Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Living In the Death Zone

I've never climbed in the Himalayas but I've read a lot about those who do. And there is an area generally above twenty-five or twenty-six thousand feet that is poignantly known as the Death Zone. It is so named basically because at that altitude there is a variety of conditions that if not overcome will simply kill you and likely do it quickly.

Of course the most obvious one is the thin air and even with supplemental oxygen the body won't perform with its usual efficiency. And because one's faculties are typically impaired a climber is then more exposed to falling, various forms of edema and other potentially fatal results. Weather is also likely more extreme and dangerous, causing many climbers to bivouac in places where survival is unlikely at best.

A very small percentage of climbers ever experience the Death Zone of the highest mountains in the world and for good reason. It's just too dangerous.

However, in life there are some reasons to actually live in our own Death Zone of sorts. In fact, we can't avoid it. It's living knowing that at any moment our life on this earth could end. We could be gone or someone we love simply won't be around. Morbid? Creepy? A little out there perhaps? Yes, in some ways.

But I have a close relative who is most likely going to die in the next few months or so, barring a miracle that of course our entire family is praying for. However, whatever happens it has made us all think a bit more about whether we would be ready to face the same ourselves. What would we do if death were looking us in the eye all of a sudden? 

I think the answer gives us some essential things to think about doing now without living in some sort of dark, fearful place in the process.  Let me suggest a few. 

First, make the most of every moment you can. No, none of us can savor each second of every experience, but we can slow down and enjoy people and opportunities a bit more.  We can quit cramming so many things into our lives and running by people we love as though they are hardly there. We can stop and watch our kids and grandkids longer, spend a few more minutes with a spouse or friend and just enjoy little special moments of nature that occur every day all around us.

Second, take inventory. Be brutally honest about how many things you're doing that really matter for the long-term versus those that are just because everyone's doing them. Yes, there's nothing wrong with leisure, goofing off now and then and simply having fun. But are we letting the temporary push aside the eternal and the things we think we should invest in for our gain steal time from the people we want to invest in because we love them?  Have we pushed the most important things and experiences into the I'll-do-them-someday-when-I-have time category?

Third, say what you want to say now. I've often thought we should have everyone's funeral before they die if possible. That way people can say to another's face what they want to say about them and would likely say once they're gone. Well, in a sense and in the same way we would be wise to say what we want to say to people before one of us is gone. Do we need to forgive, tell them we love them or that we are proud of them, let go of some past hurts or remind them of how much they meant to us?  Do it now.

You see living in the death zone doesn't have to be something we dread. It can be more something we just do naturally and regularly so that when our day comes to leave this world, we know for sure that we've left little undone or unsaid. Few regrets.  Seems like that's a better way to live . . . and die.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Slowing Down Almost Always Brings Joy

It snowed 8-10 inches last night. Our town and much of the Midwest came to a screeching halt. Churches were closed and even the road crew trucks got stuck at times. The winds are picking up, more snow is on the way and we could be hunkering down at home for another day or two. And while the Super Bowl is on tonight many of the parties simply won't happen.

Families will have to watch the game by themselves and have their own little party. Kids and parents may together be eating hot dogs and chips while laughing at the silly commercials. For most who wins the game won't matter that much.

But I wonder if on this slow day many will experience something deep within that is good, refreshing and re-filling. Perhaps some will stop long enough to remember what is really important - their family, others they love, time for themselves, moments to enjoy what God has made and delight in the little things. Maybe some will be glad watching the game at home. I hope so.

A young man did some work over several days for a woman and stole a valued coin collection from her when she wasn't looking. When she suspected him of course he denied it. However, he was caught when he spent several of the valuable coins for pizza and movie tickets. One was worth nearly $19,000. He didn't realize how valuable they were.

Slowing down is often what we too need to remind us of things we possess that are so valuable. And when we get those moments I think that's when we get a taste of much more than happiness. Instead we experience JOY. And times of joy are rare for many people these days.

Joy is a deep feeling, a profound awareness that we are engaging and embracing something more eternal, not totally of this world and certainly not merely of our own making. The problem is that we spend much of our lives running past joy, spending our valuable coins so to speak on the mundane.

But when we stop, get snowed in perhaps or just take some moments on our own to walk not run we will have more and more opportunities to experience what matters most. And I'm convinced that God intended it that way.  He never wanted us to keep getting busier, accomplishing more and running ourselves ragged.  Even churches can get caught up in the bigger and better syndrome where spirituality and success for God is measured by how much we do or how many people we impact at one time.

Early this morning, while I was making contacts to let our church people know we would not have services, I noticed through the dawn's faint light a car stuck in the snow in front of our house. So I headed out there in my boots and winter coat with a shovel to see if the person needed help.  I discovered a young woman was trying to get to a nursing home where she was needed to work.

Thankfully another man stopped and together we guided her out of the snow and got her on her way. Somehow I wondered if that wasn't a small, but significant opportunity to be Jesus to a person in need and experience joy.  No, it wasn't at church and it was only one person. But somehow it seemed to matter a lot. The sermon I didn't get to preach wasn't important. 

In fact, maybe I actually did preach one - to an audience of one.  It probably wouldn't have happened without the storm. Perhaps we all need a few more storms or at least the motivation to slow down so that joy is more predominant in our lives than mere happiness.

At least today I think I'm going to have another cup of coffee for now and just embrace the joy.  And hopefully I'll be willing to slow down more often even without winter's brutal help to do it. How about you?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

So What If This Year Was REALLY Different At Your House?

We all know that the New Year is a common time for people to make resolutions they rarely keep.  But what if this year were different, not even in BIG ways but just little adjustments here and there that could potentially mean big changes down the road.

None of these suggestions, and they are only suggestions, are that big of a deal by themselves but I have a hunch that if we even did a couple they could end up bearing revolutionary results if we stayed with them. Here we go:

What if we bought less and were thankful for what we have just a little more each day?

What if we stopped one activity that uses lots of time but pays little dividend.

What if we had a weekly tech free night or even one hour each day?

What if we got to know three neighbors who we don't currently know?

What if we saved up some money each month to give away to someone who needs it?

What if we took a vacation that is different from what most other people do?

What if we found a new activity our whole family would enjoy and made it a hobby?

What if we actually took time to look at old pictures and videos?

What if we parents told our kids some of our stories about growing up?

What if every day we took time to share a high and low from our day?

What if we regularly talked about God moments that we experienced?

What if prayed more both individually and together?

OK, so I gave you a few ideas.  I'll bet you can come up with more, ones that your family could also embrace and turn into a truly new year. Try one or two. Let me know what happens. I'll bet you will want to do more. I'll bet you won't want to go back to the old way either.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Problems With Too Much

Most of us parents would love to give our kids some of the things we never had. We look forward to providing for our offspring and ultimately helping them to find happiness and fulfillment.

Unfortunately many moms and dads think that giving them pretty much what they want or that everyone else has is the answer. Can I say it simply? It's not.

When kids get too much stuff, attention or an abundance of accolades that are really undeserved the kids don't blossom they bloat. They get weighed down with entitlement, ungratitude and confusion. I've seen a recent situation where the kids continue to get so many gifts from their grandparents and other close relatives that they don't even know who gave them each gift.

The presents all simply get thrown together into one big pile, sadly a mountain of things that are soon forgotten if even played with much at all. And yet the family thinks this is what these kids need and should have. It makes me wonder who the gift-giving is for in the first place.

The results?

First, a lack of thankfulness for what they do have. Instead of saying thank you they tend to say or at least be thinking, Where's the next one?

Second, a focus on what they have versus others. You will often hear from these children, "I just got a . . . ." or "My parents bought me a . . . ."  They never have enough but it always needs to be more than others got.

Third, a waning of social skills. Some might argue that this result depends upon the kinds of gifts the kids get and there may be some truth to that. But given too much of anything most young people will want to spend more time with the stuff and less having meaningful interactions.

Fourth, little desire to help or serve others. Yes, thankfully there are some exceptions where kids have a lot and find the passion to give it away in some form or another. But the majority of kids I've been around simply make life more about them because their parents did just that.

Each family will have to decide and determine what too much is but my advice would be to always err on the side of too little. I've written some other posts about holiday giving that might help here with other practical ideas about how to do some gift-giving and stuff slimming from your home.

Whatever you do remember the adage that is true in so many other areas: Less is more!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Five Greatest Gifts For Your Kids This Year

Is your Christmas shopping done? Probably not unless you're one of those really organized people. Like most you are probably running from place to place, checking list after list while trying to find the best deals that will maximize your Christmas budget this year.

And while gifts for each other are great and yes can still remind us of the incredible gifts God gave us in sending His Son to earth, I wonder if there aren't some other less tangible, yet more valuable gifts we might give this season. Let me suggest a few, ones that can last and be enjoyed all year long.

More of you. No, I don't mean that you will show up at more of their events or drive the kids to more places in the family taxi. Rather, give them more of you when you're not exhausted, more of you at your best, more of you in casual, relaxed times when they can just be with you and you with them. Let go of some of the usual demands and obligations you've placed on yourself and family and leave some time and energy to just enjoy one another.

Surprises. What if this year instead of doing the same activities, going to the same events, and spending your money on the usual things, you found a couple of special, unique things to do with them that they will never forget?  It will depend on your abilities, interests and resources but you can do a special trip or getaway, visit or invite someone they haven't seen for awhile or attend an event or show they've wanted to go to. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

Serve together. Consider finding not just a holiday commitment but a year-long opportunity, perhaps once a month or several times in the next twelve months to care for other people together. The gift?  The blessing of doing something for others and together. Plus you'll be modeling for them how real life and joy are more often found in giving not getting.

Slow down. This is necessary for most good gift ideas but what if this year it was simply more obvious that the whole family is going to be less busy than past years. And while kids might balk at first they will most likely see and reap the benefits of not living in the angst of running ragid and meeting the demands of others all the time. You may take some flak from outsiders too, but so what?  Try it.

Deepen your family's faith walk.  When we make significant changes in other priorities we open up our options for growing spiritually too. Parents will have to set the pace on this but think about some ways that you all can grow more spiritually, both individually and together. One size doesn't fit all here and chances are you're not looking for a program or course to do this. It might start with just praying more, adding more spiritual growth options at home or talking more about spiritual things.

You might serve this year on a missions trip or at a local shelter or other organization.

Whatever you do this season and subsequent new year, be sure to include some gifts that won't ever be under the tree but will shine brightly for months, even years, to come. And once they're opened I'm pretty sure they will be enjoyed long after the boxes and other gifts are set aside for something else.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Preparing Well For The Hard Times

Recently a good friend's marriage broke apart. A 14-year-old lost her best friend in a car accident. A family member learned the cancer came back. Another home continues to be rocked by abuse and mistreatment.

Most of us could provide our own list of stories where we or others are hurting deeply. As one of my professors said once, People are hurting more deeply than we know. The question is, "when hard times come will our family be ready or at least be prepared to handle them as wisely and helpfully as possible?"

Of course, like climbing mountains, it's tough to ever be fully prepared for what's up there on that mountain. But you can try and get ready as well as you can. And if we're wise we will not take preparation steps lightly.

Where do we start?

First, develop an openness at home including parents and kids to talk about things honestly. If we won't discuss the simple issues or events we probably won't talk about the challenging ones. Ideally you have to start early. Waiting until the worst comes and then expecting teens to talk, for example, will often be fruitless. But even if you did wait, try anyway now in the small things.

Second, avoid easy answers. When tragedy and hardship hit there are usually few simple responses. Talk often about how sometimes answers will differ depending upon the situation. People grieve in different ways and intervals. What specifically worked for someone else might now be the answer for you or the person you know.

Third, focus on principles and actions that are true and helpful for us all. For example, teach the concepts of God's goodness no matter what happens. Remind one another that Jesus said he would never leave or forsake us. Talk about the fact that God gets sad, Jesus shed tears and the Spirit can be grieved so we can too.

Finally, tell each other often that you love each other. We all need to be able to rest in the fact that our "accounts" are up to date, that we've said what we need to say to each other and that it will be natural to say those things in the struggle.

No, we can never fully prepare for the worst, but we can prepare the soil of our relationships so that in spite of the storm, growth and healthy change will still occur. But it won't happen by just hoping. We have to start and we have to start now.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Embrace The Joy At Home

Jackie and I just spent a week watching our three Lubbock grandboys, ages 1, 3 and 5. Ok, so we're exhausted, but it was great fun. The boys were boys but behaved wonderfully the whole time. Their parents have obviously done a lot right. Sure we had our moments and wondered how mom and dad actually keep up with the constant questions, activity and neediness that normal kids that age expend.

Sometimes we'd get them all into bed and quiet at night and we would just collapse.

And I was reminded of when we were those parents and had the daily, non-stop responsibility for our two. How did we do it?  I'm not sure other than by the grace of God.

But I wonder how many parents under the pressures of parenting their little ones, saying "no" fifty times a day and being worn out much of the time also miss the little joys along the way. Perhaps we need to laugh and giggle a little more in the middle of our kids immaturity, challenges and being prone to look at themselves first.

One day, Silas, the three-year-old, was jumping on the couch. So I said, "Silas, don't jump on the couch please."  To which he responded, "Don't watch me do it." It took everything I had in me at the time to not laugh and unintentionally condone his actions, but inside I was cracking up. Somehow there was joy in seeing that little mind at work.

Joy came when we picked out and then carved our not so exotic pumpkins. And more joy arrived the next morning when we got up in the dark and had lit the pumpkins for them in the dark. Joy came when they rode the swing or their scooters with all their might grinning from ear to ear.

Joy showed up when they got their favorite donut with sprinkles or made a simple tower out of blocks. Joy was there when the oldest began to read words he never thought he could read.

All those little things could have been missed if we'd only focused on the BIG stuff or been too busy being productive. 

And remember joy doesn't only come in the good moments.  Joy isn't just another version of being happy. Joy can also be the feeling we have when we see something great, some work of God, some specialness in the difficult times when life isn't going as we'd hoped. We can bring some joy to our kids when we love them anyway when they've messed up.

We can exude joy when we teach our kids important lessons through their mistakes. We can have joy when we see those little bodies and minds attach themselves to new little learning moments or special times that don't require a lot of fanfare, money or fame.

Find some joy at your house even if times are tough. It's there if we'll look for it.