These are azaleas. Wild azaleas to be exact, but they are azaleas.

These are azaleas, too.

So are these.

As are these.

And both of these are also.

Why did I just bombard you with pics of flowers? And the same kind of flowers at that?

Look again. They are all called azaleas, but they are each unique. The wild type look quite different from the domesticated type, yet both are stunning. There are different colors, but even within what we would probably all label “pink,” there are three different shades on our property. The first picture was taken yesterday on a hike with some friends about thirty minutes away from here in a National Forest. The rest are within fifty yards of each other in our front yard, and some of those are weighing just feet of each other.

Here’s what I’m wondering today… Why is it that we can marvel at the beauty and celebrate the uniqueness of each of these flowers, and yet we struggle to believe that our own differences make us beautiful as well? I guess I’m just glad that God didn’t make you like me. I like variety. I like that you’re different than me. We can wear the same labels… Christian, American, male, Southerner… and yet be very unique. That’s because we are made in the image of God. His creativity is endless. The variety of facets of His beauty are limitless. So when He creates people, He makes them in His image… unique, wonderful, a joy to experience, breathtaking to behold.

Why don’t we quit fussing about not being a certain size or having a particular face shape? What if we simply celebrated our own differences… those things that make us wonderful, and beautiful, and exquisite to those around us?

How about we celebrate the introvert as much as the extrovert? What if we would begin to look for the labels which unite us instead of the minute details which make us distinct? And when we find those itsy-bitsy differences, what if we cheered because they are what make us each special?

I know, I know…. can’t we all just get along? Let’s all sing Kumbaya together. I know it sounds like all that. But I think one of the things that keeps me looking at those azaleas is the slight differences which make them magnificent. And I just want to live my life looking at people with the same mindset. We’re all the same, but not exactly. And it is those differences that make life interesting.

Those are my musings this evening. I hope you’ll join me in the quest to enjoy the small differences in those around you, too. Maybe spring will look a little more beautiful to all of us. And hey, we might just make a new friend or two!

I love watching NFL games! Obviously, as a New Orleans Saints fan, I’m quite captivated as we come to the end of the season, and my team is in the playoffs. But I follow the game year-round, and I have been reflecting this week- as so many teams whose seasons have ended are letting coaches go and looking toward the next draft- about what each change a team makes really means.

I recall a statement by Adam Capland which I heard on an NFL radio show back in the preseason. He said, “Transactions always tell a story.” In other words, when teams trade, cut or hire, they express who and what they value. For example, just last week, a team in the playoffs hired a kick-off specialist because they didn’t feel like their regular place kicker could put the ball in the end zone on kick-offs. Simply hiring that other kicker meant they didn’t trust their own kicker to do his job. They didn’t value him or his abilities enough to believe in him.

Now, we can berate those team tycoons for the way they cut head coaches from the team coldly after several losses, or move on to the up and coming rookie because the crowd is tired of the veteran who is no longer in his prime. But the truth is that our transactions always tell a story as well. What we spend our money and time on speaks to what is important to us personally.

Each day, we have the opportunity to place value on people, to express how much they matter to us and to God. Simply saying yes to spending time with someone can speak volumes to them about how special and wonderful they are. Sometimes a small gift expresses immense love or appreciation. Jesus said that wherever our treasure is, there our heart will be also. Our transactions always tell a story.

It’s true. We give our time, attention and money to those whom we value most. Andy Stanley has said, “Saying ‘yes’ to one thing means saying ‘no’ to something else.” We only have so much of each to give, and so we prioritize. Who and what we love least will get cut or traded for who or what we love more or most.

Only people will last for eternity. People should always trump stuff. I know we can’t give everyone our undivided time and attention. Sometimes the money and the time truly aren’t available for everyone in your life. I’m not suggesting that you can give the best of yourself to all those to whom you want to give it. But maybe we could turn off the TV or put away the phones little more, and play a game with our kids. Maybe we could skip the meal at the restaurant and give to a friend in need. Maybe we could give up those few extra minutes of sleep to get up and spend some time with the Lord, reading His Word and talking with Him.

Transactions always tell a story. How has the story of your life read up to this point? Are you pleased with the story so far, or do you wish you could erase some of the story and re-write it? Well, we can’t re-write the past, but the good news is that the next chapter’s pages are blank. We have the opportunity today to begin writing the story in a way that tells the story our hearts longs to tell… Let’s tell a great story!

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!

I once worked for a leader who was quite the wordsmith. He was not nearly as loquacious as me. He was simply very attentive to learning new words and using them effectively in conversation and public speaking. He had one of those “word-of-the-day” calendars on his desk, and he would often regale us with the words he had learned that day. It seemed he always knew the right thing to say in every situation, and always had the apropos word to make what he was saying clearer, or more powerful, or more heartwarming. With my own love for an expansive vocabulary, I have always been amazed and mesmerized by his command of our language. I suppose I’d like to be like him when I grow up.

Apparently, he was familiar with the words of Solomon found in the tenth chapter of Proverbs. Solomon paints a picture in those powerfully pithy statements of how godly people speak. He writes of the words they choose to use. In fact, he lists five types of words they choose to use:

1) Life-giving words – verse 11

2) High-quality words – verse 20

3) Encouraging words – verse 21

4) Wise – verse 31

5) Helpful – verse 32

I’d say that is a pretty good selection of words. Anyone who speaks that way is certain to be loved and appreciated. Someone who chooses their verbiage based on that list would most certainly sound more like God, and would make me want to listen.

What’s interesting is that Solomon doesn’t say that we need to know a lot of fancy words. He doesn’t say our words need to sound impressive the members of MENSA. He simply points out the kinds of words any of us can use in our everyday lives to reflect God’s character… and benefit others.

So, while I hope to learn some new words on a regular basis, I’m going to be sure to make my higher goal to elevate my speech to level Solomon outlines in Proverbs 10.

If each of us reading this today will make an effort to use these kinds of words on a daily basis, I believe and declare that we will soon see a difference in how people respond to us. In fact, they just might want to hear what we have to say.

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!

“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!

We have several friends who are currently serving as foster parents. It is amazing how they are investing their lives in the lives of these children and teenagers. It is temporary investment for permanent life-change.

Recently, I was talking with one of my foster-dad friends, and he was telling me about one of the kids they are caring for having a total attitude meltdown. Whether you are in favor of physical disciplining of children or not, you cannot discipline that way with foster kids for a lot of serious reasons. So he told me about how they handle correction in their family now…

When one of the kids displays a bad attitude or a wrong action, they address the issue by stating what was wrong. Then they do something powerful… They ask the child if he/she would like a do-over. If the child accepts the do-over and makes things right, they reinforce that right attitude and action with encouragement.

As my friend told me about an actual instance when this had been applied, I couldn’t help but blurt out how that is exactly how God treats us when we display our own bad attitudes or wrong actions. He’s not waiting to strike us down with a plague or fire from Heaven. He lovingly, patiently points out where we were wrong and then asks us if we would like a do-over. He’s the God of second chances… and third chances… and hundredth chances. But He doesn’t stop there. When we finally get our attitudes and actions right, He lovingly reinforces our right choice with encouragement.

Sure, you were wrong, but you don’t have to stay wrong. Take the do-over today. You don’t have to live in guilt and shame today. God is not waiting to take you out back to the woodshed and give you the whippin’ of your life. He stands ready instead to give you a do-over and a dose of encouragement. And isn’t that what we really need?

To all my foster parent friends, thank you for the amazing example of God’s love and grace you are to me! Keep up the great work. You are making a difference for eternity.