Enjoying The Journey

Enjoying the journey sounds so simple.  Isn’t it amazing how difficult that can be to do sometimes?  Yet it is so crucial to do.  For our own well-being.  If we’re not taking steps to do that, life has a lot more stress to it, doesn’t it?  And it’s far less enjoyable.

I am reminded that Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11 that through his life experiences he learned how to be content wherever he was at.  The word “content” in that verse means “satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted”.  That’s a pretty good place to be!  It’s no wonder that this is what God wants for us on our journey and that’s what trust in Him brings.

This is something I am needing to remember right now.  I have a lot going on with renovations to a house we just bought.  And most of it needs to be done by next weekend.  That doesn’t need to be stressing me out though.  “I am anointed and appointed for such a time as this.”

Isn’t it amazing how God takes care of things if we do what he tells us and expects us to do?  He told me to cast my cares on Him; He told me to trust Him–completely; He told me He has His very best in store for me;  He has told me how faith works and what to do to live it out.  As great as these things are, if I’m choosing not to do any one of them, I’m choosing to disobey and cause myself unneeded stress and complication.  Why do that to myself (and those around me)?

That’s easy to let happen, but so worth the effort and practice to overcome and change.  The incredible thing is, even that isn’t something I have to do (or can do) by myself.  God has given me (and you) the Holy Spirit to be a constant help as we walk out this journey.

We are so taken care of in His Kingdom!  It truly is a great place to be.  It’s there–He’s there–for anyone who wants this to be true in their life.

I would encourage you to cross that line, my friend!

Facing A Fear

Facing a fear.  It’s something we all hate to do because it’s so uncomfortable.  And yet, when we do face fear head-on, it brings an incredible sense of achievement, right?  Well, my brother and I faced one together many years ago that you may find interesting.

You might remember that I grew up with many a family card game of Progressive Rummy happening at my Grandma & Grandpa’s house.  My Grandma had a sister who everyone called “Aunt Shorty”.  For good reason, too, since she was all of about 4 feet 8 inches tall.  But her side of the family loved Progressive Rummy just as much as ours did.

My Dad had a cousin (Aunt Shorty’s son) named Bud.  Yup…..Bud.  He was a pretty laid back guy who took everything in stride.  He and his wife, Barb, lived a couple of hours away from us, so we occasionally drove over and visited.  When we did, the evening inevitably ended with the four adults playing cards late into the evening.  Since Bud and Barb didn’t have any kids, my bother and I were left to fend for ourselves for entertainment.

We were young enough at the time that we usually had pajamas with us to change into.  We eventually were laid down to sleep while the adults played on.  One night, however, after we already had our PJs on, we got bored while the adults were bantering back and forth.  We hadn’t brought anything of any real interest to keep our attention, so we looked around for something that qualified.

Then one of us saw the basement door.  We had been down in the basement earlier that evening for some reason (can’t possibly remember what that was at this point).  It was a big basement, mostly finished, with plenty of space to walk around.  I got this crazy notion that we should take turns going into the basement without the light on.

The goal was to walk (not run) the complete circle around the perimeter of the basement and back up the stairs without getting scared.  We decided we would keep the light on at the top of the stairs.  That way, with the door cracked about six inches, enough light shown down into the basement that we could just make out where we were going.

Because of two factors–me being the older brother and that this stupid idea originated with the same–I went first.  Once I got to the bottom of the basement stairs, I could hardly see a thing.  No sounds could be heard.  Just my own quick gasps for air as I fought the urge to hyper-ventilate while skirting the edges of the basement perimeter.  Shadows lurked here and there, some possibly moving in my peripheral vision, but I was determined to set the example for all to follow.  As I made my way back around to the bottom of the stairs, the desire to leap three stairs at a time was overwhelming.  I fought it back, though, and “calmly” climbed the stairs to light and the safety of my parents.

Then my brother went down.  He came back rather quickly, in my opinion, but stated for the record that he didn’t run and wasn’t scared.  So I went down again and tried to go even slower this time.  The thought of something lunging from behind to drag me back into the shadowy depths of the basement was there the whole time I climbed the stairs to victory.  But I did it!  We went back and forth with that journey into darkness for quite a while.  At least we did until the adults realized what we were doing and Uncle Bud put a kibosh on the whole thing.

So what’s your fear?  Can you take steps to face it?  Even baby steps? It’s worth the exhilaration you feel when you’ve taken steps to kick it in the teeth.  Try it!  You’ll like it.

The Immigrant

Have you ever heard the story of the immigrant who came to the New World?  Way back in the horse-and-buggy days, an immigrant decided enough was enough.  No more of this oppressive life he had been experiencing.  He was going to the New World!  There was just enough money in his possession to buy a boat ticket for a passenger liner with a little left over to begin his new life.  He didn’t have a cabin, so he just slept on the open deck every night.  For food, all he had available to bring was crackers, which he rationed out to two per meal.

The immigrant was thankful he was journeying away from oppression and on to freedom.  Even so, he couldn’t help but notice something as each day passed.  As he sat eating his crackers, he watched the other passengers walk into the dining hall and help themselves to all kinds of delicious food.  He longed for the opportunity to do that himself.  All he could do, though, was look down at the crackers he was eating and try not to think about how hungry he felt.

Day after day passed and finally the big boat arrived in the New World.  As he sat on the deck waiting for the boat to dock, a young girl approached him and asked him a question.  “I’ve been watching you every day since we got on the boat.  Why do you sit out here and eat crackers?”  He looked up at her and said, “Well, I couldn’t afford to buy any food inside the dining hall.  All I was able to bring with me to eat were these crackers.”  Her response shocked and angered him.  “Mister,” she said, “every ticket for this boat includes a free meal from the dining hall every day–morning, noon and night.  You could have had anything you wanted to eat in there.”  And she turned around and walked away.

This immigrant was entitled to all the food he wanted for the whole boat ride.  Because he didn’t know any better, however, he missed out on all of it.

Don’t let that be you!

Whether you believe it or not, God has an amazing life in store for you that He wants to give you.  But that life is only available through His Son and what you choose to do with His sacrifice for you.  You’ve been with me long enough to know what I’m talking about here.  There is such an amazing life awaiting you!  It’s got its challenges, sure, but it’s so worth it–especially when you consider eternity and where you’ll be living it.

You don’t have to be eating crackers!  If you do nothing about this, you will reach the end of your life and find out that a huge buffet was yours for the taking and you chose to ignore it.  The biggest difference between you and the immigrant is this:  When you see that reality, it will be too late for you to do anything about it.  Your choice has been made.  And it’s forever.

So once again….choose wisely!

Sitting Around The Campfire

Sitting around the campfire has to be the highlight of any camping experience.   We’re camping this weekend and this time with friends has been no exception.

At the campfire last night, the subject of a certain memory came up.  I shared this memory a couple of years ago, but it seems appropriate to reminisce about it now.  Enjoy!

I would have to say that my fondest memory of camping with our friends took place about three years ago.  We typically camp with three other families.  Although it has nothing to do with a campfire, one of the wives of these families had a rather interesting experience when she went to take a shower at the campground.  (For the sake of everyone involved and to protect the identity of innocent parties, we’ll just call her “Patty”.)

It was around 7:30 in the morning and Patty decided she was going to the shower.  As she approached the building, she couldn’t remember which side of the building the showers were on.  But since she noticed men were going to and from the right side of the building, she headed to the left side, saw a door marked “Showers” and walked right in.  She thought it odd that the undressing/dressing area would be completely open like it was with the showers being off to the side in separate stalls, but didn’t think much of it.  She was the only one in the whole shower room, so she took advantage of it by taking her time undressing, showering, towelling off and getting fresh clothes on for the day.

As she started heading for the door, a man walked in, saw her and they both stopped in their tracks.  She gave him a compassionate, knowing laugh and said, “I think you walked into the wrong shower.”  He, still looking at her like a deer in the headlights, said, “No, I think you walked into the wrong shower.”  She, now feeling a little perturbed at him, said, “Nooo, I think you walked into the wrong shower.”  He then said, as he backed up and checked the shower sign, “Nooo, you definitely walked into the wrong shower.”  And she said, “Nooooo!” in complete shock, embarrassment and amazement as she walked to the door–a door that clearly said “MEN” under the word “SHOWERS”.  She took all that time to do all that she did in there without one man entering that shower room!

God is merciful…

A Crutch

“It’s a crutch.  Your faith is a crutch you use because you’re emotionally weak.”  There are some who believe this about anyone who has faith in any belief system that’s not “rooted in science”.  But why do they say that?

There is so much emphasis right now on equality.  When it comes to a belief system, many say they approach this the same way:  “Believe whatever you want to believe, man.  It’s alright with me.”  But it really isn’t.  Not when they find out what the Bible says.

Sure, we all have the right to believe whatever we want to believe–about anything–but that doesn’t mean that we’re right about it.  Many years ago, most people believed that the earth was flat.  Were they right about that?  Was that considered a crutch?

So what am I getting at?

My uncle on my Mom’s side of the family isn’t expected to live out the next 24 hours.  What happens to him when he dies?  It’s a question we all must face.  And many run from that question because they’re scared of what the answer might be.  But force yourself to face that question for just a moment…..

Let me mention a foundational point that Jesus Christ taught.  Anyone who genuinely accepts Jesus into their heart as Lord and Savior and lives out the rest of their life with that realization has an eternal home with God in Heaven.  That person is known as a Christian.  When that Christian dies,  his spirit enters into Heaven, just as Jesus said it would.  A promise.  From the God of Heaven to every human being on Earth. So why not believe that?  It’s too good to be true?  We don’t want to be accountable for our sin?  The list of excuses is many.

My Dad died in a highway accident four years ago.  He loved Jesus with all of his heart.  I know I’ll see him again (and my uncle).  Jesus promised me that in the Bible.  That is living hope!  Why not believe that?  Is that a crutch?

Bottom line, a person is going to believe what a person wants to believe.  If someone believes that faith in God and His Word is a crutch, so be it.  No one can change what someone else believes.  But what will change a belief?  A willingness to see what a person has been previously unwilling to see.  Personal revelation of something  (like the Earth isn’t flat after all).

I would leave you with this example.  Let’s assume for a moment that I am a Christian and you are not.  If you are right and I am wrong–there is no God; the Bible isn’t true; there is no life after death–than you’ve gained nothing and I’ve gained nothing.  When we die, we die.  End of story.  But if I am right and you are wrong, I’ve gained everything and you’ve lost everything.

You couldn’t be gambling with any higher stakes than that.  Is it worth it?  As we are told in Deuteronomy 30:19, we have the ability to choose life and death, blessings and curses.

Choose wisely, my friend!

A Mother’s Day Irony

Mother’s Day is an American holiday that is now celebrated in other parts of the world.  But it is also a holiday with a rather ironic historical point to its origin.

Ann Jarvis was a peace activist who took care of the wounded on both sides of the Civil War.  Her daughter, Anna Jarvis, wanted to commemorate Ann’s death when she died in 1905.  Anna’s viewpoint about mothers–especially her own–was  that mothers “have done more for you than any other person in the world”.

By 1908,  Anna was well on her way to campaigning for the national holiday of “Mother’s Day” by holding a memorial for her mother that year.  By 1911, many states observed the holiday and in 1914, President Wilson made it official.

Anna wanted to honor her mother by continuing her mother’s work.  As she progressed with getting this special day to her (and all mothers) recognized, however, she saw a gradually disturbing truth.  She saw that as Mother’s Day gained more attention, it also became more commercialized.  The focus turned from sentiment to profit, and it disturbed her greatly.  She began to protest at various companies  associated with the commercialization she was witnessing.  She targeted companies that made greeting cards, chocolates and other sweets.  And here’s the ironic point to this story:  She was eventually arrested for disturbing the peace!

If you wanted to carry on the work of a peace activist who helped people in need, isn’t disturbing the peace a move in the opposite direction of your goal?  Ah, well, regardless, she accomplished what she set out to do.  Anna Jarvis, in memory of Ann Jarvis, established a day that honors all mothers and what they do for us.

Happy Mother’s Day!

White Pine Trees and Moms

What do White Pine Trees and Moms have to do with each other?  In honor of Mother’s Day coming up, I’d like to share a story I wrote a couple of years ago that will answer that question.

White Pines are beautiful trees! These aren’t Austrian Pines that you usually find along highways and everywhere in-between. While White Pines are also common, they are much more pleasing to the eye than Austrian Pines are. White Pines are used for construction, cabinetry, natural medicinal purposes and even Christmas trees.

So I got this White Pine sapling in kindergarten–my very own tree. I found myself looking forward to many years of watching it grow in front of my eyes. As I said before, it even went with us when we moved. Shortly after the tree was replanted, however, something peculiar began to occur. This took a while to notice, but the White Pine began to take on an odd growth pattern.

Enter Major.

Apparently, once settled upon our new property, Major felt it was his duty, his mission–nay, his life’s purpose bequeathed to him by God Himself–to hike his leg and pee on the north side of that tree. He was committed. He was focused. He wasn’t letting anyone or anything detract him from what he was called to do with his life in this new place. And he saw it through to his dying day.

As a result, we noticed as the tree grew that the north side of it was developing a significant stunting in its growth. I really thought during those first few years that I was going to have my very own Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. As it matured, though, it really began to fill out. Except for the north side of it.

To this day, you can drive by the old house in Bath and see a beautiful twenty-five foot White Pine tree in the front yard.  Still with a significantly stunted upper portion on its north side, the permanent marks of a dedicated and unrelenting Flat-Coated Retriever. I think Major wanted to leave a mark, something that would endure long after he was gone. And he did just that–literally.

Keep in mind that this is the same dog who bullied a couple of young kids in the winter and gave them ball-less head gear to wear. He would take his beloved “Babe” (the female) on romantic romps in the gravel pit next door and bring her back absolutely exhausted.  (Black fur on hot days in a gravel pit…..nice.)  He even took her on a nature walk, with us in tow, and frolicked on ahead of us with his sweetheart.  They no sooner disappeared and he brought her back absolutely covered with ground bees. All I remember at that point is Mom yelling at us to turn around and run the other way. Good advice, except that dogs run faster than humans do.

So my brother and I are beatin’ feet down the trail back to the car. We look behind us only to see a dog with yellow dots all over it trotting along behind us. I don’t remember if it was Major or Babe, but the distinct memory of seeing a black dog with a smile on its face–it’s tail almost wagging as it trots along after us–has never left me (seeing that smile….it had to be Major). Thing is, I don’t remember any dogs covered with bees catching up to my brother and I. Which means that Mom probably did what moms are known to do: She put herself in the line of fire for her kids. I do seem to remember that she had been stung a few times. Thanks, Mom.

But, regardless, he was a good dog (for the most part). And his “mark” on his life spent with us lives on….

Point of No Return

“The point of no return” is often used to describe the moment in time when, upon reaching it, there is absolutely no way to stop or reverse what has been done.  Here is a true story that illustrates the importance of that moment.  It came from a seminar that I attended and involves the speaker’s dog…..

The person speaking had a family dog that totally and in every way loved its freedom to run outdoors.  They had a fenced-in back yard in a semi-rural suburb, but this dog always seemed to find a way over a certain part of the fence to its freedom beyond.  It always waited until the family left in their car and no one was around.  It would wander around the neighborhood, saying hi to all the other dogs and lesser life forms (also known as cats) and eventually come back around to its own house again.

This family realized that they had to do something to try to keep this dog within the limits of the back yard (which was a rather large one at that).  So they decided to get an invisible fence.  This is an electric fence that’s buried just below the surface of the yard.  The dog wears a special collar that picks up a signal the fence emits from below the ground.  This signal transfers into an electric shock that the dog feels around its neck.  The closer the dog gets to the fence, the stronger the signal that is received in the collar.

This might sound cruel at first, but there’s something important to understand about this.   When the dog’s collar first picks up the signal, the shock is light enough to just warn the dog that it’s getting too close to a boundary.  If the dog continues to walk closer to the fence, though, the shock becomes stronger until it’s just too much for the dog to take.  (Certainly not a point of no return, but probably in the ball park.)  This produces a nice brown streak across the yard as the dog suddenly repents of its actions and runs back from whence it came (besides the brown streak, you also see the dog).

Once the invisible fence was in and the dog had been trained on it for a while,  the family decided they would try leaving again and see what would happen.  They did so and came home to find their dog greeting them at the front of the house!  This happened quite a few times and became the unanswerable question.  Eventually, they came up with an idea to see how this dog was getting out of the back yard.

They made it very evident to the dog that they were leaving for a while.  Once they had driven out of sight of the house, however, they quickly circled back around and parked where the dog couldn’t see them, but they could see the dog in the back yard.  They were just in time to see the incredible actions of their family pet.

The dog was facing its favorite spot where it used to jump over the fence.  It backed up as far as it could and gave every indication that it was psyching itself up for something.  But what?  Suddenly, the dog started running towards the invisible fence!  As it got within shocking range, it started to yelp at the shocks it was getting on its neck.  But, incredibly, the dog ran even faster towards the fence!  It had reached the point of no return!  As the shocks became more intense, the yelps coming from the dog grew in volume to match.  But within seconds, the dog had crossed the buried fence and was free once again!

What can be learned from this dog’s actions?  Well, the dog wanted something bad enough that it was willing to endure whatever it had to to get it.  So what about you?  Is there something you want bad enough that you’re willing to cross the point of no return and endure whatever you need to to get it?  Your Big Dream?  A risk you might be scared to take?  A promotion at work and the unknowns of new territory that would bring?

If a dog is willing to cross the point of no return for its freedom to run around, what’s holding you back from what you really want to do?  Endure the pain, the discomfort and anything else that may arise.  It’ll be worth it in the end!

One more thing, in case you were wondering.  If memory serves me correctly, that family decided to put the old fence back up and may have used both as a deterrent to the dog’s escapades.

The Grape-Nuts Factor

Have you heard of a breakfast cereal called Grape-Nuts?  Ever eaten it?  Whether you have or not, there is a story about this cold cereal that will warm you right up!

As kids growing up, the majority of our breakfasts involved eating cold cereals (the unceremonious act of pouring cold milk over dried cereal).  Of these, we were rarely allowed the unspoken right that should be given to all children everywhere:  The right to consume “sugar cereals”. These consisted of cereals like Frosted Flakes, Honeycomb, Fruit Loops and Sugar Corn Pops. That, of course, meant that the “healthy cereals” like Cheerios, Mini-Wheats and Grape-Nuts were always in the cupboard.  Most people are familiar with Cheerios and Mini-Wheats but maybe not so much with Grape-Nuts.  Grape-Nuts is a wheat-and-barley cereal that is shaped into very small pieces that look like grape seeds and comes in a fairly small box.  A little goes a long way (something important to note for later).

If you’ve been with me any length of time, you’ve already become familiar with Rick.  If you haven’t, you really should.  It would be worth your time and laughter to do so.  He was my best friend in high school and we are still in contact after all these years.  Why am I suddenly telling you about him instead of cereal?  Well…..

As you may know from previous stories, our family cabin is on Carp Lake in northern Michigan.  (If you haven’t been able to visit northern Michigan, you really need to go!  It’s absolutely beautiful up there.)  We usually went up to the cabin twice during the summer months.  Now, it just so happens that it was these family trips to the cabin that provided a special privilege:  My brother and I were each allowed to pick out our very own box of whatever sugar cereal we wanted.  It was like Christmas in July!  We’d spend the whole time Mom was shopping in the grocery store picking out which two cereals we were going to pillage.  And never did we pick out the same one!  No sir, we knew better than that.  If we each got a different one, we both knew that we were guaranteed at least one bowl of each other’s cereal to be able to “taste test” and enjoy our spoils together.

Well, it was on one of these trips to the cabin that I was able to bring Rick with us.  We shared our treasured cereals with him, but Mom had also brought along the healthy choices.  On this trip, that meant Grape-Nuts and Cheerios.  My brother and I weren’t touching either one, but Rick had never had Grape-Nuts before.  On one particular morning, he decided to try them.

(You should know that the go-to bowls for cereal at the cabin were these old porcelain bowls that were deep enough to house a generous amount of whatever you poured into them.  You should also know that it was an unspoken rule in our household that whatever you serve yourself, you eat.)

My Dad was sitting in the cabin’s kitchen with us as Rick began to pour himself a big bowl of these cute little nuggets of goodness.  We all watched as Rick filled his bowl well over half-way with Grape-Nuts.  The more he poured, the bigger my eyes got.  Then Dad spoke up and told him that he wouldn’t need that much cereal and really ought to pour some back into the box.  There was a great camaraderie between Rick and my Dad.  But that didn’t stop Rick from insisting that he was fine and could easily polish off this bowl of Grape-Nuts.  My Dad then made sure that Rick was aware of our “You pour/You eat” policy and promptly bet him that he couldn’t finish the bowl.  And so it begins…..

My brother and I ate our sugared treasures as we watched Rick dig into his bowl of Grape-Nuts spoonful after spoonful.  As he did so, he would have to periodically pour more milk into the cereal.  He was discovering that those little nuggets of goodness had soaked up all the milk and were expanding into larger pebbles of sogginess.  It was like they were multiplying.  He wasn’t making any headway at all.  In the meantime, we had all finished our breakfasts and were now contentedly sitting back and enjoying the scene that was playing out before us.

Eventually, Rick looked at the soggy brown nastiness that still remained in his bowl.  He heaved a heavy sigh as he leaned back in his chair, his belly pooched out like a pregnant cow.  His eyes were glazed over as he slurred through his speech that he couldn’t handle anymore Grape-Nuts.  Dad had won the bet!  I don’t remember what he had bet Rick–whatever it was, though, it was quickly forgotten in the “aftermirth” of watching Rick suffer through the rest of the day with a bloated belly and enough gas to light up the Carp Lake community for the next two years.

That Christmas, Dad found Rick a very touching gift.  You know those huge family-sized boxes of Cheerios at the store?  Sam’s Club had boxes of Grape-Nuts for sale that were only slightly smaller than that.   Dad bought one just for Rick to call his own.  I don’t know that Rick saw the same thoughtfulness in the gift that Dad did.  I know he didn’t the following Christmas when I got him the same gift.

Some people just don’t appreciate meaningful things….

The Invisible Egg

It’s that time of year when many people color an egg or two for Easter.  Well, I remember one Easter in particular that had a very elusive egg that no one could find.

Easter every year was always held at Grandma & Grandpa’s house.  The whole family would gather and enjoy some great food and an inevitable game of progressive rummy with the adults.  Everything from ham to mashed potatoes to succotash was there, including homemade pies and Schwann’s ice cream for dessert.  (There are apparently very few people who like succotash in this world; my grandma and myself were two of them.)  It was a time us kids always knew we’d be seeing all of the cousins.  Well, I have a cousin named Erik who is about four years older than I am.  This particular year, Erik helped Grandma color eggs for all of us younger kids to find.  Most of those eggs were brightly colored and relatively easy to locate.  But one particular egg Erik decided to do something special with.

My grandma had a small plant terrarium in her living room (similar to the picture above but with taller plants in it).  It had a variety of colors in both the gravel and the plants that it contained.  Erik decided that he needed to color a camouflaged egg to blend in with the plants and gravel in the terrarium.  Us younger cousins were told that if we found this “camo egg” we would get a significant cash reward.  If memory serves me correctly, $10  was the reward and he himself was fronting the cash for it.  I think he thought the chances of us finding it were virtually impossible, especially with no hints being given to us.   So a $10 bill was a tantalizing carrot to dangle in front of us.  As I recall, us older cousins had him a little worried about his money though.

I would love to be able to tell you that I found it!  But I didn’t.  I would love to be able to tell you that anyone found it.  But we never did.  Not even the adults were able to locate it.  Eventually, when the adults had long grown tired of watching us kids desperately trying to find this elusive egg,  Erik had to show us where it was.  When we saw it, we all agreed:  This is an absolutely ugly egg, and no wonder we couldn’t find it!  It was painted to perfectly blend in with the plants in the terrarium and it did its job well.  I really wish I had seen it!  To see a reward of that caliber go unclaimed was a heinous act on Erik’s part.

In our household, the focus of Easter is the death and resurrection of Jesus (the empty tomb is still an historical event that non-Christian historians still cannot accurately explain away).  Even though colored eggs and such aren’t what Easter is really all about, it has certainly made for some interesting memories.

Happy Easter!

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