Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ghosts... Past... Present... Future...

It's Christmas time!


The most famous fictional Christmas story by far is A Christmas Carol.  There are so many adaptations of the story even the Muppets and Disney characters have been involved in Christmas Carol projects.  The story has stood the test of time and the message is loud and clear about not only how we should act during the Christmas season but how we should live our lives all year long.  It is a great message that everyone needs to learn.


As the story goes, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by 4 ghosts on Christmas Eve.  He is visited by his old partner in business Jacob Marley, as well as the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.  By witnessing things from his past, present, and future, Scrooge sees the mistakes he has made and what the future will hold for his life if he doesn't make changes.  Luckily Scrooge sees the light and is able to turn things around and become a better person. 


I believe that just like Scrooge we are visited by ghosts.  Ours are a little different but in some ways exactly the same.  Our ghosts of the past come in the forms of memories, and thoughts that help to mold and shape who we are.  Our ghosts of the past are the mistakes that we have made throughout life.  I think we all look back at times and remember things that we said and did that impacted people and ourselves in negative ways. We think about times that people treated us badly and hurt us.  We are able to look back on these ghosts and make positive changes and decisions in our present time based on what our ghost of the past shows us.  We can think about those things and make sure that we don't make the same mistakes twice.   We can be affected by our ghosts of the past just like Scrooge was.


Our ghosts of the present are those times when we pine over decisions we have made or things that we have said that adversely affected us or others.  We may have hurt someone by putting them down or yelling at them.  We may have skipped an important meeting or event and know that we made a mistake by doing so.  These ghosts of the present haunt us and often cause us to have angst, lose sleep, or can even make us physically ill. These ghosts of the present help us to realize mistakes as they happen and allow us to make changes.


Our ghosts of the future are also known as the goals that we set.  No one knows the future and we can't predict what exactly will happen but we can set goals and expectations of what we want to do with our lives.  We have to have drive and ambition in life.  We get that drive, passion, and ambition from our ghost of the future.  The help us to form what we will look like tomorrow, five years from now, twenty years from now, and for the rest of our lives.  Without our ghost of the future helping us along the way we do not have direction.


Scrooge's ghosts were specters that we could physically see in the story. They helped to show Scrooge why he acted the way he acts and what changes he needed to make and could make to be a better man.  I hope that your ghosts help to guide you throughout life.  I hope that you realize that they are here to help and are not something to be scared of even if they show us that we have done something bad or wrong in our past or in our present.  These ghosts make us who we are and it is up to us to learn from them.


I hope you have a great holiday season and when you see A Christmas Carol on TV or DVD this Christmas just remember what I said about your ghosts and try to use all three to become a better person. 


As tiny Tim so eloquently stated:  "God bless us, everyone!"


Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dear Younger Me


Dear Younger Me,

It is weird that I have this opportunity to write to you and give you some advice now that I am older and wiser.  Hopefully you can use this to help you throughout the rest of your life and make some changes that will help to positively affect your life.  I won't give you the winning lottery numbers or tell you who won the Superbowl because that is not what this is about.  I just have some life advice for you.  So here we go!

1.  Except for the 2000 football year, Virginia Tech's football is very hard to watch.  They have their ups and downs and I won't tell you about either but just remember they are only college kids and just need to be supported.  Do however cherish every game of the 2000 series. You could suggest to Michael Vick that he do some charity work at an animal shelter while he is at Virginia Tech.  It could help him later on in life.

2.  The degree you chose in college doesn't really help you out with the career you've chosen.  I suggest a degree in an educational field or something working with children.  When was the last time you went to church?  Are you part of a youth group?  Those two things may help you out later in life.

3.  Maybe try eating some mushrooms and onions more often.  I know you hate them but I can tell you that you are missing out on something that you are going to grow to love.  I know it's crazy but grill some mushrooms and then tell me what you think.  Speaking of grilling.  You should do that more often.

4.  I know you have a great time collecting cards with Dad but I suggest that you turn those cards over quickly and sell them while the market is hot.  Things on that front don't turn out so great later on.  Do however cherish that time with Dad, it is one of your greatest memories.

5. Looking back, Grandpa Swanson had huge influences on who you are today.  Glean everything you can from him including his beliefs. Just remember that life is short and you need to spend time with those you love.

6.  Be nicer to your brother.  You guys have a good relationship but you really only see each other twice a year now a days.  I think a lot of that comes from not having a tighter relationship as kids.  He's a great guy and needs to be your right hand man.

7.  In High School remember the name Valerie and stay away from her. It's pretty simple you might end up with a broken heart if you get involved with her.

8.  Maybe you could do a little better with portion control.  I mean it would definitely make my life a little easier right now.

9. Take an old blanket and cut a hole in it for your head, and two for your arms.  Wear it like a robe.  I suggest maybe calling it a snuggie.  I know it sounds crazy but if you market it you never know what might happen.  That's the only money making advice I will give you besides starting that IRA that Dad says he will match you when you put money into it.  It would be really smart to get that started.

10.  The sequel to every movie is not as good as the original no matter how much they advertise that it is going to be the best movie in the series.  The only exceptions are "The Dark Knight " and the third Indiana Jones movie.  You'll know it when you see them. 

10. Be nice to people.  Don't be selfish.  Love the ones you are with and cherish your time with them.  Always say I love you to any one you truly love because you never know what can happen.  Go visit Grandma and Grandpa more often. Try new things, don't be scared.  God is always with you and he loves you unconditionally.

I could give you a ton more advice and tell you all kinds of things you should and shouldn't do but I kind of love my life the way it is and I don't want you to change it too much.  A little more money never hurt anyone but that's true no matter who you are.  Just love your life and understand that the choices you make affect others.

                                                                                 Love,

                                                                                       You? Me? Eric? I'm not sure how to address this!

                                                                                        How about older me?

P.S.  Buy all the Holiday Twist Tic Tacs that you can because they are limited edition and disappear before you are tired of them.  Also do something about your hair cut in High School.  It was horrible!!!  I suggest cutting it short, you really like that look now a days.  Just a thought!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

It's the small things that make a huge impact...

The youth and I worked the chili supper on Friday night.  It was a lot of fun and the youth did an awesome job serving and helping out in the kitchen.  It is always amazing to watch them so willingly give up a Friday night to help with something at church.  I often ask myself if I would of been willing to help out with something at church on a Friday night? 


The most amazing and touching part of the night had nothing to do with the chili supper at all.  While we were cleaning up and getting ready to leave for the night Alex and Eliza came over and said they had something to give me.  People keep having questions for me so they had to wait but I could see they were excited.  When I was finally able to give them my attention Alex pulled her hand out of her jacket and handed me a package of Reese's peanut butter cups.  She said these are for you.  I asked her where she got them from.  She told me that they got them out of the vending machine.  I gave them a hug and thanked them.


When I got home I got to thinking about it and it really meant a lot more than just someone giving me something.  Those girls spent their own money and thought of me when they saw the Reese's peanut butter cups in the vending machine.  All the youth know they are my favorite candy but for them to take the time to buy them for me meant so much to me.


I don't do what I do in order to get things from the youth but when they take the time to buy me candy, write me a letter, or give me anything it makes me feel amazing.  I am blessed to have the relationship I have with my youth.  My job is so rewarding just because I get to know so many different youth and spend time with the future of this world. 


A small gesture such as buying candy doesn't go unnoticed.  It may not seem like a big deal to the youth that gave it to me but it is a big deal to me!  Thank you Lord for all the blessings that you have given me in my life especially all of my youth! 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Letting Go, and Letting God

Yesterday during church I was deeply moved by Liz's testimony.  Having been a part of the process since she originally wrote her testimony for Pilgrimage, I have read, edited, and heard her deliver the testimony numerous times but it was never as moving as it was to watch her up there on Sunday.  Although we have worked through her pain a couple of times I could see her letting go of even more of it as she shared things with our congregation that only a select few of us knew prior to Sunday.


 Liz is a person that keeps everything inside and closely guarded and I have had to use many different tactics to get her to open up and share what is wrong.  All of us keep things inside and they cause us pain and angst.  We often forget that there are people out there that love us and care for us and want to help us through pain and making difficult decisions.  If we don't allow others to help us then we end up doing more harm to ourselves by keeping it inside instead of releasing it.


People say they don't see God in their pain.  They say they don't see him when they are suffering and need him most, yet they overlook that person that is asking them if they are ok or if they want to talk.  I think that is God right there in front of them.  I think God uses us to help each other and we have to open up and share our pain so that God can help us.  I believe he puts people in our way to help us.  A person asking you if you are ok or if you want to talk doesn't seem like anything different or special, but if you notice it often comes at the most opportune time when you need it most.  It may even come from someone you don't expect it to come from. 


It is in that moment that we need to understand that not only is God there with us in our pain and suffering he is listening, he is loving us, and he is sending us the help we need.  80 percent of what I do is listen to youth talk.  I listen to their problems whether they are big or small. God uses me to help our youth just simply by listening to them.  It took me hearing Liz's testimony yesterday to realize how much God uses me for that.


I am so proud of you Liz!  I can only imagine what it was like to go up there and share the wonderful things that God has done in your life.  I am so glad that he gave me an opportunity to be a part of your life!  You are amazing!  I love you and thank you for sharing your spiritual journey with our congregation. 


God is good.... All the time....   All the time... God is good!




 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Day the Laughter Died...


"Comedy is acting out optimism."

-Robin Williams        

           I have always loved to laugh.  Laughter makes your heart smile.  I haven't gone a single day in my life without laughing.  I hope to never go a day without laughter.  My dad is the number one comedian in my life and heart.  He has a quick wit and wonderful sense of humor.  I think that is where I get my sense of humor. 

I love to watch or listen to a funny comedian.  Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall, Ron White, Bill Cosby, Gabriel Iglesias, Pablo Francisco, Jim Gaffigan, Dave Chappelle, and Tim Hawkins are some of my favorites.  But my absolute favorite that I could always rely on to bring a smile to my face and a laugh to my heart was Robin Williams.  

Robin had a way about him that brought joy and happiness anywhere he went.  If you watch his comedy specials he always interacts with the audiences and makes them a part of the show.  His energy level was through the roof and it was infectious.  He made me want to get out there in the world and make people laugh and enjoy life.

There are so many good movies that Robin was in and he ad-libbed  in all of them. Those movies would not of been the same without his comedic genius.  Although it wasn't one of his best movies according to critics my favorite Robin Williams movie was Jack.  In Jack he plays a kid that has an unusual aging disorder that causes him to grow at four times the normal rate.  By the age of 10 he has the body of a forty year old but still has the mind and mannerisms of a 10 year old.   

Those of you who know me well know that I am Jack.  I am a kid trapped in a man's body.  That is probably why that movie resonates with me.  I can picture myself as Jack and I would be exactly like how Robin Williams played the character. 

He was so talented and so funny and there will be less laughter in the world because he is gone.  We get such a small amount of time on this earth, it's important that we show love to our friends and family, we live life to its fullest not wasting any of it, we are caring and thoughtful to those around us, and it's so important that we laugh. 

Laughter is free and it can do amazing things.

You will be missed Robin Williams.

From the movie Jack:

[Jack, with the appearance of a 72-year old but only 18 years old, arrives at his graduation ceremony]

Lawrence Woodruff: [addressing the audience] Ladies and gentleman, it is my honor to introduce this year's valedictorian, Jack Charles Powell.

[a round of applause approves of this choice]

Jack: [taking the stand] Thank you, Aristotle.

[Due to his aged condition he has to take out spectacles to read the speech]

Eric: Yo Jack, go get 'em!

Jack: I got it, Eric. I'm cool... I don't have very much time these days so I'll make it quick. Like my life. You know, as we come to the end of this phase of our life, we find ourselves trying to remember the good times and trying to forget the bad times, and we find ourselves thinking about the future. We start to worry , thinking, "What am I gonna do? Where am I gonna be in ten years?" But I say to you, "Hey, look at me!" Please, don't worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you're ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night. And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day... make a wish and think of me. Make your life spectacular. I know I did. I made it, Mom. I'm a grown up.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

It's the small things in life...



The other day when I left the gym I was in a hurry because I was running a little late to start my day.  I parked in the parking deck so I had to go down the escalator to get to my car. As I made my way to the escalators I couldn't help but notice a three or four year old girl and her dad going down the escalator.  By the time I reached the escalator they had made the turn and were headed back up the other escalator to where they had just come from.  As I got on the escalator I watched this little girl laugh and smile and hold tightly to her father's hand as they made their way back up the escalator.

The father and I locked eyes and I smiled at him and laughed.  Such a small thing as riding the escalator, something many of us take for granted, was bringing so much joy to this little girl.  She didn't have a care in the world she just wanted to ride the escalator down and back up again. 

I make my way to my car and threw my gym bag in the trunk and got in the drivers seat.  I started up the car because I was still late and needed to go, but my mind wandered to that little girl and her huge smile and sweet laugh.

I turned the car off.

I got out.

I rode the escalator up and back down again.  Smiling the whole time.

It might not of brought me as much joy as it brought her but it brought a smile to my face and to my heart.  It made me realize we move too fast in this world and we often miss out on the small things that bring joy to life.

What small thing will you do today to bring joy to your life?

Can't think of anything?  I know where you can find an escalator...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Change...




We all have a special jar in our house or compartment in our car where we put our loose change.  You know that change that comes after you go through the drive thru and bought your hamburger and fries. People don't seem to know what to do with there loose change or for that matter people don't want to have to deal with it.  I find nickels, dimes, and pennies all the time in parking lots or in the couches downstairs in the youth room.  I even have youth give me their change on trips because they don't want the hassle of having to deal with it.

It is frustrating sometimes to deal with loose change but if you put a lot of it together it quickly because more than a few cents, it becomes dollars.  That is when collecting change pays off.  One hundred pennies, 20 nickels, 10 dimes, or 4 quarters all make 1 dollar.  It is amazing how fast you can get to a dollar when you have loose change around.  Still people don't like to deal with it or want to have to count it in order to make a dollar.

 People don't like changes in their lives either.  They seem to freak out or get upset when something changes.  we all become use to the way something is done and so we expect it to be done that way.  When someone changes the way it is done, we get mad and angry and we don't understand.

Usually there is a really good reason behind why something changes.  Maybe there is a better way to do it or get more people to participate.  Maybe there is a more cost effective way of doing something, or maybe the old way that something is being done just isn't working any more. 

In youth ministry we are constantly in flux because we have to change the program to meet the needs of the youth. I have to change trips, times, curriculum, and locations to meet the needs of the youth.  It works well most of the time but sometimes it back fires because the youth want to do it the way it has always been done.

I think the major problem with change is the way it is presented.  People who want to make changes don't often do a good job of explaining the situation to those that are going to be affected by the change.  People do not think about the best way to make a change or open up a dialogue with people about the change. 

I think we lose track sometimes about how change affects people.  The change might be needed and might be a good idea, but we don't think about those it affects.  Some people may have given hundreds of hours and blood, sweat, and tears to something only to have it yanked out from underneath them without little explanation as to why the change was made. 

We never know how a change is going to affect someone so it is up to us to be smart, sensitive, and timely when we decide to make changes.  When I make a change to the youth program I discuss the change with my youth mentors, I talk to some of the youth, and then I decide what to do.  I then make sure everyone understands why the change was made and what their new role might be in the change.  Lots of discussion takes place before I make a change in anything that I do. 

Be smart about the changes you make.  Make sure people are well informed and that they aren't surprised by a change.  Most of all, make sure you thank them for all the work they have done on something you never know how a change might change a person's outlook or make them feel.