Do we really care about other people? It seems I get inundated with requests to donate money to help out people in need each year around this time. My wife and I decided a few years back that we would teach our kids about giving each Christmas and pick a charity to support. This year we each made shoebox gifts for children in need who live in the Appalachian Mountains. It has been a very rewarding experience and we are thrilled to have this opportunity, but I am sitting here and wondering if I really care.
Did you notice that I earlier used the word ‘inundated?’ I know that carries a negative connotation and I used it deliberately. I used it because it is a proper description of how I often feel. I know that I cannot financially help every charity. That isn’t what bothers me though. What really troubles me is how stagnant my reaction is to the suffering of others. It seems that with each image I see or paragraph I read I become more desensitized. I know that children are dying and understand that buying a goat and chickens can help feed a village in a third world country. I am very aware that the large cause of death in the world is lack of access to clean drinking water, but I seem to not feel it anymore. Those images and words that once tugged at my heartstrings seem to do very little these days.
I’m just being honest here, but I seem more concerned with how uncomfortable I feel in cold weather – even with my warm clothes and dry, heated buildings – than I am with the real suffering of others. I easily become obsessed with my distaste for winter and desire for the warmth of summer while there are people dying due to their exposure to the elements. I am no longer ‘distracted’ by people who beg for food because I have become very accustomed to ignoring them. I wonder if I would even send shoebox gifts to financially disadvantaged children if it didn’t make me feel good or serve as a ‘teachable moment’ to my children.
I am an average American. The citizens of this great country provide much to those in need but I wonder if we really care. Are we working in a soup kitchen because we care or because we feel it’s an obligation? Do we give to the Salvation Army because we understand the plight of those they serve or do we just feel guilty when we don’t? If those children we send shoe boxes to were our own, would it make a difference? I think we often have done the right thing but quite possibly not for the right reason. How often have you donated something knowing you could count it as a deduction on your taxes? How often have you gone Christmas shopping and were more concerned about what you were going to buy for yourself or your family than what you were going to provide to someone in need?
I think most Americans are guilty of this but we shouldn’t be. Just because the majority of people are desensitized does not make it a societal mandate. Let’s make a goal together this year. I propose we decide to search our hearts and rekindle the emotions inside our beings. Don’t be afraid to look at the images of the starving children, it’s okay to cry when you realize how desperately they need your help. It’s alright to have compassion; in fact I think it’s necessary. Don’t let this Christmas pass by without taking some time to find love in your heart. When you start to complain about how cold you feel in your winter coat or sitting in your heated leather seat, instead take some time to think about the homeless man or woman who lives in the cold and doesn’t even own a decent pair of shoes. Maybe she wouldn’t be complaining if she were sitting in your place.
None of us enjoy admitting our flaws. We often like to pretend that we have no flaws. Other people need to make changes but we are perfect, right? I am sure that everyone who reads my blog is the absolute picture of perfection.
That is simply not true. It’s not true for you and it’s not true for me. I have flaws; some that I am aware of and others that I am blind to, but I have a many things I should change about my life. Since Thanksgiving is just around the corner, I am going to confess one of my flaws and it may surprise some of my readers.
I can be a very critical person. I can be critical of myself and others. I’m pretty good and looking at the glass as half full, or at least appearing to do so, but my first response is often to criticize. I admit that there is a little Jerry Seinfeld floating around in my subconscious. I judge people who maintain poor hairstyles, wear unmatched or dated clothing, or just don’t live up to their potential. I am also critical about projects. I expect the worst from a new change at work or look for the problems when asked to do an assignment. I’m great at noticing crooked pictures on the wall or layers of dust on the shelf and quick to point it out to those closest to me. I think it is my way of measuring up my environment and making myself feel superior in some lowly fashion. .. In case you are wondering, I am already criticizing today’s article.
Thanksgiving can often be hard for those of us that lean toward criticism. We expect the weather to be bad, problems with the food, arguments with the family, etc. We look for the inconsistencies and miss the point of Thanksgiving – being thankful.
Today I confess my flaw and I am making a commitment to focus on those thinks I am thankful for. I am not going to nitpick this Thanksgiving; I’m going to enjoy time with my family. I am going to be thankful. I have so much to be thankful for and giving thanks is always better than giving criticism.
How about you, will you be thankful this year?
I want to thank all the men and women who have bravely fought to purchase our freedom. I have not personally served our nation in the military but I come from a family who has. I am proud that my father, grandfather, uncles and cousins have fought to preserve the freedom that I inherited.
Fellow Americans, take some time today to remember that freedom is not really free. It was purchased with a great price. Make sure you thank those who serve our country and sacrifice so we can enjoy all the benefits of citizenship in a free land.
Have you ever wondered if God chooses to be silent? Are there times when you simply cannot hear Him speaking to you? I am at a place in my life where I am straining, pleading, needing to hear God speak to me. My family recently moved to a new town about two months ago, I confess it feels like an eternity. It’s been a slow summer, a spiritually dry summer. We’ve had a difficult time finding a new church, I haven’t made any close friends and I am terribly homesick. I’ve been isolated in a small town and the local Kwik Shop is about my only option for a fun night out.
Now, if you are an introverted, laid back personality this may sound like bliss, isolated at home, not a lot of people to hang out with, and not a lot to do. For an extroverted, Type A personality, it’s like sitting in the dentist chair getting a root canal that takes hours to finish. I confess that my personality needs a lot going on, projects to manage, people to interact with, places to go, and something to do other than laundry, (my boon companion). It’s difficult for me to be still. Now let me say that again like a 5 year old asked to sit quietly, IT’S DIFFICULT FOR ME TO BE STILL! I haven’t been able to find a job, I have no friends, and if I have to clean another toilet I may lose my mind.
In my lonely state of self-absorption, I am reminded of the Israelites. If they weren’t on the mountain top, they were in the valley complaining. If God wasn’t speaking to them directly or doing awesome miracles, they worshipped another. If Moses wasn’t telling them what they wanted to hear, they threatened to leave. The Israelites were fickle, wondering, emotion driven people who let their circumstances determine their value. It wasn’t enough to be a child of God, they needed to be a child of God with lots of stuff. It’s great to be a child of God when things are going well, with a place to live, food to eat, and prosperity in your future. It’s difficult to just be a child of God and not know where you will rest your head, how you will put food on the table, and have no employment prospects. We might not be that destitute as my husband has a good job. But the move has been difficult, in fact, the last few months have been down right trying.
Simply put, I get the Israelites. I love being on the mountain top, like attending a great worship service where the worship is palpable, the message is inspiring, and lives are changed. I love being around people who are friendly, kind, and interested in my life. I love having a job that makes me feel like I’m valuable and where I get all kinds of accolades. I love having lots of friends and lots of activity in my life.
My American driven ego and life style isn’t used to not having these emotionally driven activities. Therein lies the problem, I’m not used to being still and I’m not good at trusting God in the valley.
I believe the Word of God is true and I believe God fulfills His promises. Yet my heart is aching and my emotions are on a roller coaster. So what’s a girl to do? Run and worship another idol like the Israelites because my emotions are not falling in line with what I believe to be true? Or do I claim the Word of God and keep my emotions from influencing what I believe and how I behave?
I’ve let my emotions deter my course of action before, swerving from the truth just a little bit so as to appease my aching heart. It ended badly for me and has had a profound impact on my life. I will write about that in future blogs. So today, June 27th, I chose what I know to be true regardless of emotion.
God will not forsaken or abandon me.
God has a future and a hope for me.
God is still the same no matter what my circumstances.
God is doing something new in my life.
If you are in a difficult place where trusting Him doesn’t “feel” like the right thing to do and you want to run in the opposite direction from Him rather than to Him, then let’s claim this promise together.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
To be continued……..
This past weekend I attended an event held in honor of the 20th anniversary of our high school graduation. There were two events held over the weekend but I was able to only attend one. There was a family night party held on Friday at a skating rink in my hometown of Paris, TN. It was great to see classmates that I have not seen for 20 years and to have the opportunity to learn about all of their life accomplishments. I did not get to attend the second night of the event and missed catching up with other HCHS alumni. Based on the Facebook photos I saw, it looks like everyone had much fun.
This event was monumental in the fact that it reminded me about how each of us leaves lasting impressions on one another. I talked with people whom I was not close to in high school, but as we talked memories resurfaced of events from the past. It was as if time was being erased and an 18 year-old boy was peeking through these 38 year-old eyes. I had a very good time and just really enjoyed reflecting on all of the good memories that I have from my time at Henry County High School in Paris, TN.
The one piece of advice I leave with you today is to hold on to each good memory. Don’t let life slip by without taking time to smell the roses and bask in the sunshine. Life is short and we too often get so focused on completing tasks that we forget to just live.
I appreciate the time I spend with my classmates and thank everyone who took part in planning the events. Finally, I want to give a shout out to the Henry County High School class of 1992!
May 30, 1998
This is a very exciting week. Julie had a birthday on Monday and we celebrate our 14 year anniversary today!! I also received my hardcover copy of The Night Terror last night and we are preparing for our first ever family vacation to Disney World and Florida. Can you say over-stimulated?
I find it extremely difficult to stay focused at work because I have so many exciting things taking place. I just need to get through today and tomorrow and I will have some well earned time off.
I am dedicating today’s blog to my wife of 14 years, Julie Stritzel McSwain. I can’t believe that it has been 14 years already. I am very blessed to be married to such a beautiful, intelligent and strong woman. Julie has stood by my side through thick and thin and has shared times of joy and pain. I only had two living grandparents when we married and she was there to comfort me when I lost each of them. She has also consoled me when I received a bad report from the doctor and helped me pray for healing (which happened). She held me when I was laid off from two jobs and stayed by my side when we had to sell a car we loved and our first home. She gave birth to our wonderful children and has been an exceptional mother. She has also supported me in my desire to follow my dreams of becoming a writer. Julie has been a blessing to my life. I am not sure what life would have been like without her, but I imagine I would have been a very lonely person. I love her deeply and am so thankful that we found eachother.
Thank you, Julie, for being my wife and sharing your love with me.
Taking a trip down memory lane during the month of November has been very heartwarming. It was almost therapeutic to take time to reminisce about the friends of which I have been blessed over the years. Those memories resurrected lost analog files embedded in my brain of the great times I have spent with my family. I have memories of Thanksgivings and Christmas’ around my grandparent’s table, playing tag and hide & seek with my cousins Steve and Marty and my grandfather cautioning me to never hide in the old refrigerator located outside in which he stored dog and fish food. There are flashes of Easter eggs hidden in the most anomalous places like inside the clothes line frame. These memories are magnificent, make me feel joy and remind me of how blessed I am to have a wonderful family.
In the classic movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey discovers that despite his personal definition of prosperity, he is living a wonderful life. He realizes life is not about money and popularity, but about family and friends. Just like George Bailey, I have lived a wonderful life. I was raised by two incredible parents who taught me the principles of love and respect. They not only taught me with their words, they trained me by their actions. I am thankful that my parents never shied away from the words, “I love you” and that they taught me the importance of a simple hug. We were not poor, but we were also not rich. What we did have came as a result of sweat and hard labor on both of their parts. As a child, both of my parents worked in factories and labored many hours to provide us with shelter, food and reliable transportation. Both suffered significant setbacks when the factories they worked for both went out of business. They reinvented themselves and persevered.
My childhood memories do not center on my parents jobs, however. I remember washing the car with my mom and her spraying me with the hose simply because she loved my laughter. I remember growing older and spraying her with the hose simply because I loved her screams. My dad took me for rides on his Honda or in his MG convertible. I always loved the feeling of the wind on my face. I also remember going into the woods in the Jeep, it breaking down and us walking forever to find a house with a phone. Mainly, I remember love and laughter.
I also fondly remember my grandparents. I never knew my dad’s father because he passed away years before I was born. My dad’s mom passed away when I was very young, but I remember she made the best banana pudding.
I was blessed to have my mom’s parents as a part of my life until I was a young adult. They owned around one hundred acres. I guess it was my ‘Hundred Acre Wood.’ I would take my granddad on long walks in the forest and he would talk to me about nature. He was always looking for an opportunity to teach me something. He would also take me to feed the fish in one of his many ponds or go out in a boat to catch some of those well feed fish. We would play in the creek or plant seeds in the garden. We were very close, so close that I was honored to give the eulogy at his funeral. I am like him in many ways; in fact he was a writer and part of my inspiration to write. In fact, the greeting to this blog, “Hello Everybody” was written in honor of him because it was how he always started his newspaper articles.
I was also very close to my grand mom, who happened to spoil me. They lived far out in the country and got out of bed very early. I would often stay the night with them. My grandmother would get up, drive 30 miles to town and do her grocery shopping. While there, she would by a gravy and biscuit from Hardees and bring to me for breakfast when I crawled out of bed. When I was at their house, I often got gravy and biscuit, a McDonald’s burger and all the Dr Pepper I wanted. My grand mom was great and I also had the honor of giving the eulogy at her funeral.
The truth is I have been blessed with a great family and many splendid memories. I had a wonderful childhood and continue to live a wonderful life. - Tim