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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                   

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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?