Is Winter a state of mind?

January 13, 2021

Two recent posts to the blog Jack’s Winning Words just seem to belong together and point to our ability to deal with the season we call winter –

“Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the face.”  (Victor Hugo)

-and-

“Even in winter it shall be green in my heart.”  (Frederik Chopin)

Chopin and Hugo both point to solutions to the gloom and depression that winter can bring on. The shorter days and cloudy darkness, especially in northern areas can exacerbate effects of the cold and being forced to stay indoors so much. This year in particular with the COVID-19 pandemic overlaid on top of the winter weather, it can be an especially tough time. Yet, like other events in our lives, we hold the key to how we react to the dark and unhospitable physical environment of winter.

Pastor Freed wrote that Chopin was a romantic and that it showed in his music. Romanics, I believe, also tend to be optimistic about life, since they imagine successful romantic outcomes to situations. Victor Hugo was also an important figure in the French Romantic Movement.

Perhaps the difference is that the romantic looks ahead and imagines the end of winter and the rebirth offered by spring. In the heart of the romantic, they imagine the green of Spring and that vision sustains them through the gloom of winter. The romantic might also find things to laugh at amidst the gloom and that helps keep winter at bay.

Like everything else in life, taking a passive approach doesn’t really work. One can’t just sit there and say, “All right, make me laugh” or “Show me the green”. The effects of winter on us mentally has even got a name (doesn’t every thing these days). It is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). So, if you are sad because of SAD, here is a link to a nice article of things that you can do about it. As you read the article notice that much of the advice revolves around how to implement the advice of Hugo and Chopin.

All of this points to the conclusion that the title of this post aims at. While the winter season is very real, it is the “Winter” in our minds that we must deal with. We must not let gloom and doom creep into our lives along with the cold of the season. We must work at finding the things that we can laugh at and maintain the hope of sprint, the sure knowledge that better days are ahead.

For the Christian that hope is found in Easter, which portends the Spring in our lives. We first had Christmas to brighten up the beginning of winter and now we have Easter to chase winter away and usher in the rebirth of Spring. We can laugh in the face of the gloom and maintain the green in our hearts because we know what is coming and what is next.

So, is the Winter in my mind one of gloom and sadness? No, that is not my state of mind; for I am already looking forward to Easter and the rebirth for the earth and for me personally that it heralds. It is green in my mind already and that makes me want to laugh at winter.  How about you?


How can any good come of this?

January 8, 2021

You might be tempted to think or even say that in the midst of life’s calamities or misfortunes. Pastor Freed used this quote today to explain how that might work – “The soul is purified by misfortune and sorrow, as gold by fire.”  (Bozena Nemcova)

But, how, you may ask, does misfortune and sorrow work to purify my soul and make me a better person? How is living through what we’ve experienced over the last 10 months work to purify my soul? How can losing a loved one make me a better person? How can any of this adversity work in my favor?

We see or read inspirational quotes from time to time that tell us that adversity tests our character, our will and resolve to move forward. Overcoming adversity is the stock in trade of motivational speakers and athletic coaches; however, those motivational presentations and pep talks tend to focus upon building or strengthening your belief in yourself. I think the purification of the soul that Nemcova was referring to involves strengthening our belief in God and God’s love for us.

How does that work? Think of it this way. Imagine God is standing across the room from you. Imagine that you can see Him clearly and you feel the love for you that radiates from Him. Now imagine that someone places a large balloon between you and God, slightly off your line of sight, so you can still see Him, just not as clearly as before and perhaps you can’t feel the love quite as much.

Now imagine a bunch of balloons of all sizes floating between you and God, filling in your line of sight and blocking your view of God. You know that He is still back there, but you can’t feel the love and you can’t see Him. The balloon of your job, the balloon of your family, the balloon of your possessions are all in the way. Life has gotten in the way and cut you off from your direct contact with God.

Your love of family and friends has taken precedence over your love of God. Your love of possessions has gotten in the way of the love of God. Your ego and your will has gotten in the way of the love of God. After a while, your memory of what God looks like fades and perhaps your thoughts of Him become less frequent. Maybe you become so wrapped up in the events and people of your life that forget about Him altogether.

Then adversity hits! It could be that you lose your job. Maybe a loved one dies. Maybe you fall ill. Perhaps some event or someone has taken away a few of your possessions. Whatever it is, the initial reaction for most might be to try to handle it yourself, to buck-up and tough it out like the motivational coach always said. For some, the reaction might be to sink into despair and maybe even depression.

For Christians the best response to adversity is to get on your knees. It turns out that you can get back a good view of God from that humble vantage point. Earnest prayer will allow you to see that all of those things that were floating in front of you, obstructing your relationship with God are as lightweight and meaningless as one of those balloons. You can pop them or push then aside and once again bask in the love of God.

So, how can anything good come out of adversity? It comes from using that adversity to reconnect with God. It comes from getting your priorities straight, starting with you relationship with God. In the end, there will be nothing else left and nothing standing between you and Him. Don’t wait for misfortune or until the end. Reconnect with God today through prayer. Maybe what will come to your mind as it did to mine is the Johnny Nash song – I can see clearly now.


Giving your kids down payment money…

January 6, 2021

It is a quite natural thigs to want to help our your children get started in their lives and giving them the money to make a down payment on their first house (if you have the financial ability to do that) may be a great way to help; but you need to be aware of a few things.

Your son or daughter will need to check with the mortgage company that they’ve chosen to see what their rules are about “gifted” money. Certain mortgage types or companies don’t allow gifted money as part of the down payment. Almost all companies will require that you write a letter explaining where the money came from and stating that the money is a gift and that you do not expect them to pay it back. Otherwise, the gift is considered a loan and will affect their credit worthiness. Most mortgage companies will have guideline about the amount and in what timeframe such a gift may be made.

Mortgage underwriters are very suspicious types (it is unfortunate that they have to be, but it is a reality in today’s world). If possible, make the gift a couple of months before your child is planning on using it and have them hold it in their account, perhaps in a linked savings account. Money that has been sitting in your child’s account for 3-4 months is considered to be “seasoned money” and provides proof that it is not expected to be paid back. Mortgage underwriters really don’t like to see large, last minute deposits in the client’s account, even if you have a gifting letter. Many mortgage companies will not require a gifting letter if they see “seasoned money” sitting in the borrowers account.

Understand the tax rules concerning your gift. Determine whether you or your child will need to pay taxes on the gift. The annual gift exclusion amount for 2021 stays the same at $15,000 per donor, per recipient. Each individual can give away $15,000 to any individual they desire with no federal gift tax consequences. Married couples can combine these amounts and make $30,000 gifts to each individual, doubling the impact. The child receiving the gift doesn’t have to pay taxes on it. You should consult with your tax person on any gift above the limits to see what your tax liability might be.

Make sure that your child has the other money that will be required to close the sale. The down payment is usually the biggest chunk of the costs to close the sale; however, there are other pre-closing costs that can add up quickly.  Those  costs include  the home inspection, the appraisal and other fees that the mortgage company will charge ahead of the closing, the homeowners’ insurance for the first year and establishment of an escrow for taxes. Some of those costs may be rolled into the mortgage, but figure on at least a couple of thousand dollars to cover these costs. A child who is unable to cover these costs, in addition to needing your help with the down payment, may really not be ready to become a homeowner. They may need your advice more than your money.

So, it is a little more complicated than just writing out a check to your son or daughter. Consider the effort to make sure of all of these requirements to be part of the gift. It is still a great way to help them get a good start on their lives out of your house and into their own home.


Oh no you don’t…

January 5, 2021

Film actress Greta Garbo is famously known for the line “I want to alone”. But does anyone really want to be alone? In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed shared with us this quote – “In nature nothing exists alone.”  (Rachel Carson)

Freed went on to write about how many of the world’s creatures are disappearing, which could leave us alone if it keeps up (and mankind is the cause of much of the extinction of species). Freed made the point that, in nature, all things are connected and that it is important to be concerned  (and do something) about the alarming loss of species in today’s world. I join him in that concern, but today I want to write about many of us feeling alone, especially in the midst of this pandemic.

We may have the feeling that we want to be alone sometimes, usually when something is overwhelming us and we need time (and peace) to think. I think, however, that few of us would really want to be truly alone for any length of time. Even if events place us in a situation where we are alone (like Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway), we don’t want to be alone. Hank’s character invented the companion Wilson, a Volleyball with what looked like a face in blood on it. Fortunately, for Christians, we do not have to invent a “Wilson” character for ourselves – we know that God is always with us.

We probably all know someone who absolutely hates to be alone. The restrictions of the current pandemic have been especially hard on those people, who have been forced into isolation (at least it feels that way to them). While most of us aren’t feeling that isolated, the current situation has forced many of us to confront more alone time than we’ve ever experienced before. That does not have to be a bad thing or even a scary thing. You can help both yourself and those that you may know who are more isolated than others, but reaching out with phone calls, cards or other means, to touch them with a message of concern about their well-being. A simple call to ask, “How are you doing”, can work wonders for their day.

The other things that this forced isolation gives us time to work on is our feelings about ourselves. I have posted here a few times about loving yourself. Most people feel the need for acceptance by others about how they look or about the things that they have accomplished in life. They are seeking confirmation for the conclusions that they have already reached about themselves. Some, however, are so unsure of themselves (so unloving of themselves) that the opinions of others becomes an obsession. I think it is important to accept that if God love you, no matter what, you should accept yourself just as unconditionally and be comfortable with who you are. Out of love for yourself will come the ability to share love with others and any feeling of being alone will melt away.

So the message becomes, get back in touch with God and accept God’s love; then get back in touch with yourself and love who you are. Now, go out and share that love with others. You are not alone; you were just getting ready.

Have a great day sharing the love!


Follow the leaders …

January 1, 2021

Fearful people teach us what can’t be done. Leaders show us what can be done – from a blog titled How to Think Positive Thoughts by Growthpaths.net

A consistent complaint heard from healthcare experts concerning the Coronavirus pandemic is about the lack of leadership at the national level. That lack of a clear strategy and any attempt at leadership has now resulted in the chaos that is unfolding in the immunization effort.

The Federal government’s lack of leadership has thrown the responsibility for planning and administering the vaccine developed under the Warp Speed program onto the states and their already overstressed public health departments. Now the nightly news shows are filled with stories of poor execution of the inoculation programs at the state level. The problem really starts at the top with a President more concerned with his failed reelection bid and tweeting about conspiracy theories than providing clear leadership in a time of national crisis.

What are we to do? There will soon be a change at the top and the President-elect has indicated that he will take a strong leadership position in this fight against the virus. That certainly will help. We can also get behind the leaders at our state and local levels who are trying to provide some guidance on preventing or slowing the spread of the disease. The stock phrase “we are all in this together” has never been truer that it is right now. While there is some truth in the claims of unequal healthcare access made by the black and brown communities, the virus itself plays no favorites – it is an equal access killer.

The idea of getting solidly behind our leaders in this effort is no different than it would be if we were facing an invasion by some human enemy or even from space. Can you imagine if space aliens were walking around shooting people with ray guns and there would be people ignoring the warning not to go out when they are around? Maybe if there was a magic shield that our leaders advised us we  could put on so that the aliens could not see us, would people disregard that safety option and still venture out without their shield? Yet that is want is happening with our current battle against the COVID-19 enemy. The masks that we have been advised to wear to make us less visible to the virus are ignored by far too many people.

One has only to look at the example set by the people of New Zealand. They followed the guidance of their leaders, even as it involved a painful total shutdown of all foreign travel in and out of the country and a lockdown within the country. They are the only nation of earth that has totally stopped the virus. Their leaders showed great political will and resolve and I’m sure faced some level of popular resistance; however, they preserved and won.

Perhaps, with the change of leadership (or maybe one should say, finally with the presence of leadership) in Washington we will see the United States make progress in defeating this enemy. Let us all hope.


You control your future…

December 30, 2020

In today’s post to his Blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote – “We shrink from change; yet is there anything that can come into being without it?”  (Marcus Aurelius) 

Many people do shrink from change because they fear the future; for them change is a scary thing and the future represents change and the unknown that they fear. Others dive headlong into the future, anticipating great things from the changes that it holds. Wherein lies the difference?

I would submit that the difference is in the attitudes that each has about themselves. The fearful see themselves as victims of the future, hapless and hopelessly being dragged into whatever calamities the future brings. The fearless see themselves meeting the challenges that they may encounter with persistent resolve to prevail. The fearful wish to hide, the fearless wish to overcome. What makes the difference?

I’ve posted here a few times about being at peace with yourself, which is the foundation of being fearless about the future. That foundation, like the foundation of a house, does not hold itself up. Before pouring the foundation of a house, the builder must first put in footings. I think most people know what footings are in construction terms – the reinforced concrete base upon which the foundation is built. I like the second definition in the dictionary – the basis on which something is established or operates.

I submit that people who are at peace with themselves (and thus fearless about the future) have established that foundation upon the footings of a strong faith in God. That faith is the basis upon which they operate and holds up the foundation of their life. No matter how scary the situation, when it gets down to the base of their foundation they find God there and they are reassured that when God is with them, nothing can prevail against them. That reinforces their foundation and allows them to overcome the fears arrayed against them. They find calm in the midst of chaos because their faith in God is the basis upon which they operate.

So, you need not shrink from the future nor be fearful of it. Instead, make sure that you start each day by reestablishing in prayer that you have based the foundation of your life upon the footings that your faith in God provides. The calm and strength that will settle over you, based upon that start, will carry you through the day and give you the right attitude to face whatever life throws your way.

While the future may be a bit scary, it also holds rewards for those brave enough to venture into it in search of better things. One does not find those rewards while hiding under their bed to avoid change. Be brave, be confident, be calm.

We are told in the Bible –

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7)

You control your future because you control yourself and that self-control is based upon the solid foundation that you have built on the footings of your faith in God.

Have a great day at peace with yourself and in control of your future.


Reaching for the next bar…

December 29, 2020

In a recent post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote –

‘”Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars.  You have to let go at some point in order to move forward,”  (C.S. Lewis)

I know that I’ve posted many times about letting go and moving on, but the optic of the monkey bars was too powerful to ignore.

I suppose that all of us have at one time (usually while we were very young) have been on monkey bars at a playground. Maybe as an adult, we hit something similar at a gym. When you’re a child it can look like it’s a long way to the ground and it can be scary. Sometimes we might get stranded on a bar or we can get turned upside down. Life is like that, too, and you can be left hanging upside down.

If we have lost our momentum, it can be very scary to let go with one hand and reach out with it towards the next bar. We may feel like we are losing our grip and will fall. Yet, we know that we must move forward somehow, so we must reach for the next bar or rung. We really can’t go back, because life has removed the bars behind us as we went. We also can’t remain hanging upside down or between bars. We must move on, so we must let go of the last bar.

In life that last bar may have been a strong, perhaps long relationship – a parent or a loved one whom we have lost. You can hold on to that bar in your memories, but you must let go of it in life and move on. For some, there is the pleasant surprise of finding another person with whom to share the journey ahead. For others there is contentment with a life filled with friends and perhaps children or siblings. There ae always more bars ahead to reach for, if you just let go of the past and reach out to the future.

If you feel like you are losing your grip, because of some event in your life, make the effort to reach for that next bar. You may not know what life holds for you ahead, but you can be sure that just hanging there on the bar that you are on is not the answer. Maybe that next bar is offered by an organization that helps people coping with mental anguish – reach for it. Maybe that next bar is being held out by friends and family – reach for it. Maybe that next bar is being held out by your faith in God – reach for it through prayer.  God will not let you fall. Reach for the next bar.

Reaching for the next bar…


Buying a house in winter…

December 28, 2020

I’ve posted here before about things to consider when selling your home in winter, but what about buying in winter. What things are different about the buy-side in winter?

Almost all of the differences involve differences that the winter weather imposes. For one, there is a much smaller window in which you can go visit the house while it is light out. That is important because darkness can hide many things that might otherwise influence your decision. If you only see the house in darkness times, you also won’t know how it looks when sun is streaming in through the windows (or not).

If there is snow on the ground, it might restrict your movement around the exterior of the house to look for defects or problems. Snow can also restrict your view of the roof and will prevent most home inspectors from doing a good inspection job on the roof, increasing the risk that you’ll end up with an expensive roof job in the spring. The pretty snow covers up everything, so you’ll also need to wait until spring to really see what landscaping came with the house.

There are other things that are different in the buying process in the winter month, but they all just add to the fact that the risk of something about the house surprising you in the spring is greater. Make sure that you carefully read the Seller’s Disclosure and ask questions about anything that looks alarming, especially with things that cannot be properly inspected during the winter.

Winter restricts the ability of a home inspector to properly test the HVAC system. He/she might be able to visually inspect everything in the HVAC system, but they will be unable to test the air conditioning portion, since running the air conditioner in winter can actually damage the system. Once again, you could be in for a spring surprise.

Houses with pools pose another problem, since the pool cannot be opened and the pool equipment properly inspected during the winter months. Many agent will add a pool inspection addendum to the offer which would require the seller to agree to escrow  certain amount of money and allow the pool inspection to occur after the sale when the weather permits. If problems are found later, when the pool is opened and the inspection can be done, the escrowed money is used to repair them and the balance sent to the seller. Sellers really don’t like this approach, but it is the only way to protect the interests of the buyers.

You need to be extra cautious and get a very good home inspection during the winter months. Your inspector may not be able to get up on the roof and walk around, but he/she can still get into the attic space and look for leaks or problems. When you interview them for the job, make sure that you ask about that and don’t settle for someone who says that they just open the attic access skuttle and peek in with a flashlight.

The bottom line is that there is increased risk involved with buying in the winter and you should take all of the steps that you can to reduce those risks, so that spring just brings more pleasant weather and not surprises about your new home.


Learn from it and move on

December 23, 2020

This morning I saw this quote while scrolling through Facebook posts – Never be defined by your past…it was just a lesson, not a life sentence.

The quote, which appears in multiple places, was not attributed to anyone in any of them.

There are two key things to take away from that bit of wisdom –

  1. Learn from your past, so that you don’t repeat your mistakes, and
  2. Move on from those mistakes instead of letting them hold you back or define you.

People who dwell on the past in regret or remorse can easily slip into depression, because they see no way out of the despair in which they feel that they are stuck and cannot move on.

It is important that one stop beating up themselves trying to imagine what they might have done differently to change the outcome of a situation gone bad. It happened. It is over. Now is the time to focus upon learning from it. Instead of fretting about what could I have done differently then; focus upon learning from it so that you can do differently if and when (it happens again).

Many people allow their past to define boundaries or limits on their future. For them there are places that that they do not allow themselves to go again, because the last time they went there they failed and it is was painful. They have painted themselves into a corner. For some that includes allowing themselves to love others. To love someone else is to open yourself up to the possibility and pain of rejection. However, the difference between liking and loving someone demands that level of commitment. One cannot experience the pleasure of true love, without accepting the risks inherent in laying one’s soul bare to the other party.

The other boundaries that some allow their past to define involve things like careers or sports or interpersonal relationships. I recently read a series of responses to a Facebook post made by people who had experienced prejudices based upon their past jobs. They had all been stereotyped by others because they had served as baristas in coffee shops at some point in their lives. One respondent is now a doctor and another a Vice-President of a large technology company. They refused to be confined by their past jobs.

Many people get comfortable in the niche in life that their past seemingly dictates, be it a job or a relationship. They find it easier to just continue moving in that direction, rather than exploring the possibilities that different directions offer. They are moving through life on momentum rather than making an effort to change for the better.

There was a 60’s hit by Peggy Lee titled “Is that all there is?”. The song was used on an episode of the TV show Mad Men as sort of a theme song for the malaise of the 1960’s. It is a sad and poignant story that many people who are confined by their past seem to identify with. I prefer to look ahead to new and different things and to see the world like Louis Armstrong in his song – “What a wonderful world”.

How about you? Are you confined by your past? Let go of it, because that is not all there is – there is a wonderful world out there if you just reach for it.

That is the lesson that we should all take away.


Be scared, but not fearful…

December 22, 2020

Pastor Freed used an interesting quote this morning in his blog, Jack’s Winning Words

“There were certainly things I was scared to do, but I never thought I wasn’t up to the challenge.”  (Rodney Mara)

It is interesting because it makes one think about things that they may be scared of, but do not fear actually doing. There are many things in life today that are scary to think about. These days that may include just leaving your house to go get groceries. Yes, it is scary to think that you could get COVID-19 just shopping for your groceries, but most do not let that turn into fear of leaving their house. Rather, we use that scare to goad us into doing the right things to protect ourselves – wearing a mask, maintaining a social distance and  washing or sanitizing our hands when we exit the store.

The two words scare and fear are so intertwined that they are used in the definitions of each other; however there are subtle differences and the biggest is probably that  fear contains a large amount of imagined outcome; whereas scare is more immediate and real. Something can scare us initially, but it doesn’t necessarily turn into a fear until we’ve had time to think about it and imagine all sorts of possible bad outcomes.  A scare is more of a here and now reaction to an event, while a fear is thinking about possible future events.

Pastor Freed went on to mention that he is better able to deals with his fears by relying on his belief in God, that God is there with him, during times of stress or fear. That is certainly good advice and allows us to implement the last part of Mara’s quote in our lives – never to think that we are not up to the challenges.

If we call upon God for help and believe in Him, we quickly realize that with God at our side we are up for any challenges that come our way…we need not fear them. Many things in life are scary when we encounter them; however if we approach them with the attitude of “I’ve got this”, we can persevere. In reality, we are saying to ourselves “We’ve got this”, because we know that God is with us –

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

God did not say to never be scared. There are things that will scare us, as they should. However, we do not have to let that scare turn into fears that control our lives. Rather than being anxious and fearful when encountering something scary, heed the words of John and be at peace –

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The next time you encounter something scary, instead of letting that initial fright turn into a fear, quickly find your inter-peace, your faith.  Rather than sinking into the paralysis of fear, you will see that your faith calms the situation and allows you to think clearly about what you should do to address the situation. Your faith allows you to maintain control of yourself in the situation, whereas fear would try to control you.

Have a great and fear-free day. God is with you. Be not afraid.