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

The Peace You’re Looking For


Tonight, I don’t have a lot to say about things (well, I could type all night but will spare you).  However, there has been one word that has been resounding in my mind all day.  Peace. 

I don’t know why, but I feel like there may be someone reading this tonight who is in the midst of a storm and needs to find the peace that passes all human understanding.  Not the peach the world offers through pleasures, diversions, and denials.  You’re needing the peace that comes from within that no man can take from you.

If that’s you tonight, be encouraged that God is with you.  He hears your cries and knows your tears. He will look over you and shadow you from the heat of the day and bring light to the darkness.  He knows the plans He has for you and those plans are for your good.  He wants you to find peace and to be whole.

Rest in that assurance.  It’s the only place I know where true peace can be found.  Just open your arms and heart to Him and He will bring His grace to your situation; no matter what it is.  He will bring rest to your soul and calm to your storm.  Trust in Him with all your heart, and He will make your paths straight…

Love always,

Brad

Life Can Be a Ferris Wheel

As a child, one of the things we would look forward at the end of every summer was the county fair.  Having the second largest fair in the state of Michigan brought many great rides, games, entertainment, and food.

There was one ride that stood out among the rest; the double Ferris wheel.  It stood far and above all the other rides and, when both wheels were turning at the same time, it was a site to behold.  I didn’t find the courage to take a ride on it until I was nearly ten or twelve years-old.  When I did, I saw the whole fair from high above and it was spectacular!  It could also be a bit frightening when the wheel would stop turning at the top and you were left two hundred feet in the air being held down to a slippery seat by only a metal bar.  Those were the days…

Today, most of those double Ferris wheels are gone for safety reasons.  They’ve been replaced by more modern ones with glass enclosed seats.  The principle is still the same as it was then; getting high above everything and enjoying the view.  Coming down, there was always a sense of sadness that we couldn’t stay up there longer (well, for those who were afraid of heights, they were glad to be back on the ground).

In some ways, life can be like a Ferris wheel at times.  We long for the high moments while waiting for what seems to be years for them to happen again.  Then, when they do, the momentary euphoria ends quickly bringing us back down to earth only to start the process all over again.

For some, every day can be like that Ferris Wheel ride going from lows to highs back down to lows again in just a matter of a few hours.  The emotional ups and downs seem more like a roller coaster than a Ferris wheel.

The reality is that we can’t be at the top all the time.  Life is full of challenges, hardships, and monotony.  But, when those high moments do come, it’s worth taking the time to slow down and enjoy the moment.  It’s one of the reasons I love photography.  Because it can capture those high moments and allow us to relive them again.   

You may still be waiting in line after what seems to be an eternity for the ride back to the top.  It may seem like Disneyland; every time you feel closer in line, you get turned around and go back the way you came.  

Be encouraged tonight.  Even if you’re not riding at the top of life’s Ferris wheel, remember that those times may come again when we least expect them.  It may be a random acquaintance that turns into a lifelong friendship.  It may be a stranger who helps us through a difficulty that lifts our spirits and hopes back to where they need to be.  And, not to mention that our time at the bottom will only make us stronger and help us to appreciate the high moments even more.

I’ll sign-off tonight with something one of my family members recently stated so well, ‘The bad news is nothing in life lasts forever.  The good news is, nothing in life lasts forever’… 

Love Always

Free from Hate


All too often today we hear the rhetoric about hate speech in the media and press.  We see acts of hate caught live on a cell phone video camera and broadcast to the world through social media.  It’s no longer a story we read about in the newspaper and forget; it’s in our living room, on our tablet, and on our phone wherever we go.  But, how do we deal with hate in our own life?

Growing up we had a golden rule grilled into us; never hate anyone.  We could be angry with them, dislike them, and even want to smack them, but when it came to hate, we were told there’s nothing worse.  I’ve kept that moto throughout my life. 

In even the worst of people, including myself, I’ve learned to look for what God may see in them (and me).  I’ll admit, it’s not always easy when you see what some people are capable of; especially when it causes pain to you or your family.

Hate, as defined by Webster is, ‘Intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.  Extreme dislike or disgust, antipathy, loathing’.   Have you ever met someone who felt that way towards you?  I have.   Have you ever felt that way toward another?  I have. 

Albeit briefly, I have felt hate.  When I did, it was for a person who had brought great pain into my life unfairly.  They were abusive, manipulative, controlling, angry, selfish, vain, hateful, and basically sociopathic.  They felt no regret or concern for my pain or the pain they brought to my family.  All they wanted was for me, in their own words, to ‘Rot in Hell’ no matter what the cost. 

In all my life I’d never experienced such a thing and haven’t again to this day.  In the midst of it all, however, I found a way out of the pain, confusion, anger, and, yes, hate.  It was through the words of Jesus to love my enemies and to pray for them. 

In His own loving way, God reminded me that I was no perfect angel either.  He gently led me down the path of forgiving them daily (something I still do today).  Through the gradual act of letting go and forgiving them, I found peace in my heart and life.

God set me free from hating someone who stole memories from me and my family forever.  He has now brought me to a place where I can pray for them to be blessed and free from their own bondages to hate.   God has worked a full circle in my heart. 

Had I allowed that hate to fester it would have rotted me to the bones and brought great misery to my life (and the lives of those around me).  Instead, life sprang forth again and continues to grow.  That person is still hateful toward me, but I have given them to God and chose to pray for them.  Perhaps, one day, the love and forgiveness I send their way in prayer will find its way to them and return back to me…  God only knows, but I will keep at it because I choose to forgive and not hate.

Love always

To Give or Not to Give


Earlier today, while the Mrs. and I were enjoying a coffee at our favorite café downtown, a woman came in who we instantly knew was looking to ask for money.  She was probably in her 60’s, African-American, skinny, and dressed modestly, but you could see that she had worn clothes on.

We were sitting next to the door and were her first target.  She came right over to our table, opened her left palm where she was holding a few well placed coins and said, ‘Excuse me, can you spare…’.  I looked at her and kindly interrupted her by saying, ‘No, thank you’.   She looked in my eyes and knew I meant, ‘Not here’.  Over the course of the next ten minutes, she went to multiple tables eventually getting a few donations and someone to buy her a few bags of chips and a drink before taking off to the next place.  

As we walked home, I wrestled with my decision and how the choice brought about deep questions within myself about giving.  Please don’t get me wrong, the reason I said no so quickly came from my past experience working with the homeless in San Francisco. 

During a very difficult time in my life, I volunteered weekly at one of the largest homeless kitchens in the Mission District.  I quickly learned from those there not to give the homeless money.  They had free food, clothes, and even a bed to use if they chose to.  Many would also get a check from the city every month just for saying they were homeless.  Something they would quickly spend on partying and then they were back on the street where they could make hundreds of dollars a day by just sitting on the corner with a cup.   Granted, not all homeless people have the mental ability to do that, but there are a lot more who do than one might think.

The question really is, ‘When do we give and when do we politely say no?’  For every ten people there are probably ten different opinions on the subject. Certainly, the Bible says that if anyone asks to borrow from us we are to give (Matthew 5:42), but does that mean those who would be ungrateful or who would take advantage of us?

The Mrs. and I talked about it all the way back to the house and the one thing that kept coming back to me was the word sincerity.  Over the years I’ve trained myself to recognize sincerity in people.  Meaning, if someone is asking me for help, are they sincerely in need and grateful, or are they simply using me to get what they want?  The tell-tale sign for me this morning with the woman at the café was her shamelessness.  She had no shame or fear to work the room in a sneaky way without getting caught.  She seemed ungrateful and had her routine down pat. 

So, the key to knowing whether to give is wisdom and discernment.  Being willing to give is also crucial to helping us know the difference whether it’s just greed we’re feeling or sensing if a person is simply trying to use us.  Had I sensed she truly needed my help and was desperate, I would have gladly given her money, my coat, a ride, whatever.  But my gut and eyes said otherwise. 

No matter who you are, if you do give and find out later you were taken advantage of, at least you tried to do the right thing.  It’s never easy to know, but God can help us with those choices when they present themselves.  His heart is to always love and share.  But, He also wants to protect us from being taken advantage of and He may also want us to show tough love from time to time (as in the case of our kids); even when it seems like we’re being selfish. 

I still haven’t resolved the question in my own mind, but I feel a little bit closer to it after today.  How would you deal with that situation?  Would you say, ‘No thank you’ or would you open your wallet to give them something?  If so, how much?  Is a token gift helping them or is it something to help us feel better?  Perhaps. Whatever the answers are, God loves us all either way and only wants us to bless others who are truly in need.  In that, we can always take rest…

Love always,

Brad

Reinforcing the Heart


So often we concern ourselves with strengthening our home security, our job security, and our financial security.  All of which are great endeavors.  Less often, we spend time reinforcing the security of our hearts.  It’s something we all struggle with.  Ironically, what happens in our heart will affect everything else in our life.  If we keep that safe and strong, the rest will come together on it’s own. 

The heart I’m referring to is our spirit, or soul if you will.  It’s an easy thing to neglect, frankly.  The heart is something we sense and know is there, but all too often, our minds and bodies rule the day.  Our mind is consumed with the cares of the world, the tasks of the day, and the ever-growing stresses of life.   Our bodies, for most of us, just go along for the ride and provide the escape from the mind’s pressures when consuming that beloved coffee or chocolate on the sly. 

It’s the soul that is so difficult to define.  I see it as the knowing of truth vs lies.  It’s the love that comes from within us for our fellow man.  It’s the questioning of our existence and why we’re here.   It’s the belief system that tells us there is a higher power and that He loves us.  It’s the part of us that lives beyond this life for eternity; our spiritual body.  So, how do we protect it?  How do we make it strong?

Unlike the safety zones around our military bases surrounded by walls, our hearts are the opposite. If we build walls around them, we will shut out others and, possibly, even God.  The healthier our heart is to be, the more open it needs to be. 

Like our physical bodies which become strong through exercise, weight training, and a healthy diet, our soul becomes strong through feeding it God’s word, exercising our faith, and carrying the burdens of others.  It’s when we put aside the mind and body’s demands and allow our hearts to take center stage that the soul becomes stronger. 

Tonight, I want to encourage you that, if you feel weak at heart (‘soul’), you can get stronger.  God says that it’s in our weakness (our soul’s weakness), that we become strong through Him.  He will give you the strength of heart when you feel like giving up.  He will guide through His word and make it alive in you.  He will fill you with His power to stand up against the weight of this world.  In Him, you can do all things.  And, in Him, your heart can be reinforced and you will become strong…

Love always my friends,


Brad

I Can See Clearly Now

Over the years between glasses, contacts, Lasik, crossed eyes, and multiple eye surgeries to fix them, I’ve grown accustomed to not seeing clearly at times.  In fact, I’ve grown so used to ‘tweaking’ my vision that I’m now a bit OCD about it.  At the slightest hint of fogginess in my contacts or allergy gook, I whip out the eye lotion and begin the cleansing process.  I’m sure people often wonder what the deal is when I randomly stare at the ceiling spraying my eyes with that little bottle I pulled out of nowhere.

Being so attune to the difference between seeing clearly and not has been a benefit with my photography and has forced me to keep my focus more at work too.  There truly is a large of amount of detail that we miss in life when we can’t see clearly.  Yes, age is also taking a toll on the ability to see clearly but, thankfully, because of the way my Lasik went, I don’t have to wear the ‘reading glasses’ that hang from the neck like most at my age do. 

So often in our lives the ability to see things clearly is hindered as well.  Whether we’re blinded by the glare caused from the illusion of grandeur, the fogginess of uncertainty, or the darkness of depression, we all struggle at times to see the path ahead of us clearly.  Poor choices of our own or the effects of those made by others all pull us in different directions.  How do we gain clearer vision in this life?  What can we do to wash away the fogginess that hinders our ability to see?

People often look for clarity by using another person’s life lens and sometimes that helps and, sometimes, it can lead us down a wrong path.  If we can glean wisdom from others without having to learn the hard way, we can save ourselves a lot of pain.  Unfortunately, most of us choose to find out on our own or those we trust simple can’t see well enough for both of us.  

One sure way (the only guaranteed way I know of) is to look through the lens of God’s word and prayer.  Sure, it may seem ‘cliché’, but over the course of my lifetime, every decision that I’ve made without His guidance has brought nothing but disappointment and even hardship.  Those I’ve made with the guidance of His hand have resulted in blessings I couldn’t have dreamed of.  I wish all my choices were made with His help, believe me!  The truth is that we’re all traveling through this life on our own path and His light can guide us through to the end.   Without it, we are destined to run off the path and into roadblocks as I have many times.   With it, we will make it through those rough patches, over the daunting hills, and arrive safely in the final valley of peace where He will be waiting for us.

I know I’m being metaphorical; intentionally so.  Our life journey is full of challenges, errant paths, and potholes.  With His help, we can make it through them and, in the process, perhaps help others along the way on their journey too.  Ultimately, when we arrive at the end, He will look to see whether we believed in Him to get us through it all and the only answer I want to have for Him when He asks is, ‘Yes, Lord!… Not my will, but Yours be done’…

Love Always,

Brad