Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy New Year! Now, leave the past in the past



It's almost time to ring in the new year. Looking back, this year has been a year of many ups and downs for me. I'm sure many of you can relate. Life is like that. We take the good with the bad, and then we press on. The key here is that we press on.

In the past, pressing on has been the difficult part for me. I have a tendency to get caught up in thinking too much about past events. It's a dangerous rabbit hole to fall into, for sure. The descent into darkness is often quick, and getting out of it can feel like climbing a mountain. It is best to focus on the future, rather than try to live in the past.

Honestly, I'm still a work in progress in this area, but I continue to try. To me, this is the beauty of celebrating the new year. It's not just good a time to spend time with family and friends; it's a great time to leave the past in the past and look to the future. A new year brings new opportunities. The new year is a new chance to live the life you want, rather than think about how everything went wrong in the past year.

We can't change our past, but we can take what we have learned and move forward. New year means new beginnings. It's time to make all those changes for the better. I don't just mean resolutions that will fall away in a few weeks, either. Set some big goals, dare to dream big, and really go out there and live the life you always hoped was possible. Let nothing hold you back, especially not bad memories from the past.

Happy New Year, my friends! Let us welcome 2014 and leave 2013 where it belongs. Make new memories and make your dreams come true. Be blessed. See you in 2014!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

My Favorite Christmas Songs

I was having an interesting conversation with a friend recently. We were talking about our favorite Christmas stuff, particularly the things that make Christmas feel like Christmas for us. I noticed that many people like similar things, but there is usually some variation that is slightly different. These variations are what makes a song, movie, or item feel personal. It's what triggers the memories or invokes that special feeling we are looking for. When that part is missing, we definitely feel it. For example, many people like the same Christmas songs, but they may prefer hearing that song sung by a specific artist and no one else. So, in the spirit of the season, here are some of my favorite Christmas songs.

Having grown up in the 80's and 90's, it's hard to get away from this Christmas classic:



I've heard many different covers of this song over the years, but I don't care for any of them. For me, it has to be Mariah singing. Hearing it reminds me of my younger years, back when I actually liked Christmas. However, this is by no means my favorite Christmas song. My favorite Christmas song is "The Christmas Waltz" by Frank Sinatra, and it has to be Frank Sinatra.
 


Hearing Sinatra sing reminds me of my grandparents. It's been a long time since they were around to celebrate Christmas. Being around family and celebrating together was really important to them. It hasn't been important to anyone else in my family since they passed, but I hope to pass on these values to my kids.

I am also fond of "Merry Christmas Darling" by the Carpenters. This one is the one that reminds me of my childhood. Moreover, Karen Carpenter's voice just can't be replicated. It really is a beautiful song. Her voice was so unique.



I had to put this one on the list...
 


I love this version of "The Christmas Song." A lot of other singers sing this song well, but it never feels the same. I just feel like Nat King Cole's voice adds something to this song that just is not present when others sing it.

Of course, my list would not be complete without a traditional Christmas song. One of the reasons I have been trying to get into celebrating Christmas is because of my children. This is one that my son's school does every year in the Christmas program. The little kids always steal the show. This version of "Away in a Manger" is very close to the way it sounds in the program.



Well, these are a few of my favorite Christmas songs. These are the songs that make Christmas feel like Christmas to me. Without them, the holiday would feel incomplete, for sure. These are the songs that generate the memories and feelings that make the holiday feel special to me. Mind you, I'm not much of a Christmas person, but I do still enjoy some parts of the season. Please take a moment to tell me about some of your favorites, and why? Just a few more days to go. Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Doing Christmas Differently

As I have said before, I am not a Christmas person at all. I'm trying to be, but it's not an easy process. I watch the movies, listen to the music, and go to the various parties. My house is decorated; my kids do all of the Christmas activities. Yet, I still have trouble getting into the spirit of Christmas.

It seems the older I get, the more I feel like Christmas loses its meaning. The holiday becomes more about spending money than anything else. More and more, I feel like Christmas is about companies squeezing every last dime out of consumers. I know, I know, I sound like a Grinch; but, dare I say, even the Grinch is being used to sell products. Everywhere I look, there is someone trying to sell me something Christmas-related as if there is no way that my Christmas will be complete without that one product.

This year, I'm trying to do things differently. This year, I'm still feeding, talking to, and providing whatever I can for the homeless in my community. Instead of spending a truckload of money on stuff, I donated a truckload of new toys to a church other than my own. I got some fancy handmade mugs as gifts for some of my family, but I got them by donating money to an organization that provides clean water in other countries. A local artist made them specifically for this purpose.

The season isn't over yet, but I feel like focusing on giving to others is the best decision I have made in a while. You can't go wrong investing in people. Eventually, the music will stop, the gifts will be put away, and the parties will end, but the memories will last a lifetime. Seeing a smile on the face of a homeless person, giving toys to children who may not receive anything else this year, and making Christmas about people instead of products is more important to me than having the latest must-have gift. I am also reminded that: while I do not have much, I still have a lot more than many others.

Ten days until Christmas, and I still have much to do. I hope you are all enjoying the holiday season. If you can, take some time to do something kind for a stranger. I can promise you: no matter how small the gesture may seem to you, it can make all the difference in the world to someone in need. Have a wonderful week everybody!

Monday, December 2, 2013

My first experience using KDP Select Free Promotional Days (Updated)

On Black Friday, I ran my first KDP Select Promotion Day. I know many of you are wondering how that is possible. I chose not to enroll my first book in KDP Select. I decided to sell my first book on iTunes, Nook, and Kobo. In all honesty, I didn't know what I was doing. I was learning as I was going along and trying everything out.

With book two, I decided to go with Amazon because I have had the most success through the Kindle Store. Over the last few months, I have heard many good and bad things about enrolling in KDP Select, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I decided to go with just one day to start off. I submitted my information to promote my free day on five sites I learned about from others on Twitter. I also submitted info on one site that only takes submissions on the day of the promotion. The only thing I did in addition was make sure to tell others about my free day on Facebook and Twitter.

Seeing as how I did not put in too much effort, I am pleased with the results. Beyond Demons and Protectors made it into the Top 10 free books for that day. I gave away 200 books. I'm slowly getting some reviews and people contacting me about the book. My first book also received a boost in sales. Overall, I would say my experience with KDP Select Free Promotion was positive. This last month of book promotion has definitely been much better than my experiences with the first book, which was so stressful I wasn't sure I wanted to write a second book. The only major problem I encountered this time was when the book initially showed up for free on the Amazon site. It took almost two hours before the book showed up as free, but after that, no major problems.

I'll get a chance today to see if the positive results continue. I am running another free promotion on KDP Select for Cyber Monday. I'll be sure to let everyone know how this one goes. Hopefully, the results will be good. If not, I will be sure to write about those experiences as well. Have a wonderful week, everybody!

Update - December 8, 2013:

I ran another free promotion on Cyber Monday. My results were not as good as they were on Black Friday. I still managed to give away another 100 books. My book made it to #8, which I was really happy to see. I observed a small bump in sales in both my first and latest book sales, afterward; however, the bump did not last long, and I have not received any new reviews this past week.

I can't be sure if the decrease in free sales was a result of the day or timing of my promotions with any accuracy. Overall, I am pleased with the results. It took a little work, but nothing outrageous. I have a few more free promotion days left to use. I need to look at what worked and what didn't, and then choose the next days for promotion.

One thing I can say is giving my book away for free did help me a lot in spreading the word about my book. A lot of people have been asking questions, telling me what they liked, and are recommending their book to their friends. I still feel the best promotion is word of mouth, of course. Only time will tell just how much more word of mouth I actually gained as a result of free promotions. I think things are going fairly well, especially considering my second book has not been out for very long.

I will be sure to keep you all posted about how my future promotions turn out. Thank you to everyone who helped me over the cyber weekend. I could not have accomplished anything without you. Number 8 is pretty darn good, even if my time in the top 10 was fairly short. Have a wonderful week, everybody!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Making sure to give thanks

I can't believe it is Thanksgiving already. Where has the time gone? This has been a year of ups and downs for me. In life, it is all too easy to get caught up in focusing on the bad and forgetting to be thankful for all that is good in my life. Thankfulness is essential. Giving thanks changes your heart. It takes your heart from a place of want to a place of praise. If you can remember to be thankful during the difficult times, you can find peace in the midst of life's storms.

I know when I spend too much time thinking about the things I want versus being thankful for all that I already have my heart is not in the right place. It's funny; I read a meme the other day that said: "November...the month where people who have complained on Facebook for the past 11 months become thankful for 30 days." I laughed, of course; but there is some truth in that statement. This should not be. Being thankful should be an all the time thing, not a seasonal one.

I have been blessed with plenty, even in the times when I have been the most down. The blessings may not have always been evident to me at the time, but looking back, I can see where the blessings were. I can pick out times when the words of a friend lifted me back up. I see the times where I thought I just could not go on, but somehow I made it through. There were definitely times where the kindness of strangers made all the difference in the world. I am thankful for all of these moments and the people who helped me make it through.

I'm still a work in progress in this area. I still need reminders to be thankful, so this is a good week for this post. One day I hope I will be able to be thankful during any situation in life, but I'm not there yet. Life can be crazy sometimes, but when I take the time to focus, I do find I almost always have something to be thankful for. Sometimes I am too blind to see it, but when I do, I really do find peace in the middle of life's storms. During this Thanksgiving week, I hope you will too.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

'Tis the season...already?

I've never been much of a Christmas person. I was when I was a kid, but numerous bad experiences over the years have turned me into a bit of a Scrooge. I know what you are thinking: a pastor who doesn't care for Christmas, is that possible? I like the meaning of it all, but I prefer to let the holiday pass me by if I can. Recently, I have been working on changing my perspective of the holiday season.

Up until a few years ago, I relied heavily on my Christmas ambassador. No joke, I have a friend that loves Christmas enough for the both of us. Whenever anyone would try to talk to me about anything Christmas related, I would refer them to my Christmas ambassador, who handles all of my Christmas dealings. My Christmas ambassador is still around, but I am putting a lot more effort into turning myself into an actual Christmas person. Needless to say, I'm still a work in progress in this area.

I just don't have that deep-rooted love of Christmas that a lot of people have. So, now about why I am writing this post. The way Christmas is becoming more and more commercialized makes it difficult for a person like me to get into the spirit of things. There was a time when I could count on the local radio station switching to Christmas music on or after Thanksgiving day. The lights go up around town around the same time, and stores put out all of their Christmas stuff.

This year, I saw Christmas stuff out before Halloween. I have been receiving ads for Black Friday for weeks now. To make matters even stranger, the local radio station that normally plays Christmas music around Thanksgiving started playing Christmas music today. This is crazy! When did we start celebrating Christmas so early? At this rate, in a few years we will be starting Christmas celebrations in the middle of summer, instead of December. The term "Winter Wonderland" will be a distant memory.

To each their own, I guess? I have friends that don't mind Christmas starting earlier and earlier. It might be just me, but I think when a holiday like Christmas becomes too commercialized the holiday loses meaning. If a holiday becomes meaningless, is there any need to continue to celebrate the holiday? You see my predicament? How am I supposed to get into the Christmas spirit when all of the wonderful things about the Christmas season is being stripped away so retailers can turn a profit?

I really want to be that adult that holds on to his inner child and celebrates Christmas joyfully. I want to be that person who learns the meaning of Christmas like the folks in the movies. I especially want to celebrate Christmas to the fullest like Clark Griswold or Elf for my children, but it sure is difficult. Anyway, enjoy your holiday season, my friends. Wish me luck, this could be the year I actually enjoy Christmas!

Monday, November 11, 2013

What a week...it's time for me to give back

This past week was filled with numerous highs and lows. My family and I celebrated a baby's first birthday, which is huge in Hawaii. The only celebrations larger than first birthdays here are weddings. We spent time with close friends who are going through some rough times of their own. To cap it all off, my wife and I held a baby shower at our house - yeah, we might be crazy, trying to cram all of that into one weekend, and we have a holiday tomorrow too!

I spent much of this day reflecting on the different parts of life I was blessed to witness: joy, new life, birthdays, depression, and severe illness. The part that stands out to me is the people I walked through these events with. Sometimes life is tough, but having people that you can rely on and lean on during the difficult times and celebrate with during the joyful times makes all the difference in the world.

I am very privileged to be a part of many programs that benefit others. I work with youth in the community, serve the homeless, work with the addicted, and many other programs. It really is a joy to be a part of so many programs and reach so many different people. This week I am giving back. All of the proceeds from my books, Beyond Heights and Depths and Beyond Demons and Protectors, will be donated to support these various programs.

100% of the proceeds will be donated. You can help by purchasing one of my books. You get a book, and every penny I earn will go toward programs that benefit youth, young adults, the homeless, and every other program I work with. You can also help me by spreading the word. Tell a friend, send a book as a gift, I appreciate any and all help. If you really can't, I hope you will at least look for an opportunity to do something kind for someone in your community. Have a wonderful week, friends!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A case of the "what if's?"

Over the weekend, I released my second book. I knew I was going to have problems with this release date because I did not have time to do the promos that I wanted. We are still awaiting results on the exact nature of my son's blood disorder. His medical needs are the priority, not my book. Nevertheless, I felt I could still release my book because I at least had some experience in this area with my first book.

Oh boy was I ever wrong. I'm not sure if it is just me, but I felt just as anxious about the release of this book as I did the first one. In fact, I am still freaking out a little--Lol. It really is an amazing process to take something you worked hard on and let it out for the world to see. I don't think it is a feeling I will ever completely get used to, and I still have one more to go in this series.

I'm pretty sure most of my anxiety is because of fears of the "what if's?" What if I do this? What if I do that? What if I fail? We all know what it is like to get a case of the "what if's?" However, it is very important to not let a case of the "what if's?" get in the way of you reaching your goals. There's nothing wrong with making sure everything is in order, but it does become a major problem if you are unable to accomplish anything because you are too worried about failing.

It really is better to try and fail than to never try at all. I'm nowhere near as successful as I would like to be one day, but I do pretty well. I've made the bestseller list a few times. I have some fans. Unfortunately, a person who never tries gains absolutely nothing. Whatever it is you hope to achieve in life, go after it with everything you've got. Do not let a simple case of the "what if's?" prevent you from reaching your goals. Keep trying your best, and whatever you do, do not give up before you have a chance to succeed. Have a great week, friends!

"Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."  -Thomas Edison

Monday, October 28, 2013

Sometimes, doing good deeds hurts...

This past week, I have been thinking about a comment someone made about the work I do with the less fortunate in my community. It's pretty much common knowledge that I receive a lot of criticism, rude comments, and even threats as a result of my work with the homeless. However, the comment I received recently was veiled in a different way than the usual remark. This particular person told me, "You only do the work you do to feel good about yourself. You might think you're better than the rest of us, but you're not."

I don't think I am better than anyone, but I will admit that I do feel pretty good after a good day of helping others, most of the time. I say most of the time because there are days that completely break my heart. There are days that helping others takes a tremendous toll on me. It's hard to hear about the anguish of a person who lost everything. It's hard to listen to a young person talk about the abuse they encountered at home, which is the reason he/she lives on the street. There are days that make me wonder: what is happening to the world we live in?

I'll tell you what, though; sometimes, doing good deeds hurts...you need to do them anyway. Some days are going to be harder than others, but keep trying. I have a lot of hard days, but the good always outweighs the bad. I have seen the miraculous change that can occur from one small act of kindness. One small act of kindness can change a person's entire world. Believe me, I have been there. I don't know where I would be had I not been on the receiving end of a few random acts of kindness over the years.

Keep trying to be the change you want to see in the world. Don't give up. One good deed can make a significant difference, even if we can't immediately see how. There will always be haters, but don't let them deter you from doing good in the world. Alright, stepping off my soapbox now. Have a wonderful week, friends.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cover Reveal: Beyond Demons and Protectors by Christian Brown

This week, I am very pleased to bring you the cover for Beyond Demons and Protectors, which will be released on November 2, 2013 in the Amazon Kindle Store

The amazing story of soul mates, Ash and Emmett, continues in book two of the exciting Beyond Heights and Depths Trilogy

Life should be wonderful for Emmett and Ash. They have done the impossible. Against all odds, they have traveled to the depths and back, faced the Master, and even cheated death to remain together. But their relationship is becoming increasingly more difficult every day. To make matters worse, a new foe is making his presence known, a foe so powerful he fears no one in this world or any beyond it. The soul mates are quickly learning that the challenges are only just beginning.

I hope everyone who loved Beyond Heights and Depths will love this book.


Now, without further ado, the cover:

©2013 C. Brown Publisher


Monday, September 30, 2013

Faith to carry you through

2 Corinthians 4: 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. [NIV]

I have to keep this post short. As I write this, I am in the middle of one of the most difficult situations of my life. My child must return to the hospital for further medical testing. I will probably discuss this further at another time when we receive more information. For now, my biggest fears come from the fact that all of this is out of my control. Of course, like most parents, I wish I could go through this for him, but all I can do is go through this with him and wait and wait and wait. I know I am not the only one facing hardship, so I hope this message speaks to you.

A life in Christ does not mean we will never face hardship; rather, we have the knowledge of knowing that no matter what this world throws at us God has our back. He will never abandon us or forsake us. Although we may feel at times that we are at the end of our rope, God reminds us that we are not at the end of our hope. It is often during the times we feel most broken that God does the most work in our lives. When we feel we are weak, He shows us how we are actually strong because He is our strength. Do not lose hope before God has a chance to do His work in your life. Draw in closer to God instead and trust that He will. God loves you my friends, and nothing can ever change that. Be blessed.

Monday, September 23, 2013

My Top 5 Favorite "Castle" Episodes


I realize I could be blogging about any number of things. There's so much going on in my life, I could write on a number of topics. However, tomorrow is the beginning of a new season of "Castle." I don't watch much television, but I really like this show. So, since a new season is getting ready to begin, I thought it would be fun to post my 5 favorite episodes - honestly, I could list way more than 5, but that would be way too long.

Starting with Number 5:

5. The Lives of Others - This was a great 100th episode. Castle witnesses a murder across the street from his place, but no one believes him. I really enjoyed the "Rear Window" feel of the episode. The surprise at the end was epic. There isn't much about this episode I didn't like.

4. Knockdown - C'mon, who wasn't dying to see Castle and Beckett kiss? Sure, it was a distraction, but what a distraction it was. Plus, Castle jumps on the bad guy and knocks him silly. Ryan and Esposito show how tough they are. This was a good episode for all the characters.

3. Tick, Tick, Tick/Boom! - I know what you're thinking. I am cheating by putting in a two-parter, but you really can't talk about one without the other. I suppose you could, but then you would be left to wonder what happens after Beckett's apartment explodes. I also thought the entire plot was interesting. I like the idea of them chasing down a killer with a "Nikki Heat" obsession.

2. Still - Beckett steps on a pressure-plate bomb. Castle refuses to leave her side. There's a joke about all of Beckett's hair style changes over the years. This episode had a little of everything, literally. All the flashbacks from the past seasons were fun to watch.

1. Kill Shot - Honestly, this episode is the reason I watch this show. I had seen quite a few episodes before, but I was never really into this show. Seeing Beckett deal with PTSD, watching her breakdown, then seeing her get through it changed my entire perception of the show. I was hooked after this episode. Therefore, this episode has to be my number one. Without it, I might not be writing this post at all.

Well, these are my 5. To be quite honest with you, my favorites change from time to time, but these are my 5 for now. Honorable mention goes to: The Blue Butterfly, Knockout, Rise, Cuffed, Slice of Death, A Rose for Everafter, and pretty much every episode from any season. There's just so many to choose from!

Now you know my 5 favorites. I'd love to hear which ones are yours. Please feel free to comment. Tell me which episodes you love and why. Above all else, don't forget to watch the premiere of Season 6 tonight.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

My mix-tape memories

The cassette tape turned 50 this past week. I don't listen to tapes anymore, but I still have quite a few of them. I keep them because they all have a story, especially the mix-tapes. Those mix-tapes bring up so many memories, I don't even have to play them to remember. So, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the cassette tape, here are a few of the tracks that could easily be on the mix-tape of my life.

One of the first cassette tapes I ever bought with my own money was a mix of movie tracks. I know what you're thinking, and yes, I had very bad taste. In my defense, the tape was cheap and had a song on it I really liked: "Ghostbusters" by Ray Parker Jr. C'mon, I was a kid; everybody liked this song! Man, I played that thing until the spool ran wild and I had to get a pencil to twist the tape back into the cassette.

  

One of my most favorite tapes of all time was my Bob Marley "Legend" album. I'm from Hawaii; it's hard to find anyone here who does not like reggae music. At the time, my favorite song on that album was "Could You Be Loved."



My very first girlfriend was a New Kids On The Block fan. Needless to say, I heard a lot of their songs. The one that stands out the most is "Right Stuff."

   

One of my all time favorite tracks that was on the first mix-tape I made myself was "It takes two," by Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock. I loved going to dances and hearing this song. This one always got the party started.

   

Alright, one last one, before I go crazy with this post. As a young adult, I got into a horrific car accident. I fell asleep behind the wheel and hit a dump truck. Surviving the accident was miraculous. It shaped my life in ways that are still evident today. However, for the purpose of this post, here is the song I was listening to on a mix-tape: "Anytime," by Brian McKnight.



Okay, that's it for now. These are a few of the songs that I have on cassette tape. They mean a lot to me, so I will probably keep them forever, even though I don't even own a cassette tape player anymore. Please feel free to comment on songs that stir your memory. What songs would go on the mix-tape of your life? Which cassette tapes mean the most to you? Do your tapes tell a story? I'd love to hear about it!
 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The end is unavoidable, live fearlessly

Luke 21: 8 Jesus replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

1 Thessalonians 5: 1 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

Recently, someone asked me if I have done any preparation for the end of the world. The person was watching one of those shows on t.v. about people that spend all of their time preparing for the world to collapse. Naturally, when people asked me these things it is out of fear, so I try my best to give a fair response. My simple reply is usually, "No, I have not." However, this response does little to ease this type of fear. The fact is if you trust that God is in control, you have no need to worry about such things, or as Tim Tebow says, "I may not know what my future holds, but I know who holds it."

Don't live your lives in fear. One of the things I have noticed about all those folks who spend all their time preparing for the worst is that they spend ALL of their time preparing for the worst. They have no life outside of their preparations. That is no way to live. You cannot live your life to the fullest, if you live in complete fear of the future. Do not worry about the end when there is so much of life to live now. Jesus told his disciples to 'not be frightened.' Jesus promises that He will return in glory, and His people will be redeemed.

My prayer is that each and every one of you is able to walk in the fullness of God's glory. I pray you all feel and know God's joy, now and always. Jesus never fails, and He always comes through on His promises. Trust in God and the plans He has for your life. Live your life with purpose, and enjoy life completely in the here and now. There is no need to live in fear. God is in control. Have a blessed week, my friends.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Heartache, hope, and shaking my head

This week has been interesting, to say the least. I went out to feed the homeless as usual, but the day was anything but usual. I met a couple of young people, each with a story of abuse and neglect that was heartbreaking to hear. I also met a man who has been an alcoholic longer than I have been alive. His story was sad, but hope appears to be on the horizon for him.

A friend reached out to him and is sending him a ticket to go home to the mainland. While talking with him, he expressed fear that he would mess up again. He felt like he didn't deserve a second chance because he had messed up so many times in his life. He talked about failing and falling short. He was especially surprised that I bothered to reach out to him and give him a meal, since most of the people he encountered liked to kick him while he was down (More on this second part a little later).

I gave him some words of encouragement, prayed with him, and even laughed a little. I don't know what the future holds, but I hope he will accept his second chance and make the most of it. The truth is we all mess up. I don't even know where I would be had I not received a second, third, or, heck, 200th chance. I could have easily ended up in similar circumstances as him, or worse. I hope he grabs on to that second chance with everything he's got and gets a chance to live a better life.

The thing that left me shaking my head this week was seeing the attitude of folks in my community. I happen to be a part of a few community groups, and for the most part, they just like to talk about the good old days. This week I found the topic of their discussion to be completely distasteful. More than a few folks felt a need to not just kick some of the less fortunate in our community while they are down but resort to making fun of them and talking about how society would be better without them (This last part I am putting nicely because their words were just too harsh).

Hearing them talk of such things left me shaking my head. It's sad that they, most of whom are very well-off, feel the need to entertain themselves at the expense of others. Why not help, instead of kick a person while he or she is already down? The only real response I received was, "Well, if you like them so much, why don't you do something?" So, I briefly discussed what I have been trying to do, which unfortunately, instantly prevented any of them from saying anything at all from that point forward. Seriously, some dialog would have been nice.

Anyway, I just felt a need to put this out there. In our efforts to help others, we will inevitably encounter haters. Don't let that prevent you from continuing to help. There's a lot of hurting people out there. There's a lot of sad stories, but if you stick with it, you will see hope shine through. Keep trying. Have an awesome week, my friends!

Monday, August 19, 2013

A season for every activity under the heavens

Ecclesiastes 3: 1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,

4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time.

This past week has been all about witnessing seasons for me, which is what this passage of scripture is all about. Some of you may even remember a song from the 60's by The Byrds that used this passage in their song "Turn! Turn! Turn!" I have been spending a considerable amount of time witnessing, and in many cases, walking with people through the many highs and lows of life.


In life, we go through many seasons. We experience immense joy and extreme heartache; sometimes, we experience them both at the same time. I know some seasons--especially the difficult ones--feel like they will never end. However, as is the case with everything in nature, even the coldest, darkest winters eventually end and another season begins. Tomorrow is another day, filled with new opportunities, and another chance to dust yourself off and try again.

Above all else, trust that God can and will carry you through. God walks with us through the joys as well as the pains. You are not alone. God takes us through many seasons, but the one thing we must know, understand, and believe with confidence is that God makes everything beautiful in His perfect timing. Be blessed during this glorious week, my friends.



The Byrds - Turn! Turn! Turn!

 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Reaching out to those on the fringes

A month ago, I started a new ministry that serves the homeless in my community. I fund the program with my own money from odd jobs and sales of my book BEYOND HEIGHTS AND DEPTHS. I basically hand out egg and cheese burritos and bottles of water to folks I meet around town. The majority of those I reach out to are drug addicts, have mental health issues, or a combination of the two. Men, women, young, and old, I try to reach as many of them as possible on a weekly basis.

The decision to do this came about when I was thinking about how many times I wished someone would help all of these folks I would see around town. I realized I was complaining about the lack of help, but I was not doing anything to help. I spent a huge part of my adolescence living on the streets, showering at beaches, and figuring out where my next meal would come from. I battled addiction. I could relate to them, yet I was not doing anything to help. So, with the help of my wife and a couple of friends, I set out to reach the one group of people in my community that no one wants to.

The response has been amazing. In the first week, I only managed to reach 5 people. By the second week, that number doubled, and by the third, the number of people more than tripled. It's been a blessing for me to help. For a short time, their day is a little better. They don't have to worry about one meal. One of the most common responses I get is: For a little while, they don't feel like they are being ignored. For a little while, someone talks to them like they are human again. In the end, isn't that what we all want? We want to be treated kindly. We want someone to acknowledge our existence. We want to be treated like a human being.

Interestingly, the only complaints I get are usually from behind barely opened windows of European SUV's. They like to yell about helping people they do not feel deserve help. Of course, they don't want to be seen, so they barely open their windows, and then speed off. Never once has any of them ever come out of their beautiful, air-conditioned, leather interior vehicle to talk to me face-to-face. Funny how those who have plenty like to decide for everyone else who does or does not deserve help.

For me, it does not hurt me in any way to help someone out in a small way, show some compassion to those who are less fortunate, or feed someone who hasn't eaten in days. It's not much, but I hope I will be able to expand this endeavor into something that benefits even more people. If nothing else, I hope others will be inspired to help people in need, wherever they are in the world.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

When my work intersects with popular horror

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about my work in ministry intersecting with my work of fiction. I enjoy talking with people who want to separate facts from fiction. It's interesting to talk with people about subjects that don't normally come up in every day ministry. One  thing I did not anticipate is the phenomenon that occurs every time a new horror movie is released. Every time a new horror movie is released, I receive calls from people with questions about ghosts, hauntings, demonic possession, and in the most extreme cases, all of them at the same time.

I write about supernatural subjects, which often fall into the subject of horror. This, plus my work in ministry, leads people to me for various concerns. I have no problems talking about what I believe versus do not believe. I don't mind talking with people about subjects that other people in ministry would shy away from. I think it's important to answer the questions people have. If we don't, then they are forced to seek answers elsewhere, and answers elsewhere could be even more problematic, like believing horror movies are real.

Let me just say I do not have issues with people watching horror movies. I do enjoy the genre. I don't watch as many horror films as I used to, but I do keep up with what's popular. I am not one of those pastors who will condemn a person for his/her preference of movies. However, if watching a horror movie causes you to believe you are haunted and/or possessed, then you probably should NOT watch any horror movies. If a movie can scare you to a point where you need to seek help to deal with what you saw, then maybe you need to question your choice in movies.

Seriously, I have even had a person I barely knew come up to me and ask point blank, "Do you think I'm possessed because I think I might be?" Talk about an awkward way to start a conversation. Look, I get it. One of the issues I do have with certain horror movies is the amount of realism they provide, but I'll leave that for another blog post. The fact is of the numerous people who have asked me if I thought they were being haunted and/or possessed, only one or two has ever had a serious problem that had to be dealt with. The rest were just really scared individuals looking for a supernatural solution to explain their heightened fear from watching a scary movie.

Keep in mind that movies are created to entertain, not necessarily educate. Scary movies are meant to be, well, in one word: scary. If watching something scary will inevitably scare you to a point where you cannot live life normally as a result, then my recommendation is to avoid watching the movie, show, special, documentary, or whatever it is altogether. Your overall well-being is a much higher priority than any form of entertainment. Make good choices, but always know, even if you don't, and you still need someone to talk to, feel free to join my ever growing crowd of scared individuals seeking answers.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Timing: The excuse to cover all excuses

Before I begin, let me say up front that I believe timing is absolutely vital, especially for astronauts, racers, and even bakers. My concern is when timing is used as an excuse. If I had a nickel for every time I have heard someone say, "The timing wasn't right," I would be a rich man. I like to tell friends who use timing as an excuse that the key to timing is being in the right place at the right time. Unfortunately, many people stand on the sidelines watching the time pass by.

It's like going to a job interview, staring at the front door until it's too late, then deciding not to go in at all because you missed the appointment standing outside. Sure, you could've gone in, but now timing is your excuse. I once had a friend in high school who never went out on dates, like, at all. The thing about him was he would always say he was waiting for the right time to ask a particular girl out, and then he wouldn't ask her out at all. He would come back and say the time wasn't right. Well, four years passed by, and the timing was never right, or at least his version of right.

Sometimes you have to go out there and go for whatever it is you are trying to achieve. I completely understand if the timing really isn't right, but please do not use timing as an excuse to never try. Life really is too short for that kind of thinking. Every day I talk to people who have hopes, dreams, and life goals that they are waiting for the right time to chase. For many of them, the time will never be right. All of those hopes, dreams, and goals will go unaccomplished, and at some later time you can be sure they will say, "The timing wasn't right."

I know, thus far it sounds like I am ranting, but it breaks my heart to know many people will never live life to the fullest because they are waiting for the right time to live. I meet people who want to travel, do art, save the world, feed the homeless, write books, build houses, and spend more time with their children, but they are hoping they will be able to later. "Work is too important right now" and "I'll have more time later," they say. The truth is time is not on our side. Time goes on whether we want it to or not.

The saddest fact in my life is the amount of people I know who have passed away. Nearly everyone I grew up with is no longer with us. The one thing they all had in common was the desire to accomplish something in their lives that will forever go unfinished. The books they were going to write, songs they were going to sing, family they were going to love, friends they were going to share memories with, and places they were going to see will never happen. Their time on this planet of ours is done. It saddens me to think about how wonderful it would have been for them had they been able to accomplish even one or two of the things on their list.

Timing is important, and if your life and/or career is reliant on excellent timing, then please do not abandon timing. However, it is my hope that we can all stop using timing as an excuse for the things in our life that we fail to accomplish. Sometimes the timing really isn't right, but don't let that prevent you from trying again or trying at all. The timing may never be EXACTLY right. Live the best life you can. No one wants to reach the end of their life and carry more regrets than memories. Always do your best to really live.

Monday, July 8, 2013

When my work and works of fiction intersect

A few months back I tweeted about my work in ministry intersecting with my work of fiction. It seems to be happening more as time goes on. I think it's good that people have questions after they read my book. That is part of the reason I decided to publish at all. It's fun to talk with people who want to separate fact from fiction.

I work in ministry, but I write works of fiction about angels, demons, and various other supernatural subjects. There's bound to be some questions. I have some of the most interesting conversations with people who read the book, and then come out with questions guns blazing. The reality is part of the reason I write fiction is to talk about things I am unable to explain. I mean, that is the beauty of writing, right? I get the chance to bring a story to life, explain the unexplained, and create a world different from our own.

I am often asked, "Do you believe in angels and demons?" The simple answer is yes I do. Do I believe that they fight each other? Of course, I do. However, do I believe they act, talk, and function in the way I describe in my books? Do they do battle with golden weapons, traveling at speeds faster than the human eye can see, leaving nothing but fire, dust, and ash behind? Well, this is the part where fiction comes in. This is why I love writing. I get the chance to take something I believe in and create a story around it.

I have seen a lot of crazy things over the years. I've seen the miraculous occur more than once. I have also witnessed things that I thought could only exist in works of horror. Some of them I wish I could simply explain away and never think about again. Writing provides an outlet for me to work through all these crazy things. I suppose I could write non-fiction, but where is the fun in that?

At the end of the day, my books are meant to entertain. The idea that they are creating dialogue with people I wouldn't normally interact with is an added bonus. I'm enjoying these conversations, so please keep the questions coming. I'm so glad people are enjoying the first book so much that they want to know more. For all of you wondering, the sequel to Beyond Heights and Depths will be released later this year.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The power of words

We all have been told since we were young that our words have power. Words have the power to hurt and to heal, to do both good and bad. With our words, we can build people up, or we can tear them down. How unfortunate that so many prefer the latter. Put simply, this should not be. I would venture to say that nearly all of us have been on the other end of someone's hurtful comments, yet I would also guess that nearly all of us are still guilty of letting those kind of words come out of our mouth.

The thing I want everyone--myself included--to keep in mind is if someone hears enough negative words about him or herself they start to believe those words are true, whether it is the truth or not. It's strange how lies can become the truth if enough people believe them. I have met far too many youth who are terribly damaged because of the things others have said or continue to say about them. I have met far too many adults who are still dealing with the effects of such treatment many years later. The truth is your words do have power, and as we can learn from Spider Man--or Voltaire, if you prefer, "With great power comes great responsibility."

I also want you to keep in mind that your words are not only capable of tearing others down, or building others up; the words you speak into your own life have the power to do both good and bad. If you say you are not good enough too many times, then you start to believe it. If you believe you are completely incapable of accomplishing anything, you are already defeated. You are speaking negativity into your life. You are giving those words power over you, and it won't matter how many times others try to encourage you or build you up because you have already passed judgement on yourself. It is incredibly difficult for people to learn to see themselves as good when they believe they are not.

Seriously, no one is better at tearing me down than I am at tearing myself down. There's a reason solitary confinement is used as punishment in prisons. Too much time alone with nothing but your thoughts to keep you company is a dangerous thing. Your mind becomes the prison. You spend all your time nitpicking at yourself, dwelling on the negative, tearing yourself down, and you can't runaway from yourself. I've done this to myself way too many times. Best not to get caught up in this vicious cycle.

Do not live your life with a defeated attitude. Do everything you can to speak positivity into your life, and as much as possible, do the same for others. There will always be people out there who make themselves feel good at the expense of others. Don't add to that mix. You are all good enough. You all have a purpose. Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

Monday, June 17, 2013

From Darkness to Light: Cybil's Message

video

This week I am incredibly blessed to share the testimony of my friend Cybil with you. She presented this talk just over a week ago at her church. To say she has been through a lot is not nearly enough. I don't want to give away too much. She will talk about what she has overcome in this short video. I admire her strength and willingness to share what she has been through with others. The reality is there are many people who can relate to her story, so I hope this video will reach someone out there who needs to hear it. Her message is one of hope, love, and grace. She has overcome the stuff of nightmares, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to share her story with others.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Forgiveness is divine, but it sure is difficult

I'm sure you have all heard the old saying, "To err is human; to forgive, divine," by Alexander Pope. Basically, this phrase means we all make mistakes, so we should also be willing to forgive others. I believe this to be true, of course. However, in all honesty, I can admit that forgiving others is not my strong suit. I'm working on it, but I still have a long way to go.

I've been thinking about this phrase over the last few weeks. I know I am supposed to forgive others, but sometimes I forget. I know what you are thinking. Yes, I work in ministry, so I should know better. I'll let you in on a little secret: ministers are just like everybody else. We are all a work in progress. We all make mistakes. I, too, am prone to holding grudges for a little while.

Now, as to why I'm writing this post. A few months ago, I tried to help a family member out with a money problem--major red flag. Anyway, I tried to help her out, but things went wrong very quickly once greed came into play. Needless to say, I did my best to see things through, but at great personal cost. Not only did she try to rip me off, but when that didn't work, she resorted to insulting me and making slanderous comments about me and anyone who was not on her side. I got angry, very angry, angry in a way that I did not think I could get anymore, which was scary.

I felt the best course of action was to not talk to this person any longer. Our business concluded, and I felt much better not having to talk to this person. Unfortunately, you can't avoid people forever. Two weeks ago, I had to attend a family party with this person. She did not talk to anyone, and no one made any effort to talk to her. I thought this would make me feel better, but I actually felt worse, so I went ahead and talked to her. I chose to forgive and move on, and you know what, it made me feel a whole lot better. I felt free; in fact, I still feel free: free of negativity, free of the burden of holding a grudge, and free of anger.

When I work in ministry, I often have to remind people about forgiveness. We have been forgiven; therefore, we must learn to forgive others. In most cases, the major issue people have with forgiving others is that they believe they have a right to hold on to their anger, resentment, and/or hatred of the person who wronged them. The problem is that holding on to those negative feelings often does more harm to the person holding on to them than the person those feelings are directed toward. Hanging on to negativity like that will eventually take their toll on a person. If you can forgive others, then you can let go of all that negativity. In this way, you are free; free of the burden of carrying around all that negativity.

I think we tend to get too caught up in thinking that forgiveness only benefits the other person in some way. A lot of people worry that if we forgive someone who wronged us, then it's like we are saying it's okay for people to treat us that way. This is not true at all. It really does takes a bigger person to forgive. The bigger person is the one that understands that forgiving the person who wronged them is way better than having to carry around all of that negative baggage. A person who can forgive others truly experiences the divine nature of forgiveness because a person who can forgive knows what it really means to be free.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Where is the fun?

Recently, I was talking to someone about all the work I do. The conversation pretty much boiled down to him saying, "Dude, everything you talk about is heavy. Where is the fun?" In a lot of ways, what he said is true. The kind of work I do requires me to talk about various difficult subjects with youth and young adults. Moreover, no one really asks me what I do for fun, so it's not something I talk about on a regular basis. Does this happen to anyone else?

Nevertheless, let me just say I am a pro at goofing off. I do a lot of things for fun, so I'll talk about some of them in this post. However, before I continue, I want to add that I still think there is a lesson in all this. Last week, I talked about balance being an essential part of life. I emphatically believe that it is important to do things that are fun. Life can't be all work, right? Every part of life requires balance: life can't be all work, and life can't be all fun. I think when you can find the right balance between the two, and maintain that balance consistently, that is when you are really living. Alright, enough with the lesson before someone reminds me that I haven't talked about anything fun yet.

The first thing that has to go in, whether it sounds like work or not, is that I enjoy writing. Writing is still something I do for fun. Writing is not my main source of income, so it is still something I do when I am not working. I released my first novel "Beyond Heights and Depths" in January, and I am currently in the process of writing the sequel. In addition to the sequel, I love to work on poetry, sermons, and other creative projects. I also like to draw, practice graffiti, and work on designs on my computer. I love all things art, although I still consider myself a pretty poor artist, so I still have lot's of room to grow.

I don't watch a lot of television, but my two favorite shows right now are Duck Dynasty and Castle.

I love to watch Duck Dynasty because it is hilarious. The cool thing is that it is not all comedy. Every episode ends with a little life lesson at the end that ties it all together. The show is also pretty wholesome compared to other things on television. One of the other reasons I watch it is that the show is on all the time. I don't know when shows are regularly on, so I tend to just watch whatever is on. In case any other fans are reading this, my favorite character is Si--hey.


The other show I watch is Castle. Like Duck Dynasty, Castle is on a few times a day, almost every day. I do enjoy the fact that the male lead character is a writer too, but that is not the reason I watch. I really enjoy the fact that it is a crime drama that is much different from the other crime dramas on television. It's funny and dramatic, but not as messed up as some of the current crime dramas on television. I used to be a Law & Order and CSI fan years ago, and I don't watch any of those shows anymore.

Like a lot of people, I spend my fair share of time on social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately, a pretty large amount of that time is still considered work, especially when I am working on book promotions. I do really enjoy catching up with friends I haven't seen in a long time. I like to see all the cool finds people are posting, not to mention visiting the Castle page. Interacting with people on Twitter is totally different than Facebook, but I like talking with all the different people on there, nevertheless.

Above all else, I love spending time with my family. There is nothing more fun or rewarding than being a parent. No matter where we are, or what we are doing, I am always having the best time with them. Whether I am out at the beach, or pretending to be a Ninja Turtle with my son, I treasure every moment. So, that's a little bit about me. As you can see, I do make time for fun, maybe even more than I should. Like I said before, I'm still learning to find the right balance in life myself.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Balance is essential

The lesson for me this week has been about balance. Like many people, I often get so caught up in all the day-to-day things in life that I fail to notice how these little things--that I feel are so important at the time--are actually taking me away from the things that really are important. I like to believe I am a pretty darn good multitasker, but I'm also learning to know when I have reached the point where I need to step back and re-prioritize. Of course, this is still an ongoing process for me, since I forget so often.

It's easy to to fall into the trap of busyness. A busy person makes a better impression than a not busy person. People who are not busy appear to be lazy. Keeping ourselves busy gives us the illusion of accomplishing a lot. Accomplishing a lot increases our sense of importance, and we all want to feel important. However, life goes by pretty fast, and before you know it, you've missed out on a lot of things because you were too busy keeping yourself busy. Life has to have balance.

In writing this, a certain quote has been stuck in my head. It comes from a movie most of us are familiar with: The Karate Kid (the 80's one, not the one that had no karate in it at all). In the movie, Mr. Miyagi says, "Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance bad, better pack up, go home. Understand?"

Simple right? When your life has balance, everything is good. When life is not balanced, it's time to pack it up and regroup. For me, everyday I juggle ministry, work, being a proud parent to two boys, counseling others, working with multiple groups, making time to write, and finding any time I can to promote the book that is already published. Like a juggler, when everything is flowing correctly, the performance is good. The minute something goes wrong, everything comes crashing down.

So, like Daniel-san in the movie, I have to be reminded to keep working on balance. Hard work is good, but we also have to take the time to enjoy the things in life that are most important. In my opinion, the people who have good balance are the ones who make the best impression. Spend time with family and friends. Write because you enjoy writing, not because you have a deadline. Read a good book. See that new movie everyone is talking about. Whatever it is you do, make the most of it. Work is important, but don't get so caught up in being busy that you let life pass you by.

Monday, April 29, 2013

I wish these things never happen, but...

When I was growing up, I got into all sorts of trouble. I got caught up in gangs, drugs, and a whole lot of other messed up things. My lifestyle was crazy, and I saw far too much of the horrible things in the world that happen to people who live that particular lifestyle. I've seen enough horrors to last several lifetimes. Fortunately, I've been able to take these experiences and turn them into something useful by sharing them with youth and young adults.

When I was young, I would often wonder if life would get better. I would also wonder if there would be a time when people would never have to deal with the same stuff that I did. This is probably why I've devoted so much of my life to working with youth. I'm still hoping that they will never have to. Unfortunately, not only have I met youth who have been through the same things as me, but in a lot of ways, growing up in this day and age is so much worse.

Now, why am I writing this? Recently, I've run into people, mainly older adults, who have no understanding of the troubles our young people are facing every day. What I find most disturbing is I even had someone tell me that "These kids are just exaggerating and making a big deal out of nothing. All these things are made up. These things never happen." I wish this were true. I wish these things never happen, but the unfortunate truth is they do.

One need only open up a newspaper or turn on the news to see the awful things our young people are doing, not just to themselves but to each other. Every day, children are being abused. I've met more than a few. We are seeing stories of young people taking their own lives because they are being bullied and tormented relentlessly, and they end up seeing suicide as their only way out. Teens are dying as a result of drinking and driving, or overdosing on drugs. Without being too graphic, let me just say that there are even worse things than this happening to our young people.

The sad thing is all of this is happening, and still there are those who say these things don't happen. These kids and teens are being ignored at a time when help is needed the most. Who is encouraging these youth to live right? Who is teaching them how to live beyond the measure of this world? At an even more basic level, who is teaching these young people the difference between right and wrong? If not their parents, then who is responsible?

There's an old quote I used to see everyday in my old boss's office that read: "In 100 years, it won't matter what kind of car you drove, what kind of house you lived in, how much you had in your bank account, nor what your clothes looked like. But, the world may be a better place because you were important in the life of a child." I believed it was true then - nearly 10 years go, and I still believe it's true today. It's time for us to reach out to this generation of youth. Open your eyes, and see that these kids and teens are hurting. We can't keep looking around hoping someone else will step up and fill this role. Now is the time, and you are the one. You can make a huge difference in this world. Believe it, know in your heart that it is true, and live your life with purpose. Let's all strive to make a difference.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Live for today...tomorrow is not guaranteed

I'm no stranger to loss. A staggering statistic about my life is the number of people I've lost over the years. A huge number of the people I grew up with have passed on. Every loss of life is tragic, young or old, sick or accident. More than a few of my friends have taken their own lives over the years. When I say a lot of loss, I mean a lot.

The one thing they all have in common is that they all had different plans for their lives, but for whatever reason they never got there. When I look back, I can still remember what some of their big plans were. Some were going to travel and see the world. Others were going to meet the guy or girl of their dream. They wanted to go to college. They wanted to have families and live a quiet life. One of them just wanted to live a life free of depression.

They all wanted to do amazing things and live beautiful lives, but in the end, that never happened for any of them. Thinking about their dreams breaks my heart to pieces. Moreover, the world will never see any of the life-altering, world-changing ideas that never came to be. They were all struck down to soon. No matter how old they were, it was still too soon.

The only thing more heartbreaking is that many of them had the chance to achieve their dreams, plans, and goals at some point in their lives, but they always found a reason to put things off until tomorrow. They were going to make that big change in their life tomorrow. They were going to travel some time in the future. They were going to switch jobs, talk to that important person, or chase that dream some time later. Except, tomorrow never came, and they never got a chance to do any of it.

I know we've all heard the saying, "Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today." There's a lot of truth in this old adage. Take the time to tell the people in your life you love them. Plan to take that trip you always wanted a little sooner rather than later. Above all else, make every moment count. I don't think enough of us live in the moment because we are too caught up worrying about the future or feeling trapped in the past. Enjoy this moment; you don't get a do over. Once this moment has passed, it's gone.

Live the best life you can now. Make sure the moments that count are more than those you regret. Regret will destroy, but I'll leave that subject for another post. Don't live recklessly, but also don't let fear run your life. Live life for today because tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Love each other...sounds simple, right?

Matthew 22: 37 Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Luke 6: 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

John 15: 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

These commands seem so simple at first glance. It's easy to love your neighbor as yourself when you like your neighbor, but do we still keep this command when it is someone we do not particularly care for? It seems like more and more people believe it is okay to say whatever they want about other people. You see it all over social media, along with the repercussions, some with incredibly tragic consequences. When you talk about another person, both good and bad, you need to remind yourself that you are talking about another one of God's creations. None of us are perfect, but God still loves each and every one of us.

I have often said if you learn nothing else from me remember that God loves you, not in our limited, romanticized, human view of love; rather, God loves you more than you can ever know or completely understand. He loves us absolutely and unconditionally. Because God loves you, you are to love others as well: the people you like, don't like, and everyone in between. This has especially been weighing on me as I meet and hear stories about children, youth, and even adults who believe they are unloved and unlovable. Moreover, the extent of the things people (Christians included) are open to saying and doing to each other to intentionally cause harm to another person is troubling to say the least. Bullying and mistreating others is viewed as entertaining instead of a serious problem. This cannot continue. If you truly understand that God loves you, and His joy resides within us, then you must love others in the same way. When you "love your neighbor as yourself" and "Love each other as I (Christ) have loved you," then you honor Jesus and His name is glorified.

Live right. Treat others with respect. Walk in the Joy of Jesus Christ. Above all else, know to your very core that God loves you, and nothing can ever change that. Be blessed, my friends!

Monday, April 8, 2013

It really IS better to give than to receive

I know we have all heard the phrase 'it is better to give than to receive' sometime in our lives. So, why bother writing a post about this subject again. Well, the truth is this is something I didn't learn until much later in life, and still requires a lot of work. One of the coolest things I have gotten to do as a writer is donate the proceeds of my book to various causes. In fact, I am donating the proceeds of this week's sales of my book to a group of people who are doing amazing work around the world. A pair of them are getting ready to travel to Japan to provide trauma counseling, while another is preparing to go to Honduras to help build schools and other vital community resources. How cool is that! I think of it as a win-win. The person buying the book gets a good book and has the benefit of knowing his or her money is going to a good place.

Life cannot be about selfish gain. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with making money. However, if all you care about is money, then something is definitely wrong. If you only care about yourself, then in the end that is all you will have. I have found that you can't go wrong helping people. Moreover, giving is never all about money. You can give food, resources, services, and time. In my opinion, time is more valuable than money anyway. I also believe helping someone else in need does more to benefit your soul in a positive way than anything else in the world, and I want others to experience that too.

See, that's what's sad about the world we live in. I would venture to say that nearly everyone has heard that it is better to give than to receive, yet there is a huge portion of people who do not believe that at all. I worry about them. Truth be told, I used to be one of them. I was a very selfish person. When I say I only cared about myself, I mean it. I got caught up in gangs and bad influences, I would steal, and I used people. I hurt a lot of people. I would do anything to get what I wanted. In very simple terms, I was a taker. Actually, I was the worse kind of taker--a taker with no conscience.

You know what, you end up in a very bad place when you live that way. Believe me, I know first hand just how bad. You start to think you are the only one that cares about you, and sadly, you also realize there's probably a very good reason no one cares. One day, some good people helped me, showed me they cared, and helped me turn my life around. I went from feeling completely miserable and hopeless to hopeful. I often say the worse thing that can happen to a person is to lose hope; therefore, the greatest thing that can happen to a person is to have hope restored. If I can do that in any small way, then all the effort was completely worth it. You can't go wrong investing in people.

Oh, some people won't accept the help, you say. Some will even take your help and turn around and do the same things all over again. Well, you would be correct, some will do all those things, and then some, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. If you completely shut yourself away from the world because you are too jaded, then the person you're really hurting is you. My hope is that you will find reason to have hope, and then go out and help others find theirs. Help out someone in need, not just for them, but for yourself as well. One small gesture could completely change a person's entire world around. Often, the smallest acts create the biggest results. Not all of us are able to anything huge, but all of us are capable of doing a lot of small acts of kindness for others.  Whatever it is that you do, remember: It really IS better to give than to receive.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Dare to dream like a child

This week I was talking to someone who was telling me about his dreams and aspirations. The thing that got me was when he said, "Whatever, it's just a childish dream." With that one comment, he went from a dreamer with all the hope in the world to completely defeated. I think we could all benefit from being able to dream and set big goals like a child. When I was a child, I wanted to be all kinds of things: a doctor, a movie maker, and President of the United States, just to name a few. When I was a child, there was nothing in the world that made me think those goals were not possible. As I got older, and the world beat me up quite a bit, I settled into the attitude of thinking this is all my life would be. I would always have a job I hate; I would always be unhappy. I'll never be anything great because you have to be one of the "lucky" ones to do anything spectacular. I felt defeated, and my life reflected this attitude.

Let me tell you, you end up in a very dark place when you have no hopes or dreams left. I didn't care much about my life at all. Eventually, I reached a point where I wasn't really living anymore; I just sort of existed and occupied space. Life becomes meaningless without hope, and no one should ever have to feel this way. Dare yourself to dream big. No matter what stage of life you are at, make every effort to live out your dreams. Maybe you don't have the same dreams you did as a child, but you must want to accomplish something, right? It's okay to dream; it's not childish. The business you always wanted to try, the story you want to tell, or something simple like owning the car you always wanted, whatever it is that gives you hope and purpose, it's not stupid. You have to have something to live for.

For me, I wanted to do ministry, so that's what I do. It took me years to reach this point, but it has been an amazing--and often difficult--experience getting here. I also wrote a book, something I never even dared to dream was possible. I still have a lot of big dreams left. I may never achieve all of them, but I refuse to ever let myself fall back into that defeated attitude that held me down for far too long. I keep pressing forward, always thankful for the opportunities I have been given, and excited for the future to come. The beauty of accomplishing one or two is it gives you an opportunity to think of some more. Above all else, allow yourself to have hope. You matter. Your life has meaning, even in the times that it seems like you just don't know what it is.

Dream like children do, with the entire world in front of them, and nothing in their way. Dream like you did before people told you couldn't. If someone as useless and hopeless as me can do something with his life, you can too. Never give up hope for anything, my friends. There is always reason to have hope.