Ready For Change

A parable tells about a martial artist who kneels before a master sensei in a ceremony to receive the hard-earned Black Belt. After years of relentless training, the student has finally reached a pinnacle of achievement in the discipline.

“Before granting the belt, you must pass one more test,” the sensei solemnly tells the young man.

“I’m ready,” responds the student, expecting perhaps one more round of sparring.

“You must answer the essential question: What is the true meaning of the Black Belt?”

“Why, the end of my journey,” says the student. “A well-deserved reward for my hard work.”

The master waits for more. Clearly, he is not satisfied. The sensei finally speaks: “You are not ready for the Black Belt. Return in one year.”

As the student kneels before his master a year later, he is again asked the question, “What is the true meaning of the Black Belt?”

“It is a symbol of distinction and the highest achievement in our art,” the young man responds.

Again the master waits for more. Still unsatisfied, he says once more: “You are still not ready for the Black Belt. Return in one year.”

A year later the student kneels before his sensei and hears the question, “What is the true meaning of the Black Belt?”

This time he answers, “The Black Belt represents not the end, but the beginning, the start of a never-ending journey of discipline, work and the pursuit of an ever higher standard.”

“Yes,” says the master. “You are now ready to receive the Black Belt and begin your work.”

The Black Belt is not the end of much hard work and practice. It is the beginning of a life-long journey.

You may not be hoping for a Black Belt, but you might be at a crucial point. Maybe you’re facing a life change, perhaps even a painful one. Or maybe you are awaiting something you have worked hard to attain − graduation, a new job, a promotion, or even retirement.

All wise people see that changes can be new beginnings. Change need not be feared. And neither should we be looking for a permanent resting place, for a full and happy life is never stagnant.

How does the change you face represent, not just an ending, but a new beginning in your life’s journey? Are you ready to accept it? 

Grace and Peace
Steve

The Boss

A young woman was filling out an application for college when she came across the question: Are you a leader? She thought she had better be brutally honest, so she answered, “No.” She was convinced when she sent the application in that she’d never hear from them because of that answer.
 
But she received a letter back from the school that read: “We have reviewed numerous applications and, to date, there will be some 1,452 new leaders attending school next year. We have decided to accept your application because we felt it was imperative that they have at least one follower.”
 
Should all of us be leaders all of the time? Isn’t there a time to follow as well as lead?
 
One man likes to tell about the day he purchased a novelty sign and hung it on his office door. The sign read: “I’m the boss.” The next day he came to work he noticed that the office comedian affixed a sticky note to his door that read, “Your wife called. She wants her sign back.”
 
He may be the boss at work, but home is different altogether. In marriage and family as well as most social relationships, sometimes we lead and sometimes we follow the lead of another. If the so-called boss happens to be an effective leader at work, he has probably learned that getting his own way all of the time does not produce good results. As it turns out, the best leaders are also excellent followers. Why?
 
1. Good leaders share leadership. They know when to follow and when to lead.
 
2. Good leaders build their skills on following role models for the behaviors they want to learn. What they admire in another, they copy. 
 
3. Good leaders exhibit humility. They remain open to suggestion. When they need it, they ask for help and follow good advice.
 
In other words, good leaders are also good followers. They know when to follow in the footsteps of others and when to leave tracks of their own.
 
You may be the boss, but you will be a leader when you also learn how to follow. 

Grace and Peace
Steve
 

One Little Step

The USS Constitution

I once watch a showing of the TV series “What History Forgot” which told the fascinating story about the fabled USS Constitution, a 19th Century American warship affectionately called “Old Ironsides.” During the 1812 conflict between Britain and America, the crew of the Constitution sighted what appeared to be several American ships blockading a harbor. Overnight the ship joined her supposed allies, only to find in the morning that she had closed up with five enemy British vessels.

The worst thing was that there was no wind, making it impossible to sail away again. With the Constitution in deep danger, her captain had to come up with another way of moving. For two days he and the crew crept slowly away from the British ships by sending an anchor ahead in one of the ship’s lifeboats, dropping it, and then using the capstan to pull the ship towards safety. In this fashion, hour after hour the ship inched ever-so-slightly away from the enemy. The arduous work of pulling up anchors from the bottom of the bay, loading them into small boats, rowing impossibly heavy boats toward open sea, wrestling the anchors overboard and towing the ship toward anchor must have been an excruciating and mind-wracking ordeal for the crew – and especially with the enemy so close.

The opposing captains soon realized what the Constitution was doing and employed the same tactic in pursuit. But the American ship had widened the gap just enough that, when wind finally returned, the British were unable to catch her.

In Sydney Smith’s encouraging words, “It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little – do what you can.” The crew of the Constitution did what little they could, though it may have seemed almost useless at the time. 

Maybe you feel as if you are stuck – dead in the water. Maybe all you can do is barely move the ship of your life an inch at a time. Maybe it feels as if you are getting nowhere. And maybe it seems that the almost imperceptible movement forward is the hardest thing you’ve ever done.

But will you do nothing because you can only do a little? If one tiny step is all you can take, will you take it today?

Grace and Peace
Steve

A Faithful Fight

On April 23rd, 2020 our daughter-in-law lost her almost two year battle with ovarian cancer. She fought bravely and faithfully knowing that she was always in God’s hands. Please allow me to share with you what I said at her family graveside service.

Joy Cantrell Martin
Graveside Service
May 4th, 2020

I asked Stephen if he would allow me to speak today because I never got the opportunity to sit beside Joy and have that last talk… the one where I would thank her for the life, organization, faith and adventure she brought to this family. You have been a strong magnet that, combined with the ones held by Stephen, Noah and Abby, has bonded this family together and kept everything moving in a positive upward direction.

If there ever was a family where the hand of God was clearly seen, it is this one. From the moment Joy and Stephen met on a softball field, introduced by her brother Kerry… it all began. It was plain to see they were meant for each other. Dating for a while, their engagement was sealed at Thoroughbreds in Myrtle Beach… she said yes.

Joy, I want to thank you for loving my son in such a way that his eyes would sparkle, his heart would be warmed, and his life would be made more complete. This man is a very good man… best I know… but you made him better. Together you raised a family which produced and nurtured two outstanding young people. You and Stephen encouraged and expected from them their very best in everything they did… as you did of yourselves. They learned good study habits and the importance to be on time with all their work… and offer more than was required. As a result, both Noah and Abby are at the top of their class. They take education seriously because of you. You and Stephen were always there to support Noah and Abby at every game, every match, every meet, every performance, every ceremony, and traveled with them on all the school and church trips. You were always there.

Both you and Stephen were raised in the church and, as a family, you continued your walk of faith in the church and have always been faithfully involved in its ministries. You lived out your faith before your children and taught them to walk the higher road. I know that when your children left the house every morning to go out into the world, you impressed upon them the importance of always living out the high standards set by the Cantrell and Martin families. Even more than that, you taught, expected and encouraged them to live out their faith in the world everyday… a faith that treated everyone with dignity and respect… especially those who were in need. Noah and Abby, as you now continue to walk this path, know that your mom is still with you, still loving you, still encouraging you. Do your best to make her proud of all you do and what you are becoming.

Joy, thank you for giving Shirley and me the most priceless gift you could have ever given us: you allowed us to keep these two precious babies, five days a week, from the time they were around six weeks old until they were both in high school. Those days with your wonderfully creative children gave us life. I remember when we lived in Pleasant Garden, I couldn’t wait to get home for lunch so I could get my hugs and hear the stories of what they had been doing all morning. Sometimes I would get there in time to see Noah turn a bowl of spaghetti-o’s up-side-down on his head or Abby dress in her princess gown, with Mamaw’s high heal shoes. It was a very magical time… a priceless time we could never repay.

Joy, you are the daughter we never had, and we love you dearly… we love you for the love you brought into this family. You will forever be missed. We would not be the people we are today without God allowing you to cross our path and become a vital part our family.

Joy, I’m not sure how to thank you for freezing me at the Myrtle Beach condo each summer. You would set the temperature on “Freeze the old man” and have a fan blowing on you saying it’s hot in here. I would be on the sofa, in sweats, under a blanket… still cold. Or the way you would correct my mistakes, especially when I did or said something that was beyond words – you would give me that LOOK – the one everyone knows what it means when it was our time. Or, how you would correct the way Shirley and I pronounced certain words – warsh and wrench for wash and rinse. It became a family joke. We have had a lot of good times together – times we will always cherish

Joy, your faith has never shown brighter or stronger than when it was there for all to see as you fought your battle with cancer. You never whimpered or said woe is me. You simply lifted your hands, bowed your head, gave it all to God, and proceeded to be positive in all you faced. You have no idea how much your example of faith in the face of cancer has meant to all who have witnessed your battle. I only hope that when I face my own battles, I can do it with as much courage of faith as you have. You truly have been a profile in courage.

Joy, one of the special things we will miss about you is that beautiful smile… you would light up the entire room. Shirley and I are going to have sun catchers made. We are naming them Joy’s Smile. Hang them in the window that catches the morning sun and Joy smiles all over your room in a blaze of rainbow colors… and you will smile and think to yourselves… “There is Joy’s smile”, you will know that Joy is with you, and it will make your day.

God’s blessings on you dearest Joy. May you now enjoy the fullness of God’s love in the Heavenly Country.

Grace and Peace
Steve

IT IS UP TO US

There is so much happening so quickly, on so many fronts, these days that we can’t keep up with them, understand them, or know how to act or respond. I hear people say things are changing and you don’t want to end up on the wrong side of history. Is that what should matter… what side of history we will find ourselves when they lay us to rest?

As I read my Bible and study the theology I have struggled through many years of practical living in the real world of hurting people this is not even something that is considered. I find the inner soul is seeking guidance from God to be true to the Gospel teaching of “Love God and our neighbor as ourselves…” Actually the simple truth is found in the children’s song from Bible school long ago: “Red and yellow, black and white, they are all precious in His sight. Jesus loves all the children of the world.”

It seems that most of us… many of us just have an agenda we want to forward rather than seeking what God is wanting us to do in this time of turmoil. When Jesus talks about loving neighbors and children, he means all God’s people… everyone is our brother… everyone is our sister… everyone is mom or pop, grandpa or grandma, aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces… we all belong to each other. The agenda we should be working to fulfill is God’s agenda of loving each other.

This is not the time for blame… not the time for pointing fingers… or seeking to get even. Now is the time to allow God to shine through our daily living. If we would do that, God could change the world. Instead of black and white or masks and no masks, get or give… we would seek to love one another more than we ever have before. That is what it will take to get through this. This is indeed the real test: Do we love as God loves… or do we desire what we selfishly want to see happen?

It is up to us.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Where’s Waldo?

WheresWaldoDo you remember seeing all those books, puzzles, games and pictures asking you to look all around the picture to answer the question: “Where’s Waldo?” Waldo is this thin, dark haired young man hidden deeply in the picture. He wears glasses, red and white striped shirt and hat, with a pair of jeans.

I remember searching for long periods of time before finally finding Waldo.

Well, today I found Waldo at Harris Teeter. I saw this young man walking out to his car parked in a handicapped parking space. Before you jump to the wrong conclusion hear the rest of the story.

Waldo walked to this car. An older, beaten up sedan with the gas lid missing. It had a handicapped placard hanging from the mirror. Waldo was carrying several bags of groceries. Following him was an elderly black man who could barely walk. Waldo loaded the groceries into the trunk and the old man got in the front passenger’s seat.

Waldo got in, backed the car out and stopped at the front of Harris Teeter. Again, he got out as this little old black lady pushed her buggy (which looked like she needed as a walker) toward the car. Waldo unloaded her groceries and helped her into the car. He returned to the driver’s seat and they drove off.

I know where Waldo is… or at least where he was at 5:25 Wednesday afternoon… he was at Harris Teeter on Lawndale helping his neighbors.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if when everyone was asked that question: “Where is Waldo?” we all could stretch our hands to the sky saying: “I know, I know. He is at Harris Teeter helping his neighbors in need.”

Are you Waldo?

Grace and Peace
Steve


Seasoning of Life

Two men fell on hard times. Try as they might, they couldn’t find work. They heard that a museum was willing to pay $50 apiece for live rattlesnakes so, in desperation, they decided to catch snakes.

Outfitted with a net and basket, they hiked to a remote area renowned for its large snake population. But as they scaled a steep ledge, rocks gave way and they tumbled down a slippery bank – into a deep pit crawling with rattlesnakes.

One of the men quickly sized up the situation and shouted to his friend, “Look! We’re rich! We’re rich!”

Okay, maybe he didn’t fully appreciate his predicament. But in most situations, I believe there is a sunny side. Take aging, for instance. As we grow older, our skin turns from satin to cotton to seersucker to corduroy. And though we might be encouraged that at least wrinkles don’t hurt, valuable experience, deep understanding and hard-won wisdom can also come with years of living. Some people are merely aging  –  others are “sageing.” The difference is in outlook.

It has to do with how we consider our situation. Like a sign spotted outside a quaint shop: “We buy junk. Antiques for sale.” I wonder, is my attic full of junk or antiques? What about my life? I’m learning it’s a matter of perspective; it’s a matter of how I want to look at what comes my way. And it’s also a matter of choice, because perspective is something I choose more often than I realize.

I’ve learned that my greatest power may well be my power to choose my outlook. As Abraham Lincoln wisely said, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” The truth is, I can choose to view tough times as growing times, I can choose to see aging as seasoning, and I can choose to focus on whatever good there is to be found in living.

I choose. After all, it’s MY point of view.

And so, we pray: Father, I’ve never used the word “seasoning” as a way to describe my aging. But I like it. Help me to choose to focus on whatever is good there is to be found in and around me. Help me to look forward to the seasoning of my life as we move along through these days. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

TAKING A BREAK

Hi Guys,

It has been a hoot traveling this journey with you since last summer, but now it is time for me to take a break. I hope to be writing a new novel in the coming months, plus it has just become too expensive to continue with these daily blogs.

I wish you all of God’s blessings til our paths join again in another journey.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Smelly Decisions

A newspaper story once related that a mother of eight from Darlington, Maryland, had been visiting next door. When she returned home, she went into the living room where she saw her five youngest children huddled in the center of the floor — on her new carpet — very much involved with something wiggly and squirmy. The perplexed mother looked closer. To her total dismay, she discovered that the children were gathered around a family of skunks.

In her horror she screamed, “Run, children, run!”

They did. Each child grabbed a skunk and ran.

I know I’ve sometimes made the same mistake. Instead of leaving a potentially smelly situation alone, I decided to run with it. Many of my problems have been the result of my own poor choices and bad judgment, though I may have been tempted to blame someone else. One such skunk I have run with was “the easy way” when there clearly was a “better way” which seemed too much trouble to bother with at the time. Another skunk I’ve run with was “instant gratification” — the I-want-it-now decision that I would be sure to regret in the long run. Another might be called “it’s too good to be true!” At a deep level I know that when it seems too good to be true, it probably is. But I  could have gone for it anyway.

I’ve made a lot of stinky decisions along the way, though I knew better. And I really can’t blame anyone or anything else. I got seduced by a cute, furry, little bundle of temptation which was actually nothing more than a skunk in disguise. And instead of running AWAY from it, I picked it up and made it mine. I ran WITH it.

I don’t know how often opportunity knocks, but temptations to make foul decisions bang on my door all day long. And smelly decisions make for smelly problems later on. A few little decisions, good or bad, can make a big difference in a life. Better to run from those skunks than with them.

Like me, have you ever run with skunks? Or the more important question is…if you’re running with one now, will you put it down? You will be glad you did, and you’ll have no one to blame for the sudden improvement but yourself.

And so, we pray: Father, I know I have made some very smelly decisions in my life, even though I thought I was doing the right thing… the expected thing. Help us to be able to recognize the skunks around us and walk away… run away from them. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

No Regrets

Not many people have heard of Bill Havens. But Bill became an unlikely hero of sorts – at least among those who knew him best. Here is his story:

At the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, the sport of canoe racing was added to the list of international competitions. The favorite team in the four-man canoe race was the United States team. One member of that team was a young man by the name of Bill Havens.

As the time for the Olympics neared, it became clear that Bill’s wife would give birth to their first child about the time that the US team would be competing in the Paris games. In 1924 there were no jet airliners from Paris to the United States, only slow ocean-going ships. And so, Bill found himself in a dilemma. Should he go to Paris and risk not being at his wife’s side when their baby was born? Or should he withdraw from the team and remain with his family?

Bill’s wife insisted that he go to Paris. After all, competing in the Olympics was the culmination of a lifelong dream. But Bill felt conflicted and, after much soul-searching, decided to withdraw from the competition and remain home where he could support his family. Just four days after the games (at which his brother Bud Havens and the rest of the U.S. canoe crew won three gold, one silver, and two bronze over six events), his son Frank came into the world.

People said, “What a shame.” But Bill said he had no regrets. For the rest of his life, he believed he had made the better decision.

However, there is an interesting sequel to the story of Bill Havens.…

Frank, the child born to them that year, grew to love canoeing as much as his father did. And at 28-years-old, in 1952, Frank sent his father a cablegram. It came from Helsinki, Finland, where the Olympic Games were being held. The message read: “Dear Dad, thanks for waiting around for me to get born in 1924. I’m coming home with the gold medal you should have won. Your loving son, Frank.”

Frank had set the new world record and took home the gold in the solo 10,000-meter event. He came home with the medal his father had dreamed of winning. Like I said – no regrets.

Thomas Kinkade eloquently said, “When we learn to say a deep, passionate yes to the things that really matter… then peace begins to settle into our lives like golden sunlight sifting to a forest floor.” Saying yes to the things that really matter might mean you say no to something else you want…but it’s a way to no regrets.

And so, we pray: Father, help us to never be afraid to make the decisions of the heart… the right decisions, the decisions that really matter, and to have no regrets when we do. I believe you will always honor us when we make that kind of decision… because it is not about us but about the others caught up in the decisions we make. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

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