Keep Trying

I grew up in the city, and so building a fire on your property was something that was actually prohibited by law… and the home owners association rules. So, you can imagine why one of the reasons living on four beautiful acres in the middle of a wooded community with no restrictions appeals to me is the freedom to build a fire when and where I want on our property.

Now, I was a decent Royal Ranger– the boys program at our church which included camping, knot-tying, and building fires along with memorizing Scripture and helping others. During my tenure as a Royal Ranger, I was taught fire safety, and still try to abide by those guidelines.

But we build some fires at our place! Some roaring ones. (I mean, how are you going to make s’mores if you can’t build a fire?) When we first moved out here, it took me awhile to get back in the swing of building a good fire. But slowly, along with some help from YouTube, the boys and I have become pretty proficient at causing wood to flame.

Today was different, though, for some reason. I had collected some small branches and twigs which had rotted and fallen out of trees, and put them in the burn pile. I grabbed my dryer lint, my old mail advertisements and one of those long lighters. I piled the sticks just right. They were small and dry. They should have practically burst into flame. But I almost couldn’t get the thing to take off.

Thing is, I really needed to get that fire going because I had two small trees on our property which had died and needed to be taken down. There was going to be a lot of wood to burn, and I couldn’t seem to keep the flames alive. I kept adding advertisements, re-lighting dwindling embers, adding more lint. At one point, I was tempted to give up. But I knew I couldn’t. There was too much to do. I needed that fire.

So, I kept nursing it. I kept feeding it. I kept re-lighting it. And then it happened. Some of the twigs finally caught fire. And when they did, they flamed up and caught other sticks on fire. Soon, I had a decent enough amount of heat and bed of embers below the flames to know that I could keep adding all the wood I would need to today. In fact, the picture above is the last of the wood I added just a couple hours ago.

As I was trying– and not succeeding– earlier this morning with my attempts to get the fire going and keep it going, I realized that this can happen to each of us spiritually sometimes. We feel like all the fire in us has died out, and nothing we try seems to get it really going. We go to church. We listen to worship songs. We read the Bible and pray like the preacher told us would help. But no flame. Nothing lasting. Oh, maybe a quick little flare-up at a conference or service. But nothing that keeps the burning of God’s presence and power alive in us.

If that’s where you’re at today, I want to encourage you to do what I did with this literal fire today… Keep trying! Keep reading God’s Word. Pick up a devotional book that grabs your attention. Keep talking TO God even if you don’t feel like you’re talking WITH God. Keep the worship music playing… and sing along. Keep going to church… even if some of the people aren’t perfect and everything isn’t exactly the way you’d prefer. Keep trying. Because at some point, God will honor your commitment and faithfulness. He will burst into flame in your life, and you will be so glad you didn’t give up. Whatever you do, keep trying!

Believe In Tomorrow

Our friends who live in the north may have a difficult time believing this, but it is almost time for me to get out the tiller and turn over the ground in our garden patch in order to begin getting it ready for planting. I’ll have to till it up two or three times, weeding and leveling before we make rows and plant seeds and seedlings. But those seeds have to be in the ground by Good Friday around here, or there won’t be much to pick this summer:

I read this quote from Audrey Hepburn recently which caught my attention because I’ve got gardening in the back of my mind. She said, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” That, my friends, is truth. We almost didn’t plant a garden last year because we weren’t sure if we would still be living here, but we went ahead and did all the work for the garden, whether for ourselves or someone else. I’m sure glad we did because we enjoyed a lot of veggies out of that garden all the way up into fall.

So, I’m planning to plant a garden in the back yard again this year. Do I know that we will be living here in the same place “tomorrow?” No, I do not. But someone will be living here. And someone will be glad we did the work to plant that garden.

You see, doing all the prep work and then planting a garden is an act of faith. It is believing there is going to be a tomorrow to go out and harvest what we’ve planted. It is an act of hope… trust… faith. It is believing that all the effort will have been worth it. It is believing there will be a pay-off or return for our investment.

The same is true in life. When we make the investment in time and effort and energy today, we say to ourselves and those around us, “I believe there is going to be a good tomorrow. I’m planning for it. I’m preparing for it. I’m looking forward to it.” That’s faith.

So, whatever you’re facing today, plant a garden… that is, believe in tomorrow. Don’t give up. Don’t avoid the prep work because it seems early… or looks daunting… or because you think you may not be the one to enjoy it. Getting ready says you believe there is a good future to look forward to. And there is! God has good things in store for those who love Him and follow Him. So, get your work gloves out, grab some tools, and let’s get that garden planted!

My Problem

I have a problem. I keep doing the same thing over and over. And it’s ridiculous. It’s crazy. In fact, Albert Einstein is credited with saying that, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.”

What is my problem? I use the ellipsis too much in my writing.

See, I write the way I talk most of the time. (You probably just read it much slower than I say it.) In a blog that is more a relaxed flow of thoughts, perhaps it is alright to overuse the ellipsis. You, the reader, get it. It gives you the cue to pause as you read.

But when I wrote my first book, I Got A “D” In Leadership, my editor pointed out repeatedly… until she got tired and just finally said to watch for it from that point forward… that I way overuse this little jewel of punctuation. (I think it’s my favorite, although the exclamation point runs a tight second.) The problem is that there are other ways to show pause in writing. Enough ways to keep the writing interesting and the reader engaged. She gave me examples and showed me why they would work more effectively.

So when I wrote my second book, The Upside, I purposely worked hard at making sure I did not overuse the ellipsis. And would you like to know what one of the first fixes my editor had to point out? You guessed it. The almighty ellipsis, my best friend in writing and simultaneously my arch nemesis. She reminded me that, while I could use it, there are other ways to accomplish the same thing. And sometimes those ways are truly better.

Now, I know old habits die hard, but I was reminded once again in that editing process that there are other ways to accomplish the same thing. Truth is, when I switched to some of the others, I found myself liking the writing better. It better suited what I was trying to communicate. It gave me new methods. I actually enjoyed the writing even more.

Here’s the thing… We all deal with this problem. Oh, perhaps yours is not a punctuation problem. Yours is almost certainly something else. Maybe something far more significant. Perhaps you need to shed some weight for your health. Maybe you want to improve your marriage. Or maybe you just want to get to work on time. But the principle is the same.

There is probably at least one other way of accomplishing your goal. You don’t have to keep doing things the same old way. And a new year is the perfect time to decide to and discipline yourself to try a new way. And in the process, you just might find that you like the new way even better.

God is the God of new things. Sure, He is from eternity past. Of course He is familiar with history. But He offer new life, new hope, new methods, new creativity, new options, new possibilities. Instead of doing things the same old way, why not ask God to help you today to begin to discover new ways to accomplish your goals?

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…

Beyond Grand Master

I was playing chess with Alex last week, when I made a move that caught him off-guard. He asked, “How did you do that? I never saw it!” I explained that I had plotted out my moves three or four moves ahead, anticipating what his reactive moves would be to each of mine. Truth be told, he has not played very much, and it really isn’t a fair competition because I’ve played so much more than he has.

That concept of thinking moves ahead is nothing new, though. And I’m no great chess player. It is said that master chess players think as far as ten moves ahead, and make adjustments if their opponents make moves different than those anticipated by the master.

I was listening to someone on a video the other day who said, “God plays chess while the devil is trying to play checkers.” It was a funny statement. But as I began to think about it, I realized that the concept is right.

God knows the end from the beginning. He has thought through every move and counter-move possible in our lives. He has a strategy to make us victorious. And nothing the enemy tries can work. No mistake on our part can hinder Him from accomplishing His goal of bringing us to victory if we stay submitted to Him. He may make adjustments because of the poor decisions we or others make, but it won’t stop Him from winning.

And the game of life is practically rigged in our favor when we allow Him to maneuver all the pieces. He is beyond the level of grand master, and He is playing an opponent who would barely qualify as a beginner.

So today… don’t sweat what looks like a bad situation. The One who is beyond grand master has a strategy for your life, and He knows exactly where to move every piece to guarantee victory! Just let Him work His plan.

Focus

Alex and I walked through the store, and he asked if we could check out the toy section. I obliged because we were in no hurry. He looked at two items, and then he informed me he was done. I was slightly amazed and amused. So I asked if he was sure that was all he wanted to look at. His response? “Well, I’m just so focused on fish right now that I can’t really stop to think about other stuff.”

It’s true. He’s suddenly become deeply intrigued with fish. You know, the kind you keep as pets in a small aquarium on the counter. Or in this case, his desk.

When Alex gets focused on something, it is hard to distract him or derail him. It’s been Thomas the Train, Disney Cars, Nintendo gaming systems, and even chickens. When that boys locks in on an interest, everything else can fall by the wayside, and he isn’t even fazed. He Googles. He YouTubes. He takes notes. The kid does his research, and it is really quite impressive. What he does not do is get distracted or lose interest. He stays dialed in.

I think that is kind of how the Lord wants our relationship with Him to be. Not that we would completely ignore other people or responsibilities, becoming so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good. Rather, that we would be so focused on Him… on His goodness, His blessings, His love… that we would not even give worries, problems or concerns the time of day. That we wouldn’t give up attention on Him to pay to something else which has no eternal value.

What are you focusing on today? Whatever you focus, you fuel. If you’re obsessed with looks or what someone else thinks of you, you won’t have time or energy to give to much else. And if you’re focused on how good God is to you every day, you won’t have time or energy to waste on things that would drag you down. Scripture encourages us to “set our minds on things above.” Why? Because that focus will fuel what really satisfies us in life.

I’m sure that fish are in Alex’s future because he is staying quite focused. And I’m sure that God’s goodness will be in yours if you will focus on Him!

Thinking Cap

I have my thinking cap on today. It helped listening to a podcast on how important our thinking process is to so many areas of life. It helped that I needed to mow the grass and had time to myself to ride and think. And it helped that I had some woodworking projects to do for our craft business.

I’m at this place in life when I’m doing a lot of introspection… and I love it! I love thinking about the potential and possibilities of different options. I love thinking about what is now in this season of life and what could be in the next season of life the Lord has prepared for us.

In this thinking process, it feels so great to be expanding my horizons to consider things I would like to pursue. Obviously, I’m a communicator, and so speaking and writing are in the mix. But as I look at the overarching purpose for which I was created and placed on this planet at this specific point in history, I begin to see some new avenues to explore… avenues which I believe will weave their way onto the greater path I’m walking.

I don’t suppose you would call these dreams I’m pursuing. These are smaller facets of the whole jewel of my life. Some of my thoughts involve helping people. Some involve attitudes I want to have… or people I want to model my life after… or character traits I want to make sure I implement in my life. Some of these thoughts have to do with creative outlets for talents and skills.

I don’t seem to have too many of these days… days when thoughts can just ebb and flow. Even today, I had to tackle several tasks of life and ministry. But today I’ve tried to make the most of this thinking time… tried to use it wisely.

What are you thinking about today… right now? What will you think about tonight when you crawl in bed, pull up the covers and turn out the light? Will you make time tomorrow… even if just a few minutes… to just think about what could be? I hope you will. This has been super refreshing… renewing… for my mind. And I hope that, as you pause to think, you’ll see all the good God has done for you, along with all the good He has in store for you!

Think about it!