What are you looking for? What do you see?

June 30, 2021

I collect quotes from a variety of sources for future use in this blog. Many times I will look at my collection of quote and notice that two or more just seem to go together to form a thought or topic for a post. Today’s post is such a case.

I don’t recall exactly where I got this quote from Robert Hunter – “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest places if you look for it.” I know that I got this other quote from the Jack’s Winning Words blog where I most often get inspiration. “It’s not what you look at that matters; it’s what you see.”  – Thoreau

When I put them together in my mind, I come up with seeing the good and positive in things, people and events because that is what you are looking for.  All too often we see the negative side of things because that is what we are looking for. That is a cynical outlook on life, one that stares into darkness from within darkness. It is easy to be drawn into the dark world, so one must work at staying positive by looking for the light – the positive side of things.   

There is a natural threat response built into everyone’s brain that makes us draw back in fear from anything unknown,  unexpected or surprising. We are immediately afraid because we do not understand, we have not had time to think and evaluate what is happening, to assess whether it is really a threat or an opportunity. That is particularly true when we encounter new people, especially people who are not “just like us.”

Think about the last time that you had an encounter with someone that you had never met before – maybe someone with obvious differences from yourself. Did your “shields” go up? Did you smile or stick or your hand or utter a greeting or did you shrink back and avoid eye contact? What caused that reaction? Were you looking for the light or seeing only the darkness? What did you see?

Perhaps we are looking at the people that we encounter in the wrong way and should all heed the advice that we can find in the Bible to look at people in a different way – “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – (1 Samuel 16:7)

How can see “see” into the heart of the people that we meet? We cannot unless we take the opportunity to talk to them and get to know them. Our knee-jerk defensive tendencies to form quick opinions, mostly negative, based solely upon external appearances, give us no opportunity to look into their hearts and see the real person that is there.

It takes a conscious effort to overcome those negative defensive reactions, so perhaps you can ask God in your prayers to give you give you the courage to take the risk of meeting new people from a positive frame of mind. Maybe looking from that point of view will allow you to see the light that is within them. Certainly, greeting them with a smile and a warm welcome will allow their light to shine brighter. Who knows, you may have just met a new friend.  Try it and see.

What are you looking for? What do you see now?

Do you deserve it?

June 29, 2021

Yesterday I wrote about the journey towards a goal or dream being as important as actually achieving it. Later in the day, I saw this quote – “Deserve your dream.”  – Octavio Pas

That simple three-word quote has tremendous power when you think about it. It also ties in nicely with the previous day’s quote. The truth is that some people do “luck” into their dream, or at least what seems like a dream. It would be hard to say that a Lotto winner deserved that dream. It was pure luck.

Most of us have to work for our dreams…we have to take the journey to get to the dream. For many that involves hard work, long hours, and personal sacrifices. When they finally get there, they deserve their dream…they have earned it.

For some, a dream may become just something that we continually think or fantasize about, but don’t really do anything to achieve. They don’t get their dream because they really don’t deserve it…they didn’t work for it.

Some people spend their entire life making up excuses for themselves and for others to hear about why they haven’t achieved their dreams. For them life is a giant conspiracy theory bent on holding them back from their dreams. They have focused all of their energy on the excuses instead of taking any positive steps towards achieving those dreams. These are people to be avoided.

Some confuse deserving a dream with entitlement to that dream. We often hear people shouting on news casts that they have a “right” to this or that. Many times, those things that they say they “deserve” are not rights at all, but privileges that others work for or work to pay for. What they deserve is the equal opportunity to realize those dreams or goals. What they are really facing in many cases is systemic roadblocks to those opportunities. Martin Luther King’s dream was to achieve a world were the roadblocks of systemic racism were removed.

Some people may pray for God’s help in achieving their dream; however, many do not pray for the right thing. I like a quote from Bruce Lee that I saw recently – “Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.” Too many people pray for God to make their dream come true. That is not how God works. Pray instead for God to give you the perseverance and strength to keep progressing towards your dream.

So ask yourself, the next time your dream comes to mind, “What am I doing to achieve it? What steps have I taken to realize that dream?” If you have no good answers to those questions, then place that dream aside with other fantasies and get on with life. You don’t deserve it.

Deserve your dream.

Enjoy the journey…

June 28, 2021

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” – Ursula K. Le Guin from her 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness.

I saved that quote some time ago with the intention of exploring it is a post. Most of us probably have a number of ends that we are journeying towards. Those are our life goals or our dreams and hopes for the future. What ends are you striving towards?

It is important to understand the message in Le Guin’s quote – that the journey itself is what matters – the successes and disappointments along the way; the process of problem solving and overcoming obstacles we go through as we make progress; and the people that we encounter along the way.

The journey itself becomes the end – the thing that we enjoy and the thing that keeps us going. How many times have you reached a goal or achieved a dream only to find that finally getting there was much less satisfying than you imagined, perhaps being disappointed that the journey towards that end was over?

Life itself is a journey that we all are on. For many there is a not to satisfying end to that journey – they see only death. For a Christian, the end of the journey of life is just the beginning of another for which there is no end. So, if one believes that there is eternal life after death, it behooves us to enjoy the current journey we are on towards that end in this life.

Enjoying the journey means taking time to savor the moments of small victories and being open and welcoming of the people that we meet along the way. It means finding joy in the problem solving that we must do on the journey. It means overcoming the negatives and celebrating the positives. Each step in our life journey and each new friendship that we make on our journey should be relished because we shall not come this way again.

One way to enjoy the journey of life is to set broad-stroke and open-ended goals for the time that you have here, such as:

I want to be the best person that I can be

I want to help as many other people as I can

I want to live a life of loving, caring and sharing

I want to live a life that reflects the teachings of Jesus

Goals like those essentially define a journey that has no end, so the journey itself become the end. Each of those goals give us something to strive for and we can look back at the end of each day and assess how we did that day, what progress we made towards meeting those goals, and what we must do different tomorrow to continue our journey towards those goals. If you need an accountability partner for this journey, I know of none better than checking in with God in prayer each night. If you ask God in your prayers the questions, “How did I do today and what can I do better tomorrow?” the answers will come to you. Listen for that soft voice of God in the back of your mind.

Set your goals and step off on your journey. There’s no end in sight. Just check in with God to see how you are doing and to get help with what is next.

Enjoy the journey.

The mirror to our soul…

June 26, 2021

A quote that I saved some time back appealed to me this morning – “Let us be grateful to the mirror for revealing to us our appearance only.” ― Samuel Butler

Indeed, the mirror that we may gaze admiringly in only shows us what others see of us – our external, physical appearance. Imagine if there was a magic mirror in which we could “see” our soul and view all of our character flaws, prejudices and mistakes in judgement as blemishes upon that person that you see the normal mirror. Would that be a pretty reflection or an ugly one?

Perhaps there is such a mirror. Our conscience is supposed to be that mirror to our soul. For some looking into their conscience is a delusion or at best a contorted view. For them fact and fantasy become confused, and they “see” what they want to see, rather than what is really there. For others that mirror is a dark and foreboding place in which to peer, a place of self-loathing and despair. What do you see when you examine your conscience in that mirror?

It is said that our consciences were given to us by God so that we could tell the difference between right and wrong. Many call the conscience the voice of God in the back of our mind. If that is true, it is also true that we must listen for that voice, for it is often tiny and soft in the background.

The world we live in is fast and loud, full of shiny and tempting things. Sometimes life comes at us as if we are swept up in a storm. We receive inputs and demands from all directions and would be well-served to remember the advice of Craig D. Lounsbough – “I have both the violent turbulence of the storm and the quiet promises of God in the storm. And what I must work to remember is that something is not necessarily stronger simply because it’s louder.”

That makes it all the more important to take the advice that I wrote about some time ago that I saw on a gift store plaque – Make time for the quiet moments as God whispers and the world is loud. Those are times of quiet prayer…times to listen for the voice of God speaking through your conscience.

Take time each day in prayer to shut out the loudness of the world and look deeply into the mirror of your soul – your conscience. Do you like what you see there? Listen in those moments for the whispers of God and heed his words. Then, when you look into your soul, you can watch those blemishes fade away…your conscience will clear.

Having a clear conscience allows us a view of ourselves in the mirror of our soul without distortions and blemishes. I think you’ll like what you see there then.

Get over the hump of fear and get started…

June 23, 2021

Pastor Freed used this quote in his Jack’s Winning Words blog today – “You sort of start thinking anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.”  (J.K.Rowling) 

He went on to write about the power of positive thinking. I think that the most important step is the first one – getting over that hump of fear that prevents you from even trying. Scary stories novelist, Stephan King was quoted as saying – “The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.”

It is interesting that, in many people, the fear of even trying is quickly replaced once they started by a fear of failure, which actually serves to motivate them. For others the challenge becomes to complete what they have started. They become stubborn about not quitting until they have succeeded. For them a quote by Olympic Swimmer Matt Biondi applies – Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement.

Our own imaginations often do us a disservice in the front-end of things by conjuring up all sorts of improbable negative outcomes or imaginary obstacles to our success. Positive thinkers put their imaginations to work for them, overcoming obstacles before they even come up – seeing the path to success ahead of it. Really good athletes use that “visualization” technique to see the success that they desire and “practice” that path in their minds.

What about you? Do sit there imagining failure or visualizing success? Do you become paralyzed by the fear of failure and not even start? Does that hump of fear become a mountain of “Can’t”?

Perhaps you just need that little bit of extra courage that you can find in prayer. Fear may be a powerful force, but it cannot stand up to the power of God and the courage you will find through prayer. In the Bible we are told – “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” –  Joshua 1:9

walking man

There is a cynical retort often used in confrontations once a challenge or threat has been issued, “You and what army?” In your mind you might reply, “No army needed, I’ve got God by my side.” The army that accompanied Goliath discovered the power of David having God on his side.

So, today’s theme is to get over that hump of fear that has been holding you back and get started. Visualize success, rather than worry about failure. Call upon the strength of having God at your side and change from resisting even trying to persisting until you succeed.  Remember that anything is possible once you get up the nerve to start. Put that scariest moment of getting started behind you and don’t look back – things will only get better.

Get started on a great day!

You are worthy…

June 22, 2021

June is Pride Month and much has already been written about that. I saved a quote some time ago that just seems to fit during this month –

“It’s about waking up in the morning and saying that I’m worthy of love, belonging, and joy. It’s about engaging with the world from a place of worthiness.” Brené Brown

Pride Month is about the rights of the LBGTQ+ communities. The right to live without fear of abuse and discrimination. The right to equal treatment under the laws. And the right to a peaceful existence.

Pride Month is also about worthiness and Brown’s quote captures quite well the worthiness that members of the LBGTQ+ community seek and deserve.

There will always be homophobic jerks in our society. Their anti LBGTQ+ discrimination s just one of the many prejudices that they display in their unhappy lives. Many are also racists, anti-Semitic and anti-Asian haters who see any and all who are not just like them as threats. They live sad and lonely lives imprisoned by their hate.

We should not have to have laws protecting various groups from discrimination in our society, but the sad fact is that without them the jerks would be free to be jerks and discriminate. We have seen that over and over in discrimination against people of color and against people of Asian descent (and many other groups).

There is still a long way to go to achieve the ultimate goals of acceptance and equal treatment of the LBGTQ+ community, but it is important that members of that community take Brown’s advice and engage the world from a place of worthiness. You are worthy of love, of belonging and of joy.

So, don’t feel sorry for yourself when you encounter the unfounded fears or unwarranted prejudices of the jerks of our society. Instead, feel sorry for them, because they just missed an opportunity to meet and interact with a really interesting person whom they might have come to love had they given you a chance. You are worthy. You belong. Be joyful and show your pride.

Are you looking for it?

June 21, 2021

A quote that I found recently and saved seemed like a good topic for today –

“Children see magic because they look for it.” – Christopher Moore

I also saw a poignant little line in the Sunday Comics yesterday, in the comic strip Macanudo. [ Ed. – Macanudo is an Argentine daily comic strip by the cartoonist Liniers.] In this Sunday’s single frame cartoon, a little girl is sitting in her swing and asks her cat, “Fellini, do you think I will remember me when I grow up?”

The sad thing is that most of us don’t remember that age of innocence, wonder and belief in magic when we grow up. We stop looking for the magic and goodness in things and people. Instead, we start seeing only the bad or the ugly or the ordinary. We let fears and prejudices replace the wonder and excitement of our youth.

There is certainly no stopping the physical process of “growing up”; however, there is also no real requirement to let completely go of that sense of wonder and enjoyment of life that we experienced as children. We need not stop looking for the magic in life.

There is a certain point in the life of a child when the transition from the safe, warm feeling of “us”, of always being close to their mother’s protective arms is replaced by the somewhat lonesome and scary feeling of “me”, of being an individual without that protective shield of mom always at hand. Most of that transition is a learned response, based upon what we see others (mainly adults) doing around us.

For people of faith, the good news is that we never grow out of the warm, protective arms of the love of God. God stays with us all of our lives and gives us the sense of calm and peace that we so often need in life. Our Pastor used the story of the footprints in the sand in his sermon this weekend to illustrate that God never leaves us and, in fact, carries us through times of hardship or trouble.

Perhaps, as you pause to say a little prayer this morning, you can ask God to allow you to remember the me that you used to be, the me that was so trusting in Him, the me who did not question his/her beliefs, the me that looked for and saw the magic in life. You can go home again, back to your innocent and powerful belief in God. Then you will once again see the magic in life.

Are you looking for it?

Admit it, learn from it, change…

June 19, 2021

I recently stumbled upon an inspirational site that has meaningful messages found in song lyrics from Disney movies, or maybe it stumbled upon me…I forget. Anyway, I must admit that I saw only a couple of the many Disney movies that were referenced at the site. I chose one of the posts to that site for my musings this morning.

Bittersweet and strange
Finding you can change
Learning you were wrong
— “Tale As Old As Time,” “Beauty and the Beast”

Setting aside for a moment that this is an animated movie and that the song was sung by a teapot, there is wisdom to be found in the lyrics.

The key insight in this message is “learning you were wrong”. How many of us fight long and hard not to have to admit that we were wrong? Wrong about a person or a place or thing; or, perhaps, wrong about in a long-held belief.

There is a series of commercials running right now about The General Insurance Company. The commercials feature Shaquille O’Neal and contain messages about people being wrong about the insurance company because of their past commercials. The message that it is trying to get across is that The General really is a serious and good insurance company, despite their past, silly commercials.

How often do we judge things and people by their appearance or through association with other people or events? THEY become stigmatized by being part of the group “THEM”, and we are happy to lump them all together and dismiss them because of that association in our minds. How lazy and wrong of us.

Each person that we meet deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt and we should use that old justice phrase “Innocent until proven guilty” in our minds before rushing to a judgement of association. About the only thing that one can tell, just by looking at them is that they are a human being. Anything else at that point is a guess and likely a bad one at that.

One might say, well I can see what color their skin is; to which I would answer, “and that means what?” Or, you might say I can tell what sex they are, which I might challenge in the case of androgynous looking people and would further question whether just looking at them how you can determine if they identify with what you think you see. These are the types of judgements that we rush to in our everyday lives and perhaps the most important to try to overcome – to change.

Learning you were wrong only comes after admitting that you were wrong, and that is the hard part for most. For most of us, our preconceived notions and prejudices become part of our defensive shields – the things that we keep up to protect us from harm (real or imagined). It is just safer and easier to avoid having to interact with “those kinds of people”, than to put our shields down take the time and make the effort to really see what kind of person they are.

Yet taking that time and making that effort is what leads to the “bittersweet and strange” part of the lyric, when you find a new friend in that person that you at first avoided.  You will find that you can change. Finding that you can change is the first step to admitting that you were wrong; and admitting that is the first step to learning, which eventually leads to wisdom. Perhaps that is why we associate wisdom with age – it takes us way too long to admit we were wrong and learn from it.

Take another step on your journey to wisdom today. Think about the conclusions or judgements that you make based solely upon how someone looks and challenge yourself make the effort to really get to know the people that you meet today before you make any judgement about them at all. Even them, take the advice of Pope Francis and ask yourself the question, “Who am I to judge?” Once you put down the gavel of judgement, you may find that you meet a lot more interesting and friendly people and maybe make a few new friends.

Find that you can change today!

You decide…

June 18, 2021

“One day, or Day One?  You decide!”  (Paulo Coelho) 

That was Pastor Freed’s quote of the day in his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, today. He used it to discuss pursuing one’s goals and dreams for tomorrow. To me it seemed to pair well with another quote that I found and saved recently –

“No matter what troubles have befallen you or what difficulties you have caused yourself or others, with love for yourself you can change, grow, make amends, and learn… Real love does not encourage you to ignore your problems or deny your mistakes and imperfections. You see them clearly and still opt to love.” — Sharon Salzberg

I have posted here a few times about love for oneself being critical in life. I have also opined that love for oneself begins by accepting the forgiveness and love of God.

Most of us spend way too much time beating ourselves up for mistakes that we make. We second guess and agonize about what might have been. We find it hard to let go of the past and accept its influence on the present and our future.

We are told in the Bible that if we accept Christ into our lives – “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” – (2 Corinthians 5:17)

None of us is perfect. We all make mistakes, some more serious than others; however, all of us are given another chance to repent and return to God. If we turn to God, ask for His forgiveness and then ACCEPT that forgiveness, we can once again love ourselves and make this Day One of our new lives, instead of just another day of regret and sadness.

When that happens in your life, it is Day One of the new you, that is a you that God loves and a new you that you can love. If you can get there, you can begin loving others, too.

So, is this just another day in a life that is not what you hoped it would be or not something that you are proud of or is this Day One of a new life that you can feel good about. Ask God to make this your Day One.

You decide.

Live up to your potential…

June 17, 2021

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote – “Man’s main task in life is to give birth to himself to become what he potentially is.”  (Erich Fromm)

Ironically, in today’s paper the cartoon Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis the cartoon character Pig is shone having a discussion with the character Goat. In the cartoon, Pig tells Goat, “I’ve decided to no longer let fear rule my life”; to which Goat replies, ”Good for you”. Then Pig says, “Instead I’ll choose regret.” In the last frame Goat just says, “Never Mind”, to which Pig relies, “Still bad, but so much less scary.”

It is unfortunate that so many, when faced with the challenges of living up to their potential choose to let fear rule their lives or make the choice that Pig did and live a life of regrets.

Most children are asked the ageless question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  For the very young the answer often entails doing what their heroes do – maybe being a fireman or policemen or perhaps whatever it is that their dads or moms do. At those young ages they do not understand enough about life to let fear rule their lives.

As they get older the child is exposed to the realities of life, the educational or abilities requirements to become what they had dreamed about. For many, the hard work that they come to understand is required is the scary thing that puts them off-track.

There are no free passes to success in any chosen endeavor in life. One must work at it and work hard in many instances. Successful athletes are not just born to success – they work at it harder than others. Look at successful people in any field and you will find someone who was willing to overcome their fears and work hard at being successful.  The most basic fear that they had to overcome was the fear of failure. Instead, they used failures as learning experiences and made the necessary changes to succeed the next time.

Living up to the potential of our lives is a full-time job and one with more than a few things that we could fear. Those who give up on that potential have chosen regret as a comfort zone. Get out of that comfort zone by recognizing it as the lie that it is. No matter what stage of life one is in there is still the potential to be your best and that potential should always serve as the guiding star for the direction in which you are headed.

While the profession or job that you have chosen provides a backdrop for being your best, the challenge is always to realize your potential as a human being – to be the best you that you can be. If you can look back on the things that you do at work or the decision that you made and are satisfied that you did th4e best that you could or made the best decisions that you could have, then you achieved your potential in that aspect of your life.

More importantly, look at your life in terms of your interactions with others. Are you the best husband/wife, father/mother, son or daughter or friend that you can be? Are there things that you can do differently in the future in those aspects of life to reach your potential? You need not let fear of failure dictate your interactions with others and you surely don’t want regrets to rule the day. Rather, work hard to overcome your fears of interpersonal relationships. Feed off the adrenalin that fear may release in you and use it to spur you on to success. Fear will turn to exhilaration, once it is overcome.

Pastor Freed wrote in his blog about being thankful for various people in his life who mentored him and helped him see and reach his potential. You may also have those types of people in your life or you may have to rely on yourself for the motivation to reach you potential. Remember that you also have God close at hand and you have but to call on him to receive that boost of confidence that you may need. If you believe that the path that you see as your potential is God’s will for you, how can you not succeed? Now, that is a formula for success.

Reaching your potential in life does not mean making the most money or having the most things. Reaching your potential in life means having people that you love and receiving their love back. It means having no regrets that you didn’t do the best that you could. It means ending up where God wanted you to be. Live up to your potential.