Bridging The Gap – The First Step Toward Good Communication


Of all the challenges people face in marriage relationships, communication is at the top of the list.  Not that physical affection, money, and respect aren’t important, but without the ability to listen and express ourselves clearly, misunderstandings are inevitable which only lead to arguments, resentment, and walls.

Many of us have heard the example, ‘Men are from Mars and woman are from Venus’ and, certainly, God did make us different.  Those stereotypes don’t always work, however.  The Mrs and I are a mixture of Mars and Venus; sometimes, I’m more Venus and she’s more Mars.  In the end, we balance each other out and have learned to understand and appreciate our differences.

That’s really the key, isn’t it; understanding our differences?  So many people try to make the other person into their own image of who, or what, they should be rather than appreciating their differences and respecting them.  One thing is for certain, trying to change a person we are in a relationship with is nothing less than the kiss of death because we were never made to change each other.  That’s God’s job.

I’ve seen many relationships fall apart from one person trying to control the other.  I’ve been in one myself.  One person always trying to please the other but not being able to.  The other putting unreal expectations on them trying to force them to be something they aren’t. 

The first step in bridging the gap between two people is respect for how God made them and the humility to accept that we, ourselves, are not perfect either.   That openness of allowing the other person to be themselves, flaws and all, along with our own humble attitude of who we are, will eventually build a bridge of mutual respect.

So tonight here’s to taking the first step in allowing those who we are in a relationship with to simply be themselves.  Secondly, here’s to keeping a humble heart being the first to forgive and the last to point the finger.   If we can do that, we’ll see changes happen in all our relationships for the positive.

Emptiness – Life’s Not Just About Being a Hunk of Burnin’ Love…


All of us have felt it.  That gnawing, cold sense of emptiness inside.  Often, it’s accompanied by events we think would make us happy; winning the contest we’ve been working so hard for, accomplishing those goals we’d been chasing, wearing that new suit that will give us the prestige we’d like from others who notice, or finally landing that ‘perfect job’.  Odd isn’t it?  Culture defines a full life as having those things that set us apart yet, once we attain them, we’re still empty.  One doesn’t have to look far to see how fame, fortune, and accomplishments fail to fulfill people.  Many of those who seem to have everything, also seem to be some of the unhappiest. 

Earlier in my life while planning a youth event, I was able to have lunch with the step-brother of Elvis.  Ironically, the one table the waitress took us to in the restaurant was the one with a large poster of Elvis hanging above it.  His response was, ‘That’s what I have to live with; Elvis constantly overshadowing me’.   I felt sad for him because he’s had to struggle with his identity his whole life. 

During the course of our meal he told me several things that struck me.  One was how Elvis and his entourage were walking past a statue of Jesus and Elvis looked at Him saying, ‘Jesus was God, but who am I…?’  The other was how he was there the day Elvis died.  He told me the story of how he’d discovered him on the bathroom floor bloated and purple having died from a drug overdose.  In fact, he said Elvis had asked him for more drugs than usual that day (he was the one who helped him keep track of the drugs) because he was especially depressed. 

Sadly, Elvis had everything the world said we should have to be fulfilled; wealth, fame, beauty, talent, friends, family, and power.  Even with all that, he was empty inside and turned to drugs (among other things) to fill the void in his heart.  Don’t take me wrong, I love Elvis’s music, I grew up watching his concerts on television and his music on the radio.   His life impacted millions and still does today.  But, inside of his heart, he needed more.

The truth is, Elvis was no different that Joe Dirt.  His life was no more important than any one of us.  He struggled with the same emotions we all deal with in life (rejection, insecurity, fear, anger, love, passion, jealousy, etc.).   Sadly, our society puts people on pedestals and then loves to pull them back off of them once they do something they don’t like.

Perhaps I’m just getting old, but I’ve lived long enough now to see the dangers of fame, wealth, and the trappings of life.  There’s nothing wrong with those things if we don’t allow them to define who we are.   Like Elvis the day he walked by the statue of Jesus, that’s the question we all need to ask; ‘How do I define myself?’ 

Defeating emptiness comes down to how we manage the expectations we have of life.  If it’s all about me, then there’s nothing that will ever fill the void.  But, if it’s all about less of me, more of God, and sacrificing for others, then we will live life with a full heart and never lack for anything. 

Books could be written, but keeping a check on our expectations of life, being content with what we have, giving ourselves to God, and putting others first whenever possible, will keep us grounded and full.  And that is where I want to be because, being a ‘Hunka Burning Love’ ain’t gonna do it… (not that I have to worry about that mind you…)

The Real Paris – Recognizing Temptation


Sometimes, I get a kick out of the town names in Texas.  Ones like Ding Dong, Nameless, Gun Barrel City, Paradise, Loco, Cut and Shoot, Jot ‘Em Down, Woman Hollering Creek, Whitehouse, and Telephone, Texas.   There is one name I particularly like, and that’s Paris, Texas.

Located not too far from where we live, I asked the Mrs one time if she would like me to take her to Paris.  She said ‘YES!’.  So, I did.  It was about a 40-minute drive.  She wasn’t too terribly disappointed about not going to the real Paris (we may one day) because we did do some antique shopping.

For anyone who hears the town name of Paris, they immediately think of romance; the French cuisine, the Eifel Tower, floating down the Seine River on a gondola smelling flowers and tasting wine, and enjoying beautiful architecture.  Yes, and even one of the Mrs’s favorite movies, ‘French Kiss’.  The allure is hypnotizing to the point that one can begin to see French design even in those old Texas buildings. 

The truth is, however, it’s not France.  It’s a small Texas town outside of the mainstream cities with a few good stores and a great name.  But, for fun, it’s a great trip to take (even if it’s just so you can say you’ve been to ‘Paris’). 

On a more serious note, the analogy reminds me of temptation.  When we’re tempted, we’re promised something we think will bring us pleasure.  The allure, the smell, the fantasy, and that potential pleasure leads us to a place we thought we would never go, only to find an empty shell of what we thought it would be.  In the same way, we could call those temptations Paris.  Only, we know they won’t be what they promise. 

We all face temptation.  Even Jesus did.  What will help us from falling into it is the awareness that what we’re being promised isn’t a romantic boat ride down the river with the smell of flowers and the taste of fresh wine.  No, it’s a long drive down a rocky, country road that will lead us to an abandoned, empty place alone and far away from others.

Just knowing how to recognize that enticement is most of the battle in defeating temptation.  If we can gain the wisdom to know that something is too good to be true, along with the dangers it’s hiding, we will keep ourselves, and many of those around us, from much pain. 

So, the next time the enemy of your soul comes knocking offering you the world (or a trip to Paris, France), tell him to take a hike because you know what’s found at the end of that journey is nothing but pain and emptiness…

Unconditional


How many times have you ever received a promotional mailer, email, or just heard a salesman offer you something that sounded too good to be true only to find out there were so many conditions attached that it might as well have been impossible?  I know I have; at least a thousand times.  The bait and switch method of marketing is all around us trying to lure us into something that will benefit others more than ourselves.

It seems that our culture has evolved into a culture of give to get.  In order to get what we want, we need to fulfill someone else’s set of rules, processes, and requirements to receive what we’re looking for. It starts in our grade schools.  If you want to be accepted, you need to be pretty, funny, athletic, or rich.  If you fail to meet the criteria of being ‘popular’, then you’re tossed aside and expected to stay out of the way.

The same is true with adults in ways that aren’t so obvious.  Work, friends, family, and even church have expectations on us that, if we fail to meet, we’re either ostracized or looked down upon.  It’s as though acceptance and love have strings. 

Conversely, have you ever met someone who just loved you for who you are?  It didn’t matter what you said, how you acted, or what you did, they just kept on loving you no matter what.  Many of us probably think of a parent or that one friend in our life who stands out above all the rest.  Others of us may have never known such acceptance.  Their life may have been full of rejection, failed expectations, and cruelty from those who only wanted to take from them.

Life can be cruel.  There is no doubt about that.  Adding to the harshness of this world we live in is the reality that we are all flawed.  None of us are perfect (though some would never admit that).  At the heart of us all is the inherent need for love and acceptance no matter what we do; the longing for unconditional love.

I’ve been fortunate to have had numerous people in my life who have loved me not matter what I do.  Several good friends, my mother, and wife being among them.  Sure, I may have (and still do) driven them crazy from time-to-time, but at the end of the day I could rest assured that they would still be there and love me for just being me.

At the opposite end, unforgiveness is one of the most destructive forces in our world.  The lack of accepting another because they have failed us, hurt us, or done something we see as unforgiveable, tears at the very fabric of our society.  It leads a person straight down the road to hate.  Once there, it’s very difficult for them to turn back.  I’ve been on the receiving end of that hate in my life for things I haven’t even done.  To see how that unforgiveness has wreaked havoc in those people’s lives is a sad thing to see.

Fortunately for all of us, there is only one whom we ultimately need to find acceptance from; God.  I say fortunately because of all there is in this world, there is one thing I know without any doubt; that our creator and heavenly father loves us with a love that goes beyond our limited human understanding. 

His love is truly unconditional.  No matter what our church, our friends, or even our parents have taught us, His love is without end.  There is no stopping God from loving us just as we are.  His love sees through the messiness, the heartache, and the pain to the soul He created inside of us.  It reaches beyond the judgment, the false accusations, the betrayal, and the hurt to bring healing and acceptance; not because of what we do, but because of who He is. 

If you’re struggling with rejection, fear, and unworthiness, know that there’s nothing you can do to earn His favor; you already have it.  All you need to do is accept it by faith.  It’s just waiting for you.  No matter what life may have thrown at you, you are loved today by the God of all creation; unconditionally and without hesitation…

Clarity


Clarity.  Or, as Webster defines it, ‘The quality of being coherent and intelligible’ as in clarity of thought and communication; i.e. speaking clearly and thinking clearly.   Or, it could be used to describe how easy it is to see through something, ‘The quality of transparency or purity’.

In photography, many of us use a tool called Lightroom to touch-up our photos before releasing the final copy.  One of the toolbars commonly misused by newcomers is the Clarity Bar.  As you adjust it back, it makes the picture more hazy, or foggy.  As you adjust it ahead, the picture becomes more ‘clear’, or sharper, by causing some objects to look unnatural if moved ahead too much.

Many young photographers, including myself, fall into the trap of adjusting the clarity to far ahead and ruin their photos by making them look fake, or ‘overly enhanced’.   It’s an easy habit to fall into thinking you’re making that bland photo look ‘cool’ or something you think you see with your eyes, but in reality, it’s not.

Certainly, in life, clarity is a two-edged sword.  On one hand, we all wish we could see more clearly our future or how to handle a specific situation.  On the other hand, too much clarity can cause pain; such as knowing something someone close to us may have said behind our backs or learning through a DNA service that we have a sister or brother we never knew about from infidelity in the family. 

To say ignorance is bliss, may be an overstatement.  Yet, turning off the TV, shutting down the phone, and leaving everything behind to simply sit by the water as in the photo today (which, by the way, has too much clarity adjustment), may be just what we need. 

We’re so saturated with information that we lose sight of what’s right in front of us.  Many people are so blinded by their anger, hate, and ideology that they fail to see the truth right in front of them.  Stepping outside of the static we live in may be the best thing for us.

For me, nothing helps me more than a good night’s sleep.  It seems to be the time when my mind is able to take all that I’m wrestling with in life and put the pieces together through dreams.  I’ll often wake up and have a much clearer sense of what I must do, where I need to go, or what the answer to a problem is that I couldn’t figure out at work. 

Seeking clarity may be too eye-opening for some and, for some, it may be just what they need.  This weekend, if you’re on the side of needing more clarity in your life, I want to encourage you to ‘step outside’ of your daily life.  Focus on something totally outside of the box.  Perhaps that’s going for a walk, going to the lake, visiting with a friend, or just sitting in a chair outside with a cup of coffee to talk with God.  However you find clarity, most of the time, even if it seems like a painful thing at first, in the long run, the truth will set you free. 

Love Always

Recognizing Danger Ahead


Spring in Texas is the time of year we spend a great deal of focus looking to the skies (and the weather app) to see when the next line of thunderstorms is going to be passing through.  The threat of flooding rain, straight-line winds over 50 mph, tornados, and hail all come together to give any responsible home and auto owner angst. 

Any weather forecaster worth their salt will tell you one of the best things we can do to prevent loss of life and property is to prepare and recognize the signs of danger ahead.  One of those signs in the sky is the color of a storm cloud.  If they turn blue, you know there is a very high probability of a hail core above and that it’s time to take cover.  The photo today was taken several years ago just south of Dallas off highway 45 during one of the worst hail storms in recent years.  Although slightly enhanced, you can clearly see there’s hail on the way.

In many ways, life can be just like living in Texas during the Spring.  Changes come at a moment’s notice, the winds blow from the north in the morning and the south in evening.  One day the heat may seem too much for us to take and on other days it may seem as though everyone around us is as cold as ice.  Unexpected storms kick up and we may find ourselves with little shelter and exposed to the dangers that come with them.

Being able to recognize when these changes in life could occur is half the battle to living above them.  Knowing the warning signs of when a relationship may be going bad, when our job may be in jeopardy, or when we need to make changes in our diet before major health issues occur, will keep us ahead of the surprises and possibly allow us time to prepare so the damage will be less.  There is no doubt, just like bad weather, bad things in life will come our way no matter who we are.  The Bible even promises they will.  How do we do recognize them? 

One key to helping us through those storms is by recognizing the signs of their coming from facing them in our past.  There is no better teacher than life itself.  Having been burned once, we’ll know better not to put our finger in the fire again.  Having been surprised by negative experiences in the past will help us to recognize the possibility of them happening to us in the future.

Another way is to take time to evaluate where we are in life.  It may be our relationships, our career, or just our living situation.  By taking time to look for what we like, don’t like, what’s encouraging to us, and what’s hurting us, we’ll be able to determine if there’s potentially a change coming; or needed.

Looking for signs of danger doesn’t mean we should live our life in fear or paranoia. Just the opposite in fact. It does mean we should take prudent steps, become more willing to accept the realities around us (good and bad), and be willing to make changes before it may be too late.

Above all things, seeking the help and guidance of a loving Heavenly Father who can warn us, prepare us, and protect us from the storms of life, will keeps us safe from more dangers than we may ever know.  He may not stop the storms from blowing against our home, but He can protect us from their damage; or worse.  In that truth, I take refuge knowing I can face the challenges of life head on prepared for whatever may come my way and so can you…

Love always,

Brad