It Really Was A Bittersweet Night

Last night I experienced the bittersweet feeling of winning and losing at the same game.

My wife, Lily, and I have a weekly standing date of attending the OHL Kingston Frontenacs’ home games.

Friday, as usual, we shared some popcorn and watched the action on the ice.

But it was a little different because, while our boys were playing in Kingston, the Canadian Junior hockey team was playing in Buffalo for a gold medal in the annual World Juniors tournament.

We got to see some great hockey in front of us, but in the back of my mind I was wondering how our national team was doing.

Part way through the game it was announced over the PA system that Canada was up 1-0.

That was some comfort, but the battle on the ice in front of us was intense.

Our boys were really playing well and dominating in many respects, but it was just a one goal game at the end of the first period.

In the second period, our guys were flying and scored two goals to put our team ahead 3-1 by the end of the period.

Back in the gold medal game, there was no more news … but when your team is ahead, no news is also good news.

Team Sweden was considered the team to beat. They had run the table in the regular round; in fact, they hadn’t lost in the regular round in 11 years.

Team Canada had one shootout loss to the United States in a snowy, outdoor affair that left all the Canadian fans chilled.

Now we were battling for the gold medal and we were ahead in the scoring.

Lily and I took a stroll around the arena at the end of the second period of the Frontenacs’ game. There was a calm, happy, “we have this game in the bag” kind of feeling in the air.

There was no hint of any trouble ahead until the start of the third period. The Fronts seemed a little flat – no energy, not skating well … and in the span of about five minutes, the Spitfires scored three goals and were up 4-3.

It happened so quickly; it was a shocker.

The rest of the period our boys threw a lot of rubber towards the Windsor net, but we couldn’t buy a goal and lost the match.

Just a five minute let down was all it took.

After the bitter loss we witnessed on ice, the arena switched to the World Junior game on the big screen.

We watched until the end of the second period where, with five minutes left, Sweden scored to tie it up.

All I could think was, “not another let down!”

Since I’m the Fronts’ team chaplain, we then left the stands to go chat with our boys. By the time we were done, there was just ten minutes left in the gold medal game so we headed back into the stands to watch.

With just under two minutes to play, Team Canada scored.

There was a celebration, not on the ice but on the big screen. We pocketed an empty-netter to seal the deal, and Canada won the gold medal.

At the same arena we watched our hometown team lose and then our Canadian team win gold. It was truly a bittersweet night. But it ended with the sweet!

Here’s the thing: There is a verse in the Bible that says you can win the whole world but forfeit your soul. That’s life’s bittersweet reality. Make sure your soul is secure so that in the end, when life is all over, you experience the sweet of Heaven.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What would be bittersweet for you? Leave your comments below.

Man, Was I Ever Set Up 

On a phone call to correct a mistake, I got set up for a fall.

The other day I made a phone call about a product I had purchased. I was hoping to get some help for a mistake I had made in ordering, but boy did it ever turn bad!

I had ordered a portable coat rack for my church and, when it came, I realized it was not going to work well at all.

The coat rack holds a high volume of coats and if we lived in a southern climate it would have worked perfectly. But here in Canada, we would be using it mostly over the winter months and there is no way it would work.

Instead of a bar that you would put hangers on, it came with hooks – 120 hooks to be exact – in groups of three.

This was a completely foreign concept to me, and somehow I thought we would still be able to use hangers on this coat rack.

When it arrived, however, I realized pretty quickly that hangers wouldn’t work. So I made the call and got set up.

Setups are common, especially for jokes. Jokes usually involve a rule of three: You set up a joke with two things that get the audience thinking in one direction, and then you slip in a third line – the punch line – that takes them in a different direction than they were thinking.

… Like what one comedian put on his answering machine: “Sorry, I can’t come to the phone right now. I’m either speaking at a large conference, appearing on the Jimmy Fallon show, or I’m taking a nap. Please leave a message. I’ll call you back when I wake up.”

The third response throws a curve ball. And speaking of curve balls, baseball pitchers use a setup to get batters to strike out. A pitcher might throw two fastballs for strikes and then, for the third strike, throw an off-speed pitch like a change-up or slow curve to fool the batter.

This is exactly how I got set up. I made my phone call, talked to a receptionist, and told her my story. She very pleasantly said she would put me through to customer service.

The customer service person was also very friendly and you could tell she was there to help. But when she found out I was calling from Canada, she said, “I’m sorry. I will put you through to our Canadian office.”

A few seconds later, I got this guy on the phone who said in a gruff way, “What’s your issue?” Right away I could tell he didn’t want to help me at all.

I explained my mistake in ordering and he responded with, “I will have to check to see if they will take a return. It has to be in its original box, and you will have to pay a 15% restocking charge and make your own arrangements to ship it back.”

Did you see that? I got set up by two very pleasant people and then hit by the punch line from out of nowhere!

Here’s the thing: Life is often a setup. Things are going well, you expect more of the same, and then, the punch line, the curve ball and you never saw it coming. God is perfect for the setups in life. Just lean into Him to keep yourself from falling apart. He’ll get you through.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: How do you normally deal with being set up? Leave your comments below.

Burdens Come Along Too Often

There should be limits to the number of burdens we carry for other people.

We all have to carry burdens in life; I know that, and I’m not talking about physical burdens.

I do remember way back when our kids were in elementary school. Their backpacks were larger than they were, and sometimes weighed about as much as they did.

One false step and they could fall over and turtle until someone could come to their rescue.

But I’m referring to the emotional burdens we carry.

It seems that these kinds of burdens always increase; the weight never or rarely gets lighter. As we get older our burdens increase.

… At least if you have children they increase.

When your kids are young, the emotional burden seems great, and it’s usually around life or death situations, like cuts and scrapes and stubborn wills.

We parents attach ourselves to our kids’ emotions and carry those burdens with us.

When there is a meltdown, we bear that burden until the tears are dried away.

Fortunately, the burdens are short-lived and can be left by the wayside. Unfortunately, when our children are young, the emotional burdens happen rapidly and frequently throughout a day.

It’s good we don’t have to carry them very long.

You might think that as children grow up those emotional burdens would get less and less as the child matures, and takes on more responsibility for his or her life.

But they don’t. The emotional burdens just become larger and longer lasting.

Now, I know we are to carry one another’s burdens – the Bible says we should. But how many burdens can you pile up on one person?

You go from worrying about the spat they had with their sibling, to what kind of a life partner they will find and when that will happen.

You carry the weight of their safety while driving a car you don’t think is that safe any more.  And you carry the burden of wondering how they will afford a new one.

You take on their burden of stress at work, and even the burden of showing up on time to events they have planned.

Our daughter was going to a friend’s wedding across the country. She booked a direct flight that would get her into the airport two and a half hours before the wedding. The wedding was a half hour or so away from the airport.

No problem. She would be picked up by a friend, taken to her hotel, and have enough time to change, do hair and makeup and drive to the wedding.

It was all good – no stress, no burden… until the plane was delayed from take off … twice!

Suddenly, we had the emotional burden for several hours of “Will she make it to the wedding?”

Well, hair was done in the Toronto airport, makeup was put on in the airplane lavatory, and the dress was put on in the Kelowna airport … just in time to be picked up and whisked to the wedding with a few minutes to spare.

Well, that emotional burden is over. I’d like a breather before the next one, thanks.

Here’s the thing: We are not only to carry one another’s burdens, but we are to give our burdens to God. So when you find yourself overwhelmed with emotional burdens, you’re over-burdened because you have kept picking them up without laying them down. Give your burdens – even the ones you carry for others – to God. It will give you greater capacity to keep carrying burdens.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What heavy burden do you need to give to God? Leave your comments below.

Customer Service Frustration

Gone are the days when the customer was always right. I think things started to change when retail began leaning towards “self serve” rather than “we serve”.

Frustration with Customer service

Now you have to fight for everything you get from a company.

This Christmas I bought a present for my wife, Lily, and a few days later I noticed that another company was selling it cheaper.

I researched the product and whether it was available in the other store. And only with all my ammunition properly documented did I go in and get a price break.

What really brought home this change though was our satellite provider. We had ordered HD sports, so that I don’t have to struggle watching hockey in standard definition any more.

The price was clear on the website so we had ordered it. The transaction went through and we were informed that it would take up to 48 business hours for them to punch a code into their computer to give us the new service.

That was okay … the World Juniors were not starting for a few days.

However, after we received the HD channels, we got an email stating that, because we had a limited satellite package, the price of the HD channels was $3 more per month.

I guess $3 is not that much … $3 is almost the new loonie.

But the thing is, nowhere on their website do they mention there is a price difference for HD channels depending on your package.

We called and spoke with three different levels of customer service people. The bottom line was that’s their price.

… You know, if I go into a store and purchase a product with a price sticker on it, if that sticker price is lower than what they have in their register price, they sell me the product for the advertised sticker price.

Then they go and correct the sticker price for everyone else who will buy the product.

You shouldn’t be able to mislead people with your pricing policy.

Well, we stuck to our story and in the end the best they would do is give us a year free and then we would pay the increased price for the HD channels based on our satellite package.

It’s a good deal for this year, but then we will be paying more than most other people for the same service.

It took a lot of persistence and a lot of time on the phone to get the company to concede and give us some kind of deal.

They layer their customer service so that the first person you talk to doesn’t really have the authority to give you anything. I think they hope you will give up. It’s not until you talk to the next level or the level after that where you get a shot at getting some satisfaction.

Their idea of customer service?: wear the customer down so they just leave frustrated and angry.

… They are doing a good job because, even in the end, we were still frustrated with them.

Here’s the thing: Sometimes we can feel like we are not getting the service we want from God. Our prayers are not answered the way we think they should be. Unlike stores and satellite companies, God knows what’s best for us; He gives us what we really need. Be persistent but also be accepting of what God brings you. He’s looking out for your best interests.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: How have you generally found customer service to be? Leave your comments below.

Taking A Day Off Doesn’t Mean Doing Nothing

Today I’m taking the day off. What I mean by that is I’m not going to do anything I don’t really want to do today.

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This last week has been very hectic. I’ve had some extra demands on my time, energy and my emotions. I’m feeling rather drained today.

It’s that feeling when you take the dish cloth and wring it out. You do it once and you get most of the water out. But then you do it again and, surprise, there’s still some water in it. So you squeeze that cloth real hard a third time until your hands start to hurt. Still a little bit of water comes out … but it’s only a few drops.

That’s where I’m at today. I’ve been wrung out a few times this past week and each time there was still a little in me. But this morning, I’m feeling like I only have a drop or two left.

So it’s time that I let myself soak under the tap to get filled up again.

Filling a cloth back up is easy; you just need to put it in water. But we are a little more complex.

When we are wrung out, the things that put life back into us are things we want to do and look forward to doing.

I thought about today as I lay in bed just before getting up this morning. There were a few things that came to mind that I am looking forward to doing.

I’m looking forward to doing something that will exercise my body, something that will take some brain power and something that will lift my emotions in the right direction.

To get filled up requires something specific to replenish what’s depleted in you. You can’t just “veg” and get filled up. Spending a day in front of the TV doesn’t do anything for you. You actually have to activate those parts of you that are depleted.

And it matters what you activate them with. If it’s something you have to do or something you’re not looking forward to doing, it won’t benefit you. If you consider it to be work rather than pleasure, even if it is something that is outside your everyday work, it will give you that wringing out feeling rather than that filling up feeling.

You could, amazingly enough, do something that is work-related if it fills you up.

The temptation is to do nothing, to open up the cloth, hang it over the faucet and let it dry completely. You know, however, that when you do that, the cloth gets hard and stiff … and it will eventually take even longer and more water to soak it and get it soft enough to be useable.

It’s best to keep the cloth soaked, and you can only do that by placing it under the tap.

Stay filled by doing things that will replenish those parts of you that just had the life squeezed out of them.

Here’s the thing: Along with filling up your physical, mental and emotional parts, be sure to fill up your spiritual part as well. We are not meant to be idle; we are best when we are active. Be sure you activate your spirit when you fill up. That part will keep you connecting to the One who gives you insight into the rest of your complex self.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What do you like to do to replenish your energy, mind and emotions? Leave your comments below.

What To Do When You Push It Too Hard

I’ve been pushing myself pretty hard lately … too hard, in fact.

manager

I came off of my summer vacation without having done very much – mostly hanging out at the beach and doing things with my family.

Oh yes, and eating an enormous amount of candy.

Then coming off of vacation, I threw myself into work. I spent one week in the office and then the next week I spent back at my cottage planning for the year.

… I think that week took more out of me than my first week after vacation. I worked every morning, afternoon and evening because I was alone, and needed to get everything done by the time I left.

There were some late nights, but I knew I would be glad I spent the time once I completed my planning.

This week I’ve poured myself back into work at the office, working and not doing much else.

I’m just coming to realize that I’ve been pushing myself too hard. I need to watch it and be smart about the next few weeks.

The issue is my emotional state. I’ve noticed I have a lack of emotion lately and that is concerning. I have not been attending to my emotions – it’s been all work – and now I’m depleted in the emotional department.

What brought this to my attention was a sermon I was writing on emotional health. For an illustration, I wanted to use a story I remembered reading about a famous pastor who had had an emotional breakdown.

I’d read an article about him years ago, so I googled his name and found the story. My intent was to get the facts straight and then get back to writing my sermon.

But as I read his story, it rang true with my life. I read the whole article again and concluded that my “emotional gauge”, as he put it, was on the low side … not critical but going in that direction.

Two things he wrote made sense to me and that’s what I intend to work on.

First you have to engage in things that bring you joy, things that take you away from the heavy load you are carrying, whether that be work, worry, pressure, or … well, you get the idea.

For me that might be golfing, biking, playing hockey, or kicking back and listening to music.

Second, your emotional reservoir takes time to fill up.

There is no quick fix, so you have to regularly engage in emotionally strengthening activity … which isn’t easy because the crazy thing is you don’t feel like doing it.

It’s easy to make excuses to get out of doing these activities. You literally have to schedule them, force yourself to do them, and keep doing them.

That’s good advice and it’s what I need to be doing over the next little while to get myself in post-vacation shape again.

Here’s the thing: What I’ve written so far is good, logical advice, but there is another piece to your emotional health, and that is God. Take time with Him and seek His help. Ask Him what is at the root of your emotions and what you need to do. Then pause and wait till He gives you His answer. When you have it, go do it. God’s grace is sufficient for you and His power is made perfect in your weakness. I read that somewhere (2 Corinthians 12:9).

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What is your emotional state right now? Leave your comments below.

A Baptism By Fire!

Have you heard the phrase “baptism by fire” before? It has come to mean someone’s initiation into something new.

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Many of us have had experiences like it when we began a new job or joined a new group, and were thrown into a task, leadership position, or project right away with no time to settle in.

The term “baptism by fire” was first used this way in the military around 1822 and referred to a soldier’s first time in battle.

But the original expression comes from the Bible in Matthew 3:11 where John the Baptist says, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” It refers to Jesus convicting people of their sin, of righteousness and judgement.

Years ago I had an experience that included all the meanings of this phrase.

I was a youth pastor and on one Sunday was going to baptize 13 teens, one in the first service and 12 in the second.

Some churches baptize people by sprinkling them with water, sort of like the first few drops in a light rain shower.

Not our church – we get you all wet, from head to toe. It’s baptism by immersion. It symbolizes that your old life is buried as you go under the water, and you have a new life in Christ Jesus when you come up out of the water.

When instructing teens, I would often tell them, “I’ll hold you under longer if you don’t pay attention” … I was just kidding.

I’ve baptized people in rivers, lakes, and an ocean. Sometimes the water’s been freezing, but this time it was hot – real hot!

I was ready to go into the baptism tank in that church, which was like a large, rectangular hot tub, without the jets. But as soon as my toe touched the water, I immediately jumped back, because it was burning hot!

I didn’t know what to do. I tried to go into the water a little way but came out; it was so hot.

I knew the teen’s mom was in the service specifically to see her son get baptized. The lead pastor was wrapping up the announcements and about to introduce the baptism.

I had to make a split-second decision. Knowing there was no way to tell anyone the temperature of the water, I went for it.

I waded into the water and made my way around the screen and into view of the audience. The water came up to just below my chest and it was scalding.

I’m not exactly sure what the temperature was, but the caretaker later said the hot water tank was set at 140 degrees, so it must have been somewhere between 120 and 140 in there.

It was so hot I could hardly spit out my introductory words. But in walked my victim … I mean, the young man to be baptized.

I stood there listening to his short testimony, but every time I even twitched, it felt like flames were coming up my legs.

When he got through talking, I put him under the water and back up again in record time. Then I almost pushed him out of that tank!

… My skin was beat red from 9:30 in the morning until about 2:30 in the afternoon.

Here’s the thing: For any baptism by fire, you’re glad when it’s done but you’re also thankful for the experience. Although Christ convicts of sin, righteousness and judgement, if you receive His forgiveness, you’re so thankful to experience that baptism by fire.

That’s life!

Paul

Question: What’s your baptism by fire story? Leave your comment below.

The Stress Of Keeping People Waiting

It’s never nice to keep people waiting. There are some people you should never keep waiting, like the human resources person who’s going to interview you for a job.

waiting

When someone is left waiting, it says they don’t matter, or they are unimportant, or you don’t care.

… My wife keeps me waiting almost every time we go out together, but somehow that doesn’t seem to bother her very much because she keeps on doing it. But that’s another blog.

There are times when I panic when it looks like I’m not going to make an appointment on time. I usually feel this way when I’m in the car, rushing to make it to my destination so that I don’t keep the person waiting. I might have my foot heavy on the gas but I just can’t get there fast enough.

It’s not a nice feeling.

The other day I had that feeling in church. We had set up a Skype video chat to take place during our service with a missionary couple in Spain.

There were a few technical things to consider, like getting the video chat from the computer to the big screen in the sanctuary, and getting the sound to go through the church sound system.

Since all that was taken care of, I thought all I had to do was make the call. That’s when the trouble started. My Skype program wouldn’t connect online! I had a few minutes during a song to make the call but I started to panic when it couldn’t connect.

I was really feeling the pressure to get the call going. The silence in the sanctuary raised my blood pressure, and all at the same time I was trying to think of what to do to get the call to go through and what I needed to say to the congregation.

I knew I was keeping my congregation waiting but I was also aware that I was keeping the couple on the other end of the scheduled Skype call waiting too. And they had no idea what was happening on our end.

We quickly went to a commercial break … not really … I wished we could have gone to a commercial. Instead we took up the offering and sang a song.

That gave me time to reset the modem and router, and we took one last stab at it. It wasn’t immediate but after a little fiddling and some assistance, we got the call to work.

The stress, pressure, and panic left me immediately … I don’t think that was good for my heart.

They say that playing hockey is hard on the heart because you get your heart rate up really high and then you go and sit on a bench and your heart rate drops like a rock.

Well, I think that’s what happened to me. My heart rate and everything else in me was racing … until I saw that video on the screen.

… And it was all over keeping people waiting. It’s not nice to keep them waiting, and when we do, we often feel pressured.

Here’s the thing: God wants to meet with us each day, but we keep Him waiting when we don’t make our appointment. Maybe we don’t feel the pressure, or don’t have the panic, but God is waiting. I’m not saying we should feel guilty when we don’t make that meeting with Him. Our meeting can take a different form at a different time. What I am saying is the same importance you would place on not keeping others waiting is the the same importance we should place on meeting with God daily.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: Have you ever felt pressured or panicked when keeping someone waiting? Leave your comment below.

When You Get Lost in the Change

I get a little lost at this time of year, especially in the evenings. For the past month, there has been hockey on TV pretty much every night.

New old Habit

Often there have been multiple games, extending hockey into the wee hours of the night for us in Ontario. But that has come to an end.

They say it takes 21 days to form a habit, so in the past month, I’ve been in the habit of watching hockey each night.

It didn’t matter if I had a meeting or activity after dinner, when I got home there was always the action, cheers, commentary, and, of course, my red light broadcasting throughout the house that another goal had been scored.

It was comforting; I knew what I would be doing and Lily would know where to find me. I didn’t have to choose between several options or projects when I was home. I was focussed, single-minded. It was a good thing.

… Well, I guess it wasn’t all good. There were some downsides like not being able to follow the conversation Lily was trying to have with me. I found it difficult to look her in the eyes while she was talking when the play-by-play guy was describing how a player just rang one off the post.

All winter I have reserved Saturday night to have a can of Dr. Pepper. It’s pretty much the only time I will drink it. However, with hockey on every night, I had to daily remind myself that it was not Saturday or I’d have been going through a case of pop every week!

But all that has come to an end. I don’t know what to do with myself now, because we are down to only four teams and the games are spread out. I had to watch a repeat of the Canada versus Belarus game the other night and I already knew Canada won 9-0!

I’m finding there is great pressure for me to move away from the TV and find something more productive to do. I keep hearing suggestions and hints of things that could be attended to around the house.

My problem is I don’t have my ready-made excuses to not get at these things. It’s one thing to say, “Sure Lil, I’ll put out the garbage right at the end of the period . . . after Coach’s Corner.”

It doesn’t work any more to say, “Could you repeat that? I didn’t quite hear you” four or five times. Lil knows I’m scamming her.

You see, I just made a habit and now I already have to break it … and that’s why I feel lost right now. My routine is being interrupted; my time must be filled with new things.

I think I just need to be weened off of hockey over a few weeks. And that’s good because the semi’s are on and by the time the Stanley Cup series is done, I think I will be ready to fully embrace golf and mountain biking . . . until hockey starts again in the fall.

Here’s the thing: When a season of life changes or your schedule changes for that matter, it can throw you off from your time spent with God alone. Use these times to refresh your approach to your time with God. Change it up a little. Try to incorporate something that will challenge you and increase your interest and desire to meet with Him.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What disruptions to your routine cause you to feel out-of-sorts? Leave your comment below.

A Winter Vacation Would Be Nice

It’s just past the middle of January and you know what that means, don’t you? It’s time to take that vacation to some place warm, with water and beachfront right out your window.

winter vacation

No, that’s only for the few and fortunate! For the rest of us, mid January signals time for the winter blahs.

The best some of us can do, in the words of the song by Smash Mouth, is take a “Holiday in my Head”. We can only dream of taking off, leaving work and responsibilities behind, for some carefree recreation and rest.

Many of us get out of bed in the mornings in the middle of January and have an overwhelming sense of overload … and dread.

You’ve got too much work to do, and dread that your goals and plans for the year are not going to be reached. You even feel like throwing in the towel and giving up, like there’s a looming catastrophe just around the corner.

Is that how you feel right now? You didn’t get in this place all of a sudden, even though it seems like one day you just woke up and, BAM!, all life is crashing around you.

No, it happens slowly and over time. You miss a deadline; you schedule it but don’t get it done. So you push that work off to the next day or the next, and soon it becomes critical.

That same sequence of events happens over and over with other things in your life, your goals your plans, your commitments, demands and requests from others.

And every day the build-up goes unnoticed until one day you wake up and it all seems like it’s crashing down on you, like a waterfall cascading over the rocks, thundering to the pool of water below.

You’re standing in that pool of water with that waterfall beating down on you. It seems hopeless to get out of it and it’s pounding you down.

It’s only mid January! You have the whole year still ahead of you, but all you can think about is that the whole year is a bust. You’ve blown it, or circumstances have made it impossible for you to have a profitable year.

What do you do when you are in that place? How do you get out from under such an intense feeling of utter defeat?

Well, there are a couple of things you can do when you feel that way. First, you can just forget about some of those things; they may not be as important as you made them out to be.

Second, write everything down, so you can see them all together. When your work and demands are just swirling around in your head, it seems like more than it really is. Seeing all your tasks before you gives you perspective.

Then focus on one thing at a time. Complete it and move on to the next, not thinking of all you have to do, but just the one thing that’s next.

Here’s the thing: To even get to the place where you are able to write everything down and then work on one thing, first turn to God and ask Him for help. Seek His guidance and wisdom to get out from under the downpour. Request His protection to stand over you so that the water beats on Him and you just experience the spray. Then you will find the calm, the presence of mind to do what you have to do.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What has got you overwhelmed at this time?  Leave your comment below.