A word to the wise…

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Wisdom teeth are interesting. They’re the last of our teeth to emerge (somewhere between the ages of 17 and 21) but they’re also the most painful and perhaps the most useless.

They tend to be impacted… meaning the tooth is blocked as it attempts to push through the gum into the mouth. But, even if they come in naturally, most people don’t have enough room in their mouth to accommodate them. The longer they stay, the more likely they’ll cause pain, swelling, infection, or crowd the other teeth.

There’s only one solution… extraction.

Why are they even called wisdom teeth in the first place? The reasoning was that they appear so late (as third teeth) … at an age when people are presumably wiser than they were as a child, when their second teeth came through.

So… that begs the question… is wisdom always painful and does it automatically come with age?

Well… yes and no. Wisdom is quite often painful and, no, it doesn’t automatically come with age.

The dictionary defines wisdom as “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment”… things that take time and, often, trial and error. It’s rare that we acquire wisdom when life is going well. But, that’s not to say that wisdom is always the result of age or experience.

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Wisdom isn’t simply intellect, intelligence, or knowledge. It’s the ability to use what we know, or have learned, to think and act in such a way that common sense and good judgement prevail. We also gain valuable wisdom by surrounding ourselves with wise people. But, to gain the best kind of wisdom, we need God.

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Why God’s wisdom?

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Do you know someone who stands out because of their wisdom? Someone you look up to for that reason?

You can be that person.

It’s never too early or too late to seek wisdom.

So… go for it.

Wise up!

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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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Faithfully…

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One example of faithfulness in the Bible is about someone who isn’t often mentioned – King Hezekiah.

20 This is what Hezekiah did throughout Judah, doing what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. 21 In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. (2 Chronicles 31:20-21 NIV)

There is great honor in being described as someone who has the reputation of doing what is good and right, of being faithful,  and of working wholeheartedly.

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Faithfulness.

Showing true and constant support or loyalty, being deserving of trust, keeping your promises, and doing what you’re supposed to do.

As with most things, some aspects are easier than others. Some people faithfully frequent a restaurant or follow a sports team or make it a point to always attend a certain event. But, what about things like being faithful to your spouse, always doing the right thing (even and especially when it’s not popular or convenient) or keeping your promises no matter what?

Faithfulness is characterized by steady devotion to a person, thing, or concept… with emphasis on ‘steady devotion’.

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Many people have intentions of faithfulness… it’s the consistent practice of faithfulness that’s harder to maintain. Our best chance of success is to establish in advance what we’re going to be faithful to or faithful about – and why – and then set our hearts and minds in that direction.

If it’s to always do the right thing even when no one is looking, set your mind to do it. If it’s to follow God with all your heart, soul, mind, and body, set your mind to do it. If it’s to honor your marriage vows by being faithful to your spouse, set your mind to do it.

You get my point.

Anything worth pursuing is never easy. But always worth it.

So, keep the faith…

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Perfect peace…

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Peace is an interesting topic because many people want it, few have it, and most don’t know how to get it or keep it.

Peace has been around since the beginning of time, starting in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve never had a single argument, no one was at war, and even the animals all got along. Peace never crossed their minds because they didn’t know a time where they didn’t have it. For one brief time in history, there was peace.

Perfect peace.

But, then sin entered the world when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and mankind has struggled to keep a grasp on peace ever since, starting when Cain murdered his brother Abel, and quite possibly when Adam and Eve had an argument or two over whose fault it was that God had banished them from the Garden of Eden.

One of the earliest words signifying peace was the Hebrew word ‘shalom’. To this day, it’s spoken by many Jewish people around the world, and even by many non-Jewish people. It’s often used interchangeably with ‘hello’ and ‘good bye’, which reminds me of John 14:27 when Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”

Shalom.

At the church we regularly attend, after the praise and worship part of each service, it’s customary to shake hands with those around you and speak the blessing, “May the peace of Christ be with you.” To which the reply is, “And also with you.”

I confess it felt weird to do that the first one hundred times or so but I’ve come to appreciate that it’s one of the nicest things we can say to each other. There’s power in speaking peace into someone else’s life, as well as having peace spoken into your own life.

Words aren’t the only way peace is conveyed. For centuries, the dove has been a universal symbol of peace, as has been the olive branch. And, in 1958, a British designer and artist, by the name of Gerald Holtom, designed an actual peace symbol.

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Peace must be important to our well being for there to be so many different ways to communicate it. After all, consider that wars rage, terrorists terrorize, people feud, families divide, and it can be easier to hate than to love. Some people are even at war with themselves, as evidenced by self-harming behaviours and self-hatred.

You don’t have to look very far to find people needing peace.

Peace is elusive but the peace from Christ is perfect. Isaiah 26:3 puts it this way:

“You will keep him in perfect peace,
whose mind is stayed on You,
because he trusts in You.”

Sounds straightforward, eh? Well, in practice, we’re imperfect people trying to perfectly trust God, and that affects our peace. Oh, we can have moments of peace… and maybe even stretches of peace… but then something happens to cause inner turmoil or external turmoil in our lives, and our peace goes out the window, just like that.

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It’s like riding a bike. It’s easiest to ride on level plain, with no obstacles in sight. But, add some rough terrain, a few obstacles, and a couple of steep hills, and it’s another story entirely. You find yourself having to stand up to pedal or maybe you have to get off your bike and start pushing. Sometimes you need someone to come alongside you… either to help push or simply to encourage you.

Someone to help you bear your load.

“Two people are better than one,
    because they get more done by working together.
If one falls down,
    the other can help him up.
But it is bad for the person who is alone and falls,
    because no one is there to help.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

But, then there are the sweet moments when you find yourself at the top of a hill. The bigger the hill, the better. And you can just soar to the bottom without having to hardly touch the pedals.

It’s in those moments when you can just enjoy the ride, and revel in the joy of the journey.

Ahhhh… perfect peace…

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Loving-kindness…

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A number of years ago, I attended a motivational business seminar where I had the opportunity to participate in the following exercise. The room divided into groups of three, one of whom was chosen to be ‘the tree’… standing with their arms extended out to the side, like branches. When the seminar leader gave the cue, the remaining two members of each group took an arm and tried to push it down to the person’s side as they made positive statements about them.

You’re a great person. You’re really nice. You’re a hard worker. You make people happy. You have a great sense of humor. You’re kind.

When the seminar leader instructed everyone to stop, we discovered that not one group had been able to push down the arms of the people with their arms extended.

The second part of the exercise was identical, with the exception of the statements verbalized. As group members tried to push down the arms of the other member in their group, they instead made negative statements about them.

You did a terrible job. You never do anything right. No one likes you. You’ll never be able to do that. We don’t want you in our group.

The result was surprising. Everyone’s arms folded like a deck of cards. Not one person was able to keep their arms extended in the face of negative input.

The people and the methods were the same in both exercises. The only thing that varied was the words that were spoken. The lesson was unmistakeable. Our words have the power to either build others up or to tear them down.

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I thought of that exercise again recently with the challenge I’ve been having trying to incorporate one 35 minute daily walk into Charlie’s life (our 19 month old purebred British bulldog). The main challenge has been that Charlie doesn’t want to walk. He doesn’t even want to leave the property. If he could talk, I’m sure he would point out that British bulldogs are physically built to excel at naps, not walks. And I don’t think he appreciates my rationale that one short walk a day still leaves him with 23 1/2 hours a day for napping.

So, each walk has started like this. I put Charlie on the leash… we go out the door and down the steps. Charlie thinks he’s going for a pee but then, at some point, realizes that was only ‘Phase 1’ of the outing. I start walking toward the end of the driveway but then Charlie puts the brakes on… basically plants his feet and becomes a 49 pound stone. So, I brace the leash across the front of my legs while continuing to slowly walk forward until he eventually has no choice but to follow. This pattern continues for many blocks until Charlie suddenly shakes off his protestations, and inexplicably walks beautifully beside me for the rest of the walk.

I can attest to the fact that I’ve tried everything to get Charlie to be less resistant for the first part of his walk. My theory that he would remember his walk from the previous day, and that it would motivate him to eventually walk willingly right from the beginning never took flight. Instead, each day was like Groundhog Day, with practice becoming permanent.

But I recently came up with the idea to praise Charlie the minute he walked – particularly near the beginning of our outing when the walking didn’t tend to go so well. Now, even if Charlie drags his feet, as long as he’s walking, it counts as walking… and I instantly praise him. Good boy, Charlie. If he plants his feet the next moment, I say nothing except ‘Come’ and just keep moving ahead until he has no choice but to follow. I’ve wanted Charlie to associate praise with the action of walking, and have hoped it would prove to be motivating.

Guess what? It’s working!

Until I tried this little experiment, I never said anything positive OR negative to Charlie on our walks… just mostly things like ‘Come’ or ‘Yes, you’re going to walk’ (the latter quite possibly through gritted teeth). But, something as simple as giving words of praise for something that genuinely merits praise has made all the difference.

I can’t say that Charlie is 100% onboard with his walks just yet. He still plants his feet in the driveway when he realizes that we plan to actually leave the property but his resistance doesn’t continue too far beyond that anymore when, not so long ago, it was a battle of wills for literally many blocks.

It made me think of the word ‘loving-kindness’… meaning tenderness and consideration toward others. I think there are many ways we can show loving-kindness to those around us – including the Charlie’s in our lives – but one of the most powerful ways is through our words. Of course, extending loving-kindness through our words means nothing unless our actions back them up but I truly believe there’s nothing quite like our words to build others up in a way that few other things can.

Don’t let on to Charlie but I think our daily walk has become the highlight of his day. I know it’s become the highlight of mine…

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The Art of BIY

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Lots of people have gotten into DIY… doing it yourself… in recent years. But, what about BIY… believing in yourself? You don’t hear about that nearly as often… if at all.

Believing in yourself is a lifelong process. A delicate balancing act that can change from day to day. Sometimes even moment by moment. But, it’s possible. And important.

After all, if you don’t believe in yourself, even if everyone else believed in you, it would never be enough. It’s something no one else can do for you. You have to do it for yourself.

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Believing in yourself doesn’t mean being unrealistic about what about what you can and can’t do. It doesn’t mean you won’t have doubts or fear. Or that you’ll never fail. Or make mistakes.

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What believing in yourself does mean is focusing on your successes while learning from your drawbacks and shortcomings. Being realistic but hopeful. Surrounding yourself with people you trust to give you honest but loving feedback and encouragement. Having a spirit of optimism.

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It’s so easy to get down on yourself. It can happen to the best of us. But it’s one thing to get down on yourself from time to time, and quite another to stay there.

Believing in yourself is like walking. You may stumble and even fall but the main thing is that you get back up, dust yourself off, and keep walking.

blog 4It’s important to believe in yourself for you but it’s almost as important to believe in yourself for the people who look up to you. Your children, spouse, friends, relatives, siblings, co-workers… the list is endless. More people look up to you than you realize.

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Personally, I want to live as though I have the potential to positively affect everyone I come in contact with because, quite honestly, every single one of us has that potential.

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If anyone learned to believe in themselves because they watched me believe in myself, that would be amazing. If anyone learned the importance of believing in themselves in spite of their failures or mistakes because they saw me believe in myself in spite of my own, that would be equally amazing.

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What better way to inspire others than to lead by example?

blog 7If you can’t imagine being someone who believes in themself, consider this…

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So, just do it… start believing in you! You’re worth it!!blog 6

Creativity chip…

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All my life, I’ve believed I don’t have a creativity chip because I can’t draw, paint, sew, knit, or do crafts of any kind.  If it involves anything with my hands, I lack the natural ability to do it.

But, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I’ve been way too hard on myself.  Just because I lack ability in the most commonly recognized types of creativity, it doesn’t mean I don’t have creativity in other respects.

After all, creativity takes many forms.

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Writing involves creativity.  Baking involves creativity.  I can do both.  I’ve also always been able to think outside the box, which is creativity in a different sense.  Maybe I do have some creativity, after all!

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I think the biggest enemy to creativity is believing that you’re creative only if you can do certain things.

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I was one of three kids in my family.  One brother created elaborate things with Lego, the other brother drew elaborate drawings –  mostly of Snoopy – and I wrote elaborate stories – primarily mystery.  Three different expressions of creativity but I somehow convinced myself that my brothers were creative and I was not.

I was wrong.

blog 10Everyone is creative in their own way… some more than others but all are creative nonetheless.

Creativity is imagination… self-expression… something we all possess.  I lost sight of mine for awhile but it’s back in focus now.

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There are things I wish I had a talent for that I don’t.  But, rather than dwell on what I don’t have, I’d rather embrace what I do have.

I’m free to be uniquely and creatively me.

So are you.

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Life is an obstacle course…

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Well, it’s nearly the end of 2013.  The end of a year always prompts me to look back and reflect on the highlights and the lowlights of that year, so here goes.

To sum it up, 2013 has been an interesting year.  And, by interesting, I mean challenging.

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I started the year unemployed (over 3 months), with no fixed address, and no personal life to speak of.  I’m finishing the year with a brand new dream job, a great place to live with a great housemate, and my personal life is better than it’s ever been.true 8The journey in between was often uncertain, often changing, and often obstacle ridden.  I moved twice, had four jobs, and struggled with financial challenges.  In one of my jobs, my personal safety was in question every single shift.  Knives, fists, feet, and even Bibles (I’m serious!) were used as weapons.  I was kicked, punched, swore at, bitten, and slapped more times that I can count.  The fact that I now have a sane and safe desk job in an office with regular hours, vacation and sick time, benefits, and interesting work with a well-respected company is amazing to me.  I especially appreciate it because of all the obstacles I had to overcome to get to this point.

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2013 is ending better for me than any year in well over a decade but I have no doubt that, at least to some degree, obstacles will still be part of 2014.  That’s because life is an obstacle course.

I’m sure you’ve noticed.

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For me, the most important thing to remember is that obstacles are not an end… unless you let them be.  I am determined that obstacles will never get the best of me.  That especially includes the main challenge I’m carrying over to 2014, which is debt.

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The truth is you can always, always, always find a way to turn an obstacle into an opportunity.  I’m not saying it’s easy or that it’s always immediate or that you won’t feel overwhelmed or even momentarily defeated in the process.  I’m just saying it’s possible.  Trust me, I know.

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The key?

Perseverance.

Steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.

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Two things are extremely important in that statement.  The first is steadfastness or standing firm.  And the second is doing something… anything.  Even if it feels like you’re taking two steps back for every step forward, it’s crucial to keep moving because simply waiting for something to change rarely changes anything, if ever.

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There have been times that ‘doing’ hasn’t seemed to bring results after an extended period of time so I’ve had to stop and re-evaluate if I need to change what I’m doing or how I’m doing it or where I’m doing it or even who I’m doing it with.  There is a time to press forward and keep doing the same thing, and there is a time to change direction and start doing something else.  If you’re not sure which it should be, talk to someone you trust.  Wise counsel can bring perspective, encouragement, and moral support.

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I also pray.  I’ve seen prayer change things many times, and in many ways, some of them miraculous.  Prayer also changes me and I cannot overstate the benefits of that.

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I can’t say I’ve always enjoyed the obstacles I’ve encountered but I can say they’ve all had a purpose.  Some have made sense in retrospect while others quite frankly still remain a mystery.  But, I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.  I have grown and changed from obstacles in ways that I never would have without them, and that’s quite possibly the greatest purpose of all.

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I can honestly say I’ve appreciated the high points in my life all the more for having overcome the low points.  No strength without strain.  No pain, no gain. They’re true.

I think it’s fitting to end this post with a quote from the late Nelson Mandela, who knew more than most what it means to overcome obstacles.  He should be an inspiration to us all…

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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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