My New Year Resolution….um, I mean, thank you, God :)

Today I am no different than many other Americans.  What I mean by this is that I am sitting here in front of my laptop contemplating what has happened over the past 364 days.  Will I make any new resolutions that I haven’t already in the past?  I seriously doubt it.  The other day I found my list of goals for 2012, and as it turns out, I didn’t come anywhere near achieving any of them.  They were the normal ones, you know….lose weight, get more organized, save some money, yada yada yada.  I wouldn’t say I was a failure, because I did make some progress, however I did not progress as far as I would have liked.  I also remember making a decision that I would try to be more cognizant of my blessings I receive throughout the year, and making a better effort of thanking God more publically than I have in the past.

I did lose some weight.  Actually, from the first week of May until the end of September, I was able to lose 27 pounds, however since then, I have gained around half of that back.

My effort to lose weight lead me to start doing some running.  As a result of this, I completed my first 5k race since I was a teenager.  I didn’t run the entire thing, but considering the fact that I couldn’t even run 90 seconds at one time when I started in May, I was happy with my progress.  I actually made it to the point where I could run an entire mile without stopping.

I was able to become more organized than I have in the past.  I’m still not where I need to be, but I am on the right track.

On the employment front, I certainly did make some progress.  The month of March started out by me starting my own business where I mentor and counsel youth who are in danger of being placed in residential treatment facilities do to their behaviors.  I help them in areas such as anger management and how to function more effectively in social settings.  I also provide respite care for them and their families in order to lessen some of the stressors at home.  This was not on my list at the end of last year, but because the agency I was working for before (doing the same work) decided it wasn’t a priority to pay me for my time, I decided to venture out on my own.  I managed to pick up six clients in the first year, which I am happy with.  Some I have worked with since I started, some only lasted a short time, but that is very typical with these kids.

I also was lucky enough to find a position that I am really enjoying a great deal.  I actually went back to the original school I started working at when I decided to get into education.  I am a behavior specialist at this alternative school.  It is very trying at times, but I love it there.  I feel very blessed to have been presented the opportunity.

Now that I look at what I have just written, I realize that I have been more successful than I originally thought.  I have made progress in each area.  Although I didn’t quite reach the bar I was striving for initially, I did get closer to getting over it.  Actually, as I look at the past year, I can see that I have a great deal to be thankful for.  I have been presented several opportunities for growth in different areas, and I have grown in each of them.  This year has taken me to where I would have liked to have been seven or eight years ago.  I have prayed all of that time for God to present me with opportunities to use my gifts on a daily basis.  It took me longer to get here than I would have liked, but I was persistent, both in working towards my goals, and being faithful in praying for such things. 

It reminds me of one of my favorite scriptures which goes like this…

“And we know that God causes everything to work togetherfor the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”  Romans 8:28 (NLT)

He presented me with a vision several years ago, and I was anxious to get started in getting there, however I wasn’t quite ready.  Looking back now, I know that I had the desire, but I did not quite have the skills that were necessary to do it on a daily basis.  I learned a great deal about these types of children, and I also learned more about myself along the way.  I have been reminded several times this year that we are living on God’s time, not our own.  He knows what is best for us, despite the fact that we think we know ourselves best.  But how could we know ourselves any better than the one that created us, bestowed us with our gifts, and placed us where we needed to be in order to play our part in His plan?

I have been delivered to the doorstep of this vision and the door has now been propped open for me to enter.  I haven’t gotten all the way in yet, but at least my foot is now in the door, so to speak.  For this, I am very thankful.

I would be remiss if I also didn’t count some of my other blessings.  He has also blessed me with a loving and health family who support me, even though this vision takes me away from them more than any of us prefer. 

Now that I have now taken a glance back over the year of 2012, I feel very good about how it played out.  I am very thankful for everything, whether it was good or bad because every second of every day is helping me to get closer to man that God ultimately wants me to be.

This year only has a little less than twelve hours left (at the time of this writing), and as I put the last words on this page, I have decided that I will in fact make a resolution for the coming year.  I do still want to make progress on all of the goals that I listed earlier, but I have decided to only focus on one, because if I can do that, the rest of the goals will fall into place.  So, here it goes….

I am going to make a greater effort to be more thankful and public with my praise for my blessings that I receive.  After all, I truly believe that what I have now, have ever had, and what I will have in the future has all come from one place.  I believe that God gives me what I need when I need it.  Not before it is time, not after I’m supposed to get it, not more or less than what I need.  I can really see that this is very true, especially over the past couple years, as I have tried to be more appreciative towards Him, and I can see it in his word, particularly in Romans 8:28!

I would like to wish all of you a blessing filled new year, and thank God for a wonderful 2012!

Happy New Year!


Open Your Eyes – The Life You Save May Be Your Own

A recent Friday morning in December changed the world forever.  The explosion of gunpowder propelled deadly iron through the chilly New England morning, tearing at the fabric of our nation’s psyche as each successive projectile found its mark, stealing innocence away from us in both a physical and emotional sense.  A troubled young man’s desperation and rage sealed the fate of 27 unsuspecting victims, before ending his own pain forever.  By the time the terror subsided, twenty of these victims, all of whom were a mere six or seven years of age, drew their last breath.

We have all been left asking a myriad of questions since that moment.  More than likely, the most frequent has been why such a young group was targeted by this cold blooded killer?  Others are:  Where do we go next?  How do we stop situations like this?  Why didn’t anyone see the warning signs?  Who is responsible?

Many conversations have instead centered on the perpetually vacillating debate over gun control, which has been happening since our Constitution was signed by our founding fathers.  Many others have set their focus on the struggles resulting from mental illness.  I will lump myself into the others that have asked these two questions.  However, one common theme that I seem to keep coming across is this…Who is responsible for this tragedy?

My answer may surprise some of you.  I believe, to a certain extent, we all are at least a tiny bit culpable.  Why, you are asking, I’m sure?  Here is my reasoning…

There are many individuals that cross our paths on a daily basis who are struggling with something serious.   It may be a health issue, it may be a relationship issue, and it may be a mental health issue.  These struggles are often invisible, as the pain that is generated is internal.  The problem is, we really don’t know who is struggling with what, unless we are in a close enough relationship with them.  There is a great deal of pain in this world, but not all of us share it with others, or show it somehow with our actions.

This is where we come in.  Mark 12:31 says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  The verse before this tells us that we are to first, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.”  This is what is known as the Most Important Commandment, according to Jesus.  To paraphrase it…Love God first with all we are, and then love others like we would like to be loved.

I truly believe that if more of us tried to live by these two verses that we would have fewer instances like the horrific scene played out at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  If we all paid closer attention to others, instead of being so focused on ourselves that we would likely catch these individuals before they become so distraught that they take out their pain on innocent people.  I believe that if we were able to give more of ourselves, or share our love, lives could be touched.

It is highly likely that the young man that gunned down those innocent children and adults had exhibited some sort of behavior that should have thrown up a “red flag” at some point.  I feel confident in saying that at least a few of these clues were given consciously, in an effort to draw attention in searching for someone to help.  There are so many people that act out as a way to draw attention to themselves, looking for some sort of attention.  They really don’t even care whether it is positive or negative, as long as someone is paying attention.

The sad part is that way too often, these clues are either not picked up on or worse yet, ignored.  Many people are not willing to venture outside of their comfort zones long enough to take a risk and to get involved somehow with someone who needs it.  I’m not saying that we have to jump in head first, and become best friends, or spend countless hours together, but sometimes, “a little goes a long way.”

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I am confident that if more of us made the effort to get involved, lives could be affected positively, and the more this happens, the less likely such tragedies will occur.  Almost every time one of these individuals walks into a public building, armed to the hilt with weapons, we find out that people that knew them would describe them as “loners.”  Are they loners by their choice, or have they been kept at arm’s length by our choice, because they were “different” and that made us uncomfortable?  This is where we need to pay attention, and then try to fill in the gaps.  I realize that it is inevitable that horrible atrocities will still be perpetrated by unstable individuals, but in the meantime, I think that I will try to do my best at paying enough attention so that I can somehow make enough of a difference somewhere so that the frequency of us hearing about these horrible stories will become less frequent. It may not be much, but at least it will be something.

A nation mourns…

I’ll be honest, I’m not even sure which direction this will go, but with what happened today, all I know is that I need to write something, so here it goes…

I’m obviously very sad at the news we all received today in regards to the school shooting in Connecticut.  We are all hit very hard by this heartbreaking news, however, it hits so close to home for me.  First of all, when I first heard this news today, I’m sitting inside of a school.  Second of all, last year, I worked in a kindergarten room.  It is very difficult to process such news when something like this tragedy could have just as easily occurred where I work.  Now that I think about it, just last week, a gun was found in the locker of a middle school student in the district I work in.

To be honest, I don’t think it has really hit me yet.  This heinous crime, out of  all the national tragedies that have happened in my lifetime, hits the closest to home for me.  It could have been my school.  It could have been my students.  It could have been me.  I’m upset about this, but to be honest, I’m somewhat numb.  I feel like I should feel worse than I do, which compounds the confusion that already clouds my mind with the unfathomable thought that someone could do such a terrible act to a group of the most undeserving victims.

This isn’t about me though.  This is much bigger than me.  There are so many issues here that I doubt I’ll get a chance to address all of them, but the first thing that comes to mind is how easy our country makes it for such things to happen.  I know I will get flack from some of you, but I think that with what happened today, I believe very strongly that our elected officials need to act now to craft some sort of legislation that is going to start saving lives instead of making it easier to end them.   I know many responsible gun owners, but for each one of them, there are, I’m sure hundreds for each one of them that are not.

Too many Americans are losing their lives every day because our government allows it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not against guns, per se.  I do own one that was handed down to me after a family member passed, however I have not used it once in the eight and a half years it has been in my possession.  When I ask some people I know that own guns, particularly hand guns, why they have them, most of their answers are the same…for protection.  I can appreciate that, but I feel that there are far too many weapons out there that are not consciously purchased for protection.  I honestly believe that many are obtained because the intended use will be to commit a crime.  I think about a local shooting that happened around here a little over a year ago.  A fifteen year old boy walked into a convenience store at 12:15 AM, and shot a clerk point-blank in the head.  She lived, but will never be the same.  The shooter, on a school night, was out past midnight, and had a handgun.  Which parts of that sentence don’t sit right with all of you?  I’m hoping the entire sentence jumps off the page.  My questions are obviously, why is this child allowed out of their home at this time, and how did he obtain the gun?  I hate to admit it, but I’m sure this story is played out much more frequently than most of us know.  I’m sure that there are way more young people out there in possession of a weapon than I really want to think about.  It is a horrifying thought.

I understand our Constitution allows us to possess firearms, but how many more of our children are we going to allow to be gunned down before some sort of amendment is made to this section?  I don’t want to take the guns out of the hands of those of my friends who use them to hunt and put food on their tables.  I want my government to do what is right, and that is to pass some sort of legislation that addresses this matter.  There has to be somehow to make it harder to obtain such weapons.  I realize we will never get all of them off of the streets, but there has to be some answer to this issue.  There has to be some way to keep these weapons out of the hands of unstable individuals, such as the 20-year-old shooter today, or the one recently who opened fire in a shopping mall in Oregon, or the one who sprayed iron all through the movie theater in Colorado this summer.  We are obviously making it too easy for these people to obtain these weapons that will eventually terrorize the communities in which they live.

What can we do?  Are we responsible for any of this?  I don’t believe we are directly responsible, as we are obviously not the perpetrators, but is it realistic to believe we can do anything about this?  I think we can.  I firmly believe that we, as voting Americans, need to start holding our elected officials responsible.  I believe we need to band together and jettison our representatives out who do not do what is right.  We put them there.  We can take them out.  We need to quit allowing these men and women sit back and rest on their laurels and past accomplishments, and start expressing our viewpoints and making them take action.  There has become way too much gridlock in the hallowed halls of our governmental buildings.  We have allowed them way too much latitude in regards to being responsible and passing laws that will protect us, not allowing the almighty dollar to rule, and letting lobbyists influence so much legislation.  Regardless of which political party we affiliate ourselves with, the time is now to start writing our representatives and letting them know that we don’t care who authors a potential bill, which side of the aisle they sit on, or whether the bill is too liberal or too conservative.  They need to do what is right.  I’m so tired of all of these terms and the finger-pointing.  I want action.  If I want to hear people argue and refuse to work together, I don’t have to go far.  I can turn on my TV and see it on any reality show or soap opera.  I see enough drama on TV.  I don’t need to hear about it coming out of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.  These are grown, successful, men and women.  They need to start acting like it and make us proud of who we elected, instead of turning the chambers of the Senate and the House of Representatives into a playground where they act like children, and actually do their jobs to protect our children, their playgrounds, and their schools, the one place in the world where they should always feel safe!

Now Lift Up Your Voice

Hope and I went to the Annual Purdue Christmas Show over the weekend.  We enjoyed it a great deal.  As I sat there that evening, there were two thoughts that really stuck with me.  One of the songs they sang was “Great Is The Lord.”  This song was made famous by Michael W. Smith.  As I watched them sing this song, I was noticing the smiles they had on their faces.  Now, let me say that during all of the songs, the performers smiled through their performances, which is obviously something they are trained to do.  The smiles during this song were different.  They were singing about praising God, and I could see the happiness on their faces from the praises they were lifting up.   Many smiles from the other songs seemed forced, or fake, but not these.

As I’m watching these college students, it occurred to me what praise is really all about.  It’s about thanking our creator for all he has given us.  If we are truly thankful for what we have, then it is natural for us to smile as we do it!  So many of us have been blessed way beyond what we truly deserve because of God’s grace.  Not because of who we are or what we do.  God’s grace allows us to be showered with blessings, even though we are sinners.

It’s funny sometimes how we are reminded of how much God loves us.  I wasn’t expecting to get that message that night, but I did.  I’m also thankful for the opportunity to be shown how we should give our praises for what we have.  I learned something from those college students that evening.

The second thing that stuck with me that night had to do with how beautiful some of the songs were.  The acoustics in the building were amazing.  Some of the songs were sung a Capella.  The blending of the voices was so beautiful.  Actually it made me think of a story a friend of mine told me.  She was at church one time, and as the congregation was singing their praises, she said all of a sudden that she heard the most beautiful sound she had ever heard, but it was not coming from the voices of the people, or the instruments located in the sanctuary.  She said they were very clearly coming from above.  She truly believes (as do I) that she and a couple of others heard angels singing that day.  Luke 2:13-14 (ESV) says:  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”

To my knowledge, I’ve never personally been lucky enough to hear angels sing, but what I heard that evening was probably as close to it as I have heard.  I could also see how (if he wanted to), how God could send some of his angels down to sing to us to show us how pleased he is with a group who was using their gifts of their voices (that he gave them).  I closed my eyes and listened as the voices blended perfectly and I took in the absolute beauty of what I was hearing.

I didn’t really relate both experiences until I sat down to write this, but it is now very clear to me how God wanted me to think  about praise.  I needed to think about what it truly is, what it means to him, and how I go about showing it in my daily actions.  I obviously don’t do it nearly enough.  Also, I don’t think that I do it enough publicly either.  What I mean is that I don’t need to go overboard with it, but it is important for me to allow others to hear or see me thanking God for what he has done in my life.  I truly believe that he is the source of everything I have in my life.  He provides (faithfully) to me.  He does this even when I forget to let him know how much I appreciate what he does for me.

I may not be able to sing like those amazingly talented students from Purdue, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t send my praises back to God just because I’m not blessed with a beautiful singing voice.  I truly believe that every praise we give to him touches his heart, regardless of how it gets back to him.  But sometimes we just need to be reminded that he still wants to hear from us, whether we are singing praises to him or asking him for his help as we pray.  It is a two-way street that sometimes we forget about, and we need to start thinking of it as a one-way street instead.  He wants to hear from us!  I’m just thankful that sometimes he uses what seems to be just normal, everyday occurrences, to remind me that he still loves me and wants me to share more of my life with him.  Thank you to the Purdue Christmas Show performers for using your amazing voices to make me think a little, and also I want to thank my amazing heavenly Father for using them to remind me in such a beautiful way!