What would you see?

July 5, 2020

A recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog used this quote – “I want to meet myself from someone else’s point of view.”  (Converse shoe ad)

It is very difficult for anyone to take an objective look at himself or herself. Every now and then, I’ll see a picture that someone else took of me and maybe posted on social media and it always surprises me that I look like the picture. I know it is m;, but, it is not how I picture myself in my mind. I’m not sure what veil of ego or deception I pull over my eyes when I look in a mirror, but somehow I don’t quite see what the camera saw.

Of more importance than our physical appearance to others, it is the “person” that others see that would be most interesting to understand. Do they see the thoughtful, honest and kind person that I think I am; or, do they see someone different?  Do vestiges of prejudice or racism somehow show through the façade that I may think I am displaying? Do the overt actions that I am taking sufficiently cover the nagging fears or uncertainties that persist in the recesses of my mind? What would I “see” if I could see me from the viewpoint of others?

An interesting observation that I have shared here before is that most people don’t realize how uninviting or even threatening their “at rest” facial appears can be to others.  When we are not overtly trying to smile or even to frown, our faces settle into a relaxed or “at rest” state. Our face sags a bit and our lips droop, sometimes turning into a frown. For many it just looks like we are being serious about something, but for some, our continence takes on a look of anger or disgust. To find to what your at rest face looks like have someone take pictures of you when you are not expecting it and not doing anything in particular. You may be surprised.

Physical appearances aside, the person that others “see” is heavily influenced by things like what you say and how you talk, as well as the thing that you actually do. How differently do you see (judge) people who use good English and can talk in complete sentences verses those who punctuate their conversation with vapid verbal fillers, such as “like” or “you know”. How much more attention do you pay to the words of a person who is able to express themselves well verses those who couch everything they say in slang or vulgarity. What would I see if I were able to listen to myself as others do? Would I be likely to believe what I am hearing, at least accept it as a reasonable, albeit different point of view, or just dismiss it as the ravings of an ignorant person?

While it is impossible to really see yourself as others see you, there is value in pausing every now and then to examine one’s position on matters that are occurring in our lives. We are seldom self-aware enough to really understand what is motivating our actions and decisions unless we take that pause and think about it. As I have opined here in the past, we use a prayer for forgiveness in our church service that asks God for forgiveness for the things that we have done and those that we have left undone. We may be more aware of why we do the things that we do, but less aware of the things that we leave undone for reasons that we just don’t think about. The man begging on the street that I did not stop to help sees the things that I left undone, not the many good things that I may have done.

As you pause and try to understand what is motivating your actions and reactions, you may catch glimpses of what others “see” in you. If you don’t like what you see, it’s time to make changes. See the post, “What to change to make real change”.

I’ll be seeing you.


Show the world what you believe…

June 27, 2020

I saw a quote while searching for something on-line that I had to save, because it rang so true.

“Your beliefs don’t make you a better person, your behavior does.”  (Sukhraj S. Dhillon)

A hallmark of the younger generations seems to be putting their beliefs into practice, at least for many who turn out in the streets to protest things that they believe are wrong. While their elders (which includes my generation) may share many of the same beliefs, they have not been labeled “the silent majority” for no reason. Their actions and behaviors do not reflect those beliefs. Why is that?

While the term “politically correct” was coined more recently, most of us who are older grew up in a society where standing out or being noticed for your actions in support of yor beliefs was discouraged from a very young age. The old phrased “children should be seen but not heard” dates back to the late nineteenth century (and maybe earlier), but it was still the rule in the Twentieth Century. Most in the older generations were raised in an environment that encouraged “going along to get along”. That same environment encouraged us to look the other way when we saw racial injustices by the police or anyone and to tolerate the bigotry against gays and others who were “different”. Anyone showing empathy for the plight of any of those groups was immediately labeled a “bleeding heart liberal”, which was the precursor to today’s conservative hate label – “socialist”.

But, what of us, as individuals?

Events too large to ignore, like the Corona Virus Pandemic and the public outrage over recent police brutality against people of color test our beliefs and our behavior. Recent news stories about people congregating in bars and on beaches without regard to safety measures for themselves and others point to a society that is self-centered and bereft of societal concerns or obligations. This is a reflection of the “I got mine, you go get your own” mentality that drives us much of the time. And, the protest marches over recent police killings of people of color have yet to drive meaningful action or reform in Washington or at many State and local levels.

You may be tempted to say, “What can I do about that?” You can start by wearing a mask in public and practicing social distancing. That is not an act of selfishness; it is an act of regard for the well-being of those around you. Perhaps you are not the type to take to the streets to protest, but you can take to the ballot box to vote. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable shouting slogans at a rally; but, you can put a sign in your yard in support of a candidate or an idea. You may not take the megaphone to shout for justice; but you can talk to your friends and express your concerns and opinions. You can at least put your beliefs into some form of behavior that shows the world the beliefs you hold. If you get really brave, you can volunteer at a local food bank or shelter – actually doing something about the hunger that exists in every community, instead of just being concerned about it.  

Beliefs that are hidden away or suppressed are like faith that is not acted upon. The Bible tells us –

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. …”  (James 2:14-26)

I have a sign on my front lawn right now that shows a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr – “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

What matters to you? If you believe in something, show the world through your works as well as your words. Change your behavior to reflect your beliefs.


What to change to cause real change…

June 26, 2020

There is much in the news about demands for change and an end to discrimination of all types and the inequities that exist in our society. As I look back over quotes that I save from the Jack‘s Winning Words blog, two stood out as seeming to go together to provide a good starting point for accomplishing the needed changes.

“If you were to change the world, start with yourself.”  (Gandhi)

  • AND –

“If you don’t like something, change it.  If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”  (Mary Engelbreit)

People almost never look in the mirror and honestly say to themselves – “You are a part of the problem.” It is always “they” or “them” who are at fault – the bigots and haters that we see on the news. Yet it is those who remain silent and let things go on that facilitate that bigotry or wrong behavior. The bully who goes unchallenged by his/her peers that continues to bully others. The bigot who refuses to perform a service for, or sell a product to, a gay couple will continue to discriminate. The police who treat people of color differently will continue to harass and kill with impunity. If we see it and don’t say or do something, then we are a part of the problem and not of the solution.

In our prayers for forgiveness at church we pray that God will forgive us for the things that we have done and the things left undone. It is in those things left undone that we become part of the problem. Today’s quotes direct us to spend more time in reflection on our own thoughts and actions (or inaction). A good start is to examine how the nightly news stories about the demonstrations against police brutality make you feel.

Most white viewers likely have little frame of reference for empathy with the black demonstrators, unless they have been stopped and perhaps roughly treated by the police sometime in their past. For the most part, white people don’t view a stop by the police as a life-threatening event – it’s just an inconvenience. Compare that to the interviews that you see on the news about how blacks view interactions with the police. Their fears are palpable.

Perhaps then, your lack of empathy or even your indifference to the obvious issues that exist for people of color is a part of the problem- part of the things left undone. If you feel like you can’t, by yourself, change the problem, then take Mary Engelbreit’s advice and change the way that you think about it. Let that change in thinking also drive changes in your life. Not everyone can join in the marches and demonstrations; however, everyone can vote and elect new officials who will affect the changes that are needed.  Everyone can change the way that they interact with people who are different from them. Often, it is just that interaction itself which makes the difference.

Heeding Gandhi’s advice means starting by recognizing where you are today and giving yourself the goals to be someplace else tomorrow. What can you change about yourself to make you the person that you’d really like to be? What can you do to get yourself out of the safe comfort zone of indifference to the plight of others?  Start by changing the way that you think about it.

Now, that’s real change.


Focus through prayer…

June 23, 2020

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote – “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.”  (Aristotle)

I have a feeling that for many the current COVID pandemic is their darkest moment, especially for those sickened by the virus. I have posted here in the past about hope and the four candles (or points of light) in our lives – Peace, Faith, Love and Hope (see Where there is hope there can never be complete darkness).

In that post I talked about a YouTube video that showed Hope being the last candle left burning when all others have faded in us; however, it has always bothered me that it was hope and not faith that was shown as the last candle burning in that video. I my mind, faith is what supports hope. If we have faith in God, we can continue to have hope that everything will be all right or at least that what happens is God’s will.

Therefore, in order to focus upon, and see, the light of hope during dark times; we must first clear our minds and vision through faith. We attain that focus through prayer.  It is in prayer that we are able to set aside our fears and uncertainty and appeal to God for His help getting through the crisis. It is in prayer that we are reassured that God will never leave us. In prayer, we rediscover that He will give us the strength to get through whatever challenges we face. Prayer allows us to focus upon and see the light of hope in that darkest hour.

Let us all take Aritotle’s advice and focus upon the light. In this case, let’s focus upon the light of faith, from which the lights of hope, love and peace will be relit in our lives. We can achieve that focus through prayer.

In the Bible, we are told – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.” (Philippians 4:6,7)

-AND-

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14)

It is that second to last part of the quote from John that we often don’t get – “ according to His will”. Too often, we see things only from our own perspective. We may say, I prayed that I wouldn’t get sick, but I did anyway. Alternatively, perhaps, I prayed that my dad, spouse, child wouldn’t die, but they did anyway. Don’t let the lights of faith and hope go out in your life. What happened was God’s will.  You can’t understand it, so don’t try. Just accept it and move on with your life.

Let your faith be the light from which the other candles of hope, love and peace are kept burning in your life.

Focus through prayer to see the light of faith in your life.


Don’t give up on me…

June 20, 2020

A recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog used this quote from a COVID-19 survivor – “Doc, thank you so much for not giving up on me.”  (Lung transplant survivor)

The lungs of the young lady who is quoted were so badly damaged by the virus that her only chance of survival was a double lung transplant, which the doctors at her hospital performed. She survived and left the hospital with a new life ahead of her.

In our lives we are seldom faced with such a crisis, but we do face the realities of the bad things that happen to us or the bad things that we might have done. In the Lord ’s Prayer, we ask for forgiveness for those “trespasses” and promise to forgive those who trespass against us. Sometimes the hardest part is that part about forgiving those who we believe (or know) have wronged us in some way.

In our church service a week ago, we remembered the Emanuel Nine – the nine South Carolina church members killed in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church five year ago by Dylann Roof. Possibly the most amazing part of the entire story have been the reports of the surviving church members who have come forward to say that they have forgiven Root.

As we think about our own lives and the trespasses that we might have committed or those that were committed against us (real or imagined) it is important that we not only pray for the forgiveness of our trespasses , but that we also pray for help forgiving those who we believe wronged us somehow. Only by letting go of the pain and anger that we hold for those people and forgiving them will we be truly free to move forward in our own lives. It starts by acknowledging that God is with us in our lives, through the good and the bad. The Bible tells us…

Romans 8:38-39 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I wrote recently about things left undone (see https://normsmilfordblog.com/2020/06/13/things-left-undone/).  Forgiving those who trespass against us is often a very large thing left undone. We need God’s help with that.  Don’t give up on God, because He is not giving up on you.

Until we can get to that state of mind of forgiving our trespassers, perhaps we should add a modified version of that young woman’s thank you to her doctors to the end of our prayer s – God, thank you so much for not giving up on me.


Worrying doesn’t help…

June 15, 2020

From a recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog comes this Charlie Brown quote – “Worrying won’t stop the bad stuff from happening; It just stops you from enjoying the good.” 

Charles Schultz shared quite a bit of wisdom through his Peanuts comic strip of the years, as have other creators of great comic strips – the strip Calvin comes to mind. Today’s quote reminds us that worrying not only wastes time, but solves nothing and may actually cause harm by preventing one from seeing and enjoying the good things in life.

Worrying is certainly different from planning. One can look at some future event and do good planning for it – formulate a strategy for approaching it, what things to be aware of or to avoid and such. Planning is good. Worrying, however, is more about imagining all of the bad things that might happen, most of which are out of your control, and trying to think up solutions for them, too. Why worry about the weather, for instance, since you cannot control it. One may plan for bad weather by packing an umbrella or a jacket , in case it get cold; but spending time worrying about how it might change thins does not good.

At the root of our worries is something that I’ve opined her about in the past – our need to solve the unsolvable. Our minds are always trying to find the answer, to solve the problem, to see a way out of the situation. In many cases there is no solution, things just have to happen. In those cases, the “solution” is to let go and stop trying to find the solution. The prayer phrase, “Not my will, but Thy will be done” is the solution in those situations. Putting your trust in God’s hands and accepting that whatever happens He will be there with you to get you through it is the key to stopping the worrying.

Many times our worries are about upcoming interpersonal interactions – how will my date go or how will this person react to what I have to tell them. We are concerned (worried) about how we will be perceived by the other person or how the other person will react to the event. Maybe we are even afraid of the reaction the other person, and so we worry about it. None of that worry will have any effect on the situation, other than to consume us and prevent us from enjoying  other things in the interim.

Once you have given your worries to God, you are free to turn your attention to those good things that are going on in your life. You may be surprised how much that is good was going on around you while your attention was focused upon worrying. Maybe the Bobby McFerrin song “Don’t worry, be happy” will start playing in your mind.

There’s a new week ahead. Don’t worry, God’s got your back.


Things left undone…

June 13, 2020

Each week in our church service we start with a prayer of forgiveness in which we ask God for His forgiveness for our sins – the things that we have done AND the things that we have left undone. For most there are probably just a few things (if any) that we have done for which we should seek forgiveness; however, for all there are probably many things that we have left undone. For many it may be passing by on the other side, instead of stopping to help (see Luke 10:25-37). Forgive me for things left undone.

We may think we are too busy to stop and help or perhaps we think it is none of our business and we don’t want to get involved when we see an injustice or witness things like bullying, domestic violence or police brutality. Some may stop to record the event on their phone, which is what we see on the nightly news. However, what is often left undone is the intercession to offer help. Being a witness is not the same as helping. Sitting on the sidelines and going “Tut, tut, that’s terrible” is not the same as jumping in to help or joining the protest march. Forgive me for things left undone.

Sitting at home and watching events unfold on the nightly news is another example. When protesters are marching and demanding change in our society, being an observer from the comfort of your home is leaving things undone. Watching a protest march on Facebook live is not the same as being there. Even “Liking” or commenting on a post to agree with the position being  taken is not the same as making your own post or expressing your own feelings. Forgive me for things left undone.

The things that we don’t do aren’t all about negatives. Many are actually very positive things that we leave undone because we just don’t make the effort. Smiling at the person you pass and saying ”Good morning”, or perhaps simply opening  the door for the person behind you at the store are examples. It isn’t that we don’t care, it’s usually that we just done think about it. We are so focused upon ourselves and what we see as important in the moment that we don’t notice the opportunity to show kindness to others. Forgive me for things left undone.

One may think that they are busy trying to do the right things themselves and don’t have time to worry about others, but that is not what God wants us to do. Look at just a few of the times from the Bible that we are told what is expected of us –

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4 )

 “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

 “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:17)

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17 )

To which we are left to say – Forgive me for things left undone.

Perhaps the advice that we should heed is found in the Nike slogan – Just Do It!


Life goes on, just like this…

May 31, 2020

In his blog, Jack’s Winnng Words, Pastor Jack Freed used this quote recently – “Life is a series of commas, not periods.”  (Matthew McConaughey) 

What McConaughey (and Jack) was alluding to are the pauses that we occasionally encounter in life, like the pause that one makes upon encountering a comma in a sentence. It is not the end of the sentence, just a pause before the sentence continues. Sometimes, life takes off in a new direction after the pause; but most of the time it just continues.

The current Corona Virus Pandemic has certainly thrown many commas into our lives and maybe sent us off in new directions. We hear about “the new normal” and see all around us the impact of the changes that have occurred. Life will never be the same. There is no going back to the old normal. That has actually always been the case; it’s just that change normally takes place over longer periods of time and occurs in different areas at different times. Businesses come and go all the time; it’s just that so many usually don’t go at the same time. Big events that were cancelled in the entertainment and sports world caused disappointment, but changed little in most lives. The economic disruption is both real and painful, but it too shall pass. Comma, comma, comma.

The pandemic has caused disruption in most lives and destruction is some lives; but, for most, there is more life ahead, after this comma. Our challenge is not to be stuck on the wrong side of the comma; not to let ourselves be bogged down in lamenting what was, but to get on with what will be. We cannot change what has already happened, but we definitely can change what will be – what is on the other side of this comma.

It is time to acknowledge this comma in our lives, time to pause and take a deep breath, and time get on to the other side of the comma. This is not a time to let frustration and anger rule our lives. It will take all of our focus, energy and creativity to adjust and flourish in” the new normal”.  We don’t have time to waste railing against the change or lounging for the way things were.

Perhaps you can use this pause in you r life to also to also revisit, and maybe revitalize, your faith. If you have so far been spared the agony of this disease or maybe have gone through it and recovered, you can take a moment to thank God. You can also pray for God to give you the strength and determination to continue on the other side of this comma. God is the one constant amidst all of this change and can serve as your touchstone as you seek to move beyond this comma in your life.

What is on the other side of this comma for you is yet to be determined. Maybe it’s? Or maybe it’s!


Now is not the time to disobey…

May 27, 2020

Two quotes that I’ve saved from past posts to the Jack’s Winning Words blog (one from today and one from several weeks ago) seem to point to it being OK to disobey the rules, to even encourage civil disobedience .

“If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.”  (Katharine Hepburn)

-and-

“Good men must not obey the laws too well.”  (Emerson)

Jack went on to use both quotes to make positive points and not to encourage disobeying the current rules that are in effect to fight against the Corona Virus pandemic.

It is true that some of the rules that are currently imposed upon us all seem to take away the opportunity for us to have fun. We are a society that is used to gathering in large, boisterous crowds to have fun. We love our sporting events, our pool parties and many other activities that we do together. It is just not the same to be watching something alone, when it comes time to celebrate.

No one said life would always be fun. The Declaration of Independence mentions “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, but it says nothing about fun. The Constitution also fails to mention fun as an inalienable right, yet many rail in demonstrations that they have a right to do whatever it is that they want to do to have fun.

Few (though unfortunately not everyone) would argue that they have the right to stand in a crowded room of people and shoot a gun off in random directions; yet, that is what they are arguing for by demanding that they be allowed to stand in a crowd with Covid-19 infected people coughing  (or just speaking) in random directions. The end-effect of people dying is the same.

The statistics show that the percentage of infected people varies by week and by region, but hovers somewhere around 10%, with as many as 50% of those people being totally unaware that they are infected and spreading  the disease. So maybe being out in public without taking any precautions is more like being handed a random gun and being instructed to play Russian roulette with it. You know that there’s a bullet in the gun somewhere, but you just don’t know if the next pull of the trigger will bring a click or a sound that you will never hear. Is that fun? Did you get the last laugh?

Common sense, which seems in short supply these days, would seem to dictate caution over the pursuit of fun. Yet we see news stories on TV almost daily where someone (usually a very young someone) with beer in hand looks at the camera and says, “I don’t care about the virus, I just want to have fun.”  It is left up to our imagination what that same young person may look like with ventilator tubes going down their throat.

Until there is an effective vaccination against this disease, it is not OK to disobey the preventative rules that our health and government leaders are trying to impose for our own good. It is not fun, but the alternative is not fun either. If you need guidance from the Bible to help you understand what you should be doing see –

“Do not seek your own personal interests alone, but also the interests of others,”  (Philippians 2:4)

-and-

“Since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.”  (1 John 4:11)

There will be a time for fun as we are told in Ecclesiastes 3:1,4 – “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under Heaven…a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” That time is just not right now. Now is the time to obey the rules and show your love for others by being safe and helping keep them safe.

Be safe and stay healthy…the time for fun is coming.


Find Your Happy Place…Find God

May 20, 2020

I saw “Find Your Happy Place” on the cover of the Readers Digest that my wife gets. I didn’t read the article in that edition of the Digest, but I did Google “how to find your happy place”. It turns out that there are quite a few places called Happy Place, more than a few of which are bars or liquor stores. Hopefully you don’t find what passes for your happy place in them.

The definitions and advice that comes back when you search on finding your happy place tend to involve doing things to distract and calm your mind, to stop fretting about whatever has been worrying you and focus instead on thoughts that make you happy or that made you happy once. The advice ranged from thoughts of a place that was visually satisfying or remembering an experience that was pleasant. The take-away is that your happy place is a state of mind more than a place.

The process of finding your happy pace is like de-cluttering you r mind; getting rid of all of the thoughts and imagined bad outcomes of whatever you are facing and focusing instead on thoughts that bring happiness into focus in your mind. I have opined here many times about how our imaginations, as wonderful as they are, can take us down rat holes of implausible, yet scary, outcomes to our problems. If we let our imaginations run away with us, we end up depressed about, or terrified about, things that will never happen.

The more that I thought about the advice that was available on finding your happy place, the more that it became clear that  what you were really doing is finding your way back to God. The techniques that are recommended to clear and clam the mind just allow one to get rid of the things that were keeping them from seeing God in their life and reaffirming their trust in Him. Being in one’s happy place allows one to let go of those problems and give them to God. It is a state of mind that allows one to pray, “Not my will, but thy will be done” and to give up ownership of the problem.

In the midst of the worst situation that any of us could have imagined, it is particularly important that we make the effort to find our happy place and re-engage with God. None of us is going to solve this problem by ourselves and for many it will be the most terrible thing that they have had to endure. Yet, waiting patiently in the background, in your happy place, is our God. Find Him and you will be at peace, in your happy place, unafraid of the future.

Find your happy place today…Find God.