Trapped in an Antique Mall

My wife and I periodically enjoy strolling through an antique mall or antiquities shop. Neither of us are necessarily antique collectors but we enjoy the memories that come flooding back at us as we slowly walk down the aisles, admiring the collision of decades as if the memory makers were all thrown into an enormous bowl, vigorously stirred and tossed back on their shelves.
If history had an aroma, it would probably consist of the odorous mix of old wood, varnish, lacquer, fabric, mildew, and perhaps more than a little dust thrown in to create a musty grandma smell which excitedly greets you and embraces your olfactory system as you walk through the doors to the past.
Once inside, any little bauble or ancient treasure can transport you back in time. A fragile bell-shaped glass Christmas ornament with hand painted stripes pulled me back to when I was a child, anticipating the arrival of Santa and the special gifts he would leave. Sometimes before Christmas, I would lay on my back and scoot on top of the glitter laden cotton batting tree skirt, under the decorated tree, being ever mindful of the hot colored bulbs strung overhead and the pine needles that would dig into my skin and brush across my face if I was not careful. Once in place I would look up, totally fascinated at my own personal holiday paradise. The brightly colored lights played off the garland, ornaments and icicles that hung from the evergreen and the pungent smell of pine intensified the total intoxication of the moment. Today, the sight of a young, small lifeless body under the decorated conifer would provoke panic and probably induce a passing thought of child endangerment but at the time only brought about a total sense of awe and wonderment.
On another shelf, my wife spies an Elf on the Shelf, his mischievous face frozen in time, his once bright red, felt body now dark pink and showing its’ age. Nevertheless, Jenny is reduced to a child, her copper-haired ringlets bouncing about as she remembers searching high and low for the inanimate imp. Her freckled face lights up and her chestnut eyes grow wide as the ornery elf is discovered on the shelf above the pale blue scratchy sofa. The little six year old wonders if the elf saw her teasing her younger brothers and worse yet, whether the plastic dwarf had reported her misdeeds to Santa. A sense of guilt and dread filled her tiny body as she remembers confessing under her breathe and promising to be good.
These vignettes are just a small sampling of the memories that flood our minds as we wander about the musty aisles. We are grateful for the visual reminders or “triggers” that transport us to a particular place and time. However, as we walk out of the antique mall, we are once again made aware of the present with all its future memories to create and opportunities to explore.
However, for some, the cold reality of their lives have left them emotionally paralyzed, their eyes glazed over in grief, fear, pain or anger. The feeling of hopelessness heightens their sense of helplessness as they meander through their days. Often times, their only escape from their present misery is to look back, to reminisce of better times, to linger on “the good ole days”…unaware of their present despair, they willingly lose their grasp with reality; embracing instead the jealous mistress of their distorted past. They are essentially trapped in an antique mall.
Still others pitch their tent and camp out in the cemetery of self-pity. They slowly pass by each head stone and read the epitaphs as if they are long lost friends lying in state. However, each tombstone represents their own regrets…”I blamed my parents for all my mistakes”, “I should have treated my kids better but I chose the bottle over my family”, “I cheated my company out of thousands”, “I didn’t mean to hurt my wife; I need help!”. Wearing their black cloak of pride draped across their shoulders, they pass each grave of regret, pause and ponder, bending down only to lay their wreath of bitterness and shame, gradually moving on to the next.
So what makes the difference in humanity where one person is basking in the warmth of a treasured memory but in contrast, another is shivering in the presence of the man in the mirror? Forgiveness. Hope. And the first yields the latter. True forgiveness to God first. 1 John 1:8-10 NKJV says–8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. We’re not perfect, we make mistakes…and we sin. That doesn’t need to be the end of the story. We need to confess our wrong doings and maintain a healthy relationship with the only One who really knows us…God. But sometimes it is even harder to forgive ourselves than to seek God’s forgiveness. It’s at those times we must remind ourselves that there is no sin so great it cannot be pardoned through grace.
And let us not forget we must forgive others for their transgressions, regardless of whether they are real or imagined. Colossians 3:13 reads–Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Forgiveness begins the complete healing process: spiritually, emotionally, and at times, physically.
And once we have a spiritually healthy heart, we once again have the room to hope. Jeremiah 29:11 NIV states, For, I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Hope AND a future! How awesome is that! And even though we don’t know what the future will bring, it is our responsibility to make sure we are making the right decisions today to ensure a future full of hope and great memories for a lifetime.
So the next time you decide to browse through the local antique mall, ask yourself this question, “am I in here to visit for a while and enjoy some healthy memories or am I tempted to make it an extended stay”? I HOPE you will choose wisely and live life to the full!

“Getting High and Loving It”

Have you ever mentioned something in passing without even thinking about it? Maybe it was a long time desire to do something new or perhaps you verbalized a “bucket list” entry to someone. That was my case a couple years ago. But I’ll begin with a true confession…

I’m afraid of heights…there, I said it…I own it. I can even admit that I get more than a little panicked on a step stool. I know my family gets quite the enjoyment from this little “quirk” when vacationing. We will arrive at a spectacular panoramic view and the rest of the folks will go running up to the railing, admiring the views and here I am stuck in place. Acrophobia takes over, my legs lock up, and my arms shoot out as I take small, zombie-like steps toward the safety of whatever barrier is between me and the “death drop”. After FINALLY catching up to the rest of the group, I wrap all ten digits in a death grip around the railing and declare, “yep, what a nice view!” before reversing the process and moon walking back to safety.

It is with this memorable backdrop in mind that I present the next precious moment. It is Christmas at our house and like all households, great expectations abound as we carefully unwrapped hidden treasures. It was my turn, so I picked up a package to reveal my surprise. And so it was…a gift certificate for a Hot Air Balloon ride! I remained speechless, unable to respond in part, because I could not breathe. Panic and the possibility of incontinence came in waves as all I could utter was “thanks, honey”…My sweet wife evidently noticed my unsettled response and replied, “well, you have mentioned more than once in the past of how cool it would be to go up in a hot air balloon, of what a sense of freedom that would be. Don’t you remember?” At that moment, I couldn’t really remember who I was, let alone what I mistakenly uttered in my foolish past…

Fast forward ten months. My “free ride to the heavens” was still sitting on my chest of drawers, just as dormant as my desire to schedule the “great adventure”. Driven on by the guilt of not using the gift, the looming expiration date, or perhaps the fact I couldn’t find anyone willing to buy this “once in a lifetime” opportunity, I picked up the phone and made a date with destiny.

The day quickly arrived when it was time to take the plunge (poor wording) and we arrived at the airport a couple of hours before dusk and found the other you’ve-got-to-be-out-of-your-mind adventurers. We were divided into groups and soon were herded toward our “baskets of bliss” where we took part in assembling the basket to the balloon and making other preparations for our departure. I was an obedient soldier; following orders as requested, only as a result of a cerebral mix of pride, stubbornness, fear and a healthy dose of both adrenaline and stupidity. After our ride was flight ready, as luck would have it, the wind started to kick up. Sensing the possibility of being dragged down the air field, the pilot ordered the three saucer-eyed passengers into the basket.

The first two, a husband and wife team, climbed aboard and were immediately tossed toward the propane tanks as the wind caught the balloon and rocked the basket south. Once it was in an upright position again, it was my turn. I placed one foot in the foothold and swung my other leg over the edge of the basket as if mounting a frisky steed. Unfortunately as soon as my body was in the basket, the wind rocked the balloon in the opposite direction and I immediately became intimate with the other three basket cases; strangers no more…

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There was no time to think or react as the pilot announced it was now or never and released the tether from the anchor pin. What happened next was nothing short of miraculous. We were suddenly free, floating upward as the earth below us fell away. I saw my wife as she was waving to me, smiling broadly and probably thinking of my life insurance policy as she grew smaller and smaller.

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I looked out and all around me as my fear vanished, replaced by pure adrenaline and excitement. This was a different world I was in and I loved it! The now gentle autumn breezes carried the balloon over the once familiar landscape as I gained my bearings and began my search for familiar landmarks. Overhead and in the distance were other balloons, launched moments before our own, no longer landlocked humans but instead, novice aeronauts.

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As I peered below, I could see treetops retreating behind us, revealing evidence of being embraced by cool October nights; exhibiting their festive fall colors that temporarily distracted the mind from the thoughts of cold winter months to come.

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A family was running around in their country farmyard, playing with their five herding dogs while enjoying the last remaining hour of daylight.

All of this overwhelmed the senses and diverted the reality that there were four human beings nestled in a small wicker basket, suspended only by nylon and hot air, and all sharing the same space with three propane tanks—just awesome!! Match anyone? But those facts seemed insignificant in comparison to the opportunity to see the magnificent landscape before us; the bigger picture.

We all, at times, need to be taken away from the ordinary to experience the extraordinary. We are so busy living our mundane lives, so content in leading a “heads down-worker bee” existence that we fail to see the big picture, what God truly has lined up for us, what our mission should be. There are times when we will be asked to step out in faith, into the unfamiliar for the sake of the greater good. How willing are you? What is holding you back from setting yourself (and all of your baggage) aside for the benefit of another? For only God sees the bigger picture; our task is just to trust and obey. Like the pilot of the hot air balloon, God knows what needs to be done, how to navigate a circumstance, and what to steer away from. All you have to do is sit back, listen, and act when called upon to do your part.

When the sun finally started to set, our mission transitioned from being spectators to participants, tasked with looking for high tension cables and possible landing locations, while spitting into the air to calculate wind direction. And even though we descended on to the hard earth of reality, safe and sound, we were still on a collective high, knowing we shared life changing moments that we would never have experienced if we had held back and remained in our sane, safe little world.

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Am I still acrophobic?…YES! Would I take part in another hot air balloon excursion some day? In a heartbeat! For I have savored the sweetness of the extraordinary and yearn for another taste.

“Dilated”

A few days ago, I made my annual pilgrimage to my optometrist for my eye exam.  And like any other visit to my eye doctor, I experienced the initial small talk, general health questions, and eventual invitation to “the chair”.  Once seated, I felt my anxiety rise as my chin was placed on the chin pad and the eye apparatus brought up to my face, squeezing my nose in the process.

Next came the dreaded “can you read the bottom line?” question.  “No problem”, I thought as I started down the line…”Hhhhh”, “Pppp”, “Sssss”, “Kkkkkkk”, and finally the last character.  “Uh, ‘c’…no, no, ‘e’…oh, man!….’o’?”  The response of “good” did nothing to soothe my perfectionist tendencies.  At last came the questions that just torments the indecisive…”is it better with 3 or 4?”, “better with 1 or 2?”, “is it clearer at 4…or 5?”

And, as if withholding the best for last, out came the eye drops that would just change my life for the next several hours—I was about to get dilated!  Sitting there in the chair, waiting for the magic to happen and dabbing the amber tears from my eyes, I was wondering just how I was going to work from home the remainder of the day.  After subjecting both eyes to immense, blazing, and irritating light, it was over; a little too anticlimactic.  But here came the “But wait, there’s more” moment when they offered me the Cataract 100 sunglasses; you know the kind.  They are the disposable sunglasses that instantly make people think you’re in need of a seeing-eye dog.  Since it was a cloudy day, I enthusiastically declined and chose to squint my way home.

Once back at my home workspace, the kitchen bar, I sat in front of the IBM T510 laptop and stared, trying to focus.  I could read e-mails and do my work but not without difficulties.  At one point and time, between the dilation and bifocals, my head was bobbing up and down with rhythmic precision and I must have appeared as if an Albatross was in a mating ritual.

Sometimes in life, we inadvertently have our spiritual eyes dilated due to unconfessed sin in our lives.  Our spiritual lives become out of focus and a great sensitivity to God’s light begins to occur.  And instead of enjoying that beautiful light through God’s word, music or other spiritually motivated sources, our sense of guilt and shame provokes a painful response, many times driving us on to seek shelter in the shadows of our own regrets.  It is at those times when we need to seek out God’s “Foster Grants” so to speak of grace and forgiveness.  For only when we seek sincere forgiveness to God, and at times ourselves and/or others, can our spiritual eyes once again be completely restored so we can see fully what God’s path is for us to follow.

 

“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” Matthew 6:22-23

“Illuminate Us O Lord”

Have you ever looked around during a worship service and wondered how these individuals from all walks of life, this imperfect sampling of humanity ended up in one place with one purpose, to worship our Creator? I don’t believe it is a random act or a coincidence that God puts us in the right place at the right time to fulfill His plan for a season. I believe God has His plans or “patterns” so to speak laid out in a plan of perfection only God can orchestrate. God then looks for those “willing vessels” to fit in like puzzle pieces to complement His master plan.

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I liken this to working with stained glass. You begin with a pattern that holds a special attraction or interest, something created for its’ deliberate and intended purpose; even if it’s only for pure pleasure. The pattern reflects a complete but monochromatic version of the completed piece.

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The next step is the selection of glass for the piece. Each of us is like the spectrum of glass available for use. We are all fashioned into our designated colors, textures, and yes, stress points based on our experiences, influences, emotions, and our willingness to be molded and shaped into God’s intended purpose. God wants to cut away the unnecessary and chip away the stubborn imperfections to transform us into exactly what we were intended; to be an object of His affection; a perfect fit!

And God knows where each of us are destined to “fit in”; to minister, to grow, to illuminate the love of Christ in us. It doesn’t matter whether we are a corner piece or center bevel; we are just as important in God’s eyes.

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The leadership of the church is the framework and joints, the zinc and lead of God’s special project to “hold” all of His precious pieces together in one place. The leadership ensures continuity and conformity; to encourage the body of Christ to fellowship, minister and to encourage one another; to keep us as one cohesive unit.
And finally, we have the solder that binds everything together; our love for God and His everlasting love for us. That is the beauty that illuminates through us like the sun shining through a stained glass masterpiece, overwhelming us with the brilliance of His perfection and inspiring us with the awesome knowledge that we are so much more as a collective ensemble than as individual shattered shards of broken humanity.

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But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light… 1 Peter 2:9  

“Feasting on the Unfamiliar”

Relationships are sometimes like peanut butter and tomato sandwiches. Sound crazy? Let me explain. Recently this wonderfully flavorful entree was presented to me quite unexpectedly. I LOVE tomatoes and have never really rejected the opportunity to devour peanut butter, but this combination was a little out of my league in becoming adventuresome. Having been placed in a position of possibly insulting the bearer of unique cuisine, I found I had no other choice but to try just a morsel. The first bite presented itself with a familiar sweet, smoothness of the peanut butter with the tanginess of the fresh, juicy, and very meaty tomato. Love at first taste!! Why didn’t I try this sooner? Probably because this just didn’t seem very familiar to me.

Sometimes we treat acquaintances and some relationships the same way. We always want to be around people that we are comfortable with and who make us feel good or important. In the process, we are cheating ourselves out of God ordained experiences that could possibly raise us to another level of wisdom and understanding.

We are often found in situations with people who are “different” than we are. Our natural tendency is to shy away from anything or anyone that doesn’t fit our definition of “normal”. “I’m talking about even other believers, some possibly in our own churches. Like the unfamiliar food item, our brain starts to categorize and match this new acquaintance with our mental preference lists or biases. Many times we reject others or find ourselves rejected due to some of the following reasons: She/He is too short/tall, fat/thin, good-looking/plain, white/black/red/yellow/etc., talks too much/little, is illiterate/educated, poor/wealthy, dirty/clean; the list goes on and on. It doesn’t take very long before our prejudice is justified and we leave that person standing, never realizing or caring that God may have used that moment for His glory and possibly may have used you to minister to another.

If Jesus had this same mind set, where would we be right now? The blind and crippled would have been passed by because of course they were damaged goods. Mary Magdalene would have also been rejected for being so vile and unclean. Even the twelve would have been over looked for being mere fishermen and tax collectors, except maybe Dr. Luke. Get the point?

We need to ask God for forgiveness for our ignorance, prejudice, and pride. And while we are on our faces, prostrate before Him, why don’t we ask Him for the strength to take risks in our relationships with others and to allow us to love others with His love not ours. For, we are all different and strange through our own eyes but we are all the same through His.

Now, are you ready to take a big bite out of humanities’ banquet table? You might be surprised how much you enjoy the variety of God’s human creations.

Taste and see that the Lord is good. Ps. 34:8

“Heads up!”

How many times have you been walking along and almost had a close encounter with a “head downer”? That’s what I call those who walk around, mesmerized by their smart phones, oblivious to their surroundings and reduced to uttering grunts as they order their fast food at the counter or check out at the local market.  There have been times when I have desperately resisted the temptation to yell “BOO” to an incoming head downer to see if I could get a reaction, anything that would cause them to raise their head and for at least a split second, to be aware of their own surroundings.  Knowing my luck, I would receive another kind of reaction that would result in a “clean up on aisle two” as the citizen’s body would react before his/her brain engaged.

Don’t get me wrong; I have done my share of vertical surfing but I try to keep it to a minimum. I also try to squelch the “table texting” mostly because I envision having one nostril larger than the other from my wife so carefully planting my silicone, wood grained, techno Apple up my rather ample proboscis.  So why do I hesitate to join the multitudes that engage in constant, mindless, “in the cloud” conversations where we can see everything from a selfie that shouldn’t have been to someone’s dinner, both before AND after?

I’ve looked around…and I like what I see, and hear (which is sometimes a challenge being deaf in one ear), and feel!! I enjoy carrying on a conversation where I can search the eyes of the receiver and read their facial expressions (which don’t look anything like the emoticons) and give and/or receive a spontaneous hug.  I like to see the brilliant colors of the fall leaves and breathe in the crisp fall air and know I’m still alive and experiencing life to the full.  But most importantly, I need to abandon any distraction which will cause me to miss an opportunity to be available for whatever God has in store for me to participate; I need to be still and listen…

So take heart, head downer…there is a great big world and a great big God just waiting for you to look up and experience a life worth living; not a life being lived through a virtual world of others…you never know what you might be missing…

Then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN A CLOUD with power and great glory. “But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Luke 21:27-28

“Getting Ready to Move Sale”–The Art of Letting Go

A few weeks ago, my wife and I had a garage sale; nothing special about that, right? Well, it was advertised as  “Getting Ready to Move Sale—Everything Must Go!!” …which was an accurate declaration since we have plans to move to North Carolina in the spring.

 

Part of the process was to go through thirty-five years of accumulated “stuff” and decide what must go to “lighten the load” so we wouldn’t be as burdened packing our other “treasures”. No problem…or so I thought.  As our lives lay prostrate across folding tables in our garage, I started to develop Irritable Growl Syndrome, snarling at our patrons as they rummaged through our “precious moments” with no more concern than if it was well….junk!  They just didn’t understand that the dusty pair of ice skates they were holding up with tattered strings hanging like overcooked spaghetti was actually a form of freedom for me thirty years ago.  How did they know the abandoned ice bucket was actually one of my wife’s last tangible memories of Christmases past with her family; the ice bucket was only used for that annual gathering.

 

“GET A GRIP”! We needed a new perspective, a reminder of why we were actually doing this, to see the bigger picture.  For in letting go of material things that had lost their value or purpose, we were in a better position to embrace the new adventures God has in store for us.  For you see, we have our first grandchild arriving in February.  And only God knows what else He has in store for my wife and me.

 

Hebrews 12:1 NIV states “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” which tells me it is okay to let go of whatever it is that gets in the way of my running the best race EVER!  In your life the letting go may not be junk; it may be bitterness or resentment toward a friend or loved one.  It may also be something that seems pretty innocent like taking a class or getting involved in a club or organization.  Whatever “IT” is, we all need to find and cultivate the art of letting go if “IT’ gets in the way of blocking us from what God would have us do.

 

By the end of our garage sale, my wife and I were literally giving away the remainder of our “treasures” as the more left our premises, the lighter and more animated we felt. The less “overhead” we have to consider, the more time we have to concentrate on running toward that finish line.  Now for letting go of that extra forty pounds…

Alpha Blog

The very idea of developing a blog, a means of communicating thoughts, ideals, and analogies for the world to see is like walking out, completely naked, on to humanities’ stage. For opinions are like belly buttons; everybody has one. I’m sure not all feedback will be positive, warm fuzzy-feeling comments. That being said I feel compelled to share with others what the Lord lays on my heart. So, here I go, shivering, nervous, and self-conscious…taking the big step forward but fighting the urge to run behind the red velvet curtain.

The title Life Simply Spoken came about from the yearning to share simple life stories presented in such a way that it would impact the life of another person. Most of these stories or “pieces” will have a spiritual slant as I strongly believe that in every life experience, there is a lesson, a nugget of God instilled, eternal truth just waiting to get out, becoming a salve for healing, a mini “aha” moment or perhaps a smile maker.

If you are looking for a grammatically refined piece of literary genius, you may be a tad bit disappointed. However, whether the topic is sit ups or spit ups, hanging on or letting go, I’m praying you will open your heart and mind to how God might be using yet another tool to get to us. I am not delusional in thinking every blog will have a divine impact on your life but perhaps some of the same things God is working to reveal in my life is similar to “under construction” areas in yours. I am glad you are going on this journey with me…

Observations on life and Spiritual Implications