How I Started Recycling: An analogy of our Father’s method for change

I recycle because I have a friend who recycles.

I mean, I have a friend who recycles.  She carries a bag with her when she goes on walks simply so she can pick up trash.  When she comes to visit, she brings me all the recyclables she can’t recycle in her own town, because my town has a broader recycling program.  “Maybe I’ll inspire someone else,” she says.  And by someone, she occasionally means me.

Any activist will tell you that the hardest thing to initiate is a change in someone’s behavior. This was certainly true for me.  I agreed 100% with everything my friend told me.  “Be the change you want to see in the world,” she’d quote.  “Absolutely!”  I’d agree.

But my behavior didn’t change.

Plastic bag in hand.

Now I should clarify.  I would occasionally pick up trash and pack it out of my favorite hiking haunts.  Or I might pick up something blown from a dumpster and return it.  I would recycle when it was convenient, but when it took a little more effort… not so much.

This same friend sent me an article about the impacts of plastics in our oceans.  It made me sad at what we are doing to our planet. It made me feel guilty over my part in it. But it still didn’t drive me to action.

So what was it that actually changed my behavior?  First, my friend’s persistence.  But more importantly, she didn’t drive me to it.  She led me to it.

Too often when we are trying to change someone’s behavior – or even when we are trying to change our own – we try to drive the change like a cowboy driving a herd of cattle.  We crack the whip of reason. We coerce. We plead.  But instead of a stampede toward the corral, the result is usually more like a baulking bull.  Even when we want to change, we find ourselves pushing back rather than embracing a new behavior.

The Bible gives us a different analogy of change.

Jesus didn’t ride herd with a whip.  He simply entered the pen through the gate.  “I am the good Shepherd,” Jesus told his followers. “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep… He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:2-3,14).

Jesus wasn’t driving the change; Jesus was leading the change.  And this is precisely what my friend did to change my recycling habits.  One time when she was visiting, she threw me and her recycling in the car and drove to the recycling center.  She never said: “I’m going to show you how to recycle so that you will start doing it.”  We simply went and recycled together.  And after I had done it once, there was no reason for me not to continue.

Sometimes in life, change is elicited simply because we have someone come alongside us and show us how. We have a Father in heaven who first demonstrated this principle for us, by sending Jesus to not just instruct us from afar, but to walk alongside us. Now we can do the same for others.

I wonder how many of us can say, “I am a Christian because I have a friend who is a Christian.”  And more importantly, how many of us have friends who can say about us, “I am a Christian, because I have a friend who is a Christian.”

A slightly different version of this post was shared in 2012 – can you believe I have been blogging that long? It was revamped to share recently at inspireafire.com. I hope you enjoyed it!

An Act in Due Season

Black lab puppy in leaves
Black lab puppy running

I’d like to introduce you to Izzie.

Yes, that fuzzy little black canine amongst all the leaves is Izzie. And so is this cute little blur. This is back in the day when your typical point and shoot camera had a hard time keeping up with something as rambunctious as a black lab puppy.

 But before you start thinking this is just another cute puppy story, let me stop you right there.

You see, Izzie was born in a special kennel outside New York City for a very special purpose. When I was a senior in high school he came to live with me. And then he left for something even greater.

I had always wanted a dog, but my parents did not. They let me run wild with smaller critters –  five breeds of rabbits and two breeds of ducks filled my expanding hobby yard – but they firmly declined my plea for a dog.

Until I hatched the perfect plan.

My answers were standard: He’s not actually my dog; I’m just caring for him right now. There is someone out there who needs him even more than me. Of course it will break my heart, but it’s for such a good cause.

I would raise a puppy for a year. When I left for college, the puppy would also leave for school. To become a guide dog for the blind. It was a service project with an outcome they couldn’t refuse.

Over my year of puppy raising, I heard variations of the same question: How could I possibly give up a puppy after loving it for a year?

Today, I know the answer is a little deeper. Today, I feel exactly how those people with the wide-eyed wonder looked. I couldn’t be a puppy raiser now. But then, I was given the grace to do the right thing at the right time.

This makes me even gladder that I did it when I could.

Izzie and trainer with his “in for training” class.

Proverbs 15:23 tells us that a word in due season is a good thing. I think the same is true for actions. There is a season for every activity under heaven. A time to raise puppies, and a time to do something else. (See Ecclesiastes 3)

During this valentine’s season when so much attention is placed on the emotion of love, let me suggest we place some attention on the practicality of love. There is something we can do right now, in this season, that we may not be in a position to do again.

Let’s do it.

Whatever our hand finds to do right now, we should do it with all our might. Chances are it won’t seem like a big thing. It will simply be something that we can do, wherever we are, with what we have. It may even be something we always wanted that ends up being a unique gift to someone else… and to us.

Izzie’s graduation photo.

That was certainly the case with Izzie. A year after we both left for separate schooling, Izzie went on to serve as a faithful guide alongside his partner in Tennessee. His graduation picture remains one of my most prized possessions.

It was an opportunity I could have missed. That realization encourages me to look around me now. In a different time and a different place, there is something here for me to do.

Take an action in due season.

Leadership Lessons in a Blade of Grass

I once gave a speech likening our personal development to grass. I am reminded of this speech today as I try to enjoy a late afternoon nap. You’ll understand the connection in a moment.

I was a senior in college and president of a student organization that was welcoming its next class of inductees. The room was filled with students and friends, faculty and administrators. Even the college president and his wife.

It was a big deal.

I talked about growth, about perseverance over time, about coming back when our dreams have been mowed down. The speech was inspired by the cantankerous lawn mowers that always revved outside my dorm window the moment I tried to sneak in a late afternoon nap. It never failed that right then is when they decided the grass needed trimming.

My fellow students could relate.

“But no matter how often life cuts you down, you must continue to grow,” I exhorted.

The audience laughed at the right moments and listened at the serious points. I was in my element. When it was over, the president stopped by and shook my hand.

“That was one of the best student speeches I’ve heard,” he said.

Now let me put this in its proper context. It was a small college. The type of place where the president might pass you on the sidewalk on the way to class and say hello. Even if he didn’t quite know your name, he’d certainly know your face. He had no doubt paid similar compliments to dozens of student leaders. I hadn’t done anything extra special, and he hadn’t said anything extraordinary. But 20 years later, I still remember the compliment.

The memory returned to me this afternoon when a lawn mower jamboree broke out in my neighborhood the moment I tried to sneak a little nap. (It still never fails.) The longer I laid there counting grass blades and trying to sleep, the stronger the lesson became. That moment, out of all the moments, was significant enough for me to recall it so many years later.

The price of leadership is often high: High stress, high pressure, high stakes. But some of the longest lasting impacts of leadership happen in between all the important stuff.

You take time out of your schedule to attend an inconsequential event. You look someone in the eye. You shake their hand. You tell them, “That was a fine job.”

And 20 years later, that still means something. Those words are still pouring fertilizer on a blade of grass that has been mowed down and mowed down and mowed down – but is still continuing to grow.

How many contracts expire within a few years? How many business dealings degrade within a decade? Do you even recall what was discussed at last Tuesday’s meeting?

There is an opportunity in between all of that to have a real impact.

Every one of us can take time out of our schedule to attend to an inconsequential moment. We can look someone in the eye. We can shake their hand. We can tell them, “That was a fine job.”

We may never know what those words mean. But all around us, lives could be growing. Not because of some big, sweeping contribution we made. No, quite the opposite.

We simply need to implement the leadership lessons contained in a blade of grass.

This post originally was shared at inspireafire.com. I hope you enjoyed it!

To My Future Former Self

This post was first shared at https://inspireafire.com/to-my-future-former-self/.

sunset road

RE: My Advice

Date: January 2020

I know you cringe when you’re told too flippantly to keep your chin up and everything will be fine.  I know what you’re thinking: “You have no idea how this will actually end for me.”

Oh, we know that all things work together for good for those who love God. And we know that in the end God wins and we get to celebrate with Him in heaven. But that’s not what you mean. You mean, it’s easy once the struggle is over to tell someone else that their problem will work out.

You want to hear from someone in the trenches. Someone with mud and tears still on their face. You want to hear them say it’s going to be okay. You want someone whose heart is currently breaking to look you in the eye and say, I hear you. I understand. This path is hard. I don’t know where it leads either. Nevertheless, you are going to make it through.

Lantern

That’s what you want to hear.

So here I am. I am the future of your former self, so I know what you’ve been through and how you got here. I know the path right now is hard, and I don’t know where it leads. But here is what I have to say.

It’s hard when you’re in the middle to even know the next step. For every voice in your head that shouts at you to dig in and hold on there is an equally compelling voice that says it’s time to let go. You’re not even sure what those things mean. You just know they are tearing you up inside so that sometimes all you can do is fall to your knees and physically scream.

That’s okay for a time. But here’s an image I want you to see:

Hand holding box

Imagine putting it all in a box. All of it. Leave the top open so you can still look inside. You can still watch and see what’s going to happen.

Now hand the box to God. And grip God’s hand.

You’re still holding onto it. You’re still fighting for it with everything you’ve got. But God’s hand is between you, and it.

That’s how you hold on and let go at the same time.

Do you remember when God asked Ezekiel down in that terrible valley, “Can these bones live?” My answer is the same as his: “Lord God, only you know.”

Only God knows your path and the life it leads to, but there are amazing things that you are going to witness. Miracles that bring life to your dry bones.

Someday you will set down all this confusion you’re carrying around. Not because you get answers to your questions, but because you will reach a point where your questions no longer matter. Like those bones clattering one atop the other, your despair will turn to hope and your confusion to purpose. When it happens, it will be God’s doing, but the path to get you there is yours to walk. Not because you must change paths in order for God to work, but because the path is changing you.

Love Never Fails sign

You will be loved deeply. It may be another person who comes alongside you. It may be a revelation of God’s love that becomes more real and palpable to you than anything you’ve ever experienced. Either way, that need for love and belonging that burns so fiercely in your heart – and every human heart – will be filled to overflowing. In turn, you will reach out with the love of God to others in ways that were never possible before.

You will experience what it means to fill yourself with God. It may come directly from His Spirit like Ezekiel in the desert or the disciples in the upper room. It may come from His Word, from scripture-based teachings and books, from His Creation, from unexpected places. Ask Him and ask Him and ask Him, because he promises “I will be found by you.”

Remember, God is holding your box now. When it all becomes too much, stop and remember that. Then keep pushing forward. Make mistakes. Try again. Fall down. Get back up. Hold onto God’s hand with everything you have – not to keep God from slipping away, but to keep your hands off things they shouldn’t be on.

And He will work. And you will make it through.