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.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Learning from failure...again.

This weekend has sent me seeking the lesson in yet another failure. I've often found I've learned more from my failures than from my successes--good thing too, since my failures greatly outnumber my successes. The key for me is to set my mind on learning from the failure as soon as possible, before I spend too much time dwelling on the failure itself. Dwelling on failure has no positive benefit. We all fail; we all make mistakes. The sooner we can learn from them, the better off we are in the long run. Dwelling on failures, beating ourselves up, and refusing to move on keep us frozen in place, and therefore, unable to live our lives. Some of the most successful and satisfied people in the world are those whose who have been through numerous mistakes, setbacks, and failures, but never for a moment stopped trying. People who keep trying will make mistakes, fail, and get right back up again. You have to keep trying.

One of the other big problems is fear of failure. A lot of people suffer from this. I am no different in this area. Over time, I've learned to take chances, even when I have been terrified of failing, but this is still something I have to work on frequently. Fear of failure is often worse than actual failure. To fail requires one to actually try, while fear of failure generally leaves one incapable of even trying. Don't let fear of failure prevent you from trying. Being able to try in the face of fear does not guarantee success; however, not trying at all guarantees you will not succeed. In order to succeed, some sort of action must be taken. I have yet to meet a millionaire who made his or her fortune doing absolutely nothing; even lottery winners have to go out and buy a ticket.

Honestly, for every success I have had in life there have literally been hundreds of failures. I wrote a book, but no one ever asks about the ten other drafts that flopped before they even had the chance to get off the ground. Before I got married, I went through all the ups and downs of dating like everyone else; I got shot down--a lot, went on dozens of horrible dates, and failed in a bunch of relationships. I've been fired from jobs that were pretty crappy to begin with, which makes them that much more embarrassing. Even in ministry, I still fail. Some groups, events, and ideas failed before they got started because of my fear of failure. Others just fall apart, but I don't stop trying as a result of my failures. If I decided to throw in the towel the first time an idea failed, I would have had to have given up a long time ago. That's no way to live your life. You want to live a full life? You have to put in the effort.

Whatever it is in life that you believe will lead you to wherever it is you want to be, I want you to at least try. Whatever it is that you dream about, are passionate about, and just feel like you are called to do, you need to work for it. There will be failures, but your failures in life do not define who you are. You live, you try, you fail, you learn, and you move forward. Above all else, do not let fear of failure prevent you from ever writing that book, song, or movie that you always dream about. Got an idea that could change the world? Share your idea with the world; don't sit on it worrying about what other people might think of you. Don't look back on life and regret all the would've, could've, should've thoughts and ideas that you never tried. Failure is not the worst thing in the world. Never trying is far worse than failure; I am more ashamed of any time where I never tried at all than I am of any failure in my life because those were often the times I could have done something truly good,  but I let my own issues and insecurities get in the way.

Let me put it to you this way: buried in the ground of a cemetery are all the songs, books, movies, ideas, projects, and dreams that never came to fruition because people were too afraid to try. I have no doubt that we are all destined for greatness. Buried dreams, both literally and metaphorically, are never great. In order to really live life, we need to continue to strive to reach our dreams and goals. Leave the failures in the past where they belong. Learn from failure, but don't dwell on failure. Remember, the next great invention, book, song, ministry, idea hasn't even seen the light of day yet because you haven't shared it with the world. As for me, I'm off to my next failure because I know success is not far off. Chase your dreams because no one will chase them for you.