We can do better

When social media first came to my attention years ago, I made a decision that I would avoid political and controversial posts if at all possible. Of course, I wasn’t always successful early on, garnering my fair share of harsh responses and a few posts that I deleted after I went back and re-read some of my words which made me look like “one of those guys.” Life has been a lot easier using social media for nothing more than posting cute pictures and keeping up with what all of my virtual friends around the world are doing.

Of course, it becomes harder and harder to peruse many of these sites because, more often than not, they are filled with nothing more than caustic opinions about politics and social issues. Yes, American politics is a hot mess and the media is nothing more than a feeding frenzy waiting to unearth the next savory morsel of ill repute that will hopefully doom another candidate or celebrity or turn an issue into a one-sided free for all. The funny thing about all of this is that I’ve yet to see a social media post that successfully sways the masses into agreeing with their point of view. If anything, all they do is cause further division and rupture budding virtual friendships. So not worth it.

The point is: We can do better. It’s not that I don’t care about your views. I truly do care and would be more than happy to discuss them over coffee and doughnut. I realize that you have every right in the world to post whatever you wish on social media and I will defend that right - while at the same time “unfollowing you” because I just can’t handle all of the negativity and one-sided vitriol that consumes my news feed.

Instead, let’s post more pictures of cute puppies and even cuter kids, Bible verses that inspire us to seek after Who really matters, cool videos of amazing guitar solos or soldiers being reunited with their families, requests for good restaurants and better recipes, and of course life events such as births and marriages that need to be celebrated.

Do we truly need social media? I don’t know, and I certainly don’t use it like I used to. But in light of the fact that we no longer send letters or make phone calls like we did back in the “good old days,” it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea as long as it is not abused. Still want to shout about your opinions and political views? Then run for office and be the change you so desperately want to see.

I guarantee that people would be able to accomplish so much more in this world if they stepped away from their keyboards and put their energy into actually trying to solve these problems that make them so angry in the first place. And, I bet that they would be so busy seeking to accomplish these changes that they wouldn’t have enough time to post about it. That would be awesome because it would free my feed up so that I could see more of those cute kitten videos.

Why are all these new "original" shows anything but original?

"Help, Lord, for no faithful one remains; the loyal have disappeared from the human race...The wicked wander everywhere, and what is worthless is exalted by the human race." - Psalm 12:1, 8

I love a good story. For years books have been my go-to if I want to lose myself in a thrilling plot twist or I simply wish to allow my mind to meander through deep wooded areas that are cut off from all civilization. Whoever said that it is easy to get lost in a book was not kidding. I somewhat lament that my kids don't enjoy reading as much as I do, however when they do find a book that captivates their imagination, I love to see how it invigorates their creativity and moves their souls.

With all of the technology of today, books have not necessarily become passe - but they have been somewhat replaced by the visual medium of movies and television as the dominant storytellers of our time. This isn't such a bad thing, even though most people will admit that "the book is better than the movie."

Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Video have produced more than enough original options to entertain the person who desires to spend his weekend binging on the latest new series or movie. In fact, these two services are seemingly pumping out more new content that the average consumer can watch. However, as I have taken the time to check out some of this original content that is being produced, I have noticed the tiring trend towards over-sexualization that has caused me to push the stop button and move in a different direction.

Why must there be so much trashy content in an otherwise compelling show? People complain about the sexual content of broadcast television shows and with good reason, yet streaming services have no buffer against the amount of sleaze that they can include in their original creations. And this is a shame, because honestly most of these shows contain enough suspense and intrigue to drive the plot forward without having to throw in sex scenes or NSFW dialogue.

Before you call me a prude and tell me that this is just art and should be interpreted as such, let me remind you that there have been decades of great movies and shows that have relied on the ability of the actors and dynamic plot lines to drive the story forward without the necessity of having someone bare it all or tell it all. "But this is the real world - it's everywhere! You can't hide from it and act like it doesn't exist!" True, but why embrace it if I don't have to?

The above verses from the book of Psalms illustrate where we have come as well as we are heading as a society. And you don't have to be a Christian or even a religious person to see the truth in this. What was once sacred has now been stripped of its value and has been put on display for the whole world to gawk at as if it is some county fair sideshow. When we as a society begin to place a higher value on that which cheapens a healthy and holy view of intimacy and sexuality, then indeed "the wicked wander everywhere, and what is worthless is exalted by the human race."

Yes, I am free to turn the channel and to choose not to watch these shows and movies. Unfortunately, there is so much freedom of content out there that one has no idea when a racy scene in an otherwise enjoyable show will pop up out of nowhere. I desire to not only protect myself from this kind of stuff but my children as well. You can watch what you want and tell yourself that it's just art, but I want to protect my heart and my mind from that which will drive me farther away from Jesus.

To all of you writers, producers and directors - I promise you, if you make a great movie or show and drive it forward with a gripping plot and awesome character development, people will watch and you won't need to capitalize on skin and trash to gather an audience. Now THAT would be original!

Stripes and plaids DO go together!

I-40 from Wilmington to Winston-Salem has been a regular companion of mine the past several months. Road trips can be awesome, but I honestly don't enjoy the driving part. I am still trying to figure out how to invent the "Get There Button" that can magically transport me to wherever I want to go with the push of a button. So far, I got nothing.

On my recent travels, I have noticed an odd traffic phenomenon that I simply have no explanation for: As soon as I pass into Wake County going west bound, traffic suddenly slows down for a few miles to about 40 mph. There is not a wreck ahead, no traffic cones signaling caution, no speed traps that are making drivers paranoid. Traffic simply slows with no explanation. And this happens any time of day that I hit that same section - it can be morning, afternoon, or late at night. It's the craziest thing and it's especially irritating if I am caught up in it.

This got me thinking: Who or what started these kinds of patterns that we see all around us? And I'm not just talking about odd traffic patterns that drivers fall into. Think about music - who decided that the majority of songs that we hear on the radio should all last around four minutes? Is there some unwritten rule that says that if you record a song any longer than that then people will tune out? And have you ever wondered who comes up with the change in style from decade to decade? Today's music sounds nothing like it did in the 1960's, but none of us seem to notice how or why these changes in patterns take place until we see the change that has occurred.

Then there are fashion and beauty trends. In the 1970's, it was perfectly normal for a guy like me to wear plaid pants with a striped shirt. Everyone was doing it and I have no idea who started that trend. When the 1980's rolled around it was acid-washed jeans, shirts tucked in to pants that were tight rolled at the bottom and held up by extra long belts, and oversize t-shirts that were rolled up at the sleeves. And the hair! Big and frizzy and heavily hair-sprayed. Looking back at my middle school and high school pictures, I shudder to believe that I ever participated in any part of those fashion debacles!

Patterns are all around us. They define our lives and how we relate to others. Social media has capitalized on this phenomenon, pushing people into categories and causing cultural uproars on a daily basis. The pattern that so many people fall into now is to look at their phones and their social media sites for every bit of information and news that they can find. Sadly, most of this information is false at best, damaging and divisive at worst.  

Even though the patterns we see around us can often be negative and questionable, it doesn't mean that all patterns are bad. When Jesus came on the scene some 2,000 years ago, He turned the religious establishment on its head because not only did He buck the backwards trends of the day, but He set up other patterns for men and women to follow. Love your neighbor as well as your enemy. Don't put your hope in your possessions or standing among men but rather serve others. Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile.

And then Jesus set the ultimate pattern for us to follow - He denied Himself and took up His cross, not for His own benefit but for our gain. Jesus calls for us to look beyond ourselves and our own desires to a life that will glorify God above all else.

That's a pattern you don't see advocated much on social media today, do you?

Broken bones, but not broken dreams

This is what a broken and dislocated forearm on a 9-year-old girls looks like. Unfortunately this belongs to my youngest daughter, Emme, who accomplished this after trying to catch herself from hitting the floor after falling off the balance beam at gymnastics. Accidents happen - and sometimes they really hurt! - but sometimes they affect more than just your physical well-being.

If you watch sports or have a child who plays sports or were an athlete yourself, then you know that injuries are often part of the game. Not everyone experiences bone-crushing fractures or career-ending injuries - most of the time it's knocks and bumps and the occasional bruise. But there are those moments where you watch an athlete's future dissipate before his or her eyes by an injury that prohibits them from coming back. And that is hard to watch.

As someone who has never really experienced any of this in the athletic arena, I've often wondered what it's like to receive the crushing news from a doctor or trainer that you might not be able to compete at the same level again. Even if you are just a weekend warrior and enjoy recreational sports leagues - which are awesome, by the way - I am sure that not being able to play at the same level as you once did can be frustrating if not even depressing.

So as I watched my budding young gymnast lie on the ground in obvious pain, my primary focus was making sure that she was okay and taken care of. But then as we were riding in the ambulance to the hospital, the inevitable thoughts came into my mind - Will she be able to do gymnastics again? And even if the physical healing is 100%, will she want to jump on that beam again after what happened? Will she even want to?

Sure, she's pretty new to the sport, but she is incredibly driven and has big dreams - she's already considering UCLA and Alabama for college because, according to her, "They have the best gymnastics teams." And she recently joined a team that will begin competition soon, which she has been working really hard to be ready for. How would she respond to the fact that even if she does make a full recovery it will still be months before she is able to even attempt the kind of moves she was doing before the accident? And what about us as parents - how will we help her through the potential disappointment of not being able to compete, both now and perhaps in the future?

It was right then and there, as these thoughts swirled through my brain, that I realized it would not matter to me one bit if my daughter ever wanted to slip on the leotard and get back to the gym. I am proud of her for trying her best and for being so brave to try a sport that I personally find pretty scary. And then she showed us more of what she is really made of.

After surgery and a brief time in recovery, she said she was ready to go home. Once there, she read out loud all of the get well cards that her classmates sent her and then she invited her friends over to hang out. She shared her Chick-Fil-A fries with them and hung out on the couch watching cheesy Disney shows with them, making sure that they were properly entertained and cared for. When she needed help from me or my wife, she was unafraid to ask for it. She also said she didn't want the pain medication that the doctor prescribed - she didn't like how it made her feel. And not once has she complained about being in pain or the fact that it could be months before she can go back in the gym again. The only disappointment she showed was not being able to go to school tomorrow.

I gotta be honest, it's times like these when I really look up to my kids and hope I can learn from them. As an adult, it's not a broken bone that concerns me but rather the potential for my dreams to be shattered. Yet here is a nine-year-old girl who is unafraid to take what life gives her and make it into something sweet.

Sometimes our dreams aren't the dreams that God has for us and sometimes we just need a little extra time before we can see our dreams fulfilled. But regardless of the circumstances, it is up to us to determine how we will handle life's ups and downs along the way. Jesus told us not to worry (Matthew 6:33) and Paul echoed that sentiment (Philippians 4:6). And they did so not because what we experience does not affect us or is unimportant but rather because God is greater than any difficulty or struggle we could ever encounter.

Dreams are great and we should keep on striving to live the dreams that God has placed in our hearts. Sometimes life will throw a wrench in our plans and derail these dreams, even if only temporarily. But if we keep our eyes on Jesus - "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" - then we can know that regardless of the outcome that we desired, God will always give us exactly what we need - "and all of these things will be added unto you."

Open hands and letting go

Several weeks ago I ran across an article that described the kind of person that I am to the letter. The writer described a group of people that he referred to as "introverted extroverts," those who are outgoing and not shy about being in the public eye yet are just as comfortable being alone with a book or sitting in a quiet place.  If you know me, then you know how much I love to talk and be with people, but it might surprise you just how much alone time I prefer (and need).
In spite of my hidden extrovertedness, I realize that life is not meant to be lived alone. We were made for relationships, first with God and then each other. Consider God's words to us in the Old Testament book of Genesis:
So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female. (Genesis 1:27)

Then the Lord God said, "It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper as his compliment." (Genesis 2:18)

So the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, "Where are you?" (Genesis 3:9)
From these verses we know that God created us in His image so that we could know Him in a real and personal way and that as human beings we are better together. In particular, the family unit includes those kinds of relationships that God had in mind from the beginning. My wife is absolutely my best friend and closest confidant and my children bring great joy and satisfaction to my life.

Which is why this past week has been such a challenging week for the Griggs' family. On Thursday, my wife and I moved our second oldest daughter, who is only fourteen, into the University of North Carolina School of the Arts High School, almost four hours away. The school itself is amazing and the academics are top notch. She has a super cool roommate and the students are well taken care of on a very secure campus. This is an unbelievable opportunity for her to grow not only as an artist but also as young woman.

The struggle for me is not how she will do away at school or whether or not she will be okay. Instead, my biggest concern is how I will do at home with her so far away. As a family of six, we are all so very different from one another, yet we also have shared a unique relational rhythm for the past eighteen years. With the addition of each child to the mix, my wife and I were able to adjust to a new normal and we thrived a little bit more as our family grew. Now that we have subtracted a child at least for a season, the gap in our family dynamics feels like a gaping hole at times.

As I begin to adjust to a newer kind of normal with my daughter away at school, I am keenly aware of just how precious relationships are to me. I am grateful that our family is so close and that we can allow our kids to go and experience the world with open hands, even if they are more ready to go than we are to let them go. This experience has also reinforced just how important my other relationships with friends and co-laborers are.

It is hard to let others that are close to you move on so that they can flourish. Yet it is so rewarding to see them ready to go, knowing that you have invested as much as you can in their lives to prepare them for these moments. Life is indeed better lived together.

Taking the time, time after time

This summer has been a bit of a whirlwind for me and my family. As soon as school let out in June I took my son to soccer camp for a week. When we returned, I had two days to prepare to preach my last sermons at the church I was serving before we packed up all of our belongings and moved to Wilmington, NC. Almost immediately we had family in town all the while trying to adjust to a new environment. From there it was youth camps, another soccer camp, registering our children for their new schools, enrolling our youngest in a new gymnastics program, celebrating a sweet sixteen birthday and then going to get her license, and then serving as the speaker at a week-long high school camp. Somewhere in the midst of all of that my wife and I carved out regular time for each other so that we wouldn't be tempted to wake up one day and ask each other, "Who are you?"

Time itself is such a funny thing - we can't actually create any more than we are given in a 24-hour day but we do have the opportunity to manage the time that we do have. If we don't manage our time, then it will be more than willing to manage us! As busy as our schedules can tend to be, there will always be those quiet(er) moments in the midst of our chaos where God seeks to grab our attention in an effort to refocus us and refresh our souls.

These are moments we cannot afford to miss.

As we watch our children grow up way too fast and struggle to believe that what seemed like yesterday was actually a few years ago, my wife and I often ask ourselves, "Where did all the time go?" If our lives were wrapped up in events and achievements then I am sure that a deep-seeded depression would have set in by now. But life is more that what we can personally accomplish or what kind of a name we can make for ourselves. Life is a beautiful journey filled with people and places that impact our every step.

That being the case, what are you doing with the time that you have? Allow me to suggest a few ideas that I believe will help you manage your time in such a way as to be fulfilling and fruitful:
  • Spend time with God everyday. Read the Bible. Sit in the stillness of the sunrise or sunset and contemplate His majesty. Use the time that you are driving in your car to lift up prayers and praises to Him. Don't neglect attending a church on Sunday to connect with God and His people.
  • Find a special place and go there often. Each morning I strive to enjoy my coffee and time with God or a good book on my screened porch. It's quiet, peaceful, and it also allows me to spend quality time with my wife and to gather my thoughts for the day.
  • Don't neglect spending time with people. Chat with your neighbors, go to dinner with friends, visit your grandparents and ask them about their childhood, or enjoy game night with your family. Avoid the temptation to let people pass by because that is when opportunities to grow and invest in others will pass you by as well.
  • Find something that you love and do it often. Since I moved to the coast and discovered stand up paddle boarding, I want to be on the water as much as I can. Even though this is not a daily thing, the times that I do go out fill my cup to the brim. We all have things that we are most passionate about. Those areas certainly deserve our time.
  • Enjoy a good book. Books open up a whole new world to the imagination, that is if you are willing to invest in the time to read them. Put down your phone, turn off the TV, and get lost in a good book.
  • Invite others to join you on errands or small tasks. Whenever I need to run to the store I usually take one of my kids along with me. Sure, I may bribe them with the promise of gum, but I have never regretted those extra moments away with them.
That's a pretty simple list, isn't it? And for the most part, engaging in those things shouldn't cause you to have to radically rearrange your schedule. In fact, once you organize your time for those activities and people that make you most come alive, you will find that including them more and more in your daily life becomes not only natural but essential. So stop making excuses and take the time because it's right there in front of you. 

Underwear is meant to be comfortable. Life, not so much.

I am serving as camp pastor at a placed called Laurel Ridge in the NC moutains this week, so today I decided to go hiking on some trails in an effort to keep from gaining 15 pounds from all the camp food I’m going to be consuming. These trails aren’t new to me - I’ve hiked them countless times over the years as I have been up here as a camper, counselor, and pastor, so when I approached the trail head I was more than ready to get my sweat on and burn some calories.

There are four different trails and they are labeled according to color. Yellow is the longest, red is the steepest, green is not as challenging, and blue takes you to some scenic overlooks. I decided to start at the red/yellow point and then venture down the red trail. I thought about the yellow trail because it’s the one I remember the best from years past, but I wanted to give myself a bit of a challenge since I am such an outdoorsman (cue the sarcasm).

The initial decent on the red trail was pretty steep and I new that when it looped back around I would have to come back up, and I was already dreading the burn that I would experience. After about a quarter of a mile on the red trail, I noticed that the footpath that I was on was no longer clearly defined. It honestly looked like no one had hiked this trail in years. Was I lost? No, because the red markers were clearly visible along the trees at the trail wound along the side of the mountain.

As I continued on this trail, the actual path itself ceased to exist. Instead of hiking, I found myself bush whacking, tramping through patches of ferns, hopping over downed trees, and jumping small creeks. Every step I took felt as if I was pioneer trail blazer, minus the covered wagon and team of mules. Yet every step I took was with a purpose, because the entire time I was following this series of red markers spaced evenly on the trees.

Then things got a bit sketchy. At one point, I completely lost sight of the red ribbons and I was standing in the middle of a patch of brush and downed limbs. I continued to walk forward when suddenly I spotted a red ribbon on a tree in the distance. This happened to me on several occasions. It dawned on me that if I died out there, no one would find me for years. I would be nature’s compost. Then I began to wonder if someone had placed these ribbons on these trees just to see if anyone was a sucker enough to actually follow them. They say there is one born every minute…

Drenched in sweat and realizing that the shoes I had worn were woefully inadequate for such a trek, I finally looped back around to a piece of ground that looked vaguely familiar. The red ribbons had led me into a circuit that ended almost where they began. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to their placement, yet someone had taken the time to put them there knowing that eventually they would lead whoever followed them back to their starting point.

The whole time that I was hiking this oddly marked trail, two thoughts continue to go through my mind. First, I hope I can find my way out of here before I starve to death. And second, walking along a trail like this reminds me of how so many people traverse their spiritual journey through life.

Think about this for a minute. How easy is it for us to take the yellow trail, the one that we know best? Yes it’s long but it’s also safe. The red trail is the one the we often avoid because even though it’s marked for us, we seem to take every step with uncertainty because the path is not always clear.

If you are a follower of Jesus, then you know that God has not called you to safety or comfort but rather to share the good news of Jesus with the rest of the world. Yet doing so seems an awful lot like the red path. You can see the objective ahead of you - the people that you know you need to pull alongside of - but getting to where they are seems awful difficult if not just downright scary.

Underwear is meant to be comfortable. If it’s not, you put on a new pair. Life, however, holds no such guarantees. There are times when you will wonder if you are on the right path and more than once you will be tempted to turn around and call it quits. But that is not what Jesus did and that is not what we are called to do either. Take the red path. Sure it’s hard and it might hurt your feet, but there are people along the way on the red path that otherwise would never understand the meaning of life's journey if you don't meet them on it.

We can do better

When social media first came to my attention years ago, I made a decision that I would avoid political and controversial posts if at all pos...