One day a man found the cocoon of a butterfly. He checked on the cocoon everyday for many days. One day, he noticed that a small opening appeared and heard the butterfly inside. For several hours the man watched as the butterfly struggled to force its body through the little hole. Suddenly the butterfly stopped and appeared to be stuck. The man decided to help the butterfly by enlarging the hole and making it easier for the butterfly to get out. While the butterfly was able to emerge easily from the cocoon, it had a swollen body and shriveled wings.
The man did not think anything of this and sat waiting for the wings to enlarge to support the butterfly. But that did not happen. The butterfly spent the rest of its life unable to fly; crawling around with tiny wings and a swollen body. Although the man intended to help the butterfly, he actually stunted the butterfly's growth. The man did not understand that the restricting design of the cocoon and the struggle needed by the butterfly to get through the small opening were nature's way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly to its wings, strengthening them for flight once out of the cocoon. Without the struggle, the butterfly's wings never develop the strength to fly.
Likewise, our struggles in life develop our strengths. I know it feels great to help people. Just like the man in the story, we want to be helpful, we want to lend a hand to folks who are struggling, we want to make the way easier for our kids than it was for us. But we need to stop and think whether the help we are giving is actually helping to develop strength and character or is it ultimately a hindrance? I know it can be hard to let people become frustrated, disappointed or angry, but...it is during those times that learning, perseverance and character building takes place. We walk a fine line of knowing when to be helpful and when to let those we care about struggle against the cocoon. We need to let them struggle not because we don't care, but because we do. It is the struggle that develops strength.
I had a great opportunity to learn another lesson this week. I listened to the audio version of Robert M. Pirsig's book, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and was struck by one sentence that has been turning over and over in my mind since I heard it. "We always condemn most in others, he thought, that which we most fear in ourselves".
I think the reason my brain latched onto this particular statement is because I have been listening more closely to how I talk. Not the particular words, or even the particular subject matter, just one very general classification, is the talk positive or negative in nature?
What set me on this path of personal observation were the comments of one particularly loud fellow that I happened to be in the same room with one morning. Though I had no interest in hearing what this gentleman had to say, he was the type of person who did not seem to know the accepted rules of using his inside voice. So, whether I wanted to or not, I heard his on-going complaints about his vacation to St. Thomas. From the plane ride there to the plane ride home, this person could not find one positive thing to say. Then it struck me, most of the conversations I hear are negative in nature. What I find most fascinating is that some people do nothing but complain, but do it in a calm, even sing song style that it does not sound like complaining until you listen to their words. Then I wondered how often I engage in this same type of negativity? What I condemn most in others is that which I most fear in myself.
So, I consider this statement I heard a wake up / shake up call for me. Rather than just talking to talk, I am giving more thought to whether the words I am going to say will encourage another person or contribute to the ongoing negativity they are most likely exposed to. We have the ability to change people's minds, attitudes and lives with what we say. Understanding this, I feel more of a responsibility to think before I speak.
"The tongue...with it we bless Lord and Father and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth blessings and cursings. My brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening fresh and salt water?" - James 3:8-11
So as you go through this week, take notice to what you hate in other people, then take a look at yourself. See anything familiar?
During the month of February we have been looking at how the family is similar to a tree. The roots are all of the ancestors who went before us, our grandparents, great grandparents and all the way back to the origins of our families. Their stories and struggles, victories and values, character and commitments have shaped who we are and what we hold dear. The importance of the roots is often forgotten about because they are out of sight underground; but it is the root system that provides the support and nourishment to the tree.
The roots drawn in the water and nutrients from the ground and transfer them up to the trunk. The trunk are the parents. Parents are the most visible, aspects of the family. It is from them that the children are to learn wisdom and the lessons that will guide them through life. The book of Proverbs is chock full of examples and antidotes of parents imparting wisdom to their children. Not knowledge (facts, information or practical understanding of a subject) but wisdom (accumulated life lessons, good sense and judgment). The good old-fashioned things that will keep you out of trouble, out of debt and on the straight and narrow.
The branches are the children who can only grow strong and true when they are not crowded or hovered over. And the fruit is what we show others. Our love, joy, peace, patience, understanding and compassion.
As we finish up our series this Sunday, we invite everyone to come join us for lunch after the morning service. No need to need to be a regular attendee, just a desire to come share some good ole family hospitality. Hope to see you all this Sunday for lunch!
Just like 100 million other people, our family watched Super Bowl LIII. I have come to realize that I can only really enjoy a football game if I have absolutely no interest in who wins. When I have a rooting interest, I am far too tense and emotionally invested to appreciate the game. This was exactly the case as I watch the Patriots and Rams. While I am not a fan of the Patriots, I can only name three people on the team, Brady, Gronk and Edelman, I am an admirer of the Patriot program, otherwise known as, "The Patriot Way." What they have accomplished is amazing. I know more people hate them than like them. I know they are called cheaters, babies, they pay off the refs and on and on and on. Yet despite all of their detractors, they just keep winning. Yes, I like them because they win and because I appreciate seeing excellence.
It was that very mindset that made me miserable watching the game on Sunday night. I was anticipating seeing the Pats offense control the game that I completely missed the high-powered performance their defense put on display. Although I was watching the Patriot defense stop the Rams on eight straight drives, I did not appreciate what I was seeing. I just wanted to see Brady throw a deep strike to Gronk or Edelman for a touchdown.
It was not until the next morning, as I sat alone in the silence of the early morning hours that I realized that not only was Super Bowl LIII the lowest scoring game in Super Bowl history, but the 3 points allowed by the Patriots defense tied the lowest amount of points allowed in the Big Game. In 53 years, only two times were teams held to 3 points, and I watched one of them. I was so determined to see one thing that I completely missed what was happening right in font of my eyes because I was not looking for it. When I made this observation to a friend I work with he said, "When you think of the "85" Bears, what do you thing about?" I said, "A dominating defense." He said, "Exactly, and even a stinky Patriots team scored 10 points on them."
What I should have realized Sunday night completely went over my head, all because I was not in tune to what I was watching. I wanted to see one thing which caused me to refuse to see something incredibly obvious. Then I got to thinking, how many times do I do this with God? God shows his power and might, beauty and love every day, but how often do I miss it because I am looking for something other than what is going on right in front of me. How many times do I look right past the beauty of God's creation because there might be some grey clouds in the sky? How many times do I miss the joy of waking up with breath in my lungs and in my right mind because I may have a little ache here or there? How many do I times do I look right past the joy of fellowship with others simply because we might have a different point of view on a subject?
What a simple football game taught me was that I can get so caught up in what I want that I can completely miss the incredible gifts that God is giving me.
A couple of years ago, a grandfather clock my wife inherited was set up and made operational in our home. Not having ever been in the presence of a grandfather clock for any great length of time, I was afraid that I would be caught in a Tell-Tale Heart scenario, being driven mad on a daily basis by the incessant tick, tick, tick. In addition, the clock chimes every quarter hour. It took less than two full days to realize that my fears were completely unfounded. Not only do I not hear the clock ticking, there are times when I do not even hear the clock chime. That was the case this morning. I was less than twenty five feet from the clock, engaging in my morning routine of reading in the absolute dead silence of the early morning hours. I sat down at the top of the hour and fifty minutes later it occurred to me that I had not heard the clock chime on the fifteen minute intervals. I glanced over to ensure the pendulum was swinging and it was. I know the clock had to have chimed but could not believe that I was not consciously aware of it; not once, not twice, but three times. At the top of the next hour, with my attention fixed on the clock, I indeed heard the chimes.
I am fully aware that the human brain takes in a tremendous amount of information on the unconscious level and far less on the conscious level, but what really struck me this morning was that I could get so accustomed to something, in this case a noise, that my conscious brain no longer finds it important enough to register. In relation to a clock chiming this is no big deal, but then I started thinking about other things I am missing because I have grown so accustomed to them. How I interact with my wife and kids; am I so accustomed that I miss their chimes, such as needs, desires and hurts? Am I so accustomed to my drive to work that I pay so little attention that I could put myself and others in danger? Do I "sleepwalk" through the day (daily routine) because everything is so familiar that I can do most things without thinking too deeply at all?
There is so much going on around us, but we can only focus on one things at a time. Be purposeful about what you focus on. Rather than just floating through each day on auto-pilot, be purposeful about what you think. Ephesians chapter 4 talks about putting off the old self and being renewed in the spirit of your mind. This means to consciously think about what you think about. Don't just let garbage float into your mind unchecked. Only watch, listen to and read things that add value to you, get rid of everything that does not add value.
Remember to "Set Your Mind" each morning by deciding what you will allow to enter your mind. And remember, we are what we continually think about.
I have always been a person prone to daydreaming. Before the proliferation of gray hair upon my head and chin, my daydreams often took the form of what my future would look like. Who I would be, where I would live, what I would do and anything else that could have anything to do with me. Now, my time of daydreaming can more accurately be described as time of reflection, though the practices look identical. Like most people, I have had the extreme good fortune of knowing and spending time with some incredible people, and it is those people and more importantly, their character, that I reflect on now. I often point to four men in my early years who were the biggest influences in my life; my dad, my Uncle Bob, my Uncle Hod and Charles "Pat" Maska, who along with his wife April, were the Skippers (leaders) of the Sea Explorer ship in town. Mr. Maska and both of my uncles have passed away and though no longer here in body, their spirits continue to speak to and guide me.
Mr. Maska was one of the really special people that every ten-ager should have the opportunity to know. He dedicated his life to not only raising his own six kids, but also being a mentor to hundreds of teen-age boys and girls through Sea Exploring. Mr. Maska worked at Texaco refinery, later Coastal, and only had a set number of vacation days per year. He, along with April, used his vacation time to take us on incredible adventures. We sailed on the Coast Guard's tall ship Eagle as part of the crew. Fifteen and sixteen year old boys and girls climbing the mast, walking the yardarms to unfurl the sails, standing watch, steering the ship, working in the galley round the clock on a seven day cruise. We took week long trips to the Adirondack Mountains and traveled to weekend competitions from New England to Virginia to compete against other ships in a variety of nautical skills and physical contests. Although I spent countless hours with April and Mr. Maska, the most vivid memory I have of him is from a day in July at Cooper River. Mr. Maska had dropped us and two sailboats for an afternoon of sailing. He told us what time he would be back and to have the boats ready to be loaded up at that time. Well,,,he arrived and I was on the other side of the lake. I did not want to keep him and the others waiting so I tried in vain to sail directly from one side of the lake to the other, which with the wind against you is not possible. So I struggled and struggled and when I go close enough that I thought I could jump out and walk the sailboat to the ramp, I sank down to my eyeballs and struggled even more to get the boat in. Mr. Maska stood on the shore patiently waiting for me to present my soaking self to him. I stood before him looking like a drowned rat and offered some ridiculously feeble excuse for not being where I was supposed to be on time. He looked at me and said, "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line...unless you are in a sailboat." He then calmly explained the need to tack when the wind is against you. He could have been upset, frustrated, angry...but he was calm, controlled and deliberate...as he always was and did not let a chance slip by to teach a young man with not only his words, but more importantly, his character. Those words have echoed in my ears for almost forty years and I have applied them over and over again in a variety of situations; but the words would not have stuck had it not been the amazing character of the man who spoke them.
Like many families, ours has long standing traditions that we have established for the Christmas season. It all begins the weekend after Thanksgiving, the decorations come out, trees go up and the outside of our home notifies passers by that a family of bon-a-fide Christmas lovers lives there. With a constant chorus of Christmas music as our backdrop, we take the kids for their annual Christmas picture, see Santa at the mall, watch a different Christmas movie or T.V "special" every night, build a gingerbread house, drive around to see the lights, watch the kids perform in various Christmas plays, programs and pageants, help the little ones wrap their gifts they bought at their school's Santa Shop, mail Christmas cards and we wrap it up on Christmas eve by composing a poem or song about our family's year before putting out the cookies, milk and reindeer food.
This year my wife and I got a special treat. For some reason our timing was off; the trees did not go up on time and the rain delayed decorating outside. We decided to take our own holiday picture like we did when the kids were little, we skipped the mall Santa not wanting to go through the "production" that that simple joy has become and we simply had more obligations than past years with dance, Scouts, basketball and a litany of other things that pop up.
Then as only a 15 year old girl can do, our eldest asked, "What? So were not celebrating Christmas this year?" "We didn't get our picture taken, we haven't seen Santa, we don't have the downstairs tree up, the outside looks pathetic, you haven't taken me shopping so I can get gifts for the family, I guess it's not important."
It would have been easy for me to say, "She doesn't get it." "Doesn't get what we are up against, doesn't get how busy we are, doesn't get how tired we are." But in reality, it was me who did not get it. Here was a 15 year old girl, asking why we are not observing our Christmas traditions. I wouldn't think she would care about sitting for a picture with her brothers and sister "who annoy her", much less going to see Santa. Oh how wrong I was. It's not the act that she cares about, it is the fact that this is what we do as a family, it is our tradition and that means everything to her.
Then it hit me, she has only done these things once a year for 14 years. It only took a few times of doing these things to engrain beliefs that are important to her, only 14 times! I am encouraged that if she has only seen and done something for such a short period of time then maybe the values we hold dear will have the same impact when lived out 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
During Jesus' earthly ministry, he showed over and over the error in blindly following religious traditions. The tradition or act itself means nothing and often takes us away from the intended purpose. But like our daughter showed, it's our attitude, our heart and our desire to live the real meaning of what the tradition represents that's important.
Have a Blessed and Merry Christmas Season!
Enrich your Christmas Season by joining us on Saturday December 15 from 6:30-8:00pm as we sing Good Ole Fashioned Christmas Carols. Our special musical guests will be the Wallis Maricle Worship Singers and I guarantee that you will be blessed by the experience. Join us after singing for some light refreshments of Christmas Cookies! Don't miss this chance to be blessed this Christmas!
As we enter the season when the consumerism express begins to churn at full speed, I spend a lot of time dwelling on my favorite portion, at this point in my life, of the Tao Te Ching: "I have just three things to teach; Simplicity, Patience, Compassion. These are your greatest treasures" - Lao Tzu.
This past week, these three words have run around and around in my head, simplicity, patience, compassion. I love the concept of simplicity and embrace it in all that do. It is the simplicity of Thanksgiving that attracts me to it. The gathering of family and friends for a time of food, fun and conversation. A time for kids to hear stories from and about their parents, grandparents and if they are so blessed, great grandparents. A time to put down the screens and talk to someone face to face. Hear not only their words, but the inflection of their speech, see the emotion in their eyes and on their face. Touch someone with a hug and a kiss, connect with heart, mind, body and soul with your kin. There is no worry about buying a gift for everyone there, you are the gift! Your presence, your time, your being fully in the moment; listening, talking and most of all, feeling. There is no need to worry if you spent enough on this or that. There is no feeling bad because someone gave you a gift and you did not have one for them. There is no going into debt to show others you love them. There is no rushing here to there, running so fast that you miss the meaning of the holiday. Simplicity.
Patience. I have given a lot of thought to this word and how to embody it in my life. I have marveled at the patience of my mentors and wondered why I fall so woefully short. What I currently believe about becoming more patient goes back to simplicity. When my minds is uncluttered, I am more patient. When I don't overburden my mind with useless thoughts or too many commitments or when I am purposeful about what I take into my mind; I have a completely different result then when I do the opposite. Perhaps the most profound lesson I learned was through my sons playing soccer last fall. They were both almost brand new to the game and did not fully understand positions and a team approach. I found I got upset and impatient watching them not perform and execute as I thought they should. Then I asked them, "Are you having fun? Yes! That is all that counts." My expectations for the development of their skills was not their expectations. They are the ones playing, not me, and they were having fun. I just need to relax and enjoy them having fun.
Compassion. Jesus spoke about, taught and most importantly lived compassion. I find it very interesting that a book written more than 5,000 years ago focuses on this same topic. What that suggests to me is that compassion is so easily lost or forgotten or explained away in our minds. I am constantly reminded of the saying, No one truly knows the burdens another carries. It is so easy to react to a perceived injustice, unkindness, or snub, than to take a few minutes, breathe in and let it go. And as Jesus said, love those who hate you, bless those who curse you. Simplicity, Patience, Compassion.
The following story is copied from an anonymous author.
A farmer had some puppies he needed to sell. He painted a sign advertising the 4 pups and set about nailing it to a post on the edge of his property. As he was driving the last nail into the post, he felt a tug on his overalls. He looked down into the eyes of a little boy.
"Mister", he said, "I want to buy one of your puppies."
"Well", said the farmer, as he rubbed the sweat off the back of his neck, "These puppies come from fine parents and cost a good deal of money."
The boy dropped his head for a moment. Then reaching deep into his pocket, he pulled out a handful of change and held it up to the farmer.
"I've got thirty-nine cents. Is that enough to take a look?" "Sure" said the farmer. And with that he let out a whistle. "Here Dolly!" he called.
Out from the doghouse and down the ramp ran Dolly followed by four little balls of fur. The little boy pressed his face against the chain link fence. His eyes danced with delight. As the dogs made their way to the fence, the little boy noticed something else stirring inside the doghouse. Slowly another little ball appeared, this one noticeably smaller. Down the ramp it slid. Then in a somewhat awkward manner, the little pup began hobbling toward the others, doing its best to catch up.
"I want that one", the little boy said, pointing to the runt. The farmer knelt down at the boy's side and said, "Son, you don't want that puppy. He will never be able to run and play with you like these other dogs would."
With that the little boy stepped back from the fence, reached down and began rolling up one leg of his trousers. In doing so, he revealed a steel brace running down both sides of his leg attaching itself to a s specially made shoe. Looking back up at the farmer, he said, "You see sir, I don't run too well myself, and he will need someone who understands."
With tears in his eyes, the farmer reached down and picked up the little pup.
I cannot help but think how many times I make the same assumption as the farmer when it comes to my own children. I think I know what they need and will try to steer them to make, what believe is the best decision, rather than trust the Lord and them to make the decision that is best for them and their circumstances. It is amazing to see the wisdom of children in action, just as it is amazing to see the wisdom of our Lord and Savior in action in our lives each and every day. Sometimes we feel like the farmer, like we have the whole thing figured out and we know what is best. But what is amazing is when we realize that we are need to be more like the little boy, with his frailties, compassion, empathy and wisdom, And most importantly, trust that the Lord will give exactly what we need, exactly when we need it.