Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Extra, Extra! Read All About It!

I am sure you have heard the phrase "Its not all about you" more than once in your lifetime, right? Maybe it was directed to you, or to someone else. Maybe you were a child, or maybe it was just yesterday! However and whenever it was, it probably didn't make you feel too good. Its kinda like someone pointing a finger right at you and telling you that you are being selfish, while reminding you that there are other people in this world.

Well guess what?


WAKE UP! IT IS NOT ALL ABOUT YOU!

Its time we do something for those around us. Those with needs greater than you and I. I know I have talked about this before, but its becoming a such a focus in my life at this time that I cannot help but bring it up again.


When was the last time you felt down in the dumps and struggled to find a smile? Yesterday? Last week? Today? It sucks, doesn't it? I know. But take a minute and think about how you felt in that moment and what you were doing ... Go on, think about it. I will wait. 

Ok, finished? I don't know what you were thinking or why you couldn't smile, but I bet you still had a home to sit in and sulk, didn't you? Perhaps a job you were frustrated you had to be at? Did you eat something? Did you eat too much of something? Did you go shopping to lift your mood? Did you drive your car there? I think its safe to say many of these are true. After all, you obviously have a phone or computer if you are reading this.

Now, what if you had nothing? What if you didn't have a house, a job, even a crumb to eat or sip of water to drink? What if you didn't have clean clothes - or any change of clothes for that matter? What if your shoes had holes and each time it rained, your feet got wet from walking on the wet ground? What if you didn't have any toilet paper? What if, despite all of this (and then some) you still had a smile on your face?

That is what I encountered recently. I met someone (we will call him "M") who had nothing but a small black backpack. He was standing under a pavilion in the park conversing with a woman, resting on a bench a few feet away, about her two dogs. As we approached him, you could see the nervousness arise in him. He didn't know who we were or what we wanted and his trust seemed to have been battered over time. Once he realized we meant no harm, he smiled. He laughed. He shook our hands. 'M' even made a little joke. Again, he had nothing but a backpack....and he was smiling. Makes you think, doesn't it?

We get so wrapped up in our world, with everything we have to do and want to do and all of our wants and desires that we forget that just waking up in the morning is enough to give thanks for. We don't "need" anything else. Sometimes it seems like it takes losing everything to gain everything. Here is a thought - what if everything we think we need in life is exactly what is clogging up our life and keeping us from finding pure, honest happiness; completeness. This reminds me of the verse:

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. Mark 8:35

"M" made a lasting impact in my life in mere minutes. He even has a little spot in my heart and doesn't even know it. Maybe its time we all gave up what we refer to as "precious time" and go out to find the real "precious" time... As we were walking away from "M," after giving us thanks and saying that we gave him an answer to his prayer, we heard him loudly say, "And thank YOU, God!" It was my reminder. Hearing this broken man shout out and give thanks for all that he had gave me chills. And made me smile. 


Monday, August 10, 2015

Gifts

I just love when connections happen... not coincidences (these don't exist, remember?)... but the connections that occur when I know I am right where I am supposed to be on my journey. Sometimes when this happens it is a huge event - bells, whistles, a marching band, or anything else that may get my attention. At other times, I feel the connection, smile, and just give thanks for the sign. It is the latter that I have been blessed with this week. 

Last week it was brought to my attention that I had been very negative for quite some time. That the comments that I had made and my overall outlook was making it hard for others to want to be around me. Ouch, right? I mean, that was my first reaction. Who wants to hear that when you are already in an apparent sour mood? Well, I didn't say much, but I listened and then I let those words sit with me for a while. It really made me take a look at how I had been behaving/acting/reacting, etc. I saw the negativity, too. 

First this happened... 

At church we have been talking about freedom. More specifically, the freedom you get when you become a follower of Christ. A list was given of all of the negative emotions you can lose and the positive ones that you can gain. I cannot exactly remember the list, but I have confidence that you can put together your own list of negative emotions that could be shooed straight out the back door once Jesus is in your heart, right? Now replace that list with a list of joy, redemption, elation, etc. 

I love Jesus, I have asked him to be my Lord and Savior. I have been baptized in His name. So I should be happy, right? I should be jumping around with my tap shoes on, trying to start up a dance competition with Fred Astaire. Or swinging from the rafters. Or shouting praises from the mountaintops. (Should I keep going or do you get the picture of the extent of happiness I am trying to portray?) The missing point is that we are promised great joy, but we have to accept it. After all, anyone can give us a gift, but we don't get the benefits of the gift until we actually open (accept) it. 

I really felt like this tiny part of the overall message spoke to me and reminded me that I have all of these gifts and tools at my disposal... so there is no need for me to worry and bog my spirit down with the unnecessary. I am taken care of. 

Then this happened...

I woke up this morning to my "verse of the day" on my phone. It read: 

"Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God though Christ has forgiven you." Ephesians 4:31-32

There is no need to even break that verse down. I mean, it is there in black and white... my recent negativity is no bueno. 

So, I say thank you, God, for the reminders... For the connections that are always happening around me. I have been given gifts and I accept those gifts. Sometimes, though, when we encounter the bumps in the road of life, we need to remember what we have been given and not get caught up in the little things. 

Make sure to remember what you are grateful for today. And every day. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Adjective: Selfish

I believe God just told me that I was selfish. I mean, I know I have my moments, but is it really necessary to use the actual term selfish?! Isn't selfish when you think of yourself first? Not really having a care or concern for anyone else? Filling your needs before others? I don't think that describes me. Or perhaps I am so selfish that I cant see it? Lets ask Webster, shall we? 

According to Webster, selfish means: concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself; seeking or concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others. Ouch. 

Like I've said before, its not too often that I hear God speaking to me directly. So when this happens, I do my best to listen. This time it happened about a week ago. I arrived at work extra early and was getting settled to start my day. I decided to say a prayer before I got lost in my day. While I was rambling on and on, I saw a picture in my mind, clear as day... it was a page of the bible and I saw Philippians 2:7. I immediately forgot what I was saying, opened my eyes and grabbed my bible. Opening up to this verse, here is what I read: 


Rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant, 
being made in human likeness. 

Jesus gave up his rights, his privileges and his entitlement to become a servant - a slave. He humbly served others without letting pride get in the way. He didn't use the fact of who he was just to move forward or get special treatment from others. Humble and selfless behavior. 

I think one of the most famous stories of selfishness that I know of in the bible is that of Cain and Abel. They were to make a sacrifice to God. Abel sacrificed a lamb and pleased God. However, Cain brought an offering that was not his greatest. He withheld the good for himself and God was not pleased. The selfishness in his offering lead to rage and jealousy and, finally, the murder of his own brother. 

Or how about David? After all he had accomplished and how far he had come, he still sought pleasure... with Bathsheba. He was so focused on his own fulfillment that he didn't care about the cost. David's selfishness created lies and took lives. 

There are so many stories of selfishness. Whether its greed, self-indulgence, egotistical,  mean, self-serving, pleasure-seeking... the stories are there. In fact, I think in some form or another, most of us probably are a little selfish. Maybe we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we don't even realize it. 

Think of the last time you did something for yourself... (and I'm not just referring to a massage or buying a pair of new shoes)...
When is the last time you did anything for yourself? And when is the last time you did anything for someone else?

Did you cook yourself dinner? What did you do with the leftovers? Did you throw away your leftovers so they wouldn't clog up your refrigerator? Did you pack them up to give to someone who may be hungry? 

Did you come to a stoplight and find yourself face to face with a person holding a signed that reads "hungry"...? Did you reach for your wallet? Give him or her your packed lunch? Did you avoid eye contact? 

Did you hold the door for someone who may have walked into your office behind you? Or did you just open the door for yourself, never looking back? 

Did you let your friend tell you about her day? Or did you just tell her about yours? 

I have been trying my best to take a solid look at ways that I am selfish and I've discovered that, while I may not blatantly put myself before others, there are a lot of little things that add up... things that I had never taken the time to realize. This girl right here is guilty as charged of: making assumptions daily that I believe everyone else should already know (and agree with, of course) even though I haven't even verbalized them...and then having terrible reactions when things don't go as planned (as I assumed they would go). Talking more than I listen. Letting insignificant things consume my time and attention, rather than focusing on the bigger picture. And not spending enough time with God. I could keep going, but I'll stop there... for now.

As I focus on this, my list gets longer every day of things I do that is me putting myself ahead of you. Sometimes, I even feel like I have given myself 110% on a task only to realize that selfishness was still involved and I didn't even realize it. 

I am slowly discovering how my behavior is affecting others and how I need to make some changes. All I can do is throw my hands up to God and ask him to help me be a better person. 

How long is your list?

Remember ... Being polite and having manners is one thing. Going above and beyond to put someone else before yourself because your heart feels it is another. I think its hard not to want the best for our loved ones and ourselves... you work hard and should be rewarded, right? The gifts in life that matter come from God, not from earthly 'things.' I do not have a right (or entitlement) to any circumstance, no matter how much I think I deserve it. And neither do you.