Surface Issues


Have you ever been around someone you knew was focused completely on themselves but were acting as though they weren’t?  It may be the person who nodes when you tell them about a bad day, but forgets what you said just a few seconds prior and quickly changes the subject to themselves.  Or, maybe the person who wants to be near you because of something you could do to make them look good.

I would suggest that we’ve all experienced someone who was self-absorbed, self-centered, or vain.  Typically, those attributes show themselves more in younger people than those who are over 50.  By the time you hit that age, you’ve had most of that knocked out of you; just by living life.

While working at a church in Southern California, my boss (the Sr. Pastor), mentioned to me in his office that he thought one of the singers was ‘Plastic’.  Being young and naïve, I was confused.  In fact, I thought to myself, ‘Is he saying they are cheap?’  I couldn’t figure it out until another associate pastor explained to me that it means, ‘Pretty on the surface but not much going on inside’. 

I will admit that I was taken back by the pastor’s comment once I learned what it meant (just a little judgmental if I don’t say so myself).  Even though it wasn’t becoming of a pastor and a poor role model, later in my life I understood more of what he was saying.

There are those in this life, and even in the church, who aspire more than anything else to be famous, beautiful, or rich, that they neglect their own personal mental, emotional, and spiritual development.  The sad truth is that, in America, it’s becoming an epidemic. 

I recently took a break from Instagram for that very reason; most of those who are posting photos (not my family & friends) are trying to be the next ‘Instagram Star’.  Some fly all over the world accumulating loads of debt just to get that selfie photo in front of a famous beach, rock, or over a cliff.   Nearly every day we hear of one of these people being killed because of the risk they’re taking just to get ‘The shot’ that will go viral. 

Our culture is driving us to focus so much on fame and appearances that it’s leading to an explosion of people with eating disorders, augmenting their body parts, and suffering from depression caused by a sense that they will never live up to this false image.  My question is where will it all end?  We must battle this ‘Plastic’ surface-focused culture with truth, humility, and by seeking out opportunities to serve others. 

During my time in the Bay Area, one of the things I would do was serve in a local homeless shelter downtown in San Francisco.  A local high school had a community service program that required each student to have at least 100 hours of service before they could graduate.  Often, to help them get their hours in, the school would bus kids to the shelter where they would spend their Saturday serving meals to people who just came off the street.  I saw many of them transformed in a short amount of time by the experience, believe me.

The first step to change is realizing we need to change.  It may take a dramatic event for some to realize they are self-absorbed.  Some may never realize it and live their entire life expecting others to serve them or to raise them up because they are somehow more ‘Gifted’ or beautiful.  

For me, God has a way of keeping me humble.  He knows, and reminds me often, when I may give myself one too many looks in the mirror, feel a little too good about myself when complimented, or just obsess about my life’s dreams.   Over the years life has also humbled me (many times). 

Yet, at my lowest, most humbling moments, I felt that was where I found God the most.  It wasn’t my gift He wanted; it was my heart.  It wasn’t money or even my ‘Not so great’ looks either (joking). God simply wanted me and, even more importantly, He wanted me to serve others. 

When we’re at that place where we give everything to Him is when He will take it and give it back to us in a way we could never have expected, because that’s just what He does.  When we lose our lives, for Him, we will gain life; life eternal…

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…)

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…

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

Restored and Refreshed


The Mrs. and I recently watched one of our favorite home shows where they took a small house located on a giant lot and restored it into something beautiful.  The highlight of the home wasn’t only the renovation, but the fact that there was a private pond (small lake really) in their backyard where they could step outside and enjoy the relaxing view.

When they began, the home had every issue one could imagine; everything from termite damage, foundation issues, water damage, rodent infestations, outdated electrical, rotten plumbing, and every floor had to be replaced.  By the time they finished the work, it was almost completely new.  Having only paid fifteen thousand dollars for the home and land, the owner then spent another fifty thousand into renovating it (all she could afford).  With the pond in the back combined with what the show did for her, it is now probably worth more than double what she put into it. 

In many ways, that old rundown house reminds me of life.  So many times, life tears at us and breaks us down.  The infestation of greed, anger, and bitterness eat into us all the way down to our core.  Over time, the enemy comes to steal from us, poor decisions cause the loss of structure, and fear wreaks havoc with our security until, one day, we’re only a shell of what we were.

It’s at that point, if we only ask, that the Great Carpenter comes in and brings new life to our weather worn hearts. He kicks out the enemy, reinforces our inner foundation with joy and peace, heals the wounds that brought brokenness, and refreshes us with a new coat of Spiritual paint. 

When He’s done, we’ll look better than we ever did before; inside and out.  The wounded, broken home of our heart will be completely restored, and He’ll put His peace where chaos once was.  When we open the door to our heart, we’ll look out and see the fresh, clear water of His Spirit.  All that was meant to destroy us will now be gone leaving only a beautiful work completed by His very hands…

Love always

Up in Flames


I sometimes think about driving home one day and finding out that our home had burned down.  All our life’s savings, memories, clothes, and furniture had gone up in flames.  It’s not a pleasant thought that’s for sure.   But, it’s one that many men may have as they comb through their minds trying to think of all the possible ways a fire could start in their home.  Even after all of the forethought and taking care, nature may still win out.

Several years ago, some friends of ours had a bolt of lightning hit their home and send electricity through the house shorting out all the wall units and starting a fire.  The fire quickly took hold.  They were fortunate enough to get of the burning house, along with their pet dog, only to watch their life’s work go up in flames.  Because the fire department arrived quickly, they were at least able to preserve the structure of their home, but the water and smoke still had done tremendous damage.  Since then, they have rebuilt their home into something even better than it was before.  The journey has been a long one and the cost has been very high.  Not everyone can say the same, however.  Many will lose their home and not have anything left but ashes and smoke.

Sometimes, relationships can end a lot like those homes burned down by ‘natural’ disasters.  We may be in what we think is a solid relationship only to see it go up in flames from an unexpected random event that brings destruction when we least expect it.  We may not lose the entire relationship, but what’s left, we may not feel is worth saving.

On the other hand, we may have very little left when a relationship falls apart but with hard work, lots of effort, sacrifice, and persistence, over time we may be able to rebuild it into something even better than it was before.  It may look the same on the outside to those who didn’t know what we had to do to repair it, but inside, we will know.

I know I’m speaking in what some may consider hyperbole, but the truth is that every relationship will come under fire.  That fire may wreak havoc on us.  It may even seem like there’s no way to repair it and that it’s better to just walk away.  Yet, with enough love, care, and time, nearly any broken relationship can be rebuilt.  

Tonight, I’m praying for one specific relationship in my own life that had burned up in flames long ago by a random flaming arrow that was shot into my life.  What’s left is but a shell of what it could have been.  I’m still holding out for it to be rebuilt into something better than ever.  I have the vision and desire for it to be rebuilt.  I also know that, with God’s help, it can be done.  It won’t be easy and there will be lots of painful moments in the process, but in the end, it will be worth it.

If you’re facing the loss of a relationship that went up in flames, be encouraged.  What seems to be lost can be rebuilt.  You may not even want it to be rebuilt, but over time as wounds heal and forgiveness is granted, you may find that openness to try again.  This time, it could work out into something even better than it was before.  With God’s help, all things are possible…

Love always

Reflections


If you’re like me, the older you get the less you want to look in the mirror.  Some young people spend hours checking their face, their hair, their muscles, and even taking selfies in front of it.  Me, no way.  Sure, the close-up mirror is good for a few things, but there’s no need to spend countless hours looking at myself only to be reminded of how age is creeping up on me more and more every day.

Mirrors have been around for thousands of years, although not like our modern mirror which has been around for only a couple hundred years.  That fact that they have been around so long only tells me that people were the same then as they are now.  They were conscientious of their appearance.  Or, they just loved looking at themselves which is more of what we find in our culture today.

Being conscientious isn’t a bad thing.  In fact, I’m probably one of the most conscientious people I know.  There’s just something inside of me that is constantly concerned about what others around me might be thinking about practically everything.  Call me insecure or naïve, but that trait has been helpful in sales and it goes a long way in keeping the Mrs. happy too.  Just saying.

What if we could take the same conscientiousness that we feel about ourselves when we look in the mirror and turn it inward?  Meaning, what if we concerned ourselves more about how we looked on the inside than how we looked on the outside?

Over the course of my life I’ve made a habit of not only looking at my face in the mirror but looking at my eyes and my soul too.  Because the eye is the window of the soul, one can often tell how they’re really feeling on the inside by looking at them instead of their smile.  It may be difficult to do but peering into one’s own soul can be telling and humbling.

Sometimes I see vanity, pride, anger, emotional fatigue, and selfishness.  Other times, especially after praying in the morning, I can see God’s light, an aura of peace, and a soul at rest.  Looking into the mirror before prayer certainly can be a motivator for me to turn around and get on my knees to pray for sure. 

If we don’t like what we see when we’re looking into the mirror of our soul, the good news is that we don’t have to stay that way.  There is One we can turn to who will wash the stains, cleanse away the anger, show us His beauty instead of our vanity, and reveal His humility instead of our pride.  He will fill us with His peace and His light so the next time we gaze into that mirror, we will see more of Him and much less of us…

Love always

Persistence – Turning What’s Abandoned Into a Beautiful Home


This week has raced by while the Microsoft whirlwind continues to build into Q2.  For guys like me, that means high stress every day, millions on the line for our customers, and Microsoft pushing what they may not need right now.  You can imagine that Fridays look better all the time.

While working at my desk this week, I was able to watch the neighbor’s home across the street getting a major landscape upgrade.  It’s the final piece of the puzzle being added after nearly three years which has seen the house go from being a mediocre rental property, an abandoned construction project with no roof, to a fully refurbished home mostly done by a couple of local handymen.

Witnessing the transformation has been a way to take the focus off work for a few minutes at a time.  Somehow, seeing the framers, the roofers, the painters complete their projects, and now the landscapers have helped to keep things in perspective for me both at home and at work.  I know, it probably seems like I’m a nosy neighbor (well, maybe a little bit), but knowing the work someone else is doing across the street is making that abandoned project better along with helping our home’s value increase, sort of worms my heart a bit.

As crazy as life can be for a lot of us, there’s always someone out there who has it worse than we do.  To see other people’s lives, grow and change for the better after being abandoned for the worse, is something worth watching.   It’s inspiring to see the result of hard work, dedication, and persistence through the tough times result in something others will admire.

Tonight here’s to persisting even when it’s tough.  Here’s to not giving up when the pressure is on and realizing that, as hard as we have it, there’s always someone out there who has it worse than we do.  Here’s to keeping our focus when everything seems to be going in different directions.  Most of all here’s to taking joy in other people’s success after they’ve been thrown to the side of the road.   They deserve our appreciation, encouragement, and admiration because when they make their lives better, ours improves too.

Love always….

Lost Memories Found


This week brought back a lot of memories of my childhood. Many of which I hadn’t even thought about for years. My dad found a box in his attic in South Carolina where he had kept some of my memorabilia while I was moving all over California. 

He asked if I’d like the box sent to me not really knowing what was in it and I almost told him to trash it thinking it was just some old college books and papers.  We decided that it was probably better if he sent them to me just to be sure there wasn’t something in the box I may want and boy am I glad we did.

The box arrived a few days ago (Dad must have sent it express). When I opened it up, I found a bag full of memories my mother had given me years ago that was put away for safekeeping in that box.  As I pulled each piece from the bag, I began to realize just how much my parents loved me back then and how sentimental they were. 

Mom had saved every report card, teacher note, school picture, newspaper clippings, graduation cards, report cards, class photos, and even my class letters.  To top that, my baby book, baby announcements, baby pictures, and baby journal were all kept safely in that bag.  It was truly one of the best gifts I could have been given and I am so grateful we didn’t agree to trash the box and thankful for my dad having kept it safe all of these years!

I doubt many people can open a drawer and look at their kindergarten class picture, their sixth grade report card, their school crossing certificates, and nearly every school picture ever taken of them like it was yesterday.   Truthfully, I don’t know what I’m going to do with them other than save them to show the kids, and grandkids, one day. But, just knowing they’re there is special.

More important to me than all the memories, is the reminder that both my dad and Mom loved me enough to save those memories.  It reminds me of the show, ‘This is Us’ that the Mrs. and I FINALLY decided to watch.  We’re starting with season one and have already had to wipe the tears from our eyes more than once!  

Tonight, you may not have those memories of your past all in a drawer where you can look at them when you want. They may have been thrown away long ago because they were too painful, but know that, no matter what memories you have of your early years, you have always been loved by a Heavenly Father. 

His love is eternal, and He has always been there in your life.  Not only that, He will never leave you or abandon you.  His acceptance of you is 100% because of Jesus and He will never let you down even if our natural parents do.  Most of all, He can make those broken memories new again and help to restore what was lost long ago because that’s just what He does…

Love Always…