The World’s Best Father


Today, on Father’s Day here in the USA, we honor our fathers.

Depending on what our experience has been we may be grateful for the way our fathers raised us, we may be grieving the loss of them, or we might not even know them. It’s likely that we have some difficult memories and some good ones. Or maybe none at all. Some have experienced great joy in their relationship with their father, but others have lived through horrendous abuse.

One thing is agreed on by experts, and that is that the experience we have with our earthly father influences the way we see our heavenly father.

Consider for a moment how you view or have viewed God.

Do you think of him as distant? Anger or harsh? Is he a punishing God? Or perhaps he’s non-existent.

But today, let’s look at what is true about God, our Everlasting Father. The Bible shows us all the characteristics of the what a good father looks like:

  • He created us to be like him. We are wonderfully made. (Gen. 1:27; Deut. 32:6; Psalm 139:14)
  • He longs to be with us. (Gen. 3:9; John 17:20-23)
  • He is slow to anger. (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 103:8)
  • He is compassionate, gracious, merciful, and full of love. (Ex. 34:6; Deut. 4:31; I John 4)
  • He is faithful and forgiving. (Ex. 34:7; Col. 3:13))
  • He is available to us. (Deut.4:29; Psalm 5:7; Heb. 4:16)
  • He will not abandon us. (Deut. 4:31; Nehemiah 9:19)
  • He will contend with our enemies, fight for us, and vindicate us. (I Sam. 25:39; I Chron. 14:11; Psalm 140:12)
  • He blesses us. (Job 41:12; Deut. 7:13)
  • He keeps us safe. (Psalm 4:8; Psalm 23:4
  • He gives us good gifts. (Psalm 34:10; Psalm 103:5; Matt. 6:25-34; James 1:17)
  • He corrects us with loving discipline. (Prov. 3:12; Heb. 12:5-11)
  • He gives us an inheritance. (Rom. 8:15-16; I Peter 1:4)
  • He delights in us. (Zep. 3:17)

Shall we go on?

This is only a small sample of the truth of who God is as our Father. When we see or experience tragedy, it’s easy to blame God – especially if we don’t really know his true character.

But he loves us and is a good, good father. Our Abba Father.

The world’s best Father.

Different, Not Wrong


Photograph Laura Bennet - artist unknown

Photography Laura Bennet – artist unknown    (Do you see a waterfall or a flat surface?)

My husband and my first golf experience revealed a core issue in our marriage.

My husband plays golf. He knows what he’s doing, and he’s good at it. Unlike me, who has been on a golf course twice. And, I spent more time playing in the cart than in the game.

However, my dad taught me all he knows about golf. He’s good at it.

Despite my lack of actual course experience, I’ve hit dozens of balls on the driving range (I’m not even counting putting on miniature golf courses). I know how to hold the club and keep the arm straight and knees slightly bent. I’m not saying I’m consistent or good, but still…

So how did what should have been a pleasant activity turn into a forced, disappointing situation? Why did our fun evening digress into an argument? Brendan thought his experience would benefit me. I decided to stick with what I had been taught.

We both wanted to do things our way and couldn’t see the other’s perspective.

It seems we aren’t the ones who coined this dilemma. From what I understand, many people struggle with the same issue. World conflicts, politics and the ongoing argument of which way to load a dishwasher are proof. Knives down, people!

Whether it’s about golf or any other number of situations, we both have understanding and opinions based on legitimate past experience and information. Even if it’s not the same, they’re both valid.

Neither is wrong or right, they’re just different.

In a healthy relationships, we do the following:

  1. Listen to the other person’s experience and perspective
  2. Validate that the other person’s view is legitimate even if we don’t share it
  3. Be open to considering the other view as a way to broaden ours
  4. Be willing to compromise when it will better serve the relationship
  5. Choose the best way for each of us given the new information
  6. Voice our position calmly, honestly and without condescension, excuse or defense
  7. Allow the other person to choose their way without judging or criticizing them

We’re still figuring out the healthy way.

Those opposites that attracted us often lead to frustration as well. Initially, I appreciated that my husband’s strong opinions could stand in the face of mine, but later I discovered  I didn’t like being challenged. Both of us believed the other one should hold our same perspective without any question.

I don’t think either of us were often very open to the other’s perspective.

The good thing is it’s never too late to change. Being in relationship, whether a marriage or with a friend, family member or co-worker challenges us to become better people. It broadens our scope of how we see life. It makes us compassionate. That’s why God created us for community.

The Bible puts it this way:

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”  Proverbs 27:17

Our last golf experience during Father’s Day was better. We encouraged each other, let the other person do things as they wished, and I asked Brendan for some help. Well, maybe once.

I guess we have grown some.

You can read more of the story along with the miracles God did to connect us online and bring my Australian husband to America in The Miracle of Us: Confessions of an Online Dater.

The 3 “D” Words


DSC_0199

Another tragedy struck Florida this week.

I hate to say this is becoming common place – may that not be true! But at the very least when people are senselessly shot down, we are left with questions, anger and sorrow.

But a tragedy isn’t the only situation that can set off the 3 “D” words. Sometimes it’s past trauma or something as simple as a difficult day. Maybe they’re set off by prolonged distress like abuse or bullying. Perhaps we’ve managed to survive for years when one of them, or all three, strike, leaving us reeling.

What are those words?

Depression. Despair. Destruction.

From the limited information I’ve heard, I would guess that the young man who open fired at the school in Parkland, Florida experienced those emotions. And certainly the families devastated by his actions will grapple with them.

So how do we handle depression, despair and destructive patterns?

I’m not a psychologist. I don’t have formal training. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert. But I’ve experienced all of these feelings at some point in my life, and I’ve talked with others who have struggled to get a grip in the wake of these emotions. Along the way, I’ve learned some information that has helped me.

Maybe if we each learned to cope with our feelings of depression, despair and destruction and noticed the indication of those emotions in others, we could help lessen future incidents of violence that result from hurting hearts.

Depression.

First, I want to acknowledge that there can be chemical and hormonal reasons for depression. For some people, medication may be the answer. I don’t propose that someone who is being helped by medication should not take it or feel bad about taking it. Each individual needs to do what’s best for them. Here are a couple of things that have helped me:

  • A dear pastor friend once told me that depression was caused by something being “pressed down” in my life, thoughts or heart. So I learned that whenever I feel depressed I should ask myself “What are you pressing down?” Usually, it’s sorrow, disappointment or frustration created by some previous incident, and I haven’t allowed myself to process, cry, talk, grieve or somehow deal with my feelings. Maybe I’ve been too busy, or thought I shouldn’t feel that way or tried to pass it off as no big deal. It’s usually a far bigger deal than I think if it leaves me feeling depressed. Sometimes I’m not sure what my feelings are or why, but I believe God knows. So I ask him. The Bible says:

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”   Jeremiah 33:3

  • I had to learn how I process situations and the emotions arising from them. Some people process internally, mulling over things until they can sort them in their head. Others process externally. I’m one of those. I think of it as dumping the contents of my purse on the table. When I see it all, I can keep or discard what I need. I have to talk out loud about things, sometimes more than once, in order to sort through it. If I try to process internally, I become depressed. Likewise, for some internal processors, if they’re forced to talk about something before they’ve had time to think, they may feel depressed by their inability to pinpoint what is in their heart or head. How do you process? It’s good to know and act according to how you best function. Whether you are internal or external, it’s good to talk to God and a trusted friend about your feelings when the time is right for you. God says in Hebrews 4:16 that we can approach him with confidence. He understands what we’re going through.
  • Sometimes we need to do some simple, everyday, ordinary task. Take out the trash, get dressed, make a bed or take a shower. Just one task at a time. And then another one when we’re ready. In the Bible, the prophet Elijah was depressed. He’d just had a show down with an evil woman and was exhausted. An angel came to him and said

“Arise and eat.”  I Kings 19:5

No earth shattering advice or vision or deep spiritual explanation. Just get up and eat. Sometimes God tells us to do something ordinary.

“…His inspiration is to do the most natural, simple things– things we would never have imagined God was in, but as we do them we find him there.” Oswald Chambers

  • A change of scenery can change a perspective. Often when I am feeling depressed, I’d rather lie in bed than go out and face the world. But sometimes getting out to another setting even if it’s simply going outside for a little while can shift my thinking. Isolation begets depression so even when I feel I can’t be around people, interacting with others, especially if I’m doing something to serve them, is exactly with I need to break out of a depressed state.

These actions help me when I’m feeling depressed. I pray they will be helpful to you as well.

Next week we’ll look at the next “D” word: despair.

What helps you when you’re feeling depressed?

 

 

 

 

Where’s Your Focus?


DSC_0091This past week circumstances dictated I start riding a bike to work.

I like riding bikes so I wasn’t opposed to the idea, but let’s just say I’m greatly out of practice and shape due to far too many years of illness and injury that have kept me to minimum physical exertion.

This is how the week of riding went…

I have so many miles to go. I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it. My legs are tired and my most recent knee and neck injuries are screaming at me again. What if I get hit by a car? The traffic is terrible–the smell of exhaust and noise grates on me,  I can hardly get a good breath. Waiting at the lights wastes my time.  I can’t believe I have to ride to work. It’s so hot and sweat is pouring down my back. Oh, there’s a bridge in the trees. What if someone is hiding there and will hurt me? It’s dark. Maybe it’s not safe. The sign says I have nearly halfway to go still to make it to work. This last couple of miles is killing me with the wind against me. How long will this take? It’s so hard…

OR

What a great day for a bike ride. The sky is blue and a breeze will keep me cooled off as I ride. I’m so thankful for the shade of the trees and the occasional cloud that covers the sun. I see an osprey flying overhead with a fish. How fun to watch it soar! Look at the turtles on the bank. I wouldn’t see these creatures if I was driving. I’m grateful for the lights that give me a break. Most of the drivers have noticed me and been kind to let me go ahead of them. I can’t believe I’m more than halfway there! It’s been a hard ride, but I’m getting in better shape. Thank goodness for this bridge under the trees. What a great place to get cooled off. It’s taken me longer than I expected, but my boss is gracious and flexible about when I start. This may be hard, but I feel good about myself and thankful to God for sustaining me…

Different days? Nope. Different outlook.

I confess that some days the ride was harder than others, but my perspective made all the difference. I could focus on all the negative, difficult circumstances or focus on the positive things for which to be grateful.

The interesting thing is that one perspective leaves us hopeless, discouraged and frustrated while the other leaves us hopeful, encouraged and moving ahead.

So where is your focus?

A bike ride may not be the challenge for your week. Most likely it’s something of far greater significance. But as I rode, God showed me what a great analogy it is for the trials we face in life, and how he wants to help us, sustain us and give us hope.

Believe it or not, we actually have a choice.

In what circumstances do you think you could change your perspective and make your situation one of moving your life forward rather than staying stuck?

 

 

 

Why Perspective Matters


perspective

Did you see snow on mountain tops or sand on beach rocks?

I took this picture at the beach, and I still think of snowy alps nearly every time I see the photo in my gallery.

Interesting, isn’t it?

A couple of days ago, I was driving somewhere and pulled up next to a car at a stop light. The car had an Indiana license plate, but at first glance I thought it said Nevada. As a matter of fact, I absolutely believed, in that initial moment, that the car was from Nevada. (Could it be because I lived in Nevada for 10 years?)

Until I took a second look.

How can we be so convinced that the way we see something is actually the way it is when it isn’t? My children were all raised in the same household, but each of them remembers incidents the others don’t, or from a different angle. Kind of like the movie Vantage Point in which we watch a plot unfold from several different angles.

What affects our perspective?

  • Exhaustion – the day I saw the Indiana plates I had little sleep and much stress
  • Anxiety – seeing life through anxiety places a filter of fear over every situation
  • Age – a three year old and sixty year old will have a vastly different perspective
  • Culture – a thumbs up here in the States is positive, but elsewhere it’s an insult
  • Point of View – asking my grandchild seated in a stroller if he can see what I see over a fence is kind of pointless, right?
  • Attitude – are you a half-full or half-empty kinda guy?
  • Preconceived concepts – our values and beliefs become ingrained in us
  • Experiences in life – each joy filled or painful circumstance defines how we will perceive the next similar situation

Everything we process is in relation to all of these things in our mind, heart and life.

No wonder people experiencing the same situation can have vastly different perspectives of what has happened. Granted, perhaps we can agree on general absolutes like the color red. But even as I write red, what color comes to mind? Tomato? Strawberry? Cherries?

I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around this concept.

I know what is in my heart or mind when I do, say or see something, but what if the next person has an opposite view of my action, words or vision? Is one wrong and the other right?

Or are they both right?

2 + 2 = 4   seems pretty absolute and concrete to me. And I, by nature, tend to see things pretty black and white. But my math-loving husband might throw a variable in there and contest that even numbers can change it up. (Unless they’re absolute numbers, right? But now we are in a realm for which I have limited perspective.)

So, how do we handle perspective?

My go to reference is the Bible. Here are a few things I’m learning and working on:

  1. Speak truth in love. My perspective is my truth, but I can present it kindly.
  2. Consider others’ interests not only mine. Their view is their truth so listen to them.
  3. Respecting each other honors Christ. Humility benefits us both.
  4. Be honest with myself. I may not see the whole picture.
  5. Don’t assume. I’m not someone else so even if I think I know what they feel, I don’t.

In the end, only God sees everything. The entire world, universe without time and distance is his. He can see from every angle and into every heart and mind. The Psalmist said,

Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely, O Lord.”  Psalm 139:4

That’s good news, because I can ask him to help me see as he does. From his perspective. He says if we lack wisdom (his way of thinking) we can ask him, and he’ll give it to us. And even better is that he can transform us by renewing our minds – changing our perspective.

The brief moment when I had an inaccurate perception about the car with the Indiana license plate didn’t matter in the big picture of life, but when my spouse or kids or friends and I think differently it can cause turmoil if we can’t tolerate and accept each other’s view of things. Even if we don’t agree.

Even now in our world, huge battles are taking place because of perspective.

Their perspective is true. My perspective is true. But only God’s perspective is 100% accurate.

What is your perspective about this blog post?

 

 

 

What’s Your Perspective?


Last week I slipped out for a morning walk as the sun crept up into the morning sky.Sunrise in Aptos

Birds called, lizards skittered across the sidewalk and a couple squirrels chased each other up and around a tree. A few blocks into my outing, the bright pink blossoms of an oleander bush brought a smile. I longed to pick a few and take them home, but didn’t want to spoil the view for someone else. Then I noticed a dozen or so scattered on the ground. I felt okay about carting one of those beauties home with me.

But when I bent to take hold of it, I was disappointed.

Small, brownish spots marred the petals. Naturally. The flowers had fallen from the bush because they were dying. But from afar, I hadn’t noticed. They looked as unspoiled as the ones still blooming.

God had a picture in the petals for me.

In our new home, the paint marks of a darker hue mar the surface of most of our walls where the previous tenants tried to touch up nail holes. For some strange reason, the paint that is supposed to match, doesn’t. I had been so disappointed with the messed up walls that I had been focusing on it for days. What could I do? How could we match the paint? Should we repaint or ask the owner to?

In that narrow focus, I was losing sight of the our home being a gift from God.

Like viewing bacteria under a microscope, I saw things hugely disporpotionate to their actual size. It changed my perspective and created an attitude of discontent and worry instead of thanksgiving. Before my scrutinizing, my home was a beautiful blessing from the Lord. Just like the blossoms dropped on the sidewalk.

And there was more.

I contemplated these things as I continued my walk and entered the nature trail. The wide sidewalk was cool and shady, a respite from the growing heat. But I also began to feel nervous in this new setting. Trees emerged from the dark, swampy ground on each side of the path and hung over the top like a canopy. Thoughts of alligators began to plague me. What if they were lurking within grabbing reach of my hesitant steps? Fear crept into my heart where none resided before.

On the left!

A cheerful voice called out from behind me.

An older couple smiled and waved as they rode by me on bikes. I smiled as the fear melted a bit inside me. Within a few steps, another biker rounded a bend in front of me, calling out

Good morning! Beautiful day, isn’t it?

Yes. Yes it was. Especially with a change in my perspective.

I hadn’t seen or heard the approaching neighbors because they were outside my scope of vision. Once again, I couldn’t see the bigger picture because of the narrow focus of my situation.

God reminded me that morning that if I look too intently at my circumstances, I can miss the beauty in what he has for me, or what he is doing. I lose sight of him and his goodness, his provison and his love. Which is exactly what had been happening as I contemplated our dwindling finances, my husband’s lack of job, our belongings damaged by the movers, and of course, the paint spots on my walls.

Our pastor said something similar this weekend.

If all we see is short range, then the long range will always look fuzzy.

His words reminded me of my morning walk.

I don’t want to miss the clarity of the Lord’s perspective and trusting that the big picture is a good one from where he sits. I don’t want to let my narrow view draw me into fear or discontent or thinking that the beauty and goodness of what’s he’s done for me has been lost or ruined by the markings of life.

So, what’s your perspective?

 

 

 

Getting to the Destination


Change your perspective.

Nearly every day I walk at the beach near my house. From the top of the cliff I make my way down a staircase that boasts 151 steps. Naturally, when I finish my walk, I often take the same set of stairs back to the top. Some people, including my husband and his friend, run up and down them numerous times as part of their workout regime. I’m lucky to get back up them once.  I make it up the first three flights pretty easily, but when I hit that fourth one and see three more to go, I have to change my perspective. The only way I can manage is to not look at the top from where I am. From that point on, I only look at the next step, and then the next, and so on. Breathe deeply and finally I’ve reached the top.

Allow me another anecdote.

Today I attended a wedding at which we savored delectable food. As is usually the case, the bride and groom cut their wedding cake and plates were passed for the guests. I thanked the attendant who offered me cake, and after I took one bite, I turned over the remainder to my husband. The chocolate melted on my tongue with delicious temptation, but I simply didn’t feel compelled to finish it. One taste was enough. That’s because three weeks ago I decided to go without eating any added sugar for three weeks, and as a result I didn’t crave it any longer. I had been indulging a bit much in sweets for the past…uh…too many months (like since Christmas goodies), and the benefit of those extra sugar calories was only the rise of numbers on my scale. I could have said “I’m never eating sugar again” (highly unlikely!) or “Boy, I really need to lose weight” (ya think?), but thinking that way would not have been helpful.

I knew I had to set a concrete and drastic goal.

You may be wondering what these two seemingly unrelated stories have to do with writing…or maybe you’ve already experienced the ah-ha that I did recently. These stories describe two of the most important things I’m learning about writing:

  1. Don’t worry so much about the big picture (which only overwhelms you); focus on one step at a time
  2. Set concrete and somewhat drastic goals that will lead you to the desired outcome

For me, one step at a time is editing my book without worrying yet about where I will send it when I’m done; or developing a character for a book without having the whole story of his/her life mapped out within the novel yet.

A concrete goal has been writing 1,000 words per day; editing 20 pages in a day; or writing for two hours per day for the next fourteen days.

Combine the two revelations and each small, concrete goal is the next single step to focus on!

Suddenly, I find that I’ve written 4,ooo words in a week and my character’s life is unfolding on my computer screen! Editing a little each day has produced a book that is more than halfway finished. I think you get the picture. Small goals are the single stepping stones to our destination.

See you at the top!

What are some of the steps you’re taking? What goals have you set? What part of the big picture have you seen completed so far?