Friday, April 25, 2008

Sticks and Stones...

...may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

It was 2nd grade in a new school. A group of us were thinking of animal names for each other that started with the same letter as our first. Brandon was a bear. Eric was an eagle. Phil... pig! Everybody found it funny, laughing and repeating it. Everybody except me. I was angry.

"I am not a pig!" I retorted, desperately looking for a different name. They didn't seem to notice I didn't like the name. In fact, the more strongly I insisted on not being called pig, the more they laughed and repeated it. "Pig" was an arrow to my soul, the laughter driving the arrow deep.

Dad was cooking spaghetti sauce as I told him the story. I didin't know what to do. Nobody had hurt me with name calling before and everything I tried only brought more. "Just remember, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Just because they say it, doesn't make it true."

I went away feeling defeated. The word picture was clear enough. My bones weren't broken, but my heart was wounded. Apparently, Dad didn't have a fix for that.

Last night, I was lamenting again hurtful things people had said. "Why are people so hurtful with the things they say?" I asked God. The theater of my mind was replaying samples of people lashing out with words like trapped, wounded animals. Lashing out at people who were different. Different in their political views. In views of God. Different in opinion.

As the movie in my mind continued, I realized I have been that trapped, wounded animal. I have lashed out at people I love, trying to protect my wounded soul from them. Words come out with no thought for what they mean or how they will be received. I laugh to words that wound someone's soul. Is the wounding funny? No, but I haven't stopped to think if what's been said is hurtful.

The movie in my mind came to end end. I sit in silence, pondering what I've just seen. Today, I am choosing to end hurtful, negative talk in my life. I want to build people up, not tear them down.

"May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer." Psalm 19:14 NLT

Monday, September 03, 2007

Labor Day

So today is Labor Day. As I spent the day not laboring, I started thinking. I started thinking, what is it that I'm laboring for? Why is it that I work? The initial answer that came to mind was so I can afford to have fun! In a way, this saddened me.

Am I living for only to be entertained?

The movies Braveheart, Gladiator, and Luther inspire me. I watch as men live for something great. They live to change the world they live in, even though it costs them as much as their own lives. At the end of the movie, I desire to live a life that will impact my world like that.

Somehow, being entertained just doesn't do that. It serves nobody but myself. And the truth is, I'm not happy with the service I've been getting.

Still, I'm afraid. I'm afraid of the cost of it. As disappointing as this self serving life is, it is comfortable. The question is now, which will I choose? A life of disappointed comfort or a life that costs me, even my own life?

One day Jesus was asked about God's Kingdom. In His reply, He told them that those who cling to their lives will find it slipping through their fingers, lost. And those who gave their lives freely would find it had been saved for them.* The truth is, living for God costs everything and nothing at the same time. It costs me everything this world has to offer now, but not living for God will cost me everything He has to offer forever. When I think of it that way, I find that I really don't have anything.

Now I want to challenge you. Are you living only to be comfortable? Will you be satisfied when you are old and lying on your death bed? Will you look back and see the times in your life when you could have lived to make a difference, made an impact for good in your world and lament you were too afraid or too comfortable? Or will you live such a life that even though it costs you dearly you will stand tall knowing that you have lived and your life has mattered?

Living for God is the only life that will make an eternal difference in this world. Let's really live.

*Check out Luke 17.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Question of Trust

Can I believe God loves me and not trust Him to take care of me?

The question came as I was wrestling with whether to trust God with something important. I say I believe God loves me. I say I believe He has my best interest in mind. Yet somehow, I'm uncertain. Like a kid who is told to eat his broccoli because it's good for him, I think, yeah but it can't taste as good as cake.

Sometimes it's easy to trust God, but in other times I'm just not quite sure. I grew up afraid I would end up marrying an ugly woman. Somehow I got it into my mind that marrying a pretty woman was like eating cake instead of broccoli. That there could be a pretty woman that was also on God's approved list was unthinkable. After all, to want to marry a pretty woman is selfish. For years I wrestled, afraid to persue what I wanted and afraid to end up with what God wanted.

So we come back to the question. Can I believe God loves me and not trust Him to take care of me? Does a God who wants my best interest desire to stick me with a wife I don't want? Somehow this doesn't add up to me.

"When your son asks you for fish or for bread, do you give him a snake or a stone?" Jesus asks. "If sinful people know how to give good gifts to their children, wouldn't God who is perfect give good gifts to His children when they ask?" (See Matthew 7:9-11).

Later Paul asks, "If God was willing to give His own son to die for us, why would He refuse to give us a good gift of lesser cost?" (See Romans 8:32)

The only way I can believe God loves me and not trust Him to take care of me is to believe He's too weak to take care of me. An all powerful god who doesn't have my best interest in mind clearly does not love me. Can I look at the sacrifice of Jesus and believe God doesn't love me passionately? That He isn't willing to spare any cost to get me back?

Does God love me? Do I trust Him?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

What Is Love?

I wanted to write something very profound about love. I wanted to write something about love that would make people rethink what they've been told about love. But, as I sit here and pontificate, I find I'm just frustrated by the subject. I mean, what does it mean to love? Really love? In the movies, I see two people who fall madly in love with each other and wonder why that never happens to me. The guy, of whom I am insanely jealous, and a gorgeous woman are drawn to each other to live happily ever after. Sure, they have some troubles along the way. The guy says something stupid, or he thinks he sees her going for someone else. But in the end, it's usually a misunderstanding that gets cleared up and the rest is smooth sailing.

Maybe love is like the Force from Star Wars. It's something you're born with. You don't get to choose whether you get it or not, it chooses you. Once you discover you have it, the world obeys your every command. If you didn't get it, then you're sorry, out-of-luck.

Maybe love is like money. If you're smart, you find ways to earn it and save it. Some people are naturals, but those who aren't can learn. If you work hard enough, you'll make it. With exception to those who just don't get it, or who are completely irresponsible and just throw it away.

What if love isn't romantic? That's often how I think of it. Does that mean there are different kinds of love? Or is romance something I have with a person I love? As a romantic, the very thought of romance being something I choose feels sacrilegious. Romance is supposed to be mysterious. Two people who are connecting with each other with an intimate unspoken language. If I choose it, I've robbed it of its magic.

In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye asks his wife, "Do you love me?"

"Do I love you?"

"Do you love me?" he asks again. She goes on to list all of the things she does for him. Cooking dinner, washing clothes, cleaned house, raising children and milked cows. "But do you love me?" he asks.

She searches her heart to find she does love him. And he loves her.

What if love isn't an emotion, even though I have feelings about people I love? What if love is shown more in how we choose to treat each other, what we do for each other than in the words we use? What if real love costs more than money? What if real love costs part of the soul? What if the ultimate cost of love is one's life?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Who Am I?

Sometimes I think there are two people living in this body. One is positive thinking, ready to take on the world. The other is scared, always hiding where it's safe. I like positive Phil. He's fun to be around, people respect him and he makes a difference. Scared Phil, on the other hand, I loathe. He believes he has failed even before he tries. He believes people tolerate him. I want positive Phil to live and scared Phil to die.

So why does scared Phil keep showing up? How do I get rid of him, permanently? It's like he's handcuffed to me and I'm stuck with him until one of us has served his time. Why is positive Phil missing when I need him most? He comes, visits, then goes back to where ever he came from.

When I was a kid, I wanted my own section of the garden. Dad gave me a row and I planted what I wanted in my row. Tomatoes, bell peppers and corn. Having my own row in the garden meant I was responsible for the care of that row. I'd come home from school, go out to the garden and water my row. Every day I hoped to see one of the plants poking up out of the ground. Four or five days had passed, I had watered them as I was taught and still, there wasn't a sprout to be seen. I grew frustrated. This garden wasn't fun anymore. It was work. It wasn't long until I was giving my bike the attention my garden needed. My plants didn't grow well. They didn't produce much and what they did produce wasn't very good. I had a good crop of weeds, though. I wanted to have a good garden, but wanting didn't get me a good garden.

What if the two Phils are like my garden? What am I doing to nurture positive Phil? Or have I grown impatient because I haven't seen results after a couple of days? One thing's for sure, scared Phil grows, even when I'm not trying to grow him. Growing positive Phil is hard work. I want positive Phil to grow, but just wanting won't make it happen.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Dare I Be Vulnerable?

"There are things I want to write about, but I'm afraid some people won't understand," a friend shared. Her statement hit me square in the soul. "If I don't say everything, it just doesn't have the same impact," she continued. "But, if I write it all, I don't want some of the people who know me to read it." So, should she write from a safe distance? Or should she pour out her heart for others to abuse?

My friend speaks for so many of us who write. Not just writers, but also artists and musicians. Anybody who invests their heart and soul into a craft. The craft is birthed of the crafter. A crafter then guards and protects the craft because it is a piece, a picture, an expression of her heart and soul. The more a craftsman pours her heart into a craft, the deeper impact it has on those who experience it later.

This has me feeling nervous. I'm afraid you won't like what you see of my heart and soul. You might laugh. You might be disappointed in me. I'm afraid when I expose my heart and soul I will be hurt deeply. Is it worth the risk? I don't want you to read about my mistakes and failures. I don't want you to see the mess I've been in. It's embarrassing. I'm ashamed of some of the things in my past. I want them to all go away and be happy-go-lucky, fun loving Phil.

Over the last year, I've shared things on this blog that are deeply personal. After posting "Through the Valley of the Shadow" I wrestled with whether I should let people read it or delete it before anybody else gets a chance. It's one thing to express the darkness in my soul, it's an entirely different thing to share it with someone else. That posting I was so afraid of people reading elicited the most response from people. But not the response I was afraid of. People shared how they were encouraged by the post and how they could relate so well to what I had written.

There are people who are starving to know they are not alone in their struggles. Dying for hope. Only when we are willing to risk sharing our struggle can we touch their lives, giving them a morsel of hope to chew on. Only when we risk, when we become vulnerable do we dare make a meaningful difference in someone's world.

Yes, there will be people who don't get it. Some of them will be friends and family. We're not writing for them. Remember Jesus went through the same treatment. His hometown didn't want to hear what He had to say. Not all of His family understood Him and His message. Where did His strength come from? His Father in heaven. He was living for His Father's approval.

Paul had a physical pain that he begged God to take from him. What was God's response? "My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak." (2 Cor. 12:9 GNB) What is the blindness you've been healed of? What are the chains that held you captive? Jesus came to heal the sick and to set the captives free. It is for His glory that He has healed us. Let's not pretend we've never been sick, never been imprisoned by sin. What kind of story is, I was a pretty good guy, then Jesus came and saved me? Big deal. I was dead in my sin, and Jesus came and took my place!

God uses our weakness to show His strength. Hiding our weakness trying to hide the city on a hill. It isn't for our shame, it's for His glory. Is it worth the risk to share? Yes. Is it hard? Definately. Is it scary? Absolutely! If we have died to ourselves to become alive in Him, what do we really have to lose?

Sunday, January 21, 2007


"Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die" --G.K. Chesterton

Do you ever get the feeling God is trying to tell you something? For the past four or five weeks, I have heard a consistent theme from sermons, movies, reading, and friends. So much so, I am beginning to wonder if maybe I'm a little slow and that's why God keeps repeating Himself.

This year begins the fourth year of taking writing classes and pursuing writing as something more than a hobby. After writing a piece that was published and praised by fellow authors, I have not yet submitted another piece for publication. In fact, this blog represents most of my writing since then. Truth is, I'm afraid.

Of what am I afraid? Rejection, not measuring up. I am afraid of the long journey required for me to write seriously. I am afraid to invest the time and effort, pouring heart and soul into the work so someone can tell me they don't like it or that it isn't good enough. It's safer not to write and open my heart and soul for criticism.

Last night I started reading "Germ" by Robert Liparulo to find this quote from G.K. Chesterton about courage. When I read it, I wanted it to be true of me. Immediately, I thought about my fears in writing and sharing my writing. Chasing those thoughts were others reminding me no one has succeeded without having to face fear and the possibility of failure. These are people who would rather die trying than to simply exist, not really living at all.

So, I am faced with a choice. Dig in and write with fear yapping in my ear trying to convince me of what I can't do, or listen to fear and remain in a comfortable existence where nothing changes except the calendar.

I want to live with courage and live. How 'bout you?