The Old Barn Out Back


When I was young, during my teens, our family moved to a home just on the opposite side of the river from downtown.  The area was full of homes built in the 1800s for merchants who would ride their horses into where they worked. 

Our home, although modernized, had an old barn in the back where they used to keep their horses.  It was a two-story barn and the exterior wood was faded gray from years of weathering.  Inside, there was a small work area and a rickety wooden stairway leading to the upstairs loft where I feared going.  Full of old tools and piles of wood, the loft was dusty and dangerous.  One never knew what critters might be living up there; possums, racoons, squirrels, and who knows what else.

Behind the barn, we built a fenced area for the dogs and a dog house inside of a smaller enclosed area to help protect them from the weather.  It was my job to clean the dog pen and keep them fed, so I was in and out of that old barn every day (not to mention the trash cans we would keep inside where I would take the trash to or the shovel, snowblower, and riding lawnmower for my other chores). 

Over time, I became accustomed to that old barn.  The nostalgia of it, and some of the old tools that had been stored in it for so many years, were unique in a world that was so quickly changing.  Even at a young age, I learned that something can last a long time if you take care of it.  It may have been old, but as we repaired parts that needed it, I could see why it lasted so long. 

Thinking about it now, the barn reminds me a little of life.  We all have a ‘Barn out back’ in some ways, where we keep those old memories of experiences, some good and some bad, that are no longer in the front of our minds, but ones we still hold onto.  It’s where we store all our past hopes and dreams that we just can’t find any room for in our lives anymore.  It may even have critters (bad memories) crawling around that we try to avoid, but that make their way out when we least expect them to.

Somewhere in that barn, are the tools we turn to in times of trouble.  Even though those tools help us through the difficult times, we put them back in the barn until we need them again.  Some tools may be old and dangerous (habits and self-sufficiency).  Others may be very helpful and productive in our lives (prayer and faith).

Every so often, we need to clean that old barn. We need to rid it of those old tools that have become dangerous, empty the trash that has built up over time, organize the clutter, and shore up the weak supports so the weight of the world won’t come crashing down on us when it storms. 

I’ll always cherish what I learned from that barn.  Looking back, I can see that even an old, rotted building can teach lessons to anyone willing to learn.  For me, I’m still working on my ‘Old barn’.  It’s a work in progress but, thankfully, I have the help of the Master Carpenter. 

His strength helps to lift and remove the garbage and old hurts.  His light helps to shine on the places of darkness where critters may be living.   And, the wind & water of His Spirit help to blow out all the dirt and refresh what’s stale. 

The barn out back in my mind & soul doesn’t scare me anymore.  It’s only when I leave the door open that darkness and the storms of life can hurt me now.   Over the years, it’s become a place of refuge; a place where I know I can go to meet Jesus.  He is the master of the barn now and will always be there with me.  He fills it with joy, peace, light, and, most of all, He fills it with His love that nothing outside of that barn can bring…

Kick the Can


One of the games we used to play while walking to school or while walking downtown to grab a candy bar at The News Stand, was ‘Kick the Can’.   It was a simple game really.  We played keep away while kicking the can down the road.  It was more soccer than anything else, but with a can.

 In an odd way, I used to feel a bit sorry for that can.  By the time we reached our destination, it was dented up, beaten down, and sometimes smashed completely flat by one of us.  For the cost of just a throwaway can, much joy was gained, and a few kids were kept out of trouble.   

 A lot can be said about that old can I would feel sorry for.  I guess I sort of saw it as myself at the time; the one who was picked on and bullied.  I played the game more defensively trying to protect the can from other players who liked to smash it just out of meanness. 

I knew I wasn’t the can, but even today, I feel that way about the helpless and vulnerable; those who feel like life has constantly played with their lives kicking them down the street or just discarding them in the trash.  In some ways, I’ve felt that way myself on several occasions and, believe me, I know how that feels.

You may be feeling like that tonight; as though life has looked you over and tossed you out.  Maybe you feel like you’ve been used by others to help their career advance only to leave you behind.  You may even feel like your life is spiraling down a steep hill having been kicked aside just waiting for the final foot to fall smashing you to the ground.  That once shiny can, new and bright with colors, you once felt like, is now sitting in the mud rusting away.  It seems like only a matter of time before you’re gone, and you no longer have any purpose.  Hope has turned to despair and the fullness inside is now empty.

If that is you tonight, I want to encourage you that there is still hope.  You may feel left behind, stepped on, and like you’re wasting away, but underneath that rusty finish is the strong metal you were made of.  Sure, it may have some bruises and dents, but it’s still there.  With enough fire from heaven and handy work of the Master, it can be reshaped into something beautiful, useful, and strong again.  The rust and dirt will be washed away leaving only a shining finish reflecting His creative touch. 

All you need to do is offer Him your life as a vessel for Him to shape.  He’s looking for broken vessels to put back together again; reshaping them into something new and beautiful.  You may be just what He’s looking for.  I know I am…

Why Aspire to be at ‘The Top’?


For most of us, the allure of being at the top of the ladder has been something we could only dream of.  A few of us, though we think about how great it may be, resist the idea of being at the top of the heap or in the front of the crowd. 

The dream of ‘Having it all’ is something our culture promotes continually.  Everywhere we turn we see billboards, magazines, television shows, and the commercials showing the perfect figured young people sipping a glass of fruit drink while dangling their feet from a pool’s edge overlooking the ocean.  To that I say, ‘Yeah, whatever…’

Reality can be quite a slap in the face with our daily rituals of being to work on time, fighting traffic, stressing over nearly every part of our day, and then finding time to just relax when we get home. It’s about enough to make us all wish for that top place.  Yet, for the few who do attain it, though they may say it’s wonderful, often regret their now vaulted position having missed out on many of life’s simpler pleasures.

It’s no surprise that many today who can’t take that vacation to the luxury hotel by the beach look for a place where they can just get away from it all for a while.  If being at the top isn’t available, the next best thing is to sit outside and leave everything behind.

How we approach the aspiration to be ‘Top Dog’ is often a part of our personality makeup. Being a mixture of Types A, B, and D, the three sides of me often compete with each other between drive, social aspirations, and the security of a set routine.   Personality wise, to put it bluntly, I’m a mutt, for which, I’m glad.  I wouldn’t want to be too much of any trait. 

Learning who we are and how we’re built will help us to set realistic expectations of ourselves in life.  Part of us may want to be at the top (Type A) but the part of us that likes order (Type D) may be too strong to allow us to take chances.   Or, the part of us that is fearful of social settings (Type C) may keep us from the hidden desire to be the social king (or queen) that our other side (Type B) would love to be.

Mostly, knowing how God created us is essential to finding the right path in our life; knowing why we have the desires we have for success and what our natural gifts are, will allow us to have attainable goals.  The person He made us to be probably won’t be the person at the top of the heap. In fact, it may be the person who helps others to get there before we do ourselves.  Which, in His eyes, would be considered greatness. 

So, the next time you feel the need to be at ‘The Top’ or to just get away from it all instead, remember that you’re created for a purpose.  That purpose may be the opposite of what the world says you should be; and that’s ok.  If you don’t do anything else with your life other than learning what, and who, God made you to be, what His plan is for your life, and then acting on it, you can consider yourself a huge success.  And that, you can bank on because, like my old university president used to tell us, ‘God makes no small plans’. When we tap into His plans and purposes with a humble, realistic view of ourselves then ‘The Top’ doesn’t seem as great as the life He already has planned out for us…

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

Facing the Unknown


Why is the unknown so frightening for us?  Fear of it is something that keeps so many people bound by self-imposed restrictions preventing them from stepping out in new directions.  Of course, if any of us could predict the future we’d be God.  Still, the thought of what could happen is enough to keep us from choices that may make a significant difference in our lives and in those around us.

Truth be told, the unknown isn’t as bad it seems.  Once we get past the stigma of fear and uncertainty, there lies a road full of potential just waiting for us to explore and discover.  Finding what’s behind the self-imposed blinders we hide behind may very well be an exciting journey. 

The Mrs. and I enjoy watching sci-fi shows; make no qualms about that.  Probably one of the most popular themes today is the thought of time travel.  So many programs are focused on what would happen if we could cross between dimensions and see ourselves as a child or during those pivotal moments that changed the direction of our lives.  What would we do?  How would we react today verses how we did then?  Would we try to change those choices or leave them where they are because we now see how, though some of them were painful, they made us who we are today?

Speaking personally, I wouldn’t change them.  I would leave them just as they are; good, bad, and ugly.  Over the years, through God’s grace, I’ve come to accept the past for what it is.  I’ve learned to cherish the good and let go of the bad.  It has been a long journey that I’m just now at 50+ years old, finding peace in.  It may take the rest of my life to fully see things clearly, but as I move forward, accepting that there’s still the unknown is enough for me to stay hopeful that life will bring about even more good, along with the challenges.

Tonight, if you’re wrestling with fear of the unknown because of pains in your past, or even in your present, know that you have an all knowing, all loving God who knows what your unknown is.  He knows our past, present, and most importantly, He knows our future.  His plans for us have been in motion from the foundation of the Earth and those plans are for our good.  One of my favorite quotes from the president of the college where I attended says it all, ‘God is a good God and the Devil is a bad devil’.

Trusting in His goodness will help us to face the unknown with confidence knowing He will be there through whatever lies ahead.  His plans, though it may not seem like it at the time, are for our good and in that alone, we can walk into the unknown without fear…

Love always my friends,

Brad

Indecisiveness – Breaking Free from Fear


Decisions are a normal part of life.  From the moment we’re born we begin to make them and never stop.  Throughout our life we make good ones and bad ones not always knowing the difference until later.  Some decisions take more time and others are spontaneous; subconscious if you will.

Depending on the person, it may be a burden overshadowed by fear just to decide whether they want to have Chinese food or a Burger for dinner.  Not to make light of indecisive people because it really can be a challenge for some to make the smallest of everyday decisions like when to eat, what to wear, what television show to watch, or simply whether to call a friend when they need to talk.

What drives our inability to be decisive?  Without any doubt, fear of the unknown is one of the primary influences on a person when they are making a choice.  But, is that a bad thing?  I would contend it can be both good and not so good. 

All too often when we’re young the lack of fear allows us to make irrational and impulsive choices often leading us to a destructive end.  As we age and have the scars to show for those impulsive decisions, we tend to be overly cautious and may miss opportunities because of it.

So, yes, fear of not touching the hot stove or walking out into the middle of a busy street will keep us safe.  But when fear begins to bind us in knots leaving us crippled by it, is when we need to break free.  Every decision becomes a burden.  When making the smallest of decisions we hear that, ‘What if?’ ringing through our minds.  The larger decisions may even lead us into a panic attack rendering us helpless.

As parents the fear factor is something we must contend with every day.  On one hand we want to protect our children from every kind of harm and on the other we want them to learn from their mistakes like we did.  I cringe when I think about the things I did as a child while playing outside.  Parents today would NEVER allow their kids to do most of what we considered normal.  Kids today are in car seats until they’re in elementary school.  I don’t remember ever using a seat belt.  The back seat was our territory to fight over and use as a trampoline if we wanted (well, maybe not quite that bad, but you get the point). 

How do we know when fear is keeping us from making decisions or binding us so badly that we are ineffective?  For most of us it’s not whether we know it’s there because we live with it constantly. It’s knowing what to do about it.  So, how do we overcome fear so we can be free to take chances again and let go of the constant worry?

There really isn’t a quick solution, unfortunately.  Most of our fears are built from years of hurt, failure, mistakes, or being told by others to be afraid of one thing or another.  The first step is to recognize where fear has us bound in our life (easy one).  The second step is to realize that fear is not always reality because, if we can see it for what it is (usually a lie) then it will be easier to overcome.  The third, most important step, is to ask God to help us by giving us courage, wisdom, and faith. 

Having the wisdom to know truth from a lie also comes from experience and open-minded research.  Not believing everything we read on the Internet is a great start.  Then, having the courage and faith in God knowing that He is with us, to step out on what we know to be true, even if we fail, will begin to break the chains of fear in our life.  Every time we do that, whether we fail or succeed, we take one more step to freedom, and one day, we’ll look back and see how far the chains of fear have fallen behind us on our way to a brave new way of living our life…

Love always