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…)

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

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

Tailgating


Just what is it about people who feel they need to pull right up to the back bumper of your car while you’re both traveling down the highway at over 70 mph?  Do they think they’re going to push you off the road?  More likely than not, it’s just the intimidation factor. Or maybe they’re just in such a hurry that the millisecond of time they may save by getting a few feet closer to their destination will save them from being late to work.

Whatever the reason, mark my words, there are very few things that annoy me more while driving than when the dreaded pick-up truck gets right on my tail trying to ‘encourage’ me to get out of their lane so they can move past.  A part of me just wants to tap the breaks (and I have a few times) but that could cause an accident that I don’t want to be responsible for.  The other part of me wants to roll down the window and wave them the universal peace sign (two fingers of course). 

This week has been a travel week for me, and part of that travel was the drive to and from the airport (not to mention all the driving visiting customers).  While driving to the airport at five in the morning, I was amazed by the number of people who like to practice tailgating to get a step ahead on the highway before rush hour hits.  Their lack of concern for others was almost breathtaking to observe.  Nothing else mattered to them than their own agenda to get where they wanted to be.  Speed limits and turn signals were nowhere to be seen. It truly was also a good lesson in life.

In life, we all know someone who pushes so hard to get ahead that they figuratively tailgate others hoping to drive them out of their way on their road to success.  Their self-absorbed lifestyle is consumed with narcissistic thoughts of how life owes them a favor while they remain blind to the damage they may be causing to those around them.  Throwing safety and caution to the wind, they are ‘Pedal to the Medal’ not looking back to even say they’re sorry.

There’s a reason we’re supposed to keep several car lengths between us on the highway; it’s pure physics around what’s called ‘Stopping distance’.  Trust me, there are many websites dedicated to the mathematics around stopping distance that would bore you, but suffice to say, they speak to life itself as well.  Just how do we apply it then?

Throughout our life, if we’re always in a hurry to get to the next point or goal, we’ll miss out on many things.  We may push others away missing out on valuable relationships and memories. We may hurt others causing them to feel taken advantage of, or used, just to help us get ahead.  Whether it’s someone close or a stranger we may never even know about, rushing through life can cause collateral damage to others because we’re too busy focusing on our own path. 

The key to keep from tailgating is to slow down and leave some distance between ourselves and the next stop ahead.  If someone seems to be slowing us down, there may be a reason we’re not even aware of.  That person may just be the person who helps us get around some other obstacle we can’t yet see ahead.  They may be there to prevent us from being hurt by dangers in the road or from hurting others by our own recklessness. Or, maybe God put them there just to teach us a little patience and trust.

Rest assured, the future will take care of itself.  Whether we get to the next stop sooner than later is nowhere near as important as how we get there in the first place.  Breaking every rule to get there only a few moments sooner could cause regret we don’t want to live with.  Being a little late and getting there safely is much better than not getting there at all.  If that’s you and the thought of slowing down may be a tough pill to swallow, if you can see the benefit in following the path you’re on with patience, it will make the journey much less stressful. And, you may just find you don’t want to get to the next point as soon as you once thought you did…

Love Always

Getting out of the Weeds


This week has proven to be a great week, and a busy one.  The first half was spent in Tampa, FL for business training where I was able to connect with my teammates from around the country.  The training was mostly technical and around the future of what we’ll be selling. 

During our training, a common phrase used was, ‘Not to get too far down in the weeds’.   Meaning, not to get too detailed and specific about a technical point that would take away from the larger picture we were discussing. 

For whatever reason, it rang out in my head every time the expression was used by one of the presenters who was chasing a rabbit after one of our team asked them too many questions about a small point.  It was as though there was a lesson there for me.  Often in my line of work, the importance of paying attention to detail could make a million-dollar difference either in favor of or against the company.  So, you can imagine that I tend to pay more attention to detail these days.

Although paying attention to detail is crucial in my job, in life it can cause one to be myopic (single-minded and focused) and miss out on the bigger picture by being distracted with the insignificant details instead of seeing the broader picture.

I know, we’re all created (‘Wired’) differently and that certainly plays a role in what we do in life.  Some people will never be a visionary automaker because they’ll get caught up in how a stereo knob turns.  Others will never become engineers because they’re too concerned about what color the product is supposed to be.  But, even though we’re all different, it doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from each other.

The visionary would do well to listen to the engineers who tell them the product needs to be corrected before selling to the general public (i.e. Tesla).   The engineer would do well to listen to the visionary who can guide them in the correct route to take through the development stages helping to create a product that beats out the competition. 

For me, not getting too caught in the weeds helps me to see beyond myself.  It helps me to look past the problems I may think are big to see that I’m not alone in this world; others have problems even bigger than mine.   In fact, getting past the monocular focus helps me to find peace, hope, and a little less stress by not focusing on the negative.  It helps me to see the positive in a situation too. 

If you’re struggling to get out of the weeds in your life at times, I want to encourage you to step back and take a look beyond the small issues that tend to consume us all.  Sure, those weeds are important and could be hiding something dangerous, but if we miss the larger picture, we may be missing out on a lot.  The key is finding a balance.  Finding that balance, with God’s help, will make you more aware of the details in the weeds and allow you to enjoy the view more than you could ever have imagined. 

Love Always

My How Times Have Changed


The Mrs worked downtown at the antique store today which gave me time to get a few things done around the house like taking a nap, eating lunch, shopping for that next cell phone, and so on.  Despite all those physically exhausting activities, I ended the day feeling tired and, before I knew it, 5:00 came around and it was time to pick her up from her work.

I usually take the side roads downtown on the weekends because McKinney has become quite the getaway location for the weekend shopping trips and people, sadly, forget how to drive when they’re looking for parking places.  McKinney has also become a haven for photographers to take outdoor senior pictures, wedding shots, or just portrait shots using the alleys, which are all lined with old bricks and stone, so one needs to watch where they’re going. 

As I was driving down a well-traveled alley around the corner from the Mrs store, I was forced to wait for a group of students to finish taking their iPhone photos of themselves against one of those popular brick walls.  These were no ordinarily dressed students either.  They were dressed like they were heading to a high-class dinner party or prom.

At first, I was surprised that the students were already having Prom (something I later found wasn’t the case) but then was taken totally back by the way the girls were dressed, or to be more precise, not dressed.  The father nature in me reared its head and my mind was flooded with thoughts of giving their dad’s a good talking too for letting their girls go out on a date dressed like that. 

Over dinner, the Mrs and I discussed the students and how they were dressed remembering how our prom dresses looked in the… well, a long time ago.  The first thought that came to both of us was how people would have reacted if a girl had dressed that way back then; they would have been quickly covered up and escorted home.  Of course, if a girl dressed the way they used to now, with the poofy shoulders and gowns, they would probably be laughed out of the prom today.

Time changes things; that’s a certainty.  The realization that it’s changing so quickly around us is sometimes difficult to deal with.  I understand more than ever how my grandparents must have felt and how easy it could have been to stay stuck in a time that has passed long ago.

We must fight the urge to give up and disengage from the world around us.  Or, to become critical of the world around us always comparing it to the past.  We must continue to look forward no matter how old we are.  But, looking forward doesn’t mean that we lose our moral values or hide from them because they seem old-fashioned.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Every generation will be challenged to keep moral standards and will need to know where ‘the line’ is to be drawn. 

In what seems to be an age of ‘anything goes’, now more than ever, young people need the wisdom gained from the mistakes we’ve made in the past and our guidance to help them from making the same mistakes again.  Looking forward, while having a clear view of what’s behind, will help us all stay the course.  It’s ok to be a little old-fashioned too.  Someday, those young people will be right where we are and will probably be thinking the same thing I thought today when they run across a group of young people all dressed up for a date…

Love always,

Brad