Marching Out Boldly


Decades ago, I found myself in a very oppressive job.  I had been brought in to develop a marriage and family ministry in the church.  I had been in a similar position in a church in New England and wanted to move closer to my roots in Colorado.  Someone had heard about what I had done back east and began to inquire of my interest in moving to Arizona to develop the same kind of ministry in their church.  Long story short,  I moved with my family and began to build the ministry of reaching out to the needs of marriage and family.

I didn’t realize when I moved that very destructive relational interactions existed in the church staff.  Unhealthy communication.  Loyalty issues.  Power plays.  Large egos.  Staff on probation.  I had no idea of the environment I was moving into.  I also didn’t realize that soon after I arrived, my conversations with my immediate boss were being taped and given to the senior pastor.  Long story short, I decided after 1 year and three months that I had had enough.  I gave the church my resignation and left the church.  It was a great day of relief-relief from being under such scrutiny.  I had freedom to make my decisions of what I wanted to do without being questioned.  I was walking out boldly from that experience as I looked forward toward my future.  My boldness lasted only a couple of days until I looked at what I was going to do.  My future?  Making a living?  Doing what?  These questions caused real terror as I focused on the future.

I was reminded of this experience when I read from Exodus today.  A little backdrop.  Israel had been under bondage for many years (430) from the Egyptians.  Joseph was a Jew that was put in charge of the 7 years of famine Egypt endured after 7 years of plenty.  During the famine, Joseph’s brothers and Dad came down to be provided for with food and a place to live (Genesis 39-50)  Once Joseph died the bondage happened and they finally began to cry out to the Lord.  God heard their cry and sent Moses to be their deliverer, using various plagues (Exodus 1-13) to get Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to let them go.  As I read about the Exodus, I came across the phrase, “. . .Marching out boldly.” (Exodus 14:8)  The Israelites had been in bondage for 430 years.  The longer the bondage, the harder it became.  No relief.  No home.  Slaves.  No freedom.  Oppressed.  Depressed.  All of the above and more.  But when they were released by Pharaoh, they marched out boldly and were free from being a slave after 430 years.  I can somewhat understand what they were feeling.

Unfortunately, in the next paragraph, a different feeling emerged.  Pharaoh had a change of heart because of releasing all these slaves that had been at his beckon-call.  He with his soldiers took out after them.  “As Pharaoh approached , the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them.  They were terrified, and cried out to the Lord.” (Exodus 14:10)  They had just been experiencing boldness and two verses later, they are terrified.  I understand that feeling.

Their focus was on their circumstances and not on the God who brought many plagues on the Egyptian people that forced Pharaoh to let them go.  Circumstances do change on a daily basis, let alone a moment to moment basis.  When our focus is on our circumstances, our life will resemble a roller coaster.  Boldness to being terrified.  We choose where to put our focus.

On this journey there have been and will be plenty of ups and downs in life.  Focusing on the only stable One in life will take us off the roller coaster of emotions.  The choice in the midst of varying circumstances will determine our daily ride.  Choose wisely.

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The Lost Art of Interaction


This morning reminded me of several years ago when I went to New York City for the weekend with my family.  Let me go back to that time before embarking on my experience today.  We decided to ride the subway from Midtown to Downtown Manhattan.  I came from a very friendly rural town in eastern Colorado where everybody said hello to everyone they came in contact with.  I thought I would try my skills of greeting people in the subways of New York.  I determined I would just say hello to those I was close to.  What a shock.  In the midst of a crowded subway, there was no interaction with anyone within a foot of others.  Total silence.  No recognition of the person next to them.  I said, “Hello” and you would have thought that I was from outer space.  No response.  No word recognition.  No connection.  No interaction.  Not one person responded to my greeting.  In the busiest city in the United States in the busiest subway there was silence.  The lost art of interaction.

Catching you up to speed, this morning I was shuttling for Airpark Auto Service and happened to greet two new customers who were coming to the shop for the first time.  The response was much different from the outcome I experienced in New York.  They didn’t know what to expect.  I offered them each a cup of coffee and served them with their cream and sugar.  I got them to talk about where they were from.  James was from Chicago and had recently moved here permanently about 4 months ago.  Julie moved from Oregon several months ago to be close to her children living here.  Margaret (a regular at Airpark Auto Service) had been here since 1994 from Buffalo, New York.  They began to talk with one another as I had some work to do.

What was interesting to note is that James could have gotten a shuttle home, but decided to spend a couple of hours in our waiting room and connect with the two ladies.  Margaret’s car was finished, but she stayed in the waiting room and continued to interact with the others for some 20 minutes.  All I did was ask a couple of questions and off the three of them went.  The more they talked the more common interest was developed.  It only took a question or two of asking about their lives to begin the dialogue.

How many times do we miss the joy of connecting with others because we are pre-occupied with life?  This journey needs to incorporate the art of interaction with those we come in contact with.  You never know what you might learn in the process of reaching out and saying, “Hello.”  Met anyone interesting lately?

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Removing Obstacles


When I was a teenager during the summer, my dad set up a job for me to paint the roof.  I was all excited about the possibility of making some money and putting it in the bank.  Mind you, I lived in a town of 200 including the cats and dogs.  No retail stores.  No Home Depots.  No Scottsdale Fashion Square Malls.  No Apple Stores.  You get the picture.  There was nothing to spend my money on so I saved it.  All of it.  Back to the story.  Dad gave me directions as to how he wanted the roof painted.  The first step was the removal of loose paint (obstacles) before the painting could begin.  There was a lot of loose paint.  If the obstacles weren’t removed, painting over the loose paint would eventually break off and the roof would be left with places bare of paint.  Removing the obstacles.  Sometimes the obstacle is very difficult to remove from our lives.  It takes a lot of effort to remove the obstacle, but very necessary in order to get the desired result.

I had a similar experience this morning when I was working out, but a quite different obstacle.  No I wasn’t painting a roof.  I was going to work out on the elliptical, do some rowing and sit in the sauna after lifting some weights.  I put on my music, set up the elliptical and began to step.  One problem.  My music from my cell phone continued to change in the middle of the song.  It happened with three of the first songs and I recognized what was taking place.  The keys next to the phone were bumping up against the phone and changing the song.  The keys became an obstacle to listening to the music I usually work out with.  I had to remove the obstacle in order to listen fully to each song.  Once the obstacle was removed I had a wonderful workout.

How many obstacles interrupt our ability to do the things that we want to do?  For some, alcohol can become an obstacle that causes interference in building strong family connections.  When we focus too much on the stock market, it robs us of the joy of enjoying what we have.  Shopping can become an obstacle and cause us to dwell on things becoming our contentment rather than being contented with what we have.  Focusing so much on accomplishing tasks set before us can cause us to lose perspective of what is important (building relationships with God and with others).  A small obstacle might be the TV that causes us to focus on the program rather than connect with our spouse or children.  Mind you, I’m not talking about the upcoming Broncos versus Panthers Super Bowl game.  These are just a few examples of obstacles that can rob us of the joy of living life to the fullest when we spend an inordinate amount of time on them.

On this journey, there are invariable obstacles that come into play as we walk this road.  Removing the obstacles while keeping your focus on the goal will keep us free of getting bogged down in the mundane.

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Living In Community


 

Sunday is a typical day in which Nadine and I go to our local community Church, McDowell Mountain Community Church.  We usually have Victoria, my middle daughter, and her two sons over for my famous Mickey Mouse chocolate chip pancakes and cooked crisp bacon (Nadine’s a master at this).  What we had forgotten to put into our calendar was the church picnic to be held a block from Victoria’s apartment.

After service we all decided to forgo the pancakes and choose instead the church picnic.  Popeyes chicken was on the menu for the day and so we were off.  We arrived at Scottsdale Ranch Park to over 200 men, women, and children who had also brought their own picnics.  Subway.  Jimmy Johns.  Wild Flower.  Homemade sandwiches.  It was a smorgasbord of food for a picnic.

We picked out a flat spot to set up our chairs and blanket and began to enjoy the festivities.  Touch football.  Kickball.  Face painting.  Football toss.  Softball toss.  Sack racing.  Or just sitting and watching as others participated in the joys of connecting with others.  It was then that something interesting began to happen.

Two friends brought their chairs and asked if they could sit with us.  Absolutely.  Two more friends came with no chairs so they sat on the blanket.  Another couple also came and sat down and community began to take place.  My little grandson Keaton started playing with his monster trucks with those on the blanket.  The more he engaged them the more they got involved in responding in kind.  There was tickling, summersaults, more tickling.  One individual took Keaton and began to throw him up in the air.

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He loved every minute of it.  I was sitting there watching all of my friends connecting with my grandson and became so grateful and full of joy for the community that I was experiencing.  It was my future generation being loved and valued right before my eyes.

On this journey there are times where you need to go it alone, and yet other times where community is so important in giving value to the next generation.  God didn’t create us to live in isolation but in connection with others.  My heart is full as I see this happening before my very eyes.

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Listening for Connection


It was a lazy day for me as my first appointment was at 10.  I was lying in bed beginning to open my eyes around 7.  Nadine had been up for a couple of hours and was putting the finishing touches on her beautiful eyes.  She noticed that I was beginning to stir so she came into the bedroom and said, “Good morning honey.”  I responded in kind and then she mentioned a conversation she had had with a new employee at her shop.  I asked her about it thinking it would only be a short conversation.

She began to open up regarding her conversation.  I got a blow by blow description of the encounter.  The more she talked, the more details of the interaction popped into her mind and I found myself thinking that I was a fly on the wall reliving the exact discussion with Nadine and this employee.  There were two thoughts that came to my mind as I was listening to the replay.  The first thought came as I was thinking about Nadine’s need to get to work.  The second thought came later as my mind started focusing on what my schedule would mean for me.  Within about 5 seconds of each thought, I brought my mind back to the central issue at hand–listening to Nadine and her story.

It was during this 20+ minute encounter that emotions were shared by Nadine as she relived the conversation.  There were times of pain as well as times of real joy that I got to see as Nadine replayed back to me an important part of her last day.  At that period of time, there was no more important thing that I could have been doing than to listen to Nadine.  I was hearing the deepest part of her heart.  Her soul was opening up so I could see deep down who she really was.  I was witnessing a person who was barring her true self to me.  True connection.  True intimacy.

What would have happened if I had gone with my fleeting thoughts and verbalized them to her?  The conversation would have closed off and no connection taken place.  I wonder how many times in our conversations with others that we never see someone opening up to us because we allow our thoughts to drive our actions and ultimately never connect with the people that are closest to us.  It takes discipline to take the interrupter thoughts and push them out of our mind so that true connection and intimacy can occur.  I have too many times allowed the interrupters in my mind to dictate the conversations.  This experience has put within my mind a determination to stop the interrupter thoughts so that I can be the best listener possible for any and all that cross my path.

On this journey, God wants us to use the physical tools (ears, eyes, nose, touch, etc.) He has gifted us with and use them to connect with Him as well as with others.  It makes the journey today much more enjoyable and fulfilling if we will only use what we have been given.

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Checking In


I got a call from my Mom a couple of days ago.  Let me digress.  It doesn’t seem unusual to get a call from your mom does it?  It seems natural.  But not in this case.  I get a call from my mom maybe every three months.  That’s because I usually call my mom 4-5 times per week and so she doesn’t have to give me a call.  She knows I’m going to call so she waits for the ring on her phone.  She has come to expect that her son will give her a call every day or so and so she should expect that.  I love to call my mom and find out whats going on in her life.

But I got a call from her and it went like this.  “Jim (with a pause), Jim (and another pause), are you all right?”  I responded, “Yes Mom, I’m all right, I’m fine.”  To that response she responded, “I haven’t heard from you in a couple of days and began to wonder if you were all right.”  Our conversation went on from there as we talked about her getting low in her weekly bridge game where her high card for the day in playing several hands was a Jack (for those of you who don’t play bridge, those hands are terrible).  We talked about the Denver Broncos and how they played such a great game beating the New England Patriots.  She mentioned watching the Arizona Cardinals and what an awful game they played and asked me what was wrong to which I replied, “I don’t know mom.  I quit watching it before half time.”  We had a wonderful conversation before we hung up and she was satisfied with the reconnection she had missed in the previous days.

As I began to ponder the conversation with my mom, it struck me that at times when I don’t check in with the Lord, I wonder what He must be thinking as to my not calling Him up.  God wants to have the same daily, regular, consistent interaction with us that my mom began missing from my calling her.  Have you ever wondered what God does when we aren’t choosing to get in touch with us.  For my mom, she called on the phone.  But what does God do when we are preoccupied with life and aren’t choosing to connect with Him?

In Amos 4, it is the prophet Amos telling a story of God trying to connect with the Israelite nation.  He is trying to get their attention so that they will turn back to him.  I’ll let you read the passage for yourself, but there are five different obstacles that he uses to get their attention.  He first gave them “cleanness of teeth and lack of bread” to get their attention (this represented the necessities of life).  Secondly he “withheld rain from them when there were three months until harvest.” (this represented the resources needed to make a living).  He brought about “scorching wind and mildew” which represented extreme uncomfortable circumstances to the Israelite nation.  He sent a plague that killed many of their men.  He used sickness and even death to get their attention.  He lastly used  slavery by overthrowing them to get their attention.  After every obstacle that He used to get their attention, the phrase follows, “Yet you have not returned to me” declares the Lord”.

God used and uses various means to get our attention today, but do we respond the same way that the Israelites did?  The problems that come our way, or lack of resources we find ourselves with, or even sickness that comes our way may be God’s way of trying to get our attention to have connection with Him.

On this journey, it is vitally important that we become sensitized with God’s tapping us on our shoulder.  It’s His way of wanting fellowship with us to give us His direction for our lives and showing us His love.

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Rewinding The Film


Over the weekend Nadine and I decided we wanted to go to the movies. As we looked at the choices, we decided on The Big Short and wanted to go to the new movie theaters that had lounge chairs to check them out. Like most movies we figured out the time that we could be there and still get good seats (45 minutes before the movie started).

On our way to the movies we encountered a little traffic that added 3-5 minutes to the trip, but were confident that we would be there in plenty of time. The parking garage was full of cars that were leaving and those that were coming to the movies which added about 10 minutes to the adventure. We got in line to purchase our tickets which took 3-5 minutes and were ready in plenty of time with 25-30 minutes to spare. To our dismay, The Big Short was sold out. Spotlight sold out. 13 Hours sold out. All of the movies that we were interested in watching were sold out. No seats. Zero. The Big Short had 4 seats available for the show that started 3 hours later. As we debated about taking them, 2 were taken off the computer, so we made a hasty decision and said we’d take the last two.

Now we had to kill 3 hours before the next showing. For many the place would have been an ideal place to kill 3 hours. Scottsdale Fashion Square. Hundreds of stores. Every store had a 50%-75% sale. The problem surfaced in the fact that Nadine and I had no desire to shop. I became frustrated by the experience we had just encountered and Nadine felt bad and attacked my me. It wasn’t my intention to take out my frustration on her. It was neither one of our faults regarding the situation. We didn’t know the best way to buy tickets for this theater and had an eye opening learning experience.

Now this could have been a 3 hour horrible experience for the two of us. The friction between the two of us could have intensified. Nadine could have shot back at me and caused bigger issues to ensue. But she didn’t. She verbalized her feeling of being hurt by my expressing my frustration and I quickly apologized to her. I told her that I was wrong for getting upset at the situation and directing my frustration at her. I asked for her forgiveness and she gave it.

For the next 2 1/2 hours we strolled the halls of the mall, hand in hand and heart to heart. We were connected emotionally even though we were both tired when the movie screen lit up. Re-writing the film (taking life as it comes and changing destructive aspects of that life to reconnect with those you love) in relationships is an important tool for not allowing WWIII to break out. It takes only a small bit of time to admit wrongdoing and rewrite a film so that connection and intimacy in your relationship occurs.

On this journey make it your commitment to rewrite your film that is going in the wrong direction.

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