Not On My Watch, Because I Love You

Last week I saw this image briefly displayed on my television in a commercial for our armed forces. It was so impressive I had to play it back.   It spoke volumes to me. So I went to my computer to see if I could find it. It took no time at all. This photo is from the dailymail.co.uk web site with the caption below.

SpecialForcesJump

Appearing to hover in midair, this is the astonishing moment a U.S. Special Forces Paratrooper was snapped throwing a salute to his comrades while jumping backwards out of a plane over Germany. Despite being nearly 17,000ft in the air, the soldier, from the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, appears completely unfazed as he leaves the C-130 Hercules aircraft. The stunning photograph was captured during a training mission over a U.S. Special Forces Parachute Jump drop zone on February 24.  The 10th Special Forces group was founded in 1952 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, but was split in 1953 with one half being sent to Germany, while the other half folded into the 77th Special Forces Group. The unit regularly takes part in training exercises with NATO allies in Europe, and has served in the Gulf wars, carried out humanitarian missions, and helped to train Middle Eastern forces. 

This image got me thinking about how fortunate and blessed we are “back home” this Christmas season because of those men and women who faithfully serve in our armed forces (as well as our first responders here at home).

So what’s the big deal?

The deal is, we have thousands of volunteers in our military. During this holiday season (and every other day of the year) they continually stand watch over us and our allies. They do so so we can sleep in peace at night. They do so that we can worship as we choose.  They do so so we can freely and openly criticize our government when they make poor decisions. They do so so evil will not go challenged.  They heroically stand in the gap between good and evil, saying, “Nothing is going to happen to you – not on my watch.”

One of the greatest gifts we enjoy in America is our freedom. But freedom comes at a high cost, not only financially to our government (which is you and me), but freedom is also costly for those who serve and their families in terms of dollars, disabilities and even death. Those in our military branches are due our respect, gratitude and most importantly our prayers and support.

Jesus said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13 NASB)

The active verb in this passage is of course “love.” However, closely read the second sentence. In this sentence Jesus is not only referring to himself as a “friend” to the disciples, willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins, but He is also including the disciples in the decisions they will have to make. Pause for a moment and consider what our service men and women are about. Aren’t they making that same decision? Serving in the military is not just about an income/job, or the G.I. bill or the life skills they may develop.

Serving in the military is nothing less than an act of love for our country, its people – you and me.

Contemplate the images below and remember our military and their families in your prayers. Pray for their safety and that of their families. Pray also for the families of those who didn’t make it home alive, for they too have paid a high price for us to celebrate our freedom and Christmas. Pray also for those Christian and Jewish brothers and sisters being persecuted in the middle-east for their faith in our Father G-d.

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navy-seals

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Enduring Freedom

National Cemetary

Have a safe and Merry Christmas.

I will post the next posting in the series on prayer after the first of the year. Until then, be well and be blessed,
David

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A Journey of Prayer – Part 3, Shared Tears of an Unmet Friend

It’s 3:30 a.m.

Having difficulty sleeping, I decided I needed to do something productive in hopes I could wind down and get some sleep. I decided to do some “house cleaning” of my hard-drive and get rid of some of useless photos eating up drive space. I came across three photographs I took while I was in the hospital almost two years ago.

Just after Christmas in 2013 I caught some sort of virus leaving me with a severe upper respiratory infection and landing me in the hospital. After triage and being stabilized in the E.R., I was moved to ICU for a few hours for monitoring until a bed was made available. As it turned out the only bed available was on the cancer treatment floor. While I have absolutely no desire to return to that floor, I am grateful for the experience as I learned some things about me I couldn’t learn otherwise.

It was the sounds I heard that week affecting me the most, and in particular the sounds coming from the room across the hallway from me. While I could not see into the room, as the curtain by the bed obstructed my view, I could still hear everything that went on in that room. One evening, the patient in that room evidently got horrible news. She screamed a scream the likes I had never heard before. It wasn’t a scream of physical pain. This was full-blown wailing of anger, fear and sadness in one colossal outflow of emotion. An instant later I heard the crash of something hitting a wall then smashing on the floor, followed by an emphatic, “NO!” After about five minutes of this one-woman riot with family members, doctors and nurses trying to calm her down, she finally gave in to quiet sobbing. That’s when, from my bed across the hall, I quietly joined in her distress and wept.

A rush of fear, despair and nausea overcame me. I have never felt so utterly useless and helpless as I did in the following hours.  All I could do in those moments was share her tears and pray for her.

From what I could hear, family members started showing up. Each time someone would arrive another wave of emotion would fill the air. There was a continuum of waves of sadness and sorrowful conversation for the next several hours.

I didn’t know her, had never even seen her, nor had she seen or known me. Nonetheless, I shared her pain if only from a distance. I wanted to reach out to her in some way and asked to see her, but a nurse told me, “That would not be possible as exposure to my condition would put her at greater risk.” Even if I could see her, I wouldn’t know what to say or to do. For a time, I felt like I was in some emotional straight-jacket and couldn’t remove myself from the situation or the emotions I was experiencing.

Two EyesI was required to walk laps around the nurse’s station to keep moving to prevent my lungs from filling up.  I also needed a break from all the sadness emanating from across the hall, so I decided to take a walk. Hanging on the walls of this particular floor were dozens of paintings, poems, drawings and photographs created and donated by patients. A diptych (shown above) in particular captured my attention that night.  The drawing on the right portrayed the deep and intense pain that produced the sounds of heartache that echoed through the halls. During that week, each time I passed these two works, the disconcerting sounds of that night returned with great clarity.

At Peace

Bad News

After eight days in the hospital, I was released to go home and leave my unseen and unmet fellow patient. I don’t know what ultimately became of her, but I prayed for weeks to come that Jesus would heal both her body and soul, and that she would know G_d’s peace that passes all our understanding. I wish I could have touched her heart in some personal way beyond that of my prayers for her. I asked someone at the nurses station how she was doing, but they wouldn’t offer any information about her condition, leaving me feeling empty and sad. So I prayed James 5:13-15 over her, knowing that G_d’s will will be done, claiming His promise of restoration.

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.
(James 5:13-15 NASB)

At Peace

At Peace

Tonight, while sorting through old photographs, these three photos took me back to that woeful night reminding me of my “friend” across the hall. Those eyes portrayed on canvas truly captured my experience that evening, and caused me to relive those moments and emotions again tonight.

It is truly amazing how G_d  wired our species when He created us, in particular how we can connect or relate to another with but a tiny strand of humanity and kinship from a distance. I find peace in knowing that Our Father’s character does not allow Him to break His promise to love, heal, restore and raise us up. These images reminded me of an experience that started with another’s immense pain ending with G_d’s promise.  We are commanded to pray.  Doing so should ultimately become second nature.  Paul says in 1 Thessalonians:

17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 NASB)

When we can’t see or witness the results of our prayers, it is important to remember what Jesus commanded us to do. His most common command is in one form or another “fear not.” The Gospels list over 120 imperatives from Jesus. Of these, 21 urge us to “not be afraid” or “not fear” or “have courage” or “take heart” or “be of good cheer.” The second most common commands, to love God and neighbor, appears on only eight occasions. If this quantity is any indicator, Jesus takes our prayers, fears and concerns in life quite seriously. During those times when we pray and can’t see the outcome, it is important to remember the one statement Jesus made more than any other is; “Don’t be afraid.”

Often people say, “Oh, it is the least I can do” when asked to pray for someone or something; however, calling upon the Master and Creator of the Universe is likely the MOST one can do.

Come back for Part Four of this series next week.  Feel free to comment on this posting and share your experience(s) with prayer.

Be well and be blessed, David

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A Journey of Prayer – Part 2, Calling On Him

Can you recall a time when you’ve had a great day and everything is going your way? You ate the best breakfast you’ve ever had then headed to work with no traffic jams making record time. You walk into your office to find your boss smiling at you, then he hands you the bonus check you’ve been waiting for rewarding you for the amazing job you’ve done. You both sit down expecting him to elaborate on why you are getting the bonus only to discover he’s handing you your severance check.

Talking about a bomb being dropped!

After returning from a vacation in Virginia I reported to the Test Floor, a coworker of mine approached me asked, “Hey, what are you doing here?”

“I work here.”

“No you don’t,” he exclaimed. “You were laid off last week.”

It happened. Life threw me a curve ball when I least expected it. It didn’t go over home plate, it hit me smack in the middle of my head, and I was wearing no helmet. After 19+ successful years with the company I went from hero to zero, from champ to chump. After a brief meeting with HR, I was escorted out the door, left standing alone, wondering what was my future would hold.

I called my wife (at that time) to let her know of the shocking news. “Guess what, after almost 20 years with the company, I was just laid off.” She responded, “Well you’re of no use to me.” Months later we were divorced. In the process, we had to sell the house we built.

Three weeks after being laid off, I was driving home after attending a class on résumé writing and networking in hopes of finding employment. My arrival at the house was delayed because a woman was focused on her mobile phone conversation than traffic. She broad-sided my truck causing it and me to roll one and a half times, sliding over 130 feet down the street on the roof of the truck. This is a picture of my truck.

IMG_0001After my truck came to rest, I struggled to unbuckle my seat belt landing on my head. After climbing out the passenger’s side window I sat against the truck and asked God, “What more could go wrong?”

All I asked God for in my prayer a few weeks before was, “Lord, do what you need to do to me to bring me into the center of your will.” I didn’t expect he would allow all of this to happen, seemingly all at once.

A couple weeks after the roll-over I started having migraine headaches – the first time in many years. I started taking my migraine medicine, but the headaches continued and worsened. After several days of increasing pain I decided to go to the emergency room at the hospital near my house. The ER doctor order x-rays and a CT scan. Surprisingly the hospital did not have a radiologist to read the images that night, so they sent the electronic images to their sister hospital, Barrow Neurological Center at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix on the other side of town (which happens to be the top neurological hospital west of the Mississippi).

The radiologist  at Barrow told the ER doctor to, “Put him in an ambulance and get him over here NOW.” In a matter of minutes I was listening to the sound of an ambulance siren above my head and the continuous beep of the heart monitor attached to me. Needless to say I was way beyond worried. I was scared!

I was transported to Barrow’s intensive care unit with a skull fracture, subdural hematoma and epidural hematoma, all because of a woman’s screwed up priorities. A nurse started IV’s as I was examined by the attending physician. Blood draws were taken in preparation for cranial vascular surgery and morphine drip started to ease my pain. The doctor informed me the mortality rate of acute subdural hematoma (SDH) range from 36% to 79%; for ages of 40-80 years (that would be me) the mortality rate of about 65%.

The next morning I awakened to a visitor in my room. He was the resident priest presenting me with DNR (do not resuscitate) paperwork asking me about my next of kin and my religious preference. My heart started racing as I finally connected with the severity of the problem. I asked him to leave the paperwork as I needed time and help in some decision-making.

When he left, I questioned G_d, “Lord, is this really part of your plan? Haven’t I been through enough? I lose my job, marriage, house, truck and now my health? Besides my clothing and a few dollars in the bank, all I have left is my breath! You want that too?”

I had nothing to offer to anyone or to G_d. Nothing – except my breath, that’s it. But that’s all G_d wanted. He wanted my breath. He created me to call to Him, worship Him and love Him. He allowed these circumstances to enter my life to remove anything that distracted me from focusing on Him and what He wanted for me, rather than what I wanted for me. It wasn’t until I relinquished everything to Him, listen to Him and obeyed Him that my life would turn for the better. I had to be laid on my back in order to look up.

My brothers and sisters in Christ prayed continually for me. CT scans of my head were taken every 6 to 12 hours for several days to determine if and when vascular surgery would be performed. By day four, the hematomas both started to shrink in size. Through no effort on my part and by His grace I avoided surgery. Prayer truly worked.

My focus was reduced to two things. Getting physically stronger and spiritually stronger by studying G_d’s word and seeking first His kingdom. Everything I needed to know was and is contained in the pages of His book – The Holy Bible. His love letter to me, His instruction book for life, the Bible.

Unless we are in a posture of looking to Jesus as a source of strength, hour by hour, minute by minute, praying ceaselessly, and clinging to Him – we are not going to walk in the fullness of Him. Power comes out of dependency on God. I have to keep reminding myself of this truth.  Consider these scriptures.

Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to me and I will answer you, ….”

2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 NASB)

Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

What circumstances are you in that might be opportunities for spiritual maturity and growth? Are you able to experience peace and joy in the midst of difficult times? If so, please comment and tell us about your experience.

Be well and be blessed, David

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A Journey of Prayer, Part 1 – The Most Dangerous Prayer

LETTING THE VINEDRESSER HAVE HIS WAY

Double-pruning-grapevines-vineyard-jordan-winery-video

I meet with some great guys for breakfast on many Friday mornings, and have for over 12 years. We used to attend the same church. For several years running we had an annual weekend summer retreat in the cool mountains of Northern Arizona. These retreats gave us an opportunity to get out of the office (and the heat) and fellowship with each other for three days, laughing, praying and singing together. Typically each person would deliver, at some time during the retreat, a short devotional or topical study of something G_d laid on their heart. The real value of the retreat for me was that it provided an opportunity for my brothers to challenge and hold me accountable for areas of growth I committed to work on during the previous retreat, as well as throughout the year.

On one afternoon we had a discussion on prayer and specifically what the most difficult, challenging or scariest prayer would be. Not surprisingly, some quickly landed on “praying for patience.” I disagreed. Granted, praying for patience is a guarantee G_d will allow challenging situations and circumstances to present themselves, thereby providing opportunities to develop and exercise that character trait. However, that prayer addresses but one of many character traits G_d wants us to develop.

When I declared, “That’s not it,” one of my brothers in Christ challenged me as to what I thought the scariest or toughest prayer is. My answer, “Lord, do whatever you need to do to me to bring me into the center of your will.”

The immediate response from Rick was, “Have you prayed that prayer?” I responded, “Heck no. I’m a good person. I have a good job, good pay, a nice house and I am comfortable with things the way they are. The decisions I made put me where I am and I am comfortable in that place. I like my life the way it is, at least for the most part.” I considered myself quite self-sufficient.

A couple years later, and not surprisingly, I became dissatisfied with my stagnate relationship with Christ. I walked in directions of my choosing and served as I saw fit, when I saw fit, expecting G_d to be pleased with my token donations of minimal time and effort. This selfish approach to my faith prevented me from having the rich, close and intimate relationship with my Heavenly Father, but He pursued me. My fruitless life became a frustrating life. Something had to change. One evening I opened my bible and read John 15:1-8. For the next several days this passage hung tenaciously in my thoughts.

1 “ I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples (John 15:1-8 NASB).

This passage makes at lease six important assertions.

  1. We are commanded to “abide” in Him and His word. Even though I was and am a believer I still chose to live life on my terms not His.
  2. Apart from Christ we can do nothing.  Yet, I felt I was so-call “successful” by some
    peoples’ standard.
  3. The Vinedresser prunes worthless and fruitless aspects from His childrens’ lives, but only if we allow Him to. I didn’t allow.
  4. Our answered prayer is a direct result of our obedience to Christ and “abiding” in Him and His word. My playing the part was not living the part.
  5. Whatever we ask for, it shall be done. I asked for things I wanted rather than asking His will be done.
  6. G_d is glorified when we bear fruit. I yielded very little.

This pruning process Jesus describes means areas of my life having no eternal value must be cut out by sharp pruning shears in G_d’s hand. There’s no way around it. Period. Habits, attitudes, behaviors and thought patterns familiar to me needed to be disrupted, dismantled, disassociated and disconnected from my heart and mind. This was not going to be a quick peeling of a stubborn band-aid, but would instead take time and be an unpleasant healing and growth process (and still is).

Finally, one evening in desperation I mustered the courage to pray the toughest prayer a self-sufficient person can pray. I knelt and prayed, “Lord, do what you need to do to my to bring me into the center of your will.”

mankneelingandpraying

Shortly thereafter all hell broke loose.

Come back next week for Part 2 of this series.

Until then, well and be blessed,
David

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Holiday To-Do List

Thanksgiving Day starts the holiday season a couple short weeks from now. It is very easy to get caught up in what we think is expected of us instead of considering what the holidays should represent. I think it prudent the holiday season starts with Thanksgiving as it gives us a time to pause and reflect on what truly matters most. Here is photo of a list of those things I should be doing, not only during the holiday season but all year long. What captured my attention is the selflessness of the list and its outward focus.

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I encourage you to spend time thinking of what each of these would require of you, and what little you would forfeit to make a difference. Other than item 4, none of these cost any money but would be appreciated, and of course number 5 is reserved for your spouse.

Yeshua Messiah said, “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward. (Matthew 10:42 NASB)”

It isn’t hard to make a difference if we make the time to stop, see others’ needs and care.  They will be blessed and so will you.

Be present, be the light and be blessed,
David

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Strange Woman Waited For Mom To Look Away, Slipped Boy Stunning Note

After dragging her son into the doctor’s office, the last thing this exhausted mother wanted was a nosy stranger inserting herself into her business. But that’s exactly what she got when the strange woman handed the mother’s son a note when she wasn’t looking, offering something she didn’t expect.

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Life hasn’t been easy for Melissa Simms of Pell City, Alabama, who couldn’t seem to catch a break. Just when she thought it couldn’t get any worse for her, it did when she got to a doctor’s appointment with her son in tow after he stayed home sick from school.

Melissa and her husband were in the midst of a number of stressful circumstances, from several surgeries she had that left them drained both emotionally and financially. She had just $10 to her name, which she split with her husband for gas that morning. She was at her wit’s end with the physician, finances, and now having to pull her son along to the office with her.

MelissaAndHubby
“My husband and I woke up and split out last ten dollars for gas, for him to go to work and for me to make it to my doctor’s appointment,” Melissa told WBRC News. “All day I was stressed about how am I going to make supper for my kids.”

When Melissa got to the doctor, she was told that her co-pay was a lot more than she was expecting. She didn’t have any cash to get food on the table that night, let alone a pricey toll for the follow-up. Without a choice, she went to the doctor anyway, leaving her son behind in the waiting room until she was done with the appointment.

As her boy Trey waited for his mother, a strange woman approached him with an envelope, instructing that he give it to his mother. The responsible child didn’t snoop inside as he held it, and the woman simply took off without saying another word or giving her name. When Melissa came back, Trey handed her the envelope. She immediately opened it and couldn’t believe the message and gift this woman left for her, which ended in tears for the stressed out mom.

Melissa found a note tucked inside which said, “I’ve had days like you’re having today. Hang in there,” then cited Joshua 1:9, which is a Bible verse encouraging us to be strong, courageous, and unafraid. God also commands in the passage to “not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Along with the inspirational note was something else to help her out. The stranger had enclosed $100.

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The mother was reduced to tears that this stranger noticed her need and came in as a light in her darkest hours. She had nothing and no hope, but she was lifted up by the words of encouragement and kindness with the financial gift. Melissa was able to use the money to not only pay the doctor, but buy groceries so her family could eat.

“I was having one of those days where it just seemed everything was going wrong and then….a unknown woman which I will call her an (EARTHLY ANGEL) handed this to my son while we were at the doctors office to give me. This made my whole entire day THANK YOU and I will pay it forward! I have read about these random acts of kindness, but this is the first time I have ever experienced it first hand! Just thought maybe this could cheer up someone’s day as much as it has mine!”

She may never find this good Samaritan who didn’t do this for the notoriety, but to serve her God and His children. Melissa said that she hopes to repay the kind deed by paying it forward when she has some extra cash in her pocket and is presented with a person she can bless with it.

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Don’t Wait, Tell Them

An extremely rash and foolish assumption people make is that tomorrow will arrive and they will be part it. This arrogant presumption can, with no warning, become a burden of regret. The consequences of making such an assumption may be great or trivially unnoticed. It is not unexpected that adolescents commonly assume such, as do many “adults,” and I was no different in my youth. “Tomorrow” was something I banked on and regret became the currency.

When I was 15 or so, a small white-haired elderly man wearing an old but well-kept black suit, white shirt and very thin necktie faithfully attended our church every Sunday. Those in the church affectionately referred to this five feet tall widower as Brother Allen. Time, scoliosis and arthritis stole his freedom of movement, freezing his neck in a downward looking posture. His gate, slow and deliberate, appeared as though he was looking for something on the ground. Every Sunday, with cane in hand, he made his way to the same pew near the front of the church.

Brother Allen was soft-spoken having a gentle disposition. He would turn his entire body to face you to speak with to you, with eyes and smile leading the turn. His hushed voice and inviting smile would without intent draw you to his eye-level. When he shook your hand you knew you were in the presence of someone special.

On occasion he was called to fill the pulpit when the pastor was absent or to end the service in prayer. When Brother Allen prayed, a stillness enveloped the congregation. His extemporaneous prayers were pure poetry. You could sense the peace and warmth of the Holy Spirit when he prayed.

Most were drawn to him regardless of age. He told the most amazing and colorful stories provided you took the time to listen. Brother Allen spoke in vivid word-pictures taking you back into his past, in a time when worship was not a service on Sunday but how one lived. While it was not common to see Jr. High and High School kids gather around him, those of us that took the time to stop to speak with him, and more importantly listen, were truly blessed. His face and demeanor are unforgettable.

One Sunday night after church we returned home to prepare for the next school week. That night decided I must make time to tell Brother Allen how special he was. Next Sunday passed, and then another, and another, and another.

One evening the phone rang and my mom answered. The news came. Brother Allen died, and went home to be with The Lord. Sadness and guilt engulfed me. My youthful self-centeredness kept me from taking the time to tell him how much I appreciated him. This was one of those “teachable moments” in a young man’s life. I paid for my procrastination with a large sum of regret, add to that, I disappointed G_d. It still saddens me today to know I gave up an opportunity to do something honorable for a kind old man in exchange for trivial things I can’t even remember. It was a hard lesson to learn.

Today, I try to grasp every opportunity to let those making a positive difference in my life know that I appreciate their kindness, thoughtfulness and love.

  • When you appreciate a beautiful smile offer offered to you, tell them.
  • When you admire someone for a difficult decision they had to make, tell them.
  • When a stranger does something nice to help make your day just a little better, tell them.
  • When your life is improved because a loved-one cares about you, tell them.
  • When you are at peace because someone comforted, tell them.
  • When you are better because someone challenged a poor decision, tell them.

The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:8-9 – 8 “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

“Dwell on these things.” “Practice these things.” Easier said than done with life’s craziness. Remember these are not suggestions or recommendations, they are commands. Memorize them. Pray them. Make them part of your mindset. I still remind myself that tomorrow belongs to G_d, not me and to act accordingly. Bless those special people He brings into your life at a special time and tell them, “You made a difference.”

You may not have a second chance.

Be well and be blessed,
David

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