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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It's Almost As If He Hears Me

Last Friday was pretty close to a perfect day for me. I had a good and productive day in my business, followed by a beautiful drive to San Jose, a wonderful visit with some of my dearest friends, topped off by a great night of hockey shared with some special people.

During my 2 hour drive home, I was on the phone with a friend, sharing the fun details to my great day. At one point in the conversation, we were talking about how it seems that there are days like that sprinkled in among the rest of the days which can seem so challenging. In this context, I used a metaphor, which I'm prone to do. As I was driving, I noted that I was on a very smooth freeway surface. All I could hear was the hum of the engine as I chatted on the phone. But every now and then, I would come across a patch of road in which the asphalt was chewed up from road construction.

It then dawned on me that faith in Christ is like shock absorbers on a car. Shock absorbers dissipate the energy created by bumps and pits in the roadway. As I rolled on down the highway, in the cab of my car, I could barely feel the difference between the smooth asphalt and the construction areas. The shocks on my car significantly minimized the effects in the cab of my car, even with the inconsistent road quality. I wasn't being jostled about my car as I hit the rough surface. It was then that I confessed to my friend that while things were fairly smooth in my life, I wanted my faith in Christ to be such that even when I hit the rougher roads, I would remain consistent and not tossed about due to difficulties and uneven terrain.

Not one hour later, I arrived at home. I then checked my mail, in which I found something which felt like a large foreign object lying in the middle of the road as I sailed down the highway.

Really Lord? Putting me to the test already?

For a moment, I almost regretted making that statement to my friend. Then, I silently thanked God for the opportunity to put my faith in action so quickly. God doesn't delight in rocking our worlds. But when we mean business, He is eager to provide us opportunities to develop. My comment on the phone didn't lead to the unfortunate contents in my mail. Instead, God was speaking to my heart in that last hour of my trip, knowing full well what had been sitting in my mailbox for the past 12 hours.

Monday night in bible study, the pastor uttered this quote which reverberated in my heart, practically drowning out everything he said for the next 5 minutes.

God is more interested in my eternal well being than my temporal comfort.

I don't know how God is going to work out this latest complication, but I know He will. The pressure isn't on me. I can only do what I can do. Instead, I walk by faith, not sight. My faith makes the rough paths smooth. Instead of worry and fear, faith dissipates those negative instincts and replaces them with a blessed assurance. The human reality is the same because we're subject to time and space, but the supernatural reality is that the battle is already won. Eventually the time will come when it will be revealed.

In the meantime, I have more road to travel today. When reminders come of the uncertainties of life, when the road beneath me is chewed up and abrasive, my faith in God will change the natural inclination to worry and change it into praise.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

From Victim To Victory

In response to my post last week about Breaking The Victim Mentality, I received an email from a friend and reader of Crossing Paths. Because I found her story to be extremely inspiring, I asked her permission to share with you some of the things she confided in me because I know it will inspire you, too.

For the sake of her privacy, I will refer to her as "Ruth", after the character in the biblical book by the same name.

Ruth is a very warm and gentle woman. She was married with three young boys. Ruth became a victim of spousal abuse. This abuse served to change her forever. Not just who she was, but what she thought of herself as a wife, mother and as a person. As one who was abused, she felt the shame was all on her. Whether the shame was heaped on her by her husband, by society, or by herself. At the same time, she was responsible for raising three boys whose lives were being molded by the environment in which they were living.

Now, 10 years later, Ruth is no longer a victim. As she stated so eloquently to me, "it's not that time has healed all wounds, it's that by His wounds I am healed."

This was a powerful statement. The passage of time, without proactively involving yourself in getting over it, only perpetuates and prolongs the victimization. But Ruth made significant changes in her life. First, she got out of the abusive marriage. I may be treading on controversial ground here, but I am a firm believer that God does not intend for us to be in abusive relationships. He does not desire for you and your children to live in an unsafe environment.

After moving on from the marriage, she and her boys began new lives. The most important factor in her life was getting back to the place of knowing who she was in Christ. So many victims relegate themselves to being lesser than "normal" people. They feel like damaged goods. They carry the baggage of victimization with them wherever they go. Ruth didn't do this. Instead, she poured herself into healthy relationships. She poured herself into her church. She poured herself into making a difference in the lives of others who were less fortunate than herself. She poured herself into being an incredible example to her boys as to how to overcome obstacles in life, and to use them instead as something to stand upon to gain a better view of the world, reality and God's grace and mercy.

Today, Ruth is sponsoring children in countries where what you and I spend on dinner and a movie can sustain them for a month. She goes on missions trips. Ruth volunteers each week at a center for women who are transitioning from prison back into society. A majority of these women have histories of being abused, themselves. She is making relationships with women who so desperately need an advocate. Rather than returning to lives of desperation and crime, they are finding people like Ruth who are willing to love on them and not judge them by their past. Instead, Ruth is making a difference. She's showing them God's love, and that they are not branded by their pasts, just as Ruth has proven.

Ruth has made the incredible turnaround from victim to someone who is thankful. She's thankful for the friends who have walked with her through it all, who have loved her when she was unlovable, and still love her to this day. She is thankful for her now adult boys who see her as an example of how to handle and overcome life's extreme difficulties. Instead of being ashamed of her, they are proud of who she has become. She is thankful for the strength, joy and peace she has come to find in pursuing a new life, and allowing herself to be embraced by a unconditionally loving God. In doing so, she allows God to reveal Himself to those in her life.

And right now, there are women and children around the world who are thankful for Ruth and what God has done, and continues to do through her.


Monday, September 28, 2009

So Close...

What do you do when you feel so close to finally getting what you've wanted and prayed for, then for no reason at all, it feels like it got ripped away from you like a schoolyard prank? I can't tell you the number of times this has happened to me...within the last couple weeks!

In communication with different friends over the past few days, I've been made aware that there are quite a few of us going through similar frustrations. I'm not surprised so much that others feel it. I'm surprised that so many of us are, simultaneously.

I don't know about you, but after awhile, I'm tempted to say "fuggetaboutit", and run away with my heart wrapped up in a little nap sack on the end of a stick. But like every story I hear about kids telling their parents they're running away, I make it about as far as the end of the driveway, think about it for a bit, then return to the house, none the worse for wear.

Thankfully, God is patient. Me...not so much. Well, I guess that depends. I can be patient about many things, but when you are talking about stuff that is exciting and good, I'm like a 5 year old on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa. You're in bed, all the lights are off. You're trying to sleep, but every little noise, every little shadow that dances in your bedroom from the tree outside..."that must be Santa!"

I'm relieved that God is every bit as real as Santa is not. That being said, sometimes my excitement at things appearing to be what I want can be as deceptive as those shadows.

In those times, I put too much pressure on myself to have to be perfect. If I make even the slightest mistake, I'm doomed to disappointment. Sometimes that same pressure is heaped on us by people in our lives. Maybe we're guilty of giving people more power and influence over our lives by letting them taunt us with something tantalizing, only to have them snatch it away from us at the last moment.

I'm doing my very best in remembering what I know. I'm doing my best not to rely on what I see, or what I think I see. I know who God is, and I know He is not one to taunt me. I know that the gifts I really want in my life can only come from Him, not from people. People will let me down, and I will let them down. We're human. But God will not, and has not let me down.

Ever.

I'm reminded of a familiar verse in Philippians. I was reminded of it a couple of weeks ago from a dear friend, and I received it Sunday night as my verse of the day. I am not one to believe in coincidence. God is trying to tell me something, and quite possibly, you too.

As I wrap this up with this simple, yet profound verse, I pray for each of you who read this. Don't give up. Don't be fooled by the shadows. Don't look for God in the deceptive subtleties. God is very obvious. When something looks good and promising, but it doesn't work out...I know it's frustrating. But God is building in us perseverance. God is building our faith. God is building our trust. God is driving us to our knees.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
~Philippians 4:6

Friday, September 25, 2009

At The Good Ol' Hockey Game!

Tonight I am going to experience one of my great spectator passions, an NHL hockey game. I discovered hockey relatively late in life for a guy who loves sports. I actually went to my first hockey game at the Cow Palace in San Francisco when I was about 14 years old. I saw the San Francisco Shamrocks who only existed for two seasons. Actually the league they were in, the Pacific Hockey League, only lasted two seasons. I remember repeating one simple phrase numerous times throughout the night as I sat in amazement of what I was watching.

They can do that?

I was blown away by how physical the game was. The hits these guys put on each other at such high speeds. The way they whacked each other with their sticks. The fights. It was AWESOME! As a fun addition to keep the theme going, I've put a hockey song here on my blog page. (Facebookers, click on the link just above the comment box below to go to the original post to hear it and see other features on my blog page, if you like).

So tonight, I'm going to a hockey game. With this as a theme, I want to tell you a little bit about my friend who has been nothing short of an enabler in my passion for the game. Let's just say he's something of a mucky muck in the San Jose Sharks organ-eye-zation (as the Canadians pronounce it). Out of respect of his privacy and character, I'm only going to share his initials. I know this guy fairly well, and I think you'll understand a little better as I go on why I'm not mentioning his name. Many of you will read this and know who I'm talking about, and that's fine. If you know him, you already know what I'm about to share from your own experiences.

For the rest of you, I want to introduce you to my friend KC. KC is a guy who has worked hard throughout his life. I don't know a lot of details about his life except for what I've read because he's not really one to talk about himself or his accomplishments. He's much more comfortable listening to you and what makes you tick. KC knows everyone. I like to jokingly remind him to never let his cell phone out of his sight because his address book has a who's who of names and contact information. Hall Of Famers, politicians, CEOs, bazillionaires...you name it. I'm really warning him not to leave me alone with his cell phone because I'll start digging through it and calling some of these guys up!

How did my Forrest Gump-like path cross with a guy like this?

At church.

For several years, KC and I attended the same church. Before I had any clue about his professional background, I knew him as an usher and Sunday School teacher. He knew me as a singer. He was just an ordinary guy. He loved talking with the junior high and high school kids about their football games from the night before. He loved talking about golf. He loved just being one of the guys. After all, that's who he is.

(Yeah, one of the guys who can buy and sell me about 10 million times over.)

If I were to sit down and tell you about the people who have been most influential in my life, they all are different. Different backgrounds, different ages, different financial situations and such. But they have one common factor, though it manifests itself in different ways. They all have qualities I admire and aspire to acquire. Ha...I just had to phrase that sentence that way. It made sense, and rhymed in an annoying fashion. Bonus!

What I love about KC is that despite who he knows throughout his professional and personal paths, he is not one who is impressed with status. When we're at a game, eating a teriyaki bowl, sitting down to breakfast at Hobee's, talking on the phone, or whatever, he's completely engaged in our conversation. He's not looking at his watch and cell phone sending signals that he's eager to move on to something or someone else. As an usher, he was not too proud to look people he didn't know, and who didn't know him, right in the eye, smile and welcome them while escorting them to the best available seats in the auditorium.

Humility.

It's a powerful and empowering quality that you don't see to such a degree in people very often. I have no problem being humble because I'm a big dork. If I ever start to get too big for my britches, I have hundreds of people who will be more than happy to remind me of my impressive level of dorkosity.

I see Jesus in my friend KC. While God is the Creator of everything, the One who is timeless, the One who has power over death and the grave, the One who deserves a level of praise we can't even begin to satisfy, much less understand...He knows my name. He knows the number of hairs on my head (which isn't the task today that it once was). He knows the desires and dreams in the secret corners of my heart.

Through my friend KC, I realize how much greater it is that God is not too busy to spend time with me and listen to me. He's not more interested in someone else who is more important that He won't send me a love note to remind me that I'm on His mind. You see, in this life, we've got the philosophy backwards.

It's not who you know, it's Who knows YOU.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Waiting For The Next Assignment

I'm at an interesting position in my life right now. I look back on some of the incredible opportunities and experiences I've had in my adult life, and it blows my mind. I've gotten to do things, go places and meet people throughout my life which defies logic.

Hey, I'm a guy. Logic is an essential element in an equation.

I've said it many times, and my life proves it. God doesn't choose the qualified, He qualifies the chosen.

Having said it again, and this time putting it in writing, I'm feeling a certain burning in the belly. It's a churning sense of anticipation. Perhaps I shouldn't have used the reference of belly and churning back to back, but whatever. It's my blog.

I don't have any real idea of specifics, but I have a sense of anticipation that this next chapter of my life will be a fulfilling one. I do have some ideas, but I don't dare put them on ye olde world wide web at this point.

The past several years have been an intense course in patience, endurance and introspection. When that happens, you better suck it up and deal with the things which need fixing or you'll never get to move on from that class. I probably should have been out of that class on onto the next level many years ago, but I can sometimes be dense and not figure stuff out the first, second or eighth time around.

The thing is, I don't feel that this period of learning important life lessons is over. I don't think we ever move beyond that if we're honest and humble enough to accept it as truth. I just feel that I'm at a place where I can communicate stuff I've learned, and continue to learn in a way which may help others. Encouraging and empowering others has always fueled me. It's no different today. In fact, it just may be even more intense a desire now than it ever has been.

So if you're the praying type, I would ask you to pray for me as I seek direction as to how I move forward from here. It's easy for me to dream big for you, but it's counter intuitive to dream big for myself. But I don't want to be limited by my own unbelief in myself and who I am, and the gifts God has given me. I'm finding a new passion and comfort in exploring the depths of His influence in my life and looking for ways to take these things to a new level in changing lives.

Many of you have contacted me over the past weeks in a variety of forms. Some with phone calls, others with text messages, emails, and even comments on Facebook. I can't begin to express what your feedback means to me. I just pray that anything I share here will serve to inspire even one person each day. OK, make that two people. I get inspired everyday by the lessons I'm learning.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Breaking The Victim Mentality

(If you're on Facebook, you may need to click the link directly beneath this post to view it on the original page in order to watch the video)

In one way or another, we're all victims of something. It can be the family you were born into, the town you were raised in, the fact that you are undersized to be a football player, but oversized to be a jockey.

There are many, too many people who have very legitimate claims of victimization. Their stories are absolutely tragic. Others, well, let's just say that they hold the keys to their own freedom from whatever they feel keeps them down.

In any case, we must break the mentality of being a victim. Typically, whatever happened to us is in the past. Yes, we may have to deal with consequences or lingering effects of whatever it is, but there just comes a time when we have to stop being victims. We spend too much time looking backwards for excuses which keep us from moving forward.

As I was thinking on this topic, a particular man came into my mind. This man's story is very powerful and inspirational. Sometimes those things which happen to us, the things we have no control over, serve to give us power. They give us a unique identity. They enable us to encourage others and make a difference in their lives. Rather than holding us down, we become liberated.

Or we can stay mired in self pity, hindering us from an overcoming life.

Watch this video and think about whatever it is in your life. Are you going to let it keep you down, or are you going to resolve to overcome the obstacles and still lead a fulfilling life?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

20/20 Vision In The Dark

No doubt, you already know that people who have been deprived of one or more of their senses have developed a heightened sensitivity in others. For instance, those without sight tend to rely on their keen sense of hearing, touch and/or smell.

There are times in our lives when we feel left in the dark. We're at a fork in the road, and there is no real obvious indication which is the way to go. Or maybe circumstances look pretty promising, yet turn out to be nothing but disappointment.

In those times when it seems like we're in the dark, it's important to not depend on our sight as much as we should rely on what we know to be true. Sometimes what we see can be a distraction from what we know. Madison Avenue has turned this concept into an art form to convince us we really need to buy that thing which, in reality, we don't really need.

These are the times we must, as Psalm 46:10 says, "be still and know that I am God." It doesn't say, "be still and watch me". Even in those times when we can't see or understand what in the world is going on or when it will end, God simply tells us to remember He is God and that He is in the midst of doing something good. When we can't see what He's up to, relax and know who He is, and that He is in our midst, loving us unconditionally.

No one enjoys being in the dark, but that's why it's called "blind faith". We are to trust in what we cannot see. Things are not always as they appear to our sight anyway.

See with the eyes of faith and knowledge of God that can only come from a true relationship with Him. It's not an intellectual thing.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
~Hebrews 11:1


Monday, September 21, 2009

The Advantage of a Different Vantage Point

There are those who flat out don't care what others think about them. There are others who worry too much about what others think. I would like to talk about where I think the healthy balance lies.

In my life, there is a small, but significant selection of people whose input in my life is very important to me. There are times when I can be cruising through life doing my thing, when one or more of them might see something in me that might need a little adjustment. It's never been anything huge like an intervention or anything. Just a little sound advice. Or maybe I'm struggling with something, and I approach them with it. These people might have some tremendous insight due to their wisdom and their knowledge of me. Other times, it's encouragement in the form of a meaningful compliment about the things I'm doing very well.

I have found it to be a valuable thing to align myself with people who are insightful, honest and caring. They don't have a self-serving agenda. They simply care about me. It is often impossible to see things through other people's vantage points unless we take the time to consult them, and then listen to them. Their vantage point often times gives them a comprehensive view where my blind spots miss. When they speak into my life, I am filled with determination to make any adjustments necessary. In other cases, they see something very positive in what I'm doing that I can't see. Their words of encouragement help propel me to new heights and possibilities.

I'm thankful for these people. I'm thankful God gave me a heart to receive their words of instruction and encouragement. I am on a never ending quest to improve upon who I am. As much as I love encouraging and empowering others, how can I not seek to to grow and improve upon myself? I consider these friends my own personal board of directors. The cool thing is, they don't come and go. These people are lifers. Through it all, these friends have been, and will be there. And they can count on me to be there for them.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ya Ever Get The Feeling You're Being Watched?

I'm not talking about that weird creepy feeling that someone is peering at you through binoculars from across the street. I'm talking about that feeling that can only come from God when He reminds you in that unmistakable way that not only does He see and hear you, but He cares enough to speak to you when you need it most.

For the past few days, I've been focused on a certain deep-rooted flaw in my personality. It's been very frustrating for me because I feel it has, and continues to hinder me from being my very best. It is also disrupting certain goals and dreams. So Thursday night, just before I went to bed, I checked my email. I subscribe to a bible verse-of-the-day service which sends me a new verse every night at 9:15. I don't know why that time, but who cares? The one I received last night spoke directly to the heart of what I'm dealing with.

At the risk of opening myself up too much here on ye olde world wide web, I guess I'll confess what it is that has plagued me virtually my entire life. I have insecurities and self esteem issues. I could tell you stories which would explain where they started and why it only got worse through the years, but that would only foster a victim mentality.

I don't want to be a victim.

I'm a grown man now, and it's high time to stop allowing things from my past to disrupt who I really am. In most situations, I'm perfectly fine. You might find me brushing off compliments with an "aww shucks" type of response. You might find that socially, I can sometimes be a bit more introverted than most. These things are not so unusual that you would think there is something bigger beneath the surface. But the fact is, there is much that the eye can't see.

So here I am, admitting it to you. Hi, I'm Corey, and I have self esteem issues. There, I said it. Now what? Well, this is where that emailed verse comes in. The truth is, there are many verses in the bible which touch on this topic, but probably none more than the one I got last night. It hits the nail on the head. Would you like me to share it with you? (*looking around, yes, I see that hand*). OK, here it is:

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. ~1 Timothy 1:6-7.

Gee Lord, You trying to tell me something? I've read and heard that verse a million times. I can quote it. But there is something particularly powerful about a word in season. This means something that comes at just the right moment, often from a very unlikely and unexpected source.

My email? Lord? Really?

Really.

God has blessed me with wonderful gifts. I don't say this with arrogance, though there are some folks close to me who wouldn't mind to see just a little arrogance come from me every now and then. But if I look in the mirror objectively, God has blessed me. I know in my heart that the things which hold me back are completely in my head. Some translations of the bible word the last line of this verse, "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and love and of a sound mind."

So with a sound mind, and a heart determined to to overcome the words, events and hurts from the past, I choose to "fan into flame the gift of God" which is in me. I choose not to be defined or controlled by fear, but by God's power, love and the many blessings He has given me.

I have been blessed by many of you with your wonderful comments and encouragement over the past couple weeks as you have read my posts. Maybe you can relate in some small way to what I'm saying here today, and maybe not. That's between you and God. If you'd like to contact me with your story or thoughts, I'd love to hear from you. We'll keep it between us.

Maybe, just maybe, God plopped that scripture on me last night not just for myself, but for you as well. If He can use email, He can use my blog!

And He can use you.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I Am Determined

de·ter·mi·na·tion: the act of deciding definitely and firmly; also : the result of such an act of decision b : firm or fixed intention to achieve a desired end

I find myself on a bit of a personal journey of self-discovery. I don't know if that's odd or normal for a man of my age, but whatever. I find people who have patterns of self destruction who shrug off their own personal responsibility for the rubble of their own life and those they have affected by simply saying, "hey, that's just the way I am."

Some people take a more spiritual approach toward adjusting behavior by praying. They ask God to simply remove the patterns from them. Hey, I'm not saying God can't or won't do that. What I'm saying is that I believe that more often than not, God is going to require our participation in the process of changing destructive behavior patterns. It is easy to just ask God to surgically remove it as we move on skipping and whistling through the rest of our lives. But I believe God loves us so much that He opts instead to take us down a more challenging course where we must participate in the process.

We must choose.

This is where I find myself. As I wrote the other day about God being my "spotter", or like a father teaching a child to ride a bike, God is there with us. But it is up to me to grab the bar or pedal my bike. God can do a lot with a heart and mind set on Him. I choose to stand upon the truth. I choose to let go of the past. I choose to not be afraid of failure or disappointment. I choose to forsake my old way of thinking and behaving. I choose to put my trust and hope in God.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not a big lumpy mess. I simply have some flawed tendencies in extreme situations. And I don't want to diminish God's part in this whole choice thing. God is not just some bystander while we do all the work. Ephesians 4 is a great chapter for me, among so many other great verses and chapters that I have researched and read constantly. Through His word, God strengthens me and reminds me of my victory. I can't be victorious without Him, and He can't get the victory in my life without me choosing to walk in it.

I am determined. My mind is made up that I'm done with the old patterns. My heart is fixed on God's truth about who I am, and more significantly, about who I am in Him. The stakes are too high to let my old ways affect my future.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In The Crosshairs

I am a firm believer that when we are on the cusp of something big, we have something of a target on our backs. I'm not one to speak of spiritual warfare very often, but when I am in a situation which can only be described that way, well, it is what it is.

I remember when my parents moved to Costa Rica. The first couple of years they were there, they faced tremendous difficulties. Stuff that you would never think of happened to them on a regular basis. They were ripped off by so many people, including those they hired for the express purpose of watching over their property. My dad, who I have never seen question God in any way, began to wonder if they had made a mistake. In another unprecedented move, he confessed that to me. In what can best be described as classic role-reversal, I reminded him that what they were experiencing wasn't God's punishment, but a badge of honor because they were across enemy lines. What they were in Costa Rica to do was to change lives and build up people.

The enemy knows our weaknesses. He knows where we are vulnerable. He's been at this a long time.

I'm currently in a place where it is imperative for me to fortify my life, particularly where I have historically been most vulnerable. I believe in my heart that I am approaching something in my life which has been a matter of anguishing prayer for the better part of 20 years. The enemy isn't simply going to pull a matador maneuver and politely step aside as I casually stroll on by. No. Instead, he's going to target those things in my life which have traditionally rocked my world. Fears, bad memories, exaggeration of my shortcomings.

I sang a solo on Sunday, and one of the lines from the song said, "I've got a charge on my life, and I've got a job to do. And I can't stop until it's through." This charge on my life makes me a threat. But tenacity and clinging to the truth is what will see me through victoriously.

I believe I'm entering into an exciting season in my life. It certainly has that potential. In God's realm, the battle is already won. In my life, I am subject to time. I cannot live tomorrow today, despite my efforts and desire to do so. So I have to do what is set before me as it comes. I am working toward being prepared for what is ahead while being in the moment. God gives us what we need for the moment, while building us up for what is down the road.

Lord, you are my Supreme Commander. I put my trust in You that you are not sitting in some cushy office with your feet on the desk as you send me out into battle. You are with me, leading the way. You are in full combat gear. As we go, You cover me from all angles. My responsibility is not to break rank and run out from under your protection. Equip me with everything I need to see the victory through. There are people whose lives will be changed and enhanced with this victory, and I don't want to let them, and You down.

Let's roll!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lessons From Weightlifting

I've lived a few years, and still, life still surprises me. It just doesn't feel that long ago when I really wondered if my prayers were only getting as far as my ceiling and bouncing back to Earth. The past several years have been very frustrating, to say the least. I'd like to say that in the tough times that I always had a great attitude, but I can't honestly say that. There were times I handled it well, and other times when I let the heavy weight of life overwhelm me.

I'm human. Sue me.

This year has been a tough one. If you've taken time to read my blog since I started it back on July 8, 2008, you'll see that even the good things were laced with tough decisions. What inspired me to even start this blog was that I was moving from a town, a church, and from friends I loved very much. I even named this thing "Crossing Paths" because I wanted to be sure that no matter where I went, my paths would always be crossable with the people I've come to know through the years.

I've been laid off from a few jobs in that time, lost my mom, struggled to start o
ver in a new town, a new church, and with new people. But I really don't want to dwell on those things. Sure, they happened. What's more important, though, is that I'm a stronger and better man for going through them and remaining faithful in my faith and character. Think about this. When you lift weights, what are you actually doing? You're trying to push, pull or lift something that is very heavy in the opposite direction that gravity would naturally take it. By using proper techniques, we grow stronger as we persist in our efforts to push back against the weight which would otherwise crush us.

The trials I've been through are no worse or heavier than things you've gone through, or will go through. But when we persevere and become stronger, we develop the ability to resist and overcome pressures which previously would have injured, if not killed us.

A spotter in weightlifting is someone who literally is there to protect you from injury, and even shout out encouragement to empower you to lift that weight. They often have their hands on the bar just in case you lose your grip or buckle under the weight. They don't necessarily lift the weight for you, because that would defeat the purpose. They simply are there until you've gone as far as you can, then they help you finish your workout.

God is our spotter in life. God allows things to happen in our lives which serve to make us grow stronger and more mature. In doing so, we also become qualified to assist others through life. He is not necessarily going to lift the bar for us when it is in our best interest to lift the weight on our own. However, that doesn't mean He has turned His back on us. He is right there. He's there when we need His help. Sometimes, He takes the weight fully and removes it from hanging over our head. Other times, he just applies a little assistance, in cooperation with our own efforts so that we don't lose out on the benefit of the exercise.

A good trainer in a gym is someone who challenges you to push beyond the limitations you had when you first walked in the room. Often times, our limitations aren't physical, but psychological. We look at the bar, add up the plates to determine how heavy it is, and we get intimidated. But the trainer will never put us in a situation for the purpose of hurting us. They're not going to give us an impossible task which would completely defeat us.

In this season of my life, I have been able to lift weights I never thought I could handle. And even in those days, weeks and months in which I didn't see any evidence of progress, I kept coming back to The Trainer for my workout. In remaining faithful in my commitment to my workout in life, The Trainer remained faithful to watch out for me and prepare a regimen for me which would ultimately prepare me for the challenges and calling which lay ahead.

Right now, I'm on a winning streak. Every single day is just full of blessings and good things. But I know that as sure as the sun will rise in the east, difficulties will come. I must remain faithful to my workouts so that when they do, I will be prepared and fit to face them. They will not crush me. They will not defeat me. They will not drive me away from my faith.

My Spotter, my Trainer is there for me. He is watching over me, His hands at the ready to keep me from injury. The key is understanding that I can't lift the weight on my own. I can't survive the workout on my own. I can't reach my fullest potential on my own. I can't grow on my own.

My strength is made perfect and sufficient only when I submit myself to Him, and rely on Him to see me through.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Inspiration From A Humble Janitor

A long time ago...more years than I even want to count, I came to meet a man who would prove to be among the most influential people of my entire life. We met when I was 10 years old, and he was in his late 50s. I was in 5th grade, and he was the school janitor.

Johnny was a little man. Barely taller than the students. He was of Portuguese descent and spoke with a stutter. Johnny always wore a white shirt with dark gray janitor pants. And of course, the obligatory plethora of keys on that retracting wire clipped to his belt. Johnny's skin was dark brown and leathery, reflecting a life spent working outdoors. His hair was gray with that little dab of Brylcreem to keep it in place. His hands were rough and calloused. His heart, big and tender.

Johnny was a single man who lived with his sister. Based on this background, people today might question his character and intentions on being around school kids. How sad that society has devolved this way.

Every day at lunch, Johnny would mingle with the kids. You could always count on Johnny to have a pocket loaded with loose change to help out those of us who were a little short on getting a little something extra at lunch. This was his purpose in carrying several dollars in change, which probably weighed as much as he did. Johnny loved to talk to us. He loved to listen to us.

He just loved us.

Johnny had a heart of gold. None of us could really appreciate the fullness of his love for us until we matured and gave it some thought. I don't know if any of my classmates from that school have thought of him much over the years, but I sure have.

Among Johnny's special qualities, he would somehow get a hold of the baseball schedules of each of the boys in the school. It wasn't a large school, but there were enough of us that pretty much every night of the week, at least one of us had a baseball game at the Little League field across town. Having our schedules, Johnny would attend every one of the games each of us played. If my team was playing against a classmate, he would sit half the game on my side, and half the game on the other side. No matter where he sat, we knew he was rooting for us. We also knew he was going to be there. In fact, I still remember warming up in the field while keeping one eye on the stands to see when he arrived so I could see his face light up and return his wave.

Because I transferred to the school just before my 5th grade year, I only got to know him for two years. The year after I left, when I was in 7th grade, Johnny passed away. When my mom took me to his funeral, I was approached by the principal of my former school. He asked me if I would like to read a passage to those in attendance during the service.

Even then, I knew it was a precious honor.

Throughout my adult years, I've often thought of Johnny and the special inspiration I gained from my brief, but profound relationship with, and respect for him. His impact in my life as someone who understood the power of loving children in a completely wholesome and sacrificial manner has echoed in my heart all these years. His example, and knowing what it meant to me, has inspired me to do everything I could to take interest in the lives of children I've come to know. You see, there is something particularly powerful in loving someone voluntarily. In other words, we weren't related, so sacrificial and unconditional love was not to be expected from him. But it was plain to even my still underdeveloped mind that he genuinely cared about us when he didn't have to.

Johnny made a difference in my life. I can only hope that his example and impact on my life can somehow be passed on to even one child I've come to know, or will come to know in my life. Maybe one day, one of those kids will be inspired to invest themselves into the lives of children who need some voluntary love.

Johnny has been gone for decades. However, I believe his genuine love and selflessness in caring about us lives today through the lives he touched in such simple, yet profound ways.

What will you do to make a difference? It might be as simple as a pocket full of change or going to a Little League game that will make an impact...for generations.

UPDATE: I wanted to share with you some comments I received on Facebook about this post from people who knew Johnny at the same time I did. I thought their comments were definitely worth sharing.

Jamie:
"Johnny was the BEST MAN whom ever lived!! I so agree with you he touched my life as well, I think about him everyday WWJD too!"

Rob: "Corey...thanks for that beautiful tribute to Johnny Stevens. He was a very good man who served with quiet dignity. What a great example he provided for us and, as you said, most of us overlooked it until years later. Thanks again!"

Scott: "My kindergarten teacher Kathy Thrower retired after all 38 years.I was in her first class as a teacher. She followed the class thru HS. They named the Gym after Johnny."

Friday, September 11, 2009

That Day

(if you are reading this on Facebook, I ask you to click on the link at the bottom of the page to view the original post in order to see the photos as they're intended to appear.)


Eight years ago to the minute from when this post appears online to you, the world changed. More accurately, it changed well before that with the planning by, and training of the terrorists, but the world received the harshest of wake up calls on that September morning in 2001.

It didn't take me long to recognize the incredible s
ymbolism which represented that day. The terrorists first attacked the symbol of capitalism, the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan.


The Twin Towers were not the most beautiful of buildings. I heard someone describe them as looking like the boxes the real towers came in. But they rose high above the skyline of the largest and most famous city in the world. They were a powerful symbol of the American dream.

And they fell that day.


Then, they struck the symbol which represented the power of America. The Pentagon.


This fortress was named literally for its distinctive shape. It is the headquarters for the United States Department of Defense. This is the epicenter of the most powerful military system the world has even known.

And yet it couldn't even defend itself that day.

Finally, United flight 93 crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, thwarting a
similar attack believed to target either the White House or the United States Capitol building.


These buildings are symbols of our freedom and democracy. This is a country of, by and for the people of the United States.

And yet, people fled these buildings in fear for their lives that day.

When you look at each of these buildings, even simple pictures of them, you know exactly what they are. They represent something. They stand for something. They're symbolic of many of the greatest attributes of the American life. Is it any wonder those who hate us targeted these symbols? Was it simply to kill the most people possible? No. They could have crashed a plane into the Super Bowl and killed more people than they did on 9/11. Instead, they targeted monuments to our way of life. Things which symbolized our ideology.

Today, eight years later, I think we've forgotten the impact those planes had not on the buildings, but on our lives as Americans. For months, churches were stuffed beyond capacity. There was no bickering and name calling between conservatives and liberals. We were Americans. We were one nation under God.

As we reflect on the events of this day eight years ago, I pray that we recognize as a country, and as a way of life, that buildings erected by man, can also be destroyed by man. We were reminded of our futility and vulnerability on that day. God has been known to remind us that we are not bullet proof. He said so in Psalm 127:1, which says:


Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.

For this simple reason, there is only one symbol which can truly stand victorious and impervious to all attack. It's the one upon which I choose to focus. When it's all said and done, I will kneel before Him and be welcomed into the home He has been preparing for me. And that's where I'll be...on that day.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rooting For The Underdog

Tonight, the 2009 NFL season officially starts. It got me to thinking about what is really cool about sports, to me. As I write this on Thursday morning, every team's record is the same. 0-0.

Almost one year ago to the day, on September 6, 2008, I wrote a post here called Created Equal, Not Equally. A great example of that is the beginning of any sports season at any level. From this week forward, there will be teams who move forward, and some who lose ground. The haves, and the have-nots.

When I watch a game where I have no real rooting interest for either team, I typically find myself rooting for the underdog. This is the team against whom the odds are stacked. I think it's inspiring to see someone overcome the odds to end up victorious. In some cases, maybe they still lose the game, but were competitive beyond everyone's expectations.

I have found that I've often gravitated to the same type of people in life. There are many gifted and fortunate people who have so many things bestowed upon them by simply being born into the right family. The Kennedys, the Hiltons, the Trumps. But there are many, many more who are born into difficult situations. Maybe they're born into a rough family, a rough neighborhood, or with some sort of disabilities.

One thing I truly miss...and it just may be one of only a couple things I miss from directing a youth basketball program was watching those kids who didn't have a speck of athletic ability. These kids often had velcro straps on their shoes because they didn't even know how to tie them yet. And those shoes often had little lights in the soles that lit up as they ran around. I just love those kids.

Now don't get me wrong. I loved the gifted and talented ones, too. But there just is something that augers straight into my heart with the kids who have to work twice as hard to be half as good. I learned that each one of us has a certain measure of ability, as well as our own measures of success. In these so-called underdogs, I found they had giftings that the others couldn't even come close to. Even the adults! For some, it was an amazing intellect. For others, amazing musical talents. And still others, sensitive hearts for others. I found myself admiring these kids for their giftings which surpassed my own.

Everyone has redeeming, and even spectacular qualities. For some, it's obvious to see. For most, you have to get to know the person and pay attention. It's easy to celebrate the ones with the obvious qualities, while the ones who take some investment of our time often go unnoticed and unappreciated.

So I would like to issue you, as well as myself, a simple challenge. Take time over the next week or so to find someone you don't know very well, and look for that hidden quality that makes them amazing. Maybe it's a co-worker or a neighbor. Maybe they've already popped up in your head as you read this.

If you would, I'd love to hear your feedback on this little challenge. Come back and post a comment and share your experience. I find this kind of thing energizing, and I think your experience will bless me, as well as others.

Go out today and be inspired, and be inspirational!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Lesson On Focus

In a moment, I want you to watch the video below. Again, if you're on Facebook, I don't know that the embedded video will be available unless you click the link at the bottom which takes you to the original post. Anyway, I learned a really important lesson about myself in the past couple days which reminded me of this video and test it represents. So with that in mind, please watch this video, and I'll get back to you with what I learned, aside from the obvious.




A few years ago when I first saw this video, I honestly didn't see the gorilla! I actually went back and watched it again because I wasn't convinced it wasn't two different videos they showed. But sure enough, there was a gorilla in the first showing!

I learned a valuable lesson this weekend about myself. I sometimes unconsciously look for proof of people's care for me in a specific way. If you've ever read the book, The 5 Love Languages, you may have determined already what yours is or are. Among my strongest ones is words of affirmation. I sometimes focus so much on getting words of affirmation that I miss the "gorilla". In other words, people are sometimes shouting to me that they care about me and I'm important to them in ways that have nothing to do with words. But I focus so much on words, that I completely miss it. When I don't get the words I feel I'm needing, I try to extract them, which creates strain on a friendship, not to mention the perception of insecurity.

I have to tell you, learning this lesson has opened my eyes to the broader picture. Rather than having a laser focus on one little element, I need to improve on my ability to see, to truly see things as they really are. In this silly video, all I missed was a guy in a gorilla suit. But if I'm not careful, I could ruin special friendships.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Listen

I've been known to say that you have two ears and one mouth, and they should be used in that proportion.

Sometimes in my life, I reverse this, and I talk a lot more than I listen. I'm a communicator. I write, I talk, I sing. But while these things can be good, there are definitely times when it's more beneficial to stop talking, and spend more time listening.

I sometimes forget this, particularly in the area of prayer. I sometimes forget this isn't a time for monologue, but dialogue. It's not all about me doing the talking. Sometimes God wants to say something to me, but can't get a word in edgewise because I'm too busy doing all the talking.

I've posted a song here on my blog page, (if you're reading this on Facebook, at the bottom of the page, click the link which takes you to the original post), which came to my heart as I was contemplating this. It's a song I've sung, (it's not me on the recording though), and it served to remind me of the precious gift of listening. There is a line in the song which says, "the last thing I need is to be heard, but to hear what You would say." Wow, how poignant is that?

God definitely wants us to talk to Him. He wants us to verbalize our praise and our need for Him. But there are times when He wants to talk to us, and we need to stop and listen. We need to "be still and know" that He is God (Psalm 46:10). I'm in one of those moments when it is time for me to stop and listen. I need God to alter some things in me, and it's not going to come by me talking, but by listening and obeying. I need to focus on who He is, and who I am in Him, not where I've been and what I've gone through.

I encourage you to listen to this song. Whether you've heard it before or not, I think the message is timeless and serves as a powerful reminder that God wants to speak to us gently. When we don't listen, sometimes He has to get our attention through circumstances...and that's rarely pleasant or easy.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Carrying Baggage From The Past

Sometimes, when you least expect it, you find yourself in rare circumstances which reveal that you're still carrying baggage from past hurts and experiences. I have recently found myself in that situation. Now fortunately, I am more experienced, and also blessed with people who care enough about me to be patient and understanding. My eyes and heart are open enough to recognize this baggage is still in my possession.

The question is now, what will I do with it?

As is sometimes my way, I choose this venue to air out life's epiphanies. Maybe I do it more than I should. But maybe you'll grow to understand me a little bit better, or maybe you'll recognize through some of my experiences, patterns in your own life.

2 Timothy 1:7 says this, "
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline." How true is this? Power, love and self-discipline make up the antidote to fear and timidity. I have to admit, there are times when I need to walk more in power, love and self-discipline, rather than carrying around the baggage from past experiences, packed with memories which generate fear.

Lord, tonight as I write this, I willingly and consciously choose to walk in Your power, in Your Love, and the self-disciplined which comes as a supernatural byproduct. Every now and then, I find myself being tested in circumstances. Am I going to allow past hurts and disappointments to threaten today's victories and tomorrow's dreams, or am I going to stand strong and firm upon Your promises?

Tonight, I choose to stand strong and courageous. Give me the boldness to stand against those fears, and leave that cruddy old luggage from the past behind. I know I'll never forget the hurt and pains I've experienced, but I pray that by leaving that baggage behind, the results will be different, and victory will happen now and continue into my bright future.