In the Key of Contentment

The hardest part about writing a post about Journey’s, Don’t Stop Believin’ is having that song stuck in your head all week long. I’m not sure who hates it more at this point, me or my family, who has had to endure me trying to sing it. 

I love pretty much all music…Alternative Electric, New Country, Hip Hop (mostly from the ’90s), old school Blues, and, of course, ’80s hair bands. I especially love to sing, and I can sort of carry a tune. However, if you put me in the garage with an old Mötley Crüe album and some earbuds, it absolutely sounds like a gang of cats Kung Fu fighting.

God has given my daughter a beautiful voice. The worship team at church and her middle school music teacher did a fantastic job helping her find the right songs to sing. Cora knows her key. After a season of listening to Cora Falalalalalala-ing and a year of self-discovery (thank you 2020), I wondered how much happier and productive I would be if I stopped trying to be something God didn’t create me to be.

What if I simply sang in my key? 

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain…”  1 Corinthians 15:10

There is freedom in coming to terms with who God made you. If I am living out the extraordinary life that God has called me to, Not trying to be someone else, Then it seems logical that it would free up some space for someone else to do that in the same way. It is quite harmonious when you think about it. 

I am sure you know that word harmony means “singing together” and “creating a pleasant sound”. But did you remember that it also means “interacting in a peaceful agreement”. Harmonies can usher in a wave of contentment for those listening. 

Music is so powerful that it can fill us with Hope, leads us to Love, and even make us dance with Joy. And when I’m singing God’s song, in the key He gave me, there’s often a supernatural melody that alters not only my heart but those around me. 

Is there something you’re doing, living, or dreaming about that sets itself up in opposition to the key you should be singing? Have you been singing someone else’s song? The beginning of this year sets you up naturally for an opportunity for some self-examination and introspection about what song you need to be singing in 2021. Step into it. This world needs your song.

Oh, one more thing. When you’re singing in your key, and you come across some haters, remember that contentment never came from a squabbling committee but an audience of one.

We will get through this together! 

In his service and at yours.

~Shawn

Don’t Stop Believin’

There have only been a few weeks in my life that needed hope more than this one. I’m not sure where it all started going wrong, but this week’s events have shown cracks in our foundation. Personal opinions and politics are upstaging people. Everyone I know is either despondent or angry. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground these days.

I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence, intentionality, or just dumb luck that I have heard the song “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey several times since Wednesday. It may be a cheesy rock song from the 80s, but these days, I’ll take hope in any flavor I can find. I love that God talks to me through mulleted rock bands. However, I have concluded that there is one major flaw with this song. No one can sing it. Let me rephrase that. No one can sing it well. Steve Perry’s unique vocals are awe-inspiring, with high notes that are virtually impossible to sing along. Although we do all try, don’t we? 

I love the concept of making this country great, and it is a fundamental right of the American people to be empowered, educated, and to have control over their future – to have the opportunity for Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. I am convinced that our country’s strength lies in that opportunity, and that strength comes from millions of unique, independent ideas and thoughts. 

But, this is where it gets tough. To receive the blessing of independent thoughts and dreams, we have to be okay with listening to different and new ideas, especially when they do not line up with our own. When we bully the process for personal gain, we as a community lose. Creatives need room to dream. Engineers need room for precision and process. Builders need room and time to produce. Thinkers need room to think. 

“The one who gets wisdom loves life; the one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper.” Proverbs 19:8

We were not created to be lemmings. 

I’m not sure how we will recover from this week’s events. But, I am sure that healing won’t happen with just more rules and litigation. Healing will begin with conversations rooted in love and boldness. This upcoming week, try to have a chat (not an argument) with someone with opposing viewpoints from you. When is the last time you asked someone why they were an atheist, a right-wing republican, a Muslim, a progressive democrat, a union rep, pro-immigration, anti-abortion, or heck, what their favorite Journey song is? I am 100% certain that you will learn at least one new thing about them.

We will get through this together. Be bold, be kind, and whatever you do, don’t stop believin’.

In His service and at yours!

~Shawn 

New Year…New Attitude

Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”

That’s a quote I want to keep in my back pocket raising a teenager and while mapping out goals for 2020.  Would you not agree, attitude often determines the outcome? The thrill of the 2021 year flip seems to become quickly offset by some bloated, broke, and busted up realities that are still with us. Yes, this first quarter will be hard, but without a good attitude, it will be more challenging.

I have been blessed with one of the best cheerleaders in the world. 

This woman is in the 4th quarter of her life, and with all the sage wisdom she has gained, she always shoots it to me straight and stands as an incredible source of encouragement. Last week, she fell and shattered her hip. To some, at her age, this would be a death sentence, but not to this little hero.

I woke up to greet the New Year and saw that she texted me just two days after surgery. She said, “How many people do you know that can start the year off with a healing adventure? Jesus is so good to us. All is well here, big room and nice helpers. He is in the house. Have a blessed day and hug your ladies.”

How can you lose with an attitude like that? 

You are not alone in this new year. Remember, you have an intimate ally to call upon. “For to us a Child shall be born, to us a Son shall be given; And the government shall be upon His shoulder, And His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

So, what’s it gonna be for you in 2021? Success? Better health? Stronger relationships? Attaining what you want this year will largely depend on how badly you want it, how much you work at it, and if you can do it with a smile—even during the sucky parts.

We will get through this together.

In His Service and at yours 

~Shawn

I’ve Got a Plan

Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas? Heck, did you even get everything you ordered? If you remember, when last we chatted, I was working on embracing the gift of Wisdom. Thankfully, that’s not still on the back of a UPS truck somewhere like my new socks.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

I did it! I asked and prayed that God would reveal something profound and wise to me, and He did, but in such a cool way. Planning Christmas during a pandemic is not for the faint of heart or the inflexible. Our plans for the church, business, and family have changed about a dozen times this week. Each time the scenario changed, I dug deeper and plunged into my experience and others’ counsel, and with that, I mapped out a 4-part plan. 

Existing:

1. Investigate

2. Build a Plan

3. Implement the Plan

4. Review and Evaluate 

This past Monday morning, I was fully caffeinated and fully rolling in stride when THREE of our major plans changed (3 plan changes = 3 strategies altered). Then God said, “Hey. What about Me?” Ooof, He was so right. Here I was happy-go-lucky and ready to take on the day, as long as my plans stayed my plans. The moment things turned sideways, I was thrown off my game.

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?” Isaiah 40:12

“I am the Lord your God who teaches you for your own good, who leads you in the way you should go.”  Isaiah 48:17

Here is the cool part. God never said, “Hey Isaiah, you big dummy. This is what you should’ve done!” He never even said, “Isaiah, you’re wrong.” He lovingly asked to work together with Isaiah, giving him wisdom along the way. 

I don’t think that this will make me a best-selling author in our culture of short attention spans, but my simple 4-step process just went to a 6-steps process.

Living:

1. Consult God (“ask”)

2. Listen

3. Investigate

4 Build a Plan

5. Implement the Plan

6. Review and Evaluate 

The coolest part of all this is, it worked on Christmas. It really worked! I know we are all holding out hope that everything will be better when the calendar flips to January 1, 2021. But I’m sure that the first quarter will still be very trying. However, I’m taking the strategy God gave me into the New Year. How about you?  

We will get through this together!

In His Service and at yours!

~Shawn

Hindsight is 20/20

I cringe when I think about what we have been through this year. It’s almost as bad as me just starting my Christmas shopping today. Do you need a good 2020 laugh too? Check out this commercial. It’s a good one!

I don’t know about you, but I find it easier to look back and laugh than to be amused in the actual moments of chaos. This year has served us so many moments of uncertainty. Oh, what I would’ve given to know this past January what I know now. I would have made some different investments, spent more time with people who are no longer with us, and I would have been much calmer every day knowing we were in it for the long haul.

This week on our drive to school, Cora asked me what I wanted for Christmas. Jokingly, I told her I wanted to be smarter or taller. “Either would be the perfect gift.” She laughed, and then I told her an easier answer, Legos. Joy is the theme of our Christmas this year, and they are my favorite childhood Christmas present and way more fun than yet another shaving kit. 

Truth be told, I don’t want to be smarter. I want to be wiser. 

Last evening, when I came home late from work, the house was dark and quiet, and under the glowing tree, I saw a neatly wrapped gift with my name on it. Jokingly, I asked God if that was my “smarts.” When I woke up this morning, I looked under the tree again to see if there were more surprises, and I was reminded of a scripture that a dear friend gave to me this week. 

“Wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” James 3:17

I easily forget in the onslaught of Target and Best Buy ads that the most incredible Christmas Gift is Jesus and that He is called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. That Wonderful Counselor tells his best friends in Matthew 28 that “He will always be with us”. These guys were like us and forgot this so often that Jesus reinforces it again in John 14 when He tells them that “He won’t leave them alone like orphans, but He will always return to them”. 

Even after the Christmas tree is put away and the cool Legos and Star Wars gifts are long forgotten, wisdom is always available to me. I simply have to ask for it.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

Anna and I wish you a very Merry Christmas! We hope it is filled with joy, laughter, and wisdom, and that you are given all you need and hoped to receive. 

In His Service and at yours!

~Shawn

Refuge

I went to bed on Tuesday night whooped. Just slap worn out. There was nothing about the day that was extraordinarily exhausting. But, I could not contend with the onslaught of ‘what ifs’ that kept coming my way. Radio, TV, School emails and newsletters all letting me know they have no idea what is coming either.

What if Covid…? What if the President…? What if the Economy…? What if Marriage…?

What if Kids…? What if…? What if…? What if…?

I am usually a let’s engage and conquer type of guy, but last night after listening to myself mumble incoherently about life, I decided to be a tuck-in and slumber kind of guy. This morning, I woke up refreshed, remembering that God’s mercy is new every day, and just like that, my giddyup was back, and I was ready to face the world again only to read a message about a friend’s dad who just had a stroke. Ugh. Life is so hard. This friend does not have a relationship with Christ, and it made me think how the rest and refresh I was given the night before must be near impossible for him to find right now.

This year, Psalm 91 has been my go to when I need a reset. Take a moment to read it with me.

Psalm 91

1 “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” 

3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. 

4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. 

5 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 

6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.

7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 

8 You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. 

9 If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, 

10 no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. 

11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; 

12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. 

13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra, you will trample the great lion and the serpent. 

14 “Because he / she loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. 

15 He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. 

16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

If you read all 16 verses, I think you would agree with me that there is power in God’s promises to His people. The Message version ends even better.

 It says, “If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God, “I’ll get you out of any trouble. I’ll give you the best of care if you’ll only get to know and trust me. Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times; I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party. I’ll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation!” 

A party? Really?! I could use one of those about now. Where was that party verse in my Catholic Bible as a kid? Who am I kidding? I was too young and dumb to read back then. But seriously, take a closer look at that chapter to find the answers to your ‘what ifs’.

Too anxious to sleep? Meditate on verse 5.

Worried about Covid? Take a dose of verse 6.

Need justice? March over to verse 8. 

Health issues? Check out verse 16. 

Wanna have a party? Heck, let’s dance over to verse 15 together.

John 10:10 says the thief comes to steal our peace, and Jesus comes to give us abundance. I believe we just got a glimpse of true abundance. God has already answered all of the ‘what ifs’ we have…and ever will have. It’s time to engage and conquer once again.

We will get through this together!

In His service and at yours!

~Shawn

What Say You?

I spent time in a very long line yesterday, and wow, did it get my blood boiling! I’m quite sure it was more the lack of food in my belly than the length of the line, but I was over it! “Just open another register already!” “How can the self check-out registers not be open!?” “Where’s a manager?” I, of course, had some ideas about how this whole show could run better.

As we inched closer, my focus became more and more on myself. MY time. MY money. MY buying power. Suddenly, I heard raised voices and watched a person several people in front of me exclaim out loud the justice I was screaming for in my head! Here it was playing out right in front of me. Finally! But, I also got to see the result of that justice. After the irate customer angrily walked away, I looked at the clerk. She was doing her best to hold it together, but clearly, this man rattled her confidence, if not destroyed it.

Proverbs 18:4 & 21 say, “The words of the mouth are deep waters…” “The tongue has the power of life and death.”

As I watched the clerk try to recover, I realized something that we all need to keep in mind this season. Most people we will interact with are in rough shape, either financially, mentally, or emotionally. If our house is any example, I am confident that most people are having difficulty navigating this pandemic and are barely hanging on. 

Now more than ever, our words and tone matter. 

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love another.” John 13:35
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

We are called to love and show light to people. That may be a tall order these days, but it’s an easy way for us to show off God to others. Christmas is known to be a season of kindness, which may already be a part of your routine. If so, the rest of us could use your help. If you have started doing something differently or have positioned yourself to show kindness to others, share your tricks and plans in the comments below.

Shine on my friends! We will get through this together!

In His Service and at yours!

~Shawn

Best Thanksgiving Dinner Advice Ever

I woke up this morning thinking about National Lampoon’s Christmas. I think my gratefulness of not being made to cook the Turkey was carrying over in too my subconscious. The Turkey dinner scene makes me laugh so hard and also scares the jam out of me.

My family is a bit nuts, but not Griswold crazy status. Which brought me to thinking of the best Holiday advice I have ever been given. By now its been about 12 Years since hearing it, but I pull out this trusty gem 2 or 3 times a year. 

“You do not need to change or advise your family at Holiday gatherings” -Pastor Paul Rienzo

How freeing is that? Conspiracy theories, political discord, and parenting strategy no longer have the power to tank your Holiday. Have you ever seen the lone calm guy in the middle of a heated discussion and wondered what they thinking? I think they figured out what a win would cost in this living room arena. Besides, I bet calm is far more memorable this year that louder and righter.

I pray and hope your Thanksgiving is filled with Joy! We will get through this together.

In His service and at yours!

~Shawn

P.S: If you ever wonder how my abstract and creative brain puts all of the “Red Letter” ideas in cohesive connected sentences. It is due to the incredible help I receive from an extraordinary editor. She is a queen of punctuation, transition and sentence structure. Amanda Marzano, I and everyone that reads this are so THANKFUL for you!

P.S.S. I snuck this post out past her. So if there are errors and missing words it’s all on me. ~SM

Missing the Mark

Are your lights and stockings hung by the chimney with care? Well, ours are. We are fully charging into holiday cheer at my house. Just like I talked about in my last post, I’ve decided to be intentional about finding Joy this season. However, I probably need to stop buying things with the word “Joy” on them because there’s officially no room at the McCarthy Inn anymore. We’re booked solid with joyful nicknacks. 

Growing up Catholic, religious holidays were often a mixed bag of emotions for me. The excitement of family and tradition also came with the weight of guilt and shame over all the sin in my life. The Holy Sacrament of Confession that was part of our Catholic school’s Christmas Mass loomed over the holiday. It was like waiting for Judgement Day. Every carol sung silently ended with, “till you receive your penance and scolding…fa la la la la la la la la!”

It’s impossible to change old mindsets until you intentionally build new ones.

A friend of mine shared a message with me by Andy Stanley about sin. It’s a pretty good listen. Andy talks about how the word “sin” is not defined as a death sentence or even a permanent mark of disqualification. In both Hebrew and Greek, the word sin means “to miss the mark,” and in both languages, it’s an archery term that means to miss the bullseye.

Who hits the bullseye every time? Not this guy. So, what gives in this God standards game? Scripture says that Jesus will be the final judge at the end of time. Personally, I think the baby Jesus part of Christmas is way more engaging than the Jesus at Easter. I mean, who doesn’t love a baby? But, the celebration gets a bit flat when we start celebrating a judge. That is until we look at His record on the bench. He came to love. That’s it. Love.

When He taught, He did it in love. When He served, He did it in love. When He corrected, He did it in love. When He died, He did it in love.

So, why have I been living with shame and embarrassment when I miss the mark?

Our God speaks in conviction, not condemnation. Conviction is direct coaching done in love. Condemnation is to remind you of your flawed, subordinate, and inferior place. Jesus calls us a royalty, His Sons and Daughters, and His Beloved. He was perfect, so we don’t have to be, and I think that’s the best Christmas gift and reason to be joyful this season.

Cheers to missing the mark!

We will get through this together.

In His service and at yours!
~Shawn 

Now What?

Isn’t it interesting how all of the media “experts” got it wrong? During the last few weeks, we were promised landslide victories and explosive violence. But, neither happened. It was a week that revealed just how many differing opinions make up this country, and when asked to choose between only two options, the outcome is equally diverse. 

I have decided that I am okay with that.

I enjoy robust discussions with friends and colleagues about capitalism and social justice. I choose to be all in on possibly being wrong, but being willing to learn from a different perspective. Bending my ear doesn’t mean that I am bending my knee. However, it does mean that I value people and choose love over simply choosing a side.

If our system has been working for over 240 years and has led us through difficult times to become the most humane, equal, and just model of society, when and why did it go dark? And why have fear and anger developed our most significant historical swings of power? 

“Too many questions, got me searchin for answers.” Tom Kiefer

I came across an article in Rolling Stone that said we are currently living in the safest time ever in history, and it begged the question, So, why are we all so afraid? This quote from the article made that question a bit clearer for me. 

“Many believe the amygdala, a tiny, almond-shaped region deep in each hemisphere of the brain, is the home of our emotional responses, specifically fear. The author Daniel Goleman has coined the term “amygdala hijacking” to describe what inflammatory rhetoric and imagery are designed to do: trigger the emotional brain before the logical brain has a chance to stop it.”

That seems about right. I feel like my amygdala went out to an election party, made a few twists and turns, and ended the night on a Corona bender. Are you worn out too?

When talking about fear with my friend Jason Cates, a leader in the recovery community, he said this, “Anger is something that boils up when I think about things of the past that I cannot change. Fear is something that arises in me when I think about the future that I have little power to change.”

So, what’s the metaphorical Gatorade for our exhausted amygdala? Let’s take a couple swigs of Scripture and get back on track.

“Perfect Love casts out all fear.” 1 John 4:18

“A cheerful heart is good medicine.” Proverbs 17:22

I will leave you with something controversial to consider. If what we need is a little more love and a lot more laughter, then perhaps putting up the Christmas decorations early and watching your favorite holiday movies may be just what is needed to give your tired amygdala a little rest. I know it will mine.

Pass the eggnog! Cheers!

We will all get through this together.

In His service and at yours! 

~Shawn