Take a selfie…

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It seems like people are spending a great deal of time and energy weighing in on what others should or shouldn’t be doing or saying. Often, in so doing, their words and actions demonstrate a lack of self-control.

How often do we stop to consider whether our thoughts, words, actions, and reactions are constructive, healthy, and appropriate? Sometimes we can become so focused on what others are saying and doing that we lose sight of what we’re saying and doing.

There’s infinite merit in evaluating ourselves far more than we evaluate others.

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Frequently, people justify their lack of self-control by casting the blame on someone else, highlighting the truth that it’s easier to point the finger at someone else than it is to point it back at ourselves.

The world would be a much better place if we all started taking responsibility for our own actions and reactions.

I’m not saying we can control our feelings. I’m saying we can learn to control when and how we express them.

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I don’t know about you but I want to be someone who’s self-controlled… and to be the first to say I’m wrong whenever I’m not.

The key to self-control?

Self…

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Gentle to the max…

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A few years ago, I had a rescue dog named Max. He did not have the best life for his first 5 years, having been owned by an alcoholic and kept tethered outside. He was sometimes beaten, and his body bore the scars.

He would invariably figure out a way to slip through his collar and make a run for it but also invariably be picked up and taken back to his owner.

Except for the last time.

In the fall of 2009, he found himself at a rescue shelter, where he was adopted out and brought back… three times in short order. The note on the door to his enclosure simply said ‘too much to handle’.

Out of chances, he was scheduled to be put down the first week of January 2010. I came to the shelter the last week of December 2009.

I hadn’t planned to adopt a dog that Christmas. But, when I set eyes on Max, he was sitting quietly against the back wall of his enclosure with his ears back and a green stuffed toy in his mouth. I could sense his anxiety. I could also sense a kind and gentle soul. I could feel my heart tugging in his direction.

I decided to think about it for a couple of days. But, as I walked back to the car, a dog appeared and ran to the end of the fenced-in area to quietly but expectantly wait for me. Realizing it was Max, I bent down and put a couple of fingers through the fence. He immediately dropped to the ground and started gently licking my fingers.

Within the hour, I left the shelter with my new dog.

I can’t claim that it was an easy transition. He not only had to adjust to being an indoor dog, he had never been walked on a leash before, and he was a husky lab shepherd mix who needed a ton of exercise. He also had anxiety issues. Complicating matters was the fact that his previous owner was French, and so Max didn’t even understand English (something I didn’t find out for over a year… and it explained a lot!!). He was also seriously underweight, at only 45 pounds.

But, slowly but surely, we both adjusted. His anxiety lessened, his weight increased (to 78 pounds), and we fell into a routine of 3 one hour walks each day. His kind, funny and quirky nature overshadowed his occasional displays of stubbornness.

The one thing that consistently impressed me was his gentleness. In the beginning, he was so hungry that he would go crazy at the mere thought of food. But, even then, he would always take any treat ever so gently between his teeth, always being careful never to bite down on my fingers.

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The best illustration of his gentleness had to do with boiled eggs, his absolute favorite treat. He would gently take the egg into his mouth and then run down to the mat in front of the patio doors. Sometimes he would come and sit beside me, and we would both consider the egg as it lay there on the mat. Other times, he would just lay beside it, as if standing guard.

When he was finally ready, he would take the egg into his mouth and roll it gently around until, seconds later, he would deposit the yolk – fully intact – back onto the mat. He always made sure that I noticed and then, and only then, would he eat it.

Personally, I think he liked to prolong the experience. Savor the moment. Save the best for last.

I called it his party trick. He never got tired of doing it, and I never got tired of watching.

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Just over 2 years after adopting him, Max suddenly took very ill on Good Friday. By Easter Monday, he was gone. A massive intestinal tumor. Ironically, he’d been given a clean bill of health not even three months before. Just before he was put down, they brought him into a private room where he climbed into my lap and started gently licking my fingers as I wept.

He was gentle in life, gentle in illness, and gentle in death.

I marvel that a dog who had experienced so much hardship could be so gentle. It’s a lesson to us all that, no matter what we’ve experienced in life, it’s up to us what kind of person we will become. We can choose to rise above our circumstances and write a different ending.

Be better instead of bitter. Be gentle instead of harsh.

The moral of the story?

Gently, please…

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What a gift…

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Several weeks ago, my husband and I gifted an acquaintance of mine with a practical item they very much needed. It cost us several hundred dollars but we felt it was an important gift because this person had just gone through an extended time of unemployment and financial difficulty. We wanted to bless them.

The person was initially very appreciative but, almost immediately, problems arose. They had complaints about the gift, and they kept trying to trade it in for something better. And in their interactions with the company, they were demanding and difficult.

My husband and I actively tried to move the situation to a favorable outcome. But, four weeks later, a continuing litany of text messages made it painfully evident that our efforts had been in vain. So we decided it was wisest for extricate ourselves and let this person handle things themselves.

Their response?

They declined the gift.

The old proverb “never look a gift horse in the mouth” came to mind.  Since horses’ teeth grow over time, checking their length is a way of gauging old age, and therefore a sign of mistrust towards the giver. So, in a nutshell, the proverb conveys that, when receiving a gift, be grateful for what it is and don’t imply you wished for more by assessing its value.

It made me think about the greatest gift of all… the gift of salvation. About how many don’t see it as a gift at all. Oh, they may accept it for a period of time but they’re never really very happy with it. They want it to be something else. Or they feel it can be improved upon. Or they have difficulty accepting that it’s free.

They would feel better if they had paid something towards it or had done something to earn it because then the gift would be on their terms.

And so, they ultimately reject the gift.

It was such a terrible feeling when our gift was rejected that it pains me to think of how God must feel when literally millions of people have rejected His gift throughout history. And yet He has never withheld the gift because so many have rejected it. He still graciously and generously continues to offer the gift to everyone… without exception… in the hopes that even a few will accept it.

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It reminds me how it important it is to keep giving, no matter what. We’re not responsible for the outcome, only the opportunity.

I’ll leave you with another proverb…

“If you receive a gift, don’t measure it.”

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Anti-peace

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True confessions…

I’m stressed out. Tired and stressed out, to be precise.

Earlier today, I looked up the definition of stress, and this is what I found:

“A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.”

So, I looked up the definition of peace (seeing as it’s the topic for May), and it gave two definitions, both of which started with the words:

“Freedom from…”

Freedom from…

Those two words stopped me in my tracks and highlighted the fact that I’ve been feeling the opposite of peace.

The truth is I haven’t been feeling freedom from anything.

But, I’ve started taking steps to figure out how I can keep stress from dominating my life. Especially since the “adverse and demanding circumstances” that contributed to me becoming so stressed are probably not going to go away anytime soon.

What’s a girl to do?

Well, my hubby and I are going on vacation just 4 short days from now, and I’m pretty sure that 8 days in Puerto Vallarta will go a long way to helping my stress. But, that will only be a brief respite, after which life will resume and, no doubt, my stressful circumstances.

It was recently suggested that I need to regularly spend time with a trusted friend or two who I can confide in, and who appreciates me for the person I am. I do have those people in my life but they mostly live somewhere else, which is the downside of having moved around a lot. But, there are a couple of friends where I live who have the potential to become close relationships. So, one of my goals is to become more intentional about deepening those friendships.

The closer your support system, the better.

It was also suggested that I be kinder to myself, and regularly indulge in some of the things I most enjoy. Things like going for a massage, taking a brisk walk, baking, reading, blogging, having date nights with my hubby, getting together with a friend for coffee, watching a movie, etc. These ideas seem somewhat simplistic on the surface but I do enjoy them, and they’ve been falling through the cracks in direct proportion to how stressed I’ve been feeling. Basically, I need to work smarter, not harder.

The goal is to manage my stress rather than have my stress manage me.

I’ve done a few of the things I enjoy this week but, to be honest, I still don’t feel much better. I do think our vacation will help jumpstart the process, and I’m very thankful for the timing. From the moment we leave the driveway until we return 8 days later, nothing but rest and relaxation will be on the agenda. I plan on taking full advantage of being out of the country… spending lots of quality time with my hubby, sunbathing, swimming, snorkelling, eating, reading, sightseeing, and sleeping.

I just need to remember that I didn’t get this stressed overnight so I won’t get unstressed overnight either. But, simply having a plan makes me think that peace is at least possible.

I especially need to remember that God is bigger than anyone or anything that’s been causing me stress. It’s easier said that done but committing my circumstances to Him, and trusting that He will intervene in the right way and at the right time will go a long way to being able to feel peace in the midst of the storm. I’ve been praying a lot but maybe I need to be still and listen more too.

It’s hard to hear that still small voice when I’m doing all the talking.

I decided to combine the definitions of peace and stress to come up with a new definition for peace that goes like this…

Freedom from a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.”

I like it.

I’m actively in pursuit of peace… my own version of “freedom from”, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it increases my joy.

But, it’s a journey, not a destination. So it’s to be continued…

Peace out.

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For the love of…

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The past couple of weeks have been really good in some respects but really tough in others. Tough enough that my last post for April is only happening on the first day of May.

The details are unimportant but, for more than a year, I’ve had an ongoing challenge with certain people who don’t love me. I’m pretty sure they don’t even like me. My recent discouragement has come from thinking that the tide had finally turned only to discover than I’m somehow farther from shore than ever before.

If I could avoid them, I would but, in this case, it’s neither practical nor possible. So, I have to deal with being actively disliked pretty much every day, and to say it’s not easy is an understatement. I pray a lot that the situation will change but only God knows if it will.

So far, He isn’t saying.

There’s a cost to love… even when it’s reciprocated. It costs us time, energy, commitment, and sacrifice. It costs the same things when it isn’t reciprocated.

It just feels worse.

But, if I consider the alternative, history shows that hate comes at the highest cost of all… our souls. Hate breeds nothing but more hate. If you don’t believe me, just check the news everyday. You’ll find far more reports about hate than about love because love is hard and it doesn’t come naturally. It’s no coincidence that when people choose to love instead of hate, they often end up on Oprah because that reaction is not our human nature.

My own situation alternately upsets, frustrates, discourages, and angers me. It depends on the day, and sometimes the moment. But, I continually remind myself that I can’t live there. I need to choose to rise above my emotions, and be loving.

No matter what.

Period.

That means extending kindness, showing an interest in them, praying for them, and treating them like I treat everyone else. Treating them the same as I would if they were being lovable.

But, let me be clear about one thing… loving others doesn’t mean being a pushover or a doormat. It doesn’t mean putting ourselves in harm’s way or living with abuse. It’s important to set boundaries for another’s behaviour towards us. When those boundaries aren’t respected, sometimes we have to put distance between us and them… both physically and emotionally. Sometimes for awhile and sometimes for forever.

I wish I had this ‘love’ thing down pat but the past couple of weeks have shown me that I have a lot of room to grow. Truth be told, I will always have a lot of room to grow but I sincerely hope the learning curve won’t always be quite so steep.

I know I’ve only been on The Joy Journey since the beginning of April but focusing on love these past few weeks – both the successes and the challenges – has helped me feel more joyful in general.

So, gotta love that…

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Love list…

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It can be easy to take the things we love – and the people we love – for granted so I decided to pay special attention to both this past week. That exercise made me wonder why I ever let life overshadow love…

Here is a glimpse of my love list…

  • My husband and I celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary a couple of days ago. We had dinner at the historical ranche house where our wedding had taken place, and where Mike had proposed six months before that. We loved reminiscing and just celebrating us in the place that holds so many great memories of our love story…
  • Emily turned 17 the day before our anniversary, and her wish was to celebrate by having both sides of the family over for dinner. It was somewhat daunting to consider feeding 22 people – especially just days after having had surgery – but it was worth it to see how happy both Emily and my hubby were with how the evening had gone…
  • Lately, I’ve tried to be more intentional about being connected to friends and family. It means a lot when people take the time to send an e-mail, message, text, or phone call my way – or do something equally thoughtful – and I want to be that kind of person too. As much as I think I do reasonably well in this respect, my goal is to do better, because nothing communicates love quite like our actions…
  • The more I strive to know God and to love God, the more I find I’m able to love others. Hopefully, somewhere in that process, I also become more lovable to others…
  • Great food always rates some love. This past week… stellar sturgeon for our anniversary dinner, fall-off-the bone ribs for Emily’s party, delish salads made by my husband’s mom and sister, and to-die-for giant cupcakes from a bakery aptly called ‘Crave’. Yum…
  • I’ve been loving the great weather that Calgary has had since the end of January. I’m originally from the east coast where winters are epic – both in cold and in snowfall. But, even by west coast standards, the weather has been quite ‘un’Canadian, with above seasonal temperatures and virtually no snow. I’ve even been almost warm enough most days (with an emphasis on ‘almost’), which is saying something, given I tend to get a chill on a breezy day in the summer…
  • Our quirky British bulldog puppy, Charlie, inspires love just by being Charlie…
  • I’ve been loving an app for my Kindle from our local library that allows me to download and read countless books for free (and who doesn’t love free…). My favorite guilt-free part of that pleasure are the books I start and decide to return (because they really aren’t my cup of tea) – and I can do it for FREE. I still love to physically read a good book every now and then but, for the most part, bye bye paperbacks…
  • I used to tell people that I have a black thumb, as evidenced by the historical failure of plants to thrive under my care. But, since assuming the care for my husband’s many plants after getting married, I’ve surprisingly had more successes than failures. So, I recently extended my efforts from indoor to outdoor, cleaning up our numerous flower beds (all home to perennials) and trimming back umpteen bushes and trees. It was a much bigger job than I had anticipated – and one that involved a lot of ‘bs’ (blood and sweat…) – but the outcome more than made up for the effort. It was a  vivid reminder that the people we love – and the things we love – generally need considerable effort on our part in order to get the best result.

One final thing that impressed itself on me this past week was how much more joy I felt simply by focusing on what I loved about people, places, and things. It’s amazing how easy it can be to lose sight of the fact that, even when it’s tough to focus on what’s good, making a conscious effort to do just that always inspires far more positive feelings than when we focus on what’s not so good.

Just one more thing to love…

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Getting to know me…

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One of the blogs I follow recently posted questions and answers designed to help the readers get to know her.  I admire her honesty and transparency in doing such an exercise – http://jennadee222.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/getting-to-know-you/, and thought I would follow in her footsteps by answering the same questions here.

What is your real name and where do you live?

My real name is Joy.  When I was born, I was given the name Alda Joy, with Alda being my maternal grandmothers first name.  I was called Joy from birth but, after 9/11, the province I was living in wanted everyone to officially use their first name, for security purposes.  Rather than be forced to start using my first name, I chose to legally drop it.  So, my birth certificate simply reads “Joy”.  As for where I live, I’m a Canadian who currently lives in Calgary, Alberta.

What makes you sad?

Insensitivity. Suffering. Unkindness.

What are your major mistakes?

I’ve made some epic mistakes in my life – enough to fill a book – but my major mistake in recent history was my last marriage. I knew it was a terrible mistake just two days in but I stuck with it for 11 years and 3 weeks, hoping it would change for the better.

But, the thing about mistakes is that we all make them.  I am a different person – much stronger and wiser – for having made my mistakes.  Instead of being defeated by them, I have chosen to use them as stepping stones.

When was the last time you cried?

Yesterday.  I am an emotional person, and things like kindness and happiness can bring tears as much as sadness and disappointment.  But, the saddest I’ve been in a very long time was Easter Monday 2012 when my beloved dog, Max, had to be put down just 3 days after getting terribly sick (the tests showed he had a massive intestinal tumor).  He was only 7 years old.  For a number of reasons, he was my guardian angel and will always have a very special place in my heart.

What makes you angry?

I’m more apt to get upset than angry.  But, something relatively simple like people driving erratically, impatiently, or dangerously in traffic has the ability to get to me like few other things.  I’m working on it though!

What is your most recent happiest memory?

It happened just last Friday when I was offered THE ultimate job.  It was the culmination of several years of job uncertainty interspersed with bouts of unemployment.  To say I am thankful is an understatement!!!

When were you most scared?

Many years ago, my youngest brother, my son, and I climbed Mount Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine (U.S.) at 5,269 feet.  I have a strong fear of heights so it took an act of will to make this climb, which involved not only going up and down the mountain but across ‘Knife’s Edge’ at the top of the mountain.  Mount Katahdin has claimed 19 lives since 1963, with a number of those being from falls from ‘Knife’s  Edge’, which narrows to 3 feet wide for about 3/10 of a mile.

It’s worthwhile mentioning that the climb was done without ropes or any special gear, just using handholds and footholds, with blue paint strategically spattered on the rocks to guide us.  It’s also worthwhile mentioning that overcoming my fear of heights in such a dramatic fashion inspired elation afterward like no other.  It was a life changing accomplishment.

When were you most brave?

I could answer this by saying climbing Mount Katahdin but I think I was most brave the day I fled my marriage with only what I could fit in my small car, and drove 3 provinces to start a new life in a new city with no place to live, no job, and knowing only 2 people.  The journey from then to today has not been easy but I have never regretted taking that leap of faith.

What haven’t you done that you wished you had done?

My goal is to see more of the world.  I am relatively well travelled but the majority of my experiences are more than 20 years ago so I would like to pick up where I left off.

What makes you different from most people?

I have experienced the lowest of the lows in many aspects of my life, and my life has also not followed any kind of predictable course.  But, we all have a different story of our lives, and that’s what makes us unique and interesting.  I hope others will appreciate my differences as much as I try to appreciate theirs.

Who has influenced your life?

My relationship with Jesus Christ is the single greatest influence of my life since 1996.  My grandparents were also tremendous influences in my life… my maternal grandfather, in particular.  I learned invaluable lessons like kindness, giving, doing the right thing, humor, wisdom, staying young at heart, and being an inspiration to others just from watching how he lived his life.  I still miss him.

What is the greatest lesson you have learned?

I’ve learned that no mistake is an end, in and of itself, as long as you resolve not to let it be.  And, that doing the right thing, staying true to what you believe, and being a person of character and integrity is always, always, always worth it.  Even and especially when it means taking the tougher road (which it usually does…).

YES

I think they meant it…

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I’ve been struggling lately with mean people.  One person pretends they’re my friend but then says and does things that are less than kind fairly often. Other people have been hostile or outright mean for seemingly no reason.

The problem with meanness is that you can’t always predict it, expect it, avoid it or reason with it.  That leaves having to deal with it… which, at least for me, is easier said than done.

When people are mean, I think our default reaction runs the gamut from surprised to defensive to hurt to angry.  Our instinctive feelings aren’t necessarily wrong – in and of themselves – but how we respond can be, if we’re not careful.

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One of my favorite books when I was growing up was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  I really like what one of the characters had to say about mean people.  “Because they are mean is no reason why I should be. I hate such things, and though I think I’ve a right to be hurt, I don’t intend to show it.”

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When confronted with meanness, sometimes it’s best to just distance ourselves from the person or situation but sometimes that’s not possible or practical.  Sometimes it’s wisest to remain silent, or to be kind, or to be diplomatic.  Sometimes it’s necessary to be firm.

Every situation calls for a potentially different reaction but the one reaction that’s never right is meanness.  The Bible doesn’t say that it’s wrong to be angry but it does say, “in your anger, do not sin.”

The only thing worse than dealing with mean is being mean.  It says something about someone if they’re mean to us but it’s says volumes about us if we’re mean in return.

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I’m still working on handling mean people.  I would like to be wiser in the moment.  My current strategy is to do my best to be slow to respond or react.  I would much rather ask God for permission about what to say and when to say it than to have to ask for forgiveness for speaking in haste and regretting it.

I would rather be a Charlie Brown than a Lucy.

I mean that sincerely…

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No mistake about it…

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Mistakes.

I don’t know about you but I make them all too regularly, and often while consciously trying not to.

The dictionary defines a mistake as “an error or fault resulting from defective judgement, deficient knowledge, or carelessness”.

Yup, that pretty much sums it up.

I’ve made more than my fair share.  And far too many this past week alone.  Quite honestly, it gets a bit discouraging.

I’ve never once started my day thinking wow, I hope I only make a dozen mistakes today.  In fact, I usually don’t start the day thinking about any of the mistakes I’ll probably make.  I tend to assume the best of myself… at least while the day’s still young.  Until reality hits.

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So, what kind of mistakes am I talking about?  Well, things like I’ll realize I’m driving over the speed limit (either because I’m daydreaming or distracted) or I”ll inadvertently call somebody by the wrong name (it doesn’t help if they both start with a “G” and have 4 letters…) or I’ll miss an important detail at work (which is full of important details) or I’ll let things get to me that turn out to be much ado about nothing.  You know what I’m talking about.

I tend to be far too hard on myself about making mistakes when the fact is I’m going to make mistakes whether I like it or not.  I’m human and I can’t change that.  Of course, I’d like to make as few mistakes as possible but I’m learning they can be a catalyst for growth and for change.

I tend to learn a lot more from what I do wrong than what I do right.

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Mistakes can also be encouraging, oddly enough.  When I realize I’m making the same mistakes far less often than I used to, it makes me feel like I’m at least moving in the right direction.  But, before I can even potentially be encouraged, I have to stop and put my mistakes in perspective, not just automatically beat myself up about them.

I find it interesting that, in the film industry, they don’t call multiple takes mistakes.  They call them, take one, take two, take three… take forty four.  Basically, however many takes that it takes is what they take.

I like that.

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It’s not that I want to minimize my mistakes.  But, putting a more positive spin on them will hopefully help me keep a balanced perspective.

You may be thinking that I’m mistaken about this whole thing.  You could be right.  But, if so, no worries… I’ll just take two.  Or take three. Basically, however many takes that it takes to get it right.

Make no mistake about it…

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One step at a time…

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I recently found myself in bumper to bumper traffic, something that is a semi-regular occurrence for me.  I was inching along when a full-sized pick-up truck squeezed in front of my relatively small car.  I instantly felt annoyed, a reaction that I recognized as not being completely rational.  After all, it’s not like I was going anywhere fast.  One vehicle cutting in front of me wasn’t exactly going to slow me down.

After a few minutes, I realized it wasn’t so much that a vehicle had pulled in front of me, it was that a big vehicle had pulled in front of me.  The truck was blocking my view.  I wanted to be able to see down the road, not just to the end of my bumper.  Hence my feelings of agitation…

It struck me how similar that scenario is to our perception of life.  We don’t want any obstacles blocking our view.  We want to be able to see down the road unobstructed.  And we expend a whole lot of energy being impatient with anything that stands between us and that view.

The truck eventually moved into a different lane, and I instantly felt relief.  Nothing had changed about the traffic except that I could see down the road again.  The irony is that I still didn’t know a single thing about what was ahead than I’d known when the truck was blocking my view.

Visibility doesn’t always bring clarity.

A short time later, the traffic cleared just as suddenly as it had gridlocked.  I’ll never know the reason for the delay but, even if I did, it wouldn’t have changed one inescapable fact…

I would have had to wait regardless.

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Life is like that.  You can think you have a clear enough view of the future to know what’s going to happen down the road but, once you get there, you realize it was just an illusion.  Things might turn out differently than you’d thought – either for better or for worse – and you may never know the reason why.  But, regardless, the journey will still most likely take the same amount of time.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that it seems to me that we spend far too much energy living in the future.  I think it would be foolish not to give it any consideration.  But, it would be equally foolish to live there.

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As the Bible says, “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matthew 6:34b).

Huh?

Basically, every day has enough trouble of its own.  So, why not just take it one step at a time?

After all – like it or not – no one has ever been able to do anything but…

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