Mount Pupmore

The pups went to the vet this week to get their first vaccination and a thorough vet check before they go home with their adoptive families in two weeks. They have been such a blessing to have around and my family will miss them. We’re still trying to find homes for Peri and Louis, however, there’s a lot of interest so it’s just a matter of time.

As they were being transported, first in the car and then in the wagon, their fear was evident. They had no clue where they were going and what was in store for them. They only knew the face of the person who was with them on the journey. They heard the calm, reassuring voice telling them to not be afraid. Everything will be ok. The only thing they could do is trust that face and voice. And because over the past 7 weeks, that face and voice having taken care of them, fed them, cleaned up after them, washed them, snuggled them, and loved them, they could indeed trust that person.

This simple story is illustrative of how we humans go through life. There is so much to be afraid of and worry about. How much we fear and anxiety we feel is a function of how close we are to the Person who created us. Do we trust that Person through the valleys of life?

Many of us don’t believe in that Person. If you don’t, then I would welcome the opportunity to introduce you to Him.

Many of us do believe in Him but don’t have a genuine relationship with Him. Our priorities are not aligned with His, and we simply don’t make time to know his face and voice. If this is you, then I would welcome the opportunity to teach you habits that will enable and empower you to live up to the life He has called you to live.

Some of us believe and know Him very deeply. That does not mean we are perfect or are immune from life’s valleys, but it does mean we are equipped to trust our Person, just like the puppies were trusting of their person. The key to sustaining our relationship with Him is to never get complacent with the relationship. Do not take Him for granted and do not ever think your success in life is all because of you. Humans suffer from the problem of pride. Even the most faithful are vulnerable to the sin of pride.

So what can we learn from the story about the puppies?

  • Valleys are a part of life. You likely just came out of a valley, are in the middle of one right now, or are headed into another one. There’s no way to avoid valleys while you’re on Earth. Rather, you can count on them.
  • Valleys happen to everybody. Good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. Nobody’s immune to problems. Nobody’s insulated from pain.
  • Valleys are unpredictable. You can’t plan them. Problems typically catch you off guard. In fact, they usually come when you don’t have time, when you’re unprepared, and when it’s inconvenient.

Moreover, we can count on these truths. You only need to believe them.

  • You are not alone. God is with you. You need to stop worrying about the things that scare you: bills, health problems, or concerns about your children or aging parents. When you shift your focus off your fears, you can focus on the Father.
  • God has a good purpose for your valley. Even when you’re facing problems, conflict, grief, fear, or failure, God is at work, creating good from your valley. It’s hard to see in the middle of the storm but believe it. See Romans 8:28.
  • You’ll be rewarded and the reward will last forever. Remaining faithful to God in life’s valleys produces fruit. You will receive an inheritance for your faithfulness and investment in your relationship with Him.

Forget the Former Things

There is a fight that goes on inside all of us, a terrible fight, and it’s between two wolves that battle in our minds. One wolf is evil. The other is good. The wolf that wins is the one you feed.

Your Evil Wolf wants you to cling to the past. It wants you to remember all the hurt, pain, rejection, and inadequacy. It anchors it in your mind so that you will think the worst of yourself. It wants you to feel stuck and confused. It wants you to make bad choices that hurt yourself and others. It accuses you of being too short, too slow, not smart enough, not good-looking enough, and that you’ll never be able to do that. Who you? That only happens to the lucky few.

Your Good Wolf wants you to see a new thing ahead. It tells you to not dwell in the past, to forgive, forget, and let it go. It is your Advocate and makes a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. It is doing a new thing in you and wants you to perceive it springing up. It wants you to rely on Him and know that you are lovable and good, no matter your circumstances. It wants you to trust that He is working for your good in the midst of all that is happening. Feeding Him means you can forget the former things of the past.

Starve your Evil Wolf and feed your Good Wolf by working out in your mind gym. A mind gym is a virtual place where you can clear and calm your mind from all the negative clutter. It is a safe space that can be real or fictional, but a space where you can relax. It’s where you train yourself to allow negative thoughts to enter your mind, but release them to float away. They don’t have the ability to stick around. It’s where you have a mind trainer, someone who you look to for wisdom and counsel, who you can visualize speaking with you. It can be a real person in your life or a fictional person from a movie.

For me, my mind gym is at the base of Cathedral Rock in Sedona, AZ. I’ve visited there a number of times and it’s the perfect place to unplug. My mind trainer is Yoda. I know that sounds funny, but I grew up watching Star Wars and I love all those scenes when he’s training Luke to be a Jedi. He’s the first person than came to mind.

Everyone’s mind gym and trainer will be different. What’s important is that they serve the purpose of strengthening your ability to feed your Good Wolf and forget the former things that are holding you back.

Neighborly Love Podcast, Episode 29 – Elena A. Petzold

Ordinary People. Extraordinary Conversations.

If “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” and “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” collided at an intersection, then the Neighborly Love podcast would be the result. It features casual conversations over coffee in a “virtual coffee shop” that lean into the power of empathy. It’s about feeling heard, valued, and understood. It’s about serving others. It’s about depositing money in our relational banks.

Neighborly Love is an original podcast by MindWolves. Host Marc Casciani, author of Craft Your Calling, interviews ordinary people about their heart for God and serving other people for the greater good.

Elena A. Petzold

Marc interviews Elena Petzold, Chief Marketing Officer, Financial Wellness Coach, Business Consultant, and Creator of Mama’s MilkBox®, a nursing apparel subscription service for breastfeeding moms (pitched for investment on ABC’s Shark Tank – Season 8). Elena answers three thought-provoking questions: (1) Tell me about a time when you did something nice for someone?, (2) What would you do for a living if money weren’t an issue?, and (3) Do you have a dream that involves serving others? Elena tells a story about helping her neighbors on garbage day, shares her interest in being a first-grade teacher, and articulates her passion to invest in real estate that invests in the lives of single women. Elena’s dream is a beautiful vision to create safe, supportive living spaces built by women for women.

Neighborly Love, Episode 29 – Elena Petzold (1-17-23)

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Disengage Our Minds From the Snares of Life

How often do you experience silence? What priority do you assign it? For me, it’s priority #1. If I don’t start my day with an uncluttered slice of time free from noise and distractions, I’m off. I wasn’t always aware or appreciative of that need. Rather, it was prescriptive at a time in my life when I was hurting, lost, and low and in need of strength, clarity, direction, and healing. Now, it’s a habit that is foundational to my emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health.

In fact, the lack of silence is what ails many people today. How many of us wake up and go 0-60 mph like a Tesla? We load our days with activities, clutter our calendars with appointments, and fill the air with podcasts, TV shows, or music. We do anything and everything to drown out the sounds of silence, which is really sad.

What do I learn in the silence? That God often speaks in a calm, slow voice, the kind that is audible only in moments of silence. Silence is the only way to hear and experience that voice.

It will seldom happen by accident. You have to be intentional. You have to quiet that smartphone, turn off the TV, rearrange priorities, and frankly, schedule the solitude for yourself on your calendar.

Life does not lack distractions, which compete for our mindshare. Left to their own devices and without discipline, our minds will migrate to the most seductive temptations without regard for our well-being. Those snares aim to take us down a path of destruction dressed up as pleasure. The strangest secret of life is that we become what we think about and unless we disengage our minds from these snares, we will become a prisoner of them.

Silence enables disengagement and empowers us to focus on what’s really important. We were all born to do something meaningful in life and with God’s help, silence will help us figure out what it is.

One Litter, One Team

Have you ever had the pleasure of raising a litter of puppies? My family has been doing that since December 11th. It’s our first litter of French Bulldogs with our family breeding business, BlueCairo Frenchies. It’s amazing to watch the pups’ growth and development every week, going from helpless and complete dependence to eyes-wide-open and on-the-go independence.

One of the most interesting dynamics is how they stick together and love each other’s company. They eat together, sleep together, play together, and cuddle constantly. It seems like they genuinely enjoy each other’s company and relationship. They are one litter, one pack, one team. It’s a beautiful testimony about living in harmony with each other. It’s also a solemn reminder of how far the human race has fallen from grace.

Evil loves discord. It loves when human relationships are broken and dysfunctional, and it seeks to do all it can to prevent us from having happy, healthy relationships and high-functioning, cohesive teams.

There’s much talk about teams today in business. In fact, “team” is one of the most overused words. In most companies, it’s lip service. In the worst cases, it’s lipstick on upper lip “top line” and bottom lip “bottom line” motives. The root cause of this epidemic is pride because pride severs all trust, the foundation of all healthy relationships and cohesive teams. Here’s what C. S. Lewis had to say about pride in 1942 when asked, “What is the great sin? What sin is worse than any other?

There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.

According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison. It was through pride that the Devil became the Devil: Pride leads to every other vice. It is the complete anti-God state of mind.

C. S. Lewis, in fall of 1942 as part of a series of talks covering Christian behavior, including morality, sexual morality, forgiveness, faith, and “The Great Sin.”

The problem with pride is as humans become more and more successful, we tend to rely on God less and less – and more on ourselves. Our egos sop up success like a buttery roll sops up the gravy on a Thanksgiving dinner plate. This is how the Devil became the Devil. His overinflated pride lead to a complete anti-God state of mind. And evil loves company, which is why it loves to see broken, dysfunctional, human relationships and teams.

I am grateful for the litter of Frenchies, which not only gave my family one of the most memorable holiday seasons, but also was a timely reminder of how relationships and teams can function in the absence of pride.

Resolve to Forgive

The word sin is usually used in a religious context, however, it does not have to be. In general and simply stated, sin severs trust between people. While sins are generally considered actions, any thought, word, or act considered immoral, selfish, shameful, harmful, or alienating could also be termed “sinful”. Sin drives wedges in relationships. It breaks down peace and harmony. It produces relational discord.

This is why those with evil motives hate that one little word, forgive. We all have evil motives because we all have an Evil Wolf in our minds. The Evil Wolf loves to persuade us to compare ourselves with others. He coexists in our minds with a Good Wolf, who advocates that there’s no need to compare because we are all uniquely gifted and our value is intrinsically linked to our unique design and giftedness. This daily battle in our minds is either won or lost by which wolf we feed. Feeding the Evil Wolf produces sin, which breaks apart relationships. Feeding the Good Wolf empowers us to forgive, which enables us to see our goodness and the goodness in others. The Good Wolf, our Advocate, helps us to heal relationships so that we focus our time and energy on things that really matter.

Won’t you resolve with me in 2023 to forgive? Warning: this means not once, twice, or even three times, but to infinity. We need to resolve to forgive today, tomorrow, the next day, and the next day. Why? Because that Evil Wolf in all of us won’t stop his relentless appetite for discord. Therefore, we mustn’t become complacent, which is why we need to feed our Good Wolf daily so that we can let go of the past and become all that we can be in this life.

Ok, if not you’re not with me, then you can stop reading. But if you’re “all in,” then what’s one way you can start to forgive in all circumstances by feeding your Good Wolf?

First, detect when you’re feeding your Evil Wolf. You’ll know this when you’re feeling or experiencing:

  • Anger
  • Envy
  • Sorrow
  • Regret
  • Greed
  • Arrogance
  • Self-pity
  • Resentment
  • Inferiority
  • Lies
  • False pride
  • Superiority
  • Ego

Second, counter that by seeing the other person, not as someone who has hurt you, taken advantage of you, has more than you, has less than you, is better than you, or is beneath you, but as someone who has weaknesses and has faced so many trials in life they didn’t deserve. This is how you feed your Good Wolf. Sympathize with them as though you know every detail of their background, just as you would intimately know your best friend. Then put yourself in their shoes and ask what would you want if you were them. Would you want to be condemned? Or would you want to receive compassion and mercy and feel loved and valued?

You’ll know you’re feeding your Good Wolf when you’re feeling or experiencing:

  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Love
  • Hope
  • Serenity
  • Humility
  • Kindness
  • Benevolence
  • Empathy
  • Generosity
  • Truth
  • Compassion
  • Faith

If you’re still reading, then I’m grateful. Thank you for resolving to forgive.

Click here to affirm your commitment and receive a complimentary subscription to the MindWolves blog & podcast. Happy New Year!

The Greatest Gift

The greatest gift you can give yourself this Christmas is to believe you are lovable and good simply because you are created in God’s image. The Good Wolf inside our minds advocates for us to believe that. The Evil Wolf in us wants us to not believe it because they are a liar. They accuse us of all the things that are wrong with us and want us to think the worst about ourselves. Rejecting the Evil Wolf’s message and embracing the Good Wolf’s assurance leads inevitably to our neighbor. If we are lovable and acceptable then our neighbor is also lovable and acceptable because we are both loved by the Person who created us in a unique way.

This daily battle in our minds is won by the wolf we feed. Feed your Good Wolf. Here’s an example of how we can do that. Watch this conversation from The Chosen, Season 3, Episode 2 between Jesus and Little James. Merry Christmas.

Neighborly Love Podcast, Episode 28 – Matt DeHart

Ordinary People. Extraordinary Conversations.

If “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” and “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” collided at an intersection, then the Neighborly Love podcast would be the result. It features casual conversations over coffee in a “virtual coffee shop” that lean into the power of empathy. It’s about feeling heard, valued, and understood. It’s about serving others. It’s about depositing money in our relational banks.

Neighborly Love is an original podcast by MindWolves. Host Marc Casciani, author of Craft Your Calling, interviews ordinary people about their heart for God and serving other people for the greater good.

Matt DeHart

Marc interviews Matt DeHart, Founder of the Teach from DeHart Academy, a charter middle school located in the heart of Arnold, PA focused on “whole-family” education. Matt answers three thought-provoking questions: (1) Tell me about a time when you did something nice for someone?, (2) What would you do for a living if money weren’t an issue?, and (3) Do you have a dream that involves serving others? Matt tells a story about a relational breakthrough with someone by having his actions match his words to meet their need, his desire to travel the world to experience different educational systems and bring the best ideas back to the United States, and his dream to transform K-12 and adult education in America using the DeHart Academy model.

Neighborly Love, Episode 28 – Matt DeHart (12-19-22)

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You Can’t Microwave Life

What did we do before microwave ovens? How was popcorn made? How long did it take to reheat leftovers? Were leftovers even a thing?

The countertop microwave oven was introduced in 1967 by the Amana Corporation. After microwave ovens became affordable for residential use in the late 1970s, their use spread into commercial and residential kitchens around the world, and prices fell rapidly during the 1980s. Since then, our kitchens and expectations have been forever changed.

It seems like we expect everything to happen fast these days, not just the heating of our leftovers. However, not everything tastes as good when you cook with a microwave. Have you noticed that? Have you ever wondered why? It’s because the boiling-range temperatures of a microwave oven do not produce the flavorful chemical reactions that frying, browning, or baking at higher temperatures produce.

This is why we shouldn’t microwave life. Life is meant to be flavorful and savored. Life is designed for our senses to experience all it has to offer, both the good and the bad. In fact, when we run into problems in life, “microwaving them” makes us miss important lessons. Trials are good for us because they correct improper motives. When we simply fast forward through them, we don’t learn character-forming lessons. Problems and painful situations are good for us because in them, we can learn to be patient and patience develops strength of character. As with food, our character is not fully-baked when we microwave it.

In my 53 years on earth, I’ve learned three important lessons.

  • I’m here for a reason.
  • It’s not about me.
  • I become what I think about.

These, in fact, are universal truths. You have the choice to not believe them, but it doesn’t make them untrue. Choosing not to believe them is like microwaving life.

I am created to be lovable and good because I am created in God’s image. I believe you also are created in God’s image, which makes you lovable and good too. However, because we’re human, we’re imperfect. We’ll make mistakes and hurt each other because of our selfish ambitions. Daily temptations abound to place ourselves above God and others, and those daily choices cause relational discord, which is the root cause of our problems.

God is far more interested in our character than our comfort. He is working to perfect each of us, not pamper us. His goal is not to make us comfortable. His goal is to help us grow up. He uses problems in our lives to grow our character, which is why we need to stop microwaving them.

Ok, so how do we apply this principle? The next time you have a problem, don’t ask, “Why is this happening to me?” Rather ask, “What do you want me to learn from this, God? What are you trying to teach me? What is my blind spot? What character issue do I need to work on?”

The City of Neighborly Love

As I listened to my daughter, Jarah, sing The National Anthem yesterday at the Duquesne University women’s basketball game, not only was it a “proud father” moment, it was a “proud American” moment. Jarah’s voice is angelic and it stirs up my deep love for this country and all those who have sacrificed so much so that “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” could live in the freest country the world has ever known.

Jarah at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse at Duquesne University, 12-10-2022

That experience followed my guest appearance the day before on a TV show out of Philadelphia, whose name means City of Brotherly Love. Sadly in 2022, Philly is not living up to that name as homicides and vehicle theft are up, overall violent crime is surging, and robberies have more than doubled compared to this time in 2021, according to city data. As of September, the city reported 388 homicides, up slightly from 384 at the same time in 2021, when Philly set a record with 562 homicides. Overall shootings have increased by 3%. Overall violent crime is up 7%. Robberies in which perpetrators used guns are up 60%. Property crimes are up more than 30%, with businesses getting hit hard as commercial burglaries have risen a staggering 50%. However, there is light in the midst of the darkness, Joe Watkins and his show, State of Independence, which is a program on Lighthouse TV.

Joe Watkins also makes me proud to be an American and a Pennsylvanian. Joe has had an extraordinary life. From his early years in the projects of Queens to an office inside President George H. W. Bush’s White House, his story is inspirational. The work Joe is doing to find dignity and value in our fellow man is redeeming Philly as the City of Brotherly Love.

Let go of the past.

That’s one of the things we have to learn to do as adults to move forward. If we harbor any anger, bitterness, among other things, it’s just not healthy.

We cannot have constructive conversations, healthy debates without the ability to forgive.

Marc Casciani on Joe Watkins’ State of Independence, December 9, 2022

When you approach these conversations … approach it as neighbors to neighbors.

And you don’t leave your faith as a public school board member at the door. It helps inform your decisions.

Your not consulting scripture at a school board meeting, but who you are, your DNA, what you believe about life and people and how they should be treated is going to come from a place … and in his case its coming from a very deep well.

Jeff Coleman, Producer of State of Independence, December 9, 2022

Thank you, Jarah. Thank you, Joe. Thank you, Jeff. I am humbled by the experiences you blessed me with this past week, and I am honored to call you my daughter, my brother, and my neighbor, respectively.

In 1787, the year The Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, Pennsylvania was given the nickname “The Keystone State,” due to the crucial role it played in the formation of America and its centrality, figuratively and geographically, to the thirteen colonies. A keystone is a term referring to the central stone at the summit of an arch, locking the whole together, which serves as a metaphor for Pennsylvania’s importance to this country. With Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, in the east, and Pittsburgh, which I claim as the City of Neighborly Love, in the west, I pray Pennsylvania continues to serve as the keystone of America’s future as “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

State of Independence, Grace and the School Board Episode, December 9, 2022
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