Milestones

milestones

Today is a milestone of sorts for me.  With this post I have published 100 blogs since creating In My Own Words. I was a bit surprised to learn that in 2015 http://www.papaswords.com was viewed in 93 different countries.   And yet I still question my impact or influence with my readers, an unfortunate part of my character.

A milestone defined is something that signifies a life event, change or achievement.  Simplified a mile stone is a stone marker used to mark each progressive distance of one mile. Some milestones are dedicated to historical events.  I’ll never forget as a young boy on vacation with my family in the car I would see these road signs that read “Historical Marker Ahead”.  We were usually in too much of a rush to stop to read them and I always wondered what it was that happened at these spots that was important enough to erect a monument for our rememberance. Today when I travel and see these I try to make a point of stopping to read them.  The details in events of the past become more fascinating to me as I age.

Milestones are often a time or opportunity to stop and reflect.  In a month I’ll be turning 55.  I’m not yet certain how I will respond to this particular milestone.  Birthdays, like New Years are undoubtedly the more common milestones we face each year.  Lately I’ve spent much time in self-reflection over my past years.  I will always have the same questions; have I helped anyone along the way, could I have done more, could I have done things differently, how will I be remembered when I’m gone, will I be missed, will I have regerts (like a tattoo gone wrong).  These are questions I can’t help but ask.  These are the concerns of both over achievers and those of low esteem-what is my purpose and have I achieved it or have I fallen short.  I may never know these answers but just asking them help to keep me on track as I approach the next milestone.

I’m not sure what success means.  I still don’t know how one determines if they have fulfilled a purpose or measured up.  What type of milestones have I left along my journey? I can think of a few that if read would encourage others to do something similar. And sadly I can also name a few markers that when read would cause others to not follow the same path.  In that respect I suppose even mistakes can be used as a lesson to others if they take the time to stop along the road and read the historical milestones. I don’t really want to be the person that others look at and say “I don’t want to be like him”, but even that has a purpose.

Life is so full of opportunities for us to make decisions that ultimately determine the markers we leave behind for others.  Our lives are a living milestone, ever changing but always readable. A life may be marked by a successful career or marked by a failed business.  It may be marked by a long and exemplary marriage or by divorce and failed relationships. It can be marked by a life of faith in One who left us many milestones, or marked by a life of indulgence and denial of the spiritual realm. Each and every choice we make on our path impacts our journey and leaves behind a marker for other travelers to stop and read.  We want to believe that our markers are more positive than negative, that our children and family are proud to claim our markers and that others are encouraged to stop and read them on their journeys.

I hope that my posts have been an encouragement to those who have stopped long enough to read them. I keep posting so that even one person may find a nugget or two to help them in their own journey. I write words of hope to compensate for a life of mistakes and lessons learned.  And even if some of the milestones of my own life signify battles and defeats, there’s encouragement in knowing someone else’s course might change as a result. With that in the forefront of my mind, I will begin the second hundred posts and hope that those who come along later and read the markers will be impacted either by my successes or my missteps. Either way it’s all good.

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Influence

 

Networking

It’s been a while since my last post.  When life hits with its surprises and uncertainty I tend to take a critical and maybe even an unfair look at some things. As an aspiring writer I question constantly both my influence and my credibility. Do my words have any positive impact on my readers? Do I inspire deeper levels of thought and reason? Do I adequately reflect my Christian faith? Are my words being read at all?  Am I leaving anything of value behind in my wake?

These questions are certainly not limited to writers. In fact I would suspect many of us at some point in our lives ask ourselves these same questions-why am I here, what is my purpose and who if anyone am I impacting by my speech, my actions or my lifestyle.  However the fact is that every single one of us has some impact on someone, whether positive or negative.  None of us live our lives under a shell or as hermits.  At some point we all cross the paths of others either inadvertently or by God’s design and have immediate influence on that person and in that situation. It would be idealistic to believe we leave behind rainbows and Skittles everywhere we go but none of us are ever on top of our game 24/7.  In fact if you are like me, you have probably disappointed more people than you have helped, or maybe it’s just me.

So what exactly is influence? The dictionary defines it as a noun, “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development or the behavior of someone or something…”. When I think of influential people I think of great orators like the Apostle Paul or Martin Luther King or Billy Graham or Ronald Reagan-people who have an effect on others by their powerful convictions and proficiency with words. But as a brother or an uncle or a dad or a grandfather I have an effect, good or bad, on those around me everyday.  Am I making a difference?  Am I having influence? Is there any evidence of positive effect on thought or behavior?

There is a popular passage in Matthew 5 that portrays for us the type of impact we should be having in our circle of family and friends.  Beginning in verse 13 it reads “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill can not be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand so that it lights all the house. In the same way let your light shine before others so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven”.

That is a tall command, a mandate if you will to always be positive in every way, and for many a seemingly impossible task, one that most certainly stirs critical self-review. When you shine a light on your own life to see if you measure up to this extremely high standard of living, the shadows it casts on your failures can be daunting in regards to positive influence. When you have serious questions on the impact you have you are left with only two options; retreat to your shell and assure yourself that no one will be impacted positively by your words or life, or find a way to live above the waves and have an effect on even one or two people.  One choice is easy, the other a real challenge.

If you are one of those who can step out of bed, break your leg but go about rejoicing that you still have one good leg to hop around on, let me just say I hate you! Rather I hate that I am not like that by nature and find it difficult to sing through pain. Yet everything in scripture confirms that I am light, I am salt, I am iron and that whether I sharpen someone or dull them, I have a choice to make each new day on how my response to life will impact or influence those God puts in my path whether I want Him to or not.

And so it is with you.  Peace.

Unseen Pain

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On July 4th I was walking on the top floor of a local casino parking garage to get a panoramic view of the city’s fireworks displays. I noticed a strange pain in my left foot but kept walking. The pain intensified and by evening I was wrapped in a blanket with chills from the intense pain (it was 105 outside). The next day I could barely walk and by the third day I could put no weight on the foot. Reluctantly I went to the local Quick Care for treatment but multiple x-rays revealed no injury.  When offered pain medication I declined, thinking I could just live with it if it didn’t get any worse. It got worse. A couple days later I was back at the quick care begging for drugs.  It’s amazing what strong narcotics can do for pain relief. The pain had become so severe I could not think-I could barely communicate-I could not function normally-it was crippling!  Upon administering treatment I was back to some level of sanity and could focus on something other than the pain.

We live in a world full of hurting people. Their pain may not be obvious but the hurt is no less severe. We encounter them everywhere we go unaware-unaware because we seldom take the time to notice. The pain they endure may be from a broken relationship with a mate or close family member. They may be that teenager who just can’t seem to measure up to their parents’ expectations. Some suffer the pain of acute loneliness that could be relieved with a simple conversation or visit. Some carry the burden of failed marriages or businesses.  Psychologists agree that a man responds to a failed business much the same as he would to the loss of a loved one.  I know that to be true. The wife who gives her all to her husband and kids but never receives appreciation or affection from them walks in silent pain. The incarcerated serving time in a lonely cell for one bad and costly decision or act suffers a pain we can’t comprehend. The young girl who thought aborting or giving up her child was the right decision may now be carrying the pain of guilt and regret. The man who lost his family over indiscretions and now sees another care for what was once his suffers a dull pain that may never go away. These are the pains that left untreated can cause one not to think clearly-not to be able to communicate-to not be able to function normally-the unseen pains that are crippling.

How I wish I had the time-the capacity-the reach to embrace these who suffer silently. We all know how our hearts ache when our kids or grandkids cry. We don’t need to know why the tears-we just want to hold them until they stop flowing. How much more does our Savior react to our pain. How cool is it that we have someone to call out to who lived the human experience in the Earth He created so as to empathize with our hurts and our feelings.  Psalm 34 tells us that the Lord is always near to those with broken hearts and crushed spirits. Sometimes in the midst of our pain we can’t see or accept the relief that comes from calling out to God for mercy, so we go on through life thinking like I did, that we can live with the pain if it doesn’t get worse.

There are no quick fixes to deep emotional stress carried unseen by so many.  However that is no excuse to not be engaged or aware of those around us who may be hurting. It is surprising how many of these people worship with us each week in our churches!  I am always on someone’s schedule, running here or there, but I am trying to remember to ask God to help me see others who need a word, a hug or a meal. If you know of individuals who suffer in silence, get involved, go out of the way, send a card, make a phone call, buy them coffee-whatever it requires to just be a presence at a lonely time.  We don’t need answers-we don’t  need to bombard them with Bible verses. We just need to let them know we are aware of their hurts so some healing process can begin. It’s not about deeds and works and righteousness-it’s about love, about caring, about sharing the burden of pain that is too great or someone to carry alone.

Father, help us see the pains in others that you see and respond as you would with love, with empathy and with presence.

The Unfathomable Reality of Eternity

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Eternity. Unfathomable, inconceivable, inexplicable, uncontainable, incomprehensible, indescribable, infinitely unreasonable.  It’s a term that gets thrown about often without much thought-“I waited for what seemed like an eternity”; “they rode off into eternity”; “he passed on into eternity”.  It’s a theological term to those of the faith that brings great hope for us and great sorrow for those we hold dear who don’t share our faith.  It’s a mystical term because it represents something our limited experience can’t quite grasp even when serious attempts are made to do so.

It’s word origin simply means without beginning or end.  It is defined as a state in which time has no application, no meaning and no purpose; no tomorrows, no yesterdays, no next year.  It is that state into which the soul passes upon mortal death whose eternal condition is based on how the minuscule measure of time called life was lived.  Understanding eternity is not unlike trying to understand the scope of the unending universe.  It’s difficult because we use measurements for everything from recipes to weight to speed to time, and can’t wrap our minds around something being immeasurable or without limit.  Still I have attempted to put into terms we can understand how undefined eternity is.

If you were to combine the sands from every known desert and beach on the earth so that one of those grains of sand represented your life span, the remaining grains of sand would not be indicative of the measurable beginning of eternity. Similarly, if you could combine all the salt water oceans that cover the surface of the earth and somehow extract one molecule of salt from all the waters represented, the remaining molecules would not accurately represent the beginning of an eternal state. And if you could take every loud mouthed belligerent nagging wife or ex and give them all to one man for his entire lifetime, it still wouldn’t represent eternity, though some might argue it would be close!

Forever means forever. As Christians in the faith the thought that we will be with our Creator forever is comforting-it drives us and helps us keep the trials of this life in perspective in as much as we can see the big picture, though at times our vision may be temporarily blurred. There are a host of Biblical references to the notion of eternity that can bring us great pleasure as we anticipate the return of our Lord;

Psalm 23:6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever

Lamentations 5:19 You, LORD, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation.

John 6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

1 Thessalonians 4:17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever

1 John 2:17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

The flip side of eternity brings with it much sorrow and grieves the hearts of those who long for their loved ones to accept the reality of the person of Jesus Christ as Lord eternal.  The story told for us in the Bible of the rich man and Lazarus gives implication that we may indeed be aware of those we shared life with but are not sharing eternity with.  It is very clear through scripture that there will be no sorrow or regret in Heaven but the suggestion that we will have an awareness of souls lost for eternity remains a possibility.

There exists particularly among the younger generations a sense of invulnerability.  And yet in this day with all the things happening around the world we know that no one is guaranteed tomorrow.  The workers who entered into the World Trade Center had no idea they would not be exiting that fateful day. The High School kids on the recent ship tragedy had no idea they were spending their last few precious moments on earth.  The young professional broad sided by a speeding car, the bartender caught in the crossfire of a gun fight, the athlete who collapses due to a previously unknown heart condition and on and on. No one knows for sure what the day brings and when our measurable mortal time ends and our unfathomable eternity begins.

James 4:13 gives us this warning:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

A mist, a vapor, a puff of smoke that vanishes and is blown away by the wind-our mortal life and its temporal nature.  And yet the choices we make here in our measured span of time, our vapor, the way we live our lives and most importantly the way we handled the truth and reality of one Jesus Christ, our acceptance through faith or our denial through humanism, will ultimately determine the quality of our bliss or the horrors of our torment for all eternity.  This concept is even lost on the church at times.  We must get back to teaching the fundamental truth of eternity in as much as we can wrap our spiritual minds around it, for our sake and the eternal sake of those we love lest all be lost forever by our unwillingness to acknowledge what our minds can barely conceive.