Five Years From Now

When we moved back to Birmingham several years ago, I interviewed for a job in my field of expertise. The woman conducting the interview asked me a typical interviewer question. She asked, “What do you want to be doing in five years?” With complete honesty, I said, “I hope to be doing this.” She was pleased with my answer. I got the job.

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But now that I look back on that day, I am disappointed in my answer. Like I said, I was honest. I was good at what I did, had trained hard and long for it, but did I really hope to be doing that same thing in five years? Here’s the truth. No matter how hard we try to stay the same, we will change. None of us will be the person we are today in five years. We will be better at our jobs, or we will be worse. We will be fatter or skinnier. Our talents will be more or less developed.  Our marriages or other relationships will be stronger or weaker.

And we will either be closer or farther away from God in five years… depending on what we do and how we invest. If I choose to seek God in prayer, worship, Bible study, and godly friendships, then I will be closer to God and stronger in my faith moving forward. If I drift away from my church, let those friendships that push me toward Jesus slide away, and find myself too busy to pray, worship, and spend time in my Bible, then I will be farther away from God in five years.

In life, there is no such thing as putting down anchor and staying put. We are either moving forward or we are drifting backward. We can allow the wrong influences impact us, and we will lose ground. We will eat too much, think less of our spouses, or fall away from God. We can gain positive ground by being very intentional about the influences that speak into our lives, and by doing so, we’ll find that we are in a much better place five years from now than we are currently.

There are some things in my life that I’m not too happy about right now. Like you, I have stress. I have worries and sadness, challenges and struggles. There are some things that I need to do today that will have an impact on where my life will be tomorrow and the day after that. I can chart a course for a destination with intention, or I can drift with very little effort and find myself in a disappointing place in the future.

I would answer that interview question much differently today than I did years ago. My answer today would likely not land me that job. I don’t want to be doing what I’m doing now in five years. I don’t want my relationships to be where they are, or my depth of faith in God, or my talents to be at the same level. I want more. I want different. I want better.

So what does that look like? Well, for me… I am being very intentional about the people who speak into my life. I need people who are going to push me and challenge me. I need people to call me out and speak truth over me. Sure… sometimes it hurts a bit, but it’s how we manage to keep moving forward. I make myself pray and worship and seek the knowledge found in the pages of scripture. And yes, sometimes I have to make myself do it. And I am seeking out new challenges. Currently, I am a semester away from earning a Master’s Degree. It’s painful, for sure… teaching this old dog new tricks, but it will take me places that I have not yet been.

My point is this… it is pointless to say that I want things to be the same in five years as they are today (Even if today is really great). It won’t happen. I have to chart a course today if I want to move ahead tomorrow and the day after that. Otherwise, I’ll be drifting back, becoming less than, and getting nowhere good any time fast.

May God bless us as we move forward with intention in the New Year!

Change is Hard. Do it Anyway.

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Whether it’s getting a degree, starting a business, growing a marriage, or losing ten pounds, change takes effort. One thing is for sure, the easiest thing we can do is to do nothing. It takes absolutely no effort whatsoever to remain just where we are. We have that situation down pat. Here’s the interesting thing. We often WANT things to be different, but we are resistant to implementing change needed to ensure things ARE different.

Most of us are afraid of change. It’s not that we wouldn’t like for some things to be different. We’d just like for them to be different without any effort on our part, and with every assurance that we will be safe and suffer no ill effects from said change. Sadly, that’s not the way we get to different. Getting to different involves a lot of venture. We have to venture out of our comfort zones and try. Every venture won’t lead us to the change we hope for, but no venture at all will lead us nowhere at all.

I’d like to lose about five pounds. Okay. Ten. As I type this, I have just sucked down a twenty ounce bottle of Mountain Dew. I had a donut from Dunkin Donuts for breakfast. And I just ate three mini Reese’s cups. Chances are, if I don’t make some changes to my diet, I’m not going to lose the weight I want to lose. In fact, I’m going to gain more. I have told myself I am going to make the change in January. I literally plan on eating my way into the New Year. But at least I have a plan for change. Who wants to start a diet in the midst of the holiday season?

Seriously, though, I know that unless I stop eating and drinking unhealthy things and start adding exercise back into my routine, I am likely not going to see the change to my waistline I hope to see. Today, sweet sugary goodness matters more to me than my waistline, and that is nothing more than a head game. But as I said, I have a plan.

Sometimes having a plan is the best first step toward making a needed change. First wrapping our minds around change helps a lot. We can imagine what it might look like for our situation to be different. Currently, I am imagining what it would be like for my pants to fit.

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My husband wishes that I would get out of bed as soon as my alarm goes off every morning… but my body and (mostly) my mind need a minute or fifteen to get used to the idea. I PLAN to get up… soon. After I’ve thought about it a little while. In time, and with a moan, my will pushes my feet to the floor, and I sit up. Change can be like this. It can be painful. It often requires a fair amount of convincing. The initial resistance can be tough, but change can start with just the idea of it. Sadly though, that’s where many of us get stuck. We like the idea of change, but our feet never quite hit the floor.

For real change to happen, we have to let go of old thought patterns. This is harder than we might think. Scientists know that thought patterns are actually hardwired into our brains. But here’s the good news, we can fix those. Just because we have always thought one way, doesn’t mean we can’t learn to think or act in another way. We just have to begin to think different-ly.

I can remember being terrified of the monkey bars on the playground at my elementary school. (I realize there have been precious few segues in this piece, but try to stay with me.) There were two ways of getting across. You either had to climb up on the very top and climb over, or you reached for the first rung and swung across, bar after terrifying bar. I was scared either way. Both options meant I had to let go of what I had so that I could grab hold of what came next. That’s kind of how change is. We can’t hold on too tightly to what we have and be able to grab hold of what’s next. We have to let go. What we have is familiar, comfortable in our grasp. But what if the next rung will bring us better or amazing?

I think you know the change you need to make. I know the change I need to make, and there’s no time like the present to start.

Change is hard.

Do it anyway.

Looking in all the Wrong Places

“Looking for love in all the wrong places,

Looking for love in too many faces,

Searching their eyes, looking for traces,

Of what I’m dreaming of…”

It amazes me that I can remember the lyrics to that entire song from 1980. I don’t even like country music, but it was what my parents listened to when I was growing up, so it was sort of force fed to me. I can recall lyrics to far more 1970s and 80s country songs than I care to admit. It’s a curse, really. I can’t remember where I put my phone, but hum a few bars of a Statler Brothers hit, and I’ll sing the whole song for you.

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I have no explanation for why this particular song ran out of the eighties and through my mind today. I do know that the premise of the song holds true, though. No matter what it is that we seek in this life, chances are, we are looking in the wrong place and often accepting weak counterfeits when the real thing seems out of reach.

When Jesus was here in the flesh and teaching people how to live, he knew there were things that we desperately wanted… things that would drive us to unbelievable lengths to obtain. He knew that we worried we might never have the very things we thought we must have, and that those things would consume our thoughts and actions. To set our minds at ease, He told us how to handle these desires we have. He said,

“Seek first, the kingdom of God, and then all these things will be added to you” Matthew 6:33.

No matter what it is that we want or are hoping to have, if we are looking anywhere besides Jesus, we are looking in the wrong place. I mean think about it. What if there truly was a way to have everything we ever wanted? And what if the way to get those things was in simply turning our attention to Jesus? Can it really be that easy? I mean, that’s not really all that hard, is it? It’s just a shift in our focus. A course correction. It’s not like the way to everything we want is at the finish line of a triathlon, or at the summit of Mount Everest. He didn’t send us on a quest to find the Ghost Orchid in order have all that we want.

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We just have to stop looking for what we want in all the wrong places, and find it all in Jesus. He wants us to want Him, first… and THEN all these things will be added to us… then. The problem, my problem, is that I don’t like the THEN part. I don’t much like waiting for what I want. I just want, and like a little child, I will fret, pout, and finagle my way to try and get what I want. I wonder what that must look like from God’s perspective. There He sits, holding literally everything.

Literally.

Everything.

He sits there holding literally everything, watching us run around like headless chickens trying to snatch and grab for ourselves what we believe we must have. It has to be a pitiful sight. I am embarrassed for us.

“But my God shall supply everything you need, according to his riches in glory.” Philippians 4:19.

He shall supply. It is already His plan to give to His children. He, who owns it all… shall provide- when we seek Him first. Seems like a sweet deal to me. No fretting, no pouting, no finagling, and no elusive Ghost Orchids. Just seeking Him, first.

We tend to complicate things. Jesus makes them easy. We should stop living an 80s country song. We should choose easy.

 

Hide Your Goat

I once listened to a motivational speaker who talked about hiding goats. I am particularly interested in all things goat right now. You see, I want two. Little ones. Cute ones. I’m currently working on convincing my husband that two little goats are what’s missing from our already busy lives. I have visions of quitting my job and becoming a goat herder. Although, I don’t think two goats quite make a herd.

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So when I heard this speaker talk about goats, I sat up and listened. I soon figured out he was not talking about actual goats. He was talking about not letting other people “get your goat”. What does it mean to allow someone to get your goat? Well, think about that one person in your life that gets under your skin. Oh, you have more than one? Bless your heart. Well, think about those people. No matter how you steal yourself for an encounter with them, no matter how firm your resolve not let them get the better of you… in a matter of minutes in their presence, you have lost your cool and find your usual peace-loving self, ready to resort to violence. And… there goes your goat.

Sometimes we let people we don’t even know get our goat. Other drivers, slow checkout clerks at Walmart, other shoppers at Walmart… pretty much everyone and everything at Walmart. Perhaps I have shared too much, but Walmart makes me crazy. Gets my goat every time. My dad lets almost every other driver on the road get his goat.

We live in a world where everyone just lets their goats run wild for others to get. Offenses fly around like swarms of bats, or bees, or other swarming things, and goats start disappearing. Social media and other forms of internet communications do little to help the matter. Grown adults hide behind devices and post things they would never say in a face to face encounter. I stopped watching the news a few years ago because all the news outlets want is to get my goat. Most of the time, I have no idea what’s going on in the world, but I do know where my goat is.

We have to learn to hide our goats. We can’t just let them run lose for others to take. It’s not easy, hiding goats. If you know anything about goats, you likely know that keeping them pinned up is a challenge. They are persistent climbers and unless you have taken great care in building their enclosures, you’ll look around to find them running loose. We have to take responsibility for managing our goats.

Here’s the thing about goat getting. No one can get your goat unless you allow them to get it. When you guard your goat carefully, it may appear that you are disengaged or disinterested in the drama before you, when in fact, you are simply hiding your goat. The people who enjoy getting your goat will then find themselves dissatisfied, and move on to less well guarded goats.

Lines at the bank will no longer frustrate you. Poor wait staff at restaurants will still get a decent tip from you. You’ll stop gesturing wildly to rude drivers, sit pleasantly through holiday family get-togethers, and you’ll no longer feel it necessary to post your two cents worth on the latest internet offenses.

Why? Because you’ve decided to hide your goat.

Greener Pastures

My dad and my brother still keep cows on the farm that was once my grandparents’. It’s not like a huge Texas herd or anything, but a couple dozen cows is still kind of a deal to deal with. The cows are forever breaking through the fencing and helping themselves to the grass in the neighboring pasture. Last week, Dad told me that, once again, the cows had broken through, and he would have to go repair it.

I said, “I thought you put barbed wire fencing up to keep them from doing that. Isn’t that the point of the barbs? Doesn’t it hurt them to push through that?”

He answered yes to all of that.

When I said I didn’t get why they didn’t just stay in their own pasture, he told me that they get convinced in their cow brains that whatever is on the other side of that fencing is better than what is on their side, and they are willing to endure whatever pain and agony it takes to push through the fencing to get to it.

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Am I about to compare us to cattle?  Yes, I am.

Society drives us to comparison. We stand at our spiritual, moral, and ethical fences looking out at what lies beyond that border and convince ourselves that what sits just beyond our reach is exactly what we need. We consider the conditions on our side of the fence, and they seem to pale in comparison. If we stand there long enough, we begin to debate what it would take to push through that fence.

I could push through this. It will hurt a bit, maybe it will hurt a lot, but the reward when I get to the other side will be worth it. I’m thinking that grass over there? That grass is so much greener than the grass over here. I can almost smell its sweetness. I can nearly feel its texture in my mouth. I can’t even bring myself to think about the grass over here. It’s the same boring grass that’s always been over here. There’s no excitement to this grass, no hope for adventure or newness with it. Do I really have to live with this same old grass for the rest of my days? I deserve that better grass over there.

That fence that was put there to protect us begins to feel a lot like a prison. We get itchy, and we get antsy. And then we get tunnel vision, and one day, we make the decision to go for it. Nothing on our side of the fence matters anymore. Not our marriages, not our families, ministries, or our jobs. We lean in, pressing into the fence, gritting our teeth at the pain of it. We could stop. We could. But we have momentum, and if we stop now we might not start again, so we just keep going. The barbs dig into our flesh, we bleed, we cry, but we push and push until we break through, at last running wild and free into the greener pastures we dreamed of for so long back on our side of the fence. We run, frolic, and eat up all the goodness we can on the other side of the fence. We ignore the pain from pushing through the fence. It doesn’t matter.

Only it does matter. In a short while, it matters a lot. We take a furtive glance back at the destruction we caused when we pushed through the fence. We swallow the grass in our mouths and realize as it slides down to the first of our four stomachs, that it’s pretty much like the grass we had over there, only that grass came without a lot of hurt and pain.

We look around with new eyes at the grass on this side of the fence and see the briars and stickers in the grass growing over here. We couldn’t see those from the protection of our fence. There were definite issues back over there, but there seem to be issues over here, too, now. It’s harder over here, and it’s lonely, too.

The odd thing about my dad’s story is, the cows came back home on their own that time. One by one, they came back through the hole in the fence to their own pasture… acting all casual-like, as if they hadn’t caused all that trouble. That’s okay. They are cows.

We are not cows. We cause a lot of pain for ourselves and for those who love us and depend on us when we choose to push through the fencing. Those guardrails are put there for our protection, and for the preservation of those who love and depend on us. Temptation will always call to us from the other side of the fence. It will always tell us that the grass is greener over there… and it will always lie.

Should I Be Offended?

Should I be offended? It’s a question one of my kids would ask me from time to time. If I had understood completely what I understand now, I would not have needed to know the details of the particular situations. These details would not have mattered, I would have told him without hesitation, “No”.

But what of the details? Maybe the thing that happened was indeed offensive. Maybe my kid would have been completely justified in being offended. I think that is our problem these days. We justify ourselves, but find ourselves offended by others. Social media has become a hotbed of offended people. It is a platform for pontificating about the latest offenses perpetrated against us.

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We operate in a world of offense every day, but I grew up in a time that gave people the benefit of the doubt. We chose to believe the better in someone unless and until they just insisted that we see them for the scoundrel they were. Were we naive? Maybe. But we were happier. We weren’t scouting out our next opportunity to be offended by someone.

Just today, I offended a lady. I was turning into a parking lot of a downtown restaurant and she was waiting to pull out onto the street. I did not have my turn signal on signaling my intent to turn into the restaurant. I know. I’m a horrible person. I’d tell you what she mouthed at me and then signaled to me with her hands, but this is a G-rated blog. I was amused that she was so instantly angered by my failure to signal. My actions had not put her at any risk. I suppose I slowed her progress by a few seconds, but by her reaction one would have thought I had pulled up next her, exited my car, and taken a sledge hammer to hers.

Ephesians, chapter four, tells us:

“In your anger do not sin” : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,
and do not give the devil a foothold… Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

So what’s so wrong with being offended? Nothing, really, unless you are a believer in Christ. According to Galations 2:20, it is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me. Essentially, I am dead… un-offendable. You cannot offend a dead person. Have you ever tried being un-offendable? It is a challenge in today’s society where offense is encouraged, even celebrated.

What does it mean to be un-offendable? It means you stop holding on to un-forgiveness, even for a moment. The Bible speaks often about forgiveness. It doesn’t ever say that the person who has offended us deserves our forgiveness. But it’s not about that. It’s about opening the door for the enemy to sneak in and begin messing around in our lives. (“Do not give the devil a foothold.” Offense and un-forgiveness give the devil a foothold in our lives.) He loves to come in and stir up our offenses and the un-forgiveness we hold on to.  He pokes at them like we might poke at a fire to keep it going. It’s why we are told again and again and again to forgive others. Sure, forgiveness is good for the offender, but that’s not the real story about forgiveness. We are told to forgive because it shuts the door on the one who comes to steal, kill, and destroy us. Offense, un-forgiveness, will burn us from the inside.

Forgiveness means letting go of your grip on the other person’s neck. 

So how do you know if you have truly forgiven someone? How can you be sure you’ve let go of an offense if you have taken one up? Well, you can look at the offender and not think about the thing or things they did that offended you. When you interact with them, or speak of them to others, you don’t bring up the offenses from the past: distant or recent. When you think of them, you no longer calculate plans to let loose the fleas of a thousand camels into their underwear drawer.

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You let it go. Not because they deserve it, although maybe they do. But more importantly, you let it go because in letting it go, you protect yourself from an enemy attack. Try this, just for fun. See how long you can go without taking up an offense… even a small one. Can you go a day, two? Can you? You might be surprised at how often the opportunity arises to take the enemy’s bait.

So I’m Going to Write About Old People

I’d like you to consider how the title of this piece made you feel. Did you think it disrespectful of me to say “old people”? Did you think about just moving on to something else because, who wants to read anything about old people? Maybe you are an old person and feel like you know all you need to know about being old. Well, I am fifty. Some people say fifty is the new thirty, so I’ve got at least four decades until I will be considered old, right?

Not according to my oldest son who asked me when I will start doing “grandmother things”. I wasn’t sure what he meant by “grandmother things” other than his little Italian Greyhound is cold and he would like to have a sweater for it. Maybe he thinks I should knit? (I wanted to say, “When you make me a grandmother”… but his sweet girlfriend was there, and I ‘m trying not to scare her away.)

nick-karvounis-381270We don’t like the thought of getting old in our society. No one looks on the elderly with admiration anymore. At 50, I feel it already from younger people at work and even at church. (Step aside, Mrs. Past-Your-Prime… We’d like to see youth and inexperience lead us forward.) When we were an agrarian society, and our culture was built around the home, generational families depended on the wisdom and experience of their elders. They were held in highest esteem. Now? Now, we have Google. Who needs an elder’s wisdom if you can just watch a YouTube video? You can literally see how to do anything on there. Right about now, we are doubling the knowledge we have about every 12-18 months. Way back when, like a 120 years ago and before, we doubled our human knowledge every 100 years. Amazing.

So where does that leave our elders? In many cases, it leaves them out in the cold. If elders were valued for their wisdom, and now that need is met elsewhere, how do the old folks among us garner value? I mean they are a drain on society, aren’t they? They take up the bulk of the US healthcare dollar, and they are often dependent, frail and needy. Most of them have no idea what a modem, gigabyte, or band width is. (Come to think of it, neither do I.) And have you ever tried to teach an elderly person to use a cell phone or computer? Puh-lease. I have. Can we step into the 21st Century? It’s not rocket science, Grandma. Oh wait. Maybe it is. I mean 150 years ago we didn’t have phone of any kind, and now I can call a friend in Japan and Facetime with them. I mean, if I had a friend in Japan. And in that same 150 years, we have increased the human life expectancy by more than three decades.

All of our efforts toward improved healthcare, diet and exercise have worked! We are living longer! Only we didn’t consider that living longer would not make us young for longer. I makes us old for longer. Curses! We didn’t quite think that one through, did we? And what do we fear almost as much as we fear public speaking? Getting old. Why? Because we know that what we think won’t matter anymore, we won’t look as hot as we do now, and there will be nothing of consequence left for us to do.

But what if that’s not really true? Well, I mean we won’t be as hot as we were… but the rest? Hogwash. Did you know that Grandma Moses started painting at 76? Gladys Burrill ran a marathon at 92. Ouch. Peter Roget invented the Thesaurus at 73. (Thanks, Peter. I mean, with gratitude, Peter.) At 68, Sir William Crookes invented a device for detecting alpha particles. You can Google what those are, but you likely still won’t understand it. Asa Long was 70 when he became the oldest U.S. checkers champion… okay. Bad example. But still. Momofuku Ando invented Ramen noodles in a cup at age 61 and at 22 cents a serving, has saved countless college students from starvation. Ray Kroc created McDonalds at 52, and is now singularly responsible for a nation of fat people. My personal favorite is John Pemberton. He created Coca-Cola at age 55. Praise be to God.

 

 


fabrizio-verrecchia-180329By 2030, there will be more than 70 million people over 65 in our country.  8.5 million of those will be over 85. We might like for old people to fade away, but they aren’t gonna. And let me remind us all, we’re talking about the Baby Boomers. The “me generation”. They are going to speak up and be heard. They are not going to go quietly into the dark night. Move over, youth and vitality. Age and experience is moving in and staking a claim.

We are going to have to do better by our elderly. Why? Because societies are judged by how they treat their children and elderly. Because it is on the shoulders of the elderly that we climb and reach higher and farther. Young people have it so much better than the generations before, but they have shown up late to the party. Old people have striven and survived with fewer conveniences, and pushed through to provide a better way of life. Weak, frail, and dependent? Not so much, really. How about we muster up some respect and honor for our elders. With any luck, we’ll join them one day.