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.


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.


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!


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…


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.


But, it’s not an automatic door…

December 17, 2020

Pastor Freed used this quote today in his blog, Jack’s Winning Words“Every wall has a door.”  (Emerson) 

That quote gets used a lot in inspirational posts or signs and is meant to encourage people to not quit, but to look for the way out of the situation that they find themselves in – to look for that door. Pastor Freed went on to relate how Michael Jordan used it to explain that he never quit when he had early rejections or failures in life – he found a way through, or over, or around the walls that life threw up in his life.

I suspect that many of us approach those doors like we would the door of a major retail store, like Kohl’s or Target. We expect them to be automatic, to open as we approach them. Most are not that way. The doors to opportunity in life require not only that you look for them; but, also that you actually work to get them open and go through them.

Some doors may even be locked when we get there and we have the further challenge of finding the key to unlock them, so that we may open them and go through. Some doors are even hidden. I saw a post on Linked In recently were a man approached a wall that had an obvious door in it, but he pushed on the seemingly solid stone wall next to the door and a passageway opened for his to go through. Maybe the message there is that one must also look for hidden solutions to life’s problems and challenges.

What do you do when you walk up to the storefront door and it doesn’t automatically open? Do you give up, turn around and go back to your car? No. You reach out, grab the door handle and open it yourself.

The doors the we may face in life are not automatic and we must work to find and open them, so that we might go forward in life. The important take-away is to not allow yourself to be satisfied with being shut out of what’s behind each door that is preventing your progress.

This morning, in your prayers, ask God, not that He make the doors that you encounter in life open automatically; but, rather for His help in finding the key needed to open them and allow you to move on with your life. Ask Him to strengthen your faith and give you the patience and perseverance to work at opening those doors.  We read in the Bible –

“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” (1 John 5:4)

If you think about it, God has already given us the ultimate key to life’s last door – Jesus. For, with faith in Jesus, we can open the door in the wall of death and enter into eternal life.

Keep working at it through prayer. It is not an automatic door.


Find your calm…

December 16, 2020

In a recent Church Council meeting our Pastor used the following quote –

 “Fear sees a threat, anxiety images it” (Max Lucado from his book Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World)

Lucado is a Christian author and speaker who used that phrase back in 2017 as part of a Bible study presentation about Paul’s letter to the Philippians Chapter 4 verses 6-7, in which Paul said “be anxious about nothing.” You can read all about Max Lucado and see the books that he has written at maxlucado.com.

He went on to say, “The presence of anxiety is unavoidable, but the prison of anxiety is optional. It’s the life of perpetual anxiety that Paul wants to address. Don’t let anything in life leave you perpetually in angst.”

How prophetic were Paul’s words (and those of Lucado) when viewed from the context or our current pandemic environment. We can’t see the threat that the COVID-19 virus presents, we only see the results in the nightly news show; so our anxiety takes over and we imagine the threat as it might apply to us personally.

I have often written here about what I called “the dungeon of despair”, which Lucado calls the “prison of anxiety”. This is a mental prison, not a physical one; but it is a bad place to allow yourself to become trapped, nonetheless.

Lucado talks of the key to being calm in the face of a chaotic world is found in one’s faith. If anxiety imagines a threat where none can be seen, faith provides the calm place to go in the midst of that anxiety. Anxiety tries to cause us to see nowhere to turn in the face of the threat, but the Bible tells us –

“Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)

And

“He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)

Sometimes we need a simple way to envision God’s love and care for us. Maybe you can find that by visualizing this passage from Isaiah 49:16 – “I have written your name on the palms of my hand.”

Just imagine God walking around with your name tattooed in the palm of his hand. Find comfort and calm in the thought that God is holding you in the palm of his hands and then say to yourself – If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

Don’t let fear take over and lead to anxiety; rather, find your calm in the midst of the current chaos by using your imagination to strengthen your faith. Visualize your name written in the palm of God’s hand. Imagine that!

Be at peace.