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3 Questions to Ask Yourself Today (And Every Day)

3 Questions to Ask Yourself Today (And Every Day)

Shouldn’t the questions you ask yourself at the end of your life be the same questions you ask yourself each day?  If you were about to face your final judgment, what would you be asking yourself?  Did I spend enough time at the office?  Were my teeth white enough?  Did my butt look big in those pants?  Did I spend enough time at the gym?  Was I popular?  I don’t know what the ultimate questions would be.  However, when I was given my two weeks notice by the doctor, the following questions are the ones that came to my mind as I thought about my most treasured relationships.  Perhaps asking yourself these questions daily will prepare you to answer them in the days to come … and help you become built to love.

Question 1:  Have I Listened?

Listening is like being loaded up with log after log of life’s heavy lumber that you must haul away and stack in your own woodpiles of memory and experience.

To listen is to love. To be a sponge that absorbs the venom and toxicity of a poisoned soul is difficult. To mourn with those who mourn is painful. To listen to others can be a burden. It’s like being loaded up with log after log of life’s heavy lumber that you must haul away and stack in your own woodpiles of memory and experience. But this is what fuels relationships. This is what fuels love. As author and Mennonite minister David Augsberger wisely observed, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”

This soul-to-soul communication puts you into communion with God because, remember, the “least of these” you listen to is a proxy for Jesus. (See Matthew 25:31-46.)  Hence, to truly listen to another human being is to hear the voice of God.

“Listening is as close to acting for God as God will allow.”

Listening is also as close to acting for God as God will allow. Listening is, in essence, a form of receiving prayer. The realm of listening, therefore, is sacred ground. The miracle of listening is that it elevates you while you lift others. All of that lifting, hauling and stacking of life’s lumber transforms and strengthens us in the process, as well. We get to vicariously learn and experience life.

The hardest part about listening is that mere mortals are ill-equipped to solve problems. But that’s the beauty of it. You don’t have to solve anyone’s problems. You don’t have to have all the answers … or even any of them. Listening is its own medicine. Saying, “I honestly don’t know what to tell you because your burdens are so enormous and complex” to someone who is truly overwhelmed with life will be reaffirming to them, especially if you follow that with, “you’re an amazing person. You teach me so much.”

Listening is loving.

Question 2:  Have I Encouraged?

It only takes a second to offer encouragement.

There really is no excuse for failing to offer encouragement. You can text. You can message. You can email. Even just sending two or three words can make all the difference to someone’s day.

There are so many times throughout my battles with illness when a simple text made the difference between a day spent in loneliness, battling wrenching, nauseous pain, and a day where at least I didn’t feel so alone.

What can you say to offer encouragement?

“I’m hurting for you.”  “You don’t deserve this.”  “Keep fighting.”  “Your example gives me strength.”  “You are so strong.”  “I’m on your side.”  “I’m cheering for you.”  “Don’t quit. We need you.”

There are a hundred simple things you can say to make someone feel loved and acknowledged.  Of course, taking the time to explain what someone means to you and how they have influenced your life for good is even better. The point is, you must act. You must speak. You must say something. In the face of suffering or trial, your silence says a thousand things and none of them are good. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” “In the end,” he said, “we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

If you don’t know what to say, say that. For someone suffering from extreme trials and burdens, to hear someone say “I don’t know what to say” is, strangely enough, very encouraging to them because it is validating. It shows that you “get it.” If you understand, maybe God understands. If God understands, then maybe there’s hope.

If all else fails, just remember listening is loving. Hugs are almost always welcome. Your tears also say a lot. It’s okay to cry with others. Tears are the cleansing and encouraging solvents of the soul.

Question 3:  Have I Given?

The miracle of God’s plan is that the best way we can keep God’s love is by giving it away. It seems that if you want to feel God’s love, you have to share it.  If you have listened or encouraged someone, you have given. But it also brings you a lot of happiness to physically give something to someone on a daily basis.

Giving is living. Be generous.

It doesn’t have to be big. Give a child some money. Stop at the lemonade or cookie stand and see what happens when you whip out a $5 bill. Don’t be a stingy tipper. Pay for the food order behind you in the drive through line. Donate money to charity. Give  someone a book (especially mine!).  Make cookies for someone. Send flowers.  Take someone out to lunch. Find out what they like or enjoy and get it for them. Buy someone their favorite drink or smoothie.  Sneak some money into your kid’s wallet or purse.  Do it.  It will make you feel good.  I promise.

Remember the Platinum Rule.

The only rule here is be sure that your giving is empathy-guided.  Remember the “platinum rule,” which is the proper interpretation of the golden rule. That rule, when properly understood, is not “do unto others as you would have done unto you.” It’s “do unto others as they would have done unto them.” What is it that “ye would [have] men … do to you?” To treat you the way you want to be treated. Jesus understood this and taught this simple truth. Give people what they want.  (See Matthew 7:9-11.)

The reason I call this the “platinum rule” is because it takes a higher investment in others to live it. You have to know people well enough to understand what they want and need. You have to understand them. Love takes empathy.

The whole condescension of God illustrates this. The condescension of God teaches that you cannot truly love someone unless you somehow become them and experience their life vicariously and then love them the way they want to be loved.

Give today.  Giving is living.

The Way of Discipleship

Daily asking yourself these three simple questions—“Have I listened? Have I encouraged? Have I given?”—will keep you focused as you strive to become built to love. It will also help keep you happy.  Finally, asking these three questions of yourself daily will help you in the noble endeavor of trying to follow Jesus and prepare you for the day when there’s no more time for questions.

Amazed by Grace

Amazed by Grace

What has three years without food and living on a feeding tube taught me?  Many things.  But today I want to talk about grace. Grace is not a one-time act of rescue.  It is not a one-night-only show.  It is a lifestyle.  It is a partnership with God.  It is the means by which we mortals access the enabling power of God.  Grace is not just an act of mercy or salvation.  It is a process of transformation.  Grace works.  It works on us.  It works with us.

To say that we are saved by grace is true but vastly understated and oversimplified. It’s like saying we are “saved” by oxygen. Grace makes spiritual respiration possible. It feeds the marrow of our souls. It sustains and transforms immortal metabolisms. We are saved by grace, changed by grace, sustained by grace and, consequently, amazed by grace.

Grace is even more than the enabling power of God.  It is the enabling presence of God.  It is the presence of God manifested not only through his Holy Spirit, but also through the kind and helping hands of others. It is the power that has sustained me for the past three years and allowed me to survive. Please watch this seven-minute video to learn more about my journey with grace:

For more ideas and discussion on suffering and utilizing love as a powerful coping mechanism for suffering, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

No, God Is Not Always There …

No, God Is Not Always There …

 

As controversial as it may be to reject the greeting card theology that God never leaves us, my own reality and my own sense of abandonment has, at times, compelled me to believe otherwise.

Somewhere in our Christian culture we have been inundated with the false idea that God never leaves us.  We somehow cling to the “footprints in the sand” concept that when it feels like we are all alone God was really there carrying us all along.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people emotionally declare with the utmost conviction that God will never leave us—he’s always there.  That’s fine for them, I suppose.  Yet I can’t tell you how hurtful it feels to hear someone say that when your reality is that you are completely alone, treading water in the middle of a stormy sea.  As controversial as it may be to reject the greeting card theology that God never leaves us, my own reality and my own sense of abandonment during my lifelong struggle with lung disease and life on a feeding tube, has, at times, compelled me to believe otherwise.  And yet I remain faithful.

If the father never takes off the training wheels on the bicycle how will the child ever learn to balance the bicycle on his own?

Anyone who has children and has tried to teach them to do anything in life knows that sometimes you have to step away and leave them alone. 

Anyone who has children and has tried to teach them to do anything in life knows that sometimes you have to step away and leave them alone.  You have to let them struggle.  If the child is always clinging to her father in the deep end of the swimming pool or wearing a life jacket, how will she ever learn to swim?  If the father never takes off the training wheels on the bicycle how will the child ever learn to balance the bicycle on his own?  If the toddler never lets go of his mother’s hand he’ll never learn to walk.  Of course God leaves us to struggle on our own best efforts at times.  Does that make him a cruel and merciless God?  Absolutely not.  Indeed, true cruelty is to molly-coddle us, never allowing us to experience true growth.

… one day a microburst wind blew in, toppling the giant tree in a matter of seconds

We have a family cabin near Yellowstone Park, Wyoming.  It sits in the midst of many tall, lodge pole pines.  For many years there was one particular lodge pole pine that seemed taller and straighter than the rest.  It was situated right on the bank of a small creek running through the property.  The waters of the creek provided constant nourishment for the tree and greatly aided its tremendous growth.  For dozens of years, perhaps more than a hundred years, this tree stood on the banks of the creek looking down upon all the other pine trees.  But then one day a microburst wind blew in, toppling the giant tree in a matter of seconds (and, unfortunately, causing it to land on our family cabin).

The tree was taller and straighter than the rest.

How could something so seemingly strong and resolute be taken down so suddenly?  How could something so seemingly superior to those around it be the one to fall?   It’s because in all its years of growth the tree was never far from its source of strength and nourishment.  The constant supply of water had actually weakened its root system.  Unlike all the other isolated pines around it, which were forced to dig their roots deeper for strength and nourishment, this stream bank tree grew upward but did not have to sink its roots downward, for there was a constant and cripplingly convenient supply of water right there on the banks of the stream.  The source of its strength had actually become its weakness.

Sometimes the greatest blessing that can come to us is to experience the true growth that results from being left alone to struggle through the deep end of life without parent or preserver. 

Like the strong trees that survived the microburst winds, strong people need to be left on their own.  Sometimes the greatest blessing that can come to us is to experience the true growth that results from being left alone to struggle through the deep end of life without parent or preserver.  What we learn about ourselves and the growth that we achieve in those moments of being “forsaken” can sustain us throughout this stormy life.

While I do not reject the idea that God sometimes carries us along unawares, to believe that God never leaves us to struggle and suffer on our own is sheer nonsense.  Yes, God will forsake us.  “God[] … trieth our hearts.”  (1 Thessalonians 2:4.)  God “chasteneth” and “scourgeth” us.  (Hebrews 12:6.)  In his great wisdom and mercy he sometimes leaves us alone.

Suffering is part of being a Christian.

Suffering brings you into fellowship with Christ.

Suffering is part of being a Christian.  “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps[.]”   (1 Peter 2:21.)  In other words, we must suffer with Christ, which means we, too, will be forsaken as he was forsaken.  (Matthew 27:46.)  Thus, when—not if, but when—you are forsaken, you should “think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings[.]”  (1 Peter 4:12.)   Abandonment is a sign of spiritual progress.  It’s a sign you’ve made the big leagues.  It’s part of what brings you into fellowship with Christ.

This forsaking is a manifestation of God’s love.  It’s a token of his trust.  Mom and Dad won’t leave you home alone unless they think you can handle it.  With God it’s no different.  And yet, just as the father is never too far from the wobbling bike or the edge of the deep end, so, too, is our Father ever near and ever watching.  Though he, in his great wisdom and mercy, deliberately leaves you alone when he thinks you can handle it or, perhaps, when you need growth; to be forsaken does not mean to be forgotten.  He hears your cries for help.  But sometimes he ignores them for your own good.

He knows that if he dives in too soon or grabs the back of the bicycle you will never know the joy and freedom you are capable of attaining.

 

He knows that if he dives in too soon or grabs the back of the bicycle you will never know the joy and freedom you are capable of attaining.  He’ll let you wobble and even skin your knee (even though to us mortals a “skinned knee” may come in the form of lung disease or gastric paralysis).  He’ll let you struggle to keep your head above water and watch you struggle with all your might to make it to the other side of the pool.  And he’ll be there to embrace you in the end. Though you are, at times, truly “forsaken,” you are never forgotten.

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

He’ll let you wobble and even skin your knee ….

 

A Christmas Wish

A Christmas Wish

I haven’t written for a while because I’ve been down with pneumonia, followed by a SIBO infection.  I have lacked energy and inspiration for many weeks now.  The holidays are always a difficult time for me.  Surrounded by all of the candy, goodies, treats and sumptuous food I cannot eat, I am reminded of how abnormal I am.  It’s easy to feel sorry for myself.  It’s difficult to resist the urge to hide in the shadows of depression and self-pity.  But, as I am surrounded by food, I realize that I am also surrounded by family and friends.  I focus on the love I have for each one of them.  I stay busy cooking for them and trying to make their holiday memorable and, soon enough, I find myself happy and connected once again.  I am reminded that the reason we forget the gifts we get but remember the gifts we give is because giving is exponentially more rewarding than getting.

If God is love, then it must follow, as day follows night, that loving connects us not only to one another but also to God.  So if you want to feel the reality of the Christmas spirit then focus on loving, listening and serving those around you.  As I child I was devastated to learn the truth about Santa Claus.  But then I matured and evolved and discovered, as an adult, the joy of being Santa Claus.  Santa Claus was alive once more!  As a spiritually immature individual–a spiritual “child”–I was devastated to discover all of the flaws and imperfections in the Church, in religion in general, and most of all, in people.  Also, battling years of intense suffering, it rocked me to my core to learn that God was not who or what I had believed him to be.  But then I matured and evolved and discovered, as a spiritual adult, the joy of being.  Being love, that is.  God was alive once more!

Just as you can mediate the spirit of Christmas for others by being Santa Claus or just being your best self for a week or so each year, you can have that abiding joy and spirit all year long by choosing to mediate the presence and reality of God for others.  By choosing to be the “adult” in every situation and by focusing on bringing joy to others you can, once again, discover the magic of living … of being human.  This is the only thing that enables me to endure life on a feeding tube and life without food.

Be the one that reaches out.  Be the one that mends, rather than nurtures, grudges.  Be the one to say “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong.”  Be the bigger person.

I recently heard from a reader who had been in conflict with a neighbor for years.  After reading my book she asked for advice on what she could do to start the process of reaching out to mend the rift.  I suggested she start with a smile, then maybe a wave and then, perhaps, a gift.  The plan was implemented without immediate results.  Then, just a few weeks ago, this reader reported that she took this neighbor some bread and a Christmas ornament.  She said that the neighbor was completely shocked.  I asked, “How did it feel.”  She replied, “It felt really good.”  And that’s the point.  If you want to feel good, do good.  Be good.  You cannot control what others think of you, but you can always control what you think of others.  And that means you don’t have to control others to control your happiness.

You don’t need food to be happy.  I’m living proof of that.  You don’t need money to be happy.  I think I’m also living proof of that.  All you need is to find the true “you”–the “you” that is not tied to ego, pride and image.  The “you” that emerges from behind the shadow of the false self and does incredibly good and wonderful things.

If you need God’s embrace, then embrace another.  To hug another human being is to embrace the divine.

If you cannot see God’s presence in the world, then look deeply into another person’s eyes and listen intently.  You will soon see the light of God and hear his voice whisper to your soul.  You will feel a connection.  You will realize that you are not alone in this world.

May God bless you this Christmas season and through0ut the coming year!  May you find peace and contentment through letting go of the false liberators of “success” and “prestige” by becoming like that lowly little babe born in Bethlehem more than two millennia ago, who changed the world forever by giving … not getting.  May the spirit of Jesus abide with you now and for always.