Expanding My View

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Ever wonder if you have viewed life through too narrow a lens? Ever felt like you missed something significant because you were rushing to get somewhere ‘important’ while something beautiful was just around the bend? Does the “Life is passing me by” cliche seem familiar? I’ve felt like that and missed significance, but I’ve also learned to slow down to see what’s over the next hill or beyond the horizon-and I’m glad I did.

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Expanding my view is how I describe living more in the moment. The opposite is life in the fast lane (guaranteed to blow your mind as one band described it). Expansion requires discipline and developing a ‘new’ set of eyes, but it is worth the effort. Clearer vision results in seeing something that was there all along, but has been often overlooked. Once I expanded my view the scene I was looking at takes on a whole new perspective. I begin to grasp the beauty of each sunset and marvel at the complexity of God’s creation. Sipping coffee with a friend takes on a deeper meaning. Watching a bird build a nest becomes fascinating. As I begin to comprehend this dynamic, I begin to flourish within myself…at least that is how it seems…and I like that feeling.

The Soul of a Coffee Shop

Tuesday's CoffeeWhile visiting a well-known-chain coffee shop during the Christmas holiday, I decided to sit for a while and enjoy my drink rather than scoot out the door to my next destination.
The cacophony of sounds which embellished this locale reminded me of an orchestra tuning their instruments prior to a performance. At first the sounds seemed like unorganized noise – and could even be considered annoying if in a grumpy mood. But since I slowed down that morning, I heard instead, a strange harmony.

As I listened, I heard eclectic Christmas music playing through the overhead speakers; steamers making hot milk and froth for lattes and cappuccinos; employees taking and repeating orders; a middle-aged man talking with a younger man about weekly events and faith (a Bible lay on the table); two men sharing stories at a perimeter table; the gentle clicking of a young woman typing away on her laptop; the shuffling of the morning newspaper; and the constant stream of people coming and going while exchanging pleasantries and orders with the staff. And, of course, continuous texting.

Most of the customers were in a hurry, but a few not so much. They seemed to be the frequent visitors known by manager and employees alike. There were somber-looking people and joy-filled souls, and preoccupied folk from all walks of life. Some ordered regular coffee, but most selected specialty drinks, custom-made to their particular tastes. Many of these specialty drinks are rather expensive, too, but this is an affluent community and the average customer wants for little materially. Nevertheless, there are needs…there always are.

As I sat listening and watching the steady flow of consumers and busy staff, I realized that this coffee shop (like most) represents a cross-section of our current culture. Some of the people I witnessed could be on the verge of a collapse: emotional, relational, career-wise, health related or possibly financial. Most, I suspect, struggle with something. I certainly do. This much I know…everyone has a story. Some are tragic while some are remarkable and inspiring. Most fall somewhere in between. Perhaps this is why we are drawn to the exceptional, the heroic, and the inspirational. Average can seem so boring.

If we are honest, the majority of us see ourselves as average – and we probably are. There is nothing wrong with that, for without average, we wouldn’t have exceptional. Those who are exceptional-who excel above most-are flaunted and often placed on precarious pedestals of admiration. To be considered the best or most popular at something is alluring. Haven’t we all thought what it would be like to be the best athlete, musician, surgeon, writer, race car driver, entertainer, etc.? And yet, if we actually achieved this vaulted status, we would become susceptible to a host of potential problems, such as loss of privacy, inflated egos, self-absorption, detachment from average people and average lives, forgetting those in poverty, and the list goes on. We’ve all read stories of celebrities and athletes who still struggle to find love and acceptance, despite having achieved fame and worldly success. So many dream of achieving some sort of remarkable status or gaining peace of mind, but, instead, find ourselves miserable, especially during the holidays.

I think most of us try too hard in just about everything we do. Whether at work, at home or at play, we push-push-push until we have nothing left to give. Life becomes a balancing act, and peace and contentment are forced out of the daily equation. We miss out on the simple act of living-of being alive. There is this constant striving for that piece of golden fruit which is just out of our reach. When we fail to secure it, we panic inwardly and ask ourselves, ” Why not me?”. When some of us do grab onto it, it soon loses its luster and we become dissatisfied again. We humans are masters at repeating this cycle.

With the world seemingly spinning out of control, we become even more anxious. This tension leads to lives devoid of hope, and ultimately, joy. I know about anxiety and striving and even self-pity. I don’t come to you as one who possesses exceptional anything or as living a care-free life. On the contrary, 2015 has been a very difficult year for many reasons. Yet, I awakened today. No chalk lines outlining my body. Inward wounds perhaps, but I am still alive and have eternal promises spoken to me by the only One who can legitimately offer and secure them. Yes, this source is Christ. His love is extravagant, and far better than any of the gifts we may receive or give.

My Christmas wish for all is to find Him who seeks us. By doing so, all of our problems won’t vanish immediately, but our souls will be renewed, and a sense of peace and joy will eventually take residence. This world has nothing close to compete with this gift of love filled with grace. His fruit will never tarnish nor fade. Merry Christmas !

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Hope

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Jim Fransen was a good man. No, let me correct myself. Jim was a great man. Here is why I believe this to be true.

When you saw Jim, you saw sunshine. When you spoke with Jim, you felt like he cared. When you spent time with Jim, you never felt a hint of arrogance or selfishness. Quite the opposite, he was a true servant-always eager to help out when needed. Jim worked hard and played hard, yet he maintained a balanced life. He loved His Lord, his family and his many friends.

However, Jim had one glaring blind spot by the name of Patty. Like a pair of comfortable shoes, Jim and Patty walked through each day as if they just started dating. No pretense or nonsense. They were simply two people very much in love.

Unfortunately, Jim is gone. He died of a heart attack just a few days ago. He had played basketball that day, the same as he did every weekend for many years. Patty lost her best friend in an instant. The clock stopped, and time stood still. No more Jim. No more Jim and Patty…at least not in this life.

There are countless memories and photographs to scroll through for years to come. But there is one thing more. There is Hope…the kind of Hope that keeps people struggling to stay alive when all seems lost-and they do. The kind of Hope which says, “I will be with you again, my darling”. And they will.

Most are familiar with the Apostle Paul’s most poignant verses in any of his epistles…the Love song of 1 Corinthians 13. This is where Paul talks about all of the meaningless things we can do, but true living comes down to three things: faith, hope and love. He concludes by stating that the greatest of these is love. And, I agree whole heartedly. Yet, during this time of loss and disbelief, Hope is what will bring Patty and others through the darkness of lonely nights and bitter tears.

For Jim and Patty loved one another without reservation. Jim, like Patty, had a faith in the Creator who offered him a gift called salvation…and Jim took it. He believed it and he lived out the exhortation to become more and more like the God who gave him such a gift of grace.

So, Hope is what is needed most during this hour and the season to follow. Hope in the reality of the resurrection. Hope that she and Jim will be joined together again in heaven. Hope that she will not be forgotten nor forsaken. Hope, that love wins the day-and it will. A reunion is on the horizon for those whose Hope is based upon the promises of Christ; that there is more to life than what we currently experience. I am Hopeful. I Hope you are, too.

Flourish

ClematisFlourish: To be in a vigorous state; to thrive; to grow luxuriantly.

For those of you who are flourishing at this stage of life, I sincerely hope you will continue to do so, as this is the most wonderful place to be.

For those who are currently not flourishing, please take a deep breath and begin to rediscover those things in your life which promote thriving. Surround yourself with others who live vigorously, as they will embolden you. Be inspired.

And, for those who feel they may never flourish again, you must not lose hope. Recall a time (or times) when you have flourished in the past. These remembrances will encourage you. If you cannot recall a time then imagine what it would feel like to thrive. Dreaming is healthy. Also, tap into the Source of all that flourishes to ignite this flame within your heart and soul. But be patient, as flourishing is a process which takes time and requires a certain amount of effort. Strive to focus on those things which are most pleasant and lovely such as this Clematis plant bursting with spring colors. Although taken with my cell phone, the beauty of these blossoms is not diminished.

The Melt

2-21-15 011 I tried so hard, my dear, to show that you’re my every dream                Yet you’re afraid each thing I do is just some evil scheme                      A memory from your lonesome past keeps us so far apart                   Why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart?

There was a time when I believed that you belonged to me                 But now I know your heart is shackled to a memory                              The more I learn to care for you, the more we drift apart                       Why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart?

Hank Williams, the legendary country singer, wrote and recorded this song, Cold Cold Heart, in 1951 (he was 27 and died two years later).  Rather than recite all four stanzas, I copied the first and the last. The two middle stanzas simply reveal more about the confusion and heartache expressed in these lyrics. As I gazed at the melting ice from our trees this past Saturday morning, I grabbed my camera and went outside to take several shots. For some reason this song-which I haven’t heard in years-came to mind. I suppose it may have been the cold temperatures finally warming and the melting ice which caused this song to arise to my consciousness. After some self-evaluation, I asked myself how do the lyrics of a sad ballad correlate to a beautiful act of nature…for it was a grand sight to witness the frozen tree branches shed their layer of ice and drip with the new life of cool water. The melting ice glittered like diamonds under spotlights!2-21-15 005Slowly, almost imperceptibly, I began to understand the link. There is beauty all around us, but at the same time there can be ugliness, pain and sorrow. Paradoxical, isn’t it? Joy and pain, beauty and the beast, clarity and confusion-all can co-exist. Where love is found, hate is not far behind. Where peace abounds, conflict can be just around the corner. And where some relationships nurture and grow, others can wilt and die on the vine. Such is the result of a fallen world. But, alas, our lives don’t have to exist in a state of bitterness, heartache, failure or confusion. True, these are our realities at times, but they don’t have to define us. I am not advocating that we ignore the negatives for that is wishful thinking. As difficult as it can be at times we must face the trials head on, hang on to an anchor of hope (for me this anchor is Christ) and endure. Strive to find beauty in this world, even when you feel abandoned, are depressed or lonely, are being seriously misunderstood or may be grieving. Light will shine again; hold on and wait for the melt.2-21-15 013

Clinging

Craig's Crossing 5-23-14 009To cling or not to cling, that is the question, at least for the purpose of this post.

Clinging is a rather fascinating word because it includes so many adaptations. Consider this photograph of a creeping vine steadily growing up and around this old wooden post…clinging to it like a cat who injects her claws in your flesh after an aerobic jump from chair to shoulder (I know this scenario well). Or, consider how a small child clings to his mom when he is uncomfortable in a particular situation-mom couldn’t pry the child off her with a crow bar. What about clinging to something for safety. Think of grabbing onto a rock wall as the ledge underneath you gives way. There is no chance you will release your grip until you secure firm footing, someone rescues you or you simply can’t hold on any longer. And then there are the endless objects which we cling to for security and the numerous people that we cling to for all manner of reasons. Our clinging isn’t limited to the tangible, but also includes concepts, theories and dreams.

Clinging: it denotes the positive as well as the negative. So, as I considered the vine clinging to the post I thought of things I cling to…or have clung to in the past. Wow, did that thought break open Pandora’s box. BTW, I don’t know Pandora, but she sure does get credited for many things! Perhaps you can relate to some of these examples.

I have clung to habits which seemingly provided security or comfort at the time, but I either outgrew them or became aware of what they really were…crutches. I have clung to other people in the hope that they would make me better or bigger somehow. This type of clinging usually ended up in disappointment. I have clung to ideas which shaped my outlook on life; some helped me grow and some didn’t. I have clung too tightly to a few I have loved which suffocated them and exhausted me. On the flip-side I have clung to values and principles which have positively guided me. And, I have clung to truths which have shaped my response to many of life’s uncertainties and challenges.

Currently, I am clinging to the hope that the future will be brighter, better and more fulfilling. Perhaps such clinging may prove to be counter-productive, but I am hoping that is not the case. I strive to cling to the Old Rugged Cross, especially in times of trials and pain. This clinging is always beneficial, but too often lacks consistency. I am drawn to cling to that which I find familiar, helpful or distracting. Familiar clinging brings a sense of order and security. I would describe helpful clinging as anything which benefits the person without having poor side-effects. Clinging is such an easy way to cope with the difficulties of life. It really doesn’t matter what the distraction is as long as it works. Problem…distractions don’t last very long and must be repeated to keep one’s mind off the thing they want to avoid. So, we tend to cling onto these more and more. This type of clinging can often become destructive to the person and relationships.

Since clinging can be beneficial or harmful (my humble opinion), the outcome depends on what the object is that we cling to and the reason why we choose to cling. This is cause for serious self-evaluation from time-to-time. We don’t want to be too serious too often for that dynamic creates the opposite of clinging…namely fleeing. However, it is wise to pause once and again to consider what it is I am clinging to, and to ask oneself if it is healthy.

One of the most wonderful things to cling to isn’t an object, a relationship or even a concept. It is actually best described as a feeling, although it is also referred to as an expectation. The word which describes this feeling of expectation is hope, and without it we dry up and give up. Without hope, life becomes dull, boring, predictable, worthless, and simply undesirable. To the contrary, when one is full of hope life has purpose (no matter how difficult or tragic), more meaning, more wonder, and certainly more joy than a life void of it. To be without hope is to be filled with a sense of dread and impending doom. Such a tragic way to view and live life. But, alas, many do live this way.

So, here is a toast to living with hope. Hope that a loved one will come home from foreign soil. Hope that a relationship will mend. Hope that a loss won’t be the end of things. Hope that there is a God who really does care and is in control. Hope that He loves you and you find Him. Hope that the sun will rise tomorrow and birds will sing their joyful songs. Hope that babies will grow old. Hope that older adults don’t become children again. Hope that one will always have a friend or two to count on. Hope that nothing can destroy one’s integrity. Hope that children in impoverished nations will be fed, clothed, educated, treated with dignity and allowed to become responsible adults. Hope that wars will cease and hunger end. Hope that cancer will be beaten. Hope that life has more pluses than minus’. And the list goes on and on. There is enough hope to go around for everyone so give hope a try…even if you aren’t up to it. As the Apostle Paul so eloquently expressed in his famous chapter on love (1 Corinthians13), “These three remain: faith, hope and love”. For hope to be bookended by faith and love makes it a very important verb to live by. May we all experience the blessing of hope every day of our lives.

 

 

After the Rain

6-7-14 033After the rain when the earth is cleansed and flowers bloom. After the rain when rivers rush and ponds overflow. After the rain when birds sing and sunlight breaks forth. After the rain when tears dry up and hope sprouts. After the rain when God smiles and rainbows appear. After the rain when babies jump in puddles and parents laugh. After the rain when clarity returns and dark clouds disappear. After the rain, yes, after the rain, when the world seems strangely right.