Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Just Tell Me

There are several traditional "parenting" sayings that I promised myself I wouldn't use with my own children. For the most part, I've been able to stick with that conviction. One of the biggest ones was to not answer the question, "But why?" with "Because I said so!" While it might be annoying to have to answer that question when it's posed multiple times, I always felt it was better to explain the motivation behind decisions. It didn't always have to be a complicated answer, but I felt it opened communication with our children and helped them to see it wasn't an arbitrary decision. Most of the time they were more at peace when they understood.

We all operate better when we understand the "why" of what we are doing and how decisions are made that affect us. If we focus on the underlying motivation it fuels us into more consistent action. As we share the "what" it helps if we can also effectively communicate the "why."

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

What We Want

Our society is structured mostly for us to consume. Products are created, services are marketed, experiences are designed, and innovations are intentionally developed to satisfy the needs of the consumer. A consumeristic attitude is focused on the quality of what we receive and gives our wants permission to drive our actions. When we don't like something the responsibility falls on the provider to make things right or we'll take our attention (and resources) elsewhere.

This may be the basis of a capitalistic society, but it doesn't necessarily translate well to other areas of our life. A self-centered focus doesn't create positive change in our community, help our relationships mature, or encourage others to grow. We've got to actively engage in being part of the change we want to see. If we want things to be better, we've got to become contributors and not just be consumers.

Consumers point out problems. Contributors are part of the solution.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

All You Can Need

When I was a high school student at the Mainland High School in Daytona Beach (Buc Pride Never Dies!) our group of friends was known to frequent a local pizza buffet called "Mr. Gatti's." It was about $6.50 for the pizza/pasta buffet and a pitcher of soda and we would eat there often. There was a back room where cartoons were always played and our request for them to play Bugs Bunny was always met. This was a place we ended up at quite often. The number of our group would range from 3-4 to 25-30 and our presence was guaranteed to put their pizza ovens into overdrive. We wanted to make sure we got the most for our money and did some serious damage to their bottom line (even if it didn't show in our waistline at that age.)

I don't remember much about the taste of the pizza. In fact, I'm pretty sure it was far from the best we ever had. The best memories of our many hours spent there aren't about the food at all (even if a buffet can be a teen's best friend.) It was much more about the community we shared with each other. We laughed, told stupid stories, flirted with each other, shared dreams for our future, and wondered what was going to come next. This place was special because it represented a safe place for us to be in this season of our lives. It holds memories (even though it no longer exists) of a group of high schoolers who weren't quite sure what was in our future, but knew we wanted to enjoy the time we had right then.

There is solid power in community. The togetherness of over 25 years ago is still cemented in my memory as valuable and important. We still need those places of gathering and a close group around us even if an all-you-can-eat buffet isn't part of our present agenda. We just need to be part of a group that delivers those same values regardless of the menu.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

More Than a Schedule

Your schedule is less about what you are doing and more about who you are becoming. 
-Bill Hybels

We all have schedules to maintain and tasks that move us through each week. There are dozens of important items and appointments and it doesn't take long before we have completely filled up our days.

Being busy isn't necessarily a bad thing (at least not all the time), but we do need to keep the right perspective on it. Are we aligning our tasks and calendars just to get things done or do we intentionally structure our agenda to build towards a better future? This isn't always an easy balance to maintain, but we feel less frustrated by our days when we see how it helps us grow into something more.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Know Yourself

A few days ago I was in the gym and a news broadcast was on the big screen TV nearby. I happened to look up while they were interviewing one of the vice presidential candidates and saw on closed caption what he was saying. In just a few sentences he took a personally directed question and turned it around to blast his opponent. It was a quick, learned response that avoided answering the question he was originally asked and focused on diminishing the opposition. I never did see him respond to the personal question as he was too busy telling people why he wasn't like somebody else.

This response provided an interesting observation into human behavior. So often, we focus on what we aren't instead of being clear about who we actually are. Solidifying our personal strengths and being confident in them (without being arrogant) puts forth a better representation of who we truly are. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective) this takes a good dose of self-awareness and the godly confidence to be content with who we are. This doesn't mean we are complacent and perfectly happy with our present state, but that we are willing to be a work in progress and be comfortable as we keep growing.

Own who you are as a work in progress and focus on your next steps of change. That's a healthier approach than elevating yourself by pushing others downward.

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Better Story

There are some very entertaining viral videos by a guy who walks up to random people and says, "Story Time!" and then proceeds to make up a sentence or two about them. They are quite hilarious and always catch these strangers off guard with his creativity. In most of the videos, the people who are part of his story quickly engage in his humor and make the situation even funnier. They play their role in this made-up story because they are actively engaged in its telling and he doesn't portray them in a hurtful light.

Made-up stories don't always work out so well, however, especially when we invent them in our minds. We are all capable of writing a terrible mental story about other people and the conflicts we face. I'll admit I've even had arguments without ever speaking to someone I'm in conflict with. Instead, I have a very one-sided internal dialogue that doesn't usually go well. I'll mentally script out an encounter, expect the worst possible response, and end up making the situation more negative without speaking a word out loud.

As a story teller, I can fall into this unhealthy practice pretty quickly if I don't pay attention. It's caused relationship damage in my life and I've had to learn to recognize when I start down this very slippery slope. Even though I don't always combat it perfectly, I've learned one simple phrase that helps me keep from writing these stories in my mind. When I feel I am drifting into a dangerous practice I tell myself, "Believe the best." This puts other people in a positive light and reminds me to have an honest face-to-face conversation without making up a mental story that isn't going to help anyone.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Currently on Repeat

In the past few weeks I have found myself meditating on the phrase, "Guide me, O great Jehovah." It keeps showing up in my journaling, my prayers and in my meditative thoughts. I shared this with my wife this weekend and she quickly identified it as my present liturgy. It's the powerfully repetitive phrase I need to continue to focus on as God guides me through what it means. There is tremendous impact in regular rhythm of pondering these five simple words.

I am still sorting out where that guidance will take me, but I can think of several current pressing areas I need that wisdom from Jehovah:

My family's future
The conversations I have with people
My daily schedule
Meetings I participate in
Preparation of messages, teaching, and ministry direction
To interact with people my life intersects with
My thinking and how my mind shapes all I say and do

I don't believe this is supposed to be a short-term practice, but something I am called to slowly wade through in the days ahead. This spiritual mantra can be affirming even as it challenges me to look at my life with new vision and obedient perspective.

Monday, August 15, 2016

My Own Appearance

In the past two years I have undergone a radical physical transformation as I've dedicated myself to a healthier lifestyle. At the beginning it wasn't easy to keep my focus, but it has now become a disciplined part of who I am. I feel better about myself and like how my improved health has changed my physical appearance.

Spending more time in the gym has also exposed me to a wider group of fitness fanatics who have obviously been working at this longer than I have. I see many of them coming in to work out in tank tops or cut off shirts that show off their weightlifting dedication. Several times I have thought to myself, "Don't wear a tank top to the gym because you don't look as muscular as that person." Even though I am comfortable with my fitness level, I still find myself caught in the comparison trap.

Comparison can be dangerous to our well being when we find ourselves constantly measuring our success based on someone else. It's not easy to set this aside, but it's essential if we want to keep a healthy perspective on our own progress. I think we can let others encourage us and push us forward into positive life change, but we can't allow their growth to define us. We don't need to look, think, talk, or live just like anyone else. Our confidence needs to come from being the best version of ourselves we can be.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Be There

Are we so consumed with the busyness of accomplishment in our lives that we’ve forgotten to take pleasure in the journey?

Often it’s easy to become so consumed with doing things to maintain a lifestyle that we forget how to live in the middle of those efforts. Our passion for pursuing health can lead us to being consumed by exercise regimens instead of taking pleasure in good health. Our pursuit of career goals can lead us to tunnel vision that eliminates the enjoyment of progress. We can pour our lives into church and working for Christ and never really walk with Him in a relationship. A deep passion for providing every opportunity for our family negates the simple joy of doing things together. The efforts to push ahead are valuable and shouldn’t be neglected, but we’ve missing something incredibly valuable if we just zero in on the perceived destination.

I think sometimes I’ve become so focused on doing that I’ve forgotten the value of being. Life isn’t just about the targets in front of us. While there is great satisfaction in achieving those goals our memories are made in the steps along the journey.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Changing Trajectory

Trajectory is a great physics principle that refers to the flight path of an object. From a sociological view it can also be used to describe individual lives and the path each of us takes through life. In either instance, there are outside factors that influence what that trajectory looks like.

We all have the power of influence. Our conversations, brief interactions, and personal efforts all have the potential to make a difference in another person’s life. It may be a significant opportunity to influence (parents, mentors, teachers, coaches, pastors) or it may be a more subtle personal interaction with people we see on our path of life. We won’t always see the full impact we potentially have on others, but it’s important to mindful of it as we walk through life.

How can we positively affect people’s trajectory? How can we look to intentionally change someone’s life path in an encouraging way? Don't only focus on long term growth, but on how you are changing things for people each day. You never know how important our positive encouragement might be and the difference it can make in that person's life.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Adjusting As We Go

Our family is entering a new season of life as our oldest daughter starts college in just a couple of weeks. She is attending the local community college and we are all in agreement on the wisdom of that plan for many different reasons. Part of her future desire is to finish her two year degree and then take some time off from school to be sure what direction she wants to follow. I think she might sometimes feel pressure to have those answers already confirmed even though we continue to reassure her that isn't necessary. I've shared with her my own journey and how I was able to use my two years of community college to narrow my focus and figure some things out.

I believe God has a purpose for each of us, but I also believe that purpose can be adjusted based on our season of life. While I am confident in my current life calling, I also believe it was different when I was younger. When I was just coming out of college, there was no doubt in my mind that I was supposed to be an athletic trainer and teacher. For nine glorious years at Mainland High School I was fulfilling my purpose and serving where I was supposed to be. When that season was complete, I stepped into the next role I was meant to fill and found great satisfaction in living it out through youth ministry. Even though I hadn't necessarily anticipated this change in direction I was able to maintain flexibility and adjust as life created new opportunities around me.

We don't always have to have every step of life's journey figured out. This doesn't mean we can't dream and plan for the future. It just means we should be ready to make adjustments as we grow and new opportunities arise. Even as we chase after our purpose we've got to be flexible as that calling changes as we mature.

Monday, August 8, 2016

On the Journey

Our church staff took a drive through our community today to get an up close look at places around us. For many of us it was a first look at some places we had only heard about and never seen in person. It was an eye-opening experience and helped to make the conditions around us very tangible as we search for ways to be intentionally missional.

While we were riding around we passed one of our local food banks. A partner from Northridge was outside the bank with a truck and trailer full of food for families. We seized the opportunity to pull over and spent some time working together to help their volunteers unload it. It worked up a good sweat for all of us and also gave us the opportunity to serve in a very unexpected way. None of us had planned on stopping there, but God presented the opportunity and we felt led to take action.

I don't think it's a coincidence that we were focusing on ways to make a direct impact in our community and then immediately had the chance to do something about it. God will give us chances to work together and put our faith into practice if we're willing to take action when the moment presents itself. We've just got to have our eyes open and be willing to stop and work when we get the chance.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Avoiding Circles

In the past year and half I've developed an addiction to running. I've also discovered I don't like running around a loop to put in my miles. Perhaps it's a throwback to my days in junior high PE where we had to run around a quarter mile track to reach our long distance. Those circular patterns reinforce my desire to change my scenery and vary the pace when I'm running. It keeps things fresh and stimulates my senses enough to prevent boredom from setting in.

This isn't confined only to my running habits either. I can get caught up in patterns of thought and emotion which run me around in uncomfortable, unfulfilling circles as well. When I recognize this circular rhythm, I have to find ways to bring change to my surroundings to find variety in my routine. It reminds me of a phrase I often reflect on from an author/pastor I follow: "Change of pace + change of place = change of perspective." 

Getting tired of moving and thinking in circles isn't change-provoking on its own. I've actually got to choose new patterns and methods if I want my scenery to be different.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Steady Focus

Pat Summitt was the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee until her health caused her to retire. She passed away recently and will always be considered one of the greatest coaches of all time in any sport. Pat was known for her remarkable commitment and her ability to get the best for and from her athletes.

I was listening to an old interview with her recently and she commented on her coaching philosophy with her teams. She said that offense sells tickets, defense wins games, and rebounding wins championships. Her point was that you can have an off night shooting the basketball, but should never have an off night on defense or rebounding. Unlike a shooting rhythm, the other two actions are predicated mainly on hard work and discipline. Success in those two areas didn’t come down to luck, but was centered on focus, energy, and intensity.

That mindset doesn’t just apply to basketball. While I don’t necessary need to play defense and rebound in my day-to-day life (at least not in the literal sense) I can take that same mentality with my commitment level. I know there will be days when I’m not at the top of my game. It’s in those moments that true grit will be rewarded as I pour my efforts into consistent energy and selfless teamwork. When I recognize things are not as smooth as they might sometimes be, I can still give my focus, energy, and intensity to those around me.

Consistency in effort is a defining mark of character.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Making Choices

Friday is usually my weekly day off and gives me the chance to sleep in a bit later than usual. I don’t always stay asleep much longer than normal, but I often take my time getting out of bed. I’ll pray and meditate on a few things and just relax in the thought of a day off. Some days I prefer to spend that time leisurely enjoying a cup of coffee, but today I chose to lay in bed a while longer.

I had other things I intended to do today as well. I needed a haircut, wanted to hit the gym for a hard workout, and ended up needing to run a few errands. By choosing to stay in bed longer, however, I eliminated some of the time I could spend reading and drinking my coffee. Unless I was willing to be gone until mid-afternoon, I had to get moving a little faster. My early decision to not get up and get moving eliminated other early morning options.

That happens to us as we make choices. There are decisions we make which cause us to forfeit the right to make other decisions. The path we pick (even a short-term one) removes other options from our horizon. These could be financial, health related, in relationships, and our professional path. That doesn’t always mean our choice was poor, but it reminds us of the need to carefully evaluate options. When we understand how the decisions we make are not only affecting this particular moment, we start to see how our lives are the sum of all the things we choose to do.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Out of Practice

There are good habits we build into our lives that don't always endure. Any number of factors can crowd that established behavior out of our schedule including those in and out of our control. I feel that way about writing for this blog. I went through a period of nearly three years where I wrote a daily entry and committed to creating content intended to help people. In the last twelve months, however, that dedication has wavered due to a crowded schedule, personal choices, and even writer's block. Even though I haven't been able to place the emphasis on writing I once did, it's something I want to add back into my regular routine.

We can learn to reestablish habits if they really matter to us. Even if we have started and stopped multiple times, it is possible to relearn the rhythm that once came naturally. It takes a focused desire to follow through, a willingness to set aside the time to make it happen, and some level of accountability. The decision to create and maintain these habits is up to each of us and the value we place on them.