The Waymaker

“Way” is an old-fashioned term for “road.” It’s where we get the adages “show me the way,” as in asking directions or “I’m on the way,” meaning “I’m on the road.” These days though, “way” refers more to the method of doing something, as in “show me how to do that thing.” However, when Jesus used the word “way,” he was talking about finding the right path; he said, “’I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” meaning “I am the road to take you where you need to go”—both now and for eternity.

Our Compass

Jesus as “the Way” signifies that he’s our compass, our direction in terms of where we’re headed in this life, especially as we chase our destiny and seek guidance regarding our assignments in fulfilling it. The twists, the turns, the roads not taken—he points the way through the maze, around the wreckage, and through the wastelands, guiding us safely to our destination. And that’s just one dimension of direction he gives…

There are other times in life when we’re at a crossroads, seeking direction for new, major-life decisions, including which career to choose, how to prep for it and then where to work. Later we need to decide whether to get married, whom to marry, whether and when to have children, and eventually, when to retire. But that’s still not the end of the choice-making.

There are even more decisions to make—those in between the major milestones, other choices which may seem less significant but are really just as impactful. We have to decide where to go to church (a bigger deal than you might think), how to spend and/or save our money, where to live or move to, whether to rent or buy a house, and what kind of vehicle to get—all decisions which affect how we live.

Finally (and unfortunately), there are also those decisions that we have to make because life has reared up, aimed its treacherous arrow and hit us right between the eyes. Perhaps there’s a health crisis and a quick decision needs to be made about treatment options or maybe a child has gone off the rails and we, as parents, need to decide how to handle it. Perhaps we have to give up a long-held dream and the thought of letting go is paralyzing because now we have to choose another path forward.

And then fear hoists its ugly head because we know, just as meds come with side-effects, choices come with consequences—for better or worse.

The good news is that there’s no decision that we face alone, whether it’s one of the joyful decisions in life—where to make our new home or which job offer to accept—or it’s a painful decision such as whether it’s time to cut our losses and move on. The fact is that Jesus is always ready and willing to show us which path to choose, which road to travel—which “way” is the right way. We don’t have to make those decisions by ourselves because there is one who knows the future and sees exactly what lies along every road and at the end of every road.

The Dead End

But sometimes there seems to be no road—we have no choices—the landscape in front of us is simply one behemoth mountain or treacherous, sinking bog or endless, blazing desert. There are no options open and we’re “stuck” in a situation that needs to change but there is no path forward. Perhaps we’ve failed in such a way that we’ve burned all our bridges—an addiction or criminal record or grimy character issue. Maybe we’ve been fired from a job or shipwrecked a relationship or earned an unfortunate reputation that can never be redeemed.

Perhaps no one is willing to give us a second chance.

Or, there might be no options available at all due to no fault of our own. It might be that we’ve experienced some sort of prejudice which has limited our opportunities: sexism, racism, age-discrimination, religious or political intolerance. Or maybe the roadblock is that we don’t seem to have the innate abilities we need to accomplish what needs to be done—we have a learning disability that makes school or college seem impossible or we don’t have the patience to make it through one more day with that difficult child or spouse. It may be that we simply don’t have the money or resources to make ends meet, no matter how hard we try.

Perhaps there is absolutely, positively, no conceivable way to make that impossible dream happen. It’s a dead end.

The Waymaker

I remember many years ago, back in the day after my husband and I had had our second son, we were still living in an apartment—after ten long years. I longed for a house of our own but we didn’t have the resources to get one; there were too many obstacles in our way. And I’m not talking about just one problem—there were three major reasons why no bank would even consider us for a mortgage. First, we had no savings for a down payment or closing costs. And it wasn’t for lack of trying. Every time I managed to save some cash, some unexpected expense would pop up: once our car died, never to be revived, and then there were the medical bills after our second son was born. In addition, because of some of unresolved issues with our credit, our scores were less than stellar. Then, on top of it all, my husband was self-employed and the business wasn’t yet showing a consistent profit, so we couldn’t prove that we had the income to repay a loan. In short, we were a “credit risk” and no bank would touch us.

It was a “Red Sea” season in our lives. No way forward—just stuck.

Then one day at the ad agency where I worked, I found myself talked into going to see a house for sale, strongly urged to do so by a client who had no idea of our financial limitations. And being that I was too mortified to explain the impossibility of our situation, I went, more to be polite than anything.

It turned out that the house would have been ideal for us. The two bedrooms that my young sons would’ve used had already been decorated for young boys; the one for my three-year-old was painted blue with Sesame Street characters on the walls and the other for my six-month old was painted light green with teddy-bear border paper. The yard was fenced in and there was also a deck and a pool, not to mention a family room and a new roof. It was perfect, exactly what I’d been hoping for—and I was heartbroken. We could never get a house like that. But the real estate agent who was showing the house didn’t know that and she chattered incessantly about having my husband come and look at it and down payments and closing dates… Finally, I had to stop her. With a red face, I confessed our financial woes with cash flow and credit and banks—and that’s when the impossible happened. She said, “I can help you with that.”

Long story short, she did. I worked on getting our credit issues cleaned up and she worked with a real estate lawyer who rolled over the up-front costs into the loan at a bank they knew of which would work with us. Three months later, on a hot September day, we moved into our beautiful new home.

Sometimes in life there is simply no way—until God blazes that trail—through the starless, black midnight; through the endless, crashing waves; through the smothering, gray fog of life—pointing the way to the shining road of purpose and destiny. As Churchill like to say, “Never, never give up.”

There is a Way.

“Common Sense” Really Isn’t.

Whatever happened to Common Sense? Unfortunately, it’s not so common anymore.  While Common Sense used to be everywhere—courtrooms, classrooms, Congress, and cable—now not so much.  Common Sense is rarely found these days in textbooks, newspapers, judicial decisions or social policies.  In fact, Common Sense is well on his way to becoming extinct.  Instead, he’s being replaced by his six other brothers.  Let me introduce them to you.

Non-Sense

Non-Sense is the eldest brother and has, it seems, been around since the beginning of time.  However, it actually hasn’t been that long.  Non-Sense really came into his own in the late 60’s and particularly made a name for himself at a place called Woodstock.  Since then, he’s been spotted in various places including Hollywood, Washington DC, and in most universities around the world. 

Non-Sense babbles incessantly on some national news network.  I forget which one.  Does it matter?

Get Some Sense

Next is Get Some Sense.  He’s big on education and thinks that the more degrees he gets, the more wisdom he’ll have.  As a result, he’s up to his neck in PhD’s, MA’s and MS’s, MD’s, and whatever other alphabets he can buy.  Unfortunately, while he’s smart enough to know that a tomato is a fruit and not a vegetable, he’s still putting it in his fruit salad.  Furthermore, in his vast acquisition of knowledge, Get Some Sense has deemed entitlement and self-esteem more important than hard work; government regulations more important than parental authority; and “political correctness” more important than, well—common sense.

N.O. Sense

Then we have Common Sense’s third brother, N.O. Sense.  (N.O. stands for “No Originality”.)  NO Sense is, basically, a follower.  Whatever’s popular or the current trend or whatever the crowd is doing, NO Sense will be found doing, too.  Needless to say, he has very few independent thinking skills and even less interest in developing any.  He’s the soul of every sort of mob mentality from bullying to gang activity to drug use and crime.  Tragically, he’s never been known to be the source of any good deed.

Dollars and Sense

Somewhere in the mix there’s Dollars and SenseDollars believes everything is about money.  The only two questions he ever asks when making any decisions are, “How much will it cost me?” and “How much will it make me?” For example, since vacations generally cost money rather than make it, he’s never taken one.  He did fly to Aruba once but that was just to deposit money into a “non-existent” bank account.  (He wrote it off as a business trip on his tax return.)  Dollars is also a big fan of insider trading.  But you didn’t hear that from me.

Who Needs Sense?

Who Needs Sense? is a twin. Who Needs has been—not coincidentally—knocked around by life’s experiences.  He’s not very open to listening to advice; in fact, he’s a do-it-yourselfer.  He has to find out everything for himself.  The hard way.  Like the time he told Sister Mary Catherine Margaret Rachel Francis that she should get a life.  They warned him not to do it…   And the time he bought that fruity computer stock from some guy out of his garage and Uncle Milt told him to hold onto it.  But he didn’t.  He needed beer money.  Sometimes Who Needs Sense? is a slow learner.

Nota Lotta Sense

Next is Nota Lotta Sense.  (Who Needs Sense? is his twin. They hang out together frequently.)  Nota Lotta has the ability to think for himself; he just doesn’t.  He tends to rush into actions and decisions with not a great deal of forethought.  He’s often late to work (when he’s working), drives too fast (license optional), and spends money like he’s got a tree in the backyard.  He is, however, really good at video games.

Rare Sense

So—since Common Sense’s six brothers have taken over, Common Sense has become rather rare.  He’s found in few places these days: old books which no one any longer reads, the minds and hearts of an “obsolete” generation—the “Greatest Generation”—and in original, unabridged copies of sacred documents like the U.S. Constitution and the Holy BibleCommon Sense has become so endangered that I now suppose he’s better known as—”Uncommon Sense.”

I will miss him.

The Psyche Shift

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In the contest for which principle of success is the most crucial, it would have to be that having—or not having—the psychological advantage is the key to determining success or failure.

But what’s a “psychological advantage”? It’s that feeling you get when you know you’re winning and you feel better, smarter, and more capable than any obstacle you may face. It is, in short, when you simply have no doubt that you’re going to win at anything you might attempt.

That Psych Momentum

We all know the principle of psych advantage. In sports it’s often known as “momentum”. The moment momentum shifts in a game, you know it, the team gaining it knows it, and the team losing it knows it—and they know the other team knows it. For example, the other night during a college basketball game, one team was significantly ahead; they had the momentum. However, at one point the other team went on a scoring run. After about three unimpeded field goals—during which the winning team scored nothing—everyone could feel the momentum shift. Granted, the winning team was still ahead, but the losing team was gaining. And here’s the key: the winning team was no longer certain they were going to win the game and, at that point, the losing team suddenly felt that they could win it.

That’s the psych advantage.

You may have heard it expressed this way:

  • “You can if you think you can, and you can’t if you think you can’t.”—Dr. Norman Vincent Peale
  • “’As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.’”—God (Prov. 23:7)
  • “Success is a state of mind. If you want success, start thinking of yourself as a success”—Dr. Joyce Brothers
  • “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference”—Winston Churchill
  • “As long as you’re going to be thinking anyway, think big”—Donald Trump

I’ve even heard this one: “In every relationship, there is the alpha dog and the beta dog. I’m the alpha dog.” (from the comedy What To Expect When You’re Expecting)

There are many other adages illustrating the need for the psych advantage in order to win. The point is that that advantage is the one thing, without which, we won’t succeed. We may not initially have the opportunity or money or education or support of others or any other thing that we might need to succeed, but if we believe that we will have them, then we have the psychological advantage.

So—how do we get that psych advantage?

Identity

Knowing our identity might be, by far, the most essential thing needed to attain the advantage because this is the one thing no one can take from you. In other words, know who you are. You have to believe in your own identity which includes your capability to achieve your goal—no matter how impossible that goal may look or how many times you might have failed. You have to believe that, because of what’s in you, you have the talent or the resources to succeed.

Here’s the challenge: you may not feel like you have what it takes and if you let those feelings dictate who you are and what you do, then you’ve lost the psych advantage.

As American citizens, for example, we have an identity backed by the irrefutable authority of the United States Constitution. This means that because of our citizenship—our identity—we have certain “inalienable rights” that no one can take away from us. The right to life (meaning we can’t be executed on someone’s whim), the right to free speech, and the right to “due process” are just a few. And, as American citizens, we can never lose these rights—regardless of the current chatter to the contrary.

In the Christian context, the Word of God says that “God seated Jesus in the highest position in the universe, at His Own right hand, and made Him head over all things” (Eph. 1:22) and that God has “raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. . . .” (Eph. 2:6). Interpretation: Christ defeated death and the powers of darkness and then sat down, meaning “work done.” Moreover, He’s chosen to seat us with him—above the enemy and all of his minions.

As Christians, we’ve already won.

The problem is that many Christians don’t believe this because they don’t feel like they’re winning. But if we were to focus on our identity rather than on our feelings, we would feel the shift to that psych advantage—and it would never leave us.

Persistence

Another critical thing that we need to give us the psych advantage is the mindset that we won’t quit. You know the drill:  “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.” It’s all true. But why would we quit? Lack of preparation, lack of resources, and lack of personal support as well as a mountain of emotional cement shoes: discouragement, fear, insecurity, fatigue, boredom. Any of these can shipwreck our psychological advantage—if we let them.

So how do we fight those? First, if we’re lacking resources, we continue working on getting that prep or money or support until we have them, and if we can’t bring ourselves to keep going until we get them, it’s because we’re being tripped up by our emotions. If so, we need to deal with those first. And that goes back to identity: Who do you believe you are? If you’re talented and passionate about doing “that thing,” then just keep doing it. Period.

 Think about it. What would you do if you quit? I’ll tell you: you’d be miserable.

Success

Odd as it might sound, the only other thing that can nuke our psych advantage is achieving success—and then thinking that we can never lose it. If we quit being hard-working and diligent, and quit giving it our best, then our momentum might shift to the person who is giving it all they have. We’ve all seen sports’ teams who get sloppy, believing they can’t be beat and then they are. Avoid that.

The bottom line is that if you don’t have the psych advantage going into your challenge, then stop what you’re doing and think about where you lost it. Thing number one: make your momentum shift happen.

No one succeeds without the psych advantage.

The Ends Justifies the Means—Or Not?

The word “compromise” is one of the great paradoxes of life. At the very least, compromise is an insidious little devil, often appearing to be one thing in theory but, in practice, turning out to be quite another. However, it’s proven to be quite the popular pastime and, through the ages, has starred as the topic of many hours of covert discussion and/or toasty debate. In its various forms, the concept of compromise has turned up in fortune cookies, as themes in many great pieces of literature, and behind the closed doors of our illustrious halls of Congress. Moreover, depending upon whom you ask, compromise often functions under several other aliases, including cooperation, collaboration, and their more subtle and sinister associate, collusion. At any time, any of these, compromise included, can be found…

  • “working across the aisle.”
  • dishing a little “give and take.”
  • proposing to “meet halfway.”
  • back scratching—as in, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”
  • “going along to get along.”
  • settling for the “lesser of two evils.”
  • “agreeing to disagree…”
  • deciding to “look the other way.”

Now all of these proposals, on the surface, can present as civilized, mature, and even sophisticated means of interactions with others—and some are. But some are not—even though they’re pitched, sold, and marketed to be.

The End Justifies the Means?

So is compromise right or is it wrong? That depends. Is compromise being used to cooperate or to manipulate? Is it being used honestly or passive-aggressively?  Is it being used to truly resolve an issue or simply to avoid conflict?

Is it being used to advance one’s own self-interests?

If it is being used to our own benefit, then the price of compromise often involves some willingness to concede a moral value or two. Downplaying the income a bit to avoid paying the taxes? Ignoring the kid skipping homework because it’s just too exhausting to make him do it? Rounding the bases on date night to keep the boyfriend around? 

Increasingly, in our God-parched society, “the end justifies the means” has become an acceptable explanation for rationalizing a whole host of behaviors that grandma would never have approved.

In other words, as long as we achieve the desired outcome, it doesn’t matter what we have to do to reach our goal. And here’s the really sad part: many people don’t even try to “justify the means” anymore because much current thinking revolves around the idea that if you don’t do “whatever it takes” to get there, you’re just stupid. And you deserve to be told so.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had students insist that it’s not wrong to cheat on homework or tests because “making the grade” is the only thing that matters. Then they laugh. My response (after the eye roll) is usually that people who cheat on their spouses or end up in prison for corporate embezzlement generally didn’t start there. They started out compromising on smaller issues—like cheating on quizzes—and then worked their way up. Most Class A felonies are preceded by years of practicing misdemeanor offenses or relatively minor moral violations of conscience. Ask someone who’s fallen. They’ll tell you.

Who Are We Kidding?

Maybe the better question is, “Who are we not kidding?” Maybe we’re kidding ourselves but we’re absolutely not fooling God. Yes, he understands our need to meet that goal or to resolve that problem, but doing anything that we think warrants a little self-deception really doesn’t justify compromising the truth of what’s right and what’s wrong.

When we come to that critical moment in life where we either have to sacrifice our values or pay a price for upholding those values, then that’s when we have one of two choices. Do we make the deal or do we trust God?

We probably don’t have to think too hard to figure it out.

Still, there’s always the possibility that we’re not kidding ourselves about whether that “thing” is right or wrong; maybe we do know that what we’re about to do is morally incorrect. If that’s the case and we choose to do it anyway, then we’re kidding ourselves about something else: that we’ll get away with it. As Christians, we should know better. We will, after all, “reap what we sow.”

In God’s economy, the final end never justifies the current means.

“I Would Never…!”

Maybe we would and maybe we wouldn’t. And maybe it depends on the situation. Certainly, in situations where co-workers, spouses, friends, or community members need to work together to get something done, compromise is a necessity. After all, if you and the honey are buying a car and one of you wants a blue one and the other wants a red one, then by all means—compromise—get a purple one. No one will die. Sometimes, when working together on a solution to reach a goal is not an issue of compromising morals nor is it a manipulation tactic, then it’s just good, common sense.

But what if you’re not sure whether you’re crossing a line in compromising? What if it’s a high-stakes’ game? For example, what if the boss is pressuring you to fudge the “bottom line” on accounts so the company makes a little more profit—then what? If you don’t, your job might be at stake so then is it “not wrong”? After all, “the boss made me do it.” That’s a toughie, right? Not really. Nobody can “make” us do anything.

Joyce Meyer was once in that exact situation: she was being pressured by her boss to falsify records in order that the company she worked for might make more money. She refused. And look at her now—she’s an internationally-known Bible teacher. And why? Because when challenged with a test of character, she passed the test.

God rewards integrity.

There’s a difference between knowing what’s right to do and choosing what’s right to do. The knowing is the easy part—if we’re honest. Choosing right is often the hard part—definitely not the fun part. But that’s when we have another choice: trusting the Lord rather than fearing man. Joyce Meyer wouldn’t be teaching Biblical principles today if she hadn’t chosen to walk them out yesterday.

Destiny means compromise is not an option.

The Myth of the Mid-Life Crisis

What happens when we finally get what we’ve been working for during our 20s, 30s and into our 40s: The college degree or training is earned, the career success is launched, the college loans paid off, we have the marriage, the kids, the house, the car—it’s all happened. And we’re happy, right? The kids may have moved on, the house has been upgraded, the career promotions have happened, and there might even be money in the bank.

   But then what?

   That’s the question that torments many people who’ve reached mid-life and beyond because, whether we consciously recognize it or not, the questions swirling through our minds are often filled with sadness and disappointment: What have I accomplished? What’s left to pursue? What other goals do I have? What’s left to do now except work the grind until retirement at 65-70—and then…?

   What’s the point of even getting up in the morning?

A Crisis by Any Other Name

    This particular phase of life goes by many different names—theMid-Life Crisis,” the “Empty Nest Syndrome,” and/or the “Great Depression.” And to ease the pain of it, people often turn to other pursuits—affairs, alcohol, divorce, aimless travel, reckless adventure, pursuit of youthfulness, spending sprees, or endless therapy. But none of these things really ease the pain of this season of life because it’s caused by one thing: emptiness.

   When we don’t have a goal or purpose to fulfill in life or a dream or destiny to chase, we often seek to fill that vast, fanged void with whatever it is we think will eliminate the emptiness and fulfill us: seeking a new relationship, ditching an old relationship, buying stuff, wandering the world, or even blotting out the pain with “just one” drink or pill—which becomes two or four or six… every day… as we waste away on some therapist’s couch rehashing our childhoods and blaming our mommies.

   But that’s not the answer.

The Fix

   So what is the solution to emptiness? It’s simple: purpose. We need a purpose to fulfill in order to give life meaning and without one, we often just wither away. But in order to find purpose, we need to understand the meaning of “seasons” our lives. The Word of God talks about these seasons, different times and ages to accomplish various tasks and goals.

   “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every activity under heaven—A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted; A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up… I have seen the tasks which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves… He has set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end…”  (Ecc. 3:1-3, 10-11)

   The Lord appoints our work and often, we understand what that is—in the early years; it’s to do what we all attempt to do: get started in life. We pursue a way to earn a living, find a spouse, raise children, get some stability—and then…? When we’ve accomplished that, we often think we’ve outlived our usefulness so we turn to other things. However, we have not outlived our influence nor our impact.

The reality is simply that we’ve completed one season in our lives and it’s time to explore the next season.

   The Lord has a purpose for us and a destiny for us to fulfill and here’s the kicker: We often don’t have time to pursue that destiny until we’re finished with the full-time task of raising a family and/or finishing a career.

The Wisdom of Age

   It’s interesting to note that many of the most famous movers and shakers in the Bible were people who got started pursuing their destinies later in life. And by later, I mean what our culture often considers “too late.” They also didn’t begin until they had a well-established relationship with God.

   Abraham and Sarah, for example, didn’t fulfill their destiny as the parents of many nations until well after Abraham was established financially—in other words, he was rich—and had come to know and trust his God. And they weren’t the only ones: Moses didn’t return to Israel to deliver the Israelites until he was 80 years old—and until after he came to know the real God. (Remember, he was raised as an Egyptian.) Noah didn’t start building the ark until he was 120 and by then, he was recognized as a man of God, and Paul the Apostle didn’t begin serving the Lord until after he’d studied the law for many years and then had a personal encounter with Jesus.

   The point is that age is not a factor, especially old age. Many cultures, particularly eastern cultures, revere their elderly much more so than western cultures. This is exceptionally smart since there’s a wisdom that comes with age which cannot be found in books. It’s called “experiential wisdom”. Sometimes, we really don’t know anything until we’ve walked through some things. And here’s the key: because of their wisdom, I believe this is why the Lord gives important tasks to people who are older; they have a greater understanding of how to fulfill their purposes and complete their assignments. Moreover—and this is the most significant thing—they’ve come to know and trust God through seasons of watching his faithfulness and learning his ways.

There’s a faith that’s built through years of walking with the Lord through good times and bad, learning that he never fails and that we can trust him—no matter what.

   That’s something that we often just don’t truly understand in the springtime of our lives. We know about God’s faithfulness but we haven’t been around long enough or through enough to really have tested it, to really know it.

Destiny

   It’s sometimes difficult to understand the eternal purpose for the work that we do for the Lord or for the assignments that he gives us, but then that’s why Ecclesiastes says that “God has set eternity in the hearts of men.” When the going gets tough, or the job seems too big or too boring or not significant enough, we can sense that there’s something bigger at play, more important in the big scheme of things than what we can see in the natural. If we’re doing what God has assigned us to do, there’s nothing mundane or useless about it. It might be a part of something bigger, something that we might not be able to discern—yet—but will someday. We will understand our purpose as a cog in the eternal wheel of destiny and so we will, someday, hear those precious words, “’Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’”

   If you believe you’ve reached the end of the path and you feel empty and irrelevant, then you’ve reached a crossroads in life. You can take the road that leads to a futile search for significance, or you can embark on a new season in your destiny, a path full of new assignments and eternal purpose.

   Mid-life does not have to be a crisis.  

Green-Eyed Monsters: Envy, Jealousy and Competition

You are a distinctive fingerprint in the limitless realm of creation. There is no one like you and there never will be. There was not meant to be. When God created you, he did it so you could fulfill a unique purpose that no one else can fill, and he handcrafted you to fit that purpose. He needs you to be that one-of-a-kind person because you’re irreplaceable.

   So why are you trying to be someone else?

Who Am I?  

   We all have a destiny for which God created us, and in preparation for that destiny, he made us with a whole list of specifics in mind. Our appearance on this planet at this specific time in history is not an accident, nor is the year we were born. That means that, as of 2021, we are exactly the age he needs us to be in order to accomplish the purpose for which we were intended. Let me translate that: You’re not too old. It’s like Moses wasn’t too old, nor Abraham or Sarah or Noah—nor was Abe Lincoln or Albert Einstein or Mother Teresa—or thousands of others I could name if I knew their names.

   Nor was anything else about you an accident. You’re exactly the gender he needs you to be, the race you were meant to be, and you look exactly as you were meant to look: height, build, hair color, skin color, eye color, features—all of it. Moreover, you have the talents and abilities you were meant to have, whether you’re creatively “right-brained,” analytically “left-brained,” or a “whole-brained” mix of the two. If you’re musical, you were meant to be—and here’s a fact: If you’re not musically gifted, it’s because the Lord has something else for you to do. And it’s the same with anything else: If you have the talent to do it, it’s because you’re supposed to use that gift, and if you’re not gifted in that area, it’s very likely because you’re not supposed to be doing that thing. (“Not gifted” and latent, undeveloped talent are two different things; if you have the gift, you are supposed to develop the gift.)

   So why are we trying to be someone else? Why are we beating ourselves up because we don’t look like that person, can’t play piano like the other person, or give a speech like the guy in Congress?

ENVY is wanting what someone else has; JEALOUSY is wanting to be what someone else is; and COMPETITION is the vicious pursuit of either one.

But What If I Can…?  

   But what if we are supposed to be doing the same thing as someone else? We might be. But I guarantee, if we are, we won’t be a carbon copy of that person because we’re meant to complete that assignment or fulfill that purpose in our own unique way. In other words, no two writers or contractors or fathers or business owners or counselors or pastors (fill in the blank) will ever do “it” the same way—whatever “it” is.

   Here’s a simple illustration but imagine, if you will, a doctor who’s supposed to be an orthopedic doctor (bone doc) deciding that he’s jealous of the heart surgeon down the street so he’s going to operate on hearts. Sure, he might go to school and become a surgeon, but will he be as good as the cardiac surgeon who’s doing it because he’s uniquely gifted to do that kind of surgery and because his heart is in it? And will the bone doc fulfill his purpose while he’s trying to compete with the other heart doctor?

   Who will touch the lives the bone doc was supposed to touch?

Destiny Road  

   Maybe you’re not the same kind of parent your mom or dad was. I’m not. My mother could have been nominated for sainthood and I know no one who would disagree with that. But I’m not her. Mom and I are about as different as mothers can get—which isn’t to say I’m a bad mother—but there’s probably a reason we have different operating systems: Mom raised two girls and I raised two boys. We probably needed to be different kinds of moms. Teachers are the same way. I know of no high school teacher who would want to be left alone in a room for five minutes with first graders. We just don’t get them. (My mom would have.) Conversely, first grade teachers probably equate walking a high school hallway about the same way they’d rate a stroll through inner city Chicago at 3am.

   Jealousy, envy and competition get us nowhere but lost on the road to our destinies as we wander here and detour there trying to be a person or fulfill a role we were never created for. Our personalities, abilities, past experiences, upbringing, physical characteristics, and dreams and passions all point to a specific pathway for each of us to take in fulfilling our purposes in life. We do have a choice. But if we choose not to take the route God has created us for or if we choose to try to imitate someone else, then something tragic will happen.

   The world will be a poorer place for it.

Bitterness vs. Destiny

When I was a kid, I had a habit of skinning my knees, after which the same routine ensued: I would cry, mom would wash the wound, smother it in mercurochrome and put a bandage on it. But then somehow the bandage would come off (I have no idea how). From there, you guessed it—I would get the wound dirty and it would get infected and fester.

   Did you know that can happen to our souls?

   If we become wounded and that gash is not properly dealt with, it can become infected and fester, leading to bitterness. And bitterness is a cancer that can lead to the destruction of our souls (mind, will and emotions). But hang on—there is a fix…

Causes of Wounds

   But before we can talk about the remedy for an infection in our souls, we need to define a couple of things. First, what would cause the kinds of wounds that can lead to bitterness? Unfortunately, because we live in a fallen world, there are many. The following is a list of the most common, but it is by no means comprehensive.

Abuse—mental, physical, and/or emotional. Abuse includes domestic situations, bullying in school or on social media, and chronic fear caused by any number of situations. Wounds caused by abuse of any kind can, of course, run the gamut from occasional and/or relatively mild to frequent and/or severe. Regardless, the primary wound abuse causes is shame, which is huge. Self-doubt/hatred, fear and chronic mistrust are also possible consequences.

Betrayal. To be betrayed means that someone we trusted has misused that trust or and consequently, relationship has been broken. And whether betrayal occurs between people in a marriage, a family, a friendship, a business, or a church (to name a few), it causes a deep and excruciating pain. This pain includes feelings of anger combined with despair and sadness. Betrayal is a tough pill to swallow because the injured party is often powerless to change the situation or to heal the relationship. That power is all in the hands of the betrayer.

Feelings of Inferiority. Notice I said “feelings” of inferiority. Our feelings of not “measuring up” are not the reality; rather they are caused by the expectations we or others impose upon us. If we compare ourselves to others in terms of looks, opportunity, social standing, income, family or any other thing, we’re always going to find those who have it better and that’s where the infection happens. Two of the ten commandments say not to covet your neighbor’s anything—spouse, house, job—you name it. That’s because jealousy, envy, and covetousness all cause feelings of inferiority. “What’s wrong with me that I don’t have that?” And you’d better bet that mindset portends bitterness.

Symptoms of Bitterness

   There are many symptoms of bitterness but these several are particularly destructive: chronic and/or explosive anger, resentment, chronic complaining, blaming others, refusal to forgive, and an attitude of entitlement. I could take a fair amount of words explaining these but…

Bitterness boils down to two core beliefs: Someone else is responsible for my pain, and I’m entitled to pay back for my pain.

In other words, whether or not you’re responsible for what caused the pain, you’re going to have to make amends, pay damages, make restitution for it. Bitterness very often expects, perhaps unconsciously, innocent people to compensate for their hard times and if they don’t, well then, something’s wrong with them.

   I was recently told by someone that what their partner had failed to provide in a previous marriage would be compensated for their next marriage. It left me with two questions: Will their new spouse be expected to make up for a wound from a previous marriage? And will the new spouse have a say in that demand? This is a dangerous attitude of entitlement: What I didn’t get before, someone else is going to give me now.

The Fix

   So is there a treatment for bitterness? Yes, but it’s probably not a quick fix and I’m not going to lie and say it’ll be easy. But if you’re fed up with the pain of bitterness, then you have two choices: Deal with the temporary pain of the healing process or continue to live with the excruciating pain to yourself and others of not dealing with your bitterness. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but the truth will set you free. So…

You must forgive. If you refuse, then you won’t be free of your festering wounds: anger, resentment, blame, entitlement, etc. As some wise soul once pointed out—refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Won’t happen.

Now don’t confuse forgiveness with trust. If a person is not trustworthy, you can disengage and forgive from a distance. Forgiveness does not mean you have to trust them again. It does mean you have to be willing to say to the Lord, “Please don’t punish them on my account.” If you can say that, you’ve forgiven them. Forgiveness is not an emotion, it’s an act of the will. Don’t wait for a gooey emotion as proof you’ve forgiven. Just mean what you say to God and you’ve forgiven.

Stop complaining. Maybe you did get the short end of the stick. Maybe others do have it better than you. However, two things are clear: complaining will never be rewarded by God and nor will it get you anything. Thanksgiving will. That’s why gratitude for what you have is so precious to the Lord—especially in the midst of hard times—because you’re focused on what He has already done, not what someone else has done to you. That’s why it’s called “a sacrifice of praise”—because it’s hard but God deserves our gratitude, no matter what.

Stop criticizing. Sometimes bitterness causes us to have a critical spirit. This means that we don’t see the good that people do but rather we are always critiquing them for their faults, errors, and misjudgments. We need to stop it. Look for the good in people and if you really can’t see any, pray for them. And pray for yourself, that you will be able to see it.

End Game.

   Everyone suffers wounds but sometimes we play the “my pain is worse than your pain” game. That’s bitterness. What difference does it make? And if we really think our pain is worse than that of others, do we really want other people to experience the suffering that we have? Here’s a fact: That won’t heal your wound.

   I said that being healed of a festering wound would not be easy but it’s well worth the work. Who wouldn’t want to be free of bitterness and pain? And once we are, nothing will be able to stand in the way of fulfilling the destiny to which we’ve been called.

   It’s time.

Grace—The Fire Power of God

There was a time in my life when I went to confession, having been told by the good nuns (and they were good), that I would receive “grace” for going and that the more I went to confession, the more grace I would get. That was all fine and good – except that I didn’t really have any idea what grace was.

For the most part, I reasoned that grace was synonymous with mercy. Makes sense, right? I mean, you confess your sins and you have to receive mercy in order to be forgiven. The only problem was, I couldn’t understand how you could get “more” mercy; either you had it or you didn’t have it; either your sins were forgiven—or they weren’t. How could they be more forgiven or less forgiven?

What??

Now while I didn’t lose a lot of sleep over the issue, it was certainly a mystery. But I filed it away in the back of my mind and figured that some far off day when I finally got to heaven, some angel or saint would no doubt explain it to me. (It would, I thought, probably be Apostle Paul since he was always declaring “grace and peace” to someone or other.) However, that day came sooner than I thought – and not from Paul. One day as I was sitting in church mostly listening, I heard a woman begin to teach on the difference between grace and mercy. My ears perked up.

Simply put, mercy is defined as not getting what we do deserve – for example, punishment for sin, while grace is defined as getting what we do not deserve –  in this case, the power and ability to accomplish whatever it is we need to do.

I took a moment and thought about that. Suddenly it all began to make sense: Mercy and grace are not the same thing. Mercy is the forgiveness of sin, and grace is the power to overcome sin.

Grace is not just some vague, wimpy, “nice” little Christian concept. Grace is the fire-power of God.

Think about that.

What Is Grace For?

Grace is the power of God to accomplish and achieve the extraordinary, the supernatural, even the impossible things we are called to do in order to fulfill our destinies.  

The fact is that grace, like faith, is an actual substance, a “thing” which we can receive from God in order to accomplish whatever it is He has called us to do. And although it’s probably an insufficient analogy, I like to think of grace as a tool without which we can’t get the job done. Can we split wood without an axe or saw? Can we drive without a vehicle? Can we communicate without language?      

Can we fulfill our destinies without the fire of God’s grace empowering our lives?

Possibly, but not well. But that’s all right because God says, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (Romans 12:9).

Have you ever been so frustrated trying to achieve your calling, your destiny, that you just can’t seem to do what you feel you’ve been called to do? Have you even doubted that calling?

Have you ever just wanted to quit?

There’s fire for that.

FOMO: Fear of Missing Out

FOMO is really a thing. It’s a malady of the mind most generally characterized by a feverish inclination—perhaps even an obsession—to act upon a particular “opportunity” before it’s deemed the dreaded “TOO LATE!” Symptoms of FOMO often include anxiety and indecisiveness leading to irritability, insomnia, irrationality and, in extreme cases, a nasty rash.

Fear of missing out.

Exemptions

There are no exemptions. FOMO is an affliction to which no age, nationality, race, religion, gender, social status or economic rank is immune. And there is no vaccine. A person with FOMO is hijacked with the terror of missing that “once-in-a-lifetime” gig, often referenced in places like Wall Street (probably the most famous of all high-stakes casinos), on college campuses (epidemic among first-semester freshmen), amongst indiscriminate news junkies, and perhaps most notably, in singles’ bars.

While usually not fatal, FOMO has been known to lead to poverty, drunken episodes followed by indeterminate blackouts and miserable hangovers, night terrors involving Russian collusion in pre-K classrooms, and marriage/children/divorce (or just children). Currently there is no cure for FOMO so people exhibiting symptoms—especially bad decision-making—should be quarantined without electronic devices to aid in making bad decisions until such time as the fever passes. Unfortunately, this could take months. Or maybe it never passes.

But God.

As with most horror movies involving most monsters, any prospect driven by FOMO never really ends well. And we know that. Mostly. Nevertheless, we chase that “opportunity” anyway—even when every alarm in our heads is blasting like a Cat 5 tornado siren but still, we’re compelled to ignore that warning and chase the impending disaster. And why? Because we want that thing—whatever “that thing” is—and we know deep down that if we wait to hear from God, he’ll tell us to pass on that particular prospect. So we cover our ears and plow forward.

Never underestimate the human tendency toward self-deception.

The Hardest Thing

Fear, as we know, is the opposite of faith, and faith is the ability to trust God—no matter what. Faith equals trust. The problem is that sometimes we have less trouble trusting God to do something he tells us to do than to not do something he says to wait on. And why?

Because we’re afraid of missing out.

Eve was afraid of missing out in the Garden of Eden when the devil convinced her that God was withholding knowledge from her—the knowledge of good and evil. So, instead of doing any fact checking on his little accusation, Eve ate the magic apple that was supposed to infuse her with vast knowledge, understanding and insight. And we all know how that ended. Ironically, her IQ probably dropped several hundred points as she munched away.

FOMO often leads to heartbreaking losses in many areas: prosperity, reputation, love, opportunity—and most tragically, a loss of destiny. Or it changes a destiny forever. Abraham had received a promise from God that he would have a son with Sarah and birth an entire nation. However, it didn’t happen by the time Abraham thought it should and so he arranged to have a son with a younger woman. Eventually, Sarah had a son but the damage had already been done: Both of Abraham’s sons, Ishmael and Isaac, fathered nations and the Arabs and Jews have been at war ever since. And why? Because Abraham suffered from a severe case of FOMO—fear of missing out.

The 21st Century

I wish I could say that FOMO is a thing of the past and that, as Christians led by the Spirit of God, we’re past all that. And we would be—if we listened to God. However, listening for God’s permission is often difficult, especially when we have a deadline to meet or that “opportunity” will—POOF—vanish. Instead, motivated by fear, we close our eyes, grit our teeth, and plunge all in.

Here’s the bottom line: God is more interested in what we’re learning than in what we’re getting.

And, given that, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that God may allow that “opportunity” to crash and burn so that we don’t get the mistaken impression that any day we ignore God’s input is going to be a good one. God will not reinforce the idea that fear should be our motivator over faith. Let’s remember that as we’re destiny chasing.

The Wall

   This past year, I hit a wall. I had a huge disappointment in terms of a goal I’d been working toward for months—and frankly, it was crushing. I questioned everything I thought I knew about anything: What I was doing, what I was supposed to be doing, what God wanted me doing—or didn’t want me doing. Now I find myself at a crossroads: to continue or not to continue—that is the question. In seeking the answer, I returned to what I know. Here’s what I know…

   Sometime, somewhere, we’ll encounter some massive roadblock. I will. You will. There will be a point in the pursuit of your goals during which something goes wrong or people say you can’t do that thing or you feel overwhelmed with the scope of the task or you simply get tired of working, working, working and waiting for something to break your way. You’ll run into adversity or out of money, resources, time, energy—even faith.

    Welcome to “The Wall”.

The Wall is any seemingly insurmountable obstacle, which, by definition, simply means “game over”. Walls come in all shapes and sizes: the bank account,the lack of training, the glass ceiling, the adversary or just plain failure. So the question then becomes—then what? Is the game over? Is the dream dead? Was the vision only a mirage? Is our very destiny teetering on the precipice of doom? Maybe.

The War Room

   But before you throw in the proverbial towel, it’s time to hit the War Room. Now, I’m not talking about the war room in the movie War Room—although stopping by that room to pray is highly recommended. But no, I’m talking about your other war room—the one which every military general has, the one in which your strategy is conceived, planned, and from there, implemented.  It’s the room in which you “map the dream,” “plan the work and then work the plan” and, sometimes, “go back to the drawing board”.

Everybody who’s ever achieved his destiny has a “War Room”.

   Don’t have a war room? Maybe you do. War rooms go by other names, too: board rooms, conference rooms, “think tank” rooms—all places where people meet to brainstorm, “hash out,” and make decisions regarding ideas, problems/solutions, and tactics. Chances are very good that you have one at work or even at home. It’s where the dream/vision/goal is tracked, nurtured and, if necessary, revised, repackaged, re-marketed and re-released.

   But mostly, the war room is the place where you go when you need to fight through and you need the resources to help you to fight through. It’s where you come up with a strategy to get around The Wall—somehow, some way: climb over it, dig under it, tunnel through it or, my personal favorite, blow it up.    

Seeing the Future

So what’s a war room like? Well, if you’ve ever seen one, there are maps all over the room – lots of them. That’s because winning a war requires taking territory and maps are essential for determining which territories you already possess and which you want to possess. In terms of our dreams and visions, a map then would be the equivalent of a vision board or a goal chart. What are our goals? Which ones have we already achieved? Which ones do we want to achieve? These goals need to be clearly articulated and clearly visible.

   Sometimes the best way to depict a goal is through a picture. Some people, in pursuing their fitness goals, post pics of people who have the waistline or muscle mass they want to have. Or someone who’s trying to save money toward a goal might post a picture of a car or house or vacation spot. Someone working toward a career goal might post a picture of someone doing the job she wants or even (you’ll think I’m so shallow) the salary she’ll earn. Use pictures or statistics or words to illustrate your goals – just make them visible.

   Next you need a plan: how, specifically, will you achieve your goal? In our school district, I’m part of a team which designs and implements what we call, appropriately enough, our district-wide “Strategic Plan.” We meet in a conference room and everything. But the point is we create a plan with goals, steps for meeting those goals, and a timeframe within which those goals should be met. We meet occasionally to evaluate and, if necessary, tweak the plan.

“What If…?”

But what if you hit The Wall—what then? First and foremost – define the problem. What is it, how serious is it, who’s involved and who or what might be impacted? Next, what are all of the potential consequences of the problem? Go to worse-case scenarios: what happens if? And don’t skip any of them. Odd as it sounds, I like this step; I like mapping out all of the potential problems with a vision and/or the ways that a dream could fail. Why? Because it’s really true that the fear of the unknown is scarier than the actual reality. In other words, in identifying the ways something could go wrong, we often find that the worst-case scenarios aren’t as bad as we might have imagined. And, as importantly, it gives us a chance to plan strategies “just in case” the worst happens.

   For example, what if we own a business and we run short of money to keep it going? Brainstorm: What are worst-case scenarios? Would we have to close up shop? Would failure mean bankruptcy? What are the possible ways to get more money? Loans or investors or partnerships? What’s the game plan if we can’t get more those ways? Cut backs on products/services or staff? A raise in prices on products/services? Point? Don’t wait until you hit The Wall to try to solve the problem—especially if pre-consideration of potential problems might prevent them.

   Does all of those “presupposing” make you a worrywart or pessimist? Not necessarily—unless after considering what might happen, you walk around expecting it to happen. For example, before I bought any stocks (not that I have a lot), I considered the possibility that, given the market’s history, it might crash before I retire (someday). Does that mean I expect it to crash; do I go to bed scared at night? No. It simply means I haven’t invested more than I can afford to lose.

“Acceptable Risk”

    “Acceptable risk”—another war room strategy: What can you afford to lose without resulting in total failure or ruin? Think resources: money, time, energy? Are relationships or health at risk, etc.?

    All of these considerations are why we need a war room to offset The Wall. Obstacles will happen. Even Jesus said tribulation would come. So get ready for it.

   What’s going down when you and The Wall collide? Will it be you—or the wall?

DRIVE YOUR VISION.