Following God’s Calls (Post from 01/14/18)

It’s not always an easy path to follow, but He will always be there for you, sometimes to carry you through.

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As we get closer to our departure date (it’s only 7 months away!) I am reminded of how crazy this idea may seems to others. Imagine someone asking you to give up your job and career, leave your house and belongings behind, deplete your savings, pull your children out of school for a year, and go to remote parts of the world to serve those who need help; give yourself selflessly to others and sacrifice all you have to make it happen. This seems absolutely insane and irresponsible, but what if these requests came from God? What if God Himself has directed you and your family to do these things in His name. Do you say “no” to God? God has given all of us free choice and it is up to us to decide whether to follow the calls and the signs. But just as we have the choice to follow His path, we can also choose not to; to ignore or overlook them or just straight up say “no”. Though He wants us to follow and obey His call, we have a choice and the decision is ours. We chose to follow.

God’s voice is not always loud and clear, sometimes it comes in soft whispers that can be easily overlooked or blocked out. For me, God’s call to me began as a soft whisper which came to me while scouring Facebook for new updates on family and friends. I read a post and something inside of me said to share it with Jeff; so I did. I believe this was my first call from God, just a gentle nudge. God continued to open doors to this idea and to be honest, also closing them too. From the beginning, Jeff and I decided to approach our plans with an open mind and an open heart so we could hear God’s call. We decided that He would not lead us astray, but that we had to be diligent and attentive to his voice. This meant that there was a possibility that this was not our path and we had to be able to accept that and move on wherever He was leading us. It has been amazing to watch His work in all of this. When something wasn’t right for us, the door was closed (sometimes even slammed) and it was during these times that we started to question whether this was the right path for our family. But it seemed that as soon as either of us voiced this concern or feeling, another door was immediately opened, not only to new opportunities/partnerships, but also to ways to make this happen. He has continued to work through people around us to encourage and to keep moving forward by placing a desire within them to support us through this venture. “Ask, and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”—Matthew 7:7

Jeff wrote a blog a few months back titled Scouting for God basically having an open mind and heart to seeing God’s signs around us, not for the sake of the signs themselves, but for the path which they lead us and the reward at the end. I think that having an open heart and an open mind will also allow us to not only be open to these signs from God, but also to hear the soft whispers and the loud screams from Him. It is very easy to ignore these “calls” from God. They can easily get lost in the busy, crazy, loud life we live (kids screaming and fighting, constant noise of music or TV, or the constant drum of the vast internet). I believe these “signs” and “calls” from God are intertwined, they are not the same, but they work together as a way for Him to show us the path He would like us to take and follow. These calls from God are the gently tug at your heart urging you to do something or the push you feel in a certain direction. They are those feelings you can‘ t explain or those ideas that pop into your head from out of nowhere. It could be anything from reading a Facebook post and feeling the urge to share it with a certain person or the desire to share your story with a total stranger. The point is, you never know where these things will lead. For me, they continue to lead to something amazing. Sharing a post with Jeff led to this calling; sharing my story with a stranger led to a generous gift to help.

I came across a quote that speaks volumes to this idea of faith and following God’s call, especially during difficult times: “When God pushes you to the edge of difficulty trust Him fully because two things can happen; Either He’ll catch you when you fall or He will teach you how to fly.” God can do anything He wants, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26); I truly believe this. This calling has not been an easy path to follow, quite the opposite. One of the most amazing things for me has been how both Jeff and I have had regular lapses in faith and yet when one is weak the other is strong. At several different moments one of us became weak in our faith and wholly questioned this calling and this path we were following, but when one of us had this moment of weakness, the other had an overpowering moment of strength. For me this is God’s call for us; when we are weak in faith He puts people around us that are strong to help keep us on our path. God will continue to guide us down this path and will continue to show us the way, both through signs and His words to us. “Twant me, ‘twas the Lord. I always told him, ‘I trust to you. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect you to lead me,’ and He always did.” —Harriet Tubman.

It is not an easy task to have an open heart, an open mind, and open ears and eyes to God’s call and the signs He lays before us. It takes great effort and is something that we have to be mindful of each moment of every day. We will fail often and our faith will be strong one day and weak the next. I will leave you with this, “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8) I have nothing to fear with God on my side, he will either catch me when I fall or teach me to fly; either way, He will be with me. I will do my best to keep my faith strong and all of me open to His word and His calling. I am His servant and I know He will never abandon me.

A Positive Spin on Negative News

How do we create positives in a world of negative news?

Steven Pinker opined in the Guardian on February 17th that there is an overwhelming trend towards negative reporting in news outlets.  For a child growing up with cable and satellite television and the myriad channels dedicated solely to the dissemination of news and having seen first hand how the lead topics of every nightly report are murder, rape, war, and graft, this trend is no surprise.  I have only ever known the news to report first and foremost on the worst of the worst.  As Mr. Pinker pointedly remarks, the adage of the day is if it bleeds, it leads.  Having also lived in a small town, then a big city, and then to a small city, I have seen a wide spectrum of how this plays out.  On the local channels there is typically a nod to a trending national headline (almost always negative)  followed by local headlines.  In the larger towns this usually starts with who was murdered that day or if no one was, the next most egregious list of crimes that occurred.

In our current situation we are fortunate that the list of crimes is usually fairly short and mercifully aligned with drug overdoses or bank robberies, not mass murders or worse.  It has gotten to the point where I no longer watch the news because frankly, I am not interested in hearing about all the bad things that have happened that day.  I have no doubt they occur and I am not supposing that ignorance will yield bliss or make the problems go away.  But simply put, there really is nothing I can do to stop a drug dealer from dealing his drugs.  I cannot stop a group of gang members from shooting each other, and I cannot intervene when a parent abuses his children.  The Federal and state authorities are tasked with this effort.  Instead, I try to focus on the areas that I can impact.  I look for the politicians who will support tough crime laws that will directly empower those authorities tasked with preventing or at least cleaning up the mess left behind by evil.  I look for opportunities to create positive outcomes for our community so that there will be fewer people who feel helpless and turn to crime as what they perceive to be the only solution to their predicaments in life.  I try to find ways to bring good to the world when it seems all we hear is bad.

As Mr. Pinker points out, the statistics reflect that there is a propensity for apathy or inactivity when the situation seems hopeless.  Why do anything if everything you do has no effect?  Pinker also published a study which reflects statistically that the world is currently in the most peaceful era it has ever seen (as measured by violent deaths per 100,000 people).  There are fewer wars occuring now then any other time in known, recorded history.  Would you have believed that from watching your news feed today?  I know from my personal experience that if I had to answer whether I thought the world was safer or more unstable and dangerous I would have to default to the latter.  Why?  Because despite the evidence to the contrary (evidence which goes underreported or not reported at all) the multitude of news stories is focused on the negative.  I don’t know if this is a function of the human condition or not.  Are we so guilt ridden from original sin that we cannot fathom to be deserving of peace and prosperity?  Maybe we just need violence and disruption in order to feel important.

I cannot begin to speak for anyone other than myself but I will say that there was a time when I intensely obeserved the news, formulated my strong opinion about the need for a crackdown in all phases of life to stop the bad guys, and vowed to be vigilant in the efforts of justice in the face of lawlessness.  And then I had children.  I watched them play unassumingly and unaware of the evils and dangers that were, according to eyewitness news accounts, around every fathomable corner.  My children weren’t, fortunately, in danger of imminent abduction or murder.  Now, I count my blessings that I have been fortunate to live in neighborhoods where gang violence and drug abuse are not prevalent but crime doesn’t just happen in these places and the news is all too happy to report this.

So after careful observation I started focusing more on the positives.  Laughter, empathy, friendship.  And while I am aware that danger still exists, I am also focused more on how my children have given me the hope and courage to focus on the positives in the world.  You see, it’s easy to gravitate to the negative.  It makes you feel good to not be the bad guy.  It’s easy to say you did the right thing by condemning the man who raped his neighbor or the “sicko” who shot up a country music concert.  But it’s hard to do something about it beyond the words.  It’s hard to give up a Friday evening to go serve dinner to 100 strangers who have no home and are in desperate need of a hot meal to fill their stomachs.   It’s hard to volunteer your time at the county jail to bring comfort to a man who may have committed unforgivable crimes and to remind him that he is still a man, flawed like us all, but deserving of love nonetheless.  It is hard to forego that next latte or round of golf so you can donate to a charity that serves those in need, or those who are sick, or those who may not look, believe, or think like you.  Fortunately, there are a lot of people out there that make those sacrifices.  I only wish the news spent more time lauding their efforts, mundane as they might seem for the ratings gurus.

Perhaps the ratings for good deeds are low because those good deeds remind us of how we all could do more.  And the reminder that we aren’t as profundly good as we think ourselves to be is a turnoff.  It certainly is a lot easier to feel good about myself when I see all the bad things others are doing that I am not.  I can boast of my goodness relative to those who are stealing, murdering, and waging a war of unjustice.  But looking at the great deeds of others puts into stark relief that which I am not doing.  Am I living the life of Christ, a life for others or am I living a life of me, focused on my happiness, my personal gains, my status in society?  If the answer is the latter then it is no wonder that I am drawn to negative news as a buffer to my own falibility.

The great news is that we can all break this habit if we deep down desire to do so.  It is not easy, no habit is easy to break.  But in doing so we will live a life far more fulfilling and far more impactful than the one we live by just not being that guy on the news whose mugshot is the lead story.  We need those good news stories to challenge us to be better.  It’s okay for us to look at others and feel bad for not doing more.  In fact it might be really healthy for us.  A reminder that we can be better and should try.  Seeing someone just like us who is capable of making a difference should inspire us and give us the confidence that we too can do the same thing.  It doesn’t take someone special to do something good.  Quite the opposite.  If you really look at it, it takes someone special to commit an act of evil, if not, then there would be a lot more people committing crimes in this world right?  The fact is that we don’t need to be, and probably outght not be, special.  We just need to be us and we need to make a committment to do good for others.  The ratings might not be there but the path to salvation, to a happier life, and a safer planet surely is.

Temperament (post from 6/23/2017)

Where to begin? Shower thoughts that try to become reality often hit the wall of where to begin. It’s easy to solve the world’s problems, and sometimes even your own, while feeling the gentle cascade of clean, warm water washing away your cares, and maybe reality itself. This is where I found myself a year or so ago. A shower thought about how great it could be to travel the country and help people. A fairly simple concept but in practice altogether complicated. You have a wife, three kids, a lot of bills, a good job, and no idea how or where to even start. Sure, let’s go travel the country. The funny thing is that when you have a shower thought that wasn’t from your own voice, it has an uncanny ability to manifest itself into more than a flight of fancy. This is really where I was a year or so ago. Meandering through life doing my best to be a good father, husband, and dutiful employee. But in reality my life was going unfulfilled. Amazing to think that I was blessed in so many ways with such a wonderful family and career but at the same time I was yearning for more. More but less. Less stuff, more experience. Less material wealth, more spiritual wealth. And so when Sara came to me while I showered and told me of a former teacher who planned a year long RV trip around the country my thoughts turned to how we could adopt this concept. At first it was a far off pipe dream, a fanciful wish. Maybe in a few years we could get the money together, make the plans, someday. But then a shower or two later it festered and grew, it ate away at the chains of reality and become a nagging call, a reminder that opportunities seldom come twice and sometimes you just have to be awake and aware to hear that quiet call to throw turmoil into your life and do something so crazy that you know it has to be right. Only God can make a tree the poem goes, and I guess only God can turn a shower thought into reality.

And so as I felt the warm shower caress my body and protect me from the craziness that I was certain was entering my brain I simply said it. Sara, what if we traveled the country for a year with the kids, and did it soon. Like in a year, and not in twenty. To my surprise the question was not met with laughter, anger, or even reservation. Perhaps even to my chagrin, it was met with acceptance and excitement. Far from being uncertain I think Sara was all on board because maybe she had been thinking the same thing, during one of her own fanciful shower times. At the very least she felt that there was more for us in store than what we had been doing to this point in life. Now I said out loud what she had been feeling which meant we both felt it too, and now we had a purpose. And with purpose you can accomplish great things. I can’t say that I am supremely confident in my decision because every day I have an ebb and flow of strength and weakness. But I know this much, whenever I start feeling the need to rekindle that flame, all I need to do is hit the showers.

Open Doors (Post from 6/16/17)

“I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my work and haave not denied my name.” (Revelation 3:8)

For a while now we did not have our first service opportunity for August and September 2018, however leave it to God to open another door as a way to show us that He is in charge and He is in control. We can try to find opportunities ourselves, but without His help we will continue to find nothing. This is exactly what has happened for us. We have been trying and trying to get something set for our first service project to no avail. But when He was ready for us to have something set, it happened. A wonderful friend of ours, Chris, was able to help secure a service opportunity in a small rural town in Germany. We will be working with the local church doing various tasks, including English lessons, working on cleaning up the church, helping with the Vacation Bible School, and whatever else the community and the church may need. We will be at their disposal. What is even more wonderful is that they are working on getting the kids into the schools there, so they will be starting school with the rest of the kids in the community (how wonderful!!).

For me, every time there is just a little bit of doubt or anxiety about this service project, He opens another door and continues to show us that this IS our path and this IS what we are supposed to be doing. He continues to light the path that we are supposed to be on, which is a very comforting feeling. He shows us that He is in control and that He is there, always, to care for us, to help us, and to guide us. He is our rock and our stronghold.

In You, O LORD, I have taken refuge; Let me never be ashamed; In Your righteousness deliver me. Incline Your ear to me, rescue me quickly; Be to me a rock of strength, A stronghold to save me. For You are my rock and my fortress; For Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me. (Psalms 31:1-3)

The Waiting Game (post from 9/22/2016)

Tom Petty said it best, “the waiting is the hardest part”. With a little less than 2 years to go, both Jeff and I find ourselves having to be patient. We are both ready for this endeavor/journey, but know now is not the right time. What keeps us going since making the decision to pull the kids out of school and out of everyone’s comfort zone to travel the world for 1 year while serving and attending to those in need, is that we continually experience people, events, sermons, books, etc that continue to strengthen our desire and God’s will for us to keep moving forward; to continue the process of “going deep” into our faith in Jesus and God’s plan for our family. Its going to be a long 2 years of waiting and planning, but we truly believe that God’s plan for us is beyond our comprehension and that He will always guide us on our way, if we just listen with open hearts.