Be the reason today…

January 23, 2021

I recently saw a license plate holder with the saying “Be the reason that someone smiles today” on it. It started me thinking about how one could be that reason that would put a smile on someone’s face, even though you might not know that person. Aside from dressing up like a clown and walking around like that, there are other reasons why being around you might bring a smile to the face of others.

The most simple way is to have a smile on your face, too. I’ve posted here a few times about our typical “mien”, which is the look on your face or the way that you act when you are unaware. In particular, few of us are aware that our “at rest mien”, the face that we present to the public when we are not trying to do anything, is most of the time not a very inviting or friendly look. In fact, many people look unhappy, sad or even angry when their face is at rest. Most people do not present a smile to the world when they are unaware that anyone is looking, because smiling requires a conscious effort. So, to walk around with a smile on your face would require that you consciously be trying to smile. That’s not a bad thing, since it would force you to think of reasons to smile and probably put you in a better mood to do some of the other things that can bring a smile to the face of others.

You can perform small, random acts of kindness throughout the day. This might be as simple as opening a door for someone or allowing someone to go ahead of you. Just offering a friendly and warm greeting might make someone else’s day better. There are hundreds of opportunities each day for one to do something that will make someone else’s day better or more pleasant. We often overlook those opportunities or ignore them because we are too self-centered on what we are doing or focused upon our own needs. We have read recently about waitresses in various places receiving large tips from people that they didn’t know. The tippers were just doing that to put a smile to their day by doing something extra to relieve their financial anxiety. We can’t all tip in the thousands of dollars, but maybe leaving a 20-25% tip instead of only 10-15% would bring a smile, too. Even something as inexpensive as taking the time to compliment the waitperson on good service might bring that smile to their face. Certainly, taking the extra time to seek out the manager and letting them know what great service your waitperson rendered will bring a smile to their face later.

There are also many things that you could do which might bring smiles that you will never see (but which you can imagine). Things like volunteering to prepare or pack food for distribution through programs like Meals on Wheel or the school food programs Like Blessing in a Backpack are examples. The “behind-the-scenes” people don’t get to see the smiles on the faces of the recipients , but they know they those smiles occur. We don’t ever get to see the people that our donations to organizations like The Salvation Army go to help, but we all probably have imagined that someone, somewhere is going to smile because we dropped that dollar into the bucket. And, you know what? That brings a smile to our face, too.

So, today, walk around thinking of all of the smiles that you can cause. See if that doesn’t motivate you to do some things that you might not have otherwise done. Then, see if that doesn’t make you smile.

As the song says, “Smile and the whole world smiles with you”. Be the reason that someone smiles today!


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!


Follow the leaders …

January 1, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


You control your future…

December 30, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are told in the Bible –

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

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

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


Reaching for the next bar…

December 29, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reaching for the next bar…


Learn from it and move on

December 23, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is the lesson that we should all take away.