You Are Making A Difference

The picture above was taken the day AFTER Alex, Austin and I had mulched all the leaves in the yard with the riding mower and blown all the leftover debris off the driveway. Yes, you read it right… the day after. We must have billions of leaves on our property.

I woke up the mowing after we had made the yard look so great to see this view. I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me. We wasted all our time yesterday. It looks like we didn’t do anything at all.”

But I knew better. There have been times in the past when I had the mentality of just letting all the leaves finish falling, and then trying to mulch them all. Fun story, I caught a riding mower on fire one time doing that. I had let so many leaves build up that they got caught up under the engine and ignited.

Lesson learned. Mulch anyway. Sure, the yard may only look clean for one afternoon. Sure, you may have to do it all again in a couple of days. Mulch anyway. It makes a difference. Once the leaves get soaked by a rain or build up too much, the job is incredibly difficult and takes much longer.

You know what else is crazy? Sometimes we each look at our lives and feel like I felt looking at that yard covered once more by leaves. If we’re not careful, we can begin to think that what we are doing to help others, bless others, serve others is not making a difference. Yet, it is. If we didn’t do what we had done yesterday, people’s situations would be even more difficult today.

You are making a difference in the lives of those around you. You’re making a difference at work, at church, at school, in your community. So, there are new problems today. There would be double the problems if you didn’t do what you do.

Paul told the believers in the church at Galatia not to get tired of doing because eventually they would see that their efforts were making a difference… people’s lives were being impacted.

The same is true for you. Don’t give up on doing good for others because it looks like you’re not making a dent in the problem. One day, you’ll be glad you did what you did.

As for me, I’ve got more leaves to mulch…

Better

Angela and I always had outside dogs growing up. In fact, we had only had (mostly) outside dogs during the first 20 years of our marriage. That is, until we came across our family’s current beloved canine, Sugar the Schnauzer, at a pet adoption day at a pet store in another city. If you have read this blog for almost any length of time, you know a little about Sugar already.

The thing is, before Sugar, we really thought we liked bigger, outside dogs better. We definitely would not have usually chosen a smaller, inside lap-dog. We thought they were too yappy and that you couldn’t wrestle with them. What fun would that be?

Then the Lord gave us Sugar. Sure, we had to adjust to what it means to have an inside dog, but now we love having one. And we are pretty sure that if we were ever to get another dog, we would choose a smaller, inside lap-dog all over again.

Isn’t that odd? We never saw that one coming. God gave us something we didn’t even know we would enjoy. In fact, we thought we might not enjoy it nearly as much. But He knew better. And so He gave us what was best for us- what He knew we would love more if we just gave it a chance- instead of holding on to what we thought we wanted.

You know, He doesn’t just do that with dogs. He can work all things together for your good when it comes to something like a job that you would love… or a spouse whom you would love… or a car, or a house, or even a degree plan. God has good things stored up, ready to give them to you. Things you may not even know that you would love. But you would, if you would let go of what it is you think you want… and simply trust Him with what He knows you’ll love even more.

As we move toward the end of 2018, why not begin to loosen your grip on some of your preconceived notions and leave the perfect gift-giving responsibilities to the One who knows you better than you know yourself? You’ll be glad you did. I ought to know… I’ve got a Schnauzer.

The Space Between The Bookends

With the upcoming release of my next book imminent within the next few weeks- as the Lord’s helps- I thought back to a time about a year and a half ago when I came home from a trip speaking somewhere to find a gift Angela had waiting for me. I pulled the tissue paper from the gift bag, peered inside, and pulled out the two dark, wooden L-shaped objects. She explained, “They’re bookends… for the books you will write and publish.”

We had heard that we should keep something in front of us to remind us of the dreams we are working toward, and she knew that I had hit a point in the process where I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get finished. So, she made me those two simple bookends to remind me that one day my books would sit between them.

A day before my birthday several months later, my author copy of my first book arrived, and- after flipping through it, taking some pictures, and basking in the glow of the completed project- I had a spiritual moment as I placed the completed dream in the space between the bookends.

At first, I kept the bookends tight up against either side of that first book, but then something happened. I remembered that I have other books in my heart. As I began to write what I thought would be my second book, I looked at the first book sitting in the space between the bookends and realized that I needed to scoot them apart to make room for more of the books I plan to write.

Interestingly, I hit writer’s block on that book, and moved on to the next book when I couldn’t seem to break through. All along, I stared at the space between the bookends, and I determined that I would fill it.

It took me a little longer than I had originally planned. I wanted to release the book this weekend. I have faced challenges and setbacks, but throughout the entire process, there has been that space between the bookends- no longer completely empty- which reminded me to stay at it so that my dream of filling it would actually become reality.

One day a decade from now, I plan to have at least ten books I have written sitting in what used to be an empty space between the bookends. And here’s what I know… God has given me the dream and desire to write, the ideas for the books, the mind to conceptualize thoughts, the resources I need to capture those thoughts in print, and the team I need to make each book its best.

But I have to do my part if I am going to honor Him and His blessings by writing those books. I have to actually sit at the desk and put my fingers on the keyboard. I have to do the work of writing if I am going to fill the space between the bookends.

I give thanks to God for helping me complete this most recent book. It makes the broader dream of being an author more of a reality. I give thanks to those who have helped me make my writing better. I give thanks to Angela for showing me the space between the bookends.

I don’t know what you’re dream is, but I hope you have some visual to help keep it in front of you. I hope you have someone cheering you on. (I believe in you, in case no one has told you that.) And I hope that you will take that with which God has blessed you, put it together with your hard work, and see your dream become reality!

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

A New Memory

I unplugged the iPad from where it had been charging so I could take it with me to do some work while I waited on an oil change. When I unplugged it, the screen lit, and I saw a notification box in the middle. I tapped on it, and it read, “You have a new memory.” When I opened it, it was a great memory we had made a little over a year ago when we just had fun as a family. Nothing expensive or extravagant. Just time spent together smiling, laughing, cooking and eating… enjoying each other. Today, seeing those pics from that time, I am so glad we made the time to make those memories.

This begs the question… What memories am I making today that I will be glad I made a year from now? Five years from now? Ten years from now? When the boys are away at college, what memory will pop up on whatever electronic device we have then?

You see, if I don’t make them now, we won’t have them then. And I definitely want to have great memories in life. So I have to make those great memories. I have heard Author and Pastor, Mark Batterson, say, “Accumulate experiences, not possessions.” In other words, spend your time and money on making memories with the people you love which will one day pop up on the iPad to bring a smile back to your face and light up your eyes once more.

And hey, don’t let this post make you feel guilty if you haven’t been making great memories. Let it instead inspire you to start now. It’s the perfect time to begin. A month from now… a year from now… a lifetime from now, you’ll be glad you did!

You Can Afford It

“No one is so poor that they cannot at least pay attention.” – Unknown

One of my goals in life is to be more and more generous. However, like most of us, there are times when I feel like I cannot give as much as I would like. Perhaps it’s finances… or material possessions… or even time. But at that exact moment, I’m not able to give all that I would like to give.

There is a way, however, in which each of us can be generous at any given moment. It’s a gift any of us can afford. It is the ability to pay attention.

Everyone needs attention. Many long for it because they rarely receive it. People nod and wave. We often ask, “How are you,” as we keep walking right past a person. And so, many people go through life depleted in the reservoirs of their soul because they have experienced a drought of attention. Yet, we can all afford to pay attention in almost any given moment.

Years ago, a man I worked with in ministry taught me this valuable life lesson. He said it had been handed down to him from an mature minister whom he had watched practice it on many occasions. I had shared with my co-worker how, at the events we led, I felt so inadequate at giving everyone some time so that they knew I was interested in them and cared about them. What he shared that day helped me from that moment on to live generously in those times.

He said that I would never be able to give everyone as much time as they would want with me or as much time as I would want to give them, but I could always pay real attention to the person right in front of me. I could look them in the eye, and not look over their shoulder to see who else I needed to talk with. I could listen to what they were saying, and not try to formulate what I would say in response till they were done. I could focus on them, and let them know they were special. And when those few moments were done, that person would feel special… cared for… noticed… respected… loved… acknowledged. When I finished paying genuine attention to that person, I could feel free to move on to find the next person to whom I could give the gift of attention. Sure, there would be the casual greetings because too many people and too little time meant there was no way to do this for everyone. But for those to whom I could give the gift of attention, their day would be better, and my relationship with them would be deepened.

He was right, of course. I began right away to do my best to practice generosity in the form of genuine attention. No, I wasn’t always successful. I would sometimes get caught up in the chaos and allow myself to get too busy to give this gift, but I did my best. Years have passed since he shared that affordable gift idea with me, and I began trying to be generous in that way. Interestingly, I received a text just this past week from someone who shared how much it meant that I had paid attention to them and to others back then. It mattered to them. It still matters to this day.

So, the next time you think you don’t have anything to give… the next time you want to be generous, but aren’t sure you have a $20 bill in your wallet to hand a college student… or a car to donate to charity… the next time you desire to make a difference by giving… give the gift anyone can afford. Pay attention to the person in front of you at the moment. It may be your spouse, your kids, your co-worker, a neighbor, or the person on the aisle in Walmart who just wants someone to talk to. Whoever it is… whenever it is… just do your best to be generous with your attention. I promise… you can afford it!

Not Just Ice Cream

This past weekend, we had a massive garage sale. Friday in particular was brutally hot, and we spent most of the day outside. Although I must admit, I tried to stay in the actual garage with a fan blowing on me as much as possible.

In the middle of the day, a dear family friend stopped by and visited with us for awhile. She is the sweetest lady you could ever meet. She is thoughtful, gracious, considerate, and never to be outdone when it comes to generosity. After her visit, we all commented how fun it was to have her stop by.

Later that afternoon, she texted me to let me know that she was picking us up some ice cream and would be by to deliver it to us shortly. I told her she didn’t need to do it, but she insisted. And sure enough, about ten minutes later, she rolled into the driveway with her delivery. For the record, it wasn’t just ice cream… It was Blue Bell. I grew up in Texas, and so the jingle… “Blue Bell, the best ice cream in the country,” actually means something to me.

I thanked her profusely, as did the boys. What she didn’t know until I told her, was that when I slipped inside to gobble down a quick lunch earlier, I wanted some kind of dessert. I had thought to myself, “It is so hot, some ice cream sure would be good.” But I knew none of us would be going to the store that day because of the garage sale, and so I figured ice cream was just out of the question. It was just a fleeting craving and a fanciful whim… so I thought. Until she brought ice cream.

I had not said a word to anyone about ice cream. I didn’t have to. The One who knows all things delights in every detail of my life, according to Psalm 37:23. He knew that He could nudge her heart to buy ice cream, and she would do it. So He did.

She did not know that I needed that ice cream reminder that day to remind me that if my Heavenly Father can cause someone to bring me the dessert I wanted on a whim, then He can tackle the other part of that verse, which says He also directs the steps of my life. It was a subtle reminder, but it was not lost on me. He threw it, and I caught it.

So when is ice cream not just ice cream? When it reminds that person receiving it of how intimately involved God is in their life. You see, it wasn’t just ice cream she delivered Friday… It was love… It was encouragement… It was hope.

So, this week, let’s be sensitive to those nudges… because we never know when it is not just ice cream.

Two Good Questions

Benjamin Franklin kept a journal in which he would ask and answer two questions each day… one at the beginning of the day, and one at the end of the day. At the beginning of the day, he would ask himself, “What good shall I do today?” And at the end of that day, he would ask himself, “What good have I done today?”

I love that because he planned to do good everyday. He didn’t just hope to do good… He strategically planned it out.

And then he held himself accountable to his goal. He knew he would have to answer that question at the end of the day, and it motivated him.

What if we each took ol’ Ben’s concept and used it as our own each day? What if we strategically planned to do even just one good thing tomorrow? What if we wrote it down? And what if we then held ourselves accountable to it tomorrow evening to make sure we followed through? Imagine how different our tomorrow might be! My guess is that we would be so glad that we did good, we would want to do it again the next day.

According to Ephesians 2, God planned for us to do good works. Seems like if we would just put Ben Franklin’s plan into practice, we would find ourselves getting on God’s plan and making a significant impact on those around us.

Ben Franklin asked two really good questions. My question today is… Will we do good tomorrow? I plan to, and I hope you do also!

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