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…

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

Pretentiousness – Where Does It Come From?


Tonight, the Mrs. and I watched another episode of a new favorite show on Hulu called, ‘The Kids Are Alright’.  It’s based on a Catholic middle-class family with eight kids (all boys) set in the early 1970’s.  Of course, we can both relate to many of the cliché’s and cultural references since we were both kids during that time; which makes the show even more funny to us.

The episode we enjoyed was about a drama program the church was putting on in order to raise money.  The middle son, who narrates the show as an adult, and his brother were in competition to make themselves stand out; one as an actor and the other a stage designer.  Both boys had an insecure need to be noticed by others and to find approval. 

The older son, normally the mother’s favorite who is always trying to please her, even risked his infamous status by standing up for himself when she tried to stop him from being a part of the play.  It was a moment many children who are afraid of displeasing their parents feel; the fear that their parents won’t love them or approve of them if they do what they really want to do instead of what their parent’s want.

Earlier today while traveling in Austin traffic, the thought came to my mind how so many in the world wrestle with pretentiousness when I heard a spot on the radio calling out how, because so many people today suffer from a fear of pleasing others, there is a lack of authenticity in our culture.  I have my own understanding of pretentiousness, but I decided to look up what Webster defines it as; ‘Attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed’.

We seem to be so obsessed with being greater than we are.  This need is driven by an insecurity deep inside that says we won’t be good enough, or accepted, unless we are greater than we are.  I can’t help but to believe that this ingrained need comes from our childhood somewhere as in the show today where two brothers are competing for the same attention and approval, not only with each other, but with their six other siblings.

The challenge for all parents is to help their children feel a sense of self-worth, acceptance, and to have a positive self-image.  With so many things competing for our attention, providing that is not an easy task.  Even so, today we see some parents pour too much time into the effort and create a sense of entitlement in their kids.  So, where’s the balance?  How do we know when we’re giving too little or too much? 

Our children will most likely not tell us verbally.  Most will act out in other ways that may seem negative (I know because I did just that).  Because they can’t express what they feel in words, they make poor choices or rebel against authority.  All of which is a cry for attention, love, and acceptance. 

I wish I had all the answers but, the truth is, I feel like a total failure in this area.  It’s taken me years to overcome my own insecurities, fears, and poor self-worth that have led to poor choices in my own past. 

Without a doubt, it’s not easy to be a parent today, but with God’s help, guidance from His word, and letting go of our own need for acceptance from our children, it will allow us to make some of those tough choices (and, believe me, they are some of the toughest choices we’ll ever have to make).  In the end, we may not be perfect, but at least we tried and loved the way we knew how.  And that’s really all that matters isn’t it?

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