After the Cutting

I recently had a number of trees removed from my property. I’ve had major damage to my house and some near misses from fallen trees, so this was a much needed, although expensive, undertaking. With the trees gone, so much more sunlight is visible from my windows and also available to my fledgling garden. I now have a clear view of things that were once obstructed.

Although the trees were cut down, the stumps still remained. Stump grinding is a separate service from tree removal. In life there is often residue after we cut out things or people. Reminders of what was previously there still remain. The trees in our lives can be bad habits or toxic relationships. They can be destructive behaviors or negative thinking.

Unless the stump is removed, nothing different can grow in that space. In some instances, new spouts from the tree that was cut down can emerge from the stump if it is not killed. It may be necessary for us to do some “stump grinding” in our personal spaces. Cutting down the problematic “trees” in our lives is a great first step, but let’s not stop there. Let’s remove the stumps so we can make room for new growth.

We cannot erase memories. However, there are times when we should remove physical reminders of things that once damaged us, but are now gone. It is easy to trip over stumps that are left behind after the cutting. Stump removal can be expensive, but it is an essential task in the tree removal process–even if we are not be able to do it all right away. Some of the stumps on my property have yet to be removed. But in the future, anyone looking at my yard will never know a tree once stood in the space currently occupied by a stump.

Purpose in the Pain

After a recent surgical procedure, my doctor prescribed a strong medication to take as needed for the pain. I was also advised to avoid any activities that could potentially damage the incision area. I was hesitant to take the pills due to their addictive nature and the fact that I rarely take any type of medication. My tolerance for pain is very high, but I took the pills the first day because the pain was excruciating and it was difficult for me to move around. Later I thought that if I eliminate the pain and begin to move around, I could be causing damage to my body that I wouldn’t be aware of because I wouldn’t be able to feel it.

Admittedly, pain is unpleasant. However, pain is an indicator that something is wrong. My situation reminded me that we often avoid pain at all costs–whether the pain is physical or emotional, or we do whatever is necessary to dull or numb the pain. It’s like covering the warning lights on our vehicle dashboard. If we circumvent our warning system, we could be doing major damage to our vehicles (or ourselves) without ever knowing it. How many times have we numbed our pain only to repeat the same activities that caused the pain because we did not allow the pain to force us to make changes?

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Pain can also be a great teacher. We tend to grow more from painful experiences than we do from pleasant ones. Pain can cause us to make better decisions in the future. The writer of Psalm 119:71 confessed to God, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” God uses even our pain to conform us to who He wants us to be.

I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t take medication (especially something that is prescribed by our doctors as necessary) or seek counseling. We should. We just need to be certain that our strategies to cope with pain are not destructive. There is purpose in our pain. If we allow it to do its work, there can be healing after the pain.

Photo by Huseyn Naghiyev

Choose Wisely

The decisions we make shape our lives. One good decision can mean living out our dreams, while one bad decision can lead to a life of regret. We make decisions every day. Some are more important than others. There are things that are out of our control, but some outcomes are determined by our decisions. Good decision-making requires wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to recognize difference.

The Bible tells us about some wise men called magi, who were a caste of men specializing in astrology, medicine and natural sciences. Although highly educated, what made these men wise was the fact that they came to worship Jesus. Wise men and women still worship Jesus!

Like these wise men, we have to know who and what to follow. The wise men understood there was something different about this Child. He was born a King. They also understood there was something different about the star they observed and followed.

How do we know how to choose wisely? Ultimately, wisdom comes from God.

Most important decisions require faith. There’s often a risk involved. Although they had a general idea, the wise men didn’t know exactly where they were going. Usually God doesn’t give us all the details up front. We have to take one step at a time.

When the star stopped over the house where the young Jesus was, these men knew they were in the right place. They came from the East to Jerusalem. It was a long journey. They likely overcame intense desert heat during the day, and chilling cold at night. These wise men didn’t let any obstacles keep them from finding Jesus and worshipping Him as King. We may have to leave our current location. It will require determination. We have to make up our minds that nothing is going to keep us from our goals. Not circumstances. Not feelings. Not people.

When the magi saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. This special star was their inspiration for worship. The star pointed the way to the Savior. When they saw Jesus, they worshipped Him. They didn’t worship the star, but the One to whom the star pointed. The magi entered the house and presented costly, royal and fragrant gifts in recognition of who Jesus was/is.

Wise decisions will ultimately lead to joy, so choose wisely.

Climate Changers

Climate change is a major topic in current culture. There is disagreement on whether or not this phenomenon is caused by human actions, however. You may believe mankind is destroying the planet, God controls the environment, or something in between. No matter where you are on this spectrum, I believe we can all be “climate changers” in the environments we inhabit every day.

I can think of many coworkers of mine over the years whose mere presence changed the atmosphere of the workplace—positively or negatively. Some of them would bring an energy that would brighten a room. Others would have the opposite effect. We all know people who make us cringe when they show up, because we know they will constantly complain or try to start an argument. I recall one coworker whose infectious laugh could be heard throughout the workspace. Her laughter would bring a smile to my face daily, even when she was too far away for me to know what she was laughing about.

Jesus told us to let our light shine in such a way that men would see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16) In doing so, we act as thermostats and not thermometers. We should regulate the temperature in the environments we enter, rather than simply reflect or display the ambient temperature. We should be climate changers. We have the ability to warm up cold spaces and illuminate dark settings.

Do people hate to see us leave a place or are they happy to see us go? My goal is to leave a place better than I found it. Let our joy be contagious!

(Photo credits: Godisable Jacob and Engin Akyurt)

Learning From Others’ Mistakes

Now, more than ever, I have a burden for married couples. Marriages are under attack, as well as the institution of marriage itself. I wish I could speak more to couples in a church classroom venue. Unfortunately, those opportunities have been limited in the church settings I have seen. It seems no divorced person is deemed qualified to teach on marriage.

Marriage classes are almost always taught by married people. The thinking seems to be, how can a person who could not remain married teach someone else about the commitment required in marriage? I would agree that it would be difficult for someone who has never been married to teach on the subject, but one who has experienced it can bring some insight to those who are currently united in matrimony, or contemplating doing so.

Sometimes we can learn from the mistakes of others, as well as the positive experiences. For example, an adult can teach a teenager about surviving the teenage years, even though he or she is no longer a teenager. The fact that he or she was once a teenager still brings validity to his or her perspective. A nine-year old could not teach on being a teenager, but certainly an adult could. In the same way, a former alcoholic can counsel a person who is struggling with this addiction.

Most marriage books are written by people who have good and long-lasting marriages. I believe through years of counseling couples with troubled marriages and divine insight from the Word of God, these men and women are fully qualified to speak on the subject. I have personally benefited from these authors. With my book, Go Into The House, I bring the perspective of someone who has been through the dark valley of a difficult marriage and subsequent divorce, and has come through on the other side. I’m a living witness that there is hope.

There are situations in life that I don’t want to have to experience personally. I would rather learn from someone else’s mistakes, so I don’t have to face the same consequences. One of my aims with this book has been to share my testimony in hopes of encouraging other people on their Christian journey, especially as it relates to a difficult or failed marriage. I believe there is a purpose for the experiences I have undergone. There is someone else who can benefit from my pain. I have not heard many men share the kinds of experiences I have encountered, but I know I am not alone.

I trust that this book brings a fresh perspective on some issues that many couples face. I am able to comfort others with the comfort with which I have been comforted. So far, I have been able to help others who were going through marital difficulty, through my personal experiences. I pray that many more will be helped.

(Photo credit: Alena Darmel)

Avoid Impulsive Reactions

I arrived early on the first night of my class for adult learners at the university. I sat down among the few students who had also arrived early and began to converse with them. As usual, I wore a dress shirt and tie. It was common for students to be dressed professionally, because many came to class straight from their places of employment. At this university, students are placed with the same group of other students for the entire length of their program. Classes are always on the same day of the week and in the same classroom for each particular group of students, or cohort. The professors for each five- to ten-week course are assigned to that cohort and classroom accordingly.

As my conversation continued, a student arrived and proceeded to scold me for sitting in the seat she always sat in. She insisted that I would have to find another seat as the “new student”, because she had priority, since she had been in the cohort from the beginning. The other students sat in silent disbelief. Their facial expressions indicated their surprise that she was making such a scene. A few of them looked at me and smiled. Without saying a word, I calmly got out of the seat, walked to the front of the classroom and stood behind the podium. At that moment, this student realized I was the professor and not the “new student”. Needless to say, she was quite embarrassed by her actions. I accepted her apology and did not hold her actions against her during the course, but I imagine those were the longest five weeks of her college experience. Her classmates also did not let her forget what she did.

Like my impulsive student, we’ve all spoken and acted before we’ve had all the information. This has usually led to embarrassment for us–whether minor or not so minor. We can avoid this outcome by first getting the facts. Take a moment to assess the situation. Observe. Ask questions. Listen. Proverbs 18:13 states, “He who answers before listening–that is his folly and his shame.” (NIV) The shame we prevent will make the extra time spent gathering facts well worth it.

Knowing What We Have

About a year or so after selling my house and moving to another state, I returned to my old neighborhood to visit my former neighbors. I noticed that a particular crabapple tree on my former property had been cut down. It was one of the few crabapple trees left in the neighborhood, as I recall. Of the nearly twenty trees in the yard, this was the one tree I looked forward to experiencing each year, as raking leaves is one of my least favorite activities. There were many trees I desired to cut down over the years, but the cost was prohibitive. This particular tree could easily be cut down with just a chainsaw and without hiring a professional, but I never considered removing it. I had sold the house when the tree was already full of leaves, so the new owner likely never got to see the beautiful pink blossoms that filled the tree in early Spring. He probably never smelled the sweet fragrance of those blossoms when the windows were open or while being outside. There were some spots on the tree where the bark was peeling, and it may have appeared the tree was dying, but that was not the case.

The owner of my former house had every right to do whatever he wanted with his tree, but I wonder if he knows what he had. It’s possible that the homeowner would still have cut down this tree even if he had the same experience with it that I did, but this made me think about how often we get rid of things without realizing what we really have. We view things as ordinary, not understanding their value. They may appear to be past their usefulness, but are still full of potential. Sometimes we don’t wait long enough for the true beauty to be seen. Sadly, sometimes we even treat people this way. We cut them off before they have a chance to blossom and display their beauty. That crabapple tree was the smallest tree on the lot, yet it stood out in many ways. For most of the year it was just an ordinary-looking tree, but for those few weeks in early Spring, it was something special. For me, that made it worth keeping. I’m reminded to be patient enough to see the value in the things and people God has placed around me.

Check Your Perspective

People are already telling us that this year is worse than 2020. If you look for negativity, you will certainly find it. 2020 most assuredly had its challenges, but I can make a list of numerous positive things that occurred for me personally last year. Yes, I had loss due to COVID-19, but also had family members who survived it. I am not minimizing anyone’s loss, rather I am expressing gratitude despite the circumstances. Do you view the glass as half full or half empty? Have you taken the time to recount your many blessings from this past year?

Superstitious people look for bad things to happen on Friday the 13th. Those same occurrences could happen the day before without notice. They expect something negative if a black cat crosses their path. After less than two weeks, some have already concluded that 2021 is going to be a bad year. Your perspective impacts how you live. Your thoughts impact your actions. Your words can determine your destiny. I, for one, choose to speak life regarding the remaining eleven months of 2021. I won’t have control over many things, but I can control my viewpoint. 2021 may turn out to be a bad year for me, but it won’t be because I determined beforehand that it will be bad by my attitude toward it. My expectation is for great things this year! What about you?

(Photo Credit: Uriolus Flickr via Compfight)

The Blessing of Giving

A typical question after Christmas, especially for younger people, is “What did you get for Christmas?” People also often ask, “Did you have a good Christmas?” This typically means, “Did you get what you wanted?” One rarely hears, “What did you give for Christmas?” The answer to this question may appear as bragging or boasting, but not necessarily. Even if others don’t answer this question, we should answer it for ourselves. “What did I give for Christmas?” “Was I more focused on what I would get than what I would give?”

These are not just questions for Christmas. What are we giving to others each day? There are two types of people–givers and takers. Takers look for what they can get out of a relationship. They rarely bring anything to the table. Every taker is not standing on a corner with a cardboard sign. Some takers live in our households. Givers, on the other hand, are moved by the needs of others. They often give when they really can’t afford to. Givers understand the sacrifice that giving sometimes entails.

Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive, and He modeled this for us. It may not be money, but each of us has something to give. Perhaps it’s time, support, love, forgiveness or encouragement. We all know someone who needs help. Giving is a habit that we need to cultivate every day. One way to ensure a blessing is to give. What will you give this Christmas?

The New Normal

Typically, whatever we experience growing up in our family of origin, we consider to be normal. It is often not until we are exposed to something different that we realize that everyone doesn’t live this way. For example, in our household growing up, my family wore bathrobes around the house, sometimes even if we were fully dressed underneath. I had a friend or two who would visit who thought that was strange, but I never questioned the practice before then. Likewise, I thought it strange when I visited friends’ homes where the common practice was for family members to walk around the house in their underwear. That was something I had not been exposed to. I remember one time having to wait at the front door while my friend’s dad put his pants on before I could go inside. I learned that what was normal for me was viewed as odd to some of my friends—and vice versa.

Usually what is normal becomes acceptable. Little children who swear and use profanity are generally exposed to that type of language in their homes. They don’t see anything wrong with their behavior because it is what they know. Sadly, sometimes abuse is even accepted because it is the only thing that a child knows. They don’t understand that being beaten or molested is not acceptable by most standards. It is all they’ve ever known. Fortunately, this principle also applies to positive behaviors. If a child is constantly told she is loved and receives hugs and kisses regularly, those things become acceptable. Anything less is unacceptable to her, and she behaves accordingly.

The media are bombarding us with programming, stories, music and images to suggest to us that certain lifestyles are normal. Those of us who are old enough to have known a different era of media programming can see the vast shift that has taken place. Unfortunately, there is a generation of young people who only know this “new normal”. This is their only frame of reference, so they see nothing wrong or abnormal about it.

Prayer in schools or saluting the American flag was normal to several past generations, but is not normal today. The church building was at one time the gathering place and civic center for certain communities. There is now a generation that rarely attends church. At one time, it was normal to believe in God. Now, having belief in God often means a person is labeled unintelligent.

(Excerpted from The Silencing of the Sheep. Read the complete chapter titled, “The New Normal” for more.)

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