If success has eluded us, when we know we could be doing so much more, the time to reevaluate life is here. We must be honest with ourselves, the hard choices made, a plan with defined goals, yet with the flexibility needed in the real world should be thought out. Change begins when we recognize that must master ourselves, holding in check our desires, passion, and excesses.
We close out another year and usher in a new decade. All of us tend to make resolutions on New Year’s day and yet how many of us follow through? We often give up within a month, why? Change is hard, leaving our comfort zone is not easy, does it mean we do not want to improve our lives? We all have dreams and aspirations, but are we willing to put in the work that it will take to reach them? If we want something bad enough, we will make the time, find the funds, be consistent and throw away the excuses.
We are all given gifts, they differ from person to person, it is what we do with them that counts. If we waste them or don’t use them for a good purpose, things never seem to fall into place. We all know what is good for us, we don’t need someone to take charge, nobody can do it better than we can for ourselves. Step up and take responsibility for our own lives.
I have taken many trips in my life but none have affected me as much as my recent trip to Israel. During my ten day pilgrimage to the Holy Land I packed in a lot of sites.
I have visited other Holy sites around Europe in the past, including the Vatican, but they never made me think of anything beyond the beauty of the craftsmanship. Israel is a different place entirely. It is the living history of our Living God.
It is a land dripping in history and bloodshed. It has been conquered and reconquered for many centuries. The land is not rich in terms of resources. They have to irrigate the land and desalinate the soil to make it fertile. It varies greatly around the region, but overall it is very rocky with little water. One plant seems to thrive there naturally, and that is the Olive tree. Olive trees grow all over. The olive is a hearty tree that lives for many centuries, so if you plant them today your great-great grandchildren can enjoy their fruit.
The modern State of Israel has turned a once barren land into rich fields of crops. They have planted countless trees and made many improvements, despite being surrounded by enemies on all sides.
“Israel cannot bring you to God, but experiencing Israel can bring you closer to God.”
I heard these words shortly after landing in Israel. This phrase went through my head a number of times as I explored the country.
People travel to Israel for many reasons. My main reason for the trip was my love of the history. I wanted to walk where Jesus and the disciples walked. I wanted to see the land they knew, worked and loved.
I saw first hand the small desert village where a child, fully man and fully God, was born. He would go on to impact people’s lives around the world for over two thousand years.
I could feel the tug of history when I visited Caesarea and its great theatre. I knew Paul had been on trial and yet here I was sitting in the same arena where it took place. It was there that the Pilate Stone was discovered by archaeologists. The stone was a dedication stone from Pontius Pilate to the emperor Tiberius.
Capernaum is a small fishing village on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It is written about in all four of the Gospels and it is at the synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus taught. The house of the disciple Peter is located a couple of blocks from the synagogue. When you walk the streets of Capernaum you can begin to appreciate what the early Christians went through.
Traveling the country by bus is easy with modern highways and roads. A trip from the shores of Galilee to Caesarea Philippi takes under two hours. Jesus and his disciples walked it, and it took weeks!
The Dead Sea looks amazing when you first set eyes upon it. It is only when you wade in and feel the water that you fully realize why it is called the Dead Sea. The high saline content of the water feels more like a syrup. You cannot sink and there is absolutely no life in it.
I was highly anticipating my trip to the old city of Jerusalem and when I first saw it up on the hill it took my breath away. It was when I arrived at the Western Wall of the first temple that I felt my trip was complete. It was a huge victory for me, not because it is a holier place than any other place, but because of my former life. I had only ever expected to see the wall in pictures.
I saw people crying all along the wall. I saw others who were clearly praying and had been for hours. In other places on my pilgrimage I saw worshipers falling on their knees crying, brought to tears by the act of touching a rock Jesus may have touched.
The best sign I saw was inside the Garden Tomb, which was most likely the Tomb of Jesus. It reads “He is not here, for He is risen” That pretty much sums it up if you are a Christian. There is no place, no rock, no statue, no clothing and no ritual that will bring you closer to God.
God is accessible whether you make it to Israel or not. He wants to have a personal relationship with you regardless of your location, background or station in life. If you do get a chance to visit Israel, I urge you to go. It was a life-changing trip for me.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
What are your dreams and goals? A lot of us use the phrase someday when we talk about them. We often put off taking that first step until it is too late. I wonder how many works of art died before they were ever realized? How many great stories were never told?
Kids dream big. Astronaut? President? Racecar driver? Sure!
Could it be that we were never taught how to reach our goals? When I had something I wanted to accomplish in the past I would often get caught up in my own thoughts, holding myself back. I would basically talk myself out of it. I would think, “I can never actually do that,” or, “I don’t have the education or the training.” Worse yet, “I don’t have the connections I would need to succeed with that.”
Do you see how I never even took the first step?
Today when I think about my goals, I investigate them. I learn everything I can about them and then I begin to chip away. I put one foot in front of the other. Each day I make progress in the direction I wish to go. I keep that mental picture of myself doing or succeeding at what I am dreaming about.
This is when I have learned to be patient. Let’s say I did arrive at the end without all the hard work in the middle. If that happened, I would not be ready for the success. Most likely I would fail. I wouldn’t have all lessons that I would need to fall back on that I should have learned on the way to reaching my goals.
God knows what I can handle – success and failure – and where I need to be. I have to trust in him on my journey to accomplish the dreams he has put inside me.
Ambitious dreams are great! Working towards them is part of life. Letting them die is a waste. I am sure that any cemetery is full of wasted possibilities and unfulfilled potential.
I do not know what legacy I will leave behind when I die, but I do know that I do not want to be remembered as the “Someday I’ll accomplish that,” guy.
There is no better time than right now to take that first step towards your goals.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Often we focus on the destination with so much intensity that we completely forget about the journey. Each of us has a unique story that goes along with our journey in life. We are exactly where we are today because of the roads we have chosen.
In 2005 I could have never imagined that I would end up in the Midwest. I became adapted to living the big city life during my time in New York, and the minute I left, I missed it.
I spent a lot of time in a mountain state after that, but I never enjoyed it or even considered living there. I spent all of my time training, writing, reading and on Fridays, watching movies. That was probably the longest time I spent living away from a coastline, until now. Los Angeles began as my home in my early years, and became my home again. It was the place I thought I would live the rest of my life.
Looking back, the funny thing is that I do not miss it at all. I was going over all of the choices big and small that brought me to where I am in Illinois today. I do not regret my past because it shaped who I am today. I regret certain choices and actions I chose. I never dwell on my past in a negative way, because it shaped the person I am today. I am thankful for my journey and most of all, that I survived.
I learned a lot of things the hard way. The lessons of my life come from experiences both good and bad. Now, I hope to pass on my experiences to anyone who cares to listen, and save them the trouble of learning the hard way.
I lived in a state of constant dread. A life of, “What if?” or, “How long?” Even after I began the change process, I still felt uneasy all the time. Looking back, I will sometimes catch myself wondering why did I not seek change sooner. I know now that it is because I was not ready and God’s timing is perfect.
My journey taught me that we can all accomplish what seems impossible as long as we are dedicated to improving and staying the course. We may not get exactly what we set out for, but what we do receive will be more than we could have dreamed.
Destination or journey? The real prize is what we learn along the way.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Many of us carry around way too much weight. I am not talking about those extra pounds on the midsection. I’m talking about the dead weight of emotional baggage we drag through life.
Most people do not want to face or hear the truth. That is the way society has trained us. It is not our fault…. all of our problems are because of… Insert a cause here. If only I had this thing or went to these places or I had a better family or a better job, or a better spouse. If all that fails, blame it on the government of the only truly free nation in the history of the world.
When our problems surface, others may tell us that we should go see a professional who will give you a prescription for whatever the newest drug is today. Yet, despite the blame and the drugs, at the end of the day, we still have the same baggage.
What we carry around could be very visible, or it could be very well hidden inside of us.
Have you ever watched someone explode in anger? Do you believe that it is a one-time occurrence? On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are others who try way too hard to be a good person or overly helpful. Their emotional baggage is always there, just below the surface.
We have to address what causes anxiety inside us. No matter how far we run from it, it will still be there.
In my old life, I used to live in Newport Beach, California. When things got hot from law enforcement, I would take off to my condo in Palm Springs, California. While there I would relax, head out into the desert, sometimes hang out with other bad guys. Then I would come back to Newport Beach where the problems still existed, but were no longer in my face.
I did this for most of my adult life. I would shuttle between South Florida, Southern California, New York and many other destinations. All I did was stay a step away from my problems. What I needed to do was stay in one place, face my problems and deal with them.
The number one task at this point if we wish to free ourselves from the dead weight that drags us down is to identify it. Make a list. Think of your life like a trip into outer space where you can only take the essentials with you. Your life is the suitcase. You must choose each item carefully, deciding if you can live without it or not.
Once this is finished we must decide what we will do about the baggage you no longer need to carry. Our emotional well being is our own responsibility. There is never a time to place blame elsewhere or ask someone else to do it for us. There will be few things in life we have control over, but the good news is we can control our own emotions.
I have a friend that grew up in the life. He came from a family that I will call Mafia royalty. He had all the perks when he was young and more when he came into adulthood. He never gave life a second thought because he was able to live well.
It all came to an end well over a decade ago and today he is paralyzed by his former life. He never developed the skills to live, to be a normal human. No matter when I speak with him, it is always the same issues. He will remain stuck in emotional quicksand until he steps up and takes responsibility for his own life.
I understand why my friend and others cannot climb out of their pits of despair. I have been there. Admitting to ourselves that our baggage is holding us back gives us power to let it go. It is a constant battle for me. I constantly find old habits creeping up on me.
My blessing was the day I realized that I could let go of my burden by not living for myself, but by God’s will. That was the day my eyes were opened and the emptiness left my soul. The best part of all my soul searching is that I know where my problems stem from and I no longer let them affect my life. It is not easy for me at all, so through trial and error, I have eliminated triggers in my life. I have learned to live in the now, yesterday has passed and tomorrow has not come.
It is time for all of us to live a more fulfilling happy life, by letting go of the extra baggage we carry with us.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.