Monday, March 27, 2017

Groundhog Day

"Water will gush forth in the wilderness..." - Isaiah 35:6

**Photography by Melissa Talbot**

Normally, I have no idea what to write about until publishing day, Monday. Once in a while, though, inspiration will come early as a result of a pivotal revelation in the week prior. Last Thursday was such an example when, all of a sudden, two words popped into my head, Groundhog Day. In fact, I felt it was the exact title I was supposed to use when the movie was mentioned in a sermon message, completely at random.

Most of us are familiar with the movie Groundhog Day and have seen it at some point. A movie reviewer describes the theme of the movie as follows: "Phil (Bill Murray), a weatherman, is out to cover the annual emergence of the groundhog from its hole. He gets caught in a blizzard that he didn't predict and finds himself trapped in a time warp. He is doomed to relive the same day over and over again until he gets it right."

At best, Phil is crass, unlikeable, and down right miserable. He tries to win the heart of Andie MacDowell's character, Rita, to no avail but, fear not, Phil gets another chance and another and another. He keeps reliving the same day, Groundhog Day, over and over again while not understanding why things are happening the way they are. He just wants to finish covering the story, get the girl and call it a day.

As he catches on to the daunting repetition, Phil begins to, slowly, make the correlation between his negative behaviour and the lack of success in impressing the girl who has caught his eye but won't give him the time of day. Phil has a light-bulb moment, realizing that it's not 'Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania' that needs an adjustment, it's him. 

In the midst of Phil's immoral behaviour and failed suicide attempts, he has an inner revelation causing a re-examination of his life and priorities. It was a re-alignment of his attitude that brought the real change. I don't know about you, but I can really relate to this fictional storyline.

For many years, I battled with monotony. It felt like the same day was being lived over and over again without any tangible difference. I was bored, frustrated, negative, and filled with an attitude that my circumstances needed to change quickly. When I came into a relationship with God, however, it was several more years before realizing that it wasn't my situation that had to change, it was me who had to change.

It was hard to swallow the concept that anything internal had to adjust in order to see things differently but no matter how hard I fought against this truth, it was still the truth. Things would not change unless my attitude changed. It wasn't easy but, over time, I started to take small steps in appreciating the very things that were once seen as boring and monotonous.

Breakfast became an event in multi-tasking. Long walks, a celebration of sights, smells, and sounds while appreciating the peacefulness of a country road. You can't walk in the middle of a city road like you can in the country! I began to adjust my attitude toward the surroundings I once found, blandly, repetitive. Today, I make every effort to enjoy everyday life and refuse to allow monotony to be the assassin of my creativity. 

It's amazing what a person can transform into when they decide to make an attitude change. Life is just better when you decide to do life differently in your head. Colours are more vibrant, sweet smells are sweeter, and a priceless contentment is experienced as you sit on the front porch, with eyes closed, listening to the birds. In that place, there is no wanting or needing for anything except more of that monotony because of the change of mind.

Encouragement for the week:

Have you experienced your own Groundhog Day? How long did it take before you knew it was you who needed to change things for the better?

For someone who likes things to change quickly, it was years before I slowed my mind down enough to see that change comes only when I am quiet and content in the everyday things.

I want to encourage you this week to change your outlook on one thing in your life. To see every positive thing you can in that one piece and celebrate those positives. It will be hard at first but with continued effort and determination to remain in the positive, you will be transformed.

If you are a Christian, you know how difficult it is to be content in those things that never seem to change. Be assured that God's promises to you are real and true and that change is coming if you decide to change.

If you are not a Christian, look for Jesus and you will find Him and all the wonderful changes that come in having a relationship with Him and God.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Toto, We're Not In Kansas Anymore!

"Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path." - Psalm 119:105

**Photography by Melissa Talbot**

There are some weird things on the internet and social media these days. Some true, some false, and some frighteningly disturbing. With the increase of our 'immediate' world mindset and explosion of social media platforms, it seems like anything goes when it comes to sharing pieces of the world, our lives, and even ourselves.

Twitter, SnapChat, Facebook, and Instagram have lent to a plethora of high speed information, whether in the form of words or pictures. From the profane to the cute, you can set your eyes on every type of article having every type of photo that contains a gripping title to catch your skimming eyes. The goal to shock and sicken grows each passing day.

There used to be a time when the news we received was accurate and backed by more than one source. Each detail was fact checked until the publisher was confident and pleased with the article about to be released. Nowadays, it seems like a hint of a whisper of an incident is enough to make its way to the front page and the more appalling, the better. Scary.

Why is that? What happened to solid reporting that, while true in its form, still maintained some discretion in exposure of gory pictures or violent behaviours? Why do we do the things that we do when it comes to media and the world wide web?

Malcolm X, an African-American minister and human rights activist once said, about the media, "The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses." That speaks volumes and should cause great alarm within our consciences.

Anthony Carmona, currently the fifth president of Trinidad and Tobago, had this to say about social media, "Social media websites are no longer performing an envisaged function of creating a positive communication link among friends, family and professionals. It is a veritable battleground, where insults fly from the human quiver, damaging lives, destroying self-esteem and a person's sense of self-worth." I think Anthony has hit the proverbial nail on the head.

What once was to be a platform to keep in touch with loved ones near and far, social media has now fallen into the cracks of a place for stalking, bullying, and showcasing. Social media has become one of the most powerful forms of advertisement for anything within and beyond the imagination. So, what makes us do the things we do on social media?

Is there any guilt or remorse for the things said and done once it's 'out there'? Is it too late to apologize for a scathing comment/opinion once it's posted? Why post anything at all? What is the point?

Of course, the answers to the above questions will vary according to the individual. Some people get extremely passionate about an article or a viewpoint they have heard or read and feel a need to respond, sometimes, without much thought. Some people will give great thought before sharing their opinions.

I'm quite careful about what I post or share on any social media platform. You just never know what is true and what isn't. Don't get me wrong, there have been times when I have wanted to share something but then quickly recant, realizing that what I'm about to share isn't necessarily in line with who I am or want to be. It's something that, in the emotion of the moment, I have gotten caught up in.

In a way, the world has prevented many of us from being who we truly are because of a greater concern about who everyone else is. We start to do things we wouldn't normally do just to keep up with the masses when, in fact, we really don't want to be that way. It's peer pressure on a global scale that I don't think any person can be completely immune to.

There is a man in the Bible by the name of Paul. He had a difficult time doing the things he was supposed to do even while accomplishing a lot for Jesus. In fact, he was hand picked to do that work even in light of having faults and mess ups. However, over time, he became wiser in the things he did and said in order to be the person he really wanted to be.

Whether famous or not, I think we can all appreciate the benefits of becoming a better person. To think more and speak less. To live more and 'share' less. Technology has become a wonderful tool in which to reach beyond every boundary and learn incredible things. May we be responsible in how we use this tool in our everyday lives.

We may not be living in simpler times, back in Kansas like Dorothy did before being swept away by the tornado, but I think we can each contribute to a greater good of safety and responsibility in our own corner of the social media world, letting peace and love rule.

Encouragement for the week:

The world around us is available at the touch of a button, streaming a non-stop whirlwind of information. Sometimes the quality of the information can be overwhelming, even depressing and we can get caught up in things we never intended to. Perhaps even becoming someone we really don't want to be.

Instead of being led, just be yourself. Be who you want to be, not what the world tries to force feed you to be. Yes, there will still be times that mistakes will be made. There is no perfection on this planet.

If you are a Christian, you know that it's only God and Jesus who are perfect and as you live out a relationship with them, it is the direction of the Holy Spirit that will help you to be who you want to be.

If you are not a Christian, look for Jesus and you will find Him and all the good things He sees in you to become who you want to be. In this relationship with Him, you will be able to better navigate this mine field called life.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Title Fight

"He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves 
of the sea were hushed." - Psalm 107:29

**Photography by Melissa Talbot**

Fighters and boxers train for hours each day to build their best physique to face their opponents. They are pushed to the limits in every way and strive to become better than the last match. They dedicate their lives preparing for the next title fight where losing is not an option.

The commitment to their craft fuels the internal fire that keeps them training, improving, and fighting in a desire to be number one. Even in the face of losses and broken and bloodied bodies. Why put themselves through the abuse of training when defeat is a possibility? Why not give up while they're ahead?

Perhaps one of the greatest boxers of our time, Muhammed Ali, can speak to the, seemingly, ridiculous nature of this sport. Mr. Ali clawed his way to the top of an industry that has little to no mercy. With each victory, his determination increased, becoming a role model for many.

He coined several phrases, including, "Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee...Your hands can't hit what your eyes can't see." He had a charisma that was both captivating and admirable. He kept going when others, I'm sure, would have thrown in the towel. Why?

Maybe it's revealed in one of his lesser known quotes which said, "I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now, and live the rest of your life as a champion.'" Incredible.

He knew the cost, suffering, and sacrifice boxing demanded, yet, he persevered, overcoming odds that gave him drive to carry on. In a way, I can relate to Mr. Ali's life in the past five days, when things were going wrong.

Day one began with no heat on one of the coldest days of the week. Day two brought sewer issues. Day three, troubles with another furnace. Day four, getting stuck in deep snow and resolving yet, a different furnace concern. Day five, a power outage.

To some, it may seem like I am cursed. To others, it's just a string of bad luck. I am neither a plumber nor heating expert and while each issue was and will be resolved, I was pushed to the limits in every conceivable way.

There was no previous experience to draw from for the bigger issues. I was completely ill-equipped...unqualified. Yet, strength and the determination to get through each challenge was what kept me going. Even though I felt like I was in a title fight getting royally cremed by my opponent.

While I did have a coach on the sidelines, talking me through the 'upper cuts' and 'right hooks' of each situation, it was still a match that I faced alone. One that brought alot of confusion and frustration. As a Christian, I began to doubt God's love for me. I felt abandoned. How could God allow all this stuff to happen in such a short period of time?

In reflecting, today, on what the past week had brought and all the internal buttons that had been pushed, I couldn't help but feel a bit like David taking on the Philistine giant, Goliath.

If you don't know the story from the Bible, David was a shepherd in charge of a flock. He spent years moving throughout the countryside minding the sheep, alone. While the responsibility may have seemed menial, the challenges were anything but.

He, single-handedly, killed both a lion and a bear in defense of his flock without ever having had formal training. However, he did have the strength and courage to carry out the tasks because of the intimate relationship he had forged with God during all those years of isolation.

What he didn't know was that the harrowing situations were preparing him for something greater - a title fight against a nine foot tall bully. David was completely ill-equipped for the fight, showing up with only a sling and five smooth stones as his weapon.

I'm sure he was scared and hesitant, but because of his close relationship with God, he was able to not only muster the brevity to face Goliath, but he defeated him with one stone to the forehead.

He triumphed because he trusted God, who had been with him all those years in the countryside and who was with him now, against the mighty Philistine. David knew that God would provide all that he needed to come, see, and conquer.

Through all the challenges of the past week, I had lost sight of who was getting me through each difficulty. I was allowing feelings to tell me that God had left me to sink instead of seeing it as it truly was...God with me in every single moment, helping me through.

So, while I may not understand why all these things happened, I know that God, in His Word (the Bible), promises never to leave me or turn His back on me. Maybe He'll let me know what it was all for. Maybe not. No matter what, I can honestly say that God is still good and there is a point and purpose to it all that is better than I know.

Encouragement for the week:

Ever feel like you're fighting a Goliath in your life? That you are unqualified for the challenges you're facing?

Let me assure you that it's because of the strong and determined person you are that the challenges come to test you. You may feel like you're showing up with only a sling and five smooth stones, but you are a champion about to win the title fight.

If you are a Christian, you understand the great blessing of having God on your side when facing life's challenges. Victory is on your side.

If you are not a Christian, look for God and you will find Him, the greatest trainer and coach you could ever have in your corner.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Sweet Spot

What brings you joy, satisfaction, or a sense of purpose? 

Give yourself a moment to dig deep to find the answer. Is it making someone laugh? Is it clearing your neighbor's sidewalk? Is it smiling and saying, "Hi" to a complete stranger? Maybe, it's buying coffee for the person in line behind you.  

Whatever it is, you do it because it means going beyond yourself to make a difference and bring meaning to someone else while feeling joy. That's what writing has been for me. An opportunity to step outside of personal discouragement and agendas in hopes of encouraging someone, somewhere, in their everyday life. 

That, somehow, a person who reads a post won't feel so alone, ashamed, or forgotten. That they will breathe a sigh of relief, reassurance, or gratitude. That this God given desire to love on people with words will be successfully received.

Jesus was someone who went out of His way to help others. He would even go as far as performing the miraculous for those in deep pain and need. All in an effort to show His love and make the most of the purpose He took seriously. It was never about Himself, only the sweet spot He had found.

Even while experiencing His own personal anguish, there was no distance too far that He wouldn't walk to make someone's day. It was more important to meet the needs of others than His own. I want to be like that.

So, if you enjoy doing something specific for other people, let that be the reason you get out of bed each morning. If showing crazy goodness to someone is the only way to escape your own disappointment, depression, or hopelessness, this world needs your crazy goodness. Sometimes in stepping outside of ourselves, the greatest joy and satisfaction can be found.

Seek out that joy, satisfaction, and/or sense of purpose. Do it quietly or do it loudly. Do it with flare or with elegance. Do it in color or black and white. Find your sweet spot and stay there.

Encouragement for the week:

Have you found joy, satisfaction, or purpose in your life?

Don't panic if you haven't yet. It took me the better part of 43 years to find mine and this was only after having believed that I would never find them.

I am thankful that it came at the time it did. When unemployment and lack of direction was at the forefront while resigned to the fact that a joy filled purpose may never come...but it did.

In the most unexpected way, in the most unusual form, with a lot of self-doubt. Yours is coming too, in a way you never expected so keep an eye out for it because you just never know.

If you are Christian, you have one of the greatest purposes ever assigned and so many more to come.

If you are not a Christian, look for Jesus and you will find Him and learn of the greatest way to all of your purposes.