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

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

Seeing Beyond The Natural


Have you ever had one of those days when it seems like everything is fine but, for some reason, something is going on somewhere that you know isn’t right?  I have this happen often (today in fact).  Everything will seem fine, but inside my ‘Gut’ I have a sense that I need to pray.   I know, that may sound a bit far-fetched to some people if they’ve never experienced that kind of thing, but it can be a real, tangible feeling.

Earlier tonight I was watching a video interview with a man who was part of a secret team funded and directed by the CIA to do remote viewing.  If you’re not familiar with what that means, it’s basically using people who have a heightened ability to see beyond the natural; what they used to call ‘ESP’ or ‘Extrasensory Perception’.  

The show was quite interesting as it gave multiple examples of people who had worked for the government and helped to discover Soviet bases, ships, and spies.  They were able to find people who had been held hostage and had premonitions of the future.  Whether one believes in that sort of thing or not, the evidence was convincing, and the government kept the program going for over twenty years.

I find it interesting because of the many times I’ve either dreamed something that has happened, been wakened in the middle of the night with a sense to pray for someone, or had a sense to make a turn in the car where we found our first home around the corner.   Only with me, I know it’s not just a natural ability. It’s more than that; it’s a God-given ability that we all have.

Because God is a Spirit and we are made in His image, He has given us more than just a body and mind.  He has given us a soul and the ability to sense His Spirit (if we want to).   He wants to speak to us and guide us but how does He do that?  It only makes sense that, if God is a Spirit, He would need to speak to our spirit too.  Not to say He can’t speak through an animal if He wants to (which He did in the Bible), but I would think His preference is for us to hear Him in our soul. 

Whether one calls it ESP or a fine-tuned soul enabled to hear God’s voice, it’s something we have been given to help us through this life.  I’m thankful for His leading and His still, small voice in my heart as it’s saved me from death on numerous occasions.  It’s led me to find the Mrs who is my best friend, and it’s opened doors I never imagined would be opened.  It’s also comforted in times of pain and even made me laugh many times (God has a great sense of humor). 

If you’ve never experienced that sense, I want to encourage you that it’s possible.  It may take time and practice, but the first step is asking God to speak to you and the next is just to listen.  You may just have a strong feeling or a single word may pop into your head.  You may have an image of someone and a feeling of burden for them, or you may even have an image of a place where you need to be or to go.  It could be anything. 

The key is being open to His voice and then trusting Him to lead you when you hear Him.  It may feel like you’re being led around with a blindfold covering your eyes, but over time, you will get used to His nudges and recognize them when they come.  He wants to have that type of relationship with you because He loves you.  It’s exciting and can even be a bit frightening too, but it’s worth it.  Trust me, it will change your life forever…

Love always,

Brad

Facing the Unknown


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

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

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

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

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

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

Love always my friends,

Brad

Not the Sharpest Knife in the Drawer


There used to be a saying long ago to describe someone who may not be the most intelligent or perceptive.  People would say ‘They’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer are they?’.  Being the blonde that I am, I’ve been perceived to be one of those dull knives more than once in my life.  Probably, it was because I wasn’t paying attention, was preoccupied with something and not listening, or just not interested.   Still, the label stuck with me. 

Labels are that way, aren’t they?  Once that label is glued onto you it’s hard to get off.  I’ve tried to remove labels from cans before and, trust me, it’s a lot of work.  Once that glue hardens, it stays there even if you rip the paper off.  It’s like super glue!

Name calling can be the same way.  Every day we hear labels being thrown around in the toxic political environment we live in. So much so, it’s like we’re all living as adult children back in the 2nd grade playground. 

Now, it’s true, there are those who may not necessarily be as quick to perceive, understand, or ‘Get it’.  They may not even be aware of it either.  I often run into them while waiting at stop lights for them to realize the light turned green; 30 seconds ago.  Moments like that do make it difficult not to label that person in front of us (among other things). 

We all label ourselves in many ways too.  We go by the label of our job description, family role, marriage status, sexuality, income level, skin color, hair color, musical preference, and so on.  It’s as though everything in life has a label! 

The Mrs recently purchased labels to stick to our airtight plastic containers in the cabinet so I won’t get the sugar and the flour confused.   Granted, those labels are a good thing.  Not to mention the labels that direct us where to go, what to eat and not to eat, warn us of danger, and even encourage us with positive feedback.  So, all labels are not inherently bad.

The key is knowing when we are using labels to either limit, look down upon, degrade, demean, negatively influence, falsely accuse, and even destroy another person.  Those labels need to go.  Imagine taking a label we may want to put onto our political opponent like ‘…Blank…tard’ and replacing it with something we can find about them that’s positive?   It may just change our perspective about a lot of things.

Tonight, here’s to re-labeling those people in our lives who we’ve kept under a negative label by finding something good about them and focusing on that.   Here’s also to re-labeling ourselves by stopping the negative internal talk (i.e. ‘I’m such a dummy, etc.’) and replacing it with positive talk; maybe even reinforcing ourselves with words of what God says about us.  If we can begin to re-label others, and ourselves, with something positive, I guarantee that it will change our lives forever and for the better…

Love always,

Brad