Feeling Small (but peaceful)

Events have got me feeling small lately. Perhaps you too. From hurricanes and floods to shifts in the economy and culture, we are all caught up in natural and social forces beyond our control. Way beyond our control. Beyond our influence even. America has over 300 million residents of which I am just one. The world has 7½ billion. I will not be changing the world or the country.

Our American culture and media don’t encourage thinking of oneself as small and relatively powerless. On the contrary, people are encouraged to worry about numerous issues over which they have no (or exceedingly little) influence. We’re told to “stand up,” “be heard” and “make a difference” on every new “crisis.” I think all that does is get us agitated and shouting at (or worse – fighting with) one another. And the media feeds off the fighting. Regardless, the vast majority of us are just along for the ride as large-scale history is written.

Yet here I am. I’m alive! I can enjoy my life, and I’ve got plenty of personal and local issues on which I can, and should, make a difference. Issues such as my health, wellbeing, marriage, family, friends, church, finances, home, and neighborhood. The more I focus on these and the less on geopolitics and major cultural shifts, the better I get. Thinking small is working for me.

However, even at the personal level, many events are still outside of my control. For example, I’ve recently developed an irritating case of ocular rosacea (fortunately minor, but illustrative). Illness comes. Aging continues. Accidents happen. Jobs end. The kids are going to do what they’re going to do. That’s life.

Truly, I am small. I can’t control much, but I trust in the one who can. Therefore, I can be at peace. I wish you the same.

Pete

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Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

– Jesus (Mathew 6:25-34 NIV)

Finding the Safe Space

I’m not a big believer in the concept of “safe spaces,” at least not as it’s being advanced by those (mostly but not exclusively young) people who seem endlessly offended by thoughts, ideas and words which conflict with their thoughts, ideas and visions for the world. On the other hand, full intellectual engagement with the media, social media, friends and associates on the topics of the day is certainly draining. So it’s reasonable to seek to protect oneself, to create one’s own “safe space” for rest, recovery and renewal. That’s what I’m trying to do.

I’ve been withdrawing a bit from the media and social media, skipping newspaper articles and Facebook posts that I would ordinarily read. Too stressful to engage. And really, what’s the point? Does anyone care what I think? What concrete actions would I take in response? Why inflame or depress myself if there is nothing for me to do about things?

At the same time, I feel the need to work on my character and draw closer to God. Wouldn’t it be great to have more peace and equanimity regardless of the actions of others and the stories of the day? Sure it would. And God promises that, but we have to do the work. To that end, I’ll be participating in a new men’s discipleship program on the spiritual disciples (source text here) beginning next week. I’m pretty excited. It’s just what I need! I wonder, did my church leaders create it just for me? Seems like it. Maybe they did. Who knows how God is working in this?

Praise God! Although he’s mysterious, we do know that he is working in all things for the good of those who love him. All things. Each of us will experience at least some very distressing things in our lives. This world can be a cruel place, and no amount of social engineering is going to cure oppression, poverty, sickness and death. Shit happens, and it happens to the weak and the powerful alike. Yet, God is here and he is good.

Hence Jesus. Has not Jesus reconciled us to God and overcome the world? Is not Jesus the safe space? I think he is. Find him. Follow him. And, as always, let me know if I can help.

Stay safe,

Pete

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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.
In this world you will have trouble.

But take heart! I have overcome the world.

– Jesus (John 16:33 NIV)

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…And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose…

…If God is for us, who can be against us?…

…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– The Apostle Paul (Romans 8:28;31;38-39 NIV)

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Fat – The Enemy Within

Well the new consulting career is officially begun!  I’ve just returned from a two-day engagement as a member of an advisory panel for a pharmaceutical manufacturer seeking input on the future of medical treatment for obesity and its complications. It was an interesting and enjoyable event. Most of what we talked about is confidential of course, but our more general discussions covered much of what is commonly known about the conditions of obesity and overweight. Common or not, two things struck me as worth writing about to an audience interested in health and wellness.

First, if you’re significantly overweight, your fat cells are working against you.  It’s easy to regard fat as just so much excess baggage, perhaps causing some bodily wear and tear, but otherwise inert.  It’s really a much more serious situation.  Fat cells are anything but inert.  They’re highly active metabolically, releasing and causing to be released chemical factors that adversely impact your internal physiology in multiple ways. I’m not going to go into the details, take my word for it, these guys are bad actors. To use an analogy from the headlines, think of your excess fat as tiny cellular Russians working to disrupt your body’s politics. You don’t want Putin hijacking your physiology’s executive branch.

Second, most obese and significantly overweight people suffering from diabetes or other physiologic disruptions never get much better.  Why not?  Well, that was an interesting discussion!  We all have our thoughts.  You’ve heard most of mine before, but here they are again:  People are weak, temptations are hard to resist. Life is hard, people are stressed out, and food is emotionally comforting; often the more comforting, the more unhealthy. Losing weight is hard work, and mostly we don’t like hard work.  Like water, we tend to take the path of least resistance, and the wide river of American popular culture empties its contents into the lake of obesity.  (And there are also some more “hard-wired” biological reasons that it’s very difficult to lose weight – hence the interest of pharmaceutical manufacturers)

But, as we also all know, some people get remarkably better.  We all know a few. How did they succeed where others try and fail or fail to try?  Once again, an interesting topic with no exact answers.  Here are my observations:  Some people simply “wake up” or “snap out of it” – having a sudden recognition and acceptance of their issue along with a willingness to do whatever it takes to get better.  (Maybe caused by a medical event or health crisis – e.g. a heart attack or needing to start insulin.) Some have a more gradual building of their awareness and resolve to levels sufficient to enable positive action. Many appear to need to hit an emotional and/or spiritual “bottom,” admitting their defeat and enlisting the help of God and others. The common theme is that some sort of internal shift occurs and then it’s a whole new ballgame.

If you’re struggling with your weight, or if you’ve even given up the struggle, have hope, because some people get remarkably better.  It can be done.  You too can do it, but first you need to have that mysterious “internal shift” and I can’t give that to you.  However I can invite you to shift, perhaps you’re almost there already and just need a nudge over the line.  Consider yourself invited – snap out of it and get going!

Most importantly, know that God can change you.  God wants to change you, and he has all power.  He never fails.  Turn to him to become the person you can’t be on your own.  And, as always, let me know if I can help.

Grace and peace,

Pete

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PS – for you movie fans – snap out of it!

One Day You’re an Expert

I’ve been experiencing a great deal of change recently, and another big one is right around the corner. In two weeks I’ll be leaving my current employer to become an independent consultant in the healthcare industry. It’s pretty exciting. I guess it could also be scary, but I’m trusting God and I’m ready for this particular change.

Having dinner with a younger colleague last week, and discussing my plans, the more general topic of career progression came up. After I explained my career journey, he had a couple of questions. “So, how does one get to be ‘an expert,’ to arrive in a position where others seek you as a consultant? Any advice to pass along?”

I don’t know that I had too much smart to say. Most of my thoughts on the topic are pretty basic, and my answer was something like this: Do your best at your current job. Keep learning. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. Research what others are doing. Go to conferences and meetings. Read. Talk with colleagues. Eventually one day, perhaps after many years, something will happen to cause you to recognize your own knowledge and ability and you’ll realize that you’re an expert. At least that’s what happened to me.

Something similar seems to have happened with my emotional wellbeing. I’ve thought about this kind of career move before, but it seemed too scary, too distant. Now it seems at hand. I’m finding myself to be calm and at peace with this major change. Also as you’d expect, I’m trusting God. It feels good, surprisingly good. It’s surprising enough for me to ask myself, “Wait a minute! Why am I not more worried about this? How and when did I become a calm, peaceful person? When did I get this faith?”

I think the answers are a lot like those involving my career. Do the best you can at following Jesus. Pray. Listen. Talk with others of like mind. Pay attention to your emotions. Have whatever faith you can muster. Read the Bible. Work through your emotions as best you can. Eventually one day, perhaps after many years, something will happen to cause you to recognize your own inner state and you’ll realize that you’re a calm and peaceful person of faith. At least that’s what happened to me.

Praise God.

Peace,

Pete

Change Happens

“Lookin back at my background tryin’ to
figure out how I ever got here.
Some things are still a mystery to me
While others are much to clear.”

Migration – Jimmy Buffet

 

Like I said a few weeks ago, things can happen fast, and change is a constant. But it sure is hard to get used to, isn’t it? I’ve spent the last week or so reflecting on all of the recent (and not so recent) changes in my life, and thinking about how I, myself, have changed. While recognizing that I am certainly the same individual human being as I was in high school, I also feel like a “different person” in many respects. It’s a strange feeling – I’m still me, but a different me.

A casual conversation on this topic with my friend Curt (who is into music), led me to pull out my Jimmy Buffett CD collection, and I’ve been listing to them in the car all week. His music really takes me back. I can remember the various stages of life I was in when each album came out, and the music brings back memories of good times as well as stressful times. I’ve been enjoying his lyrics and melodies for over 40 years.

Can we agree that Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes is clearly the best Jimmy Buffett album?  It has really withstood the test of time for me.  I still love it, every song.  Everything may be different since 1977, but that recording endures, unchanged by time. Maybe it’s that sameness that’s the reason his songs bring up such memories for me, and why music often seems to take people back to the past.

Constancy, stability, sameness. We don’t get that too much in life. Maybe in certain foods – Oreos are pretty much the same as decades ago – but otherwise change is the rule. People, places, organizations, things, jobs, relationships, and technology – everything seems in constant flux. And it’s all speeding up.  What’s a person to do?

“It’s those changes in latitudes,
changes in attitudes nothing remains quite the same.
With all of our running and all of our cunning,
if we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.”

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes – Jimmy Buffett

Jimmy is right. We have to roll with the punches.  It’s good to have the ability to laugh, to be lighthearted, despite and through life’s inevitable changes, but what can allow you to do that? What’s helping me through is placing my trust and confidence in Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t change. He doesn’t forget his people or his promises, and his arm is never too short. Facing uncomfortable changes? Seek the Unchanging. I’m nobody special; God will help you too.

Take care,

Pete

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What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:31-9 NIV

Things Can Happen Fast – For Better or for Worse

For some reason, perhaps that I don’t share enough, Facebook has been serving up a variety of pictures from one year ago for me to share. (I haven’t shared any.) Each time I see one I think, Was that really a year ago? It seems like just the other day. Wow, a lot’s happened since then. It’s caused me to focus a little more on the passage of time and all of the recent changes I’ve been through. Most are positive.

I discussed this with two of my buddies the other day, and we all had a similar view. Each of us has faced significant and stressful issues in his personal life over the last few years – both within the family and on the job. It’s been a struggle, but each of us has made it through these hard times with a pretty positive outcome. We’ve trusted God and helped each other. (Thank you, guys.)

It’s highly encouraging to look back and see how much progress has happened in many areas of my life. I need to remember this when I face whatever crisis appears next – Things can get better. God has a plan. I’m resolving to live “in the now” more, not fearing horrible future outcomes from current crises, but rather trusting God and doing today’s tasks today. Seems to have worked in the past.

The other reason to live in the now, is that the future is uncertain. Everything may not be better next year. There might not even be a next year. None of us can even count on tomorrow. I was reminded of that a week ago as a colleague at work died suddenly of a cardiac arrest. Aged 47 and having no heart disease, he was literally completely well right up until his heart stopped for no apparent reason. It’s been shocking, sad and sobering for the many who knew him. Fortunately he placed his hope in Jesus, as does his family, and Jesus has overcome death.

The juxtaposition of these recent events, and Easter too, has made me realize how much mental energy I devote to an uncertain future (way too much) and how little I rest in God’s grace (way too little). Time to revisit my priorities. This seems like a good list: Trust God. Live life. Don’t worry. Be happy. Regard each day as a gift. Cherish my family. God, help me do that.

Pete

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I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.  But take heart, because I have overcome the world.
– Jesus (John 16:33 NLT)

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On the happy side, here’s a nice two-year development.  The Amaryllis I started from seed have done great!

May 2015

Same plant, April 2017