allow stuff to overwhelm our lives. It is so easy to let our schedules get so filled with activities, with work, with empty relationships, with recreation, that the truly important things in life have no room in our lives anymore.

The home I was in at the time was so bad, a specialist had to come in to help turn the place from a literal dump back into a suitable living place. It was a dangerous place. The woman who lived there was elderly. It got so bad, she had one of those emergency call buttons on a necklace in case she fell and got trapped. The organizer came in and had to convince the occupant to make some very tough decisions. What I found both amusing and profound was a small plaque the organizer hung on a wall. It wasn't very large, but the message was bigger than life.

"Simplify".

How many of us have filled our lives with so much clutter that we are exhausted? How many of us have jammed so much stuff in there that our relationships suffer? Have we become slaves to the clutter to the point that we aren't satisfied with the quantity we have, but we need more and more?

There comes a time when we all must face some pretty tough decisions. When the important things in life are being neglected, or simply require more of our attention than we have budgeted to give, we have to cut back on other things which distract us from those priorities.

The current economy should be teaching us by now that it's imperative that we learn to cut out the things in life that are not essential. If not cut out completely, at least cut back. We have learned to rely on so many luxuries, that they have become needs. I admit it. I'm very much like that. But when my transmission went out, my budget got turned upside down and inside out. The time has come when some of the things I could afford to spend my time and money on before are now expendable if I'm going to take care of my bigger obligations. (Oh sure, NOW you announce the newest iPhone!)

Take some time and inventory your life. If you find yourself with little to no margin in life, it's time to make some decisions. If you're living on the edge where if something significant and unforeseen happened, you wouldn't be able to take care of it...make some changes.

Simplify.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten years later

Today, we recognize the ten year anniversary of the day that changed not only our country, but our world. It has been more than six months since I last posted anything on Crossing Paths, but I could think of no better moment to post again.

As such, I will actually post two pieces written while the smoke still billowed from what was the twin towers. The first is a journal entry I wrote on that fateful day. It is brief, but captured my thoughts at the time so that I wouldn't forget. It was a letter to God.

Today our nation was attacked by foreign terrorists. They have hijacked planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Lord, I pray for mercy upon our country and for those who are trapped and injured. Comfort those who need comfort. Be with the families of those who have been injured and killed.

These terrorists probably hope to bring our country to its knees.

Let that be so.

The second piece is a prayer written by Max Lucado on September 14, 2001.

Dear Lord,

We're still hoping we'll wake up. We're still hoping we'll open a sleepy eye and think, What a horrible dream.

But we won't, will we, Father? What we saw was not a dream. Planes did gouge towers. Flames did consume our fortress. People did perish. It was no dream and, dear Father, we are sad.

There is a ballet dancer who will no longer dance and a doctor who will no longer heal. A church has lost her priest, a classroom is minus a teacher. Cora ran a food pantry. Paige was a counselor and Dana, dearest Father, Dana was only three years old. (Who held her in those final moments?)

We are sad, Father. For as the innocent are buried, our innocence is buried as well. We thought we were safe. Perhaps we should have known better. But we didn't.

And so we come to you. We don't ask you for help; we beg you for it. We don't request it; we implore it. We know what you can do. We've read the accounts. We've pondered the stories and now we plead, Do it again, Lord. Do it again.

Remember Joseph? You rescued him from the pit. You can do the same for us. Do it again, Lord.

Remember the Hebrews in Egypt? You protected their children from the angel of death. We have children, too, Lord. Do it again.

And Sarah? Remember her prayers? You heard them. Joshua? Remember his fears? You inspired him. The women

at the tomb? You resurrected their hope. The doubts of Thomas? You took them away. Do it again, Lord. Do it again.

You changed Daniel from a captive into a king's counselor. You took Peter the fisherman and made him Peter an apostle. Because of you, David went from leading sheep to leading armies. Do it again, Lord, for we need counselors today, Lord. We need apostles. We need leaders. Do it again, dear Lord.

Most of all, do again what you did at Calvary. What we saw here on that Tuesday, you saw there on that Friday. Innocence slaughtered. Goodness murdered. Mothers weeping. Evil dancing. Just as the ash fell on our children, the darkness fell on your Son. Just as our towers were shattered, the very Tower of Eternity was pierced.

And by dusk, heaven's sweetest song was silent, buried behind a rock.

But you did not waver, O Lord. You did not waver. After three days in a dark hole, you rolled the rock and rumbled the earth and turned the darkest Friday into the brightest Sunday. Do it again, Lord. Grant us a September Easter.

We thank you, dear Father, for these hours of unity. Disaster has done what discussion could not. Doctrinal fences have fallen. Republicans are standing with Democrats. Skin colors have been covered by the ash of burning buildings. We thank you for these hours of unity.

And we thank you for these hours of prayer. The Enemy sought to bring us to our knees and succeeded. He had no idea, however, that we would kneel before you. And he has no idea what you can do.

Let your mercy be upon our President, Vice President, and their families. Grant to those who lead us wisdom beyond their years and experience. Have mercy upon the souls who have departed and the wounded who remain. Give us grace that we might forgive and faith that we might believe.

And look kindly upon your church. For two thousand years you've used her to heal a hurting world.

Do it again, Lord. Do it again.

Through Christ, Amen.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Winning? Really?

Whether you want to or not, you're probably painfully aware of the recent goings-on in the life of Charlie Sheen. This post isn't so much specifically about him, but something you've probably noticed as his theme if you have seen, heard or read excerpts of his recent media interviews. Below is a video I found which is a compilation of many of these interviews.


Over the past year, I have become acquainted with an individual who makes Charlie Sheen look like Justin Bieber. That being said, there are numerous similarities that have caught my attention.

Sadly, drugs are the common fuel to their manic behavior. This fixation they have with winning is what has really captured my intrigue. I have seen the individual in my personal life being hell bent on ruining the lives of people they once loved. If he put his energy and time into a focused effort to be successful in his own life, he'd be a world changer. However, his lust for "winning" has only made his own life more complicated. But he still considers himself a "winner" because his behavior has made the lives of others more miserable.

I have often compared life to the game of golf. In golf, you don't play defense. You have no control over the performance of your competitors. Your sole nemesis is the course, itself. If you find yourself paying too much attention with what others are doing, you can't possibly concentrate on your own performance against the course, making it impossible to do your very best.

Life, like golf, is challenging and complicated. We all have our hands full just navigating our own way through it. People like Sheen and this other individual define "winning" in an unhealthy and destructive way. They see people who don't share their views as enemies. Winning isn't simply living a meaningful life and providing for their families. To them, winning can involve burning their own lives into a smoldering heap...as long as the lives of their perceived enemies are also wrecked.

Winning?

What I have found in these individuals is they do not have a simple quality that I bet you and I share. You and I find the value and necessity to have something in our lives that is bigger than ourselves. You and I exercise this by helping others, providing for family, serving in church, volunteering and contributing to charitable organizations, etc.

These others are narcissistic. They lack the element that values anything other than their own interests.

Sadly, I have no answers in turning these people around aside from prayer. You can't talk to them. You can't reason with them. You can't compel them with emotional pleas. They hit rock bottom, but their egos won't allow them to acknowledge the train wreck their lives are. Instead, they aggressively pursue taking others down.

I choose to live according to the principles of Philippians 2:3-4.

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.


Monday, February 7, 2011

More harm than good

Hey there. Yeah, it's me again. It's been awhile, huh? Well, a lot has been going on, and writing just hasn't really been a priority.

Without going into details, because they're not really mine to share with everyone on the internet, suffice it to say that a situation very close to me has been going down over a long period of time. Not only does the drama seem to never let up, it seems to be escalating.

Here's what I'd like to share about this. It's something of which I've been guilty, and I'd dare say we all have at one time or another. It comes down to the cliches we all tend to say when people are going thr
ough life crises. When someone loses a loved one, we instinctively say, "they're in a better place," or "I know how you feel". When you're going through something difficult, these cliches can be frustrating, though they are well intended.

When someone is going through a situation that is very difficult, well-meaning people have a tendency to say something like, "it could be worse". Of course this is true, but nevertheless, what the person is going through is significant to them. The well-intentioned friend is attempting to put things in perspective by inadvertently minimizing the significance the matter holds in the person's life. Most often, this is because the friend does not know the extent of the problems and how deeply they go.


Despite the magnitude of things I'm seeing going down near me, I do consider the tragedies and difficulties in the world around me. From the uprising in Egypt, to the recent violence in Placerville. The shooting at the school was especially close to home for me because, just over a month ago, I was in that very office where the the principal was gunned down.

We should all be aware that somewhere in the world, someone is going
through something more difficult than we are. However, that is not comforting. We all have much to be grateful for. We have the air in our lungs. We live in a great country. We are blessed. But life brings challenges which feel like a huge beat down when you're going through it.

The bottom line is, if you know someone who is going through a very difficult time, be careful when offering support so that you don't accidentally reduce the value of the pain they're enduring. It's very real to them. We have the instinctive desire to fix things, so that's why we try to offer comforting words. Or at least what we think should be comforting. But more often than not, we can't fix it. The best thing we can do is simply offer our support. We can invest in them with our friendship, our time and our prayers. It's OK not to have the answers. It's OK to not be able to fix it. You're off the hook.

Just be a friend.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2011, here we come

Well, here we are. 2011. Crazy, huh? Does it feel like 11 years to you when you consider all the hoopla over Y2K?

At any rate, it is a new year. As Ladyfriend and I were reminiscing over the recently concluded 2010, we summarized it as The Tale of Two Cities year. You know, the best of times and the worst of times. I don't think anyone has ever had a year that was 100% good, or 100% bad. The question isn't about balance, but severity. For me, 2009 was good for many reasons, but very difficult primarily due to the loss of my mom.

For many of us, difficult circumstances from 2010 will carry over into 2011. For all of us, we can't know to what degree life will be difficult or wonderful. Rest assured, this year will hold for all of us laughter and tears. There will be joy and pain. There will be victories and defeat. In all these things, we will be better and stronger 365 days from now if we learn from each of these experiences the life lessons packed within them.

Attitude is everything. With determination and integrity, with dignity and grace, take on the challenges and opportunities this year will hold for you. I have been around long enough to know from experience that God will not allow anything in my life that He can't see me through. Much of what I have gone through is bigger than me, but not bigger than Him. It's not my promise, but God's that we can do all things through Him and His strength.

It's my prayer that you have a wonderful year. I sure intend to. But no matter what lies ahead, I pray that 365 days from now, when we look back and assess the events of 2011, we can each testify to the power of God's love and strength to see us through it all.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Santa looked a lot like Daddy

I've decided to switch gears a bit from the serious tone of recent life lessons, and instead, focus on some fun Christmas memories. One incredible memory, which was a generational tradition on my dad's side of the family, was dad dressing up and playing Santa for kids. Now I'm not talking about the department store Santas you see all the time. Dad did this, like he does everything, above and beyond what you would expect.

The process of getting dressed, with the wigs and makeup, (gotta have those rosy cheeks), took him hours. Of course, Mom was essential in this metamorphosis. Dad's suit wasn't that bright Christmas red you're used to seeing on Santa. Instead, it was a deeper, richer red. Like a dark burgundy. This added to the uniqueness of his presentation. He had a professional wig for his hair, and the beard was amazing. They'd touch up his eyebrows to make them nice and white.
One of my favorite unique details he came up with was his way of capturing that very first moment at the front door. After getting out of the car, usually a couple blocks from the house, Mom would cover his shoulders with a dusting of shaved ice. He would arrange it with the families that when he arrived, the child or children would be right at the door when it opened. As the door swung open, there was Santa on their porch brushing "North Pole snow" from his shoulders. In fact, he even would get a little on the kids so they could have that added thrill of being sprinkled with snow. Hey, we lived in the Bay Area of California. Most kids have never even seen snow in person.

I could go into more details, but this would take you an hour to read it if I did.

One of the things I appreciate about my dad, and of my parents as a unit, is that they have always done things above and beyond what others would do, and what others would be satisfied with. That attitude has been a tremendous influence to me. This is one reason why just about everyone they've ever known has gotten attached to them. They have always loved and given so freely. And I mean freely literally. People would ask my dad how much he would charge or accept for his Santa appearances. With as much seriousness and conviction as one could imagine, he would adamantly refuse to accept money or anything in exchange for what he did. My parents understood the unmatchable reward in just making people, and especially children, happy. Dad did his Santa in prisons, children's hospitals, for the elderly, churches, living rooms...you name it.

He simply loves blessing people. All people.

Christmas is known as the season of giving. I hope that never goes away. But I'm proud to have had parents who simply lived their lives this way, year in and year out, no matter what the calendar said. I'm thankful that I was raised by people who were not satisfied by the status quo. Why stop at the place where everyone else does? Why stop at "that'll do"? With a little imagination, and with a huge heart, you can do so much more.

Mom is gone now, but I'm so grateful my dad is still with us. He is truly a legend in my eyes. There just aren't many like him in this world anymore.