On Reading

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Not me, but certainly where I’d like to be.

One of my earliest childhood memories is from when I was four years old, attending preschool at a local Baptist church. When Mom came to pick me up that day, I made a statement to her that I truly believe changed my life.

“Mommy, I want to learn to read.”

With that, instead of going to Kindergarten the next year with my friends, Mom started homeschooling me with first-grade curriculum, and I of course learned to read. That desire to read has never gone away—although I would say that advanced English classes in high school, where I was required to read certain books, did stifle it for a bit, but that’s beside the point.

What made me want to read? In preschool, we had a wooden bookshelf with many picture books propped up on it. I remember four-year-old me picking up a book and opening to a page with a picture of the Dallas skyline and some text below it, which of course I couldn’t comprehend—but I wanted to comprehend. Whether that desire to read came from genetics or from Dad singing me the ABCs while he changed my diapers, ultimately I believe it came from God.

I still enjoy reading. After a period during high school and part of college when I read only the books I had to, I again picked up the books I wanted to read. I enjoy all kinds of books now: fiction and non-fiction, old and new, secular and Christian (can a book be “Christian?”). I read because reading makes me think: I learn new information and glimpse new perspectives, compare and contrast the new with what I already know, and evaluate the insights. The “evaluating the insights” part is one reason this website exists.

I also read because it is a relaxer, a de-stressor. Sometimes, it’s an escape, a way to get my mind off a rough day. It slows me down yet keeps my mind engaged.

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Sadly, many people don’t read much anymore, or at least they don’t read books. We live in a world of constant information to the point of overload, where sound bytes and quick clips snag our attention for a few minutes at the most before we move on to something else. Video and images have all but supplanted the written word for information transmission, and certainly for entertainment. After a long day at work or school looking at a screen, folks come home and—guess what?—spend their evenings looking at a screen.

I’m not saying that it’s bad to unwind by watching YouTube or checking Facebook. In fact, I think learning how to do something by watching someone else demonstrate on YouTube is great! I also think keeping up with friends can be important, too. What I am saying is that it’s, for the most part, not mentally engaging. You’re being spoon-fed information instead of feeding yourself. Reading allows you to take information in at your own pace, stop, and interpret it how you will. In other words, you’re actually using your head, and I believe God gave us minds so we can use them by thinking critically.

Even for leisure, reading is hard to beat. A good novel will transport you into settings in a way that a screen still can’t do, indirectly conveying information and emotion using all five of your senses. (Think about it, a screen uses only two: sight and sound.) Instead of merely sitting as an audience to a character, you are there with the character, knowing what’s going through his or her mind and experiencing the environment.

There are many other good reasons to read: science says it’s healthy, and your budget probably says it’s cheaper than Netflix or cable (think of your local library or Half Price Books). You can do the research, or the math, if you don’t believe me.

Some people think reading is boring. I think they just haven’t found something they’ve wanted to read. The sad fact is, a lot of people think of reading as work, and for good reason, since kids in school are often tasked with reading books that they don’t find interesting, and college students are burdened with reading laborious, inscrutable textbooks. I get that because I’ve been there, too. The key is to find something you’re interested in, acquire a book about it (check the library!), and just start reading.

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Libraries are cool. Look at all those books! Photo by Tamás Mészáros on Pexels.com

Some people might be hesitant to start a book because they don’t think they’ll finish it. There’s a way around this, too: start reading short books and then work up to longer ones. Lists of short but edifying reads are a Google search away, and there’s nothing like finishing a short book to make you feel accomplished, especially if you don’t read very much. I highly recommend using the site Reading Length to determine about how long it would take you to finish a book.

Finally, if you want to read but don’t think you have time in the day to do so, I’m willing to bet you do but just don’t realize it. I read a book while I eat my lunch at work, and again in the evenings while “airing out” post-shower. Chart out your typical day and determine where you could “cut the fat” to squeeze in some reading. Like me, you could take a book to work and read during your lunch break. You could read while waiting for a bus, train, or airplane. You could read when you wake up, after dinner, or before bed. It’s those brief moments that add up to large chunks of time.

But, let us remember the words of the Preacher from Ecclesiastes:

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. —Ecclesiastes 12:11-12

Read and enjoy, the key word being “enjoy.” Use the gift of reading that God has given you, but don’t wear yourself out from studying. And, most importantly, use the gift to glorify God by reading the words of the Good Shepherd.

On What is Best in Life

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The past few weeks have been a blur for a number of reasons. Most of the time, I’ve felt like I was being pulled in five different directions and somehow my head and all my appendages are still attached to my torso. Many thoughts and concerns have filled my mind, both about the present and the future. About half of this is self-imposed; the other half is circumstantial.

Without getting into great detail, it came to a head yesterday. I felt lost, disconnected. I would describe it as “spiritual discomfort.” I couldn’t place the cause of the feeling. I put on my best face (plus some tunes) and pressed on through the day, but couldn’t escape it very long.

Mid-morning, I took a break and prayed. I knew I’d been moving at a million miles a minute and hadn’t done much towards my relationship with the Lord lately. I prayed throughout the day, asking God to forgive me for my lax prayer life and not trusting in Him as I’m making some life decisions and planning for the future. I asked Him to guide me according to His will, and that He would help me put aside anything of mine not in accordance with His plan for me.

Mid-afternoon, as I took another brief break, a verse came to mind. I have always, always, prayed that God would “lead me along paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3, ESV), and of course that I would know when and where He is leading me. However, it wasn’t Psalm 23 that came to mind, but another verse involving God’s will that I would do well to keep in mind, despite having it memorized.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecc. 12:13)

After the Preacher expounds on the fact that everything we experience in life is “vanity” or “meaningless” for the majority of Ecclesiastes, he ties his observations and exhortations up with this statement: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” That’s the meaning of life if there ever was one.

Conan might disagree, but what’s best in life is to do those two things: fear God and obey His commandments. Fear doesn’t mean we should be scared of God; fear means we should love and respect Him, knowing that He will indeed “bring every deed into judgment” (v. 14). We should love Him so much that we have no other gods before Him (Ex. 20:3); put simply, He should be the One we long for the most, with money, fame, and everything else we desire taking a backseat. Thus, we obey God’s commandments because we love Him and place Him above everything else, which includes our human desires.

In a way, I’m preaching to myself here. I’m terrible at putting God first, much less others. I’m young and want to be independent. I have dreams and desires. Oftentimes, I can get so focused on one objective that I acquire tunnel vision and miss everything else around it. And if I’m honest, I’m not always sure I want to follow God’s plan for my life because I think I’ve got a better, more fulfilling plan. And most of the time, I don’t know what to do about it but pray that God would continue to mold me into the young man He wants me to be.

I cycle through phases of closeness in my relationship with Christ. Right now I feel like I’m coming out of the trough again, moving along the sine wave back towards zero. I wish it weren’t that way, but I’m human and, as the hymn says, prone to wander, prone to leave the God I love. Oh that I could love Him more and my relationship move upward along a line graph! Even then, I would wane eventually because I’m still human, still a sinner. Thank God that, though I wander off time and time again, He’ll still let me return. Better yet, He’ll come after me and bring me back!

The best thing I think I can pray is that He would give me the desires of my heart (Ps. 37:4). I mean that twofold: I want Him to give me the desire, and then I want Him to give me what I desire. In other words, I pray that my wants will be what He wants me to want. (I’m trying to think of a better way to word this, but I can’t at the moment.)

Perhaps the things I desire in life already come from Him; they’re certainly not sinful desires, but I don’t know that they’re the most “spiritual” either. For example, I desire to be gainfully and successfully self-employed. I desire to travel and explore the world more often than I’ll get while working most jobs. Most would say that these are good, admirable dreams, but I can’t help but feel that they’re a bit shallow and superficial in the light of God’s Word. And yet, these things (and others more personal) are things I still long for.

If or when He gives me His desires for me, I believe I’ll know it, and I’ll want to pursue them. If He’s already given me those desires, then I’m going to pursue them with all my might. In all I do, I will aim to fear Him and keep His commandments, because that’s what is best in life.

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Three Principles of Preparedness

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This guy looks pretty prepared for whatever might come his way. Photo by abhishek gaurav on Pexels.com

I’ll admit it: I’m not a hunter or prepper. I’m not much of an outdoorsman or a survivalist, either. I spend most of my time in urban or suburban areas (though outdoors, when possible). However, I find the study of preparedness, regardless of location or circumstance, very interesting. When most people think of prepping, they think of guys carrying around bug-out bags in the middle of nowhere up in Idaho or Montana. However, prepping is not exclusive to the worst-case scenario of an EMP attack or nuclear fallout from World War III. While those are things to consider, we should all first consider our preparedness for everyday events.

Are you prepared to fix or change a flat tire if you have one on the highway? What if someone breaks in to your home in the middle of the night? What will you do if a snowstorm knocks your power out for three days straight? (It’s happened to me and my family in Texas, believe it or not.)

In the spirit of thinking ahead, here are what I believe to be the three crucial principles of preparedness.

1. “Be prepared.”

This is the Boy Scouts’ motto. It’s simple and easy to remember. In any situation you can imagine yourself in, this is the starting point: just be prepared.

If you run the risk of being assaulted on the city streets or in a parking garage, be prepared. Carry some mace, a kubaton, or even a roll of quarters in your fist with you. Know how to use whatever you carry. (That means practice!) Mentally run yourself through the situation of assault so you can visualize how you will respond defensively.

If you’re going on a road trip and there’s a possibility you might break down in a remote area, be prepared. Have AAA or roadside assistance through your insurance provider. Consider a satellite phone if you find yourself outside of cell service. Bring some food and water along so you can survive while waiting for help if it takes a while.

2. “Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”

Many proponents of gun ownership and concealed carry argue their case with this phrase, and I think they’re right, regardless of what liberals think. This doesn’t just apply to firearms, though. Going back to the street assault example, the chance of being mugged might be very low, maybe even negligible. But, in the event that it happens to you, because it does happen, you want to have a defensive weapon of choice on-hand. The last thing you want in an adversarial situation is to pull out your keychain and realize that your kubaton isn’t attached to it because you left it at home.

In the roadside breakdown example, a can of Fix-A-Flat might be enough to get a flat tire inflated long enough to get to the nearest garage. A portable jump starter might keep you from having to wait on a kind motorist to pull over and give your dead battery a jump. A flashlight and a jacket are two great things to have after sundown, with the flashlight in the glovebox and the jacket in the backseat or the trunk.

3. “Two is one, and one is none.”

This comes from the Navy SEALs, and I’ve already written a little about this in one of my first posts, On Redundancy, but it’s worth mentioning again. (I’m actually applying this principle in writing this post!)

I look at this phrase in two ways. First, have two of the same item on-hand in the event that one doesn’t work, or is misplaced, or gets borrowed—you get the idea. Keep extra batteries near battery-powered lanterns. Have two flashlights readily available. Carry two water bottles.

The second way I look at this phrase is this: take two different items that accomplish the same thing. For example, when camping, carry two or three different means with which to start a fire: flint and steel, matches, magnesium, maybe even a magnifying glass or eyeglasses, if you have them. Carry two different ways to purify water, such as purifying tablets and a LifeStraw.

A more everyday example would be having a GPS and a map or atlas in the car. On a family vacation to Fredericksburg last year, I ditched Google Maps in favor of a trusty Texas state map because Google routed us along US-67, which was closed for construction outside Cleburne.

It could even be as simple as having both an electric can opener and a manual one at home, or carrying cash as a backup to a card. (Another tip: some hole-in-the-wall restaurants and small businesses might not accept plastic, so always have cash available just in case. Don’t be the guy who has to leave his date at the restaurant and walk to an ATM, as someone I know once had to do.)

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I’d make sure I could dig this SUV out of the snow before getting out in it. A collapsible shovel and traction mats would be great to have. That guy probably needs a license plate, too. Photo by Chris Peeters on Pexels.com

In summary: have it, have it even if you don’t think you’ll need it, and have two.

Apply these three principles of preparedness to your life and you will feel more confident should the stuff hit the fan, regardless of what that stuff is. As you prepare, you may find yourself, as I did, envisioning “What if?” situations that you otherwise wouldn’t have thought of. If you believe Murphy’s Law holds true, and I tend to think it does, you can’t prepare for every possible contingency, but you can take steps to prepare for a worst-case scenario, whether that’s at home, on the job, on the road, in the air—anywhere.