Never alone…

It was one of my grandmother’s biggest fears.

My grandpa passed away in his mid 70’s – which seems young these days. With his passing, my grandmother live by herself in their home for a number of years until she ended up in the hospital and then a senior’s residence.

That story is pretty common. Men passing away first and widows continuing to live after them on their own. But there is something about my grandma’s story for us today.

My grandma was always prepared for a challenge. She was willing to try things she had never done before. I got my driver’s license the same year she did. My grandfather was not able to drive anymore and she knew someone needed to be able to get them around so she got her driver’s license for the first time in her 70’s.  Grandma

But after my grandpa passed away, she was about to face a new challenge.

Even though there were children and grandchildren around who would visit her often and make sure she was doing okay, she was still living on her own in their old memory filled house.

I would often stop over just to see how she was doing and invariably would have to have a meal with her. She was extremely hospitable and loved to cook for family. One time we were talking, just catching up on what was happening, and we had a conversation which I will never forget.

She told me about a recent episode she had. She had been home and suddenly was not feeling well. We found out later she was likely having a small stroke. She remembered how she was in the living room when she didn’t “feel quite right”. The next thing she remembers was one of her family members calling out to her and she woke up not sure what had happened but was in her bedroom lying on the bed.

She later recalls being in the living room when this feeling came over her, but she has no recollection of how she got into her bed where she was found.

She recovered from that episode.

As she was telling me about it over lunch, I was aware of the event which had occurred, all of us as family were. But it was the rest of the story which was significant and stuck with me all these years later.

She revealed to me what went beyond the surface of the mystery of how she got into bed that day. She revealed her greatest fear.

After my grandpa had passed away she told me how she had always felt anxious about being on her own. Not because of doing the normal things she had always done, or having to do a little more being by herself. But she was anxious about what she would do if something significant happened to her and she didn’t have anyone else around to help her out. What would happen then? It was the greatest fear in her life. Until…

Until she found herself in her bed that day.

Everything changed after that moment. She was no longer afraid of being alone.

In her understanding of what happened she never did know how she got into her bed, but she realized God had allowed her to go through something quite uncomfortable only to show her how much He cared for the details of her life. When she found herself in her bed, the only thing she could think of was how God had protected her from her greatest fear and enabled her to be safe.

She didn’t fall and hurt herself. She didn’t lay on the floor unable to get to the phone and call for help (a very different era from today). She was kept in His care.

Every so often I will think of the experience of my grandma and the lesson it taught her and continues to teach me.

God sees the details of our lives.

He knows our coming and goings. He understands what we face and He helps us through them. Difficulties come and we may struggle under the weight of them, but He is always there with us. He walks with us through the challenges of life. He watches over us and is concerned about every part we face – even our greatest fears.

We are never alone – for He is present with us. It is a good reminder today.

Thanks grandma.

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“I Wish I Said…”

Have you ever been engaged in a conversation where shortly after it ended you wished it would have gone differently? You would have used different words?

Likely.

I prefer writing. I prefer having the time to formulate what I want to say. It allows me to choose my words precisely to say exactly what I want to convey. Writing is different than engaging in conversations. When you write you are able to edit, adjust and think very carefully about what you want to say before you press “publish”. Each week, before I post this, I will go through numerous drafts to say exactly what I want to say.

Conversations are different. hand_over_mouth

When you enter into conversations you need to be able to think on your feet. There is the give and take of responding to the other person based on what they say to you without a lot of time to think through your response. And sometimes you come away from your conversation wishing you had never said what you did – or wishing you would have responded in a much different manner.

In talking with someone yesterday, they told me how they found themselves in a conversation they didn’t know how to get out of. The longer it went on the harder and more uncomfortable they were feeling without knowing how to escape from it. They were trying to figure out what to say, but they were at a loss. They had no idea how to respond or what to say next. After the fact though, they were able to think of things they could have said – but in the moment – that is a different story.

This helped me. The person is very much an extrovert – someone who loves to talk and has no difficulty expressing themselves – most of the time at least. So if they at times struggled then…

It helped me.

Yesterday I did an interview, several actually, but one in particular. I have done a number of them over the years, but this one was a little different. It was considerably longer and was more of a conversation than your typical interview format.

Going into it I had a sense of what it was going to be asked and I knew some of what I wanted to focus on. But, the conversation started out differently than I expected. It got right into the issues as opposed to letting ease in and define myself.

I felt a little off guard right off the bat. You probably can’t notice. I wasn’t panicking but I wasn’t as comfortable as I thought I would be. As the interview went on there were several areas where my responses were what I wanted to convey. But there were a couple where I am not sure my answers were how I would respond on paper – given the chance to write them out as opposed to trying to responding “on the fly”.

When the 30 minutes was up, I walked away feeling “okay” but not “great” about what I had just shared. I thought of words, better ones, I could have used to respond to some of topics we talked about. And at the same time I was reminded of the instructions of Jesus.

As Jesus was conversing with His closest followers, they were curious about the future and what was going to take place. Amoung other things, Jesus spoke of a time when they would be accused of, challenged and brought to trial because of their faith. The consequences could be life threatening.

Under those circumstances you would want to be prepared. You want to have the right words for your defense to ensure you conveyed exactly what you need to say. Instead though, Jesus said this…

11 But when you are arrested and stand trial, don’t worry in advance about what to say. Just say what God tells you at that time, for it is not you who will be speaking, but the Holy Spirit. Mark 13:11 (NLT)

Jesus revealed to them that God, the Holy Spirit, is in the midst of our lives. It is the most important part of this. He also conveys how we may not know what to say, but He does. Our priority is to listen to His voice and yield to His leading as we speak, as we allow Him to speak through us.

Notice Jesus did not say “don’t prepare” for what you will say. He said, “don’t worry” about what you will say. In other words, don’t become anxious about what you are trying to convey but instead allow the Holy Spirit to be the one who guides your words.

And then when you are done… trust.

We tend to dwell on what we would have changed. After these kind of conversations our focus is often not on the many things we said which were impactful, but the one phrase we would have altered.

But at the end of the day, it is the Holy Spirit who brings to life the words we speak. That is, providing He is the One we are yielding our voice to.

So as we go through our day today and the many conversations we may have, remember Jesus’ words.

Boldness…

We know what it looks like.

If I were to ask you who is a bold person – likely someone would come to mind. We will think of the ones who demonstrate for us what the word means:

“A willingness to take risks and act innovatively; with confidence or courage.”

Boldness is not a common trait.

That could be in part why Star Trek became so popular. After all it’s famous mission was to “boldly go where no one has gone before.” It reveals an adventure, something beyond us, stepping into the unknown with courage.

boldnessPeople who demonstrate a confident, courageous nature, who put themselves out there are rare. Boldness implies strength and sometimes even aggressiveness. You might have heard the statement “Bold and Brash”.

However, I am not sure we have to be “brash” or borderline “arrogant” to be bold. Boldness is not a bad thing. We certainly need courage and confidence. They are required if we are going to take any degree of risk and without some risk it is hard to make a difference in the world. Pushing the limits though might be going too far.

I think at times we can appear to go beyond what is acceptable because we try and over compensate for our lack of confidence. In order to help us appear confident and courageous we push ourselves out there and it can come off as arrogant.

This has been on my mind these past few days as I try and muster my own courage and confidence. It is necessary as I step into a new place. (You can find more details about this new adventure at www.martensformp.wordpress.com )

This new journey has required me to call people I don’t know. Connect with people who I have never met. Put myself out there for people to either agree with or attack. As many of the regular readers will know, I am a natural introvert. The spotlight is not my natural place to go to which is quite alright for me.

Yet, over the years I have been in places where I have had to be in the spotlight. I have had to take the lead. And while it is not a comfortable place for me to go to I don’t shy away from it. I do my best to demonstrate boldness.

Those experiences have helped me to understand how people, those who try and demonstrate confidence, can overcompensate for not feeling very confident. I can  understand how attempting to appear confident and courageous can sometime create the impression of “arrogance” or being a “know-it-all”.

I have also learnt that boldness is best demonstrated when there is humility at the core of it. When our confidence comes not from within, but from a strength outside of us. One where we recognize our own weaknesses but do not let our weakness define us. Where we walk in the strength God has for us.

In a letter to the believer in Corinth, we read this statement about boldness. In 2 Corinthians 3:12 we read,

12 Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold. (NLT)

The new way being referred to is one where we are made right with God through Jesus. Paul was not advocating for boldness because of our own abilities or strengths. He is speaking of how Jesus gives us boldness – confidence, courage.

This boldness allows us to approach God with confidence. In a letter to the believers in Ephesus we read these words,

12 Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. Ephesians 3:12 (NLT)

This confidence comes because of Jesus’ presence in our lives. He gives us what we need to face what is beyond us.

In another letter to believers – this one called Hebrews we read these words,

16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:16 (NLT)

Boldness is required for specific moments in time.

The boldness we possess in approaching God is not because of how good we are or what we have accomplished. It is because of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. Walking in His strength and in His grace for us is where we find our confidence. We don’t have to be who we aren’t. We can boldly step forward knowing that He walks before us.

I have tried to live in this kind of boldness. And it is what I attempt to continue to do going forward.

Even if it is “going boldly forth where I have never gone before.”   

Fearful…

How fearful are you? How far away are you from having fear overtake you?

Fear is one of those emotions which can surface at almost any time. It doesn’t take much for us to suddenly be caught up in fear.

  • An event,
  • a phone call,
  • a situation,
  • a thought…

Each of these can become the trigger to move us from calm to fear. fear

Likely you have had it happen to you. Something arises and you find fear right there ready to rise to the surface of your life.

A number of years ago, when I was speaking to several hundred people, I asked them to write down what their greatest fears were. After collecting their responses I quickly examined them to see whether there were any commonalities or ones which particularly stood out.

I found the usual things when you examine people’s greatest fears:

  • fear of public speaking,
  • fear of the future,
  • fear of death,
  • fear of rejection.

But there were also ones which were much more personal. Some took this opportunity to provide what was just below the surface for them.

  • Fear of making the wrong choice,
  • fear of the results of a health test,
  • fear of their children’s choices.
  • And so on…

It revealed to me how at any moment we can be thrust from faith into fear. The prompts are everywhere and at any moment they can arise and push us there.

I know this to be the case as it has happened to me several times in the last week.

As I have written a number of times in recent weeks, I am facing changing circumstances in my life. What I have been doing for several years now has come to an end and with it some decisions about what to do next.

Being confronted with an uncertain future has not caused fear to overwhelm me. I have had a number of occasions in life where I have being confronted with the unknown of what to come. I have faced those times with confidence and have seen God’s faithfulness through them all.

However, this time, it seems different.

This time, “fear” not only shows itself, but seems ready to pounce.

I will have one conversation and faith will surface and then a few moments later have another one and fear is knocking trying to enter my mental space. “What am I doing? Should I pursue this direction? Shouldn’t I just stick with the easier path?”

These are questions which are ready to hit me at every turn. And they boil down to “fear” of what “could” occur. Fear of what “might” take place. Fear of “what if’s”.

Life is filled with those moments.

In God’s interactions with people we find scores of examples throughout history of people who were confronted with challenging moments. And over and over again we find familiar words given by God in the midst of these occasions.

“Fear not” or “Don’t be afraid”

Now depending on the translation you are reading you will find numerous instances where these words are spoken to people who were being confronted with challenging events in their lives. God’s encouragement to them was to not let fear overcome them. Instead be filled with courage – be filled with faith.

Many of these instances focused on how God promised to be present as they go through what is set before them. And in many of these instances it was as they faced situations, many of which moved them beyond their comfort, many which stretched them, many which required faith, where God stepped in to meet them.

In the translation I read from, there are over 240 instances where people are told “Don’t be afraid”. That is a lot of reminders – about one for every weekday in the year.

There is a reason for that.

We need the reminders.

We need to be encouraged to set fear aside and instead have faith rise to the surface of our lives. These individuals who were encouraged to have faith are in many cases familiar names to us. Joshua, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Mary, Paul, Timothy and so on. But they are only household names because they walked in faith and not fear.

It is unlikely we would have heard of Joshua if it wasn’t for the fact he heeded the words of God to him to have courage – something which God repeated to him over and over again until he set fear aside.

It makes me wonder if at this point the reason for my own confrontations with fear is because God is teaching me what it means to have faith in Him at a time when much of my future is about to change.

Is it easier to stay where I am and not move in a new direction? Absolutely. But overcoming fear is not about comfort it is about walking in faith regardless of the outcome.

I am going to step into that place one moment at a time.

Friends…

How many friends do you have?

WAIT!

Before you quickly go to open your Facebook, LinkedIn,  Snap Chat, Twitter, or whatever social media platform you use – WAIT!

Don’t go there yet before you read on.

There is a strong temptation these days to gather as many friends or followers as we possibly can through our social feeds. There is a theory behind that. The assumption is the more friends we have the more value we also have.

When we post something, our “friends” and “followers” see it. They can choose to respond to it, like it, or give some other reaction. The more reactions the better. We get noticed. We start to “trend”. We feel more important. We start gaining more “followers” or “friends”. We feel more valued.

The goal shifts. We become focused on increasing our value through the number of people who “like” us or “like” what we have to say. This increases our worth. This adds to increased numbers of “followers” or “friends” making us feel more important.

There are ways to enhance our posts. There are tools to grab greater attention and grow our friend or follower lists. There are subtly and not so subtly ways to make sure we get noticed. Again, as the theory goes, this will make the end goal possible. You will become more important, or more valuable to society. Your worth will increase.

Or so the theory goes.

But how many “friends” do you actually have?

I heard someone recently speak about how we are only capable of having a limited number of friends. We only have the capacity to have a small number of really close friends. It is how we are wired.

Friends are those people we can count on when we are faced with difficult circumstances. People who will be there no matter what. People who we can be ourselves with at all times. There is only a handful or two at the most, of those kind of friends in our lives.

These will be the people who see us as valuable regardless of what we can do for them. They will stick by us even when we lose those things which make us feel important. They will be there when we fall on our face as well as when we succeed.

They are friends.

So how many of those do you have?Peggy's Cove

This week I was thinking about all the people I know. It is quite a list. It spans different places, contexts, and varying degrees of relationships, from people I have worked with, gotten to know well or not so well.

It is quite broad and diverse.

But it also made me ask – who of this long list are my friends? Who are those who I will go to when there is a crisis? Or when I need encouragement? Or when I need to make a decision? Who will I talk to then?

That list is much, much shorter.

Those friends are harder to come by.

They may be on my list of “friends” or “followers” but they are on a special list of “go to” people I need in my life.

As has been said, “A friend is one who knows you and loves you just the same.”

I hope you have at least one of those kind of friends. If you do you are blessed.

In fact all you need is one of those kind of people in your life. There is a Proverb which says,

24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24 NIV)

This proverb speaks to One who will be there in all circumstances. It is not about how many companions we have it is about the kind of friend we need.

Jesus desires that kind of relationship with us. Where He is one of our friends. Someone we go to at all times. Someone we look to and depend on. Someone who may not hit “like” for everything we say or do, but who will always hit “love” when it comes to us.

Do you have Him as your friend?

If you do that counts more than the 1000’s of “friends” we may have.

You can now go check how many friends you have – if you really need to.

 

Rest and Relaxation (R&R)

There is an  old proverb that says, “Vacations are good for the soul.”

Okay so it is not an ancient proverb, but it certainly should be.

Everyone needs a vacation, a time to find rest. A time to be renewed and refreshed from the stress of life. All of us have a degree of stress. (Although some of you are thinking  “going on a vacation will add even more to an already stressful life” – if so just stick with me).

Each of us need to be renewed. It is essential if we are going to feel healthy and whole.

This is especially the case when our stressors (those things which produce stress in our lives) reach significant levels.

While living brings about stress, there are moments in our lives when we are faced with more stress than at other times. As these pile up we can get to the place where a vacation becomes necessary for our health. Without a release of some kind we will be affected physically and mentally. Vacation

I am on my way back home as part of a much needed break. In the past few weeks my wife and I have travelled about 8,000 kilometers with another few thousand to go.

In the course of our being away was a conference – the motivation for the trip – which, while enjoyable, added a large degree of stress to my life as it took place.

However, now that it is over and we are making our way back home, I am finally able to de-stress and enjoy some rest and relaxation.

For me travelling is relaxing. As much as driving down busy highways can seem to facilitate stress, I actually find it relaxing. Seeing new places, going down the highway for me is a stress reliever. It allows me time to think.

I realize all of us are different. Each of us have different triggers to de-stress our lives. Some need to go to one place where they can do little. Others find working in the garden, or reading or… the list is endless of those things which enable de-stressing to occur.

lake erieThe point is we all need opportunities to find rest for our souls.

And as much as we can take a vacation, do what we know removes stress from our lives, we can still experience stress if we miss these words of Jesus.

28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 (NLT)

Jesus knows how desperately we need to find rest. How our soul requires having the weight, the stress of life to be lifted from us – especially when it gets to be too much. And so He invites us to come to Him. Look to Him. Rest in Him. Trust Him. Do those things and rest will come.

With many of us planning to take time to de-stress over the few months – however we do that. We need to know it requires more than getting away, doing what helps us relax. It requires finding the One who brings true rest for our souls – Jesus.

May you find rest.

 

 

 

A Good Story…

Everyone has a past. Do you want to talk about yours?

Is your past something you like to celebrate? Or does dwelling on it cause you to change the subject? Is your past something you would rather avoid?

I have been on the road this week.

As I traveled I saw many places which have a story. Looking at them as you speed by you can speculate on what their story is. How people live in this particular part of the world. But unless you stop and listen you are merely speculating. You really don’t know. Each location however is filled with history. jack's

Some tell a positive story – one of progress. From the outside you witness what appears to be a continuing story of a place moving toward a bright future.

Others, appear to have had their “brightness” occur some time ago. What currently exists is less than positive. There are signs that at one time they were thriving places but now it can best be described as depressing.

In both cases however, there is a story to tell – if we only stop long enough to listen.

Things didn’t get to where they are overnight. Time impacted the success and the tragedy of these communities, places. In some cases it was a series of decisions which caused the community to thrive and in others to struggle. There were decisions to do or not do certain things which impacted their story.

In other cases natural environments, the land, the water supply, the minerals, the affects of weather, impacted their future either positively or negatively. Success or struggle was based on what they were facing from the natural world around them.

In some situations their future was impacted by champions who stepped beyond the odds to overcome obstacles and reach success. Or it was a lack of champions to encourage and support a community which led to its less than bright present.

Whatever the steps or circumstances – a story was being written.

Traveling by you simply get a glimpse. It is only when you stop and listen do you really begin to unravel the whole story. It is only when you ask the right questions and get the full story do you begin to understand why and how things got to where they are.

Part of my journey included hearing the underlying story. How one decision, impacted generations to come. How the ability to adapt or remain stuck left a lasting legacy. How embracing innovation brought success or shunning it led to continued shortcomings.

The phrase, “one thing led to another” was aptly used to describe, in one case, this century long story of steady decline.

And while this is used to describe places and communities, the same can be used to describe us as people.

Each one of us has a story. We have a past. And it has impacted our present.

However, finding our story means doing more than driving by. It requires stopping and listening.

There are many times we merely speculate. We see someone and we assume “why.” We assume we know what has led to their specific situation. We assess their story without really knowing it. “They are how they are because…” We fill in the blanks without really knowing.

We observe what we do and we speculate on the back story. Or to put it another way, we “judge the book by the cover”. We are told not to, but the temptation is powerful. Our impressions, our observations of the “outward appearance” lead us to conclusions that we somehow know the truth.

Nothing could be farther from it.

God has warned us about making assessments based on what we see or think is reality. Where we as people look on the “outward appearance” God looks “on the heart”. He sees what we cannot see from the surface. He knows what is going on inside, something we cannot discover until we listen.

We tend to make more assumptions than we should.

But this goes both ways.

Jesus also warned about those who made themselves out to be people of impeccable character – or so it seemed. Yet, He described them as “white washed tombs”. Looked wonderful on the outside but were filled with “dead people’s bones”.

I wonder if we have heard the warning?

My travels this week have made me realize how easily we can assume without really knowing what is going on. We just guess. We allow our first impressions, our assumptions to become the story.

And yet…

Until we stop long enough to hear the story, until we spend enough time discovering what has actually gone on we are merely speculating. We are assuming what we should never assume.

While our past does impact our future we may not always have a full understanding of our past. Maybe we should look closer. Maybe we need to spend more time listening that assuming. So…

What’s your story?

 

 

Another Year…

Today I turn 55.

Since I started sharing my thoughts in a weekly “Reflection” this is the first time I am posting on my birthday.

Thanks for all the birthday wishes and thoughts you are passing my way. I do appreciate them. FullSizeR (2)

As you may be aware birthdays are a big deal to me – not so much my own – but birthdays in general. I enjoy using them as an opportunity to make a great meal of the honoree’s choice. I enjoy preparing what they like best hoping they will feel special and loved. And often when people go to the trouble of doing the same for me I feel the love.

While birthdays are special, I have found my perspective on aging, my aging, is changing. There was a time when I would do as little as I needed to do on my birthday. I wanted it to be as free as possible so I could celebrate. When someone called me to go for coffee or lunch I would be free to go. I would be free to accept the invitation to go golfing or something else that would be fun.

And frequently those calls and invitations would come.

But as time has gone on, and particularly in recent years when I spend a lot more time with large groups of people and very little time with some select friends, I am less concerned about being free for what feels like any other day.

The calls are seldom, invitations are rare.

This didn’t happen suddenly, it just gradually became less and less important with each passing year. Maybe that is natural. Maybe as we age we see birthdays less and less as events to be celebrate and more and more they become reminders we are getting older.

There was a time when I would think carefully about another year of my life taking place. It would be like the turning the page on a calendar like starting a new year – a fresh opportunity to chart my future. But again, gradually, that feeling has subsided. My birthday has become like another other day in a series of days.

Except this year.

This year seems different.

I know that sounds strange given this is posted with most of the day yet to come. However, the significance of this birthday is greater this year – certainly greater than most of my recent ones.

I can’t put my finger on why that is. But it feels different.

I could speculate as to why.

Maybe it is because 55 means I can order off of the senior’s menu in a number of restaurants or get a discount. I have reached the age where I will be treated differently. I will be a senior. I will have found that freedom…freedom 55 and all.

Not convinced?

Me either. But something is different. Something makes this year different. This mark in my life feels more important than the last several years and birthdays.

It could be that this year feels to be more significant because it will be a year of change. My life’s direction will be altered this year and it will determine where my future will be for years to come. So the combination of turning a year older and facing a transition in life may be what adds to the importance of the year.

Regardless of the reason it has made me think. It has made me think about something the Psalmist wrote about life. In Psalm 90:12 we read these words,

12 Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. (NLT)

With each passing day, with each passing year, we get closer to the end of our lives. We get fewer opportunities to gain wisdom and insight into life. Fewer chances to become wiser than we had the year before.

I don’t know what the next 365 days will hold. I am sure there will be days where I will be overjoyed and others where I will be disappointed. There will be days of triumph and defeat. But that is the point.

To be taught to understand how brief life is we have to face different places and times. We have to be exposed to challenges and opportunities. We have to learn what matters most and what is less important.

It is part of what helps us realize what life is all about.

So here’s to a year of learning to live in wisdom.

 

 

Becoming Independent…

It is that time of year. It is the time when we recognize students who have found success in high school and earn their diploma. It is time for Graduation.

Typically in Canada graduates complete their school year at the end of June. I know in other parts of the world that is different. Some graduations occur a few weeks ago when the school year ends. Other parts of the world are in their winter months and so school is in full swing. Graduate

Regardless of when it occurs, graduations are milestones.

High school graduations in particular are significant moments not only for the students who receive their diplomas but for their families as well. How significant are they?

That depends.

I have attended and participated in dozens of graduations. I have seen countless students walk across the stage and receive the piece of paper signifying their accomplishment.  Some have made a big deal out of this moment, others not so much.

Graduation ceremonies vary greatly. Some are very filled with Pomp and Ceremony,  others are more family type atmospheres. There are many factors determining the nature of the event. Everything from community traditions, to the size of the school, to the importance families and communities place on schooling. But, in all cases some things are common.

The look on parents faces for example. Some have this immense pride which is written all over their face. Some have this look of shock or surprise – they can’t believe their daughter or son has made it through this part of their lives. Having been a parent of a graduate – three times – I understand the feeling of pride and joy when each of my daughters walked on that stage. I have also seen a few tears of joy being wiped away.

Another commonality is that no matter where the event occurs it is seen as a milestone. It signifies moving from one stage of life to the next. A time to be celebrated.

Where I live it is a weekend of celebrating. The graduation ceremony itself is only a small part of the larger emphasis on celebrating the graduate and their life. After all, there is a recognition that once high school is over a significant change occurs. Life will never be the same again.

I know how much that sounds much like a cliché.

Only in this case it is true. Once high school is completed a new, a very different chapter of life begins. High School graduation is a moment of transition, a rite of passage toward independence. You are now a graduate. You are becoming an adult. You are moving forward on your own. And while you still rely on your families for many things, you have stepped toward being much more independent.

It is an exciting transition. Or at least the thought of it is.

Being able to make my own decisions and do what I think is best sounds appealing. Having independence – where no one can tell me what to do or where to go is desirable. Only, it can become taxing as well. As time goes on being independent isn’t all its cracked up to be.

Independence is great when the choices are easy. Independence,  when life gets hard, complex or confusing, is not so much fun. Who do you turn to in those moments? How independent are you in those times?

My kids still ask me about things. They still ask for help in certain circumstances because making some decisions on their own is not easy. In fact, I still discuss some of the decisions I make with my parents – even though my graduation was more than 35 years ago.

This becoming independent promises more than it often delivers. In fact we will continue to need, rely on and look for others to stand with us throughout our lives. There will be moments where we will want to be more dependent than independent.

So where do we turn in those moments?

Not only for graduates who are stepping into a new place, but for all of us regardless of how long it has been since we have received our piece of paper, where do we turn? Sometimes it feels like no one is there. All the people who we look to for support are missing in action. What do we do?

Fortunately, God has made it clear for us that we never have to be totally on our own. It became clear to the nation of Israel that God was going to be there for them. In Deuteronomy 31 we read these words,

6 So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 (NLT)

This last sentence is quoted again by a follower of Jesus who in Hebrews 13 uses the same line to reassure us of this promise by God. “I will never, never fail you nor forsake you.” 

We will never be abandoned or left totally on our own – even though at times we might feel that way. God is there for us. Our independence does not need to be completely apart from His presence in our lives. In fact He will be there for us when we need Him the most.

If you are watching graduates receive their diplomas in the next few weeks I would encourage you to be reminded of how this milestone toward independence is to be celebrated. But we should also remember that while we seem to desire independence we will always need someone in our lives.

And fortunately God is always there for us.

I’m Fine…

“How are you doing?”

Few questions create automatic responses like this one.

An automatic response is an answer which requires little thought. It just comes out. It is the kind response to a question where little thought is involved, little time passes by and the answer is blurted out.

This question solicit that kind of response. how are you

In part because it is asked often. And so you likely have your favorite auto-response.

“Fine. Good. Outstanding. If it got any better I couldn’t stand it. Better than I deserve.”

These are a few of the ones I hear often. In fact, I can picture the people who respond in each of these specific ways if I ask “how they are doing”. Their response comes out immediately – without much thought or assessment of how they actually are in the moment. Their response is automatic.

Which makes me wonder about the accuracy of it.

Can you always be “good”? Or always be “better than ever”?

Not likely.

But the alternative is to pause long enough to think about how we are really doing and then to be vulnerable enough to actually reveal our true feelings.

Most of the time, questioning how someone is, is just for conversation purposes. We don’t ask because we really want to know we just want to be polite and be friendly.

If our relationship is deeper, we might ask because we really do want to know. And we might actually let ourselves be vulnerable enough to reveal our true thoughts and feelings.

But most of the time the question is merely to start or continue a conversation. And the response is an automatic one.

In my thinking about this very common part of our conversations I cannot help but wonder if our lack of realism is a symptom of something more important. Does this automatic response reveal something deeper about us? Does it point toward our isolation or detachment from others? I wonder.

Hardly a week goes by these days without hearing someone’s story of their struggles to fit in, to cope, to keep going. These struggles are very real. The consequences are significant.

We sadly hear of some life altering or tragic circumstances in someone’s life as their attempts to fit in, belong or cope  were overwhelming. They couldn’t see their way forward. We hear their stories, if they have a recognizable name that is, or if they are in some high profile position.

But what we don’t often hear about are the scores of people who wrestle to find their place in this world. The ones who live in your neighborhood who struggle or who live in your own home.

It has become a common practice to provide a label to these struggles. That way we can try and lessen the stigma of the pain. “They have some mental health issues.” The acknowledgement is more frequent these days. In an attempt to aid us in the conversation and lessen the automated responses to our struggles we are talking more about them.

Identifying the issues can make the problems easier to talk about. We can put a name to it rather than just feeling awkward or going into our automatic responses when we do not really feel how we say we do.

This question, “How are you?” is one where I find many, many people remain detached. They struggle to get past their feeling of isolation, or lack of belonging. They wrestle with figuring out where they fit. They are challenged with their own mental health.

This is not an observation of people out there. It is an observation of people. Period.

All of us, me included, have challenges to our mental health each day. Situations occur which challenge our own health or how we think and we struggle. After a while, the struggles subside and we can carry on in a better, a healthier frame of mind. But for that moment we are struggling.

It is part of being human.

But so is trying to appear like we have everything together. It is also human to avoid showing weakness. It is also human to have our exterior look different than our interior, where we show strength even though we are breaking inside.

Attempting to be strong when we are in need of help, thinking we can handle things when we cannot, reveals something we may not accept as part of our character. However, it really does reveal who we are.

It is part of our humanness. An ugly part. One showing pride, arrogance, deception, lies.

There are a host of reasons why we may struggle. Sometimes it is because of how we think. Other times it is the result of others and the impact they have on our lives. Sometimes it is our particular circumstances. We differ in how we get to this place of struggle, but all of us will get there at some point.

Which is the point. Since we all get there, how do we move from struggling to health? The path there may be different, but getting healthy again requires a common first step.

Jesus said this

 28 … “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28–30 (NLT)

His invitation is particularly for us who struggle. He isn’t looking for people who have it all together in their lives or who have the right answer to the question – How are you? He looks for people who know they need someone who they can honestly turn to. Someone who can support them, carry them, teach them, sustain them and help them with life.

Like you and me.

So regardless of where you are at this moment – we can find a path forward. Jesus.