My beautiful latte from Café Nero at Waverly Station, Edinburgh, Scotland

Kindness is more effective than meanness anyday

I was in Starbucks earlier this week, getting a coffee after a very long day. It hadn’t been a bad day necessarily; just crazy and stressful. And the cute little barista girl had this nutty bubbly personality. I thought she was just adorable, and as I was waiting for her to make my coffee, I noticed that she was wearing a set of earrings in the shape of the symbol for the Deathly Hallows. I’m sure they’ve been around for years, but I’d never seen a set like that before. So I told her how much I loved them, and she looked really surprised for a moment. And thanked me because she’d made them herself. She went back to making my coffee, and we continued chatting, just idle talk, and she told me as she handed my coffee over that she wished more people were like me–nice.

That kind of stuck with me (that and the fact that she also likes Doctor Who, which makes her awesome). She was a sweet, cute little barista. Why wouldn’t you be nice to her? But I guess people are people, and working with the public tends to teach you that. I remember the days working behind a counter, at the mercy of whichever customer got there first. And I guess I understand the concept of being rude and mean to make an impression, because it absolutely leaves an impression–it’s just not usually the impression you want to be remembered for.

Given the choice, wouldn’t you rather be remembered as the nice customer?

My beautiful latte from Café Nero at Waverly Station, Edinburgh, Scotland

My beautiful latte from Café Nero at Waverly Station, Edinburgh, Scotland

Today’s verse is Ephesians 4:29.

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

This is something I think everyone struggles with, especially on bad days. Everyone has bad days. Everyone loses their cool. But I think this verse is talking about more than just the bad days. This verse is referring to a lifestyle. This is the way Christ-followers are supposed to behave. We’re not supposed to cut with our words; we’re supposed to build with our words. Everything we say should be encouraging and inspiring and helpful and kind. Now that doesn’t always mean that the people hearing it will respond in kind. They may get upset at us, but that’s up to them.

I can’t tell you how many times I have encountered unfriendly people who snap and bite and snarl because they want their way only to discover later that they are a professing Christian. That breaks my heart because as Christ followers we’re supposed to live a different kind of life. We’re supposed to know better than that. And I’m talking to myself here too because there are times when I get in a funk because my plans didn’t work out. There are times when I’ve gotten snappy with the lady on the other end of the telephone. But I hope I always try to be kind. I hope I always try to say good things. And when I don’t, I hope I always apologize.

Because there’s no disappointment like discovering a Christian behaving like that. Granted, just because we accept Christ doesn’t make us perfect. We’re still going to screw up, but our outlook should change. Our perspective should change. We shouldn’t use words and hurtful things to manipulate people anymore to get what we want; instead, we should trust that God will work things out the way He wants and it’s up to us to roll with the punches.

If you can walk into a place of business and be kind to everyone around you, you’ll be their biggest fan. I remember those customers when I worked at the WSU Library. I remember the ones who came in, who were kind, who were respectful, who were thoughtful and considerate. I remember them even now, and I haven’t worked there since 2006. But those people made me want to help them. Their kindness spurred me to do more for them than I needed to.

That’s what kindness does. It’s more effective than cruel manipulation any day, and it helps you build better relationships. And, what’s more, it helps you have a better day too.

So when you have the chance to get snappy today, don’t. When you’re faced with someone who you think is lazy and incompetent behind a counter and they’re not giving you the customer service you deserve, don’t get angry at them. Don’t take out your frustrations on them. You have no idea what’s going on in their lives. You have no idea what terrible troubles they’re facing right now. Be kind. Say something nice to them. Say something uplifting to them.

You’ll make their day, and I’m willing to bet that your day will probably get better too.

Flamingos at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Get a second opinion

Have you ever tried to start a new project without really know what you’re doing? It’s probably not the smartest idea, honestly, but I know folks who have done it anyway. Leaped into a commitment that was much larger than they expected. But if they would have dug a little deeper, they would have discovered what they needed to know.

That’s the funny thing about taking risks in life. They don’t have to be blind risks all the time because there’s bound to be someone else who’s had the same thoughts and experienced the same problems you have, and if you can find that person, you’ve got access to a treasure trove of information. But what if you don’t like what they tell you? You can’t exactly jeopardize your dreams just because one person thinks you’re nuts for trying it, do you?

Flamingos at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Flamingos at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 15:22.

Plans go wrong for lack of advice;
    many advisers bring success.

I like to go things alone. I’m independent and stubborn, and I like to figure things out for myself without anyone’s help. I have this internal drive to prove myself capable, and for some reason it seems to me like accepting advice or help from anyone else negates any progress I’ve made along those lines.

No, I’ve never claimed to be bright.

That’s why sometimes I struggle with this verse in Proverbs, because more often than not, whenever I go looking for advice about a decision I need to make, the people I talk to discourage me from taking it. Or they don’t understand what I’m trying to accomplish. So rather than being disappointed about what I want to do, it’s easier to just not ask and struggle through the process alone. Maybe that makes me independent, but I think it probably makes me more idiotic than that.

Asking for advice is essential, whether you’re taking a risk or not. Nobody can get through life without wise counsel from someone who’s already walked that road. I mean, you can try to get through life without wise counsel, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You’ll end up in heaps of trouble, and your life will be a lot more complicated than it needs to be. But you need to be careful where you get your advice.

Advice needs to be based on the Bible. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking relationship advice or work advice or child-rearing advice or business advice. Whatever advice you need, needs to be based on Scripture because that is the source of wisdom, so if you are getting advice from somebody that contradicts what the Bible says, you can feel free to ignore it.

But you also need to get a second opinion. Maybe that sounds harsh, but don’t put all your trust and focus in one person. Get the advice of more than one godly man or woman in your life when you need to make a decision. If they all tell you the same thing, then it’s a good chance that’s the way to go. If they all tell you something different, then you probably need to do some more praying about the decision you’re going to make.

God created us all with different perspectives, and He put us where we are in life to give us different experiences. Having a group of advisors with varied history, varied life experience, varied ages, varied everything is valuable, as long as the one thing they share is love of Christ and love of Scripture. If you have a group of people to get advice from, you’re more fortunate than you realize; you’re blessed. If you don’t have one, find one. Cultivate relationships with wise people. Learn to recognize wisdom and strive to integrate it into your life, and when you find a wise person, don’t scorn their advice. Listen to it. Consider it. Compare it to Scripture, and make your decision.

Some advice is discouraging because it contradicts what we want, but wisdom recognizes that getting what we want isn’t always what we need.

So if you’re the type who doesn’t like advice, consider learning to like it. It will probably save you heartache and frustration in the future. And if you’re the type who asks for advice, just make sure the person you’re listening is wise according to the Bible and the Spirit, especially if you’re hovering on the edge of a life-changing decision. But don’t just ask one wise person. There is more than one wise person in the world, and even though perspectives may vary, wisdom doesn’t.

Is there such a thing as too much advice? Maybe. But it’s probably better to risk too much advice than to press forward with too little.

The road that runs beside Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

No such thing as goodbye

I don’t like goodbyes, but it feels like I’ve been saying them for most of my life. Not because of death, though. Because of life. I have so many friends who have chosen to become missionaries in foreign countries, and I’m so excited and proud of all of them. But staying behind while they go is sometimes very sad.

I’m not sad that I don’t get to go to the mission’s field, though. I know I’m not called there. Some people are called to stay behind, and that’s always been me. What makes me sad is missing my friends, their faces, their laughter, getting to be actively involved in their lives. What’s really awesome is technology has made the world so small. With a computer I can carry in my pocket, I can have face-to-face conversations with people across the Atlantic Ocean. That’s a luxury missionaries didn’t have even ten years ago. Now it’s practically free.

But Skype or Google Hangout isn’t the same as being in the room, and even though I do plan to go see my friends, there is a good chance it won’t work. They’re all scattered everywhere, on nearly every continent (not Antarctica, though I’d still love to visit just to say I’ve been there). And flights can be hard to get, and in spite of my best intentions, I may not be able to make it happen. So there’s always a good chance that when I see my friend before he/she leaves the states, that’s the last time I’ll see them.

Depressing? I know. Keep reading.

The road that runs beside Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The road that runs beside Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Isaiah 35:10.

Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return.
They will enter Jerusalem singing,
crowned with everlasting joy.
Sorrow and mourning will disappear,
and they will be filled with joy and gladness.

There are many perks to being a follower of Christ, but the best one is the fact that we never really have to say goodbye. Maybe in this world we might never cross paths again, but in the next world, we’ll be together. And not just for a day. Forever.

We can’t really wrap our minds around the concept of forever now. Eternity is too big a concept for our puny little human brains. But our perfect home forever will be a place of joy and light and family and friends and Christ. So saying goodbye down here really isn’t goodbye. At least, it shouldn’t be. Granted, you may get to see a friend again, but then you might not. But as long as you both believe in Christ, there’s no such thing as goodbye–not really.

It’s easy to get caught up in this life. It’s easy to think this is the life that’s worth living for, but it’s not. As awesome as our life down here can be, the life to come is better, and that should be our focus. And that’s exciting because the life to come is so much better than this one.

So the next time you have to say goodbye, remember. If you’re parting ways with someone who loves Christ, you don’t have to say goodbye. There are no real goodbyes. You’re just going to travel separate roads for now, but both of those roads lead home.

Ridiculous looking rabbit at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Laughter is good medicine

When was the last time you had a good laugh? I mean, a seriously good laugh where your sides hurt and your face hurts because you’ve been laughing so hard? Can you remember? It’s interesting to me that our world seems so dead set on being so serious all the time.

Granted, our world is ridiculous, but when you get right down to it, our everyday lives aren’t really a laughing matter. We have stress at work, stress at home, stress at church, stress everywhere. There are bills to pay and food to put on the table and houses to clean and clothes to buy and all sorts of other necessities that we can’t get by without, and there’s very little time to actually do anything that needs to be done. Real life is a downer. Being a grown up is a downer, let me tell you.

Maybe that’s why people can make a living as comedians. People just want to laugh. But it’s hard to laugh when you know you’re facing difficult times. It’s hard to laugh when all you feel like doing is crying. But there’s something about laughter I think we forget sometimes, in our frenzied rush to get through life: laughter is good for us.

Ridiculous looking rabbit at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Ridiculous looking rabbit at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 17:22.

A cheerful heart is good medicine,
    but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.

Some of the most hilarious memories I have as a child were hanging around Hutchinson with my dad and my brother. Actually, most of my hilarious memories come from my dad and my brother. It was always so much fun to go places with them because they have a similar sense of humor–sarcastic. Like the photo for today? I snapped that at one of the Kansas State Fairs as a reminder of the times we would all go to the fair and make fun of the silly looking rabbits.

Other times, we would entertain ourselves for hours just wandering up and down the toy aisles in Target making fun of all the magic potty babies. Those were great memories, memories that have stuck with me through the years. I mean, how often does a kid say some of their favorite memories are wandering the toy aisle at a big box store? Normally that would be a sad statement. But not the way we did it. We laughed so hard in those toy aisles, I’m sure someone must have thought there was something wrong with us (maybe there is!).

Laughter is good medicine. It just does something to you inside.

So how do you laugh when your world is falling apart? How do you laugh when you don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring? How do you laugh when everything in your life feels like it’s completely out of control?

I think it varies from person to person, but I truly believe that all of us need to have someone in our lives who brings us unbridled joy. Someone who sparkles. Someone who can spark laughter just by being there. And if you think that sort of person doesn’t exist, you’re wrong; you just haven’t met them yet. They’re hard to find, and a lot of time you don’t find them right away. Sometimes you have to do some investing in that person before they show up. Maybe it’s a parent or a child or a friend, but if you have one of those people in your life, treasure them. They’re the people who add value to your everyday. Don’t take it for granted, but make use of it.

Life down here is dark and sad, and God knows that. Yes, He’s in control. Yes, He knows what He’s doing, but this world is broken. And all of us face terrible sadness every day, and I think that’s why God wants us to laugh. Faith is wonderful. I love having faith, I love trusting that God is going to keep His promises, but that’s hard work. Faith and trust wear me out sometimes, but if I can laugh about it? If I can laugh in spite of life’s troubles, faith isn’t so impossible.

Find something that makes you laugh. Do something that makes you laugh. Just laugh. It will change your perspective. It may not change your circumstances, but it will help you get through them. And if you can cling to joy through your faith, your burdens won’t seem so heavy.

Speedy's Café at 187 N. Gower (more popularly known as 221B Baker Street in BBC's Sherlock), London, England

What Sherlock taught me about facing difficulty

I don’t watch television. If I find a show that I enjoy, I wait for it to come out on DVD and then marathon it, because I don’t like being tied down to a television schedule. And I’ve never been able to figure out how to get digital recorders to work anyway. Well, last year, I got hooked on a remarkable television show: BBC’s Sherlock. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. It’s amazing. Created by two Arthur Conan Doyle freaks (Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the evil geniuses behind Doctor Who, my other current BBC obsession), it’s brilliant and funny and exciting and fresh and just all-around great entertainment. And it’s British. And it has Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in it, so what more could you ask?

Well, the season two finale was just evil. Evil, I tell you. And I’ve been waiting–waiting, waiting, waiting–patiently for the new series to come out. And I’ve got friend who watched it early because it launched in England earlier, and I thought about doing that. But for once, I wanted to watch it with everybody else, like a normal person. So I cleared my schedule on Sunday night and sat down to watch it on PBS.

And PBS was having major signal issues.

Now, if folks have cable, they didn’t have a problem. But I don’t have cable. I live in a 100-year-old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere with no access to cable systems, so I still operate on rabbit ears, which are hooked to a converter box and plugged into my television set. And something was wrong with the signal because every 15 seconds, the picture would fuzz and go silent for 5 seconds. And if you’ve watched any Sherlock, 5 seconds is a heck of a lot of time. You could miss an entire Cumberbatch soliloquy in 5 seconds.

I. Was. Pissed. Frustrated. Angry. Irritated. And just plain grouchy. I mean, seriously. I’d been waiting how long for this? Looking back on my reaction now, I’m kind of embarrassed about it because it seems like a very small thing to get so bent out of shape about. And that got me thinking about my life and perspective on a grander scale.

Speedy's Café at 187 N. Gower (more popularly known as 221B Baker Street in BBC's Sherlock), London, England

Speedy’s Café at 187 N. Gower more popularly known as 221B Baker Street in BBC’s Sherlock, London, England )yes, I’m that kind of geek that goes and takes pictures of set locations)

Today’s verses are Ecclesiastes 7:13-14.

Accept the way God does things,
for who can straighten what he has made crooked?
Enjoy prosperity while you can,
    but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God.
    Remember that nothing is certain in this life.

As I’ve posted before, Ecclesiastes is one of those books that you have to be careful with because Solomon was in quite a funk when he wrote it. So it’s not a book to just pick and choose verses and base your life off them. It’s a book to read in its entirety and understand as a whole.

To a certain extent, what this verse is saying is true. God has a certain way of doing things, and we have nothing to say about that. But God doesn’t bring hard times into our lives. God doesn’t take away good things from our lives. The world does that. Our own sin does that. The frustrations and irritations in our lives aren’t because of something God is doing; it’s a result of where we live and how we live.

But this is the verse that came to mind this morning after my frustrating experience with PBS last night. Not saying that PBS is like God. Not at all. But the situation reminded me of some similar events in my walk with God, where I was powerless to change anything, where I had a choice to either give up and cry about it or do the best I could until God revealed why it was all happening.

I’d like to think I’m a really great Christian who can handle whatever life and the world throws at me without complaint, but that’s not really the case. It’s funny. What I’ve found is that I can usually handle the really big things okay. The terrifying illnesses? No problem. The ridiculous expenses or the massive inconveniences? Not a big deal. But the small things? The tiny irritations? The pebbles in my shoe? They drive me flippin’ insane.

The tiny irritations of the Christian life are what make me crazy, and that’s not the way it should be. How I deal with the tiny irritations, especially when they stack up, will help me deal with the big problems later down the road. Like Sherlock last night. Instead of being grateful that I could see any of it, my first reaction was to get snippy and irritated. Why? Because I didn’t get what I wanted? How childish is that?

God doesn’t bring difficulty into our lives, but by the same token, He usually doesn’t snap His fingers to take it away when we encounter it. Some people like to say that means it’s His responsibility, and that’s their prerogative. But that’s like blaming a gardener for weeds. Weeds just happen; it’s not the gardener’s fault, and blaming him for it is a waste of effort and resources, especially since he will probably know the best way to deal with them anyway.

The perspective you choose when you encounter difficulty in your life will change everything, either for good or for worse. Don’t delude yourself. You are going to face tough times, regardless of whether you follow Christ or not. Why? Because our world is broken. And, no, God isn’t always going to step in and save you from the bad times because that’s not the way He works. There have been instances in the past where God has done that, where He’s intervened in ways that people can’t understand, and that’s not to say that He won’t do it again. But that’s His choice. That’s His prerogative, and if intervening doesn’t fit in His plan, He’s not going to do it. And He has that right as Sovereign God.

But just because He doesn’t step in doesn’t mean He’s abandoned us, doesn’t mean we’re alone or that He doesn’t care. It means He’s got something better. It means there’s a bigger plan and intervening would wreck it. Let’s face it, I learn more from difficulty than I do from comfort. I grow as a person when I face difficulty, and if I’m going through something tough right now, that means I’ve got something to learn. And whatever I learn is going to help me later on.

So if God has set you on a crooked, winding, steep path, don’t complain about it. Push forward and be thankful He’s equipped you for it. And when difficulty comes, don’t complain and don’t give up. He let it come for a reason. And when you don’t get what you want, remember that there’s something better on the other side.

True story. After I complained about PBS crapping out on me, my amazing friend Jessica told me about an incredible app. A PBS app! That allows you to watch current PBS episodes! Seriously? How awesome is that? So even though I didn’t get to see Sherlock last night, I’ll be able to watch it and the other episodes and the other PBS shows I love on my tablet, probably with better reception.

See? Something better.

I don’t know everything. I don’t have all the answers, and I can’t see the big picture. God doesn’t give me difficulty, but He lets me go through it so I remember He’s the one in control. And in His grace, He gives me what I need to get through and helps me learn something along the way.

So why be afraid of difficulty? Why get upset about it? Rejoice about it. Embrace it. Because you’re going to come out the other side better.