Lonely—Or Empty?

Piano and Rose (free)LONELINESS—OR EMPTINESS?

   Vanessa (not her real name) had never been without a boyfriend since she was thirteen years old. By all counts, the score was two bf’s in junior high, three in high school (roughly one per year), and a serious three-year relationship in college—followed by a quick rebound relationship in senior year. After college, Vanessa’s trend continued. She dated pretty regularly and by 25, was engaged. However, that didn’t last—Vanessa broke it off—and continued exploring relationships. By 28, Vanessa was married, by 32 she was divorced, and by 35 married again. The one common denominator in all of her break-ups over that 22-year stretch was Vanessa: She was the one who always initiated the break-ups. And why?

   Vanessa was empty inside.

   Unfortunately, Vanessa represents thousands of people in our culture who travel from relationship to relationship looking for someone to fill a void inside of them. Often people believe that if they can just find “the one”, they would finally feel “complete”. And that rarely ends well.

   How many times have we heard that premise—the idea that if we can just find that “soul mate”, that “other half”, then we’ll finally feel complete? Remember Tom Cruise’s famous line to Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones’ Diary where he stares across the room at her and declares “You complete me!” The problem is that that’s a fallacy—the myth that any person can fill that void inside of us and give us that “happily ever after” that Bridget and her Prince Charming presumably enjoyed. Bridget and the Prince are fiction.

   Does that sound like the rantings of some bitter and jaded skeptic? Of course it does, but it’s not. The truth is that, yes, Virginia, true love does exist and brings great fulfillment and joy. But here’s what a relationship cannot do: fill the God-shaped void inside of us. The fact is, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, there’s a huge difference between emptiness and loneliness.

Loneliness results from a separation from people, and emptiness results from a separation from God.

   Feeling empty actually means that we’re lonely for God.

   In Genesis 2, God said of Adam, “‘It’s not good that man [ad-am] should be alone…’” (vs. 18). Adam had, at that point, enjoyed the most intimate relationship with God possible for a human to experience; in the pre-Fall, there were no barriers between God and man. Adam had a spirit-to-spirit relationship with God the Father. Still, Adam was lonely; he desired human companionship—someone to love, both emotionally and physically; someone to share ministry with (ruling over creation); and someone with whom to imagine the future and explore destiny. Adam ached for an “Eve” but he wasn’t empty; he was full of his God and therefore complete. How do we know? Because Adam wasn’t experiencing any of the symptoms of emptiness: an identity crisis—he knew who he was: a son of God. Adam wasn’t questioning what was “wrong” with him because he didn’t have a girlfriend—he was simply wondering when and where he might find one. And Adam wasn’t at a standstill waiting for life to start until he got a wife; he was enjoying his relationship with God and moving in his destiny. Adam wasn’t “lost”, insecure or depressed. He was just lonely. He simply wanted what all of the animals seemed to have—someone to compliment him.

   Loneliness is not a bad thing. Lots of times it’s not fun but that emotion exists for a reason: to remind us that we need other human beings, that we’re part of the family of God, and that we can’t go it alone because we’re not equipped to do that. Loneliness nudges us to create family, community and to engage in interactions, relationships and commitments with other people. Imagine what the world would be like if we didn’t feel the need to participate with others. I can only surmise that far fewer people would populate the earth. In fact, I believe (don’t know for certain because I haven’t asked) that God created the feeling of loneliness so that humans would be motivated to “be fruitful and multiply.” If God hadn’t allowed loneliness, I can only imagine the conversation in Eden:

   GOD: “Adam, would you like a wife?”

   ADAM: “What’s a wife?”

   GOD: “You know, a mate, kind of like the elephants have, only more like you.”

   ADAM (thinks for a moment): “No, thank you. I’m happy with the elephants.”

   How do you know whether you’re empty or lonely? Clue number one: If you don’t have a relationship with God, that part of you that was created specifically for that purpose is going to be empty and you’re going to feel the pain of that. For example, if you have family and friends and/or a spouse and they’re good people and they love you—and yet you still feel “incomplete”, that’s emptiness, not loneliness. Or if there is a relationship with God but you find yourself “too busy” to spend any time with him, emptiness will happen.

   Clue number two: A very telling symptom of emptiness is a feeling that you just don’t belong. You might feel separated and depressed and, in some cases, as if something is wrong with you. This is probably one of the most painful feelings in the world. And it’s dangerous; who knows how many people have turned to drugs, alcohol and/or depression meds because of the pain of it? The good news is that nothing is wrong with you. You just miss God.

    The even better good news is that there’s a cure for both emptiness and loneliness. If you’re feeling empty, get with Jesus. It’s that simple. Allow his love and peace and security to surround you like a blanket. Breathe it in and let it get deep down inside of you. If you’ve never experienced that feeling, that’s nothing that can’t be fixed—all you have to do is to ask God for it and he’ll give it to you. God says, “‘I love those who love me; And those who diligently seek me will find me’” (Proverbs 8:17). On the other hand, if you’re lonely, get with people. My mother used to say, “If you want friends, be a friend.” Good advice. Invite someone over for dinner or call someone to see how they’re doing or join a club or go to a Bible study. It’s not hard.

   Being empty and/or lonely are common feelings. Just remember that if you’re lonely for God, no human relationship on earth can ever fix that. Fill up on the presence of God and then you’ll be ready to give and to receive the love of other people.

   Then you’ll be complete.

 

 

 

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For the Love of Money

Treasure Chest

   Paige, a single mom of three in Colorado, fought to keep the upscale house and six acres she’d been awarded after a divorce but it wasn’t easy for her. Most times Paige worked two and three jobs to make ends meet. Still, those didn’t generate enough cash to pay the pricy $6000-per-month mortgage so she tried several small businesses from home, including a daycare center. Even so—you guessed it—still not enough $.

   Finally, Paige decided she had to do something different to make the money she needed and so, quietly, without confiding in family or friends, she adopted the name “Carrie” and opened an escort agency featuring services like dancing and stripping. In college, Carrie had earned over $400,000 a year while “dancing” so she knew there was a lucrative market for an escort service. And lucrative it was because at last Carrie was able to earn the kind of money she needed in order to maintain the home and lifestyle she and her children wanted to have. Sadly, however, after about a year of living this double life, Carrie disappeared without a trace.

   The night Carrie didn’t return home, her nanny assumed that she had been working late again as she so often did, but when she didn’t return at all, police were notified and a search begun. Eventually, Carrie’s abandoned vehicle was found but she was not—for five years. But in the course of the investigation into her disappearance, her computer revealed the secret which Carrie had taken such pains to conceal: When police began to track the large sums of money she was suddenly earning, they discovered Carrie’s escort agency.

   Carrie had found a way to make money—lots of money—but the pursuit of it had cost her everything—even her life.

   Every day, myriads of people pursue their dream of making money, lots of money. And they do. They become rich and successful—which is not a bad thing—unless there is no end game in sight. In other words, at what point is the money goal realized? How much money is enough? Enough to pay the bills? To retire comfortably? More? A million? Ten? A hundred? More?

   Then what?

   That’s the question we all come to: After fulfilling our monetary goals, then what do we do? Chase more? And for what purpose? To make even more?

   Why?

   Is amassing money with no end in sight a goal in itself? If so, is there a point to that? The Bible warns that we “‘cannot serve God and money at the same time’” (emphasis mine).

   Often we think that we control our money but the hard fact of the matter is that money can control us. And that means that we literally become servants to our money.

   We think we “rule” over money but the Bible says that if we choose money over God, we “serve” money—which means money is our master, it is not our servant. And if that’s the case, then money calls the shots and we will do whatever money requires us to do. As did Carrie.

   And that’s not all. Service to anyone or thing requires a cost, and that means that whatever we’re serving, we’re sacrificing for. We all know that serving God requires sacrifice; God is straight up about that and tells us to count the cost. However, serving $ requires sacrifice as well—and who thinks to count the cost of that? Did Carrie? I daresay she did not. Or maybe she did. Maybe she considered the possibility that running an escort service might entail a risk, but evidently she calculated it a risk worth taking. Still, danger wasn’t her only gamble. Carrie made other sacrifices for money as well. And so do we.

   What else are we willing to sacrifice for the love of money? Our time? The pursuit of bucks will cost us that. Our families and relationships? That’s an old story. We all know it happens—to other people. And that’s the big lie that we tell ourselves: “Those things won’t happen to me; I’m smarter than that.” What that really means is that we think we’re too intelligent to “allow” the love and pursuit of $ to suck us dry. We’re aware of the risks but we’ll avoid them. Really? How do we do that? Do we set limits on how long we’ll spend pursuing money—or does time evaporate and before we know it, decades have slipped into oblivion? Do we set limits on the amount of money we’re chasing—or does every new tax bracket require more dollars to keep up the lifestyle required to earn the next tax bracket? Expanding the business, the house, the car? How much money fulfills the dream?

   And then what?

   After half a lifetime of watching folks on the hamster wheel chasing the dollars day after day, year after year, I have one question: Are we chasing money for eternal purposes—or just chasing it?

   The older I get, the more aware I am of one thing: Some future day we all will stand before God, each one of us, and offer to him whatever “crown” we’ve managed to achieve, accomplish or amass—and what will it be? Will it be something of eternal value, of “gold” and “precious stone”? Souls won, misery relieved, the Gospel financed? Or will it be what the Bible calls “stubble” and “rust”? Maybe billions of dollars, sitting in the bank, waiting to be used—for what? To build theme parks or office buildings or restaurants? Or perhaps we achieve fame and a worldwide platform to proclaim—what? The latest fashion trend or blockbuster movie or money-making scheme?

   When it’s all said and done, what will be our crown? A crumbling roller coaster on a rotting boardwalk or a thousand souls fed and then won because they were fed? Where are we investing the treasure we’ve been given? Or are we?

   “‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’.” Where is our treasure? Where is our heart?

   Whatever has our heart, has us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                   

Tips for A Felony-Free Holiday Season

Santa Being Arrested

   Last holiday season Uncle Jack showed up for Thanksgiving, which would have been great except that Uncle Shawn showed up too, which would also have been great—except that Uncle Jack voted for Hillary Clinton last November and Uncle Shawn voted for (you guessed it)—Donald Trump. And while no one was arrested, yelling was heard, insults were lobbed, and even a few ballistic F-bombs were dropped. Aunt Sophie had to cover her ears, little kids had to be rushed out of the room, and grandma had to be restrained from tanning both their hides since both were, well—too old.

   So much for a peaceful holiday dinner.

   This year, however, will be different. Uncles Jack and Shawn still aren’t speaking to one another (apparently as long as Senator Schumer isn’t talking to Speaker Ryan, Jack and Shawn aren’t communicating on principle). But they will be seated as far away from each other as possible in case someone brings up tax reform. However, since everyone attending Thanksgiving dinner this year is required to sign a pledge not to debate the health care debacle or the guilt/innocence of anyone accused of harassment, discrimination or looking crossed-eyed at others, we are hopeful that this holiday dinner might actually be pleasant.

   With this experience in mind, I thought it might be a good idea to outline a few tactics we all might want to keep in mind so that this dawn of the season of peace might actually be. Chances are we’re going to be seeing lots of folks that we might normally not see—whether we want to or not. And given certain personalities, it’s not out of the question that some conversations might go a little, well—nuclear. Meltdowns may occur. Poisoning of the atmosphere around your dinner table is not out of the question. Mass casualties are probable.  

   Except for you.

   You can be—if you’re forewarned and willing—the baking soda that neutralizes the meltdown.   

   “And just how would I do that?” you’re asking. “You don’t know my Uncle Ebenezer!”  Well, maybe not, but Uncle Eb takes many forms: Grandpa, your second cousin twice removed (for good reason), your ex, and Satan. We’ve all experienced Uncle Ebenezer at one time or another. So—what can you do when things begin to trend a little, shall we say, awkward?

   Change the topic. Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks so feel free to do that (except expressions of gratitude regarding who’s president or who’s not—try to avoid those). Religion is okay since God is, after all, the Reason for the Season; when discussing the Nativity story, everyone pretty much agrees with what happened on the first Christmas. Just don’t fight about whether the Wise Men got there in three days or three years; it doesn’t matter. And don’t get into things like whose pastor is the most long-winded, whether or not Christmas trees are Biblical, and for everyone’s sake, it doesn’t matter who wrote Silent Night—Catholic or Protestant—it’s now public domain.

   Keep your lips closed about what you won’t eat. Look, we’re all aware that glutton, sugar, red dyes, salt, fat, and processed foods cause much pain and suffering. We all know that non-organic fruits, vegetables, turkey, chicken, salmon, tuna, et cetera ad nauseam are more deadly than rat poison. We’ve read the 30-foot billboard warnings, seen the 60 Minutes exposé, and been indoctrinated since kindergarten. We’ve read the memos and have the “You Eat, You Die” t-shirt. We know that it only takes one meal once a year to kill us. We don’t need to hear about it at a holiday dinner. The fact is, someone has planned for days and slaved over a hot stove or turkey fryer for hours and odds are they’re not going to take kindly to enduring a lecture about how lethal their food is. Okay? Thank you.

   Avoid correcting anyone else’s kids! Honestly, it won’t go over well. Why? Well, the fact is that many parents who bring their kidlets to holiday functions expect everyone else to be envious that those little cherubs aren’t theirs. Now granted, this is often a subconscious illusion but, nonetheless, you do not want to be the one to burst that little bubble. So, no matter what the little darlings do or say, walk away. If you must comment on their behavior—let’s say they’re sticking a fork into an electrical outlet—you might want to approach it by casually commenting to mommy that their child is in a life-threatening situation. However, make certain you assure the parent that neither their child’s behavior nor your comment on it is in any way meant to reflect negatively on that child’s superior intelligence.

Santa Got Run Over By A Trike

   But—what to do if the parent corners you and begins bragging incessantly about their child(ren)? Not much you can do. Go to your happy place.

   So you’re wrong. Take the hit. No one has ever died from being accused of being wrong. (Well, only those on trial for capitol offenses but that’s not you. Probably.) If Uncle Ebenezer or his minions want to argue, just don’t. Instead, you might consider other options. You could agree with him. It’ll leave him speechless and you can make your escape. You could comment on how wonderfully behaved his children are. You’d be wrong again but—what the heck?

   DO NOT EVER COMMENT ON THE “BABY BUMP”! EVER.  That is, until someone informs you that there truly is a baby bump—then you may comment. However, tread lightly: never agree when the perspective mom complains that she looks like a beached whale. Don’t even nod. If she asks if she looks fat, the answer is an emphatic “no!” In fact, you couldn’t even tell she was pregnant. And whatever you do, don’t ask if she’s having twins.

   Now that you know the rules of engagement for a happy holiday get-together with family and friends, you can be the one to ensure that all goes smoothly and no one gets hurt. And when the going gets rough and you don’t know whether you can pull off the impossible, remember: it can’t be more difficult than making peace in the Middle East.

   Oh, and one more thing: under no circumstances should you cave to the temptation to roll your eyes.

   Now—have a Merry Thanksgiving, Happy Christmas and Peaceful Holiday Season!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That Thing That Matters

Teddy Bear Looking out of Window

   Today I looked around my classroom and my eye caught some words posted on my board: HAVE, DO, and ARE. (For the record, you “have” a noun, you “do” a verb, and you “are” an adjective.) Those words got me thinking—are we defined by what we have, by what we do, or by what we are? And who defines us? Or—does it matter?

   It should matter because who defines us and as what shapes how we see ourselves, which, in turn, determines whether we believe we can fulfill our destinies—or not.

   So—are we defined by what we have?

 Do we have a car? What kind? New or not new? Pretty or not pretty? Luxury or basic? Don’t tell me people don’t “feel” a certain way when they buy a vehicle. Proud? Ashamed? Envious? Disappointed? And what about our clothes? Do we “feel” the same way when we’re wearing our finest suit or dress as when we’re dressed in casual clothes? And let’s not forget money. Lots or little? Savings in the bank or living paycheck-to-paycheck? Retirement pension? 401K? Or not? Do we feel secure or scared? Grateful or frustrated? Do we own a house? How big a house? Where is it located? Is it as nice as our neighbors’ houses? Or—do we not have a house?  Where we live often has something to do with how we think about ourselves. Not always, of course, but can we honestly say that nobody judges themselves of the basis of where they live? I know that once upon a time, I did…

   Are we defined by what we have?

   If so, let me mention a few of the best people history has ever known: Take Jesus, for example. He didn’t have much and what he did have, he lost. In the end, all he was left with were splinters and thorns. And there was Mother Teresa—I don’t know what she had before she moved to India but once there, she gave it all away. I could cite dozens of others but the point is that neither of these people let what they didn’t have keep them from fulfilling what they did have—a destiny.

   We are not defined by what we have.

   Are we defined by what we do?

In a world where we’re pushed to “become something,” the world often defines for us what we “should” do. And that’s reinforced when we meet someone. Small talk usually includes a “So what do you do?” or “Where do you work?”

   Does it matter?

   Are we better people if we’re dentists rather than dental assistants? Do we have better character if we’re professors rather than teacher aides? Have we accomplished more in life if we’re the CEOs of corporations rather than small business owners? If we lose our credentials or our titles or our paychecks, are we lesser people?

   We are not defined by what we do.

   Let me repeat that—and not for those who don’t have the lucrative positions or incomes, but for those among us who might: we are not defined by our achievements. In other words, if we were to lose that position tomorrow, our circumstances might be different but we’re not—unless we define ourselves by what we do.

   I remember my father telling me that he’d once met one of the richest men in the country and that that man was one of the humblest, most down-to-earth people he’d ever met. Why? Because that man did not define himself by his money or position.

   Are we defined by what we “are”?

   There’s a question that haunts many: What are we? Are we rich or middle-class? Are we young or elderly? Are we married or never-married or divorced? Are we black or white or yellow or brown?

In a world where we are increasingly defined by our outward appearances and/or statuses, those things can too often determine how we think we should think, behave, and even feel.

   To complicate the problem, the dawn of DNA testing has some people finding that they are not who or what they thought they were. But does DNA really define what we are—or are not? The culture, traditions, and values that we’d grown up with—are they null and void if the DNA doesn’t line up?

   Can our DNA really disqualify us from belonging?

   And here’s the bigger question: What if (not like this could ever happen) we’re treated differently because of what we “are”; does that really make us different? Are we more or less of a person because we’re rich or poor or married or single or black or white or tall or short or blue-collar or white-collar?

   The fact is—and this is so often repeated that it’s almost a cliché (sadly) —we’re all children of God. Period. It doesn’t matter whether there’s money in the bank account or whether there’s even a bank account at all; it doesn’t matter whether we have a low IQ or we’re Albert Einstein; it doesn’t even matter whether we have wrinkles or not (honest!). Our identity never changes. But if we allow it to change, if we’re swayed by the opinions and prejudices of others, then we’ll never fulfill the destiny that we’re called to tackle. Look at it this way: How we were created was designed to perfectly equip us to accomplish that one thing we were created to do.

   It’s not about what we have, what we do or what we are; if it’s about anything at all, it’s about the character we display. And that’s the one thing that transcends all races, all statuses, all ages, and all abilities. To paraphrase the great Martin Luther King, Jr., we look forward to the day when we are not judged by the color of our skin… or [may I say] the ages of our bodies or the images in our mirrors or the bottom lines on our tax returns, but by the content of our characters.

   In defining ourselves, our character should be the one thing that determines what we have, what we do, and what we are.

   Our character is the one thing that matters.

 

Living Offended? Buckle Up.

Angry Man

   A few days ago, a student came to my desk and stood there. “Are you the one who called my parents?”

   “Yes,” I said, “you skipped class. For the third time.”

   “You got me in so much trouble!” he yelled.

   “I believe you got you in trouble.”

   “So? Now I can’t go anywhere and it’s all your fault!”

   “Okay,” I said, “conversation over. I’m not having this little chat right now.”

   Evidently, he was. Things went from loud to louder until he—and the friend who’d decided to take up his offense—both earned a free personal escort to the principal’s office and hard time in ISS.

   Okay, it didn’t really happen that way. It was much worse. But the point is how quickly he was able to become offended—not at his own behavior but at someone else’s.

   Picture this too-real scenario: Recent college graduate closing out a job interview…

   Employer: “So—do you have any questions for me?”

   Interviewee: “Can you tell me what the salary is?”

   “For a store manager, that would be in the area of 32k.”

   Interviewee (voice rising an octave or so): “What do you mean? The ad said $45,000.”

   “The ad said the salary range was low thirties to mid-forties, depending upon experience.”

   “Well, I know I don’t have experience, but I think I’m worth more than low thirties.” (“huff”  implied)

   “Maybe so. Hope you find a job that pays it. Thanks for stopping by.”

   Offense in this country has become a national pastime. From students becoming offended because they’re asked to bring a pencil to class (no lie) to job seekers expecting to start at the top of the heap to people rioting in the streets because they don’t like who won an election, becoming offended over every little thing has become an epidemic. People get offended with family members, with friends, with employers, with coworkers, with pastors, with complete strangers—with anything that lives, breathes, and moves—and not just for actual infractions but for wrongs merely rumored or perceived.

   Offense comes in many forms: “ticked off” and “hurt” are two of the milder species but, mild or not, those can still result in toxic rants, freeze-outs, and crocodile tear storms. In addition, some have gone to extremes because of offense, and tragic consequences have ensued: rioting, burning, looting, and destruction of property as well as violent personal assaults and even murders have happened. Think road rage incidents, recent shootings, and even terrorist attacks—all because someone or some group has become offended.

   But why??

   What has led to this unprecedented rise in offense, and what happens when offense is allowed to run amuck and unchecked in our minds, hearts and souls? What happens is that offense metastasizes and, like a cancer, devours everything in its path.

Offense turns hope to cynicism, trust to suspicion, goodwill to criticism, gratitude to entitlement, sweetness to bitterness, and, in the end, offense turns faith to ashes.

   So how do we know when we’ve succumbed to offense? After all, we can’t possibly be in the wrong; we deserve to be angry and/or hurt—or so we tell ourselves. But offense is insidious, it sneaks up on us from our blind spots, from our self-righteous platforms, from our so-limited perspectives and then, like a fanged cat, it springs and sinks its claws deep into our psyches. And we never even see the paw prints on the wall.

   So—how do we know whether we’ve been infected with offense?

   Do we ever find ourselves slightly miffed that someone has something we don’t? A job or ministry, a promotion or award, a “nicer” car or house or…? Or are we slightly ticked that someone else gets to do (or worse yet, is chosen to do) something we want to do?

   Jealousy and offense go hand-in-hand.

   Do we ever get offended over what’s not done? Here’s every pastor’s favorite: “He didn’t call me back!” or “He looked right at me and didn’t say hi!” (Forget that he just found out a church member is in the hospital.) The really ironic thing is that afterward, when he does say hello, he doesn’t get a hello back because…? Oh, right—because he was rude and didn’t say hello.

   Wait—what??

   And then there’s the old courtroom proclamation: “It’s just not fair!!” If we don’t get something we think we’re owed or if we’re called to account for something that he/she/it got away with, then absolutely someone has to take the fall for that—and we’re going to seethe, pout and/or rampage until that happens. Of course that won’t happen until pork flies but some folks are still seething, pouting and rampaging, waiting for bacon to sprout wings.  

   Living offended is a mindset that won’t change itself. If we choose to be offended—and it is a choice—then there will never come a moment when we’re truly at peace.

   Offense and peace cannot occupy the same soul.

   Offense is the root of anger in all of its glory, festering and fuming with undercurrents of irritation, sarcasm, hostility and rage, and forever threatening to shipwreck the course of our destinies. Yet the truth is that while we simmer in a stew of resentment, bitterness and malice, the objects of our offense are no doubt completely oblivious as to how absolutely ashamed they should be for having the unmitigated audacity to suck air.

   Here’s a not-fake news flash: We’re going to wait a really long time until they feel punished because we feel offended.

   No offense.

      

 

 

 

 

You’re the Mirror On the Wall.

Ghost girl   Recently, two things happened that made me think. I was listening to a student lamenting, in tears, that her boyfriend had just broken up with her. What to say? Can’t really say he’s a jerk (might’ve thought it) and probably shouldn’t suggest that she’ll be over him in a month (a week?). So I said the only thing I could think of (that was true): “You’re such a pretty girl—he’s going to regret this!”

   Her response? “I am not pretty!”

   Me: “Are you kidding?? Yes, you are!” (And she is.)

   Her: “No, I’m ugly.”

   Me:  “Trust me—you’re beautiful! I wouldn’t lie about that.”

   Now before I get tons of hate mail for being so shallow as to focus exclusively on her outward appearance, we all know (and let’s not pretend we don’t) that when a breakup happens, a girl needs a little boost to her confidence—and “you’re such a nice girl” doesn’t quite cut it. So I told her the truth: that she’s a beautiful girl and that whatever the breakup was about, it wasn’t about that. What amazed me was that she not only didn’t know she’s pretty, but she truly thought of herself as ugly.

   Fast forward to a different day—I was working with another girl who was trying to make up work for a failed English class so that she could get the course credit and graduate. In the course of our conversation, she informed me how “dumb” she was.

   Me: “No, you’re not!”

   Her: “Yes, I am. That’s why I failed English. I’m dumb!”

   Me: “No, you failed English because you never went to class or did enough seat time to learn the material. That’s very different from not being able to learn the material. So—what did you learn from not going to class?”

   Her: “That I can’t pass English?”

   Me: “See? You’re not dumb.”

   Lesson to me? So many people see themselves as inadequate or unworthy or “dumb” or “ugly” or useless or “bad” or as epic fails. And these destructive self-images have led to an epidemic of depression, despair, hopelessness, and even rage. Then, because of attempts to lessen or mask those feelings, we’ve seen an exponential explosion of alcoholism, drug abuse, “relationship hopping” and worse.

   It’s tragic that the only moments of relief, “happiness” or seeming hope some people ever experience is from a needle in the arm or the bottom of a bottle.

   And so?

   And so it’s time for us to step up and share with people what they obviously don’t yet know: “You have a destiny. You were born for a reason, and you have a purpose to fulfill.” Period. ”

We don’t need a PhD or a biblical degree or permission from our mommies, our pastors or the U.S. Senate to do it. If we have a voice, then we are qualified to encourage another human being.

   And know what else?

   That’s your destiny.

   We may each encourage others in different ways, but we can all do it. Maybe it’s a written word of encouragement—a card or a text; maybe it’s a plate of cookies or a simple thumbs-up. Maybe it’s a present—a paint set because you see a talent for art or a set of tools because someone is a budding builder. Maybe it’s an encouragement regarding some personality trait that’s somehow not being used as intended…

   Many times I’ve pulled aside a disruptive student and told him that he has leadership skills—he’s just using them the wrong way. Or the kid who loves to argue—a future lawyer? Just today I informed a student that he has the potential to make a lot of money someday in a courtroom because of his ability to argue the spots off a leopard. (Although I did have to break it to him that that wasn’t happening today.)

   We can all do it—tell someone they have a destiny; too many people just don’t believe that they’ve been planted on this rock for a reason, for a specific purpose that no one else will ever be able to fulfill. They simply don’t think they really matter all that much.

   Still, I can hear it now—dismal echoes of doom wafting across the miles: “But I can’t! I’m no good at that!” However, the truth is that you could be. How much talent does it take to pat someone on the back and tell him “great job” or to write a note letting someone know you’re thinking of her or to cheer someone along as he does the scary job interview thing?  The point is, you can do it. And you should. Someone, somewhere, needs you.

   You do know that, don’t you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That Moment of Destiny

Esther 2

   THAT MOMENT OF DESTINY.  At least once in our lives, there comes a moment when we have to say something that, once said, will change everything, forever. Moreover, we know that once we say that thing, we can’t unsay it or take it back or get a do-over. We may fight with ourselves over saying it—but we lose. We may try to talk ourselves out of it—but we fail. We may try to delay the inevitable—but we can’t. We may wish that things could stay the same—except we know that they’ll never be the same again.

But we also know one other thing—the only thing worse than things changing forever will be if they don’t.

   I’ll never be able to prove it but I believe Queen Esther felt that way. Do you ever wonder why, after inviting King Xerxes to the very special banquet she’d prepared to set the stage to petition him to save her people and herself, she didn’t say a word that night—except “’Will you come to another banquet tomorrow?’”

   Backstory: King Xerxes, world ruler of Persia, is persuaded to make a rash decree that, on an appointed day eight months from then, anyone who cared to could go on a killing spree to slaughter and obliterate all Jews anywhere in the Persian empire (all 127 different countries of it). The man behind that suggestion to the king was the wicked Haman who hated all Jews everywhere. Little does he know, though, that Queen Esther is Jewish. The problem is that the king doesn’t know it either. And the bigger problem is that, were he to find out, he still wouldn’t be able to cancel the decree because, according to Persian law, once a king made a decree, even he could not revoke it afterward. So—Esther sets out to educate the king as to what this means for her and her people: unequivocal annihilation of the Jewish race. However, in order to plead her case, Esther must approach the king in the throne room uninvited, which is simply not done. Queen or no queen, she could be executed for such presumption should the king not extend to her the scepter of mercy. But she knows that.

   Nevertheless, Esther approaches the king and he extends the scepter and promises to grant her petition, even up to half his kingdom. But does she tell him of the plot against herself and her people? Not quite yet…

   Many believe that Esther held her tongue because Haman was such a powerful political figure, even more powerful than she—which meant that she wasn’t out of danger quite yet. So instead of accusing Haman in the courtroom, she moves the battle to her own turf, to her own private apartments. Fair enough. But having done so, then she still doesn’t tell the king that she, his beloved queen, is about to die. (And don’t think Haman wouldn’t have had her killed.)

   Why doesn’t she?

   I don’t believe Esther was silent because she was afraid of dying; she’d already come to terms with the possibility that her destiny might require her to sacrifice her life when she resolved that “’If I perish, I perish.’” I suspect rather that Esther postponed the conversation simply because she knew that no matter what happened after she told the king her story—whether he believed her or not—things in the kingdom would never be the same again. And Esther wanted just one more night of intimacy, of peace, of normalcy with her husband.

   Have we ever done that? Have we ever avoided that moment of destiny because, no matter how we respond, nothing will ever be the same again?

   That “moment of destiny” is often our greatest test. When faced with the most challenging moment of our lives, what will we say?

   A chaste, unmarried, Jewish virgin is told by the angel Gabriel that God had chosen her to be the mother of the Messiah. Wouldn’t that be every young Jewish maiden’s dream? Maybe. But Mary knows what happens to unmarried pregnant women: outcast, abandoned, even stoned to death—so what will she say? It’s her moment of destiny, and Mary responds, “’Let it be done unto me as you have said.’” Regardless of her answer though, Mary knew nothing could ever be the same again. She would either be the most honored woman of all time—or the most disgraced.

   Abraham was commanded by God to take his son Isaac and sacrifice him on the altar. As he takes his son and goes, Isaac asks him why they weren’t bringing an animal for the sacrifice. That moment—knowing his beloved son was the sacrifice—was the most heart-shattering moment of Abraham’s life and his greatest test; what would he say? “’God will provide the sacrifice.’” Even so, Abraham knew that, regardless of his answer, nothing would ever be the same again. I suspect he might have feared that he would go home either without his son or without his God.

   And Jesus. When faced with his moment of destiny in the Garden of Gethsemane, he asks God to take the cup of crucifixion from him but then says, “’Not my will but your will be done.’” He knew full well what would happen if he submitted to his Father’s plan of salvation—he would die an excruciatingly painful death. And he knew full well what would happen to us if he did not. One way or the other, he knew that nothing would ever be the same again.

   You will have your moment of destiny. What will you say?

 

 

 

Beware the Hidden Snare

Web 2

   Jack never saw it coming. He knew he’d been working late a lot of nights in the past few months, and he knew the young, attractive intern had been, too. But he knew enough to stay away from her. She worked somewhere down the hall—he didn’t care where. He had a good marriage to a good woman and he wasn’t about to mess that up. So when the attractive, young intern started hanging around his office after hours with a question here or an offer of coffee there, he simply told her—very politely—that he didn’t want people to get the wrong idea so could she please stay put in her own space. He was sure she wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong impression either.

   Unfortunately for Jack, he had no real understanding of the wrath and peril posed by a woman scorned—the scorched earth, the nuclear fallout, the mass casualties.

   But he found out.

   The two days later Jack was invited into his boss’s office for a little chat where he was informed that he was being fired. The attractive, young intern had, in tears, accused him of sexual harassment after insinuating that if she complied, the company might be hiring. Jack denied the allegations, of course, but the company board seemed to feel that, regardless of the facts, it would be a huge liability and PR crisis to keep him around.

   Snare.

   Such is the nature of traps set by the enemy. When Jack failed to fall for the temptation of working alone at night with the attractive, young intern, the enemy set a trap for him.

   Could this scenario have been avoided? Yes. If Jack had questioned the wisdom of being alone with a young, attractive woman about whose character he knew nothing, then he might not have ended up the lamb at the slaughterhouse. What Jack failed to consider was that just because he was an honorable man, doesn’t mean everyone else is honorable.

   While the enemy might regularly send temptations our way, traps and snares are a little less frequent—that is, unless we make it easy for him. A little wisdom, an ounce of prevention, could have saved Jack a mega-ton of trouble.

   Make no mistake—the devil’s number one priority is to take you down, destroy your destiny and, if he can, induct you into his eternal hall of flame and torment.

   So—what can you do?

   Don’t let him.

   The Bible is replete with warnings regarding the enemy’s traps: the “adulteress” is called a snare. Foolishness, arrogance, drunkenness, careless spending, lying, cheating and general stupidity are all mentioned as probable causes of snares. And there are others.

   Anger is a snare. What about that graphic gesture you treated the other driver to, the waitress whom you stiffed because she forgot to refill your coffee or the cashier you were rude to because she took too long? (Doesn’t she understand how busy you are??) Who was watching? Your boss? Your seven-year-old? Someone in the Sunday school class you teach?

   Snare.

   What about “bad company”? You know what they say about that…

   One night Philip went out drinking with a buddy. It was a weekend and after the bars closed, the buddy suggested that, on the way home, they stop at a convenience store. Coffee or cigarettes or some such thing… “Not a problem,” said Philip, and in they went. But before Phil had even made it five feet inside the door, his good buddy pulled a weapon and robbed the clerk at gunpoint. And shocked and dismayed though Phil might have been, no one quite believed that he was innocent. (Apparently policemen and judges hear that a lot.) So for the insidious crime of hanging with bad company, Philip did two years in the fed pen for a felony—Class A.

   Snare.

   Could that set of cuffs have been avoided? I would think. It’s hard to imagine that a good buddy could have a mindset that armed robbery is an option and his good friend not know that.

   And what about the high school girl who went out with the class bad boy? (He was cute, after all.) Nothing happened between them but that’s not his story. She’d had a rep as a good girl. Not anymore.

   Snare.

   The thing about traps and snares is that we don’t see them coming. But we can perhaps anticipate them. As the mother rabbit said to her little bunnies, “Don’t play over there! There might be a trap and you won’t see it until too late.”

   Ditto. Guard your integrity, your relationships, your finances, your health, your reputation.

   Guard your destiny.

 

 

 

The Unseen Realm

Big bang 2

   Imagine a place at the far reaches of the earth, a remote corner of the world where mansions are one-room straw huts; five-star restaurants seat people in the dirt around small cook-fires; and the latest irrigation technology means two pails of water carried from miles away. Imagine that higher education is a knowledge of the great stalking cats lurking in the bush or how to scent a storm before its burning pitchforks of lightning split the sky. And imagine that the greatest entertainment to be found is a fiery display of blazing stars wheeling across the heavens in the stillness of some dark midnight.  

   In such a place, glittering fifty-story high-rise buildings would be beyond imagination—and yet they exist. Grocery stores filled with bread and meat and fruits and vegetables and cakes and pies enough to feed an entire army would be unfathomable—and yet they exist. The technology to hear a voice from the other side of the world or to broadcast a picture from anywhere on earth would simply be a myth, a privilege limited to the gods—and yet it exists. In such a place, lights never go out when the sun goes down; commerce never completely halts anywhere on earth; and working and building and making money are second only to laughing and dancing and drinking—twenty-four hours a day, every day, forever.

   Somewhere on earth—perhaps in a few hidden places—the inhabitants are oblivious to even the concept an outside world; they are, as far as they know, the sole inhabitants of creation.

   Now—imagine us, in the center of our cosmos, as completely unaware of another dimension, another realm, as the people who populate the primitive universe are unaware of us. And imagine that this realm, this other plane of existence is, to us, as completely incomprehensible in terms of its supremacy as is ours to the primitives.

   Imagine that in this realm, the marble palaces of this earth are dingy in comparison to entire cities comprised of light; our most intricate satellites are obsolete because thought is the only vehicle needed to communicate; and travel, commerce and education—all gone—because one has only to speak and one knows, visits or sees whatever one wishes to know, visit or see—in the blink of an eye. Imagine that in this realm, there is no night—yet there are stars; there are no schools—yet there is always learning; and there is no rest—yet there is no fatigue. There is limitless energy, strategy, purpose and activity and yet there is no strife, panic or uncertainty.

   But this place is not some future heaven. This place is the spirit realm which exists, right now, just beyond a flimsy curtain of element. It exists, right now, in the very places we sit, stand and sleep. It is a realm populated with spirit beings who keep watch, who defend, who protect, and who strategize on our behalf. They stand, warriors of spirit, invisible—yet more real than we can conceive.

In realms unseen and incomprehensible.

   Imagine now that in this place, every possible outcome is already known and our greatest challenges are already being met—even though we don’t see. Imagine that in this place, answers to our petitions have been decreed and await release for some future moment—even though we don’t yet know. Imagine that solutions to our problems and resolutions of our crises have been pronounced and are being kept in invisible storehouses for delivery until the times of our challenges are fulfilled.

   You don’t have to imagine.

   The fact is, it’s all true. Wheels are turning in the spirit realm and circumstances aligning that we cannot see and therefore do not know. Judgments against unseen foes are being declared on our behalves—against even those enemies of whom we are not yet aware. Events are being planned, people strategically positioned and divine appointments decreed—even if our faith is wounded and bleeding.

   Still, angels are aligning, invisible messengers taking wing, and the whole spirit realm is on alert and positioned to deliver our rescues, our blessings and to assist us in the fulfillment of our destinies.

   Just believe.

 

 

 

 

 

First-World Problem— Third-World Perspective

Third World Problem 3   Years ago, I returned to my apartment one Saturday afternoon after yet another extended-family party at a relative’s home. It was bad enough (in my mind) that this particular relative had a house but this was their second house, an upgrade from the first one which had been very nice to begin with. Meanwhile, I was still stuck in the same apartment my husband and I had been in for ten (long) years, living in a very, well—unfortunate—neighborhood. And for various economic/financial reasons, we had few prospects of owning a house anytime soon. Or ever. So you can bet that God got a piece of my mind that day. However, half-way through my rant, God suddenly decided a little conversation was in order.

   GOD:  “Look around your living room. How big would you say it was?”

   ME:  “Huh?”

   GOD: “Your living room—how big is it?”

   ME: “Uh, maybe 12×15. I guess.”

   GOD: “Do you have any idea how many people in the world would give their right arms for this much space? Do know that in many places in the world, entire extended families live in spaces even smaller than this?”

   ME: Uhm, no…

   That was the end of that rant.

   That day gave me a whole different perspective on life. It taught me to focus on what I have instead of what I didn’t have. I remember that from that day on, no longer did I mourn not having what my relatives had, but I found myself very grateful that I was not living in a mud hut with nine other people and no heat or bathroom or shower or even running water. Did I mention that I was pregnant at the time? So instead of being angry and resentful that I didn’t have a new house to bring my baby home to, I was grateful that I would be able to bring my child home to a warm, safe home. I was grateful that I would have food for my baby and medical care and diapers and even toys. I couldn’t help thinking, often, about women all over the world who have to watch their children suffer from hunger or thirst or disease. I thought about how, in some places, their children had no clothing or shoes or if they did have them, they might be too small or outgrown altogether. I thought about how their children might have no diapers and no water to bathe. I thought about how their children might not be safe from violence or thievery or even kidnapping. And I thought about the orphans who had no parents to provide even the smallest of these necessities and whose only hope of surviving was to beg in the streets—or worse. 

   I still think about them.

   Last month, I had a series of mishaps and break-downs occur in the house among appliances and other things that needed a tweak here and there. An electrical outlet in the kitchen stopped working and, among a tangle of extension cords, I had to plug appliances into outlets in other places until I could get it fixed. As I began to gripe and complain, it occurred to me that this was a 1st-world problem. At least I have electricity. Then the washing machine (which, granted, is well past its teenaged years), decided that it might take a break from spinning water out of clothes. As I struggled to wring out the laundry by hand, I might’ve muttered some stuff. Then I pictured women in other places hauling their clothes down to a stream somewhere (if there was one) and scrubbing their clothes on a rock. At least I had a washer—and it could be fixed.

   1st-world problem.

   Over the years I’ve seen too many students pitching fits that they have to come to school. I try to explain to them that in many countries in the world, education is not free or even available, and people in 3rd-world countries (after I define that for them) have no hope whatsoever of making their futures better for themselves or their children. I try to make students understand that, not only do most children in the world not have cell phones or computers or television, many of them don’t even have food or water or clothing. And my little speech seems to make an impact. For about ten minutes.

   The sad thing is that those in 3rd-world countries who have so little are so grateful when they’re given even a little more, while many in 1st-world countries who have so much are jealous and bitter because they don’t have more.

   That’s the difference between a 3rd-world perspective and a 1st-world perspective.

   As I tell my own sons—there are always going to be those in the world who have more than you have and those who have less than you have. Your happiness, success and destiny will depend entirely on which you choose to focus on.

   Don’t think so? Look around. Who’s more grateful? Who’s more influential? Who’s more productive? Who’s more contented and fulfilled? Who’s more pleasant to be around?  

   Who’s got the right perspective?

  

 

 

 

 

DRIVE YOUR VISION.