Work

At the end of a cycle, a natural reaction pushes to overwhelm everyone; it is simply the sense of resting, reflecting, and remembering.  It is natural.  It is therapeutic.  It is, in balance, healthy. 
 
The cycle of winter has its place, yet it only comes after a period of work.  Our design is not compatible with extended periods of idleness.  The question is not of effort, we will extend our hearts, minds, and souls towards a goal.  The uncertainty is simply one of focus.  Where will our hearts rest?  What is our foundation?  Will we be our own person or the servant of another?
 
In my own efforts, I often find myself living in segments.  Part of my life centers on earning enough to support my family.  Yet there are other parts: observing the course and play of life around me, experiencing the joy of music and worship, and reaching out into the lives of those in my communities.  Each segment exists within carefully constructed walls.  Life follows a strict definition.  Roles and responsibilities shape themselves within carefully crafted parameters.  Even relationships follow a defined pattern.  Divinity has its place, as do family, friends, and even strangers.
 
In contrast to this order is an invitation to participate in something bigger.  “Fill in the valleys, level off the hills, smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks.  Then God's bright glory will shine and everyone will see it.  Yes.  Just as God has said.”  (Isaiah 40.4, 5) 
 
We may not be aware of it; God invites us to participate in the restoration of life around us.  We may be blind; Divinity is asking for our help in fulfilling Hope’s dreams.  We may be struggling with demons and hells; Hope is available in the darkest of circumstances.
 
I shut my eyes and I see images of hope in the children of Chennai.  I listen carefully and I can hear the sounds of compassion.  I find the stillness within and I can feel the vibrations of peace.  Today is open and clear.  We are free to write our chapter.  read more

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Preparation

I vividly remember the day when I saw my first president in person.  I was eight years old.  The preparation for that sunny day in Sacramento California was intense!  We were going to see the president.  It was an extraordinary event.  I had no idea what to expect, but this was going to be great.  Even though I know was not going to actually meet him, I was confident I was going to see the real president, not just an image on the television set.
 
I stood on a mailbox along his route, anticipating the event.  Mom had helped me slick back my hair.  I was wearing a fresh pressed shirt and slacks.  I had polished my shoes so much I could see my reflection when I looked down.  As we got ready and then rode in the car to our spot, I worked extra hard not to scuff my shoes or get anything messy. 
 
 We, society, seem to have lost much of our awe.  Maybe the human part of the presidents, kings, and queens equation is so revealed that we don’t think he or she deserves our respect.  Maybe we tend to combine the role of freedom in strange ways with trust and honor, rejecting each and all in the end.  Maybe we don’t think we really need anyone in authority over us.  Sadly it isn’t just presidents that we treat poorly, Divinity and our souls fall into the same bucket.
 
When I hear the cry – “Thunder in the desert!  Prepare for God's arrival!  Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God.”  (Isaiah 40.3)  I hear a call to freedom, honor and trust.  God is worthy.  God has earned our trust and respect.  God is part of our freedom.
President Kennedy flashed by my spot in his motorcade.  I don’t remember what he was wearing that day, I didn’t care.  I had seen the president!  He was real.  He smiled and waved.  It was as if it was just for me.
 
God is here, just for you.  Just for me. read more

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Guilt

Guilt is, in my opinion, significantly overrated.  It isn’t that it is all bad.  Guilt can help one identify experiences worthy of learning.  Once we have identified the lesson, even before learning begins, guilt’s role is finished.  Yet few, myself included, give guilt its freedom. 
 
If I had to do it over again, I’d rarely use guilt.  In fact, I would put guilt as the last of the last tools of last resort!  I know why I use it, it is effective, but I wonder about my motives.  Do the ends justify the means?  Can one take whatever action is required in order to get to a destination?  Should the objective be more important than the process?
 
I find, as I gather more and more gray hairs, my approach is changing.  Engaging another’s heart and mind is far more important than the goal.  I know this is problematic, people do not always respond.  Even with this is the case, I find it is often better to let the situation move into idle, than to act through guilt.  For a variety of reasons it just doesn’t work!
 
As I listen to musicians and artists tell their stories, I find guilt recurring, again, and again.  Ironically, guilt doesn’t seem to fix, mend, or comfort.  In other words, guilt does far more harm than good.  We, musicians, artists, you, and me, should let guilt go, but it isn’t easy.  The challenge isn’t new.  When a prophet was getting a word, the hidden impact of guilt is clear; “Speak softly and tenderly to Jerusalem, but also make it very clear that she has served her sentence, that her sin is taken care of—forgiven!  She's been punished enough and more than enough, and now it's over and done with.”  (Isaiah 40.2) 
You and I have had enough bad stuff in our lives!  In addition to the evil in the world around us, we create our own unique hells.  Enough is enough!  Today I am going to embrace freedom.  I will learn and move forward, bathed in forgiveness, compassion, and hope. read more

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Gifts

There is an awesome benefit of great relationship experiences; they gently remind you of life’s most important values.  Without coercion, force, or intimidation, something happens at the core of our souls. 
 
Christmas 1971 was not particularly noteworthy, at least at the beginning.  The family was struggling to make ends meet while living in South India.  Rich and I were home from boarding school, Howard was dealing with school, mostly on his own, and our parents were trying to keep hope alive and the bills paid. 
 
We didn’t have a lot of money, not that it mattered.  The shops on Brigade and Commercial Streets seemed to have the same old stuff.  It was almost as if the holiday spirit has left on holiday.  From a kid’s perspective, there wasn’t much to hope for or buy that year in Bangalore.
 
We decided to go shopping anyways.  We were looking for the perfect gift; something that had someone’s name on it and didn’t cost a lot of money.  As time went on and success seemed more and more elusive, our quest began to take on a passionate pitch.  Our resolution began an intensive compulsion.  We were going to find the gift.  We were going to celebrate Christmas.  We were going to embrace everything Santa Claus stood for.
 
Dad played down our hopes.  He reminded us of how many “things” we already had, especially compared to the kids hanging around outside the shops we frequented.  “There may not be much,” was his frequent reminder.
 
In an obscure shop on M.G. Road we found our prize.  The special gift was two art sculptures made of paper mache, mud, and vegetable paints.  The faces were incredible!  They captured the emotions of the people and culture we loved.  I still wonder about the artist.  Who was he or she?  Where did he/she come from?  What was his/her story?
 
I still don’t know.  I do know Christmas 1971 reminds me of the best things holidays offer; family, love, and a incredible sense of belonging. 
 
“‘Comfort, oh comfort my people,’ says your God.”  (Isaiah 40.1)  read more

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Truth

Truth is like a tire; you can bury it as deep as you want, you can deny its existence, yet eventually it will rise to the surface.
 
I wonder if I have any appreciation for the beauty and wonder all around me.  I just received a phone call from a subcontractor’s secretary asking for a meeting.  By any measure the call, its purpose, and the timing are strange.  First, subcontractors rarely meet with the end customer without calling the general contractor first.  Second, we have had repeated meetings on the same subject, each time reaching a clear agreement followed by no action or contact.  Third, it was almost five o’clock on a almost-holiday between Christmas and New Years. 
 
It would be extremely easy to be frustrated.  After all, I have repeatedly followed-up without any results.  It would be simple to voice my disbelief to the messenger.  After all, she did represent the company.  It would be easy to vent my anger at the general contractor.  After all, he is ultimately accountable to me for the job. 
 
Yet as I listened to the voice on the telephone, I found myself gazing out on the valley bathed in wonderful shades of a golden sunset.  The colors were rich, soft, and extraordinarily rich.  The gentle wind, crisp clean air, and natural silence filled my soul with peace. 
 
I had a simple choice; accept the gift presented by the Spirit or live in an angry world of my creation. 
 
The paradox works both ways.  Sometimes we receive warnings only to deny the truth and live on in fantasy.  In one instance, “Hezekiah replied to Isaiah, ‘Good.  If God says so, it's good.’  Within himself he was thinking, ‘But surely nothing bad will happen in my lifetime.  I'll enjoy peace and stability as long as I live.’”  (Isaiah 39.8) 
 
Today, you and I will see and experience truth.  It’s all around us.  We have a simple choice; embrace or reject, accept or deny, travel with God or live in a world of our creation.  I choose to live, embrace, and accept. read more

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Points

I like to think I listen, always and well.  I know it isn’t completely true, no matter how aspirational the thought might be.  If there was any doubt, special members of the family frequently remind me how I missed the thought and intent of the other side of a conversation.  I wish I were unique.  Unfortunately  the irony of how we hear conversations in ways not intended by the speaker has transcended the centuries. 
 
When “Isaiah said to Hezekiah, ‘Now listen to this Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies: I have to warn you, the time is coming when everything in this palace, along with everything your ancestors accumulated before you, will be hauled off to Babylon.  God says that there will be nothing left.  Nothing.  And not only your things but your sons.  Some of your sons will be taken into exile, ending up as eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’”  (Isaiah 39.5-7)  You would think the message was clear.  Hezekiah was in trouble, now.  Hezekiah’s family was going to pay a heavy price.  This was bad news.
 
Hezekiah didn’t hear any of these things.  I wonder how different I am on most days.  Even when I move beyond the bad news and warnings, do I hear the good news?  Do I see beauty when it is at my footstep?  Am I willing to experience the gifts of compassion that fill my day?  Will I let myself see Hope, even when it is in the obvious places?
 
Messages bombard your life and mine every day, usually overwhelming the moments.  Even beyond the obvious vehicles – music, television, and the web – life’s ordinary moments are filled with metaphors and living messages.  If life’s words overwhelm our lives, it should be from the beauty, love, and wonder that fills your day and mine. 
 
Life isn’t just about wonder and beauty, sometimes God gives us pain and opportunity to learn.  The question is simply this; are we willing to see the points?  Can we open ourselves up to truth?  Will we listen to Divinity?  Hope is at our door. read more

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Wrapping

Sometimes we are simply too eager to dispose of the wrapping around life’s gifts.  There may seem little point to holding back, but privacy does have its place.    
 
I watched the girls unwrap Christmas presents this morning.  It was a fantastic experience.  Beginning with tears for joy at the first present (White Album from Uncle John and Aunt Carol), to the finale, everyone seemed surprised, happy, and overflowing with the spirit of St. Nicholas.  Each person took her time ripping and tearing the festive wrapping.  It was incredible!  It was an opportunity for you to feel the anticipation and experience the joy at every step.
 
Cherry was involved yet she also tried to keep some order.  Soon the black plastic bag had taken center stage with smashed bundles of paper crashing in from every angle.  It seemed that we were not as accurate or vigorous as we could be, so Cherry moved in to assist.  Soon she was reaching for the paper, even as Whitney or Carli was making their first tearing move.  On at least one occasion, I’m not sure who touched the paper first!
 
Sometimes people don’t have to peek at the inside of our hearts.  Our conversation could be a repeat of old.  “‘And what did they see in your palace?’
 
‘Everything,’ said Hezekiah.  ‘I showed them the works, opened all the doors and impressed them with it all.’”  (Isaiah 39.4)
 
You and I are works in progress.  Divinity has been working through your life and mine; to restore us to our full potential.  We play a role.  It is an extraordinary freedom and responsibility.  It is important to be open and sharing; yet at the beginning and in the end – it is a private process between you or me and God.
 
We can help each other along the way.  We can share our burdens.  We can provide support.  Yet there are things only God should know.  The balance of freedom, privacy, relationship, community, and transparency are beautiful when they are in harmony.  Today is our time to dance, sing, and be alive. read more

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Revealing

When I pick up a piece of wood for turning, the obvious usually is not.  The small stuff reveals the real story.  One needs to look for the details beyond the obvious.  The surface gives you clues, but questions remain.  How wet or dry is the wood?  Is the grain tight and straight?  Is the plan to cut across or through the end of the grain?  The questions presume one knows the obvious.  Soft woods behave differently than hard.  Aged wood is very different from fresh, even when it is the same type.  Size makes a difference, especially when it comes to being safe. 
 
If one wants to be safe and creative, knowing the answers, revealing the truth, is important.  It doesn’t make things easier or better if one is ignorant.  It doesn’t help to walk along blind.  The experience of the now provides learning, guidance, and even direction, but only if one is open, listening, and learning.
 
The warning to all is this; I find the process doesn’t come naturally or easily.  In can be difficult.  I can be painful.  It can be a struggle.  Despite the warnings, the alternative isn’t pretty if one looks with open eyes. 
 
Often, it takes the help of others to help us see.  “The prophet Isaiah showed up.  He asked Hezekiah, ‘What were these men up to?  What did they say?  And where did they come from?’
 
Hezekiah said, ‘They came from a long way off, from Babylon.’”  (Isaiah 39.3)
 
The questions should have been the warning, no matter what the answer.  Yet Hezekiah was blind and ignorant. 
 
Divinity often talks to us through the words, arms, and lives of those around us.  At times, the message is a warning.  On other occasions, it is much more subtle.  In each case there was a story filled with truth.  It could, should, and will make a difference if one is listening with an open heart.
 
Today, in a spirit of giving and love, is an opportunity to let Divinity touch one’s soul.  It is a time to receive, and give. read more

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Defines

I wonder if I fully understand what defines me.  I am not talking about the externals; those are obvious, or at least they should be.  My curiosity centers on what is on the inside.  Do I know?  Have I seen?  Whatever it is, does it reflect the values and priorities I hold most dear?
 
Across time there is a consistent indicator of what we hold closest to our heart; it is the things we show others when we are catching up.  When visitors come to California, I find myself giving them a tour of the house and cabana.  I may not think these are the most important things in my life, yet I want others to know how important family is to me and this is the tangible part of the equation.  I do not think my motives are altogether pure.  Yes, my goal was to provide.  I also took care of myself along the way.  Nothing particularly wrong with that, however it does make my self-definition less than pure.
 
I’m not the first.  A king of old, “Hezekiah received the messengers warmly.  He took them on a tour of his royal precincts, proudly showing them all his treasures: silver, gold, spices, expensive oils, all his weapons—everything out on display.  There was nothing in his house or kingdom that Hezekiah didn't show them.”  (Isaiah 39.2)  He was proud.  He was transparent.  He defined himself by things that never last.
 
There is a way to redefine one’s self.  It takes time and is difficult.  By one’s actions, choices, and decisions we tell our souls what is important.  Ironically, it is rarely the big decisions that change the paths we have set.  It is the small decisions, usually taken when nobody is looking or cares, which tell the true story inside.  By living in the moment, taking each opportunity as it comes, we begin a process of embracing the highest values.  It is in giving ourselves to these values, in the moment, that our hearts begin to change from the inside out. 
 
Today begins a new chapter. read more

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Inside

Understanding what lies behind an action is not always easy.  Whatever you might think, it may, or may not, have any link to the intent of the one taking the action, including yourself.
 
In the middle of mid-town Manhattan is a wonderful stone building.  The classically carved stone stands proud, all six stories, even though it is overwhelmed by the skyscrapers on every side.  I often wonder what type of banking happens inside.  I imagine well-dressed men and women occupying their ornate desks, writing with wonderful fountain pens, nursing their home made espresso, and taking the occasional call from private clients.  The name, as forgetful as it is obscure, doesn’t really help tell the story.  It is mysterious, formal, and oddly inviting.
 
On a crisp sunny December day, I walked by late in the morning.  The doorman was almost finished sweeping the bottom stair.  The place was immaculate, except for the top, right step.  Perfectly placed in the corner was an extremely large, I assume dog, dropping.  What was that?
 
I have no idea who or what left the drop.  I have no idea why the doorman cleaned everything except that one spot.  I have no idea of the motive of anyone in the picture.
 
Too often, I assume I know the heart of the people I meet.  I even think I know what motivates God.  Ironically, “King Merodach-baladan son of Baladan of Babylon sent messengers with greetings and a gift to Hezekiah.  He had heard that Hezekiah had been sick and was now well.”  (Isaiah 39.1)  Hezekiah assumed it knew the motives.  In each case there was little to no link with the truth.
 
Today is an opportunity for you and I to assume the best, yet always stay open to the true motives around us.  Beginning with God, assume everything is in love yet take the time to study, experience, and see what lies behind.  Follow the same pattern with your own soul; assume the best yet take the time to reflect, understand, and learn.  Above all, be gracious and forgiving, especially to yourself.  read more

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