Unconditional Love …

me28bToday’s topic has been on my mind for quite some time now and I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what I want to say about unconditional love.

When I think about unconditional love, two easy examples come to mind.  The first, is the love that most parents exhibit towards their child – sacrificing anything for them, without hesitation.  The second, is God’s love towards us – which is described in the Bible as agape love and referenced throughout the New Testament.

My focus, however, is the challenge of showing unconditional love when it is anything but easy.  Perhaps a decision was made by someone you care about deeply which unexpectedly rocked the foundation of the relationship, or you find yourself drifting apart from a loved one.  There are several situations that come to mind, but they all lead us down this difficult path.

So what do you do when you love someone to the moon and back and their actions or decisions place such a huge challenge on your heart?

  • Do you stop caring for them?  (the whole “dead to me” idea)
  • Do you stop praying for them?  (the “no longer worth your time” concept)
  • Do you just move on?  (the “good luck with your life” thought)

If we follow God’s will and direction, the answer to all of these questions is the same. No.

  • While we may not agree with the decision or action that was taken, we shouldn’t abandon them – because it could be part of a larger destiny where they will need your love even more.
  • We should continue to pray for them, considering the fact that the content of your prayers may need to be adjusted.
  • Abandoning them isn’t the answer either – especially when there could be additional circumstances that you were not fully aware of when their decision was made.

I’ve found that when I have unconditional love for someone, that admiration never seems to fade or go away … but actually increases with time.  When faced with this type of challenge, instead of trying to “manage” it (like some type of illness), I try my best to embrace the situation and be as positive as possible … never giving up – similar to the agape love that God maintains for each of us.

Certainly, taking my approach doesn’t come without sadness or struggles, but I know in my heart that this is the best approach … at least to me.

Have a really great day!!!

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Looking Beyond The Waves …

me24bRecently, I found myself sitting idle in traffic on the drive to work. Glancing briefly into the windows of the vehicles surrounding me, I noticed variations in activities taking place while the commute had paused.  I saw the animated facial and body expressions from cell phone conversations underway, bobbing heads and mouthed words (hopefully in sync with a music source), some using the unexpected downtime to catch up using their mobile device … and then I noticed those who appeared to be in some form of deep thought.

I realized that I could relate to each of these observations at some point in my life.  The one that truly caught my attention were those submersed in deep thoughts as they sat alone in their vehicles.  I wondered the source of each thought underway.  Were they trying to work through a complex situation, focused around prayer/meditation, or facing some form of pain/struggle?  While the true source wasn’t for me to know, observing these fellow travelers did make me recognize the collection of stories that surround us on a daily basis … most of the time without us ever realizing it.

The solitude of a long drive can be an ideal conduit to face challenges racing inside our mind.  However, if not handled properly, these challenges are more likely to increase rather than subside.  The key is to face the source of each struggle and deal with it head on.  Because, nothing we avoid emotionally ever goes away … no matter how long we try to wait it out.

I recently heard the phrase avoidance creates the pain of absence.  This falls right into line with dealing with our challenges at the source.  So, if you find yourself struggling to complete a task – perhaps due to past memories that trigger some linked emotion – the key is to face that situation head on.  Because, the more times you complete that task, the easier it will be … and eventually any associated triggers will drift away.  Conversely, avoiding the trigger doesn’t resolve the situation – it only creates the pain of absence.

As a part of my walk in life, I have been focusing on keeping my eyes above the waves.  At the same time, I am looking beyond the waves to see what God has in store for me.  This approach requires being able to recognize any emotional triggers and deal with them at the source.  I realize this isn’t full-proof or flaw-free and I expect there will be days when I find myself being knocked down when an unexpected storm arrives. However, after the storm passes, we should always …

  • realize we have fallen and get back up
  • regain our focus to look beyond the waves
  • remember to keep our emphasis on what matters to God

Years ago, I had the pleasure to write a song called “Safe In His Arms” with a good friend of mine – which continues to be a favorite.  The chorus of the song relates to what I have been talking about:

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel
There’s a calm at the end of every storm
There is no better feeling, feeling now I know
Because I’m safe
Safe in His Arms

I decided to use the “waves” metaphor because of the similarity to how our emotions can span from high and low – often transforming from one state to the other very quickly and often without warning.  With this in mind, I think it is important to appreciate the waves – floating with them (as if we were on an inner tube) and trying not to fight the direction the waves take us.  Always remembering that God has his plan for us and he is using those very waves to guide us toward His intended destination.

Have a really great day!!!

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Letting Freedom Ring…

me22bMartin Luther King Jr. Day will always hold a special place in my heart, as I have some amazing memories associated with that very day.  Additionally, I have always been a fan of Dr. King and his contributions to our society.  So, it only seems fitting that I publish this month’s article on MLK Jr. Day.

I recently took some time to re-read the transcript of Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech.  I am amazed at the power this speech still holds with me – over 50 years after it was originally delivered.  If you haven’t read the text in a while, I certainly recommend spending a few minutes to review Dr. King’s words.  Regardless of your point of view, background or situation, there are three key items I feel we can take away from the “I have a dream” speech:

#1 – Appreciate & Take Advantage Of Our Freedoms

Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech makes references to the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the United States Constitution.  One thing rings true at the core of all of these references … freedom.  Countless individuals have spared their lives protecting this concept of freedom for our nation.  Honestly, it is probably the single most valuable attribute of the United States of America.  Let Freedom Ring!

With this in mind, I stress that we always appreciate our freedom and take full advantage of the freedom that has been given to us and preserved over the years.  Find ways that you can use your freedom to make this world a better place.

The adoption of my son is a direct benefit of the efforts made by Dr. King.  I cannot imagine going through the process in a world stuck in 1963 ideals.  So, I truly appreciate everything that Martin Luther King Jr. did to improve our society in such a way that I can experience the amazing emotions of being a father to my son.

#2 – Equality for All

Dr. King’s main focus in his speech was to resolve the issue that no person should “be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”  That everyone deserves an equal opportunity – building upon the freedom by which our country is based.

This is probably the easiest item to apply in our daily lives.  If we simply treat others in the way we wish to be treated, we will naturally be more apt to provide a stance of equality and avoid introducing any unnecessary judgement.

In my lifetime, I have been blessed with the opportunity to collaborate with a diverse group of individuals – both in my career as an Information Technology professional and in my personal life.  Truly, I believe this has been a blessing – with the results of such interactions far exceeding the otherwise-limited accomplishments.

#3 – Dream like Dr. King

The world of 1963 was a far different world than 2014.  Dr. King had a dream that his children and their children would not have to experience the same world of 1963.  So, he wrote a speech – speaking directly from his heart – on how he hoped things would change.  While his dream and views ultimately led to his death, his contributions and sacrifice did play a huge role in the improvements that have been made in today’s world.

I believe we should all have dreams and strive like crazy to reach them.  If you are not happy in your current situation, figure out what really makes you happy and take that leap of faith to get there.  Sure, it will be scary and certainly there are unknowns, but no dream or goal comes without some form of risk.  However, when that dream is reached, the feeling of accomplishment and success is second to none.

Thus, on the day we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, I challenge you with the following:

  • remember to appreciate the freedom that has been given to us
  • always treat others with respect
  • search deep inside your heart and soul in order to find your dream
  • figure out how you can make a difference – with yourself and those important to you – to ultimately make the world a better place

Happy Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day, everyone!  Let Freedom Ring!

Have a really great day!!!

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Taking Mary’s Approach …

me17bWith Christmas approaching and the year 2013 coming to an end, I thought it would be appropriate to dedicate this month’s article to Mary and the challenges she faced – without hesitation – in following the will of God.

If we put things into perspective, nothing could have been worse for Mary – to become pregnant out of wedlock.  By today’s standards, such a situation is far from uncommon.  Back then, however, the emotions that Mary felt and pain she endured were certainly the most challenging of her lifetime. Nothing could have impacted her more, than to walk this earth for nine months carrying a child without the baby’s father standing by her side.

But Mary did not let these things get to her.  Instead, she simply put her trust in God.

Through these last several weeks of the 2013 holiday season (which I will admit have been challenging to endure), I have meditated over the following points to give me strength:

  • God is Respectful – He wants to bring (and keep) dignity into our lives.
  • He is Eternal – God’s promises will last forever … and never be broken.
  • Trust in God – we should always trust in Him … even when we don’t understand.

I will likely not post another entry before 2013 ends, but I will admit that I am not sad to see 2013 drift away.  This year has been filled with quite a bit of pain and sadness, broken promises, and situations that I don’t know if I will ever fully understand.  While I often feel like I am in a similar position as Mary – I know that I am nowhere close to the pain and suffering she endured.  However, I am going to follow Mary’s lead – take her approach – and put my trust in God, even when I don’t fully understand everything that is going on in my life.

In two days, I am going to start a new tradition on Christmas day.  I will ask everyone celebrating with me to state one thing they are thankful for that has happened over the last year.  Perhaps, this can be part of your Christmas tradition as well.

On 01/01/2013, my Facebook post was “Happy New Year!!!  Hoping your dreams and wishes become realities.  Have a really great 2013!!!”  I truly meant everything I wrote in that post and was excited for the days ahead.  For 2014, I am going to try again, with the same thought for 2014.  I do hope for better results this time … and with God’s help, I believe that will be the case.

Thank you for reading this article and my goal is that you can gain something helpful by reading my thoughts. 

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!

Have a really great day!!!

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Being Thankful …

me16bAs I prepare my “amazing turkey” this year, I find myself struggling with just how different my life has become compared to the plans and goals that I thought had been set.  While things have gotten better, I wouldn’t be truthful if I were to say that the consequences of those events no longer affect me.  Instead, I have accepted the fact that I will continue to deal with those emotions – which I believe are the result of the level of love and admiration that I will always maintain.

However, my focus with this article is being thankful.  Since I very much enjoy lists, I thought I would provide a bullet-list of the items in which I am thankful for this year:

  • My amazing son.  I can’t express how much Eric has blessed me by being introduced into my life when I held him in my arms for the first time 5,006 days ago.  It is hard to believe he is 14 years old now.  He is simply amazing and has inspired me more than I ever would have imagined.
  • Family.  When my new reality unfolded earlier this year, it was my family who stood by my side and helped me when I needed them the most.  You certainly don’t get to pick your family, but I honestly feel like I hit the jackpot with them.
  • Friends. A pure extension of my family is my network of friends who have been at my side.  When my best friend slipped away, I saw current friends, new friends and friends I had lost touch with over the years reach out to help bridge that gap.  They listened and have endured the challenges with me and I will always be forever grateful.
  • Those who protect our freedom.  I must thank everyone who has given their careers and even their lives protecting the freedom that exists in our country. Without them, it is likely I wouldn’t be able to perform the simple task of maintaining this blog.
  • My health.  I am certainly thankful to maintain a very good bill of health.  You are only as old as you feel, which still keeps me feeling like I am in my 30’s … if not younger.  (grin)
  • A wonderful career.  I could not ask for a better career, especially working at E-gineering.  They have been a tremendous blessing on so many levels – far above a simple job and corresponding paycheck.  Honestly, the group at E-gineering are a subset of my friends and family – for the same reasons noted above.
  • My God-given gifts.  I am modestly thankful for the ability to perform music, which has led to some memorable moments and individuals being lead to Christ.  I am also thankful for the ability to capture my thoughts and emotions on this blog, as it has been quite a therapeutic medium.
  • Mags.  I am very thankful for my Golden Retriever, who has always been the definition of unconditional love.  I know it may sound crazy to some, but I really think she understands at times – especially when she will do something to make me laugh, just when I needed to laugh more than anything else.
  • God.  Last, but not least, I am endlessly thankful for our God.  He has been on the receiving end of each and every prayer I have spoken, which has been quite a bit in 2013. He has directed me to the right scripture when I needed inspiration.  He has given me peace and helped calm me down when I needed it the most.

At the top of this article, I indicated that my life is different from the plans and goals that had been set.  While I will tell you that I believe those plans and goals were set with God in mind, I am certain God either has another set of plans and goals for me, or He is not ready for those plans and goals to be put into place at this point in my life.  I am thankful for God and will continue to put my trust in Him.  In the meantime, I promise to not lose sight of all the wonderful things in which I am truly thankful for this season!

“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)

Happy Thanksgiving to each and every one of you!  Have a really great day!!!

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Overcoming Rejection …

me15The feeling of rejection is an unfortunate emotion that everyone will likely endure in their lifetime.  Unfortunately, some will even encounter this misery more often than they probably deserve.

Rejection is often introduced at an early age when being the last one picked for an activity. During that same time period, it can also be unintentional when others simply elect to not include you.  Regardless of the mechanism which triggers the situation, the feelings associated with rejection are the same.  Fortunately, this kind of rejection doesn’t typically last a prolonged time period – nor does it typically lead a lasting impression on a young child’s life (all horror movie plot lines excluded).

My focus here, however, is the type of rejection that is experienced after completely devoting your heart and soul to a given situation.  This differs from the childhood example above, because you have invested yourself completely and received signals or assurance that your focus was with merit prior to the rejection occurring.  So, when this form of rejection arrives, it is met with a heartbreak and sadness which doesn’t seem to pass quickly.  Basically, you feel abandoned … which is a valid assessment … and the emotions that accompany the situation seem impossible to overcome.

When dealing with this type of rejection, I have found myself stuck in a cycle which revolves around the following components:

  • Sadness phase – the sheer heartbreak associated with the rejection/abandonment leads to sad emotions dominating the heart, mind and soul.
  • Analysis phase – retracing the events leading up to the rejection in order to try to understand how/when/why things went wrong.
  • Hopeful phase – finding something from the Analysis phase to cling to in order to give hope that maybe the rejection will be short-lived and will be met with reconciliation soon.
  • Re-analysis phase – trying to figure out how and when the situation will be reconciled, which convinces you that things will be back to normal soon.

Unfortunately, this cycle can prove to be self-destructive, because the Analysis phase feeds the Hopeful phase – which, in turn, drives the Re-analysis phase.  Then, when the realization is reached that the Hopeful phase was driven by false hope, the cycle repeats itself and the Sadness phase returns.  What makes it worse is that you feel rejected again each time the cycle repeats itself … which is why I referred to the cycle as being self-destructive.

So, how can this situation be avoided?  I can honestly tell you that someone telling you “Dude, you have to get over it” or “Dude, you just need to move on” neither provides much help.  However, the following points have proven to be helpful to me:

  1. Give yourself time to be sad, upset and even angry.  It is no fun being abandoned and the sadness factor increases with every broken dream, plan and goal that was set and ultimately tossed aside.  Find your place to release these emotions. Don’t be surprised if more than one trip is required, as it can take a while to push through this part of the healing process.
  2. Realize that you are not the only one being rejected.  Sadly, there are probably tens of thousands of people (if not more) suffering this same fate at any given time. The situation might not be exactly the same, but the emotions being felt are very similar.
  3. Believe that you will be happy again.  I know it can be impossible to believe it, but you will be happy again.  That is not to say that the sadness from the rejection will go away forever.  Honestly, there is a better chance that you will still have to face those emotions each and every day … just know it won’t be as hard as before.
  4. Face the fact that you were rejected and there is nothing you can do to change that reality.  In the cycle above, I found myself trying to figure out how/when/why the rejection happened.  Honestly, if you are affected by the rejection in a major way, there is a very good chance the core reason wasn’t because of you at all. Here, you have to realize the rejection is out of your control and there’s nothing you can do, but walk away.
  5. Pray and be thankful for what God has given you.  Remember, everything outside of your heart, soul and relationship with God are merely a source for temporary happiness.  I know that can sound a bit harsh – but what God has given us will always exceed whatever we believe we need in our lifetime.  Even better, by putting your faith in God, He will make sure you are on the right path … you just might not realize it right now.

Others have suggested that throwing yourself into work-related tasks or even a hobby are good things to help fend off the emotions associated with rejection.  However, in my case, neither helped me.  Even when I would be fully entranced with work, the emotions from being rejected still overwhelmed me to where I needed to escape, take a walk and let the tears flow.  When attempting to focus on music-related items, the memories of life before the rejection caused a sadness that was triggered just as the first note played reached my ears.  These might be suggestions to aide your recovery, but did not work well in my situation.

A song that has really helped me through all of this is “Busted Heart (Hold On To Me)” by King & Country.  The lyrics below really put things into perspective for me:

I am the wandering son
Enough is never enough
I keep chasing the wind
Instead of chasing Your love
I’m screaming out Your name,
Don’t let me fall on my face
I’ve got a busted heart
I’m in need of a change
Yeah, I’m desperate for grace

Broke Your heart a thousand times
But You’ve never left my side
You have always been here
For me

You never let me go
You never let me go
Don’t ever let me go

My goal with this entry is to complete a series of thoughts found within the following blog entries:

I truly hope these articles were insightful, helpful or enjoyable to read.  If nothing else, they helped me work through some very challenging emotions that I really wasn’t prepared to face at this phase of my life.  (Not that anyone really is ready for this kind of thing, right?)

I am planning to go a different direction with future blog entries … just not sure which direction I plan to go at this point.  I certainly welcome your comments, if you have any ideas or suggestions.

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Taking A Chance …

me14I recently participated in the annual E-gineering golf outing, which was held at the Golf Club of Indiana.  The weather turned out to be excellent for spending the day with my fellow co-workers and friends of E-gineering.

Our foursome ended up +4 on the day, which is not anything to brag about in the standard Florida Scramble format.  Of the 76 shots that comprised our score, I would guess I ended up taking about 62 strokes throughout the day. Thus, for our entire foursome, close to 250 shots were made.

When I wasn’t the one taking the shot, I would often stand at a distance and observe my fellow golfers as they first took a few practice swings and finally their actual swing. What I consistently noticed was the difference between the last practice swing and the actual swing made by the golfer – which made some form of contact with their golf ball.  Only in rare cases was the last practice swing worse than the actual swing.  Certainly, the pressure from actually hitting the ball introduces factors that are not apparent during the “practice swing” phase.

The obvious difference between a practice swing and an actual swing made me wonder how this same analogy applies in other aspects of our lives.

One easy example, still using a sports theme, is often found with the field goal kicker for a football team.  By attending a football game it is easy to see this same phenomenon at work.  Watching the field goal kicker during pregame will often result in very high success rates – even at long distances.  However, when the field goal matters and the result of the game is on the line, the pressure from actually making the field goal introduces factors that simply do not exist during the pregame warm-up session.

Stepping away from sports and focusing on the human emotion side, I believe this same phenomenon exists.

Consider the situation where a major decision is about to be made.  Prior to actually making the decision, the “practice swing” phase is in play as the mind begins to comprehend the situation and try to plan for a world on the other side of the decision.  At this point, things are pretty much stress-free as the individual can explore the possibilities with very low impact on their life or the life of others potentially impacted by the decision.

Just like in golf, the time between the last practice swing and the actual swing is when things start to get complicated.  The human mind naturally begins to introduce stress and additional factors (perhaps fear, uncertainty, doubt, guilt, etc.) into the decision – which did not exist during the “practice swing” phase of the process.

In the sports examples provided above, the golfer ended up taking the shot and the field goal kicker ended up attempting the kick, but with human emotions there is an alternative path – which is to simply not make the decision and to abandon the decision process all together.

Depending on the amount of time and effort that has been invested into the “practice swing” phase of the process, abandonment of the decision is a short-term solution at best.  When this happens, the mind has helped convince the individual to give the current situation one more chance.  That perhaps maybe everything isn’t as bad as originally thought, that the decision will impact too many people (so it is just best to leave things as they are), or maybe both are valid in the mind of the individual facing a decision to make.

While abandoning the decision might seem like it is the path of least resistance and something that can be tolerated, all the reasons that drove the individual towards wanting to make the decision in the first place will soon re-emerge to the forefront.  That not too long down the road, the individual will again face the crossroads of having to make that same decision again.

Two quotes that I wanted to share:

  • In the end, we regret the chances we didn’t take, relationships we were afraid to have and the decisions we waited too long to make.
  • A chance not taken is an opportunity missed.

The second quote truly applies to the golfer and the football kicker above.  The reason they actually take the swing or attempt the field goal is because they believe their attempt will be successful.  Additionally, if they don’t make an attempt, they have no way of knowing the result.

So, applying this to the human emotion side and the major decision example, it is important to keep in mind the conditions that led toward the “practice swing” phase of the process in the first place.  It is far easier to walk away from the decision and pretend that the world will be just fine without having to go down that path. However, doing so abandons the opportunity to have a better life experience. And all the other individuals, whom the individual thought were being protecting by not making the decision, could also be missing out on a far better life experience as well.

Taking a chance often includes risk, fear, uncertainty or other not-so-great emotions. However, not taking a chance can include these very same emotions … but also introduces the regret of not knowing how much better things could have been.

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