Was it Perfect Timing or Luck?!

The family and I went for a walk the other evening.  It was a beautiful, clear night accompanied by the random smells of blooming flowers itching for spring to arrive.

It had been a while since we’d strolled through our neighborhood streets…one of those simple things that we’ve always enjoyed doing as a family.

As we rounded the corner, conversation rambling, the dog sniffing and me just being content, we noticed the silhouette of someone sitting on the curb of their walkway up ahead.  As we got closer, we discovered that it was our 88-year-old friend Susie, sitting in the dark, bucket of yard debris next to her.  We approached timidly, telling her who we were.  It was pretty dark, so we didn’t want to startle her.  She looked up with a half-confused / half-relieved look on her face.  She had been out doing yard work for a while and ended up getting tired or dizzy, so she sat down at some point.  Apparently, she couldn’t get up from where she was sitting…no phone to call anybody and nobody else around.  It was so sad to see.

We’ve been friends with Susie for years.  She’s kind of like a grandma to us, so we offered to help her up and walk her to her front door.  We discovered that her door was locked, but luckily, she left her garage open, so we made our way in that direction.  My son, Ben dumped her yard debris for her and all was well.  After some chit-chat, we all had a big hugfest, said our “I love you’s” and Susie was safely in her house…thank the good Lord!

I can’t help but think about how long Susie would have been sitting outside if we hadn’t walked by!  What a helpless feeling that would have been!

Now, please don’t think this story is meant to praise my family for stopping to help…..I would hope that any decent person would have done the same thing.  This story is about God and His perfect timing.  It’s about how He intervenes in the most practical ways amidst the most practical things.  It’s about the beauty of how God brings people together.  It’s about God providing my family an opportunity to love someone with actions, not just words.  It’s about the privilege we had as parents to teach our sons how to help someone in need, even if it meant sending our plans on a little detour.

God’s pretty tricky and clever regarding setting up divine opportunities to love.  My guess is that each of us encounter set ups like this all the time, we just don’t always have eyes to notice them.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own stuff and I get it, there’s a lot of stuff to get wrapped up in!

What I’ve noticed is that when I actually pray for opportunities to love, I often find them…but only if I’m actively looking, trying to be aware of what He’s doing.  Other times, I’m fuzzy and clouded, wrapped up in my own mess.  These are the times where that magic invitation just floats on by, untouched and ignored.

The cool part is that for every invitation from God that we reject, He sends us more and more and more opportunities to love.  He’s patient, waiting for us to accept.  Sometimes His timing leads to an obvious situation such as what we experienced with Susie.  Other times, we have to step out in courage, trusting that He’s got this.

The truth is that He doesn’t need our help loving people…He’s pretty good at it!  I tell you what though, He really wants us to be a part of what He’s doing because His love is absolutely inspiring!  He’s gracious enough to let us be a part of His story!  Would you be willing to be a part of it?  I mean that…would YOU be willing to ask God for opportunities to love?  You’re special and I know you have a lot to offer this world.

Do it.  I dare you.

His timing is perfect.  Always.

God Bless,

Paul

 

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Happiness vs. Joy

We are all pretty different, aren’t we?!  From culture, to appearance, to preferences, to upbringings, to pretty much everything…our world is a melting pot of differences and I’m so happy about that!  I think this world would be pretty boring if we were all the same.

Although we all differ in many ways, we’re humans and our basic necessities are pretty similar.

In my humble opinion, one of the biggest commonalities that we all hold is this:  WE ALL WANT TO BE HAPPY.  I think this is the driving force behind much of what we pursue in life.  Our culture uses this emotion to entice us, motivate us and sway us into purchasing or experiencing the “newest and greatest” things in life.  We’re suckers for happiness, what can I say!

Along with our pursuit of happiness comes the consuming fickleness that we all fall subject to regarding life’s ups and downs.  We often allow outside circumstances to control our moods and ultimately, our happiness.  Whether it be money or relationships or health or yoga or success or whatever, we yearn to experience the peace or contentment that these things can bring.

There’s an inescapable truth here though…..life happens and situations change…..sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.  When the worst happens, our happiness is often flushed down the toilet, leaving us staring at the wall, wondering how we’re going to survive…..how we’re going to get those good feelings back.

I would like to pose a simple question:  Is it possible that, although happiness is a GOOD thing, that maybe it’s not the BEST thing?

Let me suggest a solution to this ever-changing happiness dilemma:  JOY.

Initially, you may be thinking that happiness and joy are the same thing….I beg to differ.  To put it simply, happiness is based on the external, while joy relies on the internal.

Here’s a definition that I feel outlines the differences perfectly:  “Joy is more consistent and is cultivated internally. It comes when you make peace with who you are, why you are and how you are, whereas happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts and events.” -Psychologies

As humans sharing this planet, we lack joy friends.  You know, that unshakable calmness resting in our hearts that refuses to be let down by the negative around us.  That mysterious peace that holds us upright when the winds blow.  That counter-cultural, inward sunshine that radiates amidst conflict and turbulence.  That kind of joy.

On a personal level, my joy comes from Jesus.  The hope and perspective that He brings assures my soul that things are going to be alright.  The peace and joy that He provides far outweighs any cheeseburger or new car or money or success or good beer or anything.  The joy’s deep and although it can be influenced during my weak times, it never leaves….like a red coal festering under a burnt log, it’s hiding, waiting in anticipation for me to fan the flame….or for Jesus to fan the flame, I guess.

While those reading this may not share my same faith, that’s totally ok!  I love you and I encourage you to discover your joy.  Find that solid assurance of who you are.  Dig deep past the “stuff” and search your heart for ways to simplify, be content and smell the roses….like real roses, not those fake, plastic roses that collect dust over time.

The truth is, none of us are perfect, but we’re beautiful, really.  God desires for us to live freely, peacefully, gracefully and JOYFULLY….don’t settle for good (happiness), grasp for the best (joy).

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

Tomorrow’s Going to be a BAD DAY!!!

My oldest son Ben and I drove to get a pizza the other night for dinner.  I always love those one-on-one opportunities to get caught up a little on his thoughts and perspective on life.

Sometimes, he’ll offer a little more confidential, heartfelt info. during these times, which is awesome.

Amidst our conversation about random things, I asked him if he was excited to go to school the next day.  I already knew the answer to this question, but I wanted to hear the full run down.  His answer was definitely a “no” regarding looking forward to school.  He proceeded to make a list regarding why he was going to have a bad day.  It went something like this:

  1. I have to wake up and go to school
  2. I have to take a reading test
  3. I have to go to the dentist to get my braces fixed

There may have been a couple more things, but you get the point.  Tomorrow was going to be a BAD DAY!!!!!

I found this to be a great opportunity to explain something to him about life, perspective and choices.  Before tomorrow had even begun, Ben had decided that the next day would be crappy.  I mean, his challenges were kind of legit.  Who wants to take tests and go to the dentist anyway????!!!!  I totally get it!

BUT, I encouraged him to make tomorrow a good day DESPITE the obstacles in his way.  That life isn’t all about what happens to us, but how we REACT to the ups and downs….something like that.  I think he listened, because he stopped repeating the list of drudgery that tomorrow held.

We all fall into the trap of setting the tone for tomorrow before tomorrow even starts, don’t we?!  It’s pretty easy to do and it takes mind muscles to force those prophetic thoughts out of the way.

The truth is, we often think we have tomorrow figured out, but in reality, we’re just lucky to wake up breathing.

Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow and he also reminds us that we have no idea what tomorrow will bring…..heck, we don’t even know what the next few minutes will bring!  He’s pretty smart and I think I’ll follow His lead on this one.

It’s wise to be mindful regarding the possibilities and challenges of the days ahead, it’s true.  The gritty part comes when we have to make the choice of embracing those challenges vs. dreading them.  We so quickly forget that we can have peace, even in the midst of the most mundane, difficult moments.  Plus, our fears of tomorrow rarely hold water….in other words, situations often turn out better than what we predicted.

As a quick follow-up, the next day, I asked Ben how his day went.  Specifically, I asked Ben if he “made it a great day.”  His answer was pretty funny and he didn’t skip a beat….he said: “Oh, I forgot.”  So, trying not to smile and patting his head, I asked him if the day wasn’t quite as bad as he was expecting it to be.  He did say that it was better than he expected, so we’ll go with that.  Hey, it’s a start at least!

So, go get it friends.  Go grab tomorrow by the…..well, you know what I mean.

God Bless,

Paul

 

Calling God “Bro”

The other morning, I was driving to work, observing the HUGE harvest moon in the sky and thanking God for my life.  My truck has always been my sanctuary…a safe place to vent, sing, laugh and pray to God out loud.  Yep, I’m that guy driving down the road looking all schizophrenic and goofy.  Gotta love it.

As I was chatting with God, something funny happened…I suddenly said something like, “I love you Bro!”  I caught myself and said out loud, “sorry God, I didn’t mean to call you Bro!”  Then I said, “wait, you ARE my bro AND my dad AND my friend AND my God!”  The truth is, He’s everything to me, so how I addressed Him was super fitting and I’m pretty sure He was cool with that.

Sometimes, it almost seems irreverent to address or approach God in a casual way, doesn’t it?!  Almost like He won’t converse with us if we don’t start the conversation with “Dear Lord of the universe” or “Dear God” or “Thou Father who art in heaven.”  I think that’s where we’ve got it wrong.

Please don’t misunderstand me…approaching God in a “formal” way is totally ok and I’m sure He respects that too.  I just think people make communication with our Savior too intimidating and too planned.

Here’s the thing, God ALREADY knows our hearts and intentions before we approach Him.  Because of this, I really believe that He wants us to chat with Him like a buddy, like somebody we can trust, like a dad.  He wants relationship and hates those stupid hoops that we so enjoy jumping through.  Seriously.

As a dad, I would hate it if my sons approached me formally all the time…talking to me like, “Dear father, I would like to discuss an issue pertaining to our relationship.”  I would so much rather they approach me like, “Hey dad, we need to talk because I’m super frustrated and mad right now!”  Now that’s genuine, truthful conversation and I think God wants us to approach him with the same honesty and candidness.  It’s a beautiful thing really.

So next time you’re praying, or soaking in His presence, I challenge you to just relax.  I challenge you to not worry about the “appropriate” way, time and place to talk to God.  I challenge you to unload your frustrations and fears on Him with abandon and truthfulness.  I’m pretty confident that he can handle anything that we toss His way!  He loves you, truly!

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

What I’m Praying For

Hey friends, I just wanted to share a prayer with you that’s been on my heart lately.

It’s apparent, more than ever that there are a lot of problems going on in the world….in our own country.  The divisiveness is deep and love seems conditional at best.  Human nature is running it’s course, rearing it’s ugly head in the form of racism, hate, hostility, selfishness, pride…the list goes on and on.

In light of all of this, my prayer is for a revival to happen….revival in our communities, revival in our families, revival in our country and revival around the world.

That the hearts of those who trust Jesus would be emboldened to share the truth IN LOVE, NOT JUDGEMENT OR CONDEMNATION! 

That good, solid, life-changing conviction would guide us, stir us and awaken our souls to our own conditions and to the folks around us.

That BECAUSE of our hope in Jesus, our hearts would sloppily and unceasingly overflow with love, generosity and grace onto all those around us.

That our eyes and actions would be so beaming with love, bringing up Jesus isn’t even necessary….just His radiation of love through our actions would be enough to touch lives.

That folks who have condemned Jesus as false, would yearn to know Him as truth.

That stomachs would churn, restlessness would occur and the uneasy prodding of “maybe there’s something more” would infiltrate souls, minds and hearts…..leading to the discovery of truth, freedom, hope and peace that is only found in Jesus and His grace.

That those who wish evil on others would be brought to their knees, seek forgiveness and find the God who loves them.

The truth is that when things are dark, light shines even brighter.  May God light our lamps, strengthen our bones and embolden our spirits as we slog through the stinky, murky, slimy reality of evilness so prevalent in this world.

May our bland lives pop with flavor and may the God who created us all direct our steps.  Most of all, may we have the courage to follow His steps, which always lead to life and jaw-dropping change.  May we be the change that this world needs friends!

God Bless,

Paul

 

Life Without Love = Meaningless

As I’ve grown older and reached the ripe age of 37, I’ve come to realize something:  LIFE ISN’T ABOUT WHAT WE DO, IT’S ABOUT HOW WELL WE LOVE.

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NLT)

This verse is huge for me.  It’s a great reminder of how much God values love and how He could give a rip about what we do if love isn’t the motivator or result.

You could be the most devout church goer in town, but if you treat others like crap Mon.-Sat., you’re pretty much wasting your time.  You could be the CEO of a huge corporation and rake in the cash, but if you’re a cheat and unfair, you’re pretty much wasting your time.  You could be super generous, devoting your time to volunteer, but if you’re not loving to others, you’re pretty much wasting your time.

You see, God isn’t interested in the same stuff that we’re interested in.  The trophies and status symbols that our culture values are garbage to Him.  He’s interested in eternity.  He’s interested in life change.  He’s interested in our character.  He’s interested in us being light when all else is dark around us.  He’s interested in stuff that will last, not stuff that is temporary.

God has given us relationships such as family, neighbors, enemies and difficult people for a reason…..to learn what love is….what HIS love is.  I’ve come to grips with the fact that I will never fully understand the extent of God’s love or Jesus’s sacrifice.  I will never fully understand the grace given to me daily, when I totally don’t deserve it.  I DO understand one thing though….I’m grateful for it and BECAUSE I’m grateful for it, my natural desire is to SHARE it with others.  I want others to experience the same love that I’ve received.  I want folks to feel the rush of loving others because amidst that sharing of love, God is there, waiting with a glowing smile and a big ‘ol bag of life change with our name on it.  That’s the good stuff right there.

You know what though?  We don’t HAVE to love at all.  We are given the choice to be selfish or to be selfless because that’s what love is all about….choice.  Friends, I sure hope that you CHOOSE love, you CHOOSE Jesus, you CHOOSE that solid peace that goes beyond all understanding.

At my funeral, I don’t want people to talk about how nice my yard was or what kind of car I drove or how many hours at the office I put in per week…..I want them to talk about how I loved.  I want them to talk about how I cared.  I want them to talk about my role as a husband and as a father and how I took that honor seriously.  I want them to talk about Jesus and how He reflected Himself through me, even it was just a little bit.

Here’s the thing, love can be intoxicating to receive and terrifying to give at times, I get it.  There’s risk involved, it’s true.  God wants us to love anyways because maybe, just maybe, your smile or handshake or good gesture could alter the path of someone’s life.  I think that’s definitely worth the risk, don’t you?  Go get ’em!

God Bless,

Paul

God’s Provision and a Pendleton Blanket

pendleton-blanketIt was a cool, fall-like day and I had the nagging itch to go for a run.  It was a weekend, so I decided to jog the trail on the opposite side of the river….a typical weekend thing that I like to do.  It’s pretty scenic and quiet…a good time to reflect on life and hang out with God.  So I laced up and hit the road.

As I was jogging down the path, breathing in the crisp air, my eyes and heart were drawn to a gal walking towards me.  She was pushing a grocery cart full of cans, clothes, food….basically her whole life stuffed in a basket being pushed with feeble, weather-worn hands.  As I passed her, I smiled and said hello, but I don’t think she noticed me….she was probably used to folks turning the other way or becoming conveniently preoccupied with their phones or whatever.

I continued down the path towards the end, where I usually turn around and head back the way I came.  My steps had a nice rhythm going and my body was warm, my blood pumping pretty good.  Through the rush of exercise came a gentle whisper in my soul….this whisper basically told me that if I happen to see the gal on my route back, that I need to stop and talk to her.  It was like one of those butterflies in the stomach feelings.  Almost like my whole being was on alert with the anticipation of seeing her, wondering what God had planned.

Guess what?!  As I followed the bend of the path, there she was, patiently pushing her cart, heading to who knows where.  So I listened to the whisper, or the Holy Spirit as I like to call Him and I stopped to talk.  I said something like “for some reason, I feel like I need to talk to you.  You mind if I tag along for a bit?”  She didn’t seem to mind at all, so I just walked with her for a bit.  I found out that her name was Karen and we talked about her life, faith and what it was like to be homeless, surviving off of the land and trash cans and shelters and hand outs and whatever she could get her hands on.  She gave me some tips on what trees were best to sleep under and other interesting stuff.  She was pretty street smart and really nice.

I didn’t have much to give her since I was out running and all.  The only thing that I had was the sweatshirt that I was wearing, so I gave it to her.  She seemed happy with it, but I wasn’t….I wanted to give her more.  So, after we parted ways, I sprinted back to my house (about 1 mile away) hoping that I could grab some food and clothes really fast and meet her at the end of the path in time.  So when I got home, I made an announcement to my wife and 2 boys that we were to quickly grab a bunch of food, some clothes, blankets, toiletries and whatever else was available so we could complete the mission of finding Karen.  After everything was gathered, we hopped in the truck and drove back to the river, where the path ended….guess what?!  We found her!

We basically just pulled up next to her and I reminded her of who I was and that my family wanted to give her a few more things.  We all participated in loading up her grocery cart with items that seemed pretty basic to us, but probably were necessities for her.  Along with the stuff that we brought from our house, I also noticed a couple of blankets in the back of our truck, so I gave those to her as well.  She seemed pleased, we said our goodbyes and that was it.  It was great.

Well, later I found out that one of the blankets that I gave her on impulse was a nice Pendleton blanket given to us as a wedding gift.  OOPS!!!  My wife wasn’t mad or anything, just bummed that I chose that blanket to give away and I can understand that.  My bad.

Here’s the cool part of this whole story….a couple of weeks ago, a family friend dropped by the house to deliver some Christmas gifts.  Really nice of her.  Guess what one of the gifts was?!  A BRAND NEW PENDLETON BLANKET!  My wife had told her this story in passing a while ago and our friend felt led to replace the blanket that we gave away.  Isn’t that awesome?!

I was so blessed not only by our friend’s generosity, but that God used her to remind me of His provision.  That blanket meant a lot to my wife and He replaced it.  What a practical, yet powerful thing.

God’s pretty creative and He never ceases to amaze me.  I had no idea that this story would blossom from a simple run on a fall day.  I hope Karen got some good use out of the stuff we gave her.  One thing’s for sure; we both scored some new blankets out of the deal!  Wink wink.

 

God Bless,

Paul