The Difference a Day Makes

0d2d09c6-55ab-4c1a-8597-92c7f66d48db-large16x9_SheriffDeVolI sat down yesterday to read my Bible and journal before going out to spend the day with some friends.  I had plans of sitting down to write a blog post when I got back home.  That didn’t happen.  The plan was to write about how to make positive change in difficult relationships.  Even relationships that are thrust upon us with no choice of our own.  I might get back to that one later, but yesterday was not the day.

Shortly after getting home yesterday I noticed on my Facebook feed that there were a number of profile pics that had changed to a picture of the Kalkaska Sheriff’s Department badge on a black background with a blue line over it.  It was not the traditional black line over a badge, but I was pretty sure I knew what it meant right away, and I began praying for those I know in the Department as I scrolled through the feed looking for more information.

Before too long I had found a reference to my friend Abe DeVol, Kalkaska County Sheriff.  It hit like a sledgehammer.  I began looking at news outlets to see if I could figure out what happened, and eventually found a news story stating that Abe had died unexpectedly of natural causes.  I spent much of last night in a fog, thinking about my friend.  He was only 44 years old.  Just two years older than I am.  Much of last night was spent thinking and worrying about my own health and asking the question no one likes to ask, “What if it was me?”  “What if I went to work on Monday and didn’t come home?”

Just a couple months ago Abe and I spent some time talking and he shared with me how he struggled with the demands of the job and how it made it harder for him to be there for his wife and daughters.  He loved them all, and he did everything he could to make sure that they knew he put them first.  I was glad to see that over the last couple of weeks he was posting pictures of himself with his daughters out in the woods together enjoying his passion of hunting.  He was that kind of Dad. Heavily involved in sports, and always willing to brag about his three girls.

Sleep last night was a little rough with all the thoughts that kept waking me up.  “Have I prepared things for my family if I am gone?”  “Why didn’t I spend more time thinking about my health?” “Why didn’t I spend more time with them?”  “How much time do I have?”  “What am I supposed to do?”

This morning I sat down to open the Bible and my study plan dropped me in Matthew 6.  Near the end of the chapter there is a section that is marked off in my Bible.  It is a bold section heading that states:

DO NOT BE ANXIOUS

The last verse of Matthew 6 says:

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” – Matthew 6:34

In light of Abe’s passing, this verse really spoke to me and the worries that I had been experiencing through the night.  As I read through it, I had three thoughts that came to mind.

  1. Don’t Worry About Tomorrow – This isn’t a pass that takes away all responsibility in life, but it is a reminder that tomorrow is going to come no matter what.  It might have some good in it, and it might have some bad in it.  Either way, I am going to be facing it with God.  I can make plans, but I need to remember that plans don’t always work out.  Even that great philosopher Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
  2. Tomorrow Is Coming… Quickly – There are so many things that are going on in our lives today.  It is a fast-paced world with technology, information overload, schedules, demands, responsibilities, and sometimes even some fun stuff too!  We need to make sure we are in the moment and not focusing too much on the past or the future.  Another great philosopher, Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
  3. Today Is Enough for Today – At work I have been taking the time each morning to lay out my day.  I use an app called Trello to keep everything organized, and it has allowed me to attack my day more efficiently.  Part of that daily planning is to assess my progress during the day and see if the task is possible to complete.  It might not be possible to do it all in one day, but I can make a little progress and then jot a note for the next day and return to it then.  I find that doing this is allowing me to come home in a better mood at the end of the day, even if the day was a little rocky.  I am seeing an improvement, and I want to take this same discipline into other areas, arguably the more important areas of my life.

I don’t want to live a life of worry.  There are too many things that I will miss out on if I live that way.  I want to know that at the end of any given day I have had a good day.  I want days that leave my family feeling loved and fulfilled.  I want my wife to know how important she is to me.  I want her to know that she has been an encouraging force in my life that has kept me moving in times that I didn’t feel like I could go another step.  I want my kids to know that I am proud of them, love them, and that I cared enough to equip them with things they need to know for life.  I want them all to know that there was never a place I wanted to be more than with the three of them.

These are things that I believe Abe wanted his family to know as well.  I’m sure when he went to bed Friday night he didn’t know what Saturday held for him, but I know that if he could talk to us today, he would tell us that we never know when it is time to leave and we should take the time to be sure to take care of the important things like our families, our faith, and our friends while we still can.

I am thankful that as a child of Christ, I know my future is secure.  I have a home in heaven, and I know that I will see my family again one day.  That faith stands strong to carry me past the point of worry to a place where I can stand resolute in my belief that tomorrow will be okay no matter what comes.  I’m going to continue to do the smart things of trying to getting in shape, to make sure I teach my kids what they need to know, and to shower my wife with love, but I don’t need to worry about tomorrow.  God has my tomorrow in His hands, and He is much more capable of handling it well than I ever could be.

Relentless Living doesn’t mean I don’t care about my tomorrow, but it does mean that worrying about tomorrow need not keep me from living today.

Our little town is a different place today without Abe in it.  He will be missed greatly, and I know that there are a lot of people here who are better for having known him.  He knew the importance of making a difference in his community, and that is something we all need to remember to do.  Please remember to keep his family in your prayers.

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A Swagger Ain’t All Bad…

When I was 14, we had a little tan ’76 Chevy Chevette that I was sure would be my first car.  It was a great little runner with a manual transmission and a little 4-banger for an engine.  It also had a corrosion-assist air circulation system. (Read that as rust holes big enough to throw a grapefruit through.)  The interior was a little run down, and there were pits in the windshield, but in all honesty, the Chevette had not been built to turn heads and make people say, “Ooooooo!”  It was transportation.  Pure and simple.

Dad and I went through that little rag and gave her a new floor pan, some sheet metal, and enough fiberglass and bondo to build a small boat.  We finished her off with a paint job that was pretty wild for a Chevette… and then he sold her.  I thought she was going to be my first car, but Dad decided that his son probably could use a little more metal wrapped around him than that little Chevette could provide.  He was probably right.  I probably would not have gotten that first speeding ticket though…

A few years later, after giving my ’79 Malibu a paint job, I needed a winter beater.  I tracked down a ’78 Chevy Malibu that on the outside was REALLY rough.  It was burgundy with a black padded-vinyl top that had started to split and shred.  It had fuzz coming out all over the top and when it went down the road, the fuzz would wave in the breeze like an old fella that refuses to give up the comb-over.  The car had a hideous red interior with some rather unidentifiable stains in the seats, but I didn’t care.  It also had a small-block V-8 under the hood.  That old rag could flat fly!  I put a set of light truck snow tires on it and there wasn’t a place that car couldn’t take me.

4 years ago I bought a Buick from a guy at work because I needed a winter car.  While the outside of this car was not in bad shape, the inside was full of surprises.  It had a household light switch that operated the fan, The clock was not able to be programmed and was off by 2 hours and 17 minutes, and the high beams and dash lights would just turn off on their own from time to time.  The car had two broken sway links and a sway bar that was only being held in place by the bushings.  It was an accident waiting to happen.  It was the first car that I ever got stuck with on more than one occasion (each time in my own driveway), but when I hit the key it was always ready to go.

I’ve owned a lot of cars over the last almost 30 years.  Some of them have been nice cars, some of them I made into nice cars, and some of them were cars that had to make people wonder what I was thinking. Most recently I picked up an ’02 Pontiac Montana from one of my best friends.  Yep.  A mini-van.  Not just any mini-van though.  This car has some issues…

  • After driving it for two months, I have finally figured out how all of the door locks work – or don’t work.  There is a science to getting into this car…
  • It has a ton of rust that is not visible at first glance, but as you climb around in an under it, you start to really wonder what is holding it together!
  • I’ve made some repairs here and there:
    • cleaned the interior
    • fixed a coolant leak
    • swapped out the headlights
    • plugged a tire
    • put on new windshield wipers
    • replaced the cabin air filters. (After removing a mouse nest the size of my head from the blower fan housing.  Finally caught the mouse in a trap I set in the car.  Traps are still set because you never know if there might be more!)
    • The most satisfying repair was probably getting the windshield sealed so water didn’t run into my left shoe when I made a right turn.

Some of you reading this might think, “Wait a minute.  You said that you bought this car from one of your best friends?  Were you doing him a favor or is he really not that good of a friend?”  I can tell you that he is a great friend.  We’ll get back to that a little later.  There are things wrong with this car, but when I hit the key, it starts.  The blower throws heat (most of the time – not too concerned yet). It has an excellent set of snow tires, and a kicking stereo! (Even if the cassette and CD players don’t work and I can’t tell what station it is on!)  I’m loving this van!

If you go back over all of these vehicles I talked about, they all have something in common.  They might not have had a lot of show, but they all had it where it really counts with a car.  They ran!  They might not be worth looking at, but 4 tires that turn and and engine that runs are really the most important things you need in a car. Well, yes. We need heaters here in Northern Michigan, but you get my point.

I look back over the cars that I have had, and while I enjoyed the lack of emergency maintenance I have had with some of the nicer, newer cars, I have really enjoyed those beaters!  I like their quirks, the opportunities they have given me to learn new skills in auto repair (Thank you, Dad and Ray for your mentorship), and for the fun stories I have been able to share.  I could look at these cars as things that bring frustration, but they really don’t.  They are adventures!

12227058_10207948334177256_3231851094432208921_nNow that I am a 42 year old man driving a rusty, soccer mom mini-van.  I can only embrace the fun of it.  Right from the start I had dubbed this vehicle the Swagger Wagon, and my friend Ray even got some decals for me to put in the windows.  The decals are getting noticed at work and I’m loving it.  People shake their heads at first because they think it is silly, but when they ask me why I would associate my mini-van with “Swagger” I get an opportunity to share.  I am proud of that van, and here is why:

  1. It was gift from a good friend who saw a need and wanted to help.  I bought the van, but I didn’t pay very much for it.  After talking with my friend Mike about my wife stepping out of her career and how I needed to get a vehicle that would just get me to and from work, Mike stepped up and made me an offer.  I looked the van over and made an informed decision.  A decision that I would make all over again because it meant so much to me that he would help me out like that.  Mike has a heart for serving and helping people, and I can brag about the God that put that heart in him.  I can brag about how my God used my friend to meet a need.  It’s not the first time Mike has been used this way, but I am driving the proof of it around and telling people about it!
  2. It was evidence of God meeting my needs.  I didn’t need a brand new Silverado.  I needed a set of wheels.  I prayed for God to bring the right vehicle to me when the time was right.  I could have prayed for something nicer, but I knew that with the price I was willing to pay, God was going to need to be involved in any purchase I made!  I have seen God meet our needs just in time several times over the past five years, and I knew He would be there again.  I can brag about a God that is there for me over and over again!
  3. It’s fun to drive a  beater! This part isn’t really deep.  I just like having a car that I can fix without worrying too much about making sure that everything looks “just right”.  I have wire holding all sorts of things together in this van, and there will probably be much more!  It is satisfying to be able to fix it on the cheap and just enjoy driving it.  I take pride in keeping it as clean as I can and doing what needs to be done to keep it running, but past that?  The more bizarre the repair the more fun I have.  I can brag about a God that brought me a car that brings me this much fun!

Relentless living is about looking for the things that really matter.  It might be a dependable vehicle, a caring friend, someone willing to teach you something you need to know, or any number of other things.  Every day we come face to face with things God has given us that are really important if we just choose to see them.  After we see them, we have the choice to acknowledge Him in them or not.  I could hang my head because I need to keep a recurring appointment with an air compressor on my calendar since the tires all have slow leaks, or I can be thankful that they have great tread and I have an air compressor!

The Bible has a couple of words that reflect my feelings regarding this van and what it has brought to my life.  The first would be contentment and the other is joy.  These feelings are rooted in a trust that God is watching out for me and the needs of my family. How He meets the needs is up to Him. How I feel about that is up to me.  I want to bring my God Relentless praise, and as I reflect on how good He is to me, one of his children…

Well, if anything is gonna give you a little swagger, that oughta do it!

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Trust Your Struggles

tumblr_nfg69g3eJF1so64cwo1_1280“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4

The last 4 months or so have been a hard ride.  We have gone through some crazy stuff in regards to work situations resulting in my wife leaving her position at work.  We have had to make decisions about our future that have required us to let go of a few dreams, or at least postpone them.  As wonderful as our kids are, we are experiencing those normal family growing pains that are going to result in an empty nest in a couple of years.  We have had some hard talks with some people about some things that have been uncomfortable.  We have had to choose a path or two that lead us into unknown territory.

Struggles.  I am probably not going to rock anyone’s stream of consciousness by saying that they are just not that fun.  I know.  Shocker!  Amazing Discovery!  We go deep here!  Struggles are a part of every day in some way, and sometimes we can’t understand why we are going through them. What purpose do they hold?  Why me?

James tells us some things that might be hard for us to hear, but ultimately, they answer the question, “Why me?”

  1. Struggles are gonna happen, but they don’t need to bring us down. – We can keep a good attitude when things are rough around us.  It isn’t too hard to keep a good attitude when things are going well, but when the stuff hits the air circulation device it can get a little harder to keep that smile on our faces.  We have a choice though.  James encourages us to make that choice by “counting it as joy“.  Is it a joyful moment when the microwave doesn’t work? No, but you can be thankful in the moment that you still have a stovetop to use, and you have food to eat.  People hurt and struggle for so many things, in the world, and we are very fortunate in comparison.
  2. There is a process that needs to be realized. – James says “you know“.  Well, sometimes we forget!  When the stuff gets tough, we need to look at it and really think about where this could be going. Consider all kinds of options because choices multiply themselves into various outcomes as we make more choices!  Don’t let yourself be stuck in the moment.  Look past the moment toward an outcome.
  3. The process builds on itself. Don’t jump out early. – There are steps that MUST be done in order.  If you have not done the work for lesson 3, you simply cannot jump ahead to lesson 8.  There is a reason Trigonometry is not taught in the first grade.  Sometimes you have to go through one thing to get to the next. If you decide to step out of something before you get your takeaway, you might miss out on the real prize at the end.  Only by staying in until that understanding takes place can you get to that “graduation” point.
  4. Struggles can result in a better you. – My wife and I experienced some self-imposed financial struggles several years ago that were exacerbated by a job loss.  Through the process of that struggle, we have learned the important lesson of living on a budget and getting by with more of what we need and less of what we might want.  It was not easy, but it has made us appreciate what we have a lot more than we used to.  We are more content.  Are we perfect? No. Are we able to say that we are better than we were because of that struggle?  Definitely!  There would have been a lot of easier choices, but we decided to knuckle under, and now we can speak to people struggling in this way with an understanding and encourage them in their own struggle and help them understand that there is an end to it!

Right now I can easily count a double handful of people who are struggling in different areas, and they are not trivial matters either.  I have shed tears with some of them, and I know they have shed many more on their own.  Job problems, family issues, financial problems, health concerns, spiritual abuse, anxiety, and the list goes on and on.  They are hurting, and they are looking for encouragement and relief.

Recently I heard a young man tell his life story.  As an 8 year-old boy he came home from school one day and found out that his father had left and he and his mom were on their own from that moment on.  Six months later his mother was killed in a car accident and he was placed in foster care because he had no family that wanted him.  He said he grew up feeling bitter and angry about what happened to him, and he was jealous of the other kids he saw that had both parents and all the opportunities available to a family.

In his high school years he had a mentor that came alongside him and took him under his wing.  For the first time he was shown that as he had grown, he had developed an ability to set goals for himself and focus his attention on what it took to achieve those goals.  He also had developed an ability to relate to people who had experienced loss.  He took those abilities and has now finished college with two degrees and is making a positive impact with people everywhere he goes.

The most memorable thing he said was, “Trust your struggle.”  That stayed with me because he was not saying that you need to give up to a struggle or be a martyr in your struggle, nor was he saying that you should just laugh foolishly at struggles and not take them seriously.  He said to trust it.  Look at the struggle as an avenue to a better thing.  There is an end to it, and if you don’t trust it, you might end up on the other side without having learned anything.  The struggle is there for a reason.

This young man summed up what James was saying very well.  A Relentless life is one that sees struggles as building blocks.  A Relentless person looks to where a struggle can lead rather than focusing on the discomfort of getting there.  A Relentless life trusts the struggle because they believe the God is taking them to a better place and will create a better them as a result of it.

One more thing to remember.  Like that young man who was willing to share his struggle, a Relentless person will share theirs too.  It isn’t to make them feel better or to get glory for coming through the other side.  The purpose is the same as Christ’s purpose in being human.  To truly be an encouragement to someone, you need to be able to relate to them.  The struggles we have been through should be shown to those in the same struggles.  Look for those people and don’t be afraid to re-live your struggle with them.  You never know, your sharing of pain may lead to them sharing their victory with you!

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