Ending the year well.

There’s no doubt it’s been a rough year. For some, even more than others, but all of us have been affected in some way. No other event in recent times has touched the entire world like this pandemic – all ages, demographics and races. Sadly, it seems to have divided us more than united us. And while much of the pandemic may be out of our control, there is something we can do; something that is in our control and will make us feel better.

Resolve to end the year well.

The situation around us may not be where we want to be, or what we’d hoped to be, but we can come out of this year feeling and doing better than the pre-March times. I remember sitting at my desk at work for the last time on March 12. The New Year’s optimism had worn off, and we had settled into a familiar routine, maybe even a little boring as we talked about the usual things – trips we’re going to take, concerns with family or friends, and the business. It seems mundane and trivial now. We were a little on edge too, starting to hear of grocery lines getting long and how we may have to stay home for a few weeks until this thing passes. I left an hour early that day so I could get to the grocery store before the lines started building. I never went back to work after that. Well, not in the same way, anyway. As our world began to navigate through the chaos that ensued over the next several months, some things became clear. We needed to do better.

Make it count.

Our world has forever changed since pre-March. With a slower pace and less external distracters, we have a unique chance to be more honest with ourselves, and take a look at those things we’ve wanted to change or improve, but never had the time. We have now been given the gift of time, and a blank slate to create anew. It’s a time to reset, rethink, and redo. Maybe we want to try to be kinder or more patient, or to spend more quality time with our family, or just to rest. Perhaps it’s a time to work on our health – starting that exercise routine and eating better, or a time to dig deeper into our faith to see what that really means to us. Or maybe to finish that project we’ve always wanted to do. Whatever it is for you, pick a goal or two, and let’s come out of this year feeling better and stronger about ourselves. Because let’s face it, much of our pre-March life was just getting by, when we knew we could do better, and that life could be better.

A year of change can bring a lot of good.

Changes are hard, but in all my observations over the years, I’ve always seen people emerge better from change – a new job, a new adventure, a better life – than before. It’s no fun going through it, of course, but it is far worse to be stuck in life because we’re afraid of change. And when we’ve made it through this (and we will), it will feel good to know that we emerged a better, stronger person, and that we passed the test of humanity. We will have something good to show for it.

Whatever this year has brought you, let’s finish strong. When we look back, we will know that not only did we make it, we finished well. And we’ll have a story to tell.

Life and Heart Matters

The Tide is Turning

Life and Heart Matters

For the first time in months – five to be exact but who’s counting, it has started to feel “normal” again. I first noticed the change while at the store recently. The atmosphere just felt different. Maybe it was because strangers started talking to each other again instead of averting their eyes. I had a delightful conversation with a lovely woman in the bakery about how good the cream cheese crescent ring looked. Then I noticed all the store shelves were fully stocked again. Instead of looking at rows and rows of depressingly empty shelves in the home stores, they were filled again with autumn wreaths and pumpkin spice candles. Ah, the pumpkin spice returns!

We still have a long way to go, and it’s not yet time to let our guard down. But I was so excited to see the one-way aisle markers had suddenly disappeared from the grocery store floors, just like they had never been there. I have always lived my life with hope, so I confess I’ve had to look a little harder these last few months to find that hope. Grocery store aisles, the return of pumpkin spice, and the nicety of strangers have definitely helped!

I believe the tide is turning.

It may not be quick – it took us awhile to get where we are. But anything worthwhile in life takes time. Our biggest mistake perhaps has been that we expected an instant fix, in our instant world. We needed to slow down. We needed to reevaluate what was important. And, we needed to expose what was broken.

Now, with slowness of pace and humbled hearts, we can begin to fix it.

The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. Patience is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith.
– Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

“Who is strong like You, Lord? You rule the raging sea; when its waves surge, You still them.” Psalm 89:8-9

Life and Heart Matters

A Better Normal

“I will bring the blind by a way they did not know. I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight. These things I will do for them, and not forsake them.” Isaiah 42:16

We all have our breaking point. It might be different for you than me, but if we’re being honest, we all have a time when we just fall down. There’s a weight that overcomes us in that particular moment. It’s part of being human, and being humble. We are not completely invincible, and we were never meant to be. That is part of what makes life so precious, but the secret to it all is not to stay there too long.

I found my breaking point on Easter evening. Twenty-two tornados were swirling over the state of Georgia and around my home in the span of a couple of hours. I could handle Covid-19. I could handle the stock-market crash and the loss of my near-retirement savings. I could even handle the possibility of job losses. But now I was hunkered down in a corner of my home while a freight-train sounding wind just outside the walls threated my family and my home. At 2 AM. On the evening following Easter. I began to shake, and I began to cry. And I sure prayed too.

Gratefully and thankfully, there was no damage to our home and my family was all safe under one roof. It came close though, with one of the twenty-two tornados touching down about twenty miles north of us. Living in the South, we’ve had our share of tornado scares before, but this one was my breaking point. I was shaken, and there was a tiredness that stayed with me for days. I laid around the house without much motivation. And just a week later on the same Sunday evening, we had another threat for more storms and tornados. I froze. I had a PTSD-like feeling. I couldn’t sleep, and I was useless all day until the threat had passed. I finally understood how people with anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder must feel all the time. This feeling went on for a couple of weeks, until I realized this was no way to live. I had to get back up.

“This is what the Lord says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16

I began talking with God in my prayers and telling Him how I felt. “Lord, I’m tired”, I would say. God likes us to be honest in our prayers to Him. He can work with that. After a few days of me telling God how I felt, I noticed something when I went down to the kitchen in the morning for my usual cup of coffee. As I opened the pantry and reached for the coffee, I saw shelves stocked full of food. I had stocked up at the grocery store so I wouldn’t have to go out as often during this pandemic. My refrigerator and freezer were full too. Suddenly I was thankful we had enough food to eat during this crisis without worry. I looked around my house. I was thankful for my comfortable home that held so many precious lifetime memories, and for my family that was healthy and safe still sleeping upstairs. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow, but today, right now, was good. And every morning since, I’ve begun my day with honest and thankful prayers to God. In the quiet of the evenings after everyone else has retired upstairs, I do one last check around the house and then step outside on the back deck to look up at the heavenly stars and give one more “thank you” for the day and for peace during the night.

These are certainly trying times for all. Everyone in the entire world is affected. But what may become our biggest tragedy of all, is if we as a community and as a world, waste this crisis and go back to our normal lives when all of this is over. Sure, we all want some normalcy back in our lives, and I do miss those nostalgic carefree days we had only a few months ago. But I also remember other things: I remember people complaining about how crazy-busy they were and stressed out over things that don’t really matter; cutting each other off in traffic just to save a few seconds; being glued to our phones instead of enjoying each other’s company; and complaining. Yes, I mentioned that last one twice. And for those of us who are people of faith, we prayed for revival at Christmas time and New Year’s. Did we mean it? Most revivals and great changes in society come from some sacrifice or tragedy. Rarely do we change our behavior when things are going great. When we are comfortable, we often forget gratitude. We forget how to be creative and innovative. We forget the simple joys, and what is truly important in life.

So when we hear of the “new normal”, I hope we will strive for a “better normal” instead. It will surely be different, but how? We have a new start and a new chance with the reopening. Let’s not go back to the way we were or we will not have learned anything from our mistakes. Those who died will have died for nothing, the sacrifices will mean nothing, and our faith that has been put to the test will show we failed when it counted the most. We have a chance to do better, be better, show our true faith in times of trial! There is a hurting world out there, far more than just the virus. Let’s come out of this tragedy more compassionate, more observant, more kind, and not take the good things for granted. Let’s create again, let’s collaborate and put our brightest minds together to invent a vaccine, and let’s show the people who will be reading our history books that we as a people rose above this and made a better world for them. And through it all, may they also read about how we turned to God during this time for our hope, and He delivered us.

Just Keep Flying

Pilots are trained for emergencies. They are taught that when the unexpected happens, the number one thing you do is to keep flying. You may have to make some adjustments, but you keep flying the plane. And that’s where we are right now. We keep living. We make adjustments and be prepared, but we keep on living, and hopefully do it in a more mindful way. Slow down, spend more time with family, call an elderly friend, take a walk outdoors, or sit in your backyard and listen to the birds. Fresh air, sunshine, and God’s nature are all good, healthy things to enjoy. No one wants circumstances like we have right now to remind us what is truly important, but let’s not waste the opportunity either. Live now. Enjoy God’s beauty around us. Be kind. Pray more. Less sensational news and social media. Look up.
And now, I think I’ll go bake some cookies with all that extra flour, sugar, butter and eggs I recently bought. Live your fullest, my friend! Don’t waste a moment.

Peace or Fear

When faced with life’s challenges, we have two options in our response: Peace or Fear. Choosing peace requires some work on our part, as it does not often come naturally. Fear is an immediate response that requires no work from us, yet takes much in return.

Last week I had my “over 50” colon screening scheduled at the hospital. It wasn’t my first one, since I have a genetic tendancy toward such things, so I shouldn’t have been too worried. But considering all things going on in the virus world right now, I was a little more on alert. It seems like everyone’s senses are intensified. I couldn’t help but think to myself, what if I catch something in the hospital? Why not just put this off until later? I almost rescheduled. But then that would be acting irrationally in fear. The risk of not having a potentially life-saving screening done because of an unreasonable fear is a much worse risk. That is what fear does to us. It takes.

So instead of giving in to the fear, I prayed. The morning of my procedure, I prayed for God to give me peace through it all – the process, the surgery, and the anesthesia. I had done everything I needed to do. I had kept my appointment and followed the doctor’s directions, and now I was asking God to give me what only He can truly give – Peace. I wasn’t asking God to take away my circumstances, but just to be there with me and give me peace. And you know what? God did! He showed up! I felt an unusual calm as I waited for them to stick me with the IV needle and roll my hospital bed into surgery. PEACE. The feeling is priceless, especially when things are no longer under our own control.

We’ve all been humbly reminded of this over the last week, that we surely can’t control everything going on around us. But God does promise to give us peace when we ask. God has an abundance of peace that He is always willing to give. It is one of His promises from the Bible, and is available to anyone who believes and asks. God’s promises are  something we can always depend on.

Jesus, who is called the Prince of Peace, said this:

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful.” John 14:27

You can almost feel the tone in Jesus’ words as He speaks this. It is a feeling of true care and concern for people. He does not want our hearts to be troubled, or to be living in fear. He offers us what the world simply cannot.

When my surgery was over, I was glad I had not let fear take over. The doctor found and removed two benign but pre-cancerous colon polyps. Doing nothing out of fear would have been much worse for me later on. Instead, choosing to ask for peace from the Prince of Peace Himself was a wise choice, and a wonderful feeling to have. For every one of us, at some point in our lives, whether now or when we’re much older, will have our life be beyond our control. It will just be ourselves and God. At that time, I want to have God near to me, and to experience His peace when nothing else will satisfy. And it’s also a good practice for us to have in our daily lives now too.