Find the diamond within…

January 19, 2021

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed uses this Dolly Parton quote – “It’s hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world.” 

He goes on to write – I believe that she’s saying that it takes determination to be a person of value in a world that so often settles for “the cheap.”

Dolly lives much of the time in the rhinestone world of entertainment, but as Freed went on to write, she is actually quite a thinker and a very genuine person in real life – a diamond in her rhinestone world.

We all live somewhat in a rhinestone world of our own creation. What we show the world is often the rhinestone persona that we create to meet what we think is expected of us. Inside there is the diamond of your true self – that person of value that you want to be. The challenge is not to settle for the cheap rhinestone you that you believe that world demands. Rather, find that diamond within and proudly show the world the real you.

It does take determination and courage to be yourself, rather than what you think those around you might expect. It is so much easier to just dress like they do and talk like they do and act like they do. Yet it is really not satisfying, especially if that is not who you really are. “Fitting in” may initially seem like the thing to do, until you realize how uncomfortable it can be to always be acting a part, rather than just being yourself. The rhinestone world that you are trying to live in is as fake as rhinestones themselves.

The key to finding the diamond within is accepting yourself and loving yourself for who you are. I’ve posted her a few times about loving yourself first, before you can love others (and they can love you in return). Back in April of 2020 I wrote a post titled Don’t mess with your selfie in which this quote was used – “The easiest thing in the world to be is you.  The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be.  Don’t let them put you into that position.”  (Leo Buscaglia)

So, why does it seem so hard to just be you and not what you think others want? Because you have yet to accept yourself, to become comfortable with who you are, to find your diamond within.

Perhaps that should be the focus of your prayers today, to ask God to help you accept and be happy with yourself. You can start by realizing that God accepts you as you are and loves you as you are. God loves the diamond within you and not the rhinestones that you may have thought the world required of you. If you accept God’s love for you as you are, there is no need to put on those rhinestones. Just find and show the world the diamond within you that God loves. If you share God’s love for you with the world, it will love you back.

Find your diamond within today.


Still seeking wisdom…

January 18, 2021

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote from Martin Luther King Jr- “Knowledge is a process of piling up facts. Wisdom lies in their simplification.” 

Many seek knowledge, some just for the sake of accumulating it; however, not everyone is abled to turn that knowledge into wisdom. One might say that they know, but do not yet understand.

I looked back and over the years I have written often about knowledge and wisdom, see –

https://normsmilfordblog.com/2014/05/07/those-arent-scars-thats-wisdom-building-up/ (2014)

https://normsmilfordblog.com/2017/04/27/whats-in-your-book-of-wisdom/ (2017)

https://normsmilfordblog.com/2019/02/12/seek-wisdom-within/ (2019)

https://normsmilfordblog.com/2020/09/19/you-have-to-work-at-it/ (2020)

I particularly like the quote used in the second post above – “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”  (Thomas Jefferson)

In this age of “fake news”, outright lies, and disinformation, discerning honesty can be particularly challenging. Perhaps a key step in what MLK called “simplification” is discarding or discounting the misinformation we are exposed to that are posing as facts – the “everybody knows” disinformation in the environment. Our prejudices are mostly built on those kinds of “facts”.

A root cause of prejudice is the inability or unwillingness to separate facts from opinions. There is no factual basis for the fears that often drive prejudice, just an acceptance of some opinions that we were exposed to at some earlier time. One does not come to the conclusion that “I should be afraid of this person because…”, so much as accept the opinion of some else telling us, “you should be afraid of that person because…” We are exposed to most of those opinions at a very early age, before we have developed the ability to truly reason for ourselves. For many, those opinions stick with us, unchallenged and accepted as knowledge. As we grow mentally, most are able to separate and discard those unproven “facts” and form our own opinions (wisdom) on those matters.

I suppose that, in order to be honest about the things that we accept as truths, we must first develop the ability to question everything that we think we know. The introspection needed to question our knowledge (and thus turn it into wisdom) starts by asking yourself if the basis for your decisions on something or your reactions to something (or someone) is based upon proven facts or just opinions. You might be surprised at the answer to that question, if you take the time to ask it of yourself during a normal day.

In all likelihood you won’t have the time to do that in “real time”, so reflection after the fact will be needed. That is still valuable in helping your better understand yourself and to better equip yourself for future encounters or decisions. In the post “Seek Wisdom Within” above, I suggested taking what I called a “life-selfie” as a way to self-assess.

On this Martin Luther King, Jr. day for 2021, we might all benefit from a focus on the prejudices that we still carry around with us as “facts” and try to simplify our lives by discarding them in favor of the truth and wisdom of acceptance and inclusiveness. As I said in the post “You have to work at it”, asking for God’s help is a great way to sort things out.

Have a happy MLK day.


You can do this…

January 16, 2021

Pastor Freed used this quote some time ago in his blog Jack’s Winning Words  – “Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit of less.”  (Greg McKeown)

I happen to have clients that categorize themselves as essentialists. At one time they thought that they were minimalists, but have come to realize the differences and are happy being essentialists. One major difference is that they do allow themselves a few, non-essential indulgences in life, where a minimalist would eschew anything above the bare minimum altogether.

Essentialism isn’t a bad thing and the key to it – discipline – is actually a good thing, because it spills over into all aspects of one’s life. That means that essentialists are usually more healthy, because they are disciplined eaters and have the discipline to get enough exercise. That discipline also means that they have fewer possessions and probably are in better financial shape, even if they aren’t considered to  be wealthy.  They are disciplined savers and likely have a nice nest egg for retirement building.

So, why should you consider becoming an essentialist? Because there is really no justification for the opposite approach to life – that of constantly chasing more. More money, more things. MORE. To what end? Is the person with more at the end of their life able to take it with them any more than the person with less?

An interesting side effect of the two approaches to life is that those who seek more are seldom happy with whatever they have accomplished and have at the time – they want more. Whereas, the person seeking only the essentials in their life can find happiness in not having or eliminating something – success is found in less.

So, should you run off and live in a cave with no possessions or amenities? No, that would be the minimalist approach. Just stop to consider before you buy that next thing and ask yourself  if it is really essential. Have the discipline to think about what you need and of what use you might put something to, if you bought it. Would it be used often or just sit in a closet or be over next to the exercise equipment, gathering dust. Are you buying this item because you actually need it (essential) or just because you want it (and why do you want it – is it because someone else has one).

You won’t become a hermit or even an essentialist overnight, just because you stopped to think about it before you buy things; however,, it might help you get your credit card debt under control and that’s a good first step. Adopting that small step of discipline in your life make be he first step to getting back control of your life. Once you have regained control over yourself, you will probably notice that what is important in life is not possessions but the relationships that you have with those around you – family and friends. Now you know what is really essential for a happy life.

Let me know how that works for you. I’m off to buy things that I don’t need with money I don’t have. My bad.


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.