What We Can Learn from a Life Well Lived

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

As I explored the power of real, all-in hope to create change, I discovered the role it had played in my own life. I talk about this in my book Hope Realized as well as encourage people to “mine” their story for the ways in which hope has played a role in my free guide 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life. Oftentimes, for good or for bad, it comes back to a person. One of those people in my life was Jim Belt, or as I called him, Granddad. As I write this, my family is preparing to celebrate the very full 98 years of life he lived following his passing earlier this week. This has reminded me of the hope he has brought into my life and what we can learn from as we seek to live meaningful lives.

Granddad was larger than life in many ways. He lived a full life–maybe enough for 3 or 4 lives by any normal measure. He was a Marine, an All-American soccer player among other sports accomplishments, a beloved physical education teacher, a Mr. Softy ice cream truck operator, an advocate for the mentally disabled including his own son Bobby, a painter, a pool manager, and so much more. More importantly, he was father, husband, friend, grandfather, and great grandfather to people who loved him dearly, even if he drove them crazy sometimes. Reflecting on the many roles he has played and the many stories I have been told, one common theme sticks out to me: he saw the God-given potential in people, even when they didn’t see it in themselves. To say it another way, he brought hope to many people, including me.

I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Granddad when I was a kid. We did a lot things together, but more often than not it revolved around sports. As an athlete and former physical education teacher, he saw the value in athletics and wanted to pass that along to me, his grandson. We played many sports together from soccer to baseball to golf to tennis to basketball, just to name a few. Always the competitor and teacher, he would push me to give it my all and refused to just let me win. In fact, he told me many times that I would finally be able to beat him in basketball when he was 90. I never did beat him, and he was smart enough to stop playing me before he was 90. In the end, his goal was always the same: to help me be the best that I could be.

When I was an awkward middle school kid, I was lacking in self-confidence. Despite my lack of self-confidence, my grandfather believed in me. In almost every sport I played, Granddad told me, “if you keep at it, you could be a pro one day.” Looking back now, I am not sure I would have had the same opinion of my athletic potential, but my grandfather was unwilling to give up on me. He had hope for my life and my God-given potential. I never did become a professional athlete, but the words of hope my grandfather spoke into my life helped to shape the person I am today. I see my life through the lens of hope in part because of Granddad and others who believed in me and decided I was worth their investment. I am incredibly thankful for the hope Granddad helped to foster in me, and I know many others would say the same.

What can we learn from the life of Jim Belt and the role in played in my life and the lives of so many others? Many things, but one sticks out to me more than the others: we have an incredible opportunity to make an impact by bringing hope to others. In a world that struggles with hopelessness, we can be beacons of hope, seeing the God-given potential of the people in our lives. I am a testimony of the power this can have in the life of another person. In fact, it has helped to shape the way I see others and my passion for helping people reach their God-given potential.

Maybe you find yourself reading this and thinking, “sounds great, James, but I could use some hope myself.” Well, the great news is, I have found that bringing hope to others produces more hope in me. Our willingness to believe in the God-given potential of another helps us to rediscover the God-given potential that lives inside of us. I never asked my grandfather, but I would imagine he would have said the same.

Jim Belt, my Granddad, lived a full life that was meaningful not just because of what he did but also because of the hope he inspired in so many others. I can’t think of a better legacy. This same opportunity exists for each of us. We can be beacons of hope and in-turn become more hope-filled ourselves.

Want to find more hope and meaning? Take a page out of Jim Belt’s book and start bringing hope to others.

James Belt

If you would like pick up Hope Realized or the free guide mentioned above, click here for more information.

How Can I Help the Homeless Near Me?

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

As I would imagine is true for you, homelessness is an issue of which I have been aware for most of my life. I remember riding in my parents’ car as a kid passing someone on a corner with a sign or pushing a shopping cart containing everything to their name. I didn’t completely understand what was happening, but their weather and life worn appearance told me our life circumstances were very different. I would come to understand that this was because, for whatever reason, they did not have a home.

During my teenage years, I had the opportunity to volunteer at feeding programs, or “soup kitchens” as we called them at the time. This literally put me face to face with an issue I had only viewed from a distance to that point. While I still did not know their life story, I began to see people struggling with homelessness as just that: people not just a societal issue. This was reinforced one day when my dad decided to give the family tent to a homeless man he often passed in our town. I have no idea what happened to that man, but I do know it taught me that people have value, no matter their circumstances.

Despite these lessons, homelessness continued to be an issue for someone else to solve in my eyes. Sure, I would occasionally put money in the cup of person as I drove or walked by but I didn’t see their problem as my problem. The truth is I also believed their choices had landed them in that position and different choices would allow them to escape it. Whether or not this was true in every situation, it allowed me to rationalize my tendency to look past the person living in homelessness.

This all changed when one day in my twenties I decided to go under the bridge. Well, it was more of a group decision. I was a part of a group of guys, a discipleship group as we often refer to it in the church, who were challenging each other to live more intentionally into the life God had given us. Like most people, we were just going through the motions of life. However, we believed it didn’t have to be that way. We could actually follow the Jesus we claimed to trust in and love people the way he calls us to. This led us to decide to venture under a bridge in our town to love the people who lived there. That’s right: people lived under the bridge.

I tell the full story in my book Hope Realized, but this step turned homelessness into a problem with a face and a name. It was no longer just “someone else’s problem”. After going under the bridge, we found out about the local cold weather shelter, an overnight shelter where many people would stay when sleeping outside in the elements became particularly uncomfortable and dangerous. Energized by the step we had taken and the people we had met, we decided to find out how we could become involved at the cold weather shelter. What started as a single step, grew into a weekly volunteer opportunity at the cold weather shelter, and now many years later has become a part of the DNA of Crossroads Church: loving and serving our homeless neighbors is just a part of who we are.

“How can I help the homeless near me?”

It is the title of this article and a question many people ask. So, what does the story above have to do with how you can help the homeless near you? It is a picture of what it often looks like to get involved and the power of taking one step. For most of us this is the problem: we haven’t taken the first step. We care enough about the issue to “Google it”, but are unsure of what to do next and how we can make a difference. I will speak to the first concern momentarily, but as you can see in my story, one step can make a huge difference. This has really been the story of my life: When I have been willing to take one step, it has almost always led me to the next one, and opened up opportunities to use my gifts and experiences to make a difference in the life of someone else. I just had to be willing to get started.

What should you do? The good news is there are many ways you can help someone struggling with homelessness. There are opportunities to address immediate needs such as serving at an overnight shelter or a feeding program of some kind. While this is not the ultimate solution, it is a real need and often a starting point for the homeless.

Once someone’s immediate needs are addressed it opens the door to moving beyond their current circumstances. As I talk about in my book, it is addressing the need for practical and spiritual hope, or a real opportunity and a reframed identity. You can use this frame of reference to guide to an opportunity for you to make a difference. Consider your gifts and experiences. Is there something you bring to the table that would create a real opportunity for someone else? Could you play a role in helping someone see that they are not hopeless but rather created on purpose and for a purpose by a God who loves them? Practically, this could look like serving at a job training center, or a recovery program. It could also be taking a chance on someone by providing them a job, or becoming a mentor of sorts, walking along with someone to encourage them as they take steps to move beyond the hopelessness that is holding them captive. Next, find an organization or person who is currently serving the homeless in your area and could benefit from what you bring to the table.

Whatever step you decide to take, I would challenge you to take this one as well: ask yourself if you believe there is hope for the homeless. In a previous article, I talked about the role our perception plays in the way we treat someone. This is something I had to as well. Do I truly believe this person was created for something more? Working through this question will prepare you to truly make a difference in the life of someone who is homeless. In fact, it is one of the steps in the free resource I created called 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life. Click here if you would like to learn more about this resource.

How can you help the homeless near you? Determine what you have to offer, take a step, and consider what you believe about the people you are serving. It might sound too simple and maybe even too small, but my experience tells me it could make a life-changing difference.

James Belt

What Nicaragua Taught Me about Living with Purpose Daily

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Do you ever wake up in the morning and feel like you are just drifting through life? Like a sailboat that has lost its rudder or a leaf floating down a stream, pushed by the current with any particular aim, you wonder if your life really matters all that much. I have found myself there from time to time. It is that feeling that life is just happening to you. It can leave you feeling a low level of hopelessness.

I was reminded of this less than ideal mental and emotional state during my recent trip to Nicaragua. It wasn’t that I felt rudderless while in Nicaragua. Quite the opposite, actually. It was the fact that I was living with purpose that shed light on how easy it is to find yourself drifting without clarity on where you are heading and why. This is typically how it happens: unintentionally.

Rarely does anyone choose to live without purpose. It can be a product of a busy life. As a parent of two young kids, it is easy to get caught up in the urgent while letting the important fall by the waist side. The reality is many of the urgent issues that arise have to be addressed. If my kids are hungry or need help with something they are unable to do, I don’t have much of a choice but to take care of them. The urgent items do matter. The problem is they can slowly steal our ability to focus beyond them if we are not careful. This can happen to anyone and is not a reflection of someone’s character or intelligence. The more urgent matters that vie for our attention the harder it becomes to keep our eyes on our purpose. Many times, it isn’t until we are further downstream that we realize we have gone off course. Sometimes it is when we get out of the flow of our normal life that we remember the importance of purpose.

This is what happened to me in Nicaragua. While traveling around Nicaragua with our NicaWorks! team it was clear why we were there: to be a catalyst for practical and spiritual hope. I was in Nicaragua because I believe in the God-given potential of all people, even those being held captive by the lie of hopelessness. This is my purpose. Not just in Nicaragua but in every role I play in this life. I find great purpose in helping others discover and live into their God-given potential–in helping others grab onto the all-in hope available to them. This is why I wrote Hope Realized and it is what gives me clarity about why I do what I do. So, does it take traveling to Nicaragua, or some other place that removes us from our normal life, to rediscover our purpose?

As helpful as it can be to do something or go somewhere that allows us to focus completely on living with purpose, it should’t and really can’t depend on it. The truth is we need to be able to find purpose in our daily life. The good news is it is possible if we are intentional. Earlier, I mentioned that I find purpose in helping other discover the God-given potential. This certainly happens when I am in Nicaragua, but I have this same opportunity when I am at home with my wife and kids, at work with my team, and in the many other opportunities I have to interact with people throughout my life. It is not a lack of purpose but rather a lack of intentional focus that leaves me feeling rudderless. The purpose is always there. The question is will I see in the midst of all of life’s distractions, both good and bad.

The same is true for you. I do not know what your purpose is, but I do believe you have one, whether you know it or not. We do not have to go anywhere to live with purpose. In fact, living with purpose happens when you discover how to see your life through the lens of your purpose and act accordingly. It can be with your kids or your coworkers. It can be in normal interactions as you go throughout your day. Purpose is not found in a specific location, it is discovered in the way we choose to see our life.

You have a purpose. It is just waiting for you to discover it.

James Belt

Great Hope in the Midst of Brokenness

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

In the past two articles I have discussed how our perception of someone impacts how we treat them, and the need to expand our view of poverty and how to effectively address it. I recently had the opportunity to spend time in Nicaragua with some of our NicaWorks! team members, which only reinforced these two realities. It was also a great reminder that in the midst of brokenness there is great hope.

During my time in Nicaragua, I had the chance to visit many NicaWorks! projects, as well as program with which NicaWorks! partners, focused on bringing practical and spiritual hope through real opportunities and reframed identities. As I visited the Frutivera sweet corn project in Veracruz, now successfully in constant production and harvest due to improvements to the water system and a lot of hard work, I became even more excited about the impact it could have in Nicaragua as it continues to grow. With 17 people already on the team, Frutivera is in a great position to continue to create opportunities for people and their families to experience practical hope. With a focus on also helping them see that they were created on purpose and for a purpose by a God who loves them, Frutivera is a picture of the power of all-in hope to create change.

The small team and I had the chance to visit Club Esperanza, a school operated by Open Hearts and located in one of the more impoverished neighborhoods in Managua. While there are many signs of poverty and hopelessness in the neighborhood as you drive around, you wouldn’t know it when you enter the school. With kids laughing and smiling as they run around the schoolyard, play on the playground, and participate in class you can see the impact the Club Esperanza staff is having on the kids and their families. Through the sowing vocational program, NicaWorks! has had the opportunity to partner with Club Esperanza to provide school uniforms for kids who can’t afford them. Club Esperanza is a beacon of real hope, providing children both the opportunity of a education and the perspective that the were created for something more.

I was able to spend time with Oscar and Febe in Nueva Guinea, where they continue to transform the property into a beautiful farm. We went to Bluefields for a couple of days, where Ed, Ligia, and their team continue to provide hope to the community through their project and church. We visited the NicaBike Shop, the used bike shop launched by NicaWorks! in 2014, and discussed the possibility of expanding to another location. While I could go on, the underlying theme is the same: there is hope in Nicaragua.

Where this was most evident was the faces and words of the people I spent time with in Nicaragua. Projects are great, but it is the impact on people that truly tells the story. Talking to Josh, Field Director for NicaWorks, and his wife and fellow NicaWorks! team member, Flavia, and many others, I found myself encouraged by their hope for the future. While they are not blind to the brokenness in Nicaragua, they do not believe it is the end of the story. Through the practical and spiritual hope provided by real opportunities and a reframed identity, real change is possible through the power of all-in hope.

The same is true for you and me. Brokenness is a reality but it does not have to stop there. There is real hope and I believe in its power to create change more than ever. That is why I wrote Hope Realized and why I continue to write about it today.

I find one of the best ways to remain hopeful is to live with purpose. I was reminded of this as well in Nicaragua and will share more about it next time.

James Belt

Could You Be Putting Poverty in a Box?

Good morning from Managua, Nicaragua!

Have you ever thought you had the solution to a problem only to realize your viewpoint of the problem was unknowingly limited? It is like believing you had found the last piece to the puzzle until you took a step back and could see that you were only working on one small corner of a much larger picture. This has happened to me many times in life. It is not typically because I do not want to see or understand the entire picture, although I am sure I could think of a few moments that would fit into that category. In most cases, I had no idea that the small mental box I had put the problem in was obstructing my view until something came along and expanded my box. Can you relate?

Could this be the case for many of us with poverty? I know it has been for me. I used to believe I had a clear understanding of poverty, why it exists, and how to solve it. While I certainly believed environment played a role, it often boiled down to better decision making. In other words, I saw poverty as primarily an issue of personal choices. My thought process was their, or maybe their parents’, bad choices landed them in poverty. Had they made better decisions, they would not be in this situation. The solution? Make better choices. If the person in poverty wants to escape, they just need to make better choices.

Does this sound familiar? Maybe you even find yourself agreeing with the statements above. However, what if the box in which we put poverty is far smaller than the reality, obstructing our view and preventing us from truly understanding this issue? I found this to be true for myself.

When I started to become more curious about the poverty in Nicaragua and how I could make a difference, I was still viewing it through the small mental box I had unknowingly put it in. In my recently released book, Hope Realized, I tell a story about a trip I took to visit a coffee cooperative in Nicaragua and my “accidental promise” to solve their sales challenges. I believed I had the answers. While I am sure my ego played into it, it was my inability to see the entire picture that ultimately made me believe I could quickly solve a very nuanced and deep problem. This experience made me take a step back and begin to ask if there could be something I am missing. It was the moment I began to see that I had put poverty in far too small of a box.

This is the issue for most of us. It is not that we do not want to understand poverty, the reasons it exists and persists, and how to help people overcome it–all of us would vote “yes” to a world with less poverty and more universal flourishing. It is that we do not know we have put it in a box, limiting our perspective and leading us to make assumptions about why people are in poverty and the simple steps they need to take to escape.

It was when I moved to Nicaragua that my “box” and understanding of poverty began to change. As I developed relationships with people in impoverished communities and gained a better understanding of their story, I realized that they were a lot like me. This forced me to ask why someone with the same God-given potential and desire to thrive would live in such a different reality. My box now expanding, I realized that while everyone is born with incredible God-given potential, not everyone has the same opportunity to exercise it. I started to see that there was something much deeper perpetuating poverty than the symptoms to which we often point.

This journey led to me to the lie of hopelessness and its role in allowing poverty to persist despite the resources committed to overcoming it. It also revealed that overcoming a lie of hopelessness that is both spiritual and practical would require real hope that is both practical and spiritual. To say it another way, it is a reframed identity and a real opportunity that produces the all-in hope necessary to create real, sustainable change in impoverished communities.

One of the best byproducts of expanding my box and gaining a fuller picture of poverty is I am more hopeful than ever about our ability to create change. When we clearly understand a problem we can confidently take steps to move beyond it. While I am sure I still have a lot more to learn, I believe real change through real hope is possible.

Do you want to gain a better understanding of poverty, how to overcome it, and the role you can play? Check out my book, Hope Realized. You can also download a free resource I created called 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life for a few practical steps you can take today. Click here to sign up to receive the guide.

Want to created a more hope-filled world? Move beyond your box.

James Belt

How Your Perception Impacts Reality

Good morning from Westminster, Maryland!

Are you familiar with the saying, “perception is reality”? As someone who works in the customer service industry it something I hear and talk about often. When working with a customer, their perception of a situation can be as important, or sometimes even more important, than what actually happened. In other words, while a person’s perception may or may not be the actual reality, it is their reality, impacting the way they approach the situation at hand. Could the same be true about people? Could our perception of someone impact the way we treat them?

Before spending significant time in Nicaragua, I had a certain perception of people living in impoverished communities and countries. It was not that I disliked them but rather that I unconsciously assumed people living in poverty were “less than” me. Does that sound harsh to you? Well, before you judge me, consider your reactions and assumptions about someone holding a sign on a street corner, or a child in a Catholic Charities commercial. Do you look at them as equals, or do you see them as lower on the social hierarchy than you? A great way to find out is to honestly ask yourself if you could see yourself in the same position if your circumstance were different. You could also flip it and ask yourself if you could imagine them in your position if their circumstances were different. In my book, Hope Realized, I suggest “being curious” by asking yourself these types of questions as a valuable step in getting engaged in bringing hope to others.

When I began to spend more time in Nicaragua, build relationships with people in the communities I was visiting, and become more curious about their circumstances, poverty went from a concept to a name. No longer was a person living in poverty something I viewed from the comfort of my car window or TV. It was now a friend with a name. As this transformation happened in my mind, I began to realize that people living in poverty had just as much God-given potential as I did, and our circumstances could have just as easily been reversed had our stories been different. This also forced me to ask hard questions about the way I had perceived people living in poverty to this point, and how I would view the world moving forward. Sometimes we avoid this step because it is uncomfortable and we are concerned about what it says about our character. However, I have found challenging these preconceptions to be freeing, not condemning. Realizing the God-given potential of people in poverty produced more hope in me for our broken world.

Now back to the question I asked at the beginning: Could our perception of someone impact the way we treat them? I have found the answer to this question to be yes. To say it another way, the way we treat someone is impacted by the way we perceive them. If we believe someone is full of God-given potential, we will treat them accordingly. However, if we believe they are hopeless, destined for a life of “less than”, we will treat them as such.

This plays a big role in the way we address poverty and whether or not we even believe there is hope for change. If we see someone as full of God-given potential waiting to be realized, even if their current reality says otherwise, we will be far more likely to create real opportunities through long-term investment. This speaks to the spiritual hope, or reframed identity, element of real, all-in hope. Creating real change starts with believing change is possible. This is far more likely if we believe the person we are investing in was created by a God who loves them on purpose and with a purpose, just like you.

Did you read that last line? Just like you. This reality does not apply only to people living in poverty. It applies to everyone we interact with, yourself included. You will treat them, and yourself, the way you perceive them (yourself). It is worth asking yourself this question. Your answer could be standing in the way of something beautiful.

Do you want to make a difference in the life of someone else? Get curious. Begin to ask yourself hard questions, starting with how you perceive them. Would you like more thoughts on this as well as other steps to begin making a difference in someone else’s life? Click here to sign up to receive the free resource I created, 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life.

There is hope for this world. Do you perceive it that way?

James Belt

New Year, Rewritten Story

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

As the end of 2022 quickly approaches a time of both great hope and great disappointment quickly approaches: the New Year and New Year’s Resolution season. The hope we have for what is possible in the New Year reaches its peak right around now, a day or two before the New Year. We are in “dream mode”, resolute about the changes we will make but without the pressure to actually take the steps they will require. The disappointment reaches its max anywhere from a few days to a few weeks (or maybe even sooner in some cases) as we realize how hard it is to actually realize, or make good on, our resolutions. Disappointment turns into a low-level hopelessness of sorts about our resolution, convincing us change is not actually possible. Does this sound a little too familiar?

While this “failure” may or may not make a big difference in our lives, it is a small taste of what it looks like to be held captive by the lie of hopelessness. We can become defined by the belief that nothing can ever change. While acceptance can be healthy in many situations, it can also be damaging when it is based on a lie. Sadly, this is the experience for many people living in extreme poverty, as well as for those on the outside looking in. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we begin to believe people living in poverty are destined for a life of “less than”, which is only reinforced by the lack of resources available to create long-term change. Just like our failed resolutions, this allows the cycle to perpetuate. Unlike many of our resolutions, the consequences are dire.

However, what if it did not have to be this way? What if the cycle could be broken?

Recently, I wrote about the power of both a real opportunity and a reframed identity. Individually, they are both agents of change but when combined they create a force powerful enough to rewrite even the mostly seemingly hopeless story.

Take the story of Oscar. Oscar lives in Nueva Guinea, a small, rural town on the road from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. Similar to many communities in Nicaragua, poverty is pervasive in Nueva Guinea and so is hopelessness. This was Oscar’s story. He worked as a laborer on various farms in the area, making just enough to keep his family alive. Like most of us, Oscar grew up with hopes and dreams, but most of them had been stolen by the lie of hopelessness over the years. Unable to see the possibility for change, Oscar bought into the belief that he and his family were destined by a life of less than. This was continually reinforced by the lack of access to the practical resources necessary to actually move beyond their current circumstances.

Oscar identified with the hopelessness surrounding him, making choices that only dug the hole deeper. All hope appeared to be lost until he had an encounter with real all-in hope. It started with a “chance” meeting with Josh Jaentschke, Field Director for NicaWorks!, and Josh’s dad Ed, a Pastor in the town of Bluefields on the Atlantic coast. Josh and Ed happened to be in town and were introduced to Oscar and his wife Febe by another local pastor. The pastor told Josh and Ed that Oscar and Febe were in desperate need of some hope. Josh and Ed had once be in the same place in their lives so they shared their stories and the real, spiritual hope they encountered in the form of Jesus. The explained that there was a God who loved them and created them on purpose and for a purpose. While Oscar and Febe had heard a similar story before something was different this time. This time it seemed like there might actually be some hope. In that moment, Oscar and Febe saw the possibility of real spiritual hope and a reframed identity through Jesus.

Now with a different perspective on why he was created, Oscar jumped at the real opportunity when it was presented. You see, a month or so after his first encounter with Josh, NicaWorks! was in need of someone to run a new agriculture project in Nueva Guinea. In the past, Oscar might not have seen this as more than another way to keep his family alive. However, with his new, reframed identity, he saw it as the opportunity to thrive. After accepting the role with NicaWorks!, Oscar turned what was a property in disrepair into a project full of much promise for him, his family, and the community. Much like Oscar, the Nueva Guinea property’s story was beginning to be rewritten.

While life is not easy and perfect for Oscar, Febe, and their family, their reframed identities has combined with the real opportunity to begin to write a new story. A story of real, all-in hope that could impact generations to come. This is the combined power of a reframed identity and a real opportunity, or spiritual and practical hope. It turns into all-in hope, which has the power to rewrite even the most hopeless stories. You can read more about Oscar’s story and the power of all-in hope in my recently released book, Hope Realized.

Circling back around, all-in hope has the power to rewrite your story as well. While is a not a quick, self-help solution to your struggles with New Year’s Resolutions, it can change the way you view yourself, your potential, and the world. It has for me. I would say a new story is even better than a New Year’s Resolution.

As we kick-off 2023 in a couple of days, I hope you will the power all-in hope has to create real change, in your life and the world!

Happy New Year!

James Belt

Rediscover the Wonder

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Over the past two articles, we have looked at the power of a real opportunity and a reframed identity. Next time we will focus in on the rewritten story they produce, but this week I want to focus on another story. A story of great hope in the midst of great hopelessness. A story that changed everything. The story of Christmas.

The story of Christmas is a familiar one to most. Even if only from Linus’ famous reading of the Christmas story (“…and they were sore afraid.”), the majority of people could give you give you a rundown of the basic storyline and characters. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem, look for a place to stay, but there is no room in the inn. Ending up in a stable with animals, Jesus is born and laid in a manager. Angels announce his arrival to lowly shepherds (this is where the “sore afraid” part comes in) who end up being the first visitors to the promised Savior. Does this sound familiar?

You might think my description of the birth of Jesus was a little flippant, and that is because it was. The truth is, we often think of it this way in our heads. Our familiarity with the story of Jesus’ arrival has robbed us of the wonder it should produce in our hearts and minds.

In the Gospel, or good news, as recorded by John, one of Jesus’ disciples, he describes the arrival of Jesus with these words: “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” (John 1:9, NIV) Instead of describing the events of that world-changing evening, John spells out the purpose and the result, and that should produce wonder.

Jesus’ arrival was no accident. It was the next step in God’s perfectly planned mission to redeem and restore the world. Without Jesus, the world was hopeless. With Jesus hopelessness became a lie. This is why Jesus is described as the “true light”. The true light of Jesus could not be put out by the brokenness and darkness of the world. Jesus’ arrival was God’s confirmation that he loves us and created us on purpose and for a purpose. Think about it: God loves you so much that sent Jesus to be born as a baby so that he could live and die to give you life. Is their a clearer picture of how valuable you are to God? In Jesus, real hope arrived for you and me.

While many plans start out with great intention only to fall short, this one could not be stopped. The hope that arrived that Christmas night was fully realized. The result of Jesus’ arrival is that hopelessness, both for today and for eternity, no longer has to have a hold on us. Do you know that about yourself? In Jesus you can wake up every day knowing there is real hope for you, even if your present circumstances are trying to convince you otherwise. You can live holding onto a hope that changes everything. Because of Christmas, you can be filled with true light.

Jesus may have arrived in relative obscurity from a human standpoint, but the impact of that moment could not be more clear to the angels who visited the shepherds that night: everything had changed. Their reaction? Great wonder. We should do the same.

As you reflect on the Christmas Story this year, rediscover the wonder produced by this world-changing moment. Let the wonder then produce life-changing hope in you. Christmas changed everything. Allow its wonder to change you.

Merry Christmas!

James Belt

Identity Reframed

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

In a recent post I wrote about the power of a real opportunity, or practical hope, to create change. However, it is only one-half of the all-in hope equation. True, all-in hope becomes a reality when a real opportunity is combined with a reframed identity, or spiritual hope.

As I thought about how to describe this critical piece of the hope puzzle a number of words surrounding the concept of identity came to mind. The word “true” came to mind, which would be accurate. Certainly an identity based in truth is important and powerful. However, it was just missing something. “Clear” was another word that seemed to make sense. Being clear on who you are makes a difference in the way you live. However, how do you get clarity around your identity? I felt like the word needed to have an element of action. This is how I landed on the word “reframed”.

What does it mean to have your identity reframed? Before we can answer that question, we have to be clear on the concept of identity.

Identity, as I describe it, is a person’s belief about who they are and how they got here. It speaks to their self-worth and can be influenced by the voices we listen to and the experiences we have. As I share in my recently released book, Hope Realized, my life was impacted by the voice of a teacher who told me I was not very smart. Whether intentionally or not, she influenced the way I saw myself and my future as a learner for a period of my life. Thankfully, me story did not stop there. Despite my lack of self-worth as a preteen boy, Grandpa, one of my grandfathers, wrote me letters to remind me I was not destined for a life of “less than” but rather created by a God who had a plan for my life.

This speaks to the impact our belief about how we got here has on our identity. Do we believe we were born into a particular station in life with little hope to change it? Do we believe the reality in which we were born into is permanent, or, do we believe there is hope for something more? Do we believe we were created by a God who loves us and created us on purpose and with a purpose? What we believe about ourselves starts with how much innate potential we believe we contain. If you believe your existence is meaningless with little hope for change, you will live accordingly. Conversely, if you believe you were created with potential and purpose, you will see life through that lens.

In Hope Realized I talk about my friend, Leyla, who spent a large portion of her childhood living in the Puente de Amistad orphanage in the impoverished community of El Canon, Nicaragua. It would have been easy for Leyla to believe her life lacked meaning and hope. Sadly, this was the case for many young people in El Canon. However, her identity was not defined by her present reality but rather by her created value. Leyla believed she was full of God given potential, which filled her with hope, changing the way she saw life and influencing her decisions.

It is stories like Leyla’s and mine, and many others, that led me to the word reframed. The act of reframing is taking what is there, stripping it down, and rebuilding it from a different perspective. Reframing your identity means changing the way you see yourself and your innate potential. Instead of allowing your past and present reality and voices to define you, you rebuild your identity through the lens of your God-given potential and value. In other words, you reframe your identity around the truth that you were created on purpose and for a purpose by a God who loves you. This act of reframing creates real hope, producing a spark that starts the engine of real change.

When this is combined with a real opportunity the possibility of a rewritten story emerges, but more on this next time. Check out my recently released book Hope Realized to dive deeper into the power of a reframed identity and how it has sparked change. You can also go to www.jameshbelt.com to receive more thoughts on how to be a part of bringing hope to others.

James Belt

Looking Up and Living Thankful

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches here in the United States, we all tend to become a little more thankful. This is a great thing. The truth is we all need reminders of the blessings we have in our lives, no matter how big or small they happen to be. However, what if we could take the same approach everyday instead of just the fourth week in November? How would that impact our lives?

As I have considered the impact of being thankful, the image of a person either looking up or looking down comes to mind. When we are looking down, we can only see what is right in front of us. This causes us to focus on our present circumstances. Unable to see beyond them or around them, we can fall into a scarcity mindset, believing life is a zero-sum game. Living in a scarcity mindset, we only see what we do not have instead of what we do have. The reality is anyone can fall into this trap, no matter their socio-economic condition. We can all keep our eyes pointed to the ground, creating a sense of hopelessness and distrust.

How do we break the cycle? We lift our eyes up. Yes, I it is very simple act, but it can have a profound impact. When we are looking up we can still see our present circumstances. However, we can also see the possibility of a different future as well as our current blessings. This creates a sense of thankfulness, fighting the scarcity mindset that tries to drag us down. Yes, we could be facing challenging realities, but when we look up we can almost always find something for which to be thankful. This can change the way we look at life, producing hope and peace.

I do not think this is a happy accident. I believe it is by design. God created us in such a way that living thankful, as opposed to just being thankful on occasion, produces more life. I recently had the honor of being a part of someone’s funeral who had suffered with cancer for a number of years. While her journey was full of pain and challenges, she kept her head up, choosing to see the blessings she had in her life. Again and again, people shared how encouraged they were by the way she lived. Thanksgiving was not just a holiday for her, it was a way of life.

We are faced with the same choice this Thanksgiving. Will we live looking down, feeding a scarcity mentality and robbing ourselves of hope, or will we look up and choose thankfulness? The answer seems simple, but it is not always easy. I hope this Thanksgiving, you will choose to not just be thankful but to live thankful. Your life will be better for it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

James Belt