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Entries in hope (4)



It's a pretty gloomy day here in Houston. The sky is as gray as wet newspaper. A steady drizzle is coating everything just enough to make it seem that there is a thin slime eveyrwhere. And despite temperatures in the 80s early yesterday afternoon, by late afternoon we were already heading into the 40s. Just outside my window it's cold, it's wet, it's kind of depressing.

And yet here I sit—warm, dry, in a pretty happy mood. 

What a difference a half-inch of glass can make! I can see a world, just beyond, that I know to be unpleasant and even painful, because I was out in it for a time. I know it's there. But here, where I choose to sit, I'm beyond that world. I'm outside of it, in a sense, by being on the inside. 

Life is like that for most people. Me included. We were out in the storm for a while, but then we chose to come inside. Maybe we were forced to be out there, to get to our job or to get back home. We come in contact with it from time to time, it can't be avoided. But ultimately that outside world, with its cold and drizzle and whipping wind, isn't for us. It's not where we choose to stay. Why would we?

Some do, you know. There are some who can't seem to escape it. The best they can hope for is to huddle up, to bundle up, to take shelter anywhere they can find it. They may know of a way out, but are unwilling or unable to take it. 

Sometimes it's up to us, the inside-dwellers, to help them get to someplace safe and dry and warm. Sometimes we have to take them by the hand and lead them, because they don't know the way on their own. We have to nudge them. We have to do a little investigating and thinking, find a way to convince them to get somewhere safe. Sometimes the burden of the other is on us, simply because we have the perspective of having been inside.

We should also remember that if we can still see that world, it'd be easy enough for us to end up back out in it. We do have to pass through it, sometimes. We have to operate in it, while trying to hold on to our dry, warm, comfortable existence. We have to pass through a rainy patch, open to the sky and the wind, before passing into the next warm, dry corridor. It would be so easy to get to the door and find it locked. So what then?

We knock like crazy. We bang on the door and beg to be let in. And if that doesn't work, we go looking for another way in, another door that isn't locked, another building that offers shelter. From our perspective, there's no need to resolve ourselves to our fate. We don't have to stay out in the cold and the rain.

Sometimes, though, we forget. Or we get discouraged. We decide that there really is no hope. The doors are locked, and that's the end. Why go looking for another way in? All the doors are probably locked anyway. The people inside either can't hear us, can't understand, or they don't care, don't want to hear our plight. 

So we give up, and we huddle up, and we bundle up as best we can, and we just try to tough it out until the rain and the cold give way to a warmer, dryer world. That happens, from time to time. The rain stops. The cold fades. And life seems pretty good, out here in the world. 

Trouble is, the rain and the cold come back. They always do. It's the nature of nature. It's the way of the world. No matter how nice the day is, it's just a day. Later, the day turns to night, clear days turn to storms, summer turns to winter, and there you are again, right back in the drizzle and cold of the world, trying to survive, trying to get by.

Come inside! 

Door's locked? Find another! Find a window! Keep banging until someone hears you, or go find a different building with an open door and a dry, warm place to sit! 

Often, our mistake is to get locked into only one way of seeing our world. But that's not how the world works. The world is a place of perspectives and opportunities.

No one wants to lose their job, because no one wants to struggle. I've been there. But I've also been in the spot where I was stuck in a job I hated, because I was too afraid to start looking for something else. I was afraid I'd just make a bad choice, end up somewhere worse. I was afraid my boss might discover I was looking and fire me for it. I was afraid I would just move laterally, from one crummy gig to another.

And then, when I lost that job, I suddenly had to get creative and proactive and organized. I got my resume together (finally). I started talking to people I knew (finally). I started putting in calls and applications (finally). I started thining about what I would want to do 40 hours a week for months and years at a stretch (finally). I started asking myself what I really needed and what I really wanted, and where, in that Vinn Diagram, was the overlap? Finally!

No one wants their health to go bad, because they fear being weak or sick or even dying. I was there, too. I was weak and sick, and then someone happened to notice that my pulse was too low. My heart wasn't working right. I had a birth defect no one had ever known about.

I ended up with a pacemaker. And at first, all I could think about was how much I might have to give up. How limiting it might be. I was afraid. But turns out, I'm more alive than ever now. I have more options. My health is getting better. My energy is getting better. My life is getting better. That's a new feeling, and a new perspective!

No one wants to lose a loved one, because the pain of loss is too great. I know that first hand, too. I've lost some of the dearest souls in my life. It hurts. It always hurts. It hurts even now, years later, just as much as it did the day I lost them. I didn't "grow past" that pain. It became a thread within me. Something I could feel occasionally, even if I'd rather avoid it. 

But what wonderful memories I have of those amazing people! What brilliant, bright lights they have been in my life, even after their deaths! What great and wonderful growth I've experienced because of what they taught me while they were with me! I'll never stop missing them. I'll never stop loving them. I'll never stop being better because of them.

God doesn't want us to suffer or be targeted by evil. And we wonder why, then, it happens. And the reason is, at best, difficult to explain, and at worst, impossible for us to understand. My own take on why evil is allowed to exist is this: God allows some bad to happen so a greater good can follow

The argument I heard for this that resonates most with me, and even haunts me, was made by Christian Apologist Dr. William L. Craig. I'm going to paraphrase it, so what you read next is my interpretation and not a direct quote.

"God allows evil, such as a school shooting, to take place so that a greater good, such as a nation focused on better laws and strategies for gun control, will be possible." (remember, completely paraphrased by J. Kevin Tumlinson)

God doesn't want children to die because of violence. It grieves Him. It horrifies Him just as it horrifies us. If such a violent act leads to a change in how we, as a nation, approach gun control? If it changes the perspective of the nation, and of the world? If out of the tragedy new laws and new ways of thinking evolve or erupt, and make it more and more difficult for such a thing to happen? If the lives of billions of children, spanning into the future, are spared because these precious, invaluable lives were lost at the hands of a lunatic? That serves a greater good. It has purpose. It means something. It defines the tragedy in terms of strength and grace and growth.

That is bitter, cold comfort for those who lose children in this way. No, we do not want it. No, we DO NOT WANT IT. Please, dear God, take that evil from us for ever.

The answer is yes. Don't you see? God is saying, "Yes. I will take the evil from  you. Bite down on something, because surgery like this always hurts." It's a new perspective for us to thinking of tragedy in this way, and it's not comfortable. But it's necessary. It helps us grow. It brings meaning to horrible, unjust things.

Look for the other way. Look for the new perspective. Your life, marked and marred as it may be, isn't the limit of who you are and who you can become. Look at the tragedy, the pain, the evil, the darkness and cold and rain that you're in, and choose to see the opportunity it can provide. Pray for wisdom. Pray for faith. Pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Go look for another way.



There are plenty of things in my life that make me feel afraid or worried or anxious. Anxiety has been a growing issue over the past few years. Something I always dealt with by ignoring it, or hiding from it, or flat out running from it. The thing about worry and anxietythey may not run as fast as you, but they are tireless in their pursuit.

Lately I've taken a new approach to anxiety. I face it head on. And I pray. I pray without adding my anxiety to the formula God has laid out for me.

I have always prayed when things started getting tough, and that's a normal response, isn't it? I also prayed when things were going right, but when they went wrong it's like I would reach a whole new level of prayer. I'd start sweating it. And that isn't how God intended us to pray. 

Christ gave us the formula for prayer in what we now call "the Lord's Prayer," which goes exactly like  this

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’

Matthew 6:9-13

No panic there, right? No feverish begging that things will be alright. No anxious wringing of hands, "Please God, PLEASE!" Just a pretty calm and orderly request of God, tempered by obedience on our part.

This prayer is the model we should use for our own prayer. We don't have to memorize it and use it word for word, but instead use it as a formula and a guide for how we approach God. We acknowledge Him first, as well as His kingdom and His dominance. We acknowledge his will for all of creation, heaven and Earth. We ask that our needs be fulfilled each day. We ask that our debts (and our sins) be forgiven, and we promise to forgive anyone who is in our debt (or has sinned against us). And we ask for guidance, away from evil, delivered from the evil in this world (and into God's kingdom). Pretty basic, isn't it?

Where's the worry? Where's the anxiety? Where's the fear?

There's no room for it in the formula. You'd have to insert it between the lines. But really, why would you? It doesn't make sense. It's a contradiction. It'll mess stuff up.

Think about other formulas in your life. Think of a recipe. If you're trying to make a casserole just like grandma used to make, you use the recipe your grandma gave you. You could add to the recipe, if you want, but the result you get isn't grandma's casseroleit's your own. Fine, if that's your goal. But if the goal is to stay true to the recipe, to the formula, to get the results intended by the recipe's creator, then adding your own ingredients is just going to spoil the mix.

This analogy falls apart, of course, because in life we sometimes want and even need to change the recipe. But God's recipe is perfect. It meets all of our needs perfectly. It offers us the full protection of God perfectly. It tells us exactly how to live according to His will, perfectly. Adding an extra ingredient, like worry or anxiety, is just going to make us stray from the recipe, and get results that are unpredictable and maybe even undesirable.

God doesn't want us to worry. He doesn't want us to feel anxiety. Of course, it's easier to say these things than to live them, and God's aware of that, too. 

As I write this, I'm experiencing my own anxiety and worry. I'm anxious because something is outside of my control. I can't fix it. I can't resolve the problem, not right away, and the consequences of it could have a big impact on me and my family for quite a while. It's uncomfortable and undesirable, but it is what it is.

Except I know the truth. God is right here with me, watching as I watch, listening as I listen, feeling as I feel. He knows. And because He knows, I can let go of the anxiety and worry. I don't have to let that rule my life, because that position is already filled.

So instead I tell God He is holy.

I ask that His perfect will be done in my life.

I ask that He meet my needs (even those I may not be aware of).

I ask that He forgive me for when I fail, and I promise to forgive others when they fail.

I ask that He lead me away from evil, and protect me from it, and deliver me into his Kingdom. 

Worry has no place in my life. Anxiety isn't something I'm meant to feel. It's the thing I choose over God, moment by moment, and I have to die to that choice. I have to live for Christ.

The best cure for worry and anxiety is to face them head on. Pray to God for strength and guidance, for a clear view of the road to take, and then take action. Make the call you're dreading. Go through the door and into the meeting that scares you. Start the conversation that you don't think you're ready for. Endings have to have beginnings, and until you've faced the challenges in your life you are standing still, and you'll have nothing but anticipation as your companion. God walks with us when we are actually walking. 

Fear is stationary. It stands in place. It lives in the places we used to be, or in the places we haven't yet been. We only feel fear when we're standing in place. Action moves us forward, away from the past, away from what was and what used to be, and toward the new future, with new opportunities and choices that can change our lives faster than we could ever anticipate.

God designed us to move. He will take care of the path, but it's up to use to take it.

So anxiety, worry, fear? Those have no place in my prayers or in my life. I come to God with them, I hand them over, I surrender, and I take action. I walk. God will be my guide, my strength, the light at my feet. But my feet have to keep moving, or I'll end up standing in darkness.



I was reading Following Your Bliss, Right off the Cliff on the New York Times website. Long and the short of it, "Following your dreams is risky and sometimes you fail." 

Duh. But yeah, it's true and it's something to think about during the planning process for your business (or your side business, or your community program, or wherever your dreams fit in the scheme of things). Sometimes the dream isn't enough.

There's some science in this article, about the part of the brain that controls worry and the pain that comes from it. And to overcome that physiological reactionso that we can take action and attempt to make our dreams come true, despite the risk of pain and failurewe feel hope.

I love this line from the article:

As paradoxical as it sounds, [Michael Derring] said, “If you stop worrying about the outcomes, you will achieve a better outcome.”

Stop worrying about the outcomes? Yikes! Most of the time, it seems like "worrying about the outcomes" is all we do! But there's a sweet sort of logic here.

The article is more or less saying, "Don't let your emotions become invested in the business." Don't put your self-worth on the line for a shoe store or an auto shop or a novel. If you fail, you'll believe you are the failure. But that's not how failure works. A person isn't a failure. Only actions can be failures. A person is a decision-making, action-taking, hope-and-faith-having machine. We make decisions, we take action, we have hope and faith that it will work out. And if it doesn't ...

If you approach a business or any other endeavor with the attitude that, should it fail, it isn't the end of the world, you can pick up and recover, you're chances of success actually increase. You're willing to take more risks, for starters, and risk is the price of momentum. You may take actions you wouldn't have taken before, in a more cautious mindset, and those actions lead to results, and those results may end up bringing you increased benefits. Or they may blow up and fade out. It happens.

From a financial standpoint, this is why you want to be smart about the way you invest in a business. Make the decision early on to stay away from debt. Take on investors, but don't take on loans. Investors know that they're taking a risk, and that it may not make a return. Lenders don't care either way if you succeed or fail, they expect repayment with interest and they'll try to destroy you if you don't follow through. Investors empower, lenders enslave. 

Trust me on this one ... I'm enslaved to a lot of lenders at the moment.

From a spiritual standpoint, this is why you want to ensure that your business is built to glorify God. God likes it when we do things that are empowering, that build something that brings good into the world. Staying focused on God's Ultimate Rule—Love your neighbor as you love yourself—means you're doing everything right. You won't have to worry about mistakes coming back to bite you in the ... assets. The business may fail, due to a lack of demand or bad timing or myriad other reasons, but it won't take you with it. 

So what happens after failure? Learning. This is the point where you pray and ask for wisdom. "Show me, Lord, where it went wrong. Show me how I can pick up and start again. Show me how to change my plan and build something that glorifies you." God never denies the request for wisdom. He just requires you to commit some brain power and effort to it.

This article ... I'm on the fence about it. I get a real "don't pursue your dreams because they're risky" vibe from it. But there are points made that are more encouraging. Hope—that's a good message. So read it as a cautionary tale. Have hope, but also have a plan. Have a goal, but don't worry about the outcome. Invest, but don't enslave yourself to the dream. You belong to a greater power than dreams.


humanity in the face of horror

People will do horrible things. They will dehumanize others. They will tear down all the good they can find. They will gun down children.

But what they won't do, what they can never, ever do, is define humanity. Because humanity is good. It's about building something that lasts. It's about helping people fight the evil things people do, overcoming the sickness in the hearts of people. Humanity is crying about the hurt its seeing right now. 

And from this, a lot of humanity will go forward and do something. They'll make the hurt have meaning. They'll heal the wounds and point to the scars to say, "That happened, and now we will always remember."

Because that's what humans do. They take the hurt and heal it. They take the evil and destroy it. They build something that makes the world better, and they do it in memory of those who died in horror.

Look at every human near you, right now, and love them the way you love yourself. Forgive them like you would want to be forgiven. Give them everything they need to feel human in the face of inhumanity. Horror will always happen. It's the enemy. It comes for us. But we will always fight back. And humanity will always win.