Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Looking at Things Differently

There are certain routines I keep in my life to help me stay focused and disciplined on what matters most. While I will admit this is helpful in many ways, it can also create ruts that get deeper over time. What were once helpful routines now become ingrained habits that can become so second nature I miss out on important things along the way. It's like driving the same path to work every day. Since it is second nature, there are occasions when you end up at work and don't remember any part of the drive itself. The routine crowds out our attention and creative thinking.

To break that cycle I've started to do simple things like changing my parking spot at work and sitting in different chairs in meetings and in worship on Sunday mornings. It's amazing how something as simple as moving 10-15 feet in a different direction can change your perspective. It changes my sight line of the room and lets me see things in a new way. Even the act of parking in a new spot changes my path of walking into the building and the way I perceive our property.

I still believe firmly in good routines and disciplined living to help me stay on track with what is important. It's just a good idea to change the way I look at things now and then so I don't take them for granted.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Thinking Ahead

Part of my afternoon was spent in advance meal preparation. I cooked two pounds of sausage and 18 eggs to make burritos for my breakfasts for the next two weeks. It takes about an hour to cook the ingredients, wrap the burritos for freezing, and clean up the kitchen. The benefit is that I now have food covered for the rest of my week at home and for next week while I am at middle school camp. The up front cost of time and energy helps me make a healthier choice because I was willing to plan ahead.

Too many times we are left with poor choices in the moment because we haven't planned far enough ahead. We haven't set back financial reserves, created margin in our schedules, or even thought about contingency options in our plans. Obviously there is no way to be entirely equipped for changes in circumstances, but we can hopefully set ourselves up to be a little more successful if we think some things through ahead of time.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Start Riding

"It's like riding a bike." I've heard that phrase most of my life in relation to an action I've done many times before. The premise is that once you've learned to do something, you'll always know how. What you gain is something called muscle memory that can be triggered in the right situation to help you use skills your mind and body remember.

This is a transferable principle to other areas of our life even though it may not always be positive. If our learned response to stressful circumstances is a negative one, we will tend to fall back into those patterns. When we don’t have time to think about how we want to react our learned instincts take over.

Much like a poorly executed athletic movement, this doesn’t have to be a permanent reaction. We have the ability to learn something new, but need to be willing to invest the time and energy into developing a new skill set. This means we have to recognize our poorly formed habits, commit to learning a better method, and then continuing to practice it until it becomes our new reality. The increase in eventual positive response will make it worth our efforts.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Be Quiet

We have a lot of things clamoring for our attention. In a world that is increasingly connected (at least superficially) we are bombarded with media messages, notifications, and demands to be noticed. Every message wants our exclusive, focused attention which is increasingly impossible to give as we become paralyzed by the amount of choices in front of us. In fact, what happens is that we are unable to focus on what matters most when our mind is constantly shifting from one stimulus to another.

If we want to stop being constantly pelted with input we've got to figure out how to unplug and meditate on the voice that matters most. We've got to be willing to set aside our technology, turn off the outside voices, and sit quietly in that moment. This isn't an easy practice and it will certainly require some discipline, but the benefits of hearing the right voice are worth our efforts. If we won't turn off all of the other chatter, no one else will do it for us.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

It's Possible

Seeing people make positive changes in their life inspires me. It's one of the things that is appealing to me in my calling as a pastor, but it has also been a part of my passion before ministry. There is just something beautiful about seeing someone take a step forward to change some piece of their life puzzle. It's one of the reasons I heartily applaud beginning runners who take the first step towards better health. It's why I get emotional when people who have felt trapped in bad habits confess their willingness to be transformed and make the first step in recovery. It's a reason to celebrate the family who escapes the overwhelming weight of debt and is now able to live generously.

The process of finding hope is powerful. Sadly, far too many people don't begin these small steps of change because they don't believe it's possible. I think the weight of past decisions, abuse, and poor self-esteem often create conditions where people don't believe they can change. Perhaps the greatest benefit we can bring to someone is to stand beside them and shine a light into their situation that allows them to see something new is possible. If we can provide just a tiny ray of hope, we might be the impetus others need to believe they can attempt to change. Getting another person to believe transformation can potentially be one of our greatest acts of compassion.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Start with Simple

My car is a 1993 Volvo 240 that was graciously given to me by my mother-in-law several years ago. It is slowly beginning to fall apart even though the engine itself is in decent shape. My odometer stopped working a couple of years ago, the radio cut out last winter, and now my driver's side door handle is broken (I have to reach in from the back door to open it from the inside now.) I used to boast about the cold air conditioning, but that also quit on me last summer. The only way I could stay relatively cool was to cruise down the road with all four windows down.

Yesterday afternoon, after laying sod all morning with a great volunteer crew, I climbed into my car to head home only to discover that my windows no longer went down. No maneuvering I could contrive would get them to move and I was left to ride home as the temperatures escalated inside. While yesterday's heat was not too unpleasant, I found myself thinking of the impending summer and wondering how I was going to cope. When I told my wife about the latest Volvo adventure, her first suggestion was that it was finally time to look for a new(er) vehicle.

I did poke around online looking at potential vehicles last night, but also decided to look for the simple fix first. My hope was that a fuse had blown and I could replace it inexpensively and quickly. My relief (fiscally and physically) was met when I discovered it was easily remedied with an inexpensive fuse. Perhaps I would have been better served by checking that first instead of wasting effort on other possible answers.

Sometimes we jump to the worst and biggest conclusions when there are better and simpler solutions available. We might help ourselves more if we adhere to an old rule one of my college professors always espoused-the KISS principle-which stands for, "Keep It Simple, Stupid."

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Different Approach

Our temperatures have recently changed in Milledgeville as summer starts to slowly slip onto our horizon. While we still have pleasantly cool mornings, the afternoons are starting to quickly warm up. It takes a bit more daily preparation as temperature and humidity adjust upward by the end of the day. As a runner, that creates two vastly different running experiences between morning and evening.

I ran one evening this past week and was quickly reminded of the differences in running in warmer weather. The coolness of winter and spring had spoiled me and I had to make some mid-run adjustments to keep going. I found myself thinking about all of the changes I would need to make for summer running to keep healthy and maintain a good pace. If I want to keep doing well in hot weather, I can't keep doing the exact same things I did when it was cool

How often do we approach changing circumstances with the same solution we've already been using? Even if we've been successful in the past, there's no guarantee we will be able to keep pushing ahead by doing the same thing. We've got to learn to evaluate the issues we're presently dealing with and figure out what is going to work best moving ahead.

If we aren't willing (or able) to adapt, we'll end up frustrated with our lack of progress.

Friday, May 13, 2016

43 and 20

This is an eventful week for our family as our youngest daughter had her 16th birthday, we celebrate Mother's Day, and my wife had her 43rd birthday. We make a big deal out of all of them as they each hold their own special value to our family. It's not always easy to keep celebrations from spilling over onto each day, but this year there is enough separation that it hasn't been an issue. This year is especially significant for my wife as we are also celebrating an "anniversary" as we mark 20 years of her being cancer free.

We were just a young, freshly-married couple when we discovered she had cancer. Neither one of us knew what to think, but we were both scared of what might happen and what our future was going to look like. Even her physicians were unsure of how effective their treatment plan was going to be. I remember holding her hand while walking one day and telling her, "I'm not ready to lose you." We didn't know then the difficulties she was going to endure or how we were going to make our way through them. We just knew we had to keep moving forward and hoping we would be given another day to share together.

My wife's trial of cancer is what makes the rest of her celebrations so sweet. It's because of her 20 year "cancerversary" that we are able to celebrate her 43rd birthday. Each year that passes is another gift together when we weren't sure there would be many more to share. Her disease and treatment changed both of us during the trial and continue to have an impact as we grow older together. It's a very powerful reminder of the value of each day we've been given.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

43 and Counting

My beautiful wife turned 43 years old today. She loves to celebrate a birthday and I love getting to celebrate them with her. In honor of her big day, I decided to list 43 things I love about her.

1. Her loud laugh
2. The loving look she gives me when I come home
3. The way her hand fits in mine
4. Our shared love of music
5. Sharing quotes from books with each other
6. Her intelligence
7. The way she challenges my thinking
8. How brave she is
9. She fought cancer and won
10. She keeps helping other people as they go through the journey of cancer
11. Her willingness to deconstruct and rebuild her faith so it's something substantive and strong
12. The way she loves our girls
13. Her passion for life
14. Sharing a mutual love for serving in Arizona
15. Her goofiness
16. The way we can spend hours together without having to talk
17. The stories and laughter she shares with our girls
18. How I can see her traits in each of our girls in unique ways
19. Playing guitar and singing with her
20. Sharing my dreams and possibilities with her
21. She believes in and sees the best in me
22. I can spoil her with a good home-cooked meal
23. The comfort of laying next to her at night
24. Her quiet introvert nature
25. Her not-so-quiet introvert nature
26. Being brave enough to question what she believes to make sure it's real
27. How hard she works to take care of her family
28. She's gorgeous (I definitely married up!)
29. The way her heart breaks for other people
30. The courage she has shown jumping into leading Celebrate Recovery
31. The way she speaks her mind
32. Her devotion to us as a couple
33. That she delivers Meals-on-Wheels and cares for the people she serves
34. There is no part of my life I don't want to share with her
35. She loves to celebrate a birthday--even for a whole month
36. The willingness she has to follow wherever this life will lead us
37. Her impact on others--more people than she even knows
38. Her willingness to try new things
39. The value she places on our family dinners as she creates a place for us all to share
40. How good we are together
41. Her loyalty to her family and friends
42. Too many memories of laughter, tears, and joy through close to 25 years together
43. The fact that I get to spend the rest of my life with her

Monday, May 9, 2016

And She Turns 16

Our youngest girl turned 16 today. As is our family tradition, we've let her set the pace for the day and determine what she wants to do. This is especially fitting as this has been a characteristic of her as long as I can remember. Her strong personality challenges us often while offering glimpses of the powerful potential she has to make a difference.

Our Olivia is uniquely and wonderfully her own person and I love her passion and enthusiasm for what she believes. She is extremely intelligent, fiercely loyal, and a deep thinker. It's no coincidence that her fiery red hair matches her personality.

Her excitement is contagious and she is still discovering how her influence can be used to help others. Underneath her vivacious exterior is a tender heart that cares deeply for others. It's this genuine concern matched with her strong thoughts and gifts that will lead her down her future path.

I love this girl and all of who she is. I'm proud to be her father and am looking forward to what the years ahead will hold for her.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Set the Course

At Northridge we have an event at least twice a year called "Baby Dedication" where families get together and pray a blessing over their young child. It also involves parents consciously thinking about what they would like their children to become while making a commitment to raising them up in Christ. I always enjoy being a small part of this ceremony and watching the families and friends rallying together around each other and the future of this child. While there are no guarantees along this life path, there is a tremendous benefit in establishing a specific bearing.

There's something powerfully inspiring about setting a course of direction. I believe most people set out with good intentions, but neglect to project a specific path. Having some confidence in the course we want to follow keeps us focused on making choices that support that desire. Being able to define where you want to go helps shape the life we live along the way.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Comparison Shopping

Looking for a new(ish) car isn't fun. I've only done it a handful of times without some expert help (my stepfather, good car-minded friends, etc.) but we are currently searching for one for our oldest daughter. I've spent a lot of time online looking for a good deal and even wandered onto a used car lot today to check. It's not an easy process to find what you're looking for as you compare models, features, mileage, and especially price. It is essential, however, to measure what you see against other deals to make sure you get something worthwhile.

Comparison is a helpful tool when picking out a car, but it can be damaging when it's centered on yourself. Determining how successful you are by the success of others isn't a valid or healthy tool. Measuring your physical fitness by another person isn't completely accurate. Deciding if you are a good parent based on how another father interacts with his daughters isn't a true indicator of my family's stability.

The comparison trap can be overwhelming dangerous and discouraging if it's the only measurement we use. While we can gain insight from witnessing the lives of other people, we risk debilitating discouragement when we try to be just like other people instead of being the best version of ourselves we can be. Let the people around us be an inspiration (and sometimes a warning) without being a measuring stick we can't compare to.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Press On

I was talking with a friend of mine over coffee this morning about the habits in our lives. We are both runners and push each other to keep putting in miles and improving our fitness. We also encourage each other in our spiritual life and the pursuit of things that are eternal. There are enjoyable parts of each of these areas of our life even though we readily admit our struggles in consistency of effort and success.

I was sharing how I had run in Arizona last week on our mission trip and how difficult it was at an elevation of 6500 feet above sea level. On one of my running days out there, there was also a headwind of 25-45 miles per hour. Needless to say, it wasn't one of my best days on the road, but I persevered and finished anyway.

The realization hit us both that this isn't too different from our spiritual focus. There are times when everything we do seems to come easy. Understanding Scripture almost seems second nature, our prayers are focused and powerful, and even meditation is extremely fruitful. There are also times when it seems as if I am reading the Bible in a language I've never seen before, I can't keep a prayer focused for ten seconds, and any attempt to meditate is quickly squashed by my own energy.

I don't stop running when I have a difficult day(s) on the roads, but I push through and then get ready for the next one with an anticipation of it being better. I'm learning to do the same thing with my spiritual practices. Even though I may get frustrated with what I feel is a lack of progress, I push through and get ready for the next day with the anticipation of it being better. It may not radically improve in one day, but I believe it will happen if I keep working on it without giving up too soon.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Still Processing

This past week, my family was part of a team serving in Arizona on the Apache reservation. This is a family tradition of serving that my wife and I have passed down to our daughters and hope has become part of their spiritual DNA. Each trip carries its own challenges and rewards and this week was no different. We had to overcome physical obstacles including tiredness, high elevation, and illness while also juggling the inherent challenges of sharing a small living space with 17 people for a week.

I can look back over our trip with fondness, but I still haven't completely thought through all we experienced. Each trip is packed with so many emotions and memories and it takes some time to meditate carefully on what has happened and what I want to take away from it. This is a process I want to walk through slowly while trying to understand more clearly what we experienced and how I want to use that to help me grow. I don't know yet how all of this meditation will play out, but I feel it's an important personal part of the journey we take through life. To make sure we don't miss out on a vital portion of the trip, we need to carve out time to meditate on our experiences and cling to the pieces we don't want to forget.