Happy 2012! Letting Go And Moving On

Yeah, I know it’s a few days early but I like to get an early start on things (just ask my best friend whom I’ve known almost 22 years now). I’m still in Oregon enjoying my little mini-vacation but was thinking about a brand new year starting to unfold again. The last three have been a bit rough, so I’m ready for a change!!! How about you?

I’m finally ready to leave the past behind me. I thought I had, but it’s hard when there are so many memories back there, both good and bad. I plan to remember the good, and, right now . . . this very moment . . . I’m letting go of the bad. I think, on New Year’s Day, I’ll make a copy of the 33-page document I have on all of the jobs I’ve applied for since April 22, 2009 (463 to date) and burn it. Yeah . . .  I like that idea. I need a fresh start–a blank page–to start the process over again.

The world is in bad shape right now . . . and not just America. And the only way it’s going to improve is by each one of us choosing to look beyond what we hear on television or read in the media; look beyond the hurts we either intentionally or unintentionally inflict on each other, and look beyond our own circumstances to the larger global society. We live in extremely stressful times where many (but not all, fortunately) of the world’s economies are shattering under the strain. I don’t know about you, but as I listen to the news on a regular basis, I find myself feeling bleak about the future, and after three years of looking for employment with zilch to show for it I lose sight of where my focus needs to be and to stay.

If you’re like me, we often get so focus on our circumstances that our vision gets severely clouded. It’s at times like this that we need to recall the words of the Apostle Paul, who knew how to live joyously in both prosperous circumstances and far more often in diverse and challenging circumstances–many times from a prison cell. He kept his eyes off of his circumstances and on God, no matter what the situation was that presented itself to him. Indeed, his example is the one we need to follow.

I posted Paul’s word from The Message Bible in a previous post, but want to repeat them here as we begin another New Year–2012: “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it” (Phil. 3:12-16 MSG).

Those are good words to start a new year with, don’t you think? I sure do. So I’m asking God to clear my blurred vision and help me to stay on the right track. It’s so very easy to get sidetracked and start living in a dream world because we don’t know how to change the world as we find it at this moment. I’ve come to learn, better late than never, that a dream world is not the same as living by faith. While my faith has grown a lot over the past three years (especially when I have seen God provide so miraculously in my finances and my basic needs), I allowed a dream world that I wished had come true back at that job I lost in Houston to soften the blows of these past three years of unemployment, because, quite frankly, these past three years have been staggering at times to navigate from an employment standpoint, especially on several occasions when I was so close to getting a job but ended up being #2, which doesn’t count for anything when it comes to getting a job.

So, I realized today that I need to set aside that dream and move forward by faith–and not cloud and dampen that faith with a dream. There is a significant difference between the two, at least in my case.

Like Paul, I’m not saying I have this all together, and by no means do I count myself an expert in anything, not even in my former career (former only because I can’t seen to find a job in it anymore), but, again, like Paul, I want to keep my eye on the goal, “where God is beckoning us onward–to Jesus” (vs. 14); and I’m going to lay aside my dream and run this race by faith.

How about you?

YouTube Video is in tribute to Dan Fogelberg:

Photo credit here

Waiting For A Call From The Hill Hotel

The title doesn’t exactly sounds like a Christmas story now does it? I’m not sure where this story is going, so bear with me. It is early morning as I am writing this at my brother’s home on a hill in Oregon looking out on fog covered hills with the smell of pine in the air. The sun is peeking over the hills with a stream of light topping the myriad of pine trees. It’s really quite beautiful here.

I arrived two days ago in the afternoon and haven’t been here in almost four years. It’s definitely different scenery from Florida with the rolling hills, pine trees and colder weather (though not as cold as I was expecting). After going on almost three years of unemployment without a break of any kind, I feel like I have stepped out of time for a short while to catch my breath and collect my thoughts on what direction to take after this short vacation is over. However, other thoughts have entered my head, too . . . thoughts I didn’t know were going to overwhelm me for a little while.

Dad and my stepmother, Phyllis, 2010

In previous years when I have visited family in Oregon, I planned my vacation time at the same time as my dad and stepmother’s vacation (they live in Iowa) so I could visit with them when I visited my older brother’s family in Oregon, and usually those vacation times were in July. Due to being unemployed for so long I didn’t have the money to make the trip for the past several years, and this particular trip was a total surprise and a gift from my older brother and his wife.

While it had not crossed my mind before, this house is the place where I saw my dad and stepmother the last few times that I saw them–the last time being at my nephew’s wedding in January 2008. I never gave it any thought as I prepared for this trip that this was the last place where I saw my stepmother, who died suddenly and unexpectedly last April after fairly routine surgery (although I’m of the mind that no surgery is routine) that was expected to go smoothly. However, it did not and she died ten days after the surgery on Good Friday (ironically, she was born on Christmas Day 86 years earlier). My dad and my stepmother were married almost 32 years at the time of her death, and her death left a hole in me almost as great as the death of my own mother almost 29 years ago.

Before you think this is going to be a morbid post, I can guarantee you it will not be. It will be a tribute to my stepmother, Phyllis, who always listened, always had good advice and always had a great sense of humor. When I first entered my brother’s home two days ago and was talking with my sister-in-law in the kitchen, it hit me like a ton of bricks that this was the last place I saw Phyllis alive. I could see her in my mind moving around the kitchen, helping where needed, and I can still clearly hear her laughter. It has made this particular visit bittersweet filled with the memories of her. She loved Christmas but how could she not love Christmas having been born on Christmas Day. In fact, her older sister, who was nine years older than her and who died in 2004 was also born on Christmas Day.

Phyllis was a very private person but very open to those she loved and very giving, too. I have 32 years of memories of time spent with her and Dad, and many times with her on the phone after I moved to Florida in 1992. Weekly phone calls kept us up-to-date with the goings on in the family. We could easily gab on for over an hour.

Early on in their marriage Phyllis told me a story about, if I remember it right, a cousin (or possibly just someone she knew in the area in Iowa where she grew up) who lived at home his whole life with his parents. He had been employed at a hotel named the Hill Hotel and while I don’t remember the details, he lost his job though I’m not sure it was his fault and possibly he was laid off when business was slow. Anyway, while you’d have to hear Phyllis tell the story to get the full humor in it, this man never looked for another job again and was always waiting for a call from the Hill Hotel to go back to work (which never came).

As the years passed by and we had many, many conversations, one of the funniest things we would say to each other, after she had told me this story, was whenever someone came up in conversation who seemed to be stuck on hold in their life at that particular moment, one of us would say that that particular person was “waiting for a call from the Hill Hotel” and then we would both break out laughing. I can still hear her laughter so clearly.

Unlike the fellow in her story, I have not sat around waiting for a call from my former employer in Houston where I lost my job in April 2009 to see if I wanted to come back. No, it was clear I was not going back there. The very next day after I got fired I was at a Starbucks using their wifi to start applying for jobs, even before I applied for unemployment benefits. In fact, as of yesterday when I applied for yet two more jobs (hitting 463 jobs I have now applied for since April 2009), and, yes, doing it here even while vacationing in Oregon for a few days, the futility of it all after almost three years just overwhelmed me. And, I have no desire to get back on that plane and go back to the town I’ve been living in in Florida for over two years now where absolutely no door has ever opened for me. I feel totally stuck on hold and don’t know how to get off of it.

And then this morning, when I woke up very early to a quiet house, feeling incredibly sad about what direction to take with my life, I could hear the sound of Phyllis’s laughter and those words, “Waiting for a call from the Hill Hotel,” and it made me laugh. Oh, how I wish she were here now, one last time, to see her again. I know she would know exactly the right words I need to hear along with a big hug. But Phyllis would not want me to be this sad, so I’m determined to shake off this sadness and the futility of trying to find a job that’s as likely to come at this point in time as that job that fellow was waiting for at the Hill Hotel.

Christmas Day is only a few days away now which is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ whose birth, life, death and resurrection totally changed life for anyone on this planet if they choose to accept His gift of salvation. However, it is also my stepmother’s birthday, and I’m determined that no matter how tough these past three years have been on me trying to find another job, as one last gift to her, I am going to remember her laughter when I don’t think I can go on for one more day. Yes, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. And it’s really her gift to me.

“For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5 NASB).

Photo credit here

Merry Christmas To All And A Prosperous 2012

In a few short days I’ll be heading to Oregon for eleven days to see family that I haven’t seen in almost four years. I can’t tell you how excited I am. This trip is compliments of my brother and his wife and came completely out of the blue and was a total surprise. Also, while I know I haven’t mentioned this previously on my blog, I have also lost 35 lbs and twenty of those pounds have just recently come off since October 10, 2011. And yes, the weight loss is intentional! Talk about excitement!!! I still have a number of pounds left to lose and I am psyched. I think 2012 is going to be the year for a lot of new things in my life, and I wish the same for you.

As I look back at the past three years I am amazed at how much I’ve come to realize that life is not just about “finding another job” even though we all need an income and money to survive in our culture. I can’t recall another time in my life where I have had to learn to “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7) as much as I have had to do now. And I can’t say most of it has been fun, but all of it has been worth it. Years ago, an old friend told me that “once you’ve seen Truth you can’t ‘unsee’ it.” He was certainly right on that account. But in order to see Truth you must look through eyes of faith to see what is not seen by sight.

I don’t know where you are on this journey of faith, but as a fellow sojourner, I can say with all of my heart to never give up, never doubt, never let the enemy get a foothold in your life; but if you do, pay attention to the signs God sends your way to get the enemy out of your life. Outwardly, you may have to give up a lot (e.g. material possessions, certain relationships, your profession or occupation, etc.) or maybe not as it’s your attachment to those objects that keeps you from God and not necessarily the objects themselves. He deals with us on an individual basis, so never compare your journey with someone else’s journey. However, inwardly He requires your whole heart–you don’t get to keep even a fraction of it for yourself. But if you truly seek Him and search for Him with all of your heart, you will find Him (Jer. 29:13). I like how The Message Bible states Jer. 29:13-14: “When you come looking for Me, you’ll find Me. Yes, when you get serious about finding Me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed. God’s Decree. I’ll turn things around for you . . . bring you home to the place from which I sent you off into exile. You can count on it.”

The key is total surrender. Nothing else will do. Are you willing to pay that price?

Another new year is before us . . . ripe with anticipation. Will we choose to go our own way as we navigate through it, or give it to the One who knows everything about us, who sent His Son to open the way for us to have a relationship with Him. There is no “half way” when we commit our lives to Jesus Christ. You don’t get to keep anything of yourself. However, that should not bring fear to your mind, but a love and a freedom unlike anything else this world has to offer. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (I John 4:18). The Message Bible states it like this: “God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love” (I John 4:17-18). I don’t know about you, but that sounds a whole lot better than anything this world has to offer.

So this Christmas, if you haven’t already accepted the Gift of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, won’t you consider it? What is in your life, right now, that you are unwilling to give up? The road will not be easy at times, but it is worth giving up everything that stands in the way of a relationship with Him. And never forget that you really can’t out give God.

And for those of us who already know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, let’s ponder the words of the Apostle Paul as we venture forth into another new year: “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it” (Phil 3:12-16 MSG).

Yes, we are on the right track, and let’s stay on it!!!

Photo credit here

Risky Business–Another Side To The Christmas Story

We’ve all heard the Christmas story of Jesus being born in a manger, but have you ever considered what Joseph must have gone through when he discovered his betrothed, Mary, was pregnant and he knew the baby wasn’t his? I dare say most men would have walked away, and in this particular case if Joseph had walked away, it would have risked the entire mission of Jesus, humanly speaking. However, he was willing to “risk his reputation to participate in and facilitate God’s unfolding drama” (quote from “Our Daily Bread” reading for December 10, 2011).

For today’s post, I offer no commentary but rather will share this particular and oftentimes overlooked portion of the Christmas story with you taken from Matthew 1:18-25 along with posting the devotion from Our Daily Bread for December 10, 2011, written by Joseph Stowell.

Matthew 1:18-25 The Birth of Jesus Christ

18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”

 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

“On some of the Christmas cards you will receive this year, no doubt there will be a man standing in the background looking over the shoulder of Mary, who is prominently displayed caring for the baby Jesus. His name is Joseph. And after the nativity narratives, he isn’t heard from much again. If we didn’t know better, we would think Joseph was an insignificant bystander or, at best, a mere necessity to undergird Jesus’ claim to the throne of David.

“But, in fact, the role that Joseph played was strategically important. If he had disobeyed the angel’s command to take Mary as his wife (Matt. 1:20), he would have, from a human perspective, put the entire mission of Jesus at risk. Taking Mary as his wife was a risky assignment. Public perception that he was the baby’s father put him in serious violation of Jewish law and made him a public disgrace. Yet today all of us are thankful that he was willing to risk his reputation to participate in and facilitate God’s unfolding drama.

“Most of us are insignificant compared to the major players in this world. But all of us are called to obey. Who knows what God has in store when we are willing to surrender to God’s will—even when it puts us at risk!” –Joe Stowell (from “Our Daily Bread” for December 10, 2011).

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey. —Sammis

It’s no small thing to trust and obey.

Let me close with this thought–what would we be willing to risk our reputations for if we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is what God wants us to do? Indeed, as Joseph Stowell stated at the end of his devotion, “Who knows what God has in store when we are willing to surrender to God’s will–even when it puts us at risk!”

Are you willing to risk it all for God?

Photo credit here

Eternity–It’s Only A Breath Away

Several years ago when I was living and working in Lakeland, FL, I took a non-credit online writing course offered through a community college on “Creative Writing.” One of the assignments, if I remember right, was to write a piece on the color “red” using a variety of descriptions of “red” without actually using the word “red.” I remember coming up with a variety of items that represented “red” and tying them all together to unify the piece, and one of the descriptions I used for “red” was the blood of Jesus. I then added a theme tying in those thoughts at the end of the piece that stated “eternity is only a breath away.” I remember my instructor commented when she read those words that it sent chills up and down her spine. Now I have no idea where she stands on the topic of eternity or whether or not she knows Jesus Christ as her Savior and Lord, but I found her comment interesting because I got the impression that it scared her.

Now, mind you, since this was an online writing course, there was no interaction between the instructor and the students other then the students submitting their writing assignments and the instructor commenting on the assignments through a portal on the website, so I was never able to assess what the instructor’s actual thoughts were regarding my unifying theme at the end of that particular piece beyond her initial comment. As much as I love technology, nothing can replace face-to-face communication to get to the heart of the matter when it comes to communicating with people and getting their “real” response (the heart cannot lie regardless of the words one uses as the true heart attitude shows up on the face).

By now, if you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that I take a decidedly Christian approach to everything concerning life and living. And I do not apologize for that because at the core of Christianity is the only true way to find and have a relationship with God, and that is through His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. All other gods are false. It’s not that they don’t exist, but at the core of all of the other belief systems of this world and the many false gods they represent is a false god known as Satan, who masquerades himself (and stealthily, I might add) as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).

Of course, most of the world thinks Christians who believe this way are “a few cards short of a full deck.” No matter–that doesn’t change the truth. The Bible makes it very clear in I Cor. 1:26-30 why the world thinks in this way:  “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”

The point I want to make, and make clearly, dear readers, is that it matters not what you think–it only matters what God thinks. And God has made His thoughts on life and living and dying and eternity crystal clear in the Bible. There is only one way to God, and that way is through His Son, Jesus Christ. It’s as simple as that. No exceptions. None . . . .

For those of you reading who don’t know Jesus Christ personally as your Savior and Lord, please go to my resource page, “Where To Look For Encouragement,” to find out how you can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I have listed some of my favorite ministries on my “Favorite Links” page where you will find a wealth of information on living the Christian life.

But don’t wait . . . . None of us knows when a heart attack, or a car accident, or any of the other instantaneous ways that many people die every day in our world might hit us. There is no “tomorrow,” folks . . . only today. As Hebrews 4:7 clearly states:  “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

And remember that for every single person living on our planet, “eternity is only a breath away.” Where will you be spending eternity?

Photo credit here