Saturday, August 27, 2011

I sat down to pay bills and figure out the funds that need to go into our “envelope system (see Dave Ramsey) this morning. And, I found an extra envelope tucked in our usual batch. This new envelope is the one in the picture. It simply reads, “Klaire.”

That’s right, now we have envelopes that read; Grocery, Eat Out, Fuel, Miscellaneous, and KLAIRE. That girl is smart!

Klaire is our youngest daughter (5 years old) and just started Kindergarten. She loves school and learning. I’ve included a few pictures from her first day at school as well. One of the pictures features her teacher Mrs. Tant.

I would have posted pictures of Kassidy’s first day of 8th grade but she nearly killed me when I pulled out my iPhone to take the shot. And, I would post pictures of Karlee's first day of college but it still makes me cry to just think about it.

Julie and I are truly blessed to have three amazing daughters.

Facing the Storms of Life

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sometimes life becomes difficult and other times its smooth sailing. Well, I have recently found myself in the midst of some pretty crazy storms!

All in about a one-month time period the following (and some I just won’t mention) have happened to come upon my family and me.

· My dad was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer

· My grandmother (my dad’s mom) passed away

· One of my mentors and dear friends passed away

· One of my good friends wife was diagnosed with incurable cancer

· My oldest daughter moved two hours away to start college

· My middle daughter started 8th grade in a new school

· My youngest daughter started Kindergarten

· An old back injury raised its ugly head and may require surgery to repair

· My wife’s grandmother fell breaking a her hip and wrist which required surgery

I’m not writing about this to have my own pity-party or to make you will feel sorry for me. Everyone has difficult days and I realize many people have much more going on in their lives than I do. I’m also not writing because I have it all figured out. I don’t.

I writing because I thought it might help someone else who is going through a difficult time. I’ve seen far too many friends drop off the deep end during a mid-life crisis or over some tough season of life. I don’t want to be one of those guys. So, here are some things I’m doing to work through the junk that is going on in my life.

1. Stop – realize what is going on.

It’s important to stay positive in life but there are times when we should stop and realize what we are facing just aren’t normal. One of the first steps to finding your way out of a wilderness is to stop and take account of the situation. Then you can determine a marker and set a direction for moving forward. It’s one thing to face one difficult situation in life but it’s completely different to face several all at once.

2. Talk to someone

I have to admit this isn’t easy for most men. I don’t necessarily like it. Talking with a godly person helps us be accountable to someone else and we are more likely to be honest with ourselves. I actually recommend finding two or three people that you can lean on during difficult seasons. Express what you are going through. Allow them to speak into the situation and to cover you in prayer. And, just so you know – I’m assuming you are already communicating these things with your spouse. Also, I always recommend that men find godly men to share with and women find godly women.

3. Pray and journal

Prayer is vital to our growth and walk with Christ. This is important in good and bad times. Journaling is simply another way for me to express my feelings in writing and seems to help me think more clearly about what is actually taking place. I write out my thoughts, create a prayer list, and sometimes write out things that I’m thankful for. This process can also help build your faith as you see God answer prayers and carry you through those difficult times.

4. Worship

I like to begin my day with worship. This helps me focus on God’s greatness, grace, mercy, and love. I usually have several worship songs on my iPhone that I love to listen to in the morning. Worship is the opposite of worry. I read recently that someone said, “worrying is temporary atheism.” I think we often worry because we have forgotten to worship.

5. Take one day at a time

This one kind of speaks for itself. I love to plan and cast vision. But when going through difficult times I have found it best to focus on the needs at hand for that day and trusting God with the rest.

6. You can’t walk it alone

As believers we were never meant to walk through life alone. We need each other. It’s biblical to help out others and it’s biblical to allow others to encourage, pray, and help you out when the time comes. If you aren’t part of a solid church family then you are missing out and I honestly feel sorry for you.

7. Exercise

Taking a walk, going on a bike ride, or jogging can seriously help clear your head and release a lot of tension. Unfortunately, difficult times often cause us to withdraw and avoid healthy activity. Do everything you can find ways to exercise.

8. Pick a verse

God’s word is powerful and life changing. It encourages, teaches, and guides us. I have found it helpful over the years to find a verse or two that I can focus on when facing challenges. A few weeks ago, God led me to the following:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

The fact is storms will come. God never promised us an easy, carefree life. How we handle the storms is critical. Sometimes it’s the storms that actually make us stronger and help to develop a closer walk with Christ, family, and friends.

So, how do you deal with the storms of life?

A Sweet-bitter-Sweet day.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Yesterday, we took our oldest daughter Karlee to the University of Tennessee Chattanooga. It was a sweet-bitter-sweet day. Yes, I realize I have that last sentence out of sorts but that is the order it hit me. You see, I did pretty well with my oldest going off to college. We have been slowly letting her out of the nest for years. She has been to camps, leadership conferences, school trips, and even a mission trip to France. I’m so proud of my daughter and the woman she has become and continues to grow into.

So, I had somehow managed to focus on all the “sweet” things about her going to college. And then…we walked out of her dorm and drove the car out of the city. It was somewhere along I-24 that this huge lump swelled up in my throat.

Suddenly, 18 years of our life together as a family, of my time with my first born from the moment I stood in the delivery room and watched her enter this world to the time she walked the stage and received her High school diploma – all of this flashed across my mind. And I wept. The taste of bitterness washed through my mouth and I could barely swallow it. My little girl, my baby, my first-born was now out on her own. I wept more. This stinks. Then this thought actually came to my mind, “if I would have known how hard this was then I would have never had children!” The pain was that deep. (I know, crazy thought, hang with me.)

Somewhere along our journey along I-24 I glanced out on the horizon and noticed the beautiful rolling hills of Tennessee. And it was at this point that I felt God’s peace come over me. It was if the Holy Spirit was whispering in my ear, “Joe, you see these mountains, I made them, I created all of this and I’m quite capable of watching over your little girl.”

I was then back to “sweetness.” And, I realized how crazy and self-centered my earlier thought of not having children was. Yes, having children can be painful in many ways. But the blessings of being a dad far out way them all. I’m blessed! I have to stop now – that lump in my throat is back.

“For we live by faith, not by sight.” I Corinthians 5:7

Providence and Creative Titles

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The other day I was driving back from a dear friends funeral in Missouri and decided to listen to a Matt Chandler sermon on my iphone. I typically never travel alone but made an exception for this trip so that I could have some time to think, pray, and listen. I always have podcasts ready on my phone. I have found that I need time each week to be inspired by others and so I download messages from Steven Furtick, Perry Noble, Andy Stanley, Rick Warren, Francis Chan, Matt Chandler, and others. I want to be inspired, I want to grow, I want to be stretched, so I listen.

The funeral of my dear friend was hard on me – I’ll write more about that soon. I also had just been to the funeral of my grandmother the week before. Death, dying, pain, suffering, heaven, hell – were all topics on my brain. Sometimes the difficulties in life cause us to re-examine the hard truths we often avoid in life.

I hadn’t listened to Matt Chandler in a while. His ministry has been blessed and he is an incredible teacher/pastor. And, his personal story of facing cancer over the past year or so is flat out amazing. The guy has guts, loves Christ and lives out his faith. That’s the kind of traits I desperately want in my own life.

As I scanned through Matt’s sermon titles – I noticed a 3 part series called “Transitions.” I thought to myself, I’m in a transition period – in my 40’s, our first child is going into college, we just moved to a new community south of Nashville, I’m only 1 year into a new job, my dad was just diagnosed with cancer, and I had just been to the funeral of one of my mentors.

Had I known what Matt’s “Transition” series was really about – I probably wouldn’t have listened. It wasn’t the kind of transition I had in mind. It was solid biblical truth hitting me straight where my heart was torn open. What was it about? Well, I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

I'm thankful for Providence and God leading me to these messages. I'm also thankful for the creativity at The Village Church (Matt's church). Sometimes creative titles really do make a difference. I highly recommend this powerful 3 part series. One thing for sure, this is one transition no one will avoid.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Being thankful for trials and difficulties isn’t always easy. But the truth is, God’s blessings sometimes come through hard times or even tragedies. James writes about this in chapter 1:2-4;

2 Count it all joy, my brothers,t when you meet trials of various kinds,3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

The verse I often struggle with is #4 where James tells us to “let” the tough times do the work in us. I’m not good at “letting” – I want to fix things or I want God to fix things and the sooner the better. To “let,” is hard. It takes patience and a willingness to allow God to work things out for our good.

Recently, the song Blessings by Laura Story has been one of our families favorites. I love the words and the truth found in her song.

How are you doing with the “let?”