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Spring is such a vivacious season with verdant grasslands and forests. Along with this season of hope comes the longing to explore, to go outside and seek beyond what we think we know to be there. Or, we simply become invigorated with what we are familiar with, but only witness quarterly. This is true if we live in a climate where there are four seasons.For the longest time I have considered Autumn to be my favorite season, but when Spring arrives I fall in love with her energy, colors and aromas. Can we have more than one favorite season?

Depending on where one lives, Summer may be all we know such as in the Amazon Basin of Brazil. On the other hand, if one lived in the southern Chilean Andes, all we would know are the wonders of winter-like conditions supplemented with a short period of semi-warmth. Or, consider the vast Sahara desert with thousands of square miles of sand. In these areas of the world, seasons aren’t considered quite the same.

However, the world I know enjoys multiple seasons, and each season has it’s own appeal, as does each geographic profile; be it desert or arctic landscape, mountain or rain forest, plain or rolling hills. They all teem with stimulating life and beauty. The key is in the seeking to discover, for it is only then do we really notice what God has given us via his creation. I haven’t even mentioned the oceans or the skies!

My wish is that this season…this month…this day, may reveal something new and remarkable to you. As you walk the pathway of this season of your life, be encouraged, for there is beauty even among the dreariest of circumstances and environments. Seek.

 

 

Success: One More Definition

“Success is achieving my full potential while fully surrendering to God”.     J.B. Wood

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When I came across this quote, I was taken back by its simplicity, and at the same time, its profoundness. Hence, I decided to share it. I realized that this quote relates to the first success quote I shared in my previous post. That definition by Whit Hobbs is about excitement, confidence and the joy of being enthralled with something you love to do, and do well. The first part of this definition concerning achieving one’s full potential corresponds well to what Whit described.

It is the second part of J.B.’s definition which makes me pause. I believe his statement is biblical, and is also necessary for God’s people to grow in their faith. But, the term ‘surrender’ doesn’t sit well with most of us. Don’t we equate surrendering with defeat, weakness, loss of power, and the removal of one’s personal rights and privileges? That form of surrender is anathema to our survival instinct and sense of well-being.

Of course, God quite often puts a different spin on many ideas and principles we are familiar with. When Jesus walked among us, he turned the culture upside down by making proclamations which were often difficult to comprehend or were in conflict with current thought and practices. As an example, he said, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect”. Taken at face value, most of us know intuitively-and by experience-that this imperative is impossible for man to achieve. Ultimately, he was implying that we should strive to be perfect by following his lead and seeking his help. Perfection comes later.

Hence, we come to the meaning of surrender as Wood used it. His intent is positive rather than negative. To surrender to God is to place one’s self directly under the power and influence of an entity far greater than mere man. God is nothing less than the Creator of the universe, as well as our personal friend if we chose to accept him as such. Anyone who can create an atom or cause an embryo to be formed in a womb must, by deduction, be able to govern all things far better than even the wisest of mankind could ever do. Where God is infinite in all things, man is finite. He is superior while we are inferior. Nevertheless, we struggle not only with this concept of surrender and putting it into practice, but also with the very concept of an all-powerful, all-knowing God.

If we believe that achieving our full potential leads to a form of success, then we are on our way to something good. If we realize this potential while submitting and surrendering to God, we will achieve something even better than good…something  extraordinary. I have been trying to meld the two together most of my life, and still struggle with both parts of Wood’s statement. However, I am not without hope. I am not alone.

 

 

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