A high five in the middle of a store

Contentment is a choice.

We went to Kohl’s on Friday to pick up a few things.  We had a few minutes to kill so we wandered the store after finding some clothes.  We came across a patio set.  Our current set is in dire shape.  The cushions had become worn.  Rust was starting to show on the steel frame.  To our surprise, they had their sets on sale.  In fact, it was a really good sale.  We asked an assistant to package the items and I would come back with my van.  So, we drove home.  I switched cars and went back to the store.  The assistant told me to hop in line and he would bring up the set.  When it was my turn a lady in her late 50’s motioned to me to come to her register.

Just to put things in perspective, the store was packed.  I have been to Kohl’s around Christmas when the line is stretching through the store.  While not quite the same, this was close as you had to wait several minutes to get to a clerk.  People were in a hurry due to the holiday weekend.  There was no break for the workers.  It would be completely understandable if every one of them was in a mood.  Working on the holidays.  Hurried if not irritable customers.  No break.  Yeah, I would be a little frustrated.

Thus my surprise when I found myself in front of an energetic, happy woman.  She asked me how I was doing.  She helped me with a smile.  Then, she said we are going to try and get you a better deal.  Apparently, there is a deal that can be had if you have an account with them.  It works sometimes.  Other times it doesn’t.  So, she said let’s give it a try.  She punched in some numbers.  She turned the screen to me so I could fill in some information.  She leaned over with a smile and said let’s see if we can save you some money.  I said, “I’m all for that.”  As she stared at the screen, information popped up.  She immediately became excited and said it worked!  She then lifted her hand and gave me a high five.  Ok, this is a first.  I have never been given a high five by a clerk in the store.  It was as if she personally had saved the money.

I want to be like this woman when I grow up.  Actually, I want to be like this woman now.  There were countless reasons why she could have been sour on this day.  She could have simply survived work and gone home.  She could have spoken to no one, earned her paycheck, and her boss would have not given it a second thought.  But, she made a choice that day to be cheerful and upbeat.  She chose to be happy.  She seemed completely content.

I have bought into the myth that contentment is found in buying certain things, earning that promotion, getting accolades from other people, or simply going on vacation.  In these cases, contentment is bound up with things, achievements, or escapes.  Yet, it is not true.  Contentment is found in simply being thankful for what you have and enjoying the day that has been given to you.  Contentment is a choice we have to make every day – to love life or to dread it.

As a believer, this is all the more true.  Easter reminds me of the daily blessings available to me – unconditional forgiveness, sufficient grace, and the constant companionship of a God who adores me.  For me, contentment should be all the easier as I have available to me everything I need to enjoy life abundantly.  I am a child of God with all the heavenly resources available to me to live life with thankfulness and contentment if I choose.  It is not forced up on me.  It is not demanded of me.  God offers it to me.  I think I will choose it.

Easter is a time for do-overs in life.

It is common to have regrets in life.  Oftentimes, these regrets involve decisions that are life-altering.  Something that you did or said years ago rippled into the future with devastating effects.  It might be a financial.  It might be family-related.  And you find yourself mulling that decision over in your mind again and again wondering what your life would be like today if you had only made a different choice.

Easter is a time of new beginnings.  It is a time when we can experience erased guilt.  It is a season where we can start over with hope.

One of the most powerful examples of hope is found in the thief that died next to Jesus.  I imagine that he hung there pondering the decisions that led to this moment.  We are not certain as to the exact crimes that warranted his execution.  However, it was serious enough that he was now being put to death.  As his final breaths began to expire, I am confident he wished for a redo in life.  He must have thought, “Is this really the ending to my life?  Is this the legacy that I am going to be known for?  What if I would have simply made a decision not to steal?  I could be enjoying freedom.”  Regrets must have filled his heart over a poor decision or possibly a life of unwise choices that landed him on a cross.

Yet, as providence would have it, he finds himself next to the only person with the authority to grant him a new beginning.  Any other day and his fate would have been sealed.  Not this day.  In his desperation, he looks over and pleads for mercy.  He recognizes the decisions he has made are his.  He takes responsibility for them.  He doesn’t make excuses.  He simply throws himself before God.

That decision to embrace Christ was a life-changer, much more than those ill-fated decisions over the years.

In that moment, Christ grants him a new beginning.  He would be with Jesus in heaven.

In that moment, Christ erased his guilt.  His crimes would not be held against him.

In that moment, Christ gave him hope.  A life of joy and grace awaited him.

Easter is a time where we can find as close to a do over in life as we can get.  We don’t have to be bound by past decisions that continue to plague us.  We don’t have to live with years of guilt that paralyze us from moving forward.  We don’t have to live with despair believing that our best years are over and we will never experience true life.  Easter is a time when we can leave all that behind and declare, “It is finished.”

 

Living in the Moment

I want to live in the moment.

I don’t want to be constantly thinking about the past.  I gain nothing by racking my brain over should haves and could haves.  I tend to look backwards assessing whether or not a different decision would have been better.  I like to consider the road not taken as a means to assess my present life.  At times, this is good as it makes you appreciate life.  However, in most cases, it simply riddles you with guilt or depression.  It gains me nothing.  You don’t know whether or not a different decision would have been better.  In fact, it robs me of precious joy today.  The past is done.  It cannot be changed.  Yet, why do I oftentimes spend so much time assessing it?

I want to live in the moment.

I don’t want to be consumed by the future.  It is tempting to spend the entire day thinking about tomorrow – the next task, the upcoming event.   And, oh it is easy to live for something that will occur years down the road – life as an empty nester or retirement.  Is it good to plan?  Are goals good?   The answer is unequivocally “Yes.”  Yet, there is always that pull towards being fixated on future events that we don’t even enjoy today.  We rationalize our future-planning by saying, “then I will enjoy life” or “tomorrow I will be content.”  So we scurry around preparing for the future all the while surviving today.

I want to live in the moment.

I don’t want to go through each day checking off duties and obligations.  It is easy to simply survive the day.  I do my work.  I show up for appointments.  I attend the kid’s events.  I run the errands.  All the while we are looking forward to one moment in the day – that moment we can crash in front of the TV and think about nothing.  Or that moment when we can escape into our mental cave.  Surviving the day is not the way to live.  It is a depressing, meaningless existence.

I want to live in the moment.

I don’t want to be glued to social media, simply appreciating or at times envying someone else’s existence.  I don’t want my accomplishments today to be who I liked and what I posted and then checking throughout the day to see how many people liked what I posted.  I don’t want my greatest moment in the day to be the high score on some video game that will bring no lasting fulfillment.  It would be easy to spend hours in a digital hole watching videos on Buzzfeed or YouTube.  Yet, what joy will that bring?  It is not as if these are scrapbook moments.

I want to live in the moment.

I want to enjoy God’s goodness today – a sunset, a kiss.  I want to embrace the precious moments that come across my path and celebrate them – a meaningful exchange with one of my kids or a testimony by a friend of God’s grace.  I want to laugh.  I want to cry.  I want to be fully present in the moment.  I don’t want to squander life.  I want to live it.

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot.”  Ecclesiastes 5:18

Dinners with a purpose

It is most certainly true that time flies.

It seems like just a moment ago that my wife and I were changing diapers.  I remember like it was yesterday running alongside my daughter as she biked without training wheels for the first time.  And yes it is imprinted on my mind the moment my son scored his first soccer goal.  I blink and she is in high school.  I shake my head because she is thinking about driver’s ed.  And gone are the days of elementary school as my son enters middle school in a few months.

It is crazy to think of the passage of time.

As the days turn into years my wife and I have commented how precious each day is with our kids.  We know that there will soon be a day when we wake up to a much quieter house.  So we have begun to cherish the family outings, the quirky games, and the spontaneous conversations.  Each moment is now significant to us.

One of the moments in our day we will miss the most is dinner.  Our dinners are always an adventure.  There are days where we laugh at some video we saw on YouTube.   Or, my son will make some comment that tickles him and he will begin to laugh uncontrollably causing the whole family to roar in stitches.  Other times we will share about our day.  We try to push beyond the mundane to find out some highlights of the day for each of our kids.  My wife has begun to ask the question of each of them, “At what point during the day did you feel like you were most yourself?”  This question always reveals some new qualities of our kids that we were unaware of.  Or, we begin to discuss some scientific fact Ryan has recently read or current event that is on the news.  These conversations are oftentimes the most rich because we begin to discuss the various sides of it.  With the political season in full bloom, we have had numerous discussions on immigration, gun control, women’s equal pay, and same-sex marriage.  Our policy at dinner is that everyone’s opinion matters.  You are welcome to share what you think about each topic.  At times, it has led to some spirited debates about each of these issues.  I personally love these back and forth moments.

In the midst of these discussions, we intentionally share what we see as the Christian factors that inform these issues.  As believers, it is essential that we analyze women’s equal pay from a biblical perspective.  Or, what would Jesus say about immigration?  How do we grapple with cultural sensitivity about sexuality yet remain faithful to God’s standards?  For us, these discussions are not simply opinion-centered moments to fill the time but rather opportunities to shape worldview in our kids.

Our time is limited.  Soon we will not have the proximity to share with them on a daily basis.  It will be their college roommates, professors, and textbooks who daily influence them.  This is why I take full advantage of these moments.  It is why we view dinners with a purpose – a time to connect, laugh, and think about life.

Yes, we will miss these moments.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.  Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Perspective

I sometimes have a myopic perspective.

There are concerns that seem big to me but in the broad sense are not that significant.  I am running late to an appointment.  I forgot to pick up something from the store.  I am tired from a busy weekend.  I am not in the mood to attend a particular meeting.  The day becomes filled with distractions so I feel I am not making progress.  I am ready for spring therefore the prospect of another snow storm depresses me.  There are too many things to do and not enough time to do them.  It is easy to look at my immediate concerns and become overwhelmed by them.  At times, I get depressed by them.

There are people around the world that would love to have such concerns.  They are struggling to find shelter in a war torn country while I take my suburban home for granted.  There are people who are desperate for clean drinking water in Syria when I complain that the tap water is not cold enough.  I stare at my closet to see which outfit to wear today whereas the person in Iraq boasts only one dirtied shirt and pants to their name.

These are my concerns.  And at times they consume me.  They consume me because I have a myopic perspective.  I allow the inconveniences to annoy me rather than taking a step back to see the bigger picture.  Granted, I do not want to minimize the issues that the average person faces on a given day.  Yet, it is good to have perspective.  Is this concern really worth becoming depressed over or should I shrug it off as part of life?  Should I not take a moment and mentally step into someone’s shoes in order to realize that life is not so bad?

I was in a bit of a mood last week.  On that day, my wife shared a story about one of her students.  He was raised in the Sudan.  Due to conflict in his country, he fled by riding all the way to Egypt on the bottom of a train.  He was able to get a job for a couple of years before obtaining political asylum in the United States.  By the time he reached America he had spent ten years in a tent as a refugee.  Ok, I am not a survivalist so one week in a tent would do me in.  I cannot imagine ten years.  Such a situation prevents a person from having any long-term possessions.  It would be impossible to feel settled.  Privacy would be out of the question.  Ok, this is a big deal compared to my “I didn’t get a good night sleep moments.”

In the moment, I did not want to hear that story.  I wanted to hang onto my petty concerns.  Yet, the story kept kicking around in my head.  It kept gnawing at my superficiality.  It kept reminding me that there are bigger issues in life.  Does it eliminate the concerns that I face on a given day?  No but it does help me see them for what they are – inconveniences rather than true problems.  And in doing so it keeps my emotional frustrations at bay.  It prompts me to be more grateful.  And it reminds me to pray for those that are truly in need.

The Apostle Paul writes while in a prison cell, “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy” (Philippians 1:4).  Here is a man with perspective.  In the midst of a true problem, he still considers others.  He still prays for others.  Yes, that is the perspective I want in life.