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 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

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Well, It Happened….

My oldest son, Ben is 9, going on 14.  He’s growing up really fast, too fast actually.  The little things that we’ve always done are changing a bit as he grows older.  Good, normal changes, but changes nonetheless.

A few weeks ago, we were walking into church together and I went to grab his hand out of habit.  He politely held my hand briefly and then let go suddenly.  I asked him if he was embarrassed to hold my hand and he answered with a sheepish “kind of.”  I told him I understood, but inside, I knew that this was just the beginning of Ben’s different stages of independence.

For me, it’s a mixed bag of gratefulness and sadness.  I’m grateful that he’s confident enough to be his own person, not needing as much comfort or affection as when he was younger.  I’m sad because this is the end of a chapter.  My little-big boy requires a new kind of affection…..big kid affection consisting of fist bumps and “atta boys” vs. hand holding and other lovey dovey stuff.  Again, I’m glad that he’s growing up, but I was quickly reminded of how fast his childhood is flying by!

As parents, there is always the temptation to look ahead all the time, anticipating our kiddo’s future  or “next steps” while losing grip of the present.  We’ve all been there and while it’s normal, it can be distracting from all the good stuff going on right now.  Let’s not miss the good stuff friends.

In September, Ben will be 10 years old with 2 years left of elementary school.  Wow.  It’s hard to stomach that reality, it really is.  As a dad, the macho thing to do would be to beat my chest and say “that’s just life…only 8+ years until he’s 18 and out of the house!”  That’s not me though.  Instead, I find myself being sappy, sentimental and proud of the young man he’s becoming….feeling torn between wanting to freeze time and the desire to see him grow up to succeed in this world.

Being a parent hurts so good, it really does.

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

 

 

Memories and Onions

A few days ago, my mom gave me a large stack of papers.  She had been cleaning out some closets in the house and came across a variety things from my past.  Things like report cards, notes, artwork, stories and other stuff like that.  I brought it home and spent some time soaking in my past and reviewing who I was and who I am now.  It was a pretty revealing time for me.

Something that I’ve realized as I grow older is that my memory sucks.  I remember some random, weird details about my past, but there are a lot of blank and fuzzy spaces left to be explored.  I tend to focus on the here and now, forgetting that I was once a little boy who was learning about life, navigating heartbreak, absorbing harassment from bullies and attempting to avoid the pain of my parent’s divorce.  I forget that the concrete pad and basketball hoop in my driveway acted as a safe counselor, providing a consistent outlet to release my emotions and imagine a successful future.  I forget about the great times spent with friends, the loving sacrifices of my single mom and my enthusiastic, always-cheering dad at basketball games.  I need to be intentional about remembering stuff like this because these experiences have added to the story of who I am.

To put it simply, I’m like an onion.  Onions are a common metaphor used for illustrating the complexity of our personalities and rightly so!  As you look at an onion, you basically just see the outer skin and it’s round shape.  Once you peel back the skin and slice it in half, you notice the many layers hidden inside.  Piece by piece, you can peel that vegetable down, eventually revealing it’s core.  My memory works like that.  I operate as a whole onion most of the time, forgetting that I have layers and depth and experiences that have molded me into the “onion” that I am!  It’s beautiful really.

Sure, not all of the layers hold awesome memories…in fact, some of them are quite depressing.  I found crappy report cards with “needs improvement” plastered all over them and “I’ll be sure to tell Ryan not to pick on Paul anymore” notes from school administrators…I also found drawings and cards negatively written by a sad, angry boy…..me.

There were many positive things too, like encouraging letters from my mom and redeeming “Paul is making great improvements” notes from teachers and other things that represented my growth and ability to change.  Man, God sure had His wide, heavy, protective, loving hands on my life.  He still does.  I’m Grateful for that.

We all have a story friends.  We all have fond memories mixed with not-so-fond memories.  We all are human, imperfectly stumbling our way through life, doing our best.  Let’s not be so hard on ourselves, on our past lives, on our times of “falling short.”

There’s something to be said for facing our own selves head on.  To frame the picture of our lives and proudly display it for all to see.  We are each a unique painting, colors creatively, chaotically, yet purposefully splatted on a canvas.  We’re not meant to be hidden or subdued or ashamedly slid under the bed….we’re meant to shine, mixing our colors with those around us.  I need to work on this more.

You see, I believe many of the memories that I’ve forgotten have been intentionally buried deep to avoid pain, not lost forever…maybe they’re resting on God’s lap…or sitting in a jar on His nightstand and He’s sitting there with a big fatherly smile, handing them back to me as He knows I can handle them….as He knows others can handle them….yeah, I’ll go with that.

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

My #1 Goal For Next Year

img_5988Lately, I’ve been reflecting on this last year.  It’s been full of awesomeness, it really has!  I’ve met some great people, I’ve grown closer to others, I’ve been stretched, I’ve traveled, I’ve overcome obstacles, I’ve failed, I’ve succeeded, I’ve grown, I’ve battled dark clouds and rejoiced when those clouds have retreated.  Overall, it’s been a pretty darn good year.

In a couple of days, the slate will be wiped clean and another year will be upon us.  More opportunities lie ahead around every corner….ordained opportunities that are waiting to welcome us like an anxious puppy patiently anticipating their owner’s arrival home.  Exciting!

As I’ve grown older and wiser (hehe!), I’ll typically set a goal to pursue for the upcoming year.  Not a new years resolution or anything, just a vision to follow.  So here’s mine….drum roll please….MY #1 GOAL FOR THIS NEXT YEAR IS TO LOVE BETTER.  There you go.

So what in the world does this “love better” stuff mean?  Well, I’m glad you asked!  For me, it means being open to God’s invitations.  To love people, even though I may not receive anything in return.  So often, I hesitate when I feel God’s nudging to love on somebody or offer kind words.  Ok, I admit it…most of it stems from fear and lack of trust.  For some reason, I forget that God is bigger than me.  I forget that I’m just a limited human, influenced by culture and sin.  I forget that it’s not about me, it’s about Him.  God wants HIS love in MY heart to spew or spray (ok, weird words) or add flavor to those around me.  Not that I’m exceptional or worthy or anything, it’s that He’s exceptional!

So, when I feel led to give the shirt off my back to someone in need, I want to do it.  When I feel led to talk to that lonely looking guy on the bench, I want to do it.  When I feel led to feed that homeless person, I want to do it.  When I feel led to pray for somebody, I want to do it.  When I feel led to send that text, email or make that phone call, I want to do it.  When I see God working in ways that don’t necessarily make sense to me, I want to follow Him…NO MATTER WHAT!  There’s something powerful and beautiful that happens when we are walking in-step with our Creator.  Life is full and complete and purposeful…almost normal feeling…like we were meant to love with boldness, following God’s lead, serving others, not ourselves…hmmmm.

So that’s it.  Pretty simple goal, but so hard to follow through with sometimes!  I’m gonna try though, so watch out world!

WARNING:  You may be hugged next time I see you.  Don’t be afraid, God probably told me to do it.  😉

Happy New Year friends and family.  I believe that God has some amazing powerful things in store for all of us, I really do!

What goals do you have for next year?  What is God challenging you to pursue or change?

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

 

The Night We Looked Into The Mirror Together

mirrorThe night was winding down and it was time to brush teeth and get ready for bed.  It was just me and Ben, my oldest son in the bathroom.  After we were all done going through the routine, I felt the need to have him do something different….something outside of our usual order of things……I said, “come here Ben, let’s look into the mirror together….what do you see?”  We stood there for a few seconds, my hands on his shoulders…my adult frame acting as a large backdrop against his small 8-year-old body.  It was a great dad/son moment for me….pretty cool.  He sat there pondering as his eyes wandered, investigating all of his features.  “I see my birth mark.”  That is the first thing Ben stated.  We went down the list of his other physical features like ears, blue eyes, hair, etc.  He then said “I think I look weird.”  I appreciated his child-like simplicity and honesty.  At first, his statement made me kinda sad, but it created an awesome opportunity to talk about some good things.

I think we’ve all gone through stages in life where we think we look “weird” or we’re not satisfied with who we are as people.  I know I have.  Growing up, looking in the mirror was a constant struggle for me.  For some reason, I was ashamed of myself…..I’m not sure why, but I was.  Because of this, my time with Ben in front of the mirror was special.

We were able to discuss how important it is to be different.  That we are all special and handcrafted by a God who loves us.  That we’re all weird, but in a good way!  That, out of the billions of people alive today, not one person is exactly like the other.  That Ben is special and every mark and crease and gap and color and detail makes up his very own identity.  Fantastic!

Next, the conversation led to purpose and exploring God’s plan for Ben.  I asked him what he thought he was created for.  He said, “well I know one thing that I was created for.  I think I am a peace-maker.”  That was awesome to hear.  I wish I was that insightful when I was a kid!  He then asked, “do you think God has a plan for me?  Do you think He has a plan for you, dad?”  I obviously gave an enthusiastic “absolutely!” and explained that we are all created for a purpose.  That, as we go through life, our purpose will hopefully become clearer.  I also explained that even though I’m an adult, I’m still trying to figure out my purpose, but I know it’s out there, ready for me to find!  He nodded his head in agreement, shifted his eyes to the side as he pondered the conversation, we gave hugs and “I love you’s” and then we were done.  Simple stuff, yet such a sweet space in time.

I’m learning that our children often become what we speak into them.  As parents, we are shepherds, doing our best to guide our little ones down the right road.  Although we can’t force our children to become anything or anyone, we can sure clear a path for them, love them, speak confidence into their lives and pray for them….trusting that God has them in His hands.

I invite you to join me in being intentional with our kids our nephews and nieces, our cousins, our friend’s kids….basically any kids that we have contact and relationship with.  They need us….oh yes, little imperfect “us.”

We are responsible for molding the next generation…..what a privilege and honor!

 

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

I Almost Missed The Rainbow!

rainbowYesterday afternoon, I went for a run around the neighborhood.  My knees hurt a little, but I decided to push it anyways.  I also noticed super dark clouds overhead and rain was falling on the hills to the west of me.  The second that I stepped outside, the sky started to spit a little….then it started to rain like crazy!  I considered heading back inside, but I didn’t let the thought simmer too long.  So I went and I’m glad I did!

If I would have passed on running, I would have missed a lot of things.  I would have missed the glow of rain drops lit up like small sparks by the sun.  I would have missed the smell of spring and the light breeze against my face.  I would have missed the “I hate it, but I love it” feeling of exercise.  Most of all, I would have missed the beautiful, bold rainbow that presented itself against the dark backdrop of clouds and sun and trees….powerful.

Although this is a small example, life kind of parallels this doesn’t it?  The temptation to be comfortable and safe is so tempting.  It takes the DECISION to push through the uncomfortable to often experience the good, chewy, flavorful things in life.  Many times, we can’t trust our feelings….we have to rely on the sheer power of our will and our motivation to just GO!

Whether it’s taking that new job OR reaching out to a hurting friend OR standing up for what’s right OR taking a big step of faith OR checking Jesus out for the first time OR simply just running…..the “rainbows” often show up smack dab in the middle of the uncertainty, grit, mystery and the risk of it all…beautiful.

Join me in rolling out of bed each morning with the expectant certainty that we will push ourselves harder and farther.  Let’s look for the path of MOST resistance!  Let’s peak around unfamiliar corners with confident grins on our faces, knowing that the God of the universe is waiting to impart the most amazing things to those who trust Him.

LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO MISS THE GOOD STUFF!

God Bless,

Paul

 

Why Getting Old Is Awesome

Getting OlderThe other day, I looked in the mirror and saw these weird lines next to my eyes…..I think they’re called wrinkles or something.  Apparently they’ve been there for a while.  Thanks wifey for pointing that out 😉

Something that we all have in common is this:  WE ARE ALL GETTING OLDER!

At the ripe age of 35, I’m constantly being reminded of how old I’m getting.  My knees, back, neck and feet hurt randomly, my energy isn’t what it used to be, I have a grey spot on the side of my head, my metabolism is slower, the list could go on…..that’s just part of life I guess.

The temptation is to be depressed about these changes…totally an easy thing to do.  Lately though, I’ve been really trying to change my focus.  I’m learning to be grateful for every sign of aging that I’ve seen vs. pouting because the inevitable is happening.

Getting older isn’t just about physical changes.  The years have brought some good things like wisdom, knowledge, experiences and blessings.  They’ve also brought challenges, obstacles, failures and loss.  All of which have grown my character and life-outlook.  It’s an evolving process for sure and it takes an intentional effort to see the good.  We need intentionality because there’s a steady battle raging….

Culture is constantly telling us that getting older is a bad thing…..lift, tuck, cover, diet, anti-wrinkle stuff, anti-aging pills, anti-whatever….all these things are meant to delay the inevitable truth that we can’t turn back time!  Why not embrace our changes?  Why not use the wisdom that we’ve gained to make a difference in other’s lives?  It really is all about perspective.

As I take inventory of my aging self, I’m feeling more grateful than anything else.  Every grey hair means that I’ve been blessed with seconds, minutes, hours, days and years to live.  I am so lucky to have survived this long and experienced what I’ve experienced.  There are many folks who haven’t made it this far due to a variety of reasons.  The straight up truth is that we’re not entitled to a single second.  God’s the only one in control.

This brings me to my last and most important piece of encouragement that I’ve held on to: I know that each day brings me closer to meeting Jesus face to face.  There’s hope in that.  Without my faith, the temptation to give in to mediocrity, fear and shallowness would be too great….I would eventually settle or crumble.  I’m sure of that.  Jesus is my beginning and Jesus is my end.  I’m so grateful that He’s my end!

I totally understand that this way of thinking is challenging and unpopular….you know, the whole “be thankful for your sagginess” thing and the “I’m one step closer to meeting Jesus” thing.  I get that.

We all absolutely have the choice of how to handle life’s cycle.  My hope is that we handle things with joy and dignity and anticipation,

Let’s not let age depress us.  Let’s not let age suppress us.  Let’s not let age define us.  For we are blessed to be in our skin, no matter the color or texture or feel….it’s ours after all and it’s gifted to us by a loving Creator.

Let it all hang out!  Be Free!  Wait…..not like that.  Ok, just be happy with who you are.  That’s better.

God Bless,

Paul