Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Shack Reaction

I've read The Shack by William Paul Young twice − once when it was first published and then before renting the newly released movie.  I was grateful that the movie pretty much followed the book since one of my biggest pet peeves is when a movie doesn't.

The story offers a different approach to God's view of the world, one to which I know some Biblical scholars even subscribe in regard to God's "punishment." I will leave it at that. The movie did fail to include what I consider one of the most important aspects of the book which more or less proves the experience of the main character to be true. I'll leave it at that, too.

My biggest concern, however, wasn't the movie or its message. It was people's reaction to it as stated in their comments.

On one hand, you have a religious sect that takes exception with the way God is portrayed. He can't be black or a woman, and you must incur the wrath of God. Some of what these Christians cite to approbate their beliefs (not unsurprisingly) is from the Old Testament. I won't speak any judgment on that, but I prefer and believe in the loving God whom Jesus introduced us to in the New Testament.

Now, on the other hand, you have the atheists. I honestly don't know why they even bothered to see the movie, and maybe they actually didn't. There was a good deal of profanity. disdain, and outright loathing for Christians in some of their comments. I think this disturbed me more than the presumed fundamentalists who truly think they speak God's word.

I wondered what in someone's life would cause them to so vehemently deny that there is something greater than themselves. You can explain how things happened to create this world, but where did it begin? Substance had to come from somewhere.

In the end, it wasn't the difference in what I believe versus their non-belief that disturbed me. I simply felt sad for them. I also felt sad for the world because these are not the people who make our world a better place. Hate of any kind, from any group, never makes a positive difference for mankind.

I've known some very good, caring and kind people who were atheist or agnostic so the people who made these disparaging comments carried something different with them. The "great sadness" in The Shack refers to a specific matter, but I think there is another sadness that needs our prayers.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Compliments and When to Accept Them

I don't have any narcissistic delusions or over-exaggerated problems with humility, but compliments are sometimes difficult for me to accept, dependent of course on what they are. When someone praises my writing, I often find it difficult to take credit I know where my inspiration comes from. But yesterday, I had no problem accepting two compliments.

For many years, I've served as a lector at my church. At first, it was a little daunting because I always read at the service which was broadcast live via our local radio station. It's not that I'm shy (as anyone who knows me will attest); it's just that I didn't want to mess up reading something so important.

Years later, I now say a little prayer before I read scripture because I really want my voice to carry the profound nature of the subject matter. I want there to be no question about the message of what I am saying to convey God's word. Simply put, I want my voice to honor God.

Yesterday, two people told me I was successful. (Others have done so in the past, but yesterday was especially meaningful.) The first told me he always enjoys it when I read. The second thanked me for reading because it was important to him for passages to be read with authority. He could really "hear God's words coming through my mouth." Now that is a compliment! It's not praise for me and what a good job I did, but rather a confirmation that God answered my little prayer to give glory to His word.

I keep thinking of something our Pastor said in a recent sermon. He asked us to think about where we fit in, much like teenagers trying to find their place in society. I guess we all go through that awkwardness upon accepting a Christian life. Where do we end and where does God begin? The simple answer, I think, is that God is within us and we just have to decide if we accept His direction rather than our own. I admit that discerning that difference is sometimes a challenge.

I think, or I hope, I'm getting better about understanding and doing God's will rather than my own. At least I know that my prayer as a lector yesterday must have been right.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

PF Day!

July 12 is PF Day, otherwise known as Patent File Day. This is the day my son Chris and I file utility (non-provisional) and design patents for a new mobility walker. After more than two years of honing our design, numerous prototypes, financial investment and loss of sleep, we are taking the final plunge following a patent pending application made a year ago on July 12, 2016.

This is truly one of those times where we have to say, "it's in God's hands now." In fact, there were many anxious moments when I had to talk to myself with encouragement. It always came back to Romans 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

The aforementioned comforting verse clearly means trust in the Lord, but in actuality, trusting God wasn't the hardest part. It was trying to decide if this project was my will or God's, even though I'm sure it was devinely inspired. Nevertheless, you can bet a few prayers went in that direction!

So now I say it's in God's hands. If it is a success, I'll definitely know it was more than just my desire to bring a new and truly innovative product to market − one which could help many people. It might also make me a better philanthropist, but that's a selfish wish on my part because sharing our blessings with others is truly one of our greatest gifts.

So now we wait to see what God has planned as I approach medical manufactures and distributors. In any case, I don't need to stress over the outcome because I am more than grateful to know it is in His hands, and He is the one in charge.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Still Relevant

Our Pastor gave another very provocative sermon Sunday about a subject that I once thought irrelevant to me or to most other Christians in the U.S. The sermon was in reference to Jesus telling the disciples people will "hate you because of me."

Persecution of Christians only happens now in certain countries or areas with no tolerance to our religion, right? But the Pastor explained this a little differently, and one to which I could now relate. It references how we see things, what we do, and how we act. And sometimes, that does get us into trouble. It doesn't mean consequences of martyrdom by any means, but there can still be a negative response.

Pastor Brian's point was simply that, unfavorable responses aside, we should still do what is right regardless of how others see us or disagree. And, yes, I have to admit there are times when that's gotten me those unfavorable responses from others. I suspect that can be said for many of us.

Even other Christians disagree about how we should act and what we should believe. Just look at the derision during and after the last presidential campaign. Everything centers on understanding what it means to follow Jesus, and it's a little spooky and unsettling to me to see how that differs among members of our own religion. In the end, I think that Jesus' commandment to love one another surpasses all else.

As my personal faith deepens, I do things differently than I once did, and I see priorities differently too. It's not so much about me anymore, what I want, or personal preference in relating to others. I see Jesus' commandment as mainly twofold: Trying not to purposely hurt other people (which I may inadvertently do because all humans fail); and focusing on kindness and need. I'm far from perfect in doing any of that, but I'm going to keep trying to do the right thing as Pastor Brian said.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Some Losses Are Harder Than Expected

I really thought I could handle the death of non-family members well enough to someday even help with hospice. As a Stephen Minister with my church, I already try to help those who have been left behind. But last week, I was forced to realize something - some of those non-family losses are still very hard to accept.

My wonderfully, sweet neighbor, and owner of the other side of my townhome, passed away. For nearly 10 years, Stan Hamilton was a fixture in my life with his characteristic grin and great sense of humor. He was also the first person I met in our community when I was looking to buy. He graciously allowed a real estate agent, who was showing me another floor plan, to invade his home so that I could see a different layout option.

Long story short, we became friends over the years. He even served as the editor of my first book before I queried publishers, and after that, he was one of the most supportive people of my writing. As an author, former reporter and editor, he was the perfect mentor too. I think he was also the one to suggest I join Kansas Authors Club, an organization that has served me well.

Stan was always the perfect neighbor - quiet and caring. He brought the newspaper from my driveway to my mailbox on the house so that I could easily retrieve it. Although I constantly worried that he might fall using his cane, he told others that it was one of the things that brought joy to him. I could only reciprocate by bringing him an occasional dinner or treat, and then most recently, drag his trash/recycle bins out of his garage for pick-up. I thought I would lose him to assisted living someday, but not entirely.

My two sons, as well as any visitors, became well acquainted with Stan. He could often be seen riding his stationary bike with his garage door open, something he always tried to do, even in his frail condition. There was always a friendly hello to anyone nearby, and I usually made a point to stop by his door to let him see my grand-dog when Danny visited overnight.

It was a always a pleasure, too, to see Stan's family over the years. I know my tears pale in comparison to theirs, but what a legacy this kind and gentle spirit left! I will never pull into my garage without thinking of Stan next door and wishing he were still with us.

I saw Stan just a day or two before his stroke. I was getting into my car, racing to a meeting, and he was going to the group mailboxes across the street. We spoke just briefly about what we were doing, contrary to our normal routine to stop and chat, but we were both on a mission that day. I had no idea it would be the last time we would talk.

When I visited Stan in the hospital (after his stroke, subsequent heart attack with discovery of 70% blockage, bleeding ulcer, and pneumonia), he was heavily sedated. I hope he knew that I was there and heard me say, "God is going to have a lot of fun with Stan." And I truly believe that is what's  happening now.

Monday, May 1, 2017

My Comfort Zone

Recently, Chicken Soup for the Soul solicited its previous contributors to submit a story for one of the series forthcoming anthologies tentatively titled Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone. I didn't think much about it because I couldn't quite recall any important experience of that nature. So much for my willingness and desire for change!

But then something hit the idea center of my brain -- I could write about the promotion I received  decades ago when I moved to the corporate office of the company for which I worked.

I really wanted that promotion, and it had been my dream for years to move up the corporate career ladder. And now, it was finally presented to me. I would be responsible for placing our after school programs in public elementary schools, something some of our competitors were already doing. The only drawback was working directly for the vice president of the company.

Being a corporate director was a highly visible and responsible position. If I failed, everyone in the would know it, and not only would I lose my job, but also my career. Conversely, if I succeeded, everyone would know that too. In the end, ambition won out over fear.

To make a long story short, that program didn't prove very successful for the company or for me, but another opportunity took its place. This time, it was the perfect fit and became an actual department which I led for almost 11years. So from all of this I realized: Stepping out of one's comfort zone might result in failure, but that failure might also turn into something better.

And then it occurred to me this was much like stepping out of my comfort zone to talk about my faith. I dare say that it is a difficult task for most all of us. No one wants others to be self conscious around us, or to think we're some kind of zealot to be avoided. But then came another realization -- it gradually becomes easier, just like performing the duties of a new job. "Practice makes perfect" applies just as well when "witnessing" to one's faith.

In talking or writing about my beliefs, I have many reasons for not wanting people to see me as an example. (Now that really does make me feel uncomfortable!) No one should follow what I do; they should follow the one whom I try to follow -- Jesus. My life is simply happier because of that, and that is what people should see.

You'll never hear me confront others and ask them "are you saved?" You'll never hear me push my faith on others, but I won't let my comfort zone prevent me from talking about it when given the right moment. Those moments are not made by me, they're made by God so, in this circumstance, I'm especially glad to have escaped my comfort zone.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Perfect Double Gift

My 4th story for Chicken Soup for the Soul appeared in their most recent anthology, Random Acts of Kindness that was released in February. I love their books as does my entire family, especially when one of my stories appear. So, it was no surprise when one of my nieces-in-law, Linda, requested the latest book for her birthday. 

Because Linda and my other niece-in-law Val have March birthdays, my sister always hosts a family party to celebrate their birthdays along with one of my nephews. It's a great, big, extended family celebration, but it's sometimes difficult to come up with something interesting and different as a gift.

I remembered that Val had also asked about the book earlier, so it was an easy decision to give them both a book as a present. I decided also to give them each microlights which seem to currently be a big trend in decorating. And then another idea occurred: Add a simple $5 Walmart gift card that they could use to perform their own random act of kindness!

What happened then is very special. Val knew immediately that she would give the card to one of the needy individuals who is often seen standing at a highway off-ramp, something she often does. It didn't take long for her to discover someone who would appreciate the card.

But, the most remarkable story came from Linda. She was shopping at Walmart and heard an elderly lady in the next aisle talking to a clerk. "Don't you have something a little cheaper?" she asked. "I don't have the extra $4 to spend." When the clerk said no, Linda popped around the corner to give the woman the $5 gift card.

Are you sensing the same divine intervention that I did? The woman was short $4 so the $5 gift card covered the deficit and the taxes. Now that's what I would call somewhat of a miracle! It not only won the gratitude of the recipient, but made Linda feel so good inside too. That's a double gift, and now Linda wants to carry more gift cards to give out for just such occurrences. She learned what Val already knew about random acts of kindness.

Who would believe that something so simple as a $5 gift card could bring such happiness to the givers and the recipients. God, through Jesus, certainly knew what He was doing when He commanded us to love and care for one another. Now that's what I call a truly double gift!