Having a Positive Outlook


As I get older it seems one of the main topics of conversation has become none other than the weather.  It may also be due to the fact that I live in Texas where the weather can make dramatic changes from one day to the next.  When I lived in Northern California, the weather was the least talked about topic.  Every day it was sunny and 65 degrees.  Not bad, I know. 

When I was young, we were lucky to know what the weather may be like in the morning let alone the hourly forecast for the next two weeks.  It seems technology has brought all of the science right into our hands these days which can help us plan our entire week around the forecast.  Or, cause one to be OCD about every cloud in the sky (me).

Having a positive weather outlook seems to change our view of our entire day.  Having the thought of possibly facing thunderstorms on the way to or from work can also dampen our day.  Why does our outlook on life tend to follow the weather outlook anyway?  Does the weather have anything to do with how well I do my job?  Maybe, but probably not so much.  Does it affect my relationships?  Not really.  Does it affect my ability to live life comfortably?  YES. 

Life seems to have enough stresses these days and the thought of having to deal with baseball sized hail falling from the sky is just about the last straw. It’s enough for most of us to keep our lives in order let alone have to deal with flooding waters coming into our home, tornados, and in these southern states, even hurricanes.  Can’t it just be sunny all the time?

The truth is that life is like the weather.  We don’t always know what we’ll be facing every day.  Our life may be stormy one day and sunny the next.  Having a positive outlook will help us to deal with those changes as they come.  Life will throw those baseball sized hail balls at us and they may even do damage we weren’t prepared for.  How we prepare and how we react to them will make all the difference. 

If there’s one thing I know more than anything else, it’s that we have a loving God who cares about every aspect of our day.  He even cares about the weather.  He cares if we’re flooded, have hail destroy our car, or have winds blow over that tree in the front yard. 

Most of all, He cares even more about the storms we will face in life.  During the worst of storms, He will be there to shelter us and guide us through to safety.  He knows the future and will prepare us for that day when we face the unexpected changes that try to wreak havoc in our life.  In the end, He will be the light that shines on our path. He will bring warmth in the cold, clarity when it seems foggy, and new life by washing away all the dirt.  We can have a positive outlook no matter what the weather is like outside.  Because of Him…

Unexpected Lump on the Head


We’ve all heard it before, ‘Expect the Unexpected’ in relation to our work, our kids, or life in general.  It’s true.  There is something to the practise of being prepared for nearly anything that could come our way.  Eliminating the surprise is half the battle.  It’s when we aren’t expecting those changes that come our way that we are affected the most.

Last Saturday I was helping to mow a friend’s yard who is elderly.  She has several trees in the front that haven’t been pruned very well, and over time, have grown several large limbs at a height someone like me, who is six-feet-tall, needs to avoid. 

Sure enough, as I was rambling on with the mower listening to my Spotify mix, I suddenly felt, and heard, a crack on the top of my head.  Stepping back, I realized what had happened.  I walked full speed into one of the largest tree limbs smacking the top of my head.  It felt like someone had hit me in the head with a baseball bat.  It was very painful. 

For the rest of that day, and the day after, I struggled with dizziness and the feeling like I was going to faint.  Had I not have given blood that morning and been working in the hot sun for several hours prior, I probably would have had the Mrs. take me to the hospital for an MRI.  But, I knew most of what I was feeling was just fatigue and dehydration.  Still, the whack on the head was very unexpected. I went back today to mow her grass again and, rest assured, I was very aware of that limb this time. 

Running into that tree was a good lesson for me.  It reminded me that we can be moving along on our path of life focused on the task at hand and not even be looking out for the giant limb that’s about ready to knock us in the head if we don’t duck.  I’m sure there are many of you who can relate. There may have been a time when you were living life just chugging ahead with your job and family, when there was a sudden log in the road, tree limb in your path, or just an unexpected obstacle that caused you pain.

The shock of running into those obstacles can shake us and cause us to doubt ourselves. Like most people when they run into barriers, I initially turned on myself to place the blame.  If you’re like me, all I could think of was, ‘How did I not see that coming?’ and ‘You could have killed yourself right here in this woman’s yard.  What would the Mrs. do?’ I asked myself.  ‘You’ve been mowing lawns for over forty years and you would think by now you would know better?’… I think my ego was bruised more than head, frankly. 

We may not be able to prevent events from happening that bring those unexpected logs to block our path or limbs to knock us in the head, but we can learn from them.  If we allow ourselves the freedom to make mistakes and take them as a lesson on what not to do, we’ll be way ahead of what may lay await for us in the future.

If you’ve run into one of those limbs and acquired a nice lump on your head, you’re not alone.  Whether it was physical, emotional, or something in a relationship, you can learn from it.   You may find yourself doing what I did initially by beating yourself up for it.  If you are, I would encourage you to give yourself a break this time and instead ask yourself if there was anything you could have done differently that would have prevented it from happening.

Sometimes, however, there isn’t anything we could have done, but for those times when there is something we could have done, take a close look at how, what, and when it happened so that you can be prepared in the future to help prevent it from happening again.  And most of all, always remember that you’re human and God loves you just the way you are; bumps on the head included…

Just Stopping By


The Mrs will tell you that I’ve never been one of those people who spontaneously stop by someone’s home just to say ‘Hi’.  She, on the other hand, is the opposite.  If she thinks a neighbor or friend needs something, she won’t hesitate to stop by and bring them a meal or just talk. 

Just this evening, on the way back from dinner, we passed by a friend’s home.  I jokingly blurted out, ‘Hey, let’s go knock on their door and say we were just stopping by!’ thinking we really wouldn’t stay, but that we could all get a good laugh just by the surprise visit.  After all, no one would expect uninvited company on a Friday evening! 

The Mrs, thinking I was serious, and would love to hang out at their house, said, ‘Yeah.  That would be fun’.  Like a dummy, I had to tell her I was just joking because my mind was so fried from a long week of work, I could barely keep my eyes open, and we had dogs that needed to be let outside.  

Fortunately, we balance each other out when it comes to our social life.  If I were more like her, we wouldn’t spend much time alone.   If she were more like me, we would stay home most of the time.  So, in the end, we both make compromises to keep the other happy. 

When I was younger, it was much more common to stop by uninvited just to drop off some homemade cookies or to say ‘Hi’ to family and friends.  It also made a good excuse for my mother to use in order to get us to do our chores; because of the ‘Just in case someone stops by’ factor.  

Today, we need to plan at least a week in advance and put it on our phone, or Facebook invite, to remind us.  Socially, it’s even considered rude by some people today to stop by uninvited.  For us, if someone came by our house just to say ‘Hi’, we would be more than happy to let them in and share a cup of coffee.  We may be embarrassed because the house wasn’t picked up as well as we would prefer it to be if having company over, but most people won’t care about that.  

So, tonight, as we’re huddled up at home by ourselves getting ready to watch a sci-fi show together, here’s to breaking all the rules this weekend and finding a random friend’s house we can stop by just to say ‘Hi’!  Don’t worry, we probably won’t do it, but just in case…

I’ll leave you with a very funny video below that relates to the random visit.  I promise it will give you a laugh if you’re near my age and can relate…


He Ain’t Heavy


I don’t know about you, but I know I can safely say there have been times when I was asked by others to help with something or to commit to time that I otherwise had planned for something else, that I hesitated while contemplating the weight of the decision. It was as if each decision was measured by some invisible scale that I had constructed over time to help determine whether I could afford it financially, emotionally, or physically.

Having been raised in a home which, at times, had very little money, I learned to make what I had go as far as I could.  Even so, for as long as I can remember I’ve been generous and shared what I had with others.  Regardless, at times there has been a little voice in my head that pulled back and hesitated from letting go of what I had; for whatever reason.

Our decision to help others is usually based on how well we know that person; whether they’re family or a close friend verses some stranger off the street who we’ve never met.  Due to the influence of social media, today we’re more guarded than ever with trusting others who ask for our help having seen so many people taken advantage of or stolen from.  One thing is for certain, though, if that person is someone we’re close to, say a family member or close friend, most of us would do almost anything to help them if they truly needed it.

Ironically, if we can break through our fears and hesitations to help, the sense of joy and wholeness we have afterward far outweighs the self-preservation we felt to start with.  It’s as though the burden we thought would ensue has lifted and we now feel better than before knowing we made a difference in someone else’s life; that we had a purpose. 

It’s when we see that person not as an object or someone taking from us, but as one closest to us whom we love (possibly more than ourselves) that we’re free to let go and give.  It’s love that takes away the burden of helping and turns it into an act of joy.  It’s love that takes the fear we feel of letting go of something we own and turns it into satisfaction knowing that someone else was helped by it even more than ourselves.

There’s a song from the 60’s by The Hollies called, ‘He Ain’t Heay He’s My Brother’ that really puts it all into context.  The song talks about helping to carry another’s burden along a long road with many winding turns.   Yet, their burden isn’t heavy because ‘He’s my brother’.  

That’s where I want to be.  I have a long way to go still, but on this road of life I’m bound to come across others nearly every day who will need my help.  If I can see them though love’s eyes as my brother, that load won’t be heavy.  Indeed, it will be light and we’ll both get there together…


Sensitivity in an Insensitive World


For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a sensitive person.  Looking back, I can see times when that sensitivity caused insecurity, self-consciousness, and sometimes, a little bit of paranoia.  Being the one to pick up when others were angry, being judgmental, or the opposite when they were truly being kind, was something I thought everyone could feel.  I later realized that it was, and is, something not all people have.  In fact, some people are the exact opposite and railroad everyone around them.

It’s not that I want to be constantly sensitive to things around me. Far from it.  It has caused me more moments of angst than I can count.  As life has progressed and I’m now in my fifties, I’m able to understand those senses and see them for what they are. I no longer allow them to determine my emotional state.  It’s now something that can be used to help make wise decisions, understand people who may not want to share their true emotions, and even sense when others living miles away are hurting about something (don’t ask). 

Being sensitive to others is a trait often associated with the female gender.  Men, typically, are the ones who are thought to be insensitive often consumed by their pride.  Today, more than it was thirty or forty years ago, it’s the male who tends to be the ‘sensitive’ one.  What has contributed to that is something for a sociologist to determine.  Suffice to say, it’s no longer the ‘Man’s world’ we used to know; and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

If that’s you and you’re one of those sensitive types, there are a few things you can do to manage those feelings to prevent them from overwhelming you.  It’s not easy, but it is possible to control those feelings. 

The first thing I would suggest is to realize that every emotion you sense isn’t necessarily reality.  Our mind, and hearts, can play tricks on us in ways we won’t understand until it’s too late; if we let them. 

The second is to ask yourself, ‘Is that emotion something I’m feeling as a result of my own fears, wants, or desires?’  Meaning, ask yourself if you are feeling something because of what you hope or fear to be real.  Often, it’s something we fear more than reality.

Another is to think about the emotion you’re feeling when around another person as possibly something they are dealing with.  The cold truth is that we all feel a vast array of emotions throughout the day. None of us are perfect.  Even the most polished, confident person on the outside may be dealing with such things as depression, addiction, shame, and fear.  They may have a poor self-image that they try to counter with perfectionism.

Finally, before assuming what you’re sensing is just you, take a moment and ask God if He may be trying to tell you something about another person. He may want you to pray for them or encourage them.  He does that.  A lot!  He knows all our feelings, needs, and emotions and is likely to share some of those with others who have a heart of compassion.  That sensitivity may just be something God can use to help bless others.  I know He has in my life. 

Take joy because it’s a special gift to have sensitivity.  It’s not something to be ashamed of or to hide behind.  It’s something to mature in and allow God to use to bless those around you.  When you do, I guarantee you’ll be blessed, and so will others…

Love always,

Brad

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…