My Homeless Friend, Karen

I went for a fantastic run Saturday morning.  It was a crisp fall day, my breath steaming in front of me, leaves aimlessly floating through the air and fog lifting above the river.  One of those inspiring kind of days where I was left in awe of God’s provision and thankful for the breath in my lungs.  I’ve always appreciated moments like those.

As I made my way down the usual path, I had a little conversation with God.  Lately, a common question that I’ve been asking Him is “what’s next?”  In other words, I ask Him how I can be a part of what He’s doing.  It’s kind of a scary prayer because maybe, just maybe, He will actually answer that prayer by opening up an opportunity to love on somebody in an unexpected way.  Well, literally 2 minutes after I prayed that prayer, the opportunity presented itself.

To back things up a little, months ago, I met a gal named Karen.  She was homeless and I had a very cool conversation and experience with her.  Long story short, we chatted a bit, I gave her the sweatshirt that I was wearing, but I wanted to give more, so I sprinted home to get my family in hopes of grabbing a few things to give to her.  We loaded up the car with supplies and drove back down to the river in search for Karen and we eventually found her, having the chance to give her some food and blankets.  That was basically the end of the transaction…until this last Saturday! (FYI, you can read Part 1 of this story HERE)

As I was huffing and puffing, jogging along the river, guess who I saw?!  Karen!!!!  I couldn’t believe it!  As I passed her, I knew I had to say something, so I offered a simple, “hey Karen!”  She kind of looked around, half disheveled and shocked, probably wondering who this weird guy was and how the heck did I know her name!

I ran past her about 500 feet and then I felt the nudge to go talk to her, so I headed back towards her direction.

As I approached Karen, I asked her if she remembered me.  At first, she didn’t recall who I was, until I started explaining the day I gave her my sweatshirt and my family meeting her down by the river with food and blankets.  She actually remembered us and said that she thought about us often!  So cool.

Nothing much had changed in her life.  She did get the radio that she was looking for…she said she wanted one so she could listen to that “Christian radio.”  I thought that was neat.

Karen had some cans to return to Safeway, so I walked with her to the store and we had a great conversation…although it was a little disheartening.  We talked about church and how she doesn’t feel accepted there.  We talked about how folks turn the other direction, not wanting to associate with her.  We talked about what tree she slept under and if she used a tent or a tarp…stuff like that.  I appreciated her letting me tag along.

I asked her if she had plans for Thanksgiving and she didn’t have any….that made me sad.  As we continued to talk, I felt led to give her my phone number.  I told her to give me a call on Thanksgiving day and I would put a plate of food together for her and run it down to the river, where she was staying.  I made Karen promise that she would give me a call and she agreed.  I really hope she calls.

Here’s the deal, this story isn’t really about Karen and this story really isn’t about me.  It’s about God engineering circumstances in a miraculous way, allowing His love to be shared.  Karen and I just happened to be a part of His story on November 18th, 2017.

Life is full of opportunities to be a part of something greater.  Sometimes God just needs a warm, willing body to work with…somebody to accept His invitations into something greater than ourselves.  I’m certainly not perfect and I have missed out on many of His invitations in my life, but I accepted His invite the other day and I’m grateful for that.

It would be really cool if I got a call from Karen, it really would.  But, whatever happens, I have a feeling that I’ll be seeing her again soon, whether she likes it or not! 😁

God Bless,

Paul

 

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Why Marriage Isn’t Just About Feelings

My wife and I just had our 14 year anniversary and I seriously can’t believe time has flown by the way that it has!

I mean seriously, we were just in high school, standing by the lockers while she felt my “swollen” muscles from weight class!  We were just sitting on that couch watching MTV videos while it snowed outside, eventually leading to me getting snowed-in at her house for the night!  We were just watching Titanic, me trying not to cry like a baby while she’s buying a lady a new bag of popcorn that had been kicked over by some punk kids!  Heck, we were just standing at the altar with butterflies in our stomachs, wondering how this “fairy tale” of a marriage would go!  It’s been a journey, full of turns, hills and off-road adventures.  It’s been perfectly imperfect and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Like any marriage, we’ve had our share of struggles.  I’ll spare you the details, but many of the arguments and slug fests have come from our differences, from our imperfections and from our pride.  Many times, feelings of love and affection just weren’t there.  In fact, we still encounter moments like that…I think we all do, no matter what kind of relationship we find ourselves in.

The issue with our culture is that we often view these “lack of good feelings” moments as abnormal or unhealthy.  Our instincts then tell us to run from the conflict in search of a recharge or a “solution” to fill the void….sometimes in a pretty unhealthy way.  We’re all guilty of it in one form or another.

The truth is that we’re all gluttons for good feelings, especially when it comes to marriage.  Maybe we just need to change our focus a bit from the importance of feelings to the importance of commitment.

Don’t get me wrong here…having periods in life where the good feelings flow is totally awesome!  We should all strive for moments of peace, joy and inspiration, especially within our marriages!  The issue is that a prolonged or permanent time in this good feeling-filled-blissful-state is unrealistic.  The mundane feelings that come with the day-to-day stuff can tend to dull life a bit and that’s totally NORMAL!!!

In reality, those calm waters will get hit with some wind, causing that boat to start rockin’ and often, we jump overboard and head for the shoreline vs. riding out the storm together.  We think that shoreline will provide peace and serenity when in reality, the same wind that was knocking your boat around is still blowing, just in a different spot and in a different way.  The grass isn’t always greener, in other words.

Marriage can be one of the most rewarding things in life and it can also be one of the most frustrating, challenging things in life.  How we view conflict and how we view each other amidst the conflict is so key to moving past the tough times.  It really does take effort though…daily, tough, roll up your sleeves effort.

I’m not a pro at marriage by any means and my list of mess ups is super long, but I know that every second of frustration and struggle has led to the beautiful, messy, perfectly imperfect union that my wife and I have today.  The credit goes to God and God alone.

Fight on friends, be the seasoning when things are bland, be the grace and peace when waters are choppy, be the comedy when things go haywire…just “be” and commit.

Feelings will come and go, but that person with morning breath each day is there to stay…wait, maybe not the most glamorous of endings…well, you get the point 😜.

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

How Us Parents are Hypocrites and Why it’s Ok!

The other night, I walked by my oldest son’s school and the playground that has provided so many memories for our family.  Nostalgia always creeps in about the experiences we’ve shared and how rapidly the future is approaching.  I’m a sap like that.

I started thinking about my boys and comparing their childhood to mine….what things I want to steer them TOWARDS and what things I want to steer them FROM.  As parents, I think it’s safe to say that we always want to protect our kiddos and provide them with a great childhood, far better than our own.  It’s a great goal to have.

Often, in pursuit of a great life for our kids, we provide boundaries, rules and discipline, hoping that these things point them in the right direction.  The “do this” and “don’t do that” list is long and boy, do we get frustrated at those little boogers when they goof up sometimes.  There is some comedy to the progression of life….us kids (you and me) becoming parents….shaking our heads as we enforce and guide our own children.  Here’s a simple truth:  AS PARENTS, WE’RE A BUNCH OF HYPOCRITES!  It’s true and you know what, it’s ok.  Let me explain.

A partial definition of hypocrisy is:  “The behavior of people who do things that they tell other people not to do.”  (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).  While this definition is in the present tense, you could also tweak the sentence to say; “The behavior of people who HAVE DONE things (us parents) that they tell other people not to do (our kids).” 

We definitely all fall into this finger-pointing, “I can do it, but you can’t” category at some point, don’t we?!  It’s just one of those pesky flaws that we possess as humans.  Being a parent really highlights this whole double standard thing.  I mean really, when was the last time we sternly told our kids to stop whining, or to share, or to have a better attitude about school or to clean their room or to talk nice about others….the list goes on and on.  We’ve all been there, sternly enforcing the same things over and over and over and over and over again it seems!  It’s easy to forget that we were young once, disobeying our parents, hitting our siblings, pulling some random kid’s hair out of their head (ok, maybe that was just me), crying on airplanes or in grocery stores, receiving glaring stares from old people and other judging parents.  Now we’re the old folks, glaring at those punk kids…how dare they do those things!  🙂

The positive note to this whole parental hypocrisy thing is this: ALTHOUGH WE’VE DONE SOME STUPID THINGS AS KIDS, OUR LIFE EXPERIENCES HAVE EQUIPPED US WITH THE KNOWLEDGE TO PROTECT AND TEACH OUR OWN CHILDREN.

This has gone on for generations and although hypocrisy is not a great character trait in most cases, it’s played a big role in successful parenting for centuries.

So, before we get pissed at the crying kid on the airplane (super annoying, right?), let’s remember that we were once that crying kid, causing a scene.  Those rug rats will someday grow up to be parents, full of hypocrisy, just like us, getting mad at their kids for the same things that they used to do as children!  God must be so proud, ha!

Happy parenting! 😉

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

 

 

The Dinner Table

My wife and I love being parents.  It’s such an honor, a challenge, a frustration and a blessing, all at the same time!  The whole “I wish there was an instruction manual for these kids” comment has been thrown around a few times for sure!

I think I can safely say that Pam and I feel like students, constantly learning new things about parenting.  Oftentimes, it seems as though us parents are the students and our children are the teachers, doesn’t it?!

One of the most recent lessons that we’ve learned as parents is fairly simple, yet so important.  Here it is…drum roll please…: SITTING AROUND THE TABLE AT MEALS IS SO AWESOME AND SO NECESSARY!!! 

You may be thinking, “duh, of course it’s important to eat meals around the table!” and we thought the same thing for years…until our lives got a little busier.  I confess that we got comfortable throwing a towel on the ground in the living room, flipping on the TV and contently eating there collectively gazing at the Food Channel or whatever….like for every meal.  I know there’s worse things in life, but my wife and I realized that we needed to make some changes.

Don’t get me wrong, eating in the living room isn’t a cardinal sin and I certainly don’t condemn others for doing that!  Life gets busy, I totally get it!  For my family, it just didn’t work out, at least not as a regular thing.

When planted in front of the TV, we noticed a huge lack of conversation and the only comments made were things like, “hey, pass the Sriracha” or “I can’t believe Henry Danger did that!”  Recapping the day didn’t really happen and we started to feel a little out of touch with each other.  Things just felt “off.”

So, we decided that most nights (not ALL nights), dinner would be shared around the table together.  The boys complained a bit at first, but I can understand their disappointment….parents vs. TV…hmmmm.  They’re used to it now, but it’s not like they had much of a choice in the first place 😄.

You know what, it’s been great!  It’s funny how a meal together around a piece of wood can sync things so nicely.  We’re all present, we talk about the day, we laugh, we’re together mentally, not just physically, sitting in the same room staring at the screen.  It’s beautiful.

I do understand that this may seem old fashioned to some folks and that’s ok!  If eating around the table isn’t your thing, I encourage you to find that face-to-face time with your family.  Whether it be taking a walk, reading books, playing games or whatever, it’s time well spent!

Let me know how it goes, friends!

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 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

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