Category Archives: Principles of Success

Done – Or Finished?

Elderly woman praying before bed

   Mrs. Clara Jacobs, a widow, was seventy-two years old, and had been widowed for thirteen years. Her husband had passed after a sudden stroke and Clara had had to go to work for the first time since she’d married thirty-plus years before. She found a job at a small bakery and worked there three days a week using the only marketable skill she felt she had: baking. Clara was an excellent baker and her pies had become quite popular all around her town so she didn’t mind the work; it helped make ends meet. Nevertheless, at seventy-two years old, Clara was tired. But it wasn’t the work, it wasn’t the early mornings, it wasn’t even the loneliness – though there was that.

   It was her son.

   Kevin, Clara’s only son, was thirty-four years old, a “writer,” he said – although to Clara’s knowledge, he had never written anything that had ever made him any money. What he did do though was drink. A lot. That’s why Clara was tired – from the worry, from the helplessness, from the tears.

   Even so, every evening at seven o’clock, Clara turned off the evening news (she did like to watch that), sat down in her ancient rocker, and began to pray. And every evening until bedtime, Clara prayed fervently for Kevin, beseeching the Lord to set him free and to heal his heart from whatever wounds he suffered – for surely, an addiction had to be heartbreaking for Kevin, so bound in the chains of his cravings and sickness that he couldn’t even admit what had happened.

   In addition, Clara prayed for Kevin’s blind eyes to be opened to spiritual things and for his deaf ears to hear the voice of the Lord. She prayed for Kevin to have good influences in his life, a mentor, someone to be a spiritual father to him, and for those friends who encouraged Kevin’s drinking to move on from his life. Not that Clara wished them ill, mind you – in fact, she would have liked to have seen them all set free. But she only had so much time to pray for Kevin. Still, she’d mentioned them to the Lord.

   One evening as Clara was praying, she began to feel dizzy and slightly nauseated. When her hand began to numb, she called 911. And good thing, too, because Clara was having a heart attack. But she knew that.

   As she sat waiting for the ambulance to arrive, Clara felt herself become strangely calm and noted, somewhat remotely, that the physical pain of a heart attack was somewhat less excruciating than the heartbreak she experienced each night crying out to the Lord for Kevin. Every evening, the tears flowed as she wept, often sobbed, thinking about the sweet little boy that Kevin had once been. She remembered his 4th birthday party and how his blue eyes had lighted up when they’d rolled out his new bike, or how, even when he was a big boy of six, he’d climb up into her lap, snuggle in, and fall asleep. Or his first car, his very own, a seven-year-old Grand Am which he’d named Dale, and then the time he’d gotten his first paycheck, smiling with pride and then suddenly yelling, “Are you kidding me??” when he realized how much Uncle Sam had taken in taxes. His father had laughed and welcomed him to adulthood.

   Tears filled Clara’s eyes.

There were the times when she cried out to the Lord with questions:  Where had she gone wrong? What could she have done differently? Why hadn’t He answered her prayers??

   Clara sat, unmoving in her chair, without even the strength to rock. She felt her eyes begin to flutter closed – she was so tired, so done. Maybe it was time to let go. She was, after all, seventy-two years old. They’d find someone else to bake the pies . . .

   “Mom!”

   Clara’s eyes snapped open. She looked around the room but she was alone. Yet she knew she’d heard Kevin’s voice, clear as a bell, and she’d recognized the note of panic in it. And it was in that moment that Clara knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she was all in the world that Kevin had. She knew too that the Lord had answered her prayers: if not for them, Kevin would be dead.

   Taking a deep, shaky breath, Clara whispered – for that was all she was able to do, “Lord, please keep Kevin safe, guard and protect him, and have mercy on him!”

   In the distance, Clara could hear a siren, rising and falling, growing louder, racing closer.

   “Draw him to Yourself, Lord, and pour out Your spirit on him.”

   Clara took another breath as footsteps pounded up the apartment stairs, and she whispered, her lips barely moving, “And Lord, be with Kevin while I’m away. Let him not be afraid . . .” A sudden picture flashed in her mind: Jesus, hanging on a rough cross, all splinters and blood, crying out, “’It is finished!’”

   Clara closed her eyes. She remembered once when Kevin had become frustrated because he couldn’t figure out his math homework. He had thrown down his pencil and in classic ten-year-old style, balled up his paper and yelled, “I’m done!” Clara had quietly picked up the pencil, smoothed out the paper and gently placed them both back in front of Kevin.

“You may be done, Son, but you’re not finished.”

   As medics burst into the room, a weak smile played about Clara’s lips.

   Neither was she finished.

  

 

Everything Depends On What We Can’t See.

Coin Flip

“We walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor. 5:7).

   At any given point in the decision-making process, we can only access one-quarter of the information needed to make a good decision. And it’s not merely a question of gathering more intel—the fact is that the necessary info is simply not available.

   And that, my friends, drives me crazy.

   As are many of you, I’m a data-driven kind of girl. In decision-making, I just want the facts: Tell me what the problem/choice/opportunity is; give me a realistic assessment of available resources; give me a list of pros and cons for each option; and give me both the best and worst case scenarios for each possible outcome. Once all of that analysis is on the table, a great decision is guaranteed.

   Or not.

   Even with all of those facts, statistics, possibilities and considerations taken into the mix, that’s still only a fraction of the information needed to make a wise decision. Here’s the other three-quarters of info needed.

   Thing I: What’s happening behind the scenes that you can’t see? Your son or daughter is acting out and you need to drop the hammer. After all, they know better. Right? But what if they’re being bullied or had a break up or are being pressured to do something they know is wrong? They may not be voluntarily forthcoming with that info so is a good, long time-out or chew-out going to help solve their crisis or their behavior? Maybe more information is needed…

   Job hunting? Which to take? The one with better money would certainly seem the obvious choice but what’s going on behind the scenes that you can’t research? For instance, you might not want to work for that boss or deal with those office politics or participate in the undercover climate of, shall we say, compromise that you’d be expected to comply with. Those are behind-the-scenes circumstances that—let’s face it—aren’t going to come out during the interview.

   Or what about that home or car you’re looking to buy? What if it has flaws that inspectors or mechanics simply miss? (Not that the seller is trying to unload on you…just sayin’.)

   That person you’re considering marrying? Is it possible that he or she might be on his/her best behavior until you’ve vowed never to part? We all have faults and flaws, no doubt, and granted, it might sound cynical even to ask that question. But can we really say that no husband or wife has ever been blindsided by their spouse’s hidden propensities toward (way) overspending or inability to keep employment or even more serious tendencies toward violence, addiction or cheating? Do we really think that any of those fault-lines were visible to multiple thousands of people before they walked down the aisle and they simply chose to ignore them? (Okay, some did.)

   Hidden things, by definition, are impossible to see. Walking by sight only lights up a fraction of them.

   Thing II: What’s on the horizon that you can’t see? Vacation in Orlando? Uh, oh—hurricane hits. What about Washington; that’s always fun. Unless there’s an accident on the Beltway and traffic is backed up to Maine—no fun. Or which college to choose? My son once picked one and two months in, they cancelled his major. Didn’t see that coming. 

   Thinking of buying a home, starting a biz or investing? Certainly you can and should do the research: What’s the housing market look like right now? Is it a buyers’ or sellers’ market? How’s the business economy—friendly or no? Business tax rates? And what’s happening with interest rates for 401K’s, CD’s, the stock market? Is Social Security secure for the future? Some research may give some answers but here’s what we can’t know: What will happen in the future? Sure, “experts” make predictions all the time, but if you’ve ever watched any financial analysis debates (which I try to avoid), their crystal balls never quite align. And unless you’re a psychic, you’re simply not going to know. Evidence? How many people were completely wiped out financially in the stock market crash of 1929? Or 1989? Or the housing crisis/market crash in 2007/2008? Millions. And we had the ensuing recessions and depressions to prove it.

   Again—thinking of getting married? What if one of you grows and matures and you’re simply “not compatible” anymore? Anyone see that coming?

   Walking by sight is blind to future circumstances. Why? Because those circumstances haven’t happened yet.

   Thing III: What’s happening in the spiritual realm that you can’t see? At any given moment, there’s more happening in the spiritual realm that affects your decisions than is occurring in the physical realm. The problem is, that activity is invisible; you can’t see it happening. And if you can see it, I guarantee that it’s because you are walking by faith, not by sight. But whether you have the gift of discernment, you’re a seer into the spiritual realm or the angel Gabriel regularly shows up with intel, somehow you’re being allowed that insight by God; it’s not info you can Google.

   One time my parents bought a house that we didn’t know was haunted. But we found out. And regardless of whether you believe spiritual entities (aka “demons”) can inhabit physical spaces or not, something was knocking pictures off walls, causing audible footsteps, and shattering glasses sitting untouched on the table—and it wasn’t us. Not to mention two or three memorable visitations in the dead of night. My mother even contracted brain cancer and died, and while I can’t prove that that was related, it does seem an odd coincidence that her home health aid was also diagnosed with brain cancer after three months of working in that house. What we found out much later is that the prior residents used to have séances in the house—always an open invitation to demonic activity. (But that’s another post entirely.)

   Bottom line: We saw the house, it looked good, and we bought it. We walked entirely by sight—and saw nothing.

   Many people who make decisions solely based on what they can see rather than faith in God either don’t understand the importance of waiting on God or simply hate to wait. However, the real truth is that living only by what we can see, hear, feel or research is a very miniscule part of the picture; there’s simply too much happening or about to happen that we simply cannot see. Basing decisions on only one-quarter of information is not just a huge risk, it can be downright deadly.

   Ask my mom.

 

 

 

 

Waiting On the Rain

Rainbow in Storm - FREE

   Recently I sat on my deck with a cup of tea, staring up at the heaping purple clouds rolling in from the western skies, waiting on the rain. And that’s when it occurred to me that that would make a great song: “Waitin’ On the Rain”. Of course, it would have to be a blues tune, the desperate purge of some splintering soul mourning with slow, heart-wrenching, Muddy-Waters tears as hope, a final and dying note, withered slowly into silence. Waiting on the rain – the next inevitable disappointment, the next searing heartbreak, the next paralyzing regret – and the next and the next and the next . . .

   Am I right?

   Maybe. But it could be a Christian song. “Waitin’ On the Rain” – the rain of blessing, the rain of joy, the rain of hope, the rain of abundance, the rain of the Spirit, a downpour of the presence of the Lord, a flood of End-Time revival.

   Am I wrong?

   How we see the rain depends on our perspectives and our expectations. But mostly, it depends on what we believe.

   Do we believe, in spite of the devastating rains that will drench every life sometime, somewhere that God is ultimately in charge, that the clouds will eventually part and the sun will appear again? Or do we instead believe that the rain, even sustained though it might sometimes be, is the Great Flood of our lives, destroying all hopes, ship-wrecking all dreams; that rain – the final word in our destinies?

   There once was a man who experienced more rain in his life than most other people in history. You may have heard of him but in case you have not, know that few people have ever been defeated more times in life than he was and yet he never quit. His life went something like this:

  • 1816 – His family lost their home; he had to go to work.
  • 1818 – His mother died.
  • 1831 – His business failed.
  • 1832 – He ran for state legislature and lost; he lost his job; he applied to law school and was denied.
  • 1833 – He borrowed money for business and went bankrupt. He spent 17 years re-paying that debt.
  • 1834 – He ran for state legislature again and won.
  • 1835 – He was engaged to be married but his fiancé died.
  • 1836 – He had a total nervous breakdown and was in bed for six months.
  • 1838 – He sought speakership of the state legislature and was defeated.
  • 1840 – He sought elector-ship and was defeated.
  • 1843 – He ran for Congress and lost.
  • 1846 – He ran for Congress and won.
  • 1848 – He ran for re-election to Congress and lost.
  • 1849 – He sought the position of land officer in Illinois and was rejected.
  • 1854 – He ran for Senate and lost.
  • 1856 – He sought the Vice-Presidential nomination and got less than 100 votes.
  • 1858 – He ran for U.S. Senate again and lost.
  • 1860 – He was elected President of the United States.

   You know this man as President Abraham Lincoln. He was, arguably, the most important president this nation has ever known because, if not for him, who knows how much longer this nation would have endured slavery? But because he was willing to stand for what he believed in, even to the point of going to war and being among the most hated men of his time, slavery ended. Would he have had the courage to face those hurricanes (they were so much more than “rain”) had he not chosen to endure and endure and endure in the midst of his own life’s hurricanes? I doubt it. If he learned one thing it was this: Quitting is not an option.

   There was another man who experienced rain in his life. It wasn’t easy; he tried and failed over and over again at one thing or another. He got a job as a retail manager but wasn’t great at sales and so got fired. Afterward, he found a job in construction but was laid off and had trouble finding another job because he didn’t have great references from the first job. In the meantime, his wife left him because she didn’t think he was working hard enough at finding employment or to repay their debt. Once she disappeared, he worked a little harder at finding a job and finally landed another in construction. That went pretty well and he was on the brink of getting back together with his wife when he was injured on the job; he busted out his knee. And even though Worker’s Comp paid for his knee surgery, he was in a great deal of pain and – you guessed it – ended up addicted to pain killers. At that point, his wife divorced him. Still, he did go to rehab for his addiction. His name was Marcus Brutus Brandonberg. Recognize that name? No? That’s because he stopped going to rehab. He stopped believing.

   He quit.

   Ever heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy? It’s a concept that says that what we believe deep in our hearts will, ultimately and absolutely, determine what we get. And there’s nothing spooky or flaky or New Age-y about it because what we believe will eventually determine that most critical of factors: whether we persevere or whether we quit.

   If we believe the rain is an inevitable, all-powerful and ultimately destructive force in our lives over which we have no control, then we may as well quit. What would be the point of pushing through the pain? But if we recognize that there is a rain, a sweet rain of blessing which leads to honor and victory and destiny, then we won’t give up – in spite of the heartache and disappointment and pain. Rain can cause all of those things but one thing it cannot cause is defeat. Only we can do that.

   Or not.

   What do you see when you’re waiting on the rain?

 

 

 

 

 

Correction vs. Rejection

Correction - Hand Crop   Jack stared at the paper in his hand, crumpled it up, and slam-dunked it into the trash can. There might have been a profanity or two involved as well. His boss’s words reverberated through his mind like a swarm of hornets dive bombing his head.

   “Jack, I’d like you to spend some time shadowing Bill and watching how he communicates with potential clients. I think that will help you to land some new accounts. Your quotas haven’t been quite up to par since you began, but I believe you do have the potential to be a good salesman…”

   Jack was humiliated. He’d had good sales numbers in his last position and excellent evaluations. Granted, quotas were higher with this company but they acted like he’d never even sold a glass of lemonade. And now they wanted him shadowing Bill. He could just imagine the behind-his-back smirks around the water cooler. Jack kicked the wastebasket. He didn’t need this. He should just walk.

   Carly fought back tears. She read the email again. The publishing editor complimented her writing; the plotline was engaging – “gripping” even and her characters “intriguing”, but the editor regretted that he would have to pass. Her social media following was not quite what it should be. But he invited her to resubmit when she reached the particular number of followers he’d mentioned. She glanced again at the number.

   “Hemmingway didn’t have that many followers,” she muttered. Maybe her mother had been right. Maybe she should just forget writing and take up knitting.

   Both Jack and Carly had the same reaction to the course corrections offered by those in charge of their advancement: frustration, followed by discouragement, followed by a strong inclination to quit. Neither had anticipated the critiques nor did they see them as even remotely fair. Neither felt that their talents or abilities were at all valued and just barely even acknowledged. And after the anger came the self-condemnation. Neither Jack nor Carly felt that they had the chops to be successful. They were failures. They’d never make it. They should just face the facts and call it a day. Permanently.      

   What neither Jack nor Carly understood is that correction is not rejection.

   In our success-driven culture, we often feel that “making it” should, if we have what it takes, come easily and certainly quickly. Television, magazines, and all forms of social media gush with images and tales of the rich, the talented, the successful – and they make it look so easy. So that means that if it’s not easy for us, then we’re simply not good enough. Period.

   Not so much.

   Here’s what we don’t realize – with few exceptions, successful people didn’t become that way overnight. Most of them spent years – even decades – preparing themselves, pitching their games, and then failing, only to begin again – and sometimes again and again. We rarely hear of all the rejections experienced by the successful before they achieved their goals: sports tryouts, performance auditions, manuscript submissions, business endeavors, and dozens of job interviews. And meanwhile, folks working two or three jobs or waiting tables at midnight or juggling family, work and school – all while receiving critiques, readjusting, learning, practicing, readjusting some more and trying again.

   Just never quitting.

   But regardless of the industry or field, the goals or dreams, what do all successful people have in common?

   Thing #1: They know that, in order to accomplish their goals and fulfill their destinies, they need to sharpen their skills and become, if not experts, at least very, very good at what they do. Moreover, they know that that doesn’t happen overnight so they understand that correction will come – and it needs to. And because they know to expect correction, they’re not devastated when it happens.

   Thing #2: The ability to accept correction, even if you know it’s coming, requires a tad bit of humility to swallow it and even a touch of gratitude for those willing to take the time to give it because they generally don’t have to. Successful people know that attitude matters.

   Have you ever seen the cooking show “Chopped”? If not, the show features four experienced chefs competing to win a $10,000 prize. There are three courses – appetizer, entrée, and dessert – and after each course, one chef is eliminated. The last one standing wins. The point is that whenever chefs are “chopped,” the judges give them feedback on why they didn’t make the cut so that they can improve. Most of the chefs thank the judges and move on but sometimes, there are those who didn’t get the attitude memo and stomp off, insisting that the judges were wrong and they should’ve won. Bad move. In fact, really bad move. If those people had considered, even for a moment, that they weren’t perfect, they would not have received the judges’ critiques as rejection.

   Thing #3: Not everyone who gives correction does it the right way. We’ve all experienced those who nuke us with their corrections, more with the intent to punish or condemn than to help us to improve. In that case, it’s best not to take the manner of correction to heart while still examining the content of it to see whether there’s any validity to it. Of course, I recognize that that’s sometimes very difficult, especially should the correction be accompanied with yelling, with the word “stupid,” or by ending with “What’s wrong with you??” If that’s the case, realize that there’s nothing wrong with you; it’s the person having the meltdown who needs to consider that question seriously.

   Last Thing: Correction is not rejection. It is an opportunity to improve, to master, and then to ace your game. Correction is not about who you are, it’s about what you do.

   It’s not personal.

  

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

                                                                                                                              

What Keeps You Up at Night?

Man Can't Sleep (2)

   Pastor Nick runs a mid-sized, evangelical church in a fair-sized city where, every Sunday, he preaches for approximately twenty-five minutes (after working on the sermon for four days) for two services in front of four hundred people a service. Every other day of the week, Pastor Nick makes emergency house calls (mostly involving teenagers), counsels with people (usually the same people), and runs a food pantry on Mondays, a Bible study on Wednesdays, and a coffee house on Fridays.

   Meanwhile Katrina, a 27-year-old woman living in the suburbs of Peoria, spends her days (and nights) caring for two one-year-olds, one two-year-old, and an almost four-year-old. Since she is not able to work outside of the home because she can’t afford the daycare, she has become the daycare. Every morning, three other women drop off their children at her house: another two-year-old, a five-year-old (on the kindergarten bus at 12:30pm), and three six to eight year-olds (on the bus at 8:30am). Everybody is back to Katrina’s house by 3:30, and moms arrive between 4:37 and 6:10 – not that Katrina’s tracking.

   Emma is all about deadlines. Her deadline for the Spencer article is at 10am, the deadline for the book revision – the entire 286-page book revision – is due tomorrow (and she’s only 202 pages in), and the deadline to pitch the new book proposal at the writers’ conference is Thursday at 3pm sharp. (She wants to bring a thriller but romance is in – although not Amish – and definitely not a YA dystopian about a heroine with a sword, a bow or a slingshot – even if the boyfriend is to die for.) In the meantime, there are tweets to write, Facebook posts to edit, and Instagram pics to update. Oh – and there’s the blog. Always the blog…

   So – what do all of these fine folks have in common?

   Pastor Nick, Katrina and Emma all worry about whether, in the end, any of their hard work will be successful. All of their endless days and sleepless nights – is it worth it? Will they achieve what they’ve set out to accomplish – or will they fail? And even if they do succeed, will it even matter?

In the long run, when it’s all said and done, when they stand before the Lord and give an account, will it be an account worth giving?

   Late in the evening, after everyone else has gone home from work, Pastor Nick sits at his desk and wonders about Sunday’s sermon – did it really touch anyone? Will anyone go home differently than they came in? And what about Ed and Sue? Did he get through to them? Will they even try to forgive each other? And the coffeehouse – will it help keep kids off the streets?

   Katrina lays awake at night wondering how her children will turn out. Will they be good people – kind, compassionate, responsible? Or will they fall in with the wrong kids when they’re older and end up doing – she doesn’t even want to think about what they might be doing. Then when they’re older, will they still believe in God? Or will they reject God and leave the church as so many kids eventually do? Katrina tries to teach them right from wrong but she barely has enough time to cook, do laundry and run errands much less spend time with each of them.

   What if she fails her children??

   Emma would like to sleep but that’s a luxury she doesn’t have. Sometimes – okay, lots of times – she wonders why she does it: the revisions, the deadlines, the rewrites, more deadlines– and for what? What if the books are never published? Or what if they are – and then nothing happens? She tries to write books that will mean something – books that will make a difference to people – but how can she really ever know whether they will? Will all the long years of work have been just a waste of time? Or a whole life . . . ?

   The fact is that it’s not up to us whether or not our work succeeds – because it’s not our work. It’s God’s. Jesus said that he’d come to do the work of the Father, the implication being that it was not his own work. There’s great comfort in that truth because if it’s not our work, then it’s not our responsibility to make it succeed. It’s God’s.

   When we plant a seed, we’re not responsible to make it grow. We are responsible to water and weed the plant as it grows, but we can’t make the seed or the plant grow; only God can do that. In the same way, we can’t do anything other than our best with what we’re called to do and then we simply have to leave it up to God to make it work. We’re just stewards of the work; God is the master.

   Nevertheless, recognizing that fact does not give us a license to slack off; we have our part to play and it’s our destiny to fulfill that part. The problem we make is that because it’s “our destiny,” we think it’s even in our power to make that destiny succeed. It’s not. God gave us our assignments – and only he can bring them to fruition.

   Pastor Nick can’t make people listen to or obey the word – all he can do is to be faithful to bring it.

   Katrina can’t make her children do what’s right when they’re older nor can she make them have a relationship with God – all she can do is to teach them the right way and then pray that they follow it.

   Emma can’t make publishers choose her books nor can she make the books best-sellers – all she can do is to write them and promote them.

   It’s up to God to do the rest.

   In the end, all we’re required to do is the best we can with what we have and then to pray that the Lord will bring success to our work. Period. We simply cannot do more than that.

      Now – feel better?

 

 

 

God Is Watching.

gods-eye-nasa
“God’s Eye In the Sky” (NASA photo)

   Click.    The backdoor lock sprang and imperceptibly, the doorknob turned. Flashlight off, the intruder paused, listening for the piercing scream of an alarm and hearing none, nudged the door open a tiny crack. In slow motion, he peered around the edge of the door and then crept forward, a stealthy shadow, into the house.

   “Jesus is watching.”

   The man froze in mid-step, bulging eyes straining to distinguish the source of the soft, croaky voice floating from the thick darkness.

   “Jesus is watching.”

   The burglar drew in a sharp breath and then sighed in relief.

   It’s just a bird! A stupid, freakin’ bird!

   The man clicked on his flashlight and aimed it in the direction of the voice.

“Birdie,” he whispered, “it’s hunting season.”

    His light beam danced around the room and then stopped, catching the reflection of a pair of red, glowing eyes and a set of very white bared fangs.

   The voice croaked again. “Meet Jesus.”

   God is always watching. Whether that thought brings any comfort or not is another story entirely. But it should. The knowledge that when things go from wrong to very wrong, from a  small mishap or a disappointed expectation to a long-term heartache or a sudden tragedy, God is not unaware.

   “‘I have seen the anguish of my people in Egypt and have heard their cries [and] I have come down to deliver them . . . for I know their sorrows’” (Acts 7:34, LB; Exodus 3:7, NKJV).

   If you remember, the Israelites suffered as slaves under the cruel oppression of the Egyptians for 400 long years. And in all that time, God was silent.

   But God was watching.

   God witnessed every whipping, every beating, every deprivation, every shameful violation, and every degrading humiliation wrought upon the Israelites by their slave masters. God heard every mournful, wailing prayer, every desperate, sobbing plea for help, and every heart-splintering scream for deliverance as His children begged to be freed from the vicious brutality of the Egyptians. He also listened as the Israelites shouted at, bargained with, cussed out, and  even forsook Him for other gods because of His silence. For silent God was – for centuries.

   But why?

   God does nothing arbitrarily. God had a plan for the birth of a new nation, a people of His own to proclaim His name throughout the whole world. But before that could happen, that  people would be required to suffer slavery for 400 years at the hands of the most powerful gods known to man at that time. Nevertheless, throughout all of those  excruciating years, God never missed a single moment of the suffering of His people; He saw it all – the shredded flesh, the indelible scars, and the tears as numerous as the grains of sand upon the earth.

   Perhaps, in the midst of the pursuit of the destiny that you were 1000% certain God had called you to, things have gone terribly, terribly wrong. Maybe you struggle to find the strength to make it through just one more day. Or perhaps circumstances in life – your hopes and dreams – have simply not happened the way you had hoped they would happen and every day you feel that you’re sinking deeper and deeper into the dark and formless void of hopelessness and nothingness.

   Maybe you’ve ceased to dream at all.

   That’s how the Israelites felt. And my guess is that’s precisely how Moses felt after squandering  his identity as an exalted Egyptian prince and ending up instead a forgotten fugitive on the backside of the desert with nothing to his name except the rags on his back and a crooked staff in his hand.

   Even so, God never relinquished His watch over the Israelites or over Moses; night after night, year after year, decade after decade, He never failed to see. And in the end, God delivered His people in a way far more miraculous than they could ever have  imagined and, in doing so, proved Himself to be the God above every other god on earth.

   If you’re in that place, that desert where dreams die and destiny is destroyed, then hold to the truth that, in order to rise from the ashes, we must first walk through the fire. And should you find yourself in the flames, don’t lose sight of one thing: It’s all part of the plan. Nothing can happen or is happening that God does not see.

   Our God is the god of the Resurrection – and He’s watching you.

Money Just Appears – But How?

Cash 4

   How would you like for money to just show up in your bank account from time to time – and for no apparent reason? Have I ever mentioned that that’s happened to me several times? No lie.

   The first time it happened was perhaps fifteen years ago. It all began when I balanced my checkbook and ended up showing $700 dollars more than I should have had. Now you wouldn’t know this but I love running numbers and balancing checkbooks and accounting – especially when I’m in the black. And since it’s not every day (or even ever) that I find an extra $700 in my bank account, I went over the statement and checkbook again – and again. I figured I must’ve either forgotten to write in a deposit or I’d made a math mistake somewhere along the way. However, I found no errors in the statement or in the checkbook. And I was still showing an extra $700 which, by the way, hadn’t been there the prior month. So I did the next thing it made sense to do: I went back further – months – and checked and re-checked those bank statements and check registers. Still nothing. No errors whatsoever.

   At this point, I have to confess, I was completely baffled. How does any extra money – much less hundreds of dollars – just show up into a bank account, leaving absolutely no trace as to how it got there? I didn’t have a clue. But I was positive the bank would be able to find the error. Because certainly there had to be one. However, when I got to the bank, the conversation went something like this:

   BANK GUY: “So you found a mistake in your bank statement?”

   ME: “Well, there is a mistake – I just haven’t found it.”

   “What?”

   “I’m showing an extra $700 in my account and I have no idea why.”

   “Seven hundred dollars?”

   “Correct.”

   “You must’ve forgotten to write in a deposit.”

   “No, checked that. Which is why I’m here.”

   “Well, let’s go over it. I’ve pulled your bank statements for the past several months.”

   Minutes tick by. Radio silence. Finally the bank guy looks up and says, “I can’t find any errors.” He shrugged. “I have no idea where the money came from. Just write it into your checkbook. It’s yours.”

   I was not unhappy about that. As to where it came from, I simply chalked it up to the only reasonable explanation: God did it. How else would an extra $700 just be there? It’s not even as though a mysterious deposit appeared; it was just there – and no one can explain why or how.

   Fast forward a few years later and it happened again. This time my account was suddenly showing an additional $300. But I didn’t assume it was God this time; I did figure that I had made an accounting error so I re-examined my statements and checkbook registers for missing deposits and/or math errors. But again – I found nothing. This time, I didn’t bother going to bank. I was beginning to understand that sometimes God provides in miraculous ways.

   Nevertheless, I’d never heard of money just mysteriously appearing in bank accounts until I encountered a couple who’d had many financial miracles in their time and who explained that we can, if we are faithful in our tithing and giving to the Lord, “call” money into our accounts. Now I didn’t know that and had certainly never done it, but I have been a tither and giver for a long time. (I don’t normally mention that because I’m not looking for a pat on the back about it.) Still, it did shed some light as to why God would put money into my account.

As my father used to say, “You can’t out-give God.”

   Evidently not.

   My father and mother had been exceptional givers in all the time I’d known them; my sister and I had grown up watching them give, even in their early years of marriage when, being in the military, dad made close to nothing. At one point, dad brought home $400 a month as an Air Force NCO, and yet every Sunday for as long as I can remember, I’d see mom drop a ten or twenty dollar bill into the offering plate at church.

   I know now how much that cost them.

   Dad always used to tell a story to illustrate God’s faithfulness to provide. One time, back when credit-debit cards didn’t exist and everyone carried cash, dad described how the day came when he and mom were literally down to a nickel between them – no cash, no savings and no food or gas. But that very day, dad’s paycheck arrived in the mail. And it was always that way. As the old saying goes, “God is not often early, but He’s never late.”

   As the years passed and my parents’ income grew, so did their giving. They gave, not only to their church, but to several ministries and charitable organizations. Later, when I found out how much they gave every month, I was stunned. For example, they sent $500 a month to a little old nun who ran a ministry all by herself and depended on people’s giving as her sole support. Even after mom died and dad retired, he still continued sending that money. I used to wonder how he could afford to do that – being retired and all, but after he died, I found out. In retirement, he was earning over $60,000 a year. While it’s not millions, it’s a lot more than many make in retirement and so dad had no worries about money.

   You can’t out-give God.

   As for me, two months ago, I noticed that I again seemed to have several hundred dollars more in my account than I should have had. Thinking initially that some checks I’d written for bills simply hadn’t cleared yet, I took some cash from my account and used that until all my checks and debit purchases had paid out. After a week, I checked my bank statement and everything had cleared. But still – there was over $600 more in the account than I should have had. So I re-did the math. Still, zero mistakes. None. However, since this particular amount of cash was too big to risk writing in without verification, I decided to take it to the bank and have them double-check it. (Different bank, by the way.)

   ME: “I have an extra $630 in my checking account that shouldn’t be there and I can’t account for it. I’ve double-checked the whole thing: statements, checkbook – I found no mistakes.”

   BANK LADY: “You have no idea how it got there?”

   ME: “Well, I do have some idea, but you’re going to think I’m crazy.” (deep breath) “God put it there.”

   BL: “God?”

   ME: “Yeah. He’s done it before. Two other times.”

   BL: “I see.”

   I don’t think she did see.

   BL: “Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll find the error.”

   ME: “Great!”

   Ten minutes tick by. Fifteen. Twenty.

   BL: “Well, I can’t find an error, but I’ll send all of your paperwork to my supervisor. She’s really good at this – she will find the error.” She smiled – sort of. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

   ME: (chuckling): “Okay, you let me know.”

   Two days later, Bank Lady called. “We went back a few months to when your account was not showing a surplus balance and rechecked all of the statements after that.” (pause) “We, uhm, can’t find any trace of how that surplus got there – it’s just there. You have an extra $632 in your account.”

   God did it – again.

   Chasing a dream takes money – no matter what that dream is. I tell this story to make the point that the best thing you can do to make certain that you have the money to finance your plans is to finance God’s plans. Someday I’ll share how God supernaturally provided my house after I’d given the house money I’d saved to a church-building fund. In the big scheme of things, it was only a tiny bit of money but it was all I had. As I said to God back then, “If you help me to get my house, I’ll help you to get yours.”

   But that’s a story for another time.

   Need cash to fulfill your destiny? Begin to give. It can be scary sometimes, especially when God asks you to give big – even all you have. Of course, you can always say “no”. But I don’t recommend it.

  

 

“Yes” – The Magic Word.

Cleaning Fairy 3   Ever had a day where you feel as if all you do is say “no” – and that may or may not be followed by an exclamation point? I have. Picture a high school classroom. (Of course what I’m saying may or may not be what I’m thinking . . .)

   “No, you can’t do the test with your book open.” Wrong book anyway.

   “No, you can’t go to the nurse for your mosquito bite.” Or your achy pinky or your split ends.

   “No, you can’t text your essay.” And please don’t hand-write it!

   “No, I won’t friend you on Facebook.” (:/)

   “No, you can’t go to the bathroom again.” Two year olds don’t go that much.

   “No, you can’t do your test with a partner.” As if it would ever get done. 

   “No, I will not tell your boyfriend he’s a jerk for breaking up with you.” He was a jerk before he broke up with you.

   “No, there will not be an extension on your homework.” Nope.

   “No, I have not graded the essay you finished ten minutes ago.” You hand-wrote it. So next week. Maybe.

   “No, I do not believe you have to keep kicking your chair in order to focus.” Or playing with that infernal fidget-spinner thing or tearing up little pieces of paper . . .

   “No, I do not want to know who your mother is dating.” I really, really don’t.

   Sigh.

   How about at home? Ever say “no” there?

   “Hello? No – thank you. I do not want to contribute to a fund to save endangered stink bugs.”

   “No, I don’t really recommend that you rely on the Cleaning Fairy to get that room cleaned.”

   “No, you can’t use the car to take your six friends to the party at Johnny’s house. In fact, nix the party at Johnny’s house.”

   “No, you can’t skip your shower today.”

   “Hello? No, I don’t care to contribute to a ‘Block the Highway’ protest on Interstate 81.” (pause) “I know I’m mean.”

   “No, I really don’t feel like petting a teenage mountain lion at the zoo today.”

   Sigh.

   Some days when I find myself stamping “no” onto every request that comes my way, I end up feeling like the wicked Witch of the West. Not a sweet feeling. So – a few days ago, I decided to “yes” as many requests as possible . . .

   “Yes! I’ll donate to save the poor endangered stink bug! Do you take Monopoly money?”

   “Yeah, skip the shower. Once a week is fine.”

   “Of course you can do the test with a partner. Maybe they’ll let you do that on your Regents exams, too.”

   “Certainly you can go to the bathroom again. And get a drink. And go to your locker. Say hello to the nurse for me. And of course I’ll be happy to repeat everything you miss while you’re gone.”

   “Need an extension on your homework? Just let me know when you think you might get to it.”

   “Try not to kick the table too loudly.”

   “Why not wait for the Cleaning Fairy to do your room? It doesn’t smell that bad.”

   “Really?? Mom is dating him??”

   When my little experiment was finished, I actually felt better, more positive, more like a really good person. I actually felt like – well, the ice cream man or the accountant who finds you the big tax refund or the Home and Careers teacher who lets you bake cupcakes all day. It felt great! I could even identify with the happy change in old Ebenezer after his little date with the Nativity ghosts. And the best part was hearing people say “thank you” instead of “I’ll just die and it’ll all be your fault if I don’t get to … go on Spring Break with 62 of my best friends” or “borrow your brand new shiny IPhone because I shattered mine” or “copy my research paper off Wikipedia!!” 

   So my recommendation is that you try it – have a “yes” day! Say “yes” to as many requests as you possibly can in one 24-hour period. You’ll make untold numbers of people happy, you’ll feel better about your contribution to society, and who knows? You may even go down in history as a really memorable person! How great is that?

   Disclaimer: We do not recommend, nor will we be liable for, any consequence technically deemed a Class A felony as a result of any “yes” statements made during the said 24-hour period. This includes signing any contracts or co-signing any loans, as well as filing for any marriage licenses and/or divorce papers. In addition, it is not recommended that anyone agree to any dares, including but not limited to clothing, beverages, road trips or the random provoking of grizzly bears, law enforcement officers or women on diets. Other than that, enjoy your “yes” day.

   It could be life-changing.

 

 

Tantrums, Meltdowns and Nuclear Options

Stress concept - angry man with exploding head

   My homework policy is posted, in giant letters, right up at the front of my classroom: “Just Do It.”  I like it. It’s succinct and to the point: no excuses, no procrastinating, no blowing it off – just get it done.

   Nevertheless, sometimes we have a problem getting it done – whatever “it” is. Just because we reach adult status does not mean we never have the temptation to dodge the boring, the hard or the seemingly pointless. There are all kinds of things in life that we would prefer to put off, avoid or skip entirely. Nevertheless, we can’t. Those things are not optional; they’re mandatory “must-do’s”, meaning there will be consequences if we don’t do them. And they won’t be good.

   I remember in graduate school, I had to do a final thesis paper on the influence that writing has on students’ reading. The problem was, I wanted to do that paper about as much as I wanted to spend a week cleaning outhouses. However, that mattered not. So I took a stab at it. And then another. And another. Then I raged and then I cried and then I took numerous naps. It’s not that I couldn’t do the paper; I just didn’t want to. I simply did not want to have to spend weeks wading through countless boring articles trying to find which would best prove the point, and then spend another couple of weeks writing it all up. I knew there was a connection between writing and reading. My professors knew there was a connection. So why did I have to prove it?

   That was my first excuse.

   My second excuse was that it was hard. (It really wasn’t.) My third excuse was that nobody really cared anyway. I know I barely cared. But when I couldn’t think of any more excuses, I realized there was one truth which I was ignoring entirely to my own peril: without the dumb paper, I wouldn’t graduate.

   Sometimes we simply don’t want to do that thing we have to do and what’s more – no one can make us!

   Except us.

   Sometimes we just need to push through the frustration, the tears, the rage, the pain. Still, beginning can be the hardest part of doing anything – even if it’s something we really want or need to do. But why is beginning the most difficult part?

   Reason #1: It might take some time before I see any results. The fact is, it’s hard to get up and running, doing the difficult thing and persevering when we may not see results for some time. Dieting comes to mind; many folks put off losing those pounds because it will probably be at least a few weeks before the scale tips in the right direction. Where’s the fast-track to that?? The unwelcome truth is that it takes time to do some things: earning the promotion, building the business, getting the degree, or writing the book. Building credit? Toning or buffing up? How about training those kidlets? (Ever wonder whether you’re going to survive that little endeavor?) How about building – or rebuilding – that relationship? You know what they say . . . “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

   Where would we be today if Rome – the first democratic republic in history – had never been built?

Reason #2: It’s too much work! Usually the things we want to avoid are not easy things. They might well be quick but not easy. Ever have to apologize for that thing you wish you’d never said or done? Shouldn’t take that long, but . . . Or what about the “E” word: “exercise”? Twenty minutes a day isn’t a lifetime but lifting those weights or running a mile can feel that way. Passing that course? How about cleaning the house or revamping the landscape or de-cluttering the attic, garage and/or basement? Work all. Rebuilding trust in a relationship might involve all kinds of hoops to jump through – high ones. Climbing the corporate ladder? That takes toil and endurance. Or how about this: writing the book perhaps wasn’t hard but the editing, the revision, and then rewriting the revision? And let’s not forget the querying, the platform building, and the promotion. There’s work.

   My son summed it all up rather nicely with a little sign that says, “Do what’s right, not what’s easy.”

Reason #3: I might fail. Maybe. But those who never even try have already failed. There’s failing in disgrace: never attempting that thing or quitting when it gets hard, and there’s failing with honor: you gave it your best.

   Your dream: Could it take a long time? Will it be hard? Might you fail?. Probably. Yes. Maybe. But the longer it takes and the harder it is and the more risk of failure, then the bigger the payoff, the reward, the satisfaction. But regardless of any other thing you gain, perhaps the biggest bonus to you will be a brand new confidence that you can, that you do have what it takes and that, from now on, there’s nothing you can’t do. That alone makes it all worthwhile.

   So just do it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Myth of Perfection

Diamond    I once saw a cartoon of a skeleton woman wearing a dress and high heels; she was seated next to a sign saying “Waiting for Mr. Right”. Evidently, she’d been waiting a long time and Mr. R. never showed.

   Or did he?

   Was she so preoccupied with finding Mr. Perfect that she missed Mr. Right?

   What if things or people or situations don’t come packaged the way we think they should? Would Beauty have missed the beauty in the Beast? Would Prince Charming have passed on the cinder girl?

Would Mr. Darcy have bucked the social hierarchy to marry Elizabeth?

   What about situations other than marriage? What if our kids aren’t the children featured in the Hallmark movies? Have you ever looked up to the sky and said, “God, whatever made You think that I’m equipped to handle this child? I’m just not that good.” Or maybe you’ve said, “Why can’t I have parents like he has?”

   Sometimes we have to mine deep inside of a person to find the diamond. But before we start feeling too put out by having to do all the work, let’s remember that we, too, are jewels-in-the-rough and that if we sparkle at all, it’s because someone’s been willing to put the time and energy into drilling through our rock-hard places.

   So – what about the neighbor, the roommate, the employee, the co-worker, the student – even the boss or pastor who’s not perfect? Ditch them and find one who is? (Good luck with that.) What about the situation or opportunity or job that’s not perfect? Keep walking?

   I’ve known a fair number of people over the years who’ve passed on a job offer because it wasn’t the perfect job – it didn’t have the work load or salary or hours or perks that they thought they deserved. In their views, starting at the bottom – or even the middle – just wouldn’t do.  Give them the top job with a big salary and lots of autonomy – or give them nothing. They would wait until someone came along who really appreciated their value and was willing to give them what they believed they were due. 

   Some of them are still waiting.

   Perhaps it’s not the perfect job for your qualifications and experience. Ask yourself: can it be? Given some hard work and time, does it have potential for growth, development, advancement, promotion? If not, can it be the stepping stone for the experience needed to reach that riper plum?

   “Perfection,” per se, is not always perfectly packaged.

   “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a classic for a reason: we’ve all been tempted to do it. Haven’t we all been attracted to that thing sporting lots of shiny tinsel and frosting only to find that what was inside the package fell far short of the promised hype? And I don’t mean book covers only.

   If we check any antique store or yard sale or even grandma’s attic and dig around in the corners, behind the tables, and underneath the cobwebs, we’re bound to find some precious treasure – priceless even. It may have to be dusted off and it might even need to new part or two, but it’s the real thing; it’s the forgotten diamond just waiting to be mined.

   We need to be willing to search places no one else is willing to search. We need to ignore outward appearances and be willing to dig down to the heart of a matter, a person, a situation, a seeming opportunity. We can’t simply wait until perfection finds us because – it won’t.

   Jewels don’t just mine themselves – whether in people or situations. The gold, the diamonds, the emeralds, the pearls – they’ll be forever buried.

   Except for you.