Monday, November 30, 2015

No Clue

I like to have the right answer. This is partially because I want to help people understand, but it's also fueled by a selfish desire to be needed (and correct!) There were times when I used to try to come up with something that sounded right and would quickly backtrack if I felt I wasn't providing the correct response. I'll also admit I didn't want to appear to be stupid by not knowing the correct response. I felt as if I should know the answers to my field of specialty even though no one could possibly know everything.

Through some hard personal lessons and hopefully some maturity, I have learned to relax this tension of needing to have an answer. I've actually found great freedom in three simple words: "I don't know." This confession of my lack of knowledge puts me on equal footing with the questioner. It means that I haven't necessarily committed all potential responses to memory nor have I figured out the secrets to all of life's mysteries. It's an answer that reveals my humanness and allows the opportunity for a collaborative effort to learn the truth. Confessing my lack of confidence in a particular response creates room for growth and a common potential of discovery.

Isn't it funny how admitting my lack of knowledge can actually be one of the smartest things I could ever do?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Protective Tools

When I was in high school, I was out with a couple of friends driving one night after work at Taco Bell. We were just cruising and listening to music until my friend (the driver) took a curve too quickly and slammed into the guardrail. We were completely fine except for the now-caved-in front bumper. Even though he ended up in a great deal of trouble for the damage to the car, hitting the guardrail saved us from sliding off the road into a canal. We didn't think so at the time, but the guardrail had done its job of keeping us safe.

We all need guardrails in our life to protect us. I wrote earlier this week about my role as a protector and I truly believe this is part of who I am supposed to be for my family and people close to me. I can't effectively do that by simply thinking about it or making it a desire. To provide protection I have to put things in place to make us safe. This might be someone I trust for accountability, restrictions I put on my choices, strict boundaries for relationships, a rigid budget, or even Internet filters. These physical tools become the guardrails to keep me on the right path and protect those I care about. Slamming into one of these won't necessarily be comfortable, but I would rather run up against a safety device than to make a choice that sends me spiraling off the right path.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Tending To It

The idea of being consistently thankful has great merit. We tend to focus more on it during the holidays than others although I honestly don't know many people that are only thankful on Thanksgiving either. I do know I have a better perspective on my life when I maintain an attitude of gratitude through positive and negative circumstances.

This doesn't happen automatically however. I can't just write a blog post about being thankful and hope it carries over. Much like planting a garden the key to maintaining a positive attitude is in my willingness to cultivate it. I have to break up the hard soil of negativity, entitlement, and complacency to prepare to be thankful. I have to establish the daily discipline of removing the weeds of dissatisfaction and cynicism to give it room to grow. Then there is the careful nourishing of grateful thoughts and prayers which gives that habit encouragement to grow.

I won't live a more grateful life just because I think it's a good idea. This is something I must work to maintain if it is going to become a healthy part of my lifestyle.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

My Thankfulness List

Thanksgiving is an annual opportunity for all of us to focus on the things in our lives we are thankful for. We take a break from our normal routines to spend time with people we care about and be grateful for what we have. I always enjoy this brief respite from the hectic day-to-day pace and find myself thinking on those things I am most appreciative of:

  • A heavenly Father who has seen me at my best & my worst and still loves me
  • My wife who completes me in so many ways. She is my best friend, lover, and confidant. 
  • Three uniquely wonderful daughters who constantly challenge me in new ways.
  • New perspectives on life revealed by wise people around me and a gracious God.
  • Being able to live out my calling in life as part of a thriving church and church staff. I don't take this for granted as I know of other pastors who aren't this blessed.
  • Mentors throughout the years who have taken the risk of investing in me. They were willing to persevere even when I didn't receive their counsel well.
  • Good long-time friends who are important in my life even if we don't talk that often. I know they are always there and hope they know that about me as well.
  • Newer friends who encourage me, listen to me, drink coffee with me, help me in times of need, and laugh with me.
  • A vision and passion for the future. I don't have all of the steps lined up for what is coming, but God continues to give me glimpses of where He is leading us.

Even a small list of gratitude reminds me of the gifts I have in this life. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Security Detail

I feel one of my roles in our family is to serve as a protector.  I’m not solely responsible for this, but it is something I think about often. I recognize objectives we all have to commit to keeping and try to make decisions with them in mind (as much as possible.) I don’t have a comprehensive list I read over, but there are certain things which are important:

- Our integrity—doing things to be consistent in our individual and family character
- Values—strengthening the important things which define who we are
- Vision—maintaining a big picture of who we want our family to be
- Heart—keeping our family safe emotionally
- Future—making sure we are setting ourselves up for the best possible future
- Legacy—setting up a foundation of family faith for our future generations
- Purity—helping each other make the best decisions
- Family dynamic—watching out for each other & keeping a safe home dynamic
- Time—making sure our time together is protected above all other time

How are you doing this? What boundaries are you setting up to keep your family safe?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Pushing Through

I watched my favorite college team (go Gators) play their football game today against a supposedly over-matched opponent. It was supposed to be an easy contest to keep them sharp before the big game against our in-state rival next weekend. In fact, the experts had projected Florida as 31 point favorites which means this game should have been over shortly after halftime. 

Regardless of what the football gurus predict however, the game isn't played out in discussion and opinions but on the field. The opposing team wasn't going to forfeit the game because someone decided they were supposed to lose by a wide margin. They were going to compete with a fierce desire to win combined with growing confidence as they realized the opportunity in front of them. Even though they came up short in the end (thank goodness) they still showed what can happen with a little bit of tenacity and discipline. 

What seemingly insurmountable odds can be overcome in our personal lives with some confidence and discipline? What mindset do we need to be able to endure when everything seems to be working against us? Will we persevere when things don't go as easily as we hoped or will we cave under pressure? Some days we will have to work harder to be successful than others. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Wide Open

The idea of running “wide open” is when we are running full speed through life, operating at 100% capacity. It’s not necessarily a negative phrase, but carries the idea of moving at a high efficiency without being completely overwhelmed.

Are we living a wide open life? What does that look like?

-Stepping into new areas of faith
-Using our gifts in ways that fulfill us and stretch us
-Engaged in authentic community
-Investing deeply in the lives of our family
-Open to creative ways of worship
-Looking for God in all parts of our life
-Pursuing our passion and contributing to the growth of our community

I want to live a life that is fully and passionately engaged. My desire is run wide open in the grace God has given me. This style of life brings contentment as we thrive becoming who God has created us to be.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Stop and Go

When I was a kid we would play a game called, "red light, green light." The objective was to reach the target before anybody else by dashing forward when "green light" was called out and coming to a screeching halt when "red light" was declared. It was a game of speed and maneuverability that could be played without props or preparation. The only thing stopping you from reaching the target was the quick voice calling for a red light moment.

I feel as if I am still playing that game every time I drive. In fact, my wife likes to (gently) harass me when I mutter under my breath whenever I am stopped at a red light. It is certainly a matter of inconvenience that shining green light giving me the right of way had to change to red and stop my momentum. These unplanned traffic stops are disrupting the rhythm of my travel and slowing down my arrival. They truly feel like an affront to my personal schedule. How dare these lights interfere with my plans? It's not as if other people pull up to a light and need to move forward before I do.

Perhaps this frustration focused on stop-and-go action reveals more about my obsession with my own schedule than anything else. My agenda isn't necessarily more important than other people's schedule. It might be more important for me to take a deep breath and simply wait my turn. This shift in attitude won't get me to my destination more quickly, but it will make the journey a little less stressful.

Monday, November 16, 2015

More Than Apparel

The hat pictured here has been my favorite Mets hat for close to 15 years. I bought it at a spring training game because it was unlike any I had seen before. In the years I have owned it I have looked for similar hats and haven’t been able to find one that was just right. Sadly, the time has arrived to say goodbye to this weathered piece of Mets headgear. There are holes in the top of it and the years of travel, sweat, and weather elements have taken its toll.

I realize it is just a hat and the memories gained while wearing it are most important. It has still been a part of my life adventures for a long time. It has been doused in ocean water on beach vacations, pulled over my eyes for sleeping on airplanes, thrown on for daddy & daughter canoe rides in Michigan, and adorned my head when I began running earlier this year. This hat fosters more nostalgia than I could begin to list here or anyone would care to read. While I am somewhat saddened to let it go, I am grateful for the memories brought back by reflecting on it. It’s definitely just a piece of apparel, but the experiences shared while wearing it make it just a little bit more.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

I Should Be

Sometimes it feels as if the “should's” are eating me alive.

- I should be farther along in my spiritual walk.
- I should be spending more time with my wife.
- I should have more in-depth, intentional conversations with my daughters.
- I should be reading more.
- I should be investing in other leaders more.
- I should be praying more.
- I should be reading more Scripture.
- I should be reading at a faster pace.
- I should have finished those projects on my project list.
- I should have more money in savings.
- I should have purchased some Christmas presents already.
- I should call my mom more.
- I should be more mature in the way I think.
- I should be more confident in who I am and my calling.
- I should be impacting more people than I am.
- I should be able to let my past go and not let it have power over me.

I can lament where I should be (and do so far too often.) While some of that may spur me to make changes, it can also paralyze me into doing nothing at all as the list of “should’s” can be overwhelming as a whole. The truth is I’m not where I want to be. I can choose to write a list of grievances against myself or accept my present condition and start to move forward. As a man committed to personal growth I’ll never be satisfied with where I am, but I can choose to keep progressing in pursuit of what I can be.

A healthy attitude and a willingness to persevere through my own mistakes is the difference in “should be” and “could be."

Friday, November 13, 2015

Finding My Rhythm

There are several lessons I am still unpacking from our half-marathon last weekend. One of the biggest is the difficulty I had in finding and maintaining a good running pace. I have never run in such a big crowd and it took me 6-7 miles before I was able to find a comfortable rhythm. I kept having to adjust my stride by slowing down and speeding up to get into a running lane. The course was also new to me so I had to pay more attention to race markers. I also remember being very cognizant of the need to run at a moderate pace so I would be able to finish the race. It wasn’t easy to find the right rhythm, but when I did the end of the race was much smoother.

What rhythms of normal life do I struggle in? How do I keep a mental pace which allows me to concentrate intently at the right time without losing focus? Am I able to keep a good rhythm of productivity by recognizing when I need to push ahead and when I need to pull back? Do I have a good tempo in my personal relationships, knowing when extra attention is needed? What regularity do I have in my spiritual journey through prayer, reading, and meditation?

When I can’t find a regular rhythm I feel disjointed and struggle to maintain momentum. I’m learning to recognize when my pace is off and how to make the necessary adjustments to get me back on track. If I don’t do this life becomes more of a struggle than it should be.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

That's Inspiring!

I was having coffee with a good friend this morning and we were talking about people who influence our lives. He called someone an "inspiration" to him even though it hadn't moved him to do something different in his life. I suggested he was probably needed motivation more than inspiration if he wanted to change to take place.

There are countless stories of inspiring people and moments for us to witness. The explosion of accessibility through social media allows us to be uplifted by bravery, compassion, and perseverance from other people. A story of inspiration is only powerful for a brief period of time however. If we aren't motivated to do something with what has emotionally moved us it is merely a feeling which passes quickly. Without an action component, it's only a nice idea which temporarily impacts us before we move on to the next story.

True transformation takes place when things that inspire us also motivate us to do something about it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Personal Path

I don't want to shortchange the end of 2015, but the new year is drawing closer. There are still many experiences waiting to be had, relationships to deepen, and opportunities to seize in the current calendar year, but I am still starting to look ahead. I'm beginning to think about what I want this next year to look like and the things I want to accomplish. I'm processing goals in light of the lessons of this year (both positive and negative) and trying to determine where I want to be at the end of next year. 

I've read several things lately geared towards refining the goal-setting process and making it more effective. Most of them don't focus on well written objectives with assigned task lists. These other thoughts aren't centered on marking off the most items either. To be truly effective, I have to answer a basic (albeit not always simple) question: "Who do I want to become?"

Answering that question will fuel everything else I do. I don't necessarily have to have every detail laid out, but there has to be a general direction shaped by my passions and God's calling on my life. If I am unable to answer the question about my desired destination, then my pursuit of goals is less difficult. Without a target to hit, it doesn't matter which direction you aim. Developing clear thoughts on the man I want to become fuels the rest of the decisions I will make. This picture of a preferred future becomes the framework for everything I do. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Crossing the Tape

My wife and I completed our first half marathon this weekend in Savannah. We've had this on our calendar for several months and worked hard in our training program together to make it happen. We were a slightly apprehensive heading into it especially with higher than normal temperatures and humidity and the unknown details of a big race. There were big adjustments to make as neither of us had ever run in something with so many people or that lengthy.

It's hard to fully capture the feeling we both had when crossing the finish line. There was a deep, gratifying sense of accomplishment and relief at the same time. Our training and perseverance had paid off and we are both proud of what we were able to do. While we celebrated with our girls and enjoyed time together we are also now left with a slight sense of loss with it being over. We had aimed at this goal for so long and now that it's over, we are looking for something else to replace it. This doesn't devalue our pursuit of family experiences and spiritual growth, but speaks to our need to have other physical goals to pursue. My wife and I both agree we need another objective to aim at and are planning together to figure out what it should be.

I feel that is a healthy approach to life together. We set a goal which was difficult to attain, supported each other in achieving it, and now look for the next adventure as a couple. I'll take that as a pattern of life even if it's a relatively new way of thinking for us both.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Off and Running

My wife and I will run in our first 1/2 marathon this Saturday. We've been looking forward to this race for months and have been training intently. There have been a few setbacks along the way and some unplanned, extended rest to cope with injuries and soreness. I've actually made a conscious effort recently to eat a little more (especially this week) to make sure I have enough energy reserves to push through. We can make some predictions on our expected pace, but I can't do a whole lot to change what's going to happen at this point. I can eat good meals tomorrow and try to get a good night's rest, but the bulk of the preparation is already done.

When we are looking forward to big events, we've got to do the best we can to prepare while understanding we won't always be ready for everything that will happen. We commit ourselves to being ready while staying focused on the big goal and then give it our best shot. I believe firmly in the process of preparation and stepping into action when the moment calls. At that point you can't change any past planning, but you can commit yourself to doing the best you can with what is in front of you.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

All The Way

It's amazing how important the last few steps can be. Our reluctance to follow things all the way through to completion can often negate what we've done to get to that point. We can expend a great deal of energy and still fall short of where we want to be if we don't follow all the way through. My desire to be a good husband and father won't be realized if I don't take the actions to be that man for my family. I can write down a lot of good ideas and even talk about how to make them happen, but fall short by not doing what needs to be done. I can't be partially obedient to a vision by ignoring the last few steps and hoping it all works out.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Roll It Over

I was talking with a good friend over coffee this morning about some of my aspirations for 2015. I admitted I had fallen short of achieving some of my goals even though I was able to mark several things off my list. While I try to have a realistic view of what is possible, I realize I may have set my expectations too high for what is truly feasible.

I can also confess to losing focus in some areas and neglecting to follow through on the tough decisions and hard work which makes some goals possible. My friend counseled me this morning to roll some of those unfulfilled desires into next year’s plan. While I think he is right in encouraging me to keep shooting for those things I feel are important, I also realize I have to take a different approach if I want to see them become reality.

Just writing them down and talking about them won’t make it happen. I’ve got to develop a better game plan and break it down into manageable steps so I can be successful. Having a plan for growth and new experiences is good, but unless I can match that up with action steps they are merely concepts and not reality.

Monday, November 2, 2015

No Shortcuts

There are two variations on the most popular question asked on road trips. At some point in the journey you can expect to hear, "Are we there yet?" and/or "How much longer?" I recognize part of this is an excitement about arriving at our destination, but there is also an element of bored impatience behind these questions. Instead of enjoying the act of traveling we become consumed with the end of the trip.

I don't suppose this attitude is any different for the rest of our life's journey either. We are zoned in on arriving at big milestones and forget to enjoy what happens along the way. Sometimes we are rushing towards these positive moments (graduation, wedding, birth, promotions) and neglect the joy of the process of getting there. Even when we deal with painful situations we eagerly anticipate the solution and want things to be resolved quickly. While our desire to be relieved of pain is understandable, this ignores what we can learn by persevering through the process of healing.

While all of life may not seem joyful, there is much to be learned in the process of living. When we rush to get to celebrations or strain ahead to move past pain we are neglecting some of the sweetest and most memorable parts of life. No matter what our intent is we can't shortcut the process of growth. We are all required to travel the full path of life and sometimes it takes longer than we think it should. Take pleasure in the entire journey because this moment has something unique to offer.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Somewhere New

My wife and I ended up at a local professional wrestling event this past Friday night. We were there to support a friend from our life group and his return to pro wrestling. There was a long line into the building and a unique vibe once we entered and saw the ring in the middle of the room. We finally made our way to our seats through a full crowd and were ready for the night's entertainment. I leaned over to my wife as we waited for the opening bell and said to her, "I never thought I would be at pro wrestling on a Friday night." We had a great time even though we were somewhere we didn't think we'd ever be.

I've ended up in many different places in my life I wouldn't have predicted. I look back at my early life decisions and wonder how I survived my own choices to end up in a healthy marriage. I never imagined leaving my athletic training career for anything else and yet ended up in ministry. I had no plans to leave my hometown and yet now live in Milledgeville. My life history is full of those unanticipated surprises as I have been blessed to end up in places and situations I never planned. The fact they have been better than I expected speaks more to God's blessing and direction in my life than my own preparation.