What Do I Really Value?

Every person I have ever met says with great conviction that they hold certain things as valuable in their life.  For some it is people,  others say a job, a hobby or even a prized pet. However,  when I really examine what they do, it becomes painfully clear exactly where  their real priorities are focused. You see, what we value in life, I mean what we honestly hold dear,  is always reflected in where we invest our time and money. Whenever there is a discrepancy between what we say and what we actually do, trouble will be like a massive storm that is right on the horizon.

In doing marriage counseling over the years I am always amazed when a husband says he loves his wife but he just can’t understand why his wife and marriage are doing so poorly. Yet when we look at his track record of time and finances it only takes a moment to see where his real priorities are. Yes, he did take his wife out for dinner on their 10th anniversary and he even bought her a card. That was a wonderful investment of perhaps $60 and 2 hours of his time. However, when you compare that to the $1200 he spent on a new deer rifle or the endless hours he and his buddies sat watching football while his wife sat alone, it becomes abundantly clear what he really values in life.

What about you?  Is there a genuine connection between what you say has value and what you demonstrate is valuable? When our words and actions don’t line up we are usually the last one to recognize this for what it is. We think we are doing great and just setting the world on fire when those closest to us can see it’s just not so. What we all need is a wake up call, a reality check from time to time. It needs to come from someone we genuinely respect and will actually listen to. Unfortunately, many people live life on the surface and have no such sounding board in their life. The end result is that we tend to live a selfish, self-absorbed life that works for us, but it is silently killing those around us.

For me, it’s my wife Esther. She has the perfect mix of strength, love, honesty and truthfulness that grabs my attention. Her words, on more than one occasion, have been the voice of reason that got right in my face. When I was distracted or disconnected from what was really important, she has been there by my side. Especially when I lost sight of those landmarks which we both hold as truly valuable, her voice helped me find my bearings once again. My question for you is, do you have such a person in  your life, and if you do, do you really appreciate their ability to keep you focused on what is of genuine value?

If you have wandered without clear vision, if you have gotten bogged down in a swamp of unfruitful activity, perhaps it’s time to consider something. When you strip all else away, who is it you turn to in those times you need to be absolutely honest? What one person, or couple, on planet earth do you know who will be painfully truthful when you need it most? If you can answer that question you really are blessed!

In case you don’t realize it, these my friends, are the most important people in your life. They hold the key to that which really has value for you. Let me encourage you to connect with them on a regular basis. Allow them to do their work, as painful as it is, and they will help you keep your life compass pointed in the right direction. Trust me when I say you’ll be much happier for it, and so will everyone around you. The bottom line is quite simple; life is way too short to be lived in any other way. Pursue those things your really value and everyone, including yourself, will be much better off for it!

A Time To Change

It’s Thanksgiving morning and I am basking in the solitude as I look out the window from my rocking chair. There  is a steaming cup of Earl Grey tea with a teaspoon of maple syrup in my hand and I see through the window onto a snow covered yard. The sun has just begun to rise and as it does I watch a magnificent change happen to the landscape below me. Early dawn is pushed away, the shadows of night pass and the promise of a new day rises once again. In a few short, silent moments of time this change has come into full bloom and it finally hit me what this represents. It’s a daily reminder to us all that there is a time for every event under heaven and most of all there will come a time for change.

This year the concept of change impacted my wife and I in a most profound way. For the first time ever, none of our kids were able to make it home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. This is due in part to moving to find work or for two of our sons, military transfers across the country. Our oldest son only lives about 4 hours from us and he and his family wanted to be here. However, his wife is expecting grandchild number 14 in early December and we certainly do understand how uncomfortable it would be for her to travel in that condition. Beyond that our two daughters live in California and it’s no small thing for them and their families to fly east. So here we are, caught in the grip of change and wondering how to walk it out with grace and peace in our heart.

Yes, a time to change comes to us all at one point or another, and what we do in those seasons determines a great many things. Some fight it and try to guilt people into reliving that which has clearly come to an end. Others resent it and create a hostile atmosphere each time their expectations are no longer being met. There are a few who just give up living and hold so tightly to the past that it strangles any hope for the future. Then there are those rare individuals who accept change for what it is and learn to embrace the possibilities of the new things that are coming.

What kind of person are you when it comes to change? Have you considered how that impacts those you love? We have to remember that change is not a one sided event. It touches everyone at the deepest levels in many different ways. The child that goes off to college, the son who take a job out of state or joins the military, the daughter who marries and moves way to be with her new husband all experience profound changes. Yet, those of us who are connected to them, who love them and will miss them, tend to see that same time of change from a completely different perspective, and that is what often causes the conflict. 

Let me suggest to you that all change, even those that are difficult, are like the dawn I just experienced. When they come, they push away the shadows of that which has finally ended. Remember, as the light dawns it brings new life, new adventures, new people and the promise of a new way of doing things. Yes, it can be uncomfortable and almost scary some times, but it’s the way life is. We need to relax, trust that things will work out for the good and simply let go. As I have learned to do this I have been amazed at how wonderful my life has turned out. Best of all I’ve seen how wonderful the lives are of those I love who went through that change with me. Now….. if it’s your time to change let me encourage you to relax and just let it happen. You’ll be glad you did!

The Life You Have

We are all given two of the greatest gifts anyone can have, that of time and life. Every day, every hour, every moment we are alive is a treasure that should be held close to heart and fully lived. We especially need to pause and celebrate the lives of family members and friends that surround us. It is this special  interconnectedness with those whom we share a common heritage that gives us hope for the future and roots that anchor us in a good way to our past. When these are missing, so is the foundational fabric that holds the family and society together.

What I have noticed recently is that so many days often slip by quickly and unappreciated. When they do, a loss has occured that can never be fully recovered. The time we should have taken advantage of, the friends we should have visited or the loved ones we should have reached out to are soon gone and the opportunity to build a history together has vanished.

Being a minister I have been at the bedside of those who were near death. As the time for their departure drew near one common thread was evident. Not one wished for a bigger income, more time to fish or hunt, more recognition or more vacation time.  They all wished they had not wasted so much time persuing things that were destined to fade away.  They all wanted more time with those they loved.

If that really is the heart cry of those near death perhaps we,  the living,  should consider how to better invest the time we have rather than selfishly spending it on what works for the moment.  Isn’t that a great word?  Invest..  I like the sound of it. To invest means we think about it and make a plan to produce a lasting and valuable increase. When we invest in others that’s exactly what happens.  We do what we do to deliberately make things better. It’s living our life on purpose to more intimately connect with those who matter to us the most.

As Thanksgiving day draws near ask yourself what you would do differently if you knew this was your last Thanksgiving. Who would you invite to share the day?  Who would you call to let them know how much they mean to you?  Who would you visit and try to restore a relationship with? Are there words of love and affirmation you have failed to share with others who need to hear them? If there are… then move beyond what is holding you back and go live your life on purpose. Make a difference, a real difference while you can! When its your time to depart this world you will do it with satisfaction, knowing you made the most of the time you had.

Use The Time You Have

I am 59 years old and I have seen the passage of time from a unique perspective. My father was almost 50 when I was born, so there was more than a full generation between us during my growing years. He was born in 1905, not in a hospital, but on our family homestead in Bloomingdale, NY. He knew and was actually raised by family members who had lived during and fought in the Civil War. These things gave him a perspective on life and living which fit very nicely with the 1800’s but did not always find clear expression in the twentieth century.

I grew up with phrases that seemed normal in our household, but they did not always have great meaning to others in my generation. It was that difference in language and life perspective that kept me somewhat innocent and isolated from the world around me. The real world was a rapidly changing and very dynamic place, but things for us were pretty much the way they had been for the previous 100 years. This was life in small town America, and although it certainly had its issues, in many ways I miss the simplicity it brought to all who lived it and enjoyed it.

In our world a pocket knife was always called a “pen knife”. Why? Because in dad’s generation every kid needed a sharp folding knife to sharpen the quill pens used in their 3 room school-house. Our garage was forever called “the barn”. What others called a refrigerator dad called an “ice box”. We were never asked to turn up the thermostat we were told to “stoke up the fire”. When we were in trouble we were not sent to our room, we were “taken to the woodshed”. Every camera was called a “Kodak” and we did not turn off a light we were asked to “trim the lamps”.

Special family gatherings were also an integral part of normal life, such as gathering on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas day. The history of this goes back to the fact that Christmas day had to be another work day on the family homestead. Thus, the only time the whole family could gather together was Christmas Eve. They ate together, sang songs and exchange the one gift they had either made or bought for the occasion. Down through the generations we continued this tradition of gathering together as a family on Christmas Eve. The whole evening is dedicated to eating special foods, enjoying each others company, having heart-to-heart conversations and finally opening one present before everyone goes home.

There were dozens of phrases and family traditions that filled our world. Each connected us to people, places and times that were long gone, yet somehow these things were still speaking. Each idiom and each special gathering added to our family identity. They built our sense of belonging to something that was bigger than ourselves and built wonderful memories in a very unique way. As I look back I realize these things provided us with comfort and they connected us all to a legacy and family history that might have been lost. Best of all, it was our language of love, and it actually made us who we are today.

Does your family have a love language all its own? Does it have words, phrases, foods and traditions that knit your lives together in a special way? As this holiday season approaches let me encourage you to look back. Consider what special things you love that you can bring forward from your family history and build a voice that will still be speaking your message long after you are gone. I know of no better way to use the time you have than to leave the unique language of love only your family can hear.

What Do I Do Now?

Have you ever said to yourself, “What Now”?  After a difficult, distressing or traumatic event has left you empty and feeling emotionally gutted, that question will rise to the surface and hang there unanswered. What do I do now? It’s powerful, and is often one of the most difficult questions you will ever have to face. Understand that it’s not so much the question can’t be answered. It’s hard to answer because it implies that an action must be taken at a time when doing anything is the last thing you want to do.

People all react differently when faced with a mountainous issue. When it rises up to block the view ahead, panic can set in and that has the power to misdirect us in many ways. We will often do and say things that are way out of our normal character. Once these things have been released into the atmosphere, the strong emotions and broken relationships that may be left floating on the sea of our life, can be almost overwhelming. Thus, when “what do I do now?” bobs to the surface of gut wrenching emotions, the answer is never easy or simple, yet it still must be confronted. 

In situations like this there is always an anchor for our soul, a place of stability and unwavering continuance that holds firm and sure. If you learn how to grab hold of that rock and know you cannot be swept away, it makes all the difference. The stability of such times is not based upon what we know or why we know it. It is actually found in how well we know ourselves how sincerely we embrace that knowledge. This is what Psychologists call “self-awareness” and most people lack that essential skill. Scripture says we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. That being the case, if we don’t know or love ourselves, it becomes virtually impossible to know or love those around us.

Our core values and life principles are really at the heart of any valid answer we find. Who we are inside, and what we really believe about ourselves are important rocks in our personal foundation. They will always be translated into every decision we make. There is no escaping it or avoiding it. Until we have a clear and well defined picture of ourselves and our mission in life, every difficult issue we face has the potential to redefine or redirect us and this produces a life in constant flux. Such a life has no forward momentum and has lost it’s ability to truly impact others in a lasting way.

The storms will come and the lightening will flash. The floods of pain and sorrow may roll over you like ocean waves, but your core values and life principles are what hold you on course through it all. Tie those together with the fact that God loves you, and wants a personal relationship with you, and you will never be shaken. His love is a massive anchor that holds everything in place. When the storms come, patiently hang on to these truths and surrender everything into the hand of God. Then, when “what do I do now?” comes to the surface, you can rest easy knowing you already have the answer in hand.

Finding The Place Of Balance

One of the great issues of life we all must face is how to find balance in an unbalanced world. The needs, wants, desires and emergencies of those around us can pull our emotions, energy and resources in a dozen different directions. Each may have its own merit, but each also has the potential to keep us leaning in so many different directions that we have no direction at all. It’s the classic condition of one who is doing a lot but has lost their bearings and does not live in a place of personal satisfaction.

I am an educator, minister, mentor and a spiritual leader to many and I know how important a balanced life is. For many years I lived and instructed others to live beyond the edge. My motto was “push until you drop then rest up and do it again”. It nearly killed me! Then I discovered every human exists as a triune being of spirit, soul and body. This triple nature imposes a unique requirement. To ignore, abuse or deny any one of these will eventually show up in very negative ways. The emotional state, physical well-being and spiritual stability of life itself depends on how well we learn to nurture each.

The dangers that are inherent with living an unbalanced life have been well documented. Emotional distress, IBS, exhaustion, panic attacks and a host of other illnesses plague our modern society. What is the solution we are given? Take another pill and just deal with the 20 or 30 side effects it may produce. I know many good people who have bought this lie and lost their health, their sense of well-being and their most significant relationships all because they lost the balance necessary to maintain them.

Medication, drive, intellect and talent may allow you to avoid the fallout for a season. However, even those with the most profound gifts and greatest promise still have to face the music for not finding the place of balance. It may take a year, a decade or a lifetime but it will still come. My question is this; “Will the price you pay be worth it?” Scripture says “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” I suggest to you that you may want to consider the life you now have and if you don’t like what you see decide today to find the place of balance.