Friday, October 30, 2015

Rear View

I remember riding in old station wagons with a rear facing back seat. There were no seat belts and we would often run to the be the ones who got to sit back there. We enjoyed the adventure of riding in the back because it gave us a different viewpoint than a normal car ride. It’s very different going on a trip when you can’t see where you are going, but only where you’ve been.

This may have made for a more fun car ride, but it’s not the best way to travel through life. Focusing all of our attention backwards might bring up memories of the “good old days”, but it doesn’t help us navigate the future. The best way to travel is to face forwards and take glimpses in the rear view mirror. This way we can use our experiences (good & bad) to shape our future decisions. Our past has led us here, but we can’t move forward at a good pace when we’re only looking backwards.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pumped Up

Tonight is the beginning of the World Series with my beloved New York Mets coming back to the grand stage for the first time in 15 years. We cranked into this round with a pretty thorough beat down of the Chicago Cubs. Our young pitching staff did a great job of shutting down a great lineup and were able to channel their excitement into quality production. Pitching coach Dan Warthen talked about the management skills of the pitchers and said, “Adrenaline is like fire. It’s a valuable servant, but a dangerous master."

Excitement and adrenaline can be very helpful tools. The thrill of a new challenge or the tension of a stressful moment can increase our focus and even cause us to perform above our normal capabilities. If we are unable execute with precision however, this adrenaline can become a hindrance. This can be applied to our physical workouts, fulfilling personal vision, engaging stressful work situations, or deftly maneuvering through relationship difficulties. The difference in precise success and sloppy mediocrity is in whether we control our adrenaline or it controls us.

Monday, October 26, 2015

In the Dark

Most of us can comfortably find our way around our homes when the lights are out. We know where the furniture is located, where the open doorways are, and how to get from one room to another. If you rearrange the furniture it changes our comfortability level until we can get adjusted to where things are again. There's something to be said about becoming familiar with the layout of things in the dark.

The principles of light and darkness carry strong spiritual implications. Light represents what is good and pure while darkness represents sin and impurity. Admitting an understanding of the power of light doesn't negate what is done in the dark if we continue to stay hidden. In fact, it's easier to hide what we are doing when we wait for the cover of darkness. While we might be unsure of our footing at first, we quickly adjust and become more comfortable even though we should seek out light.

Shining a bright light into dark areas illuminates unhealthy, sinful behavior. We are the ones who have to decide to not become too comfortable in the dark. If we aren't careful we'll begin to know our way around far too well and find ourselves at home where we shouldn't. Light will overpower darkness, but we have to choose to let the light in.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Shaky Ground

I've always enjoyed watching cartoons and am a huge fan of the Bugs Bunny franchise. I've passed that on to my girls as we still periodically enjoy watching those old adventures. When I was a kid I was particularly amazed at the climbing skills of Sylvester the Cat. When his nemesis (and desired dinner) Tweety Bird was in his cage near the ceiling, Sylvester would use whatever was handy to reach him. He would stack furniture, books, mannequins, lamps, and any other household object to get high enough to reach his prey. Predictably, something would happen which would cause Sylvester to come crashing down. While perfect for comedic effect I often wondered why he didn't just find a ladder so he could stand on something stable.

I don't know many people who would be foolish enough to stand on something so poorly physically constructed. I do feel certain I am in a large company of people who have tried to stand firmly on our own shaky emotional and mental ground. We've all taken a strong stance on a poorly formed idea, placed too much emphasis on our own incomplete observations, or treated people differently based on weak assumptions. The problem with these ill-designed foundations is that they quickly fall apart under pressure and injure anyone close by. This type of instability isn't healthy for creating positive relationships and will cause extensive damage.

The solution isn't to create more solid arguments to tear people apart, but to search for the truth with a desire of building unity. Building a firm foundation of genuine care for others means we disregard incomplete, foolish thoughts and take the time to forge real relationships that last.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Doing Hard Work

One of the most profound statements shared at yesterday's Suicide Awareness Symposium was by a survivor--the wife of a man killed by suicide. She was talking about the difficult task of working through your emotions after this tragic event. She said, "You can do your work now or you can do your work later, but there's no avoiding the work." Her point was that while you might try to avoid dealing with the grief and deep loss of suicide, it will have to be addressed eventually.

Her assessment is absolutely true and not just about suicide. We have all had difficult (and sometimes traumatic) events affect us in life. Many times we avoid handling them in a way which could help lead us to healing because we are afraid of what might happen in the process. I think sometimes we are just too overwhelmed with the thought of confronting our own emotions. As I've discovered in my own life however, at some point we will be forced to face these head on. While taking a moment to catch our breath before doing this work might be helpful in the short term, we can't avoid these steps forever. We each have to decide when we are willing to tackle these events and then commit to the work to get us through it.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Just Listen

We hosted a Suicide Awareness Symposium at Northridge today as a service to our community. I have had my own life deeply impacted by suicide and was grateful for the wisdom and encouragement offered by all. This is can be an area of great unease, but one it is necessary to talk about if we want to help people in crisis.

I believe there are more people in that type of crisis around us than we know. I feel certain a great number of people in our community are struggling with feelings of hopelessness. If we want to be able to help, we've got to learn to listen.

Part of this involves hearing what people have to say, but it also means we are paying attention to nonverbal communication. Engaging all of our senses in compassionately caring for our community gives us the ability to see what is actually going on. This won't happen if we don't slow down our personal pace of life enough to notice. Our desire to listen means we will focus our attention (without any other distractions) on being present for those in need. Intently listening lets someone know we are there and we care what happens to them. Sometimes that focused compassion may be enough to save someone from making a choice they won't live to regret.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

That's Encouraging

I drove to Atlanta today for a post-camp meeting and arrived a little earlier than I had anticipated. Fortunately, there was a coffee shop next to our meeting spot and I went inside to grab a bite while I waited. I wasn't quite sure of the normal procedures, but figured out I was supposed to be seated and they would bring my order over to me when it was ready. The delightful woman who delivered my meal was obviously happy to be there and dropped my food off with a big smile and friendly greeting. The unexpected part of her customer service was a big hug and a simple comment of "Have a very blessed day!" I wasn't having a bad day, but that small bit of encouragement was a positive enhancement to my morning.

There is great power in an act of encouragement. It doesn't always have to be a grand gesture, but can often be something very simple. By speaking a positive word, highlighting a job well done, or sharing a genuinely kind act of affection we can lift up others. If we recognize how valuable it is to us, why wouldn't we want to do the same for other people?

Monday, October 19, 2015

At Last

This past weekend a good friend of ours was married. I was honored to be part of their ceremony and share in their commitment to each other. Their story is a beautiful one of patience, trusting in God, and believing in the best for themselves. While there have been many moments where they were unsure of God's plan and timing, I feel confident they would say it was worth the wait.

It's not always easy to trust in God's timing for our lives. I know I am impatient for vision to become reality and struggle with waiting for it to happen. Fortunately, God has a sense of perfect timing and knows when it is best to deliver the answer to our prayers. While we often resist accepting this overall plan, our consistent faith will eventually reveal it's worth the wait.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Enjoy the Ride

It’s been a good year to be a New York Mets fan. We won our division and made the playoffs for the first time in nine years and have been fun to watch. We’ve got some good young talent and our front office made some smart moves to help us get better too. I’ve had a lot of people ask me about my expectations for the team now that we’re in the postseason as they wonder how the team will perform. I’ve been able to tell anyone who asks that everything that happens from here out is extra pleasure. Even if we were to lose right away (which we didn’t) it’s been a good ride and I’ve enjoyed the season no matter what happens.

Can we take that same attitude in the rest of our life? I’m not saying we should enter into things without planning for success, but I do think we need to find more joy in the journey. So often we create mental expectations and end up causing ourselves more stress than we should. We get caught up in the details of making life happen and forget to discover enjoyment. I am one who can be guilty of neglecting joyful moments simply because I’m focused on solving the next problem or trying to get things done. I believe we would all be more content if we could learn to enjoy the journey even as we keep pushing forward to make things happen.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

An Act of Courage

Last week CC Sabathia, a pitcher for the New York Yankees, went into a treatment center for alcoholism. He came in the day before his team’s playoff game and asked to be checked in. Some people may not understand his timing, but it was apparent he recognized his powerlessness to conquer his habit. I actually admire him for his willingness to seek rehabilitation and hopefully move forward in changing his life. He showed great courage by being able to honestly say three simple words: I need help.

Some might perceive those words as a sign of weakness, but I protest that kind of thinking. It’s actually a person with great courage who knows they are not capable of doing something on their own. It takes great strength to admit your weaknesses and realize you must have the help of other people to stand strong. This is where authentic humility can bring us together in unified community. When we admit our individual need for help we become stronger because we stand together.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Trust But Verify

Our old, reliable minivan had to be taken in for repairs this week. This particular repair has been coming for about a month and finally reached a point of needing immediate action. After an initial assessment at a friend’s shop we believed it was going to be close to a $500 repair. I dropped it off at another mechanic and mentioned to him the suspected issue which he noted, but also said he would do his own investigation before doing any work.

I expected this to take a few days, but was called about an hour later to come pick it up. It ended up not being a major repair, but a simple cracked hose causing all of the problems. If it wasn’t for the willingness of this honest owner to check for himself, we would have ended up with a very expensive bill that still wouldn’t have fixed the problem.

The willingness to check things out for yourself is an admirable and wise quality. Sometimes we adopt what other people say and think without determining whether it’s true. We accept popular opinion or common themes of thinking and neglect to figure out if it fits our value system. I don’t think we need to actively doubt what anyone has to say, but we do need to make sure it aligns with who we are and what we believe. This isn’t a matter of not trusting other people as much as it is a need to verify what we allow to be part of our lives.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Blending the Ingredients

Today at the funeral of a special woman, one of the pastors described her as an "emulsifier." I have to admit this a unique term for a memorial service as I had never heard it used in that context before. In describing food, an emulsifier is used to bind together ingredients that wouldn't unify on their own. You might be able to shake up the ingredients (oil and vinegar salad dressing for example) but they will soon drift back into individual ingredients instead of one cohesive unit. Adding an emulsifier brings them together in a cohesive, inseparable unit. Using this as a descriptive term for someone is certainly uncommon, but it struck me as a tremendously high compliment as well. To be known as a person who is able to bring together divergent groups and maintain unity is a powerful trait.

I had to ask myself it that term could be applied to me. While I may not be the best judge of that answer, I recognize it is something I aspire to. My desire is to foster unity and be a bridge between people which leads to understanding. I want to help find solutions in difficult situations and to do so by bringing people together in a spirit of mutual accomplishment. I don't want to be known as someone who divides groups of people or a leader who is polarizing. My true passion is to be able to add value to people and circumstances and not add to chaos and misunderstanding.

The power of one word spoken about another life can help redirect your own and remind you of who you desire to be. That is a powerful life testimony and a legacy worth emulating.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A Goal in Mind

This morning I got up to run and was about to stretch when I noticed the downpour outside. I'm not opposed to running in the rain, but the thunder and lightning influenced me to change my plans and head to the gym. If given a choice I would always choose to run outside over a treadmill, but I needed to get my miles in and this was the only way it was going to happen today.

Treadmill running is a bit monotonous (even with ESPN on the screen in front of me) and it feels like it takes longer to complete my distance. The lack of scenery change makes it boring and tends to tire me out more quickly. Today I hit a point about two miles before my intended mileage where I just didn't want to run any more. My legs had gotten a little heavy and I thought about calling it quits. The reason I kept running was that I knew I had a big race in a month and this run was an important part of my prep. Knowing what I was aiming at gave me the incentive to push forward.

There are a lot of times when we want to quit in life. We might be frustrated in our relationships, feel as if life changes we have made aren't working, or don't see that our daily efforts are making a difference. We have reached a point where our legs are heavy and it takes a great deal of energy to keep moving. If we don't have a vision of what we are striving towards it can be easy to give up when we get tired. Working for a long term goal helps us persevere through short term difficulties. Having a mental picture of where we are going gives us the strength to push through.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Manage the Clock

I remember watching an episode of a show when I was a kid about a woman who found a special watch. When she said, "Shut Up!" while holding the watch, time would freeze for everyone except for her. While it obviously freaked her out at first, she learned to use it for her own advantage. I remember being absolutely fascinated by the idea and dreamed of having that kind of power for myself. It would be the perfect way to always have the time to do the things I wanted to do.

Even as an adult the idea of having the power to stop time is attractive. I'd certainly be able to get more than enough sleep instead of eagerly anticipating a day off to catch up on lost snoozing hours. I would always have time to complete projects, keep up with my writing, and finish my constantly growing stack of books. I'd even be able to work on my (nonexistent) golf game and play more guitar. It's certainly desirable even if it's not possible.

As much as I might wish for it, there is no way for me to manipulate time. I have the exact same amount everyone else does and I have to decide how it will be used. While I don't always have full control over my schedule, I can decide how to best leverage the overall direction of my usage of time. I can structure how the pieces affect me and how they are helping me to become the man I desire to be. I've got to be intentional about setting objectives and putting in things that matter to me for both short-term and long-term gain.

I can't stop the clock, but I can figure out how to manage the resource I've been given to take me in the direction I want to go.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Look Up

I do most of my running in the early morning or later at night these days. I enjoy being out when it's dark and having a fairly quiet run from a traffic perspective. My route takes me through our down town area and around several parts of the local colleges. I run on the sidewalk quite a bit, but have to be diligently observant as they are very uneven. There aren't many completely flat stretches of concrete and when it's dark I have to be extra sure of my footing. Since I don't want to face plant on the road I keep my vision focused downward several feet in front of me for safety.

I came off the sidewalk the other morning and was on the road which is much smoother. Out of my regular habit, I glanced up was entranced by simple beauty of the sky. There was a partial moon shining down on me and without any cloud cover the stars were brilliantly clear. I had to take a longer look and smiled as I admired the picture overhead. If I hadn't bothered to glance up, I never would have noticed it even though it was there to be seen.

How often do we keep our eyes downward and miss out on things of beauty, relevance, and encouragement? Are we so intently focused on where our next step will be that we miss out on the parts of life happening around us? Do we fear taking a misstep so much we fixate on the safety of where we are going and forget that taking a risk now and then can actually enrich our lives? I don't advocate running full speed with your eyes only on the sky, but we need to change where we are looking now and then if we truly want to experience life.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Making It True

Social scientists call the effects of naming a self-fulfilling prophecy or the Pygmalion effect. When we think something negative or positive about a person, it tends to come true because we alter the context enough to make it come true, or we alter our perception enough to believe it is true.

I believe there can be positive and negative aspects of this. We can choose to speak the positive things we want to be true about ourselves and then work to make it happen. We can also convince ourselves of falsehoods that inhibit our belief in personal growth or fill us with fake confidence which leaves us lacking in moments of true testing.

This is a personal battle zone for me as I have struggled in the past with incorrect self-talk. I’ve discovered the best way to succeed is to remind myself of an unwavering truth and see myself as a son of God. Even though I may continue to battle my own self-fulfilling prophecies, I can be certain of my position as a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven. This truth gives me strength and courage to push through my own boundaries and speak the right words that will help me.

If we do not see ourselves as beloved children of God we will never act like it in moments of temptation, crisis, or growth.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Still Not There

I am not the man I want to be. In fact, there are times when I find myself disappointed with where I am in my development. It's a mentality where I find myself saying, "I thought I would be farther along than this by now." This can be discouraging if I focus too intently on the man I want to be without remembering the man I used to be.

There is a fine balance in personal growth of understanding the room for improvement yet recognizing how we've already grown. Focusing too intently on our past changes can cause us to celebrate transformation without seeing how we need to keep growing. Becoming frustrated with the amount of growth in front of us without recognizing what we've already accomplished can be discouraging.

To keep us hopeful and focused we need to remember we are on a lifelong journey of transformation. The markers of past growth remind us of what we've overcome while the potential of future growth is a challenge to keep moving ahead. I'm still here so I'm obviously not done growing yet.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Peaceful Place

I have a deep passion for the beach and the comfort I find by being near the water. It's an affinity refined from growing up there and spending most of my adult life around the ocean. It's a powerful place of peace for me and I'm always longing for the next time I can return to the shore. The feel of the sun and sand with the sound of waves crashing is a powerful remedy for the frantic pace of life and stress of daily living.

While location matters in some respects to my sense of peace, I also can't relegate it to certain spots only. I would spend most of my life in chaotic anxiety if I could only find peace at the beach especially since my hometown is five hours away. Instead, I'm learning to focus more on my state of mind and heart and less on my physical location.

Sometimes this takes some convincing, but as I seek peaceful moments in my life I've got to learn to create them regardless of my physical surroundings. A quiet sense of spirit can find rest on a back porch, in a recliner in the living room, on a morning run, or at a coffee shop surrounded by other people. This doesn't negate the value of special places, but speaks more to the internal changes I need to continue to make to regularly find peace.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

I Care

We all want to be loved and cared for. When we are shown compassion and genuine personal warmth, it reinforces the simple beauty of being human together. We need frequent reminders of caring to keep us healthy and need to freely share it to help others.