Being Here

You love your phone. 

You hate your phone. 

I love and hate your phone too.

You love that you can call me anytime of the day and reach me wherever I am. I love that too. 

You hate that I can call you anytime of the day and reach you wherever you are. You love it too.

Our conversations sometimes start with, “Where are you?” 

I am here. 

Where are you?

We relate to a table scene author Rob Bell describes in his book, How to Be Here, “…if that phone rings and that screen lights up, she will be with you, but not be with you. Here but not here.”

We know we are important to the people sitting across the table from us when our phones are in hiding. They have their time and place, but this is not it.

Remember the days when phones, tablets and screens were not a part of our everyday existence?

The irony is not lost on me that I am writing this post on a computer that is a marvel of modern engineering. I’ll send it off on the information superhighway. It’s wonderful! 

We love technology. We hate it too. We struggle to find a balance between digital and analog.

We don’t want to lose sight of the joy of looking across the table or the sofa at a living person, created in God’s image, with nothing distracting us from each other. Attention is a gift we give to those that matter.

There is something special about picking up a pen to write on a real piece of paper rather than pixelated paper on a hard glass screen. 

There is old school magic in picking up an actual book, holding it in your hands and reading complete lines of sentences rather than pinballing across a screen at random. 

You are here. Present.

And we see you.

We love it when you are here.

Pay Attention to the Big Rocks

On my early morning walk, I was thinking about the “big rocks” in my life at the moment.

The “big rocks” is a term the late Stephen R. Covey uses to describe our most important values and goals. We don’t prioritize our schedule, but rather, schedule our priorities: the big rocks.

We can be distracted by the little pebbles that call for our attention daily: the social media ping, the robocall, checking sports scores, etc. Soon we find that the pebbles have filled our day and we have no energy left to tackle the big rocks.

So, we start with the big rocks first.

I’ve discovered that our big rocks can change depending on the season of our life. Right now, my big rocks are my calling in life and how I envision it unfolding in the future; nurturing my relationships that are blooming; my adventure plans for the next 6 months; and my continued growth and development as a writer. The rest are pebbles that I may or may not get to by the end of the day. If I don’t, it’s okay because I have paid attention to what is most important.

I’ve also discovered that some of the big rocks are more important than others. I value my relationship with myself, God, and others. My Christian faith guides me to love God with all of my being and to love my neighbor as I love myself. Those are the rocks that I spend the most time and energy polishing. The essence of any growing relationship is being one of the other person’s big rocks. Relationships die when they are no longer big rocks.  

Summer is a great time to evaluate where we are spending our time and energy.

What are your big rocks?

What are the pebbles that you are giving your one and only life to?

Getting clear on the big rocks results in a life well-lived and full of joy.

You can see Stephen Covey’s classic illustration of the big rocks concept here: https://resources.franklincovey.com/the-8th-habit/big-rocks-stephen-r-covey

Photo by Tina Nord from Pexels

Make a Habit and a Habit Will Make You

What I do every day matters more than what I do once in a while. – Gretchen Rubin

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. – Aristotle

I was tired of being frustrated at the end of the day. I am one of those goal driven people who enjoy having a sense of accomplishment when the day is done. Too often, my day has been spent on trivial things. In a book of days, it goes up in the “wasted day” column. I don’t like feeling that I neglected the gift that was this day.

Things out of my control like interruptions, unexpected and unforeseen events put me further astray during the day.

Something had to change.

Help came in the form of a podcast by author and speaker, Todd Henry. (Todd has written two excellent books, The Accidental Creative, and Die Empty.) In “The Dailies”  episode, he talks about the importance of a set of practices we can do on a daily basis that propel us forward toward our goals. (The podcast is found here.) Each person’s dailies are unique to that person.

I began intentionally managing my time and set up my own daily routines that help me stay on track. I began to focus on what I could control. I wanted to build my inner resources, so that when my day started to get away from me, I had a well to draw from to complete the day with excellence.

Here are the dailies I came up with:

  • Bible reading – I use the free YouVersion app (https://www.youversion.com/) that allows me to select a plan or read on my own. This connects me to a higher purpose that is bigger than my agenda.
  • Exercise – treadmill, bicycle, or walk for at least 20 minutes. This helps me feel better physically throughout the day.
  • Write in a gratitude journal – I write three things I am grateful for that day. This helps remind me of what I already have.
  • 45-60 minutes reading good books – I am a voracious reader, so this one is easy to me. I try to read widely: biography, fiction, business, self-improvement, writing, leadership and current events.
  • Writing – I need the daily discipline of “morning pages” as Julia Cameron teaches so that I can get better in my writing.

I began these dailies on January 1, 2015. Six weeks in, I have enjoyed less frustration and more of a feeling of being on track in the pursuit of my goals.

Two key resources have helped me with executing my dailies. The first is Charles Duhigg’s great book, The Power of Habit. This book helped me set up the triggers and rewards I use to be consistent. Duhigg talks about the importance of willpower and how it becomes a habit by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time and then following that routine when the pressure is on.

The other key resource has been my Passion Planner (www.passionplanner.com). The planner, developed by Angelia Trinidad, is “an all-in-one weekly appointment calendar, journal, goal setting guide, to-do list, and gratitude log integrated in one planner.” As I think about each coming day, week, and month I write down my dailies in my schedule before anything else. They become the rocks around which the water of the rest of my week must flow.

Since I’ve been practicing these new habits, I have felt less frustration and more peaceful about my life’s purpose. I have found inner strength to roll with the punches that come my way during the day. And on occasion, when the situation calls for it, I am ready and able to punch back.

What are your dailies and how have they helped you?

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In Sync Isn’t Just a Boy Band

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Can you imagine life without a GPS?  If it had never been invented, we would still be relying on the old fashioned method of asking someone else for directions.  Or be left to figure it out ourselves.  Then again, as a guy, I would rather figure it out myself than to stop and ask for directions.

Recently, I found my GPS out of sync with the satellites guiding it.  The road I was looking for was the intersection 10 feet in front of me but the GPS said it was a half a mile ahead.  Out of sync.

Sometimes it is me who is out of sync with the GPS.  I usually have the volume turned off so I don’t hear an audio reminder to turn.  The screen is warning me to turn but I’m not paying attention.  Maybe I need a stronger warning.  Most of the time I realize my mistake after the fact and my GPS graciously tips me off in bold letters, “RECALCULATING.”  In other words, “You missed the turn, idiot!”

Early warnings are beneficial.  Being out of sync with our guiding system has dire consequences.

Warnings come in all shapes and sizes in our life: 

  • The little orange light on the dashboard of our car that proclaims “Check Engine.”
  • A caring friend who asks, “Are you sure you know what you are doing?”
  • A parent who says, “I’ve been down that road before, don’t even go there.”
  • A health issue that needs our attention.
  • A strained relationship that left unrepaired will lead to heartache.
  • A job in jeopardy that strains our financial future.

Here are some areas of our life that can get out of sync with our higher purpose. 

Our relationships with God, family and friends

A sign that our relationships are healthy is that we are growing in love and compassion for people. To be in sync with others is to have relationships where we feel connected and where trust is growing deeper.

Surely this past year we have been wronged or slighted.  We’ve been hurt by another person.  We have a choice at that point.  We can gunnysack our hurts if we want.  Gunny sackers are people who carry around their hurts and slights in an imaginary bag.  As they go through the year they collect hurts and the bag gets heavier and requires too much energy to lug around.  Eventually, it interferes with the growth of the relationship.  We get out of sync.  To stay in sync we have to let go of the bag altogether.  

Sometimes, it is not hurt that has hindered our relationships, it is the pace of our life.  We’re too busy doing other things.  We’re going too fast.  Getting in sync for us this year may mean slowing down and refocusing on the people God has given us who share the journey with us.

How we manage our emotions

I sat with a friend over lunch one day.  I asked how his wife was doing.  He said, “Well it didn’t work out between us.  We’re getting a divorce.”  This was a second marriage for both of them.  He said, “I had no idea it would be this tough.  We each brought so much baggage into the marriage.”  He wasn’t talking about suitcases and backpacks.  He was talking about emotional baggage that we carry around.  He was talking about emotional unfinished business.

This past year we’ve all experienced a kaleidoscope of emotions: grief, anger, sadness, hurt, discouragement, joy, fear, anxiety, and stress.  How have we managed those emotions?  Have we come to terms with them?  Are we at peace with our emotions? 

It can take some time to sort through those emotions so we can get back in sync with the present moment.  Time that is well worth the investment.

The ways we practice self-care

The number one New Year’s resolution people make every year at this time is to lose weight.  We have great intentions and we get off to a good start.  Other practices of good self-care are exercise, sleep and living within boundaries. 

Regular over eating and over sleeping can quickly get us out of sync with the rhythm of our day.   

The ways we think

For some of us, getting in sync this year may mean changing the way that we think. Our patterns of thinking can become so ingrained that we feel stuck in mental ruts.

Counselors and psychologists talk about reframing the events of our life in order to gain greater understanding and to see things in new ways.  A bit of creative thinking can be the spark lighting a fire that burns off the mental clutter and leads to greater insights.

What are some other areas you feel out of sync? What are some ways you get back in sync with your calling?

Restoring Our Soul

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I survived a technological crisis last week.  My new iPhone died. When I powered it on, I got the dreaded “No sim card installed” message, rendering my phone basically useless.  I used it less than a month.

I reluctantly bit into the Apple orchard of owners when my dinosaur Blackberry gave up the ghost.  With the advent of the iPhone 5, my local ATT store was giving away the older iPhone 4s for new subscribers.  Free is free.

I contacted Apple tech support via chat and walked through troubleshooting steps with a very friendly, helpful agent.  When the steps failed to raise my phone from the dead, I was turned over to another “more knowledgeable” (their term) agent.  He walked me through a couple steps and suggested a few fixes, one of which was to totally wipe out and restore the iPhone.  I followed the steps to a tee and the phone was exorcised of its demons.  It has worked fine ever since.

That got me thinking about the human side of things.  We’re like our gadgets in that we have a tendency to crash from time to time.  We get our insides all in a wad and need an internal eraser to come wipe out the crud.

Smart people I’ve met know how to build margin into their lives so when the internal wad weakens them they take time to take a step back to regroup.

Let our soul catch up with our body

I’ve heard several renditions of a well spread story about travelers or missionaries going to Africa in the 1800s. The message is still relevant in spite of its lack of factual proof.

The story goes that an American traveler was on safari in Kenya loaded down with gear.  Porters from a local tribe were carrying his cumbersome supplies and luggage.

On the first morning, the group awoke early, traveled fast and went far into the bush.

On the second morning, they repeated the first day.

On the third morning, they repeated days one and two.

By the end of the third day they are very deep into the bush.

The American seemed pleased.

But on the fourth morning, the porters refused to move.  They simply sat by a tree.

Their behavior incensed the American. “This is a waste of valuable time.  Can someone tell me what is going on here?”

The translator answered, “They are waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”

We could all use some time for our soul to catch up with our body.

I call it breathing room.

Apple calls it “restoring your iPhone.”

Reflection leads to restoration

Physical rest rejuvenates our body.  Emotional rest helps us process the ups and downs of life.  Spiritual rest reminds us that we don’t have to strive to prove our worth to a loving God. We rely on grace.

Clarity and energy are ours when we take time to restore our soul.  It’s as easy and as difficult as pushing our internal restore button.

What are some practices that help you restore your soul? I’d love to hear what works for you.

1 Way to Get a Grip by Letting Go

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I love the Back to the Future trilogy. There is something fascinating about being able to travel into the future.  It’s captivating because of its unreality.  We know life doesn’t work that way.

The unpredictability and brevity of our lives has its benefits. There was higher wisdom at work when God designed life this way.

Do we REALLY want to know the future?

How would knowledge of the future benefit us?

Gerald Sittser in his book, The Will of God as a Way of Life says,

How would it (knowing the future) help any of us?  On the one hand, if we foresaw that our future was going to be hard and painful, full of suffering, we would recoil, fretfully awaiting its awful reality and wishing we could change it.  But at the same time we would miss the wisdom and character that suffering engenders.  And if, on the other hand, we learned that our future was going to be easy and pleasant, we would become dull and complacent, which would only diminish our capacity to enjoy the pleasant future that was going to be ours (Page 29).

The irony is that we get a grip on life by letting go of our desire to know exactly what is going to happen in the future.

The uncertainty of our future allows us to value and celebrate the present moment.

 

The only measure of time we have is the present moment.  The past is gone and can’t be changed.  The future is not here yet and can’t be controlled.  All we are assured of is now.

We can become so preoccupied with the yesterdays and the tomorrows of our life that we neglect the here and now.  We can get distracted by the “if onlys” of yesterday or the “what ifs” of tomorrow that we miss the good things of today.

Our life consists of precious unplanned moments.  Spontaneous encounters with God and the world.  So we learn to embrace the moment.

  • Ÿ  We pause to watch the lightning in the distance.
  • Ÿ  We listen to the rain as it gently patters on our roof.
  • Ÿ  We linger over the dinner table with friends, lost in conversation.
  • Ÿ  We gaze lovingly at a sleeping child.
  • Ÿ  We read a good book over a cup of coffee on a lazy morning.
  • Ÿ  We stroll unhurriedly through a park on an autumn day.

Music, books, conversations with people we love, good movies, and quiet times of reflection open the door for being present in the moment.

Finding these moments varies from person to person and from one season of life to another.  But no matter where we are we can cultivate an appreciation of where we are at the time.

Watching children at play reminds me to enjoy the moments.  Their life is all about fun.  One of the best things kids have going for them is they don’t know how to tell time.  Parental commands to, “Hurry up,” fall on deaf ears.  Adult concepts of time don’t compute to a child.  They are completely in the present.

Today is the “good old days” we will be talking about in 10 years. Today IS “back in the day.”

We make the most of today.

We enjoy the moment.

We don’t know if we have tomorrow.

We don’t know if we have next week.

We live one moment at a time.

That doesn’t mean we don’t plan for tomorrow.  As Annie said, “tomorrow is only a day away.”  We plan for the future and leave it in God’s hands.

Writer Corrie Ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

That’s good advice for today… and tomorrow.

How will you enjoy the “moments” that come your way today?

Are You Running the Dash or Living the Dash?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m sure you have figured out that we don’t have control over many things in life.

The price of gasoline, who loves us and the winner of next year’s Super Bowl, for example.

Where and when we were born and who are parents are was not a decision we made.

We are born then we die.  We don’t get to decide the dates on our gravestone.  We don’t know when our time on this earth will be up.  It could be tonight, next week, next year or decades away.

But there is one thing we can control.

We get to decide how we’re going to use the dash between our birth and death.  Our date of birth and date of death are just markers.  What matters is what happens in between our birth and our death.

What are we spending our life on? Are we living the dash, knowing fully who we are and why we’re here?  Are we treating life like a dash that we are mindlessly sprinting through?

2 facts of life:

1.     Our life is unpredictable. 

We don’t know how tomorrow is going to go.  We have no guarantees.  We have no assurance.

The other day I was in an electronics store and there was a guy in front of me at the register buying a Nintendo DS for his grandson.  The clerk behind the counter was saying, “Sir, we offer an extended warranty on this product.  If you buy the warranty, and the DS breaks, we will replace it for free, no questions asked.”  The guy doesn’t want an upset grandson on his hands, so he says, “OK, I’ll take it.”

Maybe we buy extended warranties because we want some guarantees in life. We want assurance.  If something breaks we want a guaranteed replacement.

But life itself does not come with an extended warranty.  There are no guarantees.  There is no assurance.  Life doesn’t play by our rules.  It doesn’t follow our plan.

  • You had great investments, but a recession kicked in and kicked you out.
  • You were in the middle of college–but your first child came along.
  • You were never going to be in debt–but who knew there would be so many bills.
  • You have always taken care of yourself physically–but suddenly a tumor shows up.
  • You always drive so carefully–but that drunk driver came out of nowhere.

Our lives will never move along in measured, managed steps without a hitch.  Our life is unpredictable.

2.     Our life is short, no matter how long we live.

There is a fascinating website called http://www.death-clock.org/.  If you’ve ever asked yourself, “How long am I going to live?” this is the site for you.  There is a form to enter your birth date, gender, etc. and it will spit out the date when you will kick the bucket. It also includes a running clock that is counting down by the second.

According to the site, I have 8700 days left to live.  Seems like a lot but when I compare it to the number of days I’ve already lived, I realize that time is running out.

Our life is slipping away by the second.

Life is too short no matter how long we live.  My great-grandmother lived to be 99.  She was 6 weeks away from her 100th birthday.  She didn’t live long enough. I wanted to see her one more time before she died.

Life is too short, no matter how long we live.

Here’s a video from The Happiness Project’s Gretchen Rubin that puts it all in perspective.

http://www.theyearsareshort.com/

Live your dash!

What are some ways you have found helpful to live your life with joy? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Live Full to Die Empty

My Review of Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day by Todd Henry

A disclaimer is in order.  I have been a Todd Henry enthusiast since I read his first book, The Accidental Creative: How to be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice.  His regular podcast is on my weekly “must listen to” list.  I was thrilled when I heard the title and theme of his second book.    I’m what business guru, Ken Blanchard, calls a “raving fan” of Todd’s work.  Admittedly, I’m biased not just because we share the same first name.

Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day is about how we can unleash our best work each day and increase the odds that we won’t regret the work we’ve done when we come to the end of our life.  It’s about living full so we can die empty.

What I Like Most

What I like most about Todd’s writing is his courage.  He doesn’t hesitate to call out the fluffy platitudes that we are fed in too many business and career books.  He doesn’t shy away from saying that success and our best work will require effort and self-discipline.  Those two things go against the grain of our comfort driven culture.  I was practically cheering out loud when he said, “You cannot pursue comfort and greatness at the same time.”

One popular fallacy Todd takes on that resonated with me was, “The Passion Fallacy.”  We are told countless times to just “follow your passion” and the money will follow you.  Besides the obvious impracticality of this advice, (How many of us actually do get paid for playing video games all day?) Todd points out that it is a selfish approach to finding meaningful work.  Eventually the passion dies down and we are left searching for a different obsession.

A better approach is asking, “What value can I add?” instead of “What can I get?”  When we pose the question this way, it correctly reminds us that we are not the center of the world.  We know that when we are the center of our own world, it’s a very small world…after all.

Challenge Accepted!

Another example of Todd’s courage occurs in the chapter titled, “Finding Your Voice,” which tackles discovering our unique expression of value through our life’s journey.  He challenged me when he wrote, “Great work results when you stop doing only what you know you can do and instead begin pursuing what you believe you might be able to do with a little focused effort.”  In the infamous words of television character Barney Stinson (Played by Neil Patrick Harris on How I Met Your Mother), “Challenge accepted!”

Todd’s writing tone is one we would find from a buddy who is sitting across the table having coffee with us.  It’s friend to friend encouraging conversation rather than top down pronouncements.  In addition, his stories are nicely balanced with practical applications and probing questions at the end of every chapter.

This is the type of book I can see myself rereading on a yearly basis to keep myself on track in fulfilling my life’s mission.

The message of the book is simply stated: “Don’t go to your grave with your best work still inside of you. Choose to die empty.”

May that be true for us all.

Who is Controlling You? ~ 5 Questions to Ask

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We are all led by something.

I’d like to think I’m led by a higher calling or purpose.  I’d like to think that my character informs and forms my decisions.  But most of the time my desire for comfort or my fascination with technology leads my life.

For me, the issue is one of self-control.  Who or what am I allowing to control me?

Self-control is one key to living a well-functioning life.

Self-control is the ability to exercise control over feelings, desires, behaviors and impulses.

The reality: We feel fragmented and pulled in many different directions.

The boundaries that we once had in our lives are gone.  We used to “go to work.”  Today, technology allows work to come to us.

There used to be “work hours” and a “work week.”  Today, work can be 24/7.  The lines between work and home are blurred.

There are more things competing for our time and attention, making it more difficult to practice self-control.  It can get confusing to figure out whom or what is leading us.

Here are 5 questions I ask myself to figure out if I’m in control of me:

1. Can I turn off notifications (email, Facebook, Twitter, text) without feeling like I’m missing something?

Today’s technology and social media distract us and fragment our focus.  If I can’t turn it off, then it is in charge of me. The wonderful thing about today’s technology is that every single gadget comes with an On/Off switch.  Control of the device lies with the user.  Turning off the bells and whistles of my technology prevents my Pavlovian response to them.  I don’t like thinking of myself as a salivating dog drooling all over my BlackBerry. (Yes, there are still people who use BlackBerrys.)

2. Am I scheduling my day or is my day scheduling me?

Setting aside a designated time to do specific tasks increases my focus and commitment to the completion of the task.  I’ve learned to build margins in my schedule for the unexpected to occur, but I schedule time for my top two priorities I must get done that day, regardless.

3. Can I say “no” to new things that I don’t really need?

Not every new device or feature is a must have.  Feature creep is alive and well.  We add new features because we can, not because we really need them.

When I worked for General Electric, whose appliances are fantastic and cutting edge, I admired my consumers who said, “I don’t need vegetable drawers in my refrigerator that change colors.  I just want it to keep the vegetables fresh.”  They were in control of their technology and its features.  I try to critically consider what it offers and ask, “How does this new technology best serve me and do I really need (not just want) it?”

4. Do I have designated quiet hours?

This is a simple yet difficult to apply life skill I started learning in college when I lived in the “study dorm.”  There were certain times of the day we could blast the stereo, but there were also designated times for quiet.  No stereos, TV’s, or noise.  I’ve tried to maintain that practice.

Silence in today’s noisy world is a discipline.  If I can’t turn off my iPod or TV, then noise is controlling me.  Why do we feel it necessary to have constant noise in the background?  Is it to avoid thinking about what is really going on in our lives?

For me, there are certain times in my day when I have quiet so that I can focus on important matters that require my best thought and creativity.

5. Can I purge my gadgets and/or usage plans and email newsletters without missing them?

A new movement of Zero TV-ers is gaining momentum.  Read about them here: http://www.tesh.com/story/money-and-finance-category/why-so-many-people-are-giving-up-tv/cc/12/id/25500.

This summer, I’ve been on a self-enforced decrease in the amount of television I watch.  I’ve enjoyed having more time to read and write.  I’m not ready to become a Zero TV-er yet (it is football season, after all) but when the Fall TV season rolls around, I won’t be allowing TV to control my time the way it used to.

I have a periodic review of my minutes used and texts sent. Is paying for extra minutes or extra channels really worth it?  I have also found it helpful to review my social media feeds, email newsletters and magazine subscriptions to see if they still benefit me.  If not, I get rid of them to create space for more meaningful things.

The bottom line is: Self-control is the essence of true power.

We get to choose who leads us. Power up.

What tips have helped you to control your time and your life?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

A Lesson on Slowing Down for Impatient People (Like Me)

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This week I’ve been participating in Jeff Goins’ Slow Down Challenge in which he dared readers to be intentional about reducing the pace of our lives. Each day we received an email prompt that focused on an aspect of slowing down.  You can read them here: www.goinswriter.com.  I’ve also started reading Jeff’s new book, The In-Between, which digs deeper into the benefits of waiting in life.  It’s a message an impatient person like me needs to hear and liberally apply.

Forced to stop

Now that the week is over, my biggest takeaway is that waiting has given me more time to reflect. I find that I can become so focused on a task that I get blinders on that don’t allow me to see where I’m going.  Waiting forces me to stop, reflect and make course corrections if needed.

There is an old, well-traveled story about a husband and wife on a road trip across the country.  The wife was admonishing her husband about his driving.

“You are going too fast. You’re gonna get us killed, slow down!”

So he speeds up (unconsciously, of course).

They are flying down the road. She keeps reminding him, “Honey you are going too fast! It is dangerous.”

They are going down the road about 90 miles per hour, she is nagging him at about 80 when he is about to lose his self-control.

He gets so distracted with his wife yelling at him that he misses the right hand turn they were supposed to take.

She notices that he went past it which gets her started again, “Oh great, not only are you going too fast, you don’t know where you are going!  We’re lost!”

You know how men are, we’re not the type to stop and ask directions.  He keeps driving.

She persists, “Come on, you are wasting gas, get off at this exit and ask for directions.”

Finally, he has all he can take. His face is turning various shades of red, veins are popping out of his neck, and his knuckles are white from gripping the steering wheel so tight. He slams on the brakes. They screech to a halt on the side of the road.

He says, “Okay, okay, you are right, we are lost. But you gotta admit, we are making great time!”

Slowing down allows us impatient people to reflect on our lives so that we make sure we are going in the right direction.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about ways you have benefited from slowing down.

Your Summer Fun

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“Have you had your fun today?”  For those of us around in 1992, this question may have a ring of vague familiarity. It was Nintendo’s tagline for their Game Boy personal game playing system. The advertisements were aimed at moms and dads caught up in the day to day boring routines of work and responsibilities.  Why should kids have all the fun?  (You can view the commercial here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3Ucb8rFOgM.)  As a task oriented, “To Do” list maker that reminder comes often. It’s true that fun is as important for our mental and emotional health as vitamins are for our physical health.

We have extra opportunities for fun in the summer.  Summer is a time for recreation.  Getting off of the sofa and out of the house to do something we enjoy for extended periods of time. Daily fun is important as well as extended times of fun.

Recreation means: to restore, to refresh, or to renew.  True recreation refreshes our body, mind and soul.  True recreation involves fun.

Life can’t be serious all the time.  Life can’t be about work all the time. It’s very boring to be serious all the time. Children and adults need play time. One of my favorite well-travelled quotes from comedian and actress Lily Tomlin is, “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you are still a rat.”

What do you do for fun?  What is fun for you may not be fun for someone else.  Some of us are adventure types who enjoy doing things like bungee jumping, water skiing, white water rafting, or scuba diving in the name of fun.  Others of us enjoy gardening, video games, golf, fishing, knitting, or getting together to play cards.

The nice thing is that we don’t have to spend a lot of money to have fun. I’ve noticed as parents we spend a lot of money on the “must have” toy of the Christmas season only to have our kids end up playing with the box the toy came in more than the toy itself.  Fun can be found in some unexpected and inexpensive ways.

When we engage in activities we consider fun, we feel fully alive.  We are restored.  Summer is the opportunity to discover and do those activities that restore us the most.

What is your fun?  If you had a free day to do any activity that is fun for you, what would it be? For me, I’d spend a day driving a stock car at a high rate of speed around a track.  I’ve been fortunate to be able to participate in the Richard Petty Driving Experience a couple times. It is thrilling!   When you see the race track wall coming towards you at 150 miles an hour, you feel fully alive!

Have you had your fun today? This summer? Remember to have YOUR fun.

Summer is for Reflection

As a sports car lover, I was thrilled to get behind the wheel of a friend’s bright yellow Corvette. When I climbed in behind the wheel, turned the key and the powerful engine roared to life, I noticed something peculiar on the windshield. It was a head-up display that allows the driver to see some of the internal workings of the car such as speed, engine RPMs, oil level and GPS readings without having to look down at the instrument panel. Head-up displays were first used in military aircraft back in the 1940’s and 50’s. The usefulness to pilots flying at very high speeds and drivers trying to stay focused on the road is obvious. The head-up displays are designed to enhance safety while alerting us to present internal conditions.

There is a lesson here for those of us driving fast on the road of life.  We go blazing through our days without paying attention to how we are really doing on the inside. Wouldn’t it be great if we had our own head-up emotions display? That way we could immediately respond to internal warnings when they pop up on the screen in front of us.

It might save us some relational heartache if we got a message that exclaimed, “Warning, you are overheating, watch your temper!”  We could avoid a meltdown if we got one that shouted, “Danger, your stress level is over revving.” I could use one that said, “Recalculation of sleep time needed, you are too tired to function at your best today!” Unfortunately, there is no such screen. Instead, we humans are designed with a need to slow down. It’s up to us to be intentional in taking time for ourselves to reflect on what is happening in our internal emotional world.

Have you ever just sat quietly by yourself with no agenda?  What happens?  If we are tired, we fall asleep!  If we are caught up on sleep, we begin to reflect. We begin to mull over things in our life.  Our concerns, problems, and joys become food for thought. Summer is a great time to reflect.  Normally, we are too busy thinking about day to day stuff.  But with the long slow days of summer and the easy pace, we find that we have more time to reflect.

When we don’t have times of reflection, we tend to lose perspective on things.  We lose the sense of purpose for our life.  We become human doings instead of human beings.  It is like running on a treadmill.  When we are running on it, we’re just trying to keep up.  We’re not really focusing on where we are going because we’re moving our legs too fast thing think about it.  We have to take a step off in order to think clearly about our life’s direction.

Where is our life headed?  What is our purpose in life?  What is our mission? These are questions that can lead us into times of summer reflection.

Our life is too valuable to waste on a treadmill of activity that gets us nowhere.  When we come to the end of our life, we can say the same thing I said to my friend after I drove his Corvette, “That was one sweet ride!”

The Gift of Summer

Remember how much we loved summer when we were kids? Summer was freedom from the daily grind of school and homework. It was a break from the routine and the boring. Summer was and still is one of my favorite times of the year.

We hear popular country songs celebrate the possibilities of summer. Several years ago, Clint Black sang, “everything’s right with the summer comin.” More recently, Kenny Chesney serenaded, “Summertime’s finally here, that old ballpark man is back in gear.” Keith Urban reminisces about a love who only comes around this time of year, “But you promised you’d be back again, And so I wander ’round this town, ‘Til summer comes around.” Following up on that hit a couple years later he connects summer with missing his love, crooning, “It’s gonna be a long, hot summer, we should be together
With your feet up on the dashboard now.” Brad Paisley’s offering this year is, “As long I live, whatever I do, as great as it is, you know what’s a bummer, I ain’t ever gonna beat this summer with you.”  Ah, the joys and heartbreaks of summer.

Summer is vacations, internships, short-term jobs, baseball, beaches, camps for kids, blockbuster movies, books, freedom, friendship, late nights, long days of sunshine, lemonade stands, fireworks, thunderstorms, picnics, ice cream, festivals, hiking, gardening, and lots more fun activities.

One of my favorite questions to ask people this time of year is, “What are you doing this summer?”  They usually answer with a long list of things they want to accomplish. It is ironic to me, that as adults we’ve turned summer into one of the busiest times of the year. For us adults, summer is no longer downtime, it’s ramp up time to once again try to get the things accomplished that are calling out for our attention that we didn’t get done already. Have you ever said, “My goal this summer is to clean out the garage?” Fall rolls around and the garage still looks like a bad episode of Hoarders.

This summer why not take some time to regress instead of progress? Why not be a kid again? I don’t mean in the Tom Hanks “Big” way. Why not take some time to rest? Summer is the best time to do that. They don’t call them the ‘lazy days of summer” for nothing. It’s the one time of the year we can slack off to regroup and rest. In our resting we find renewal. In our resting we find solutions to the challenges that seem unsolvable when we are busy with the demands of the daily grind the rest of the year.

Rest is not a “four letter word” that we avoid saying this time of year. Summer gives us permission to use and abuse that letter word freely and often. Rest could be the lifeline that we need to bring our energy back up to a full charge. “Busy” should be the four letter word that gets our mouth washed out with soap if we say it this summer.

Summer is a gift from our Creator. Just as music is not music without rests, we are not human until we rest. Take advantage of the gift to become a kid again, do something fun and take time to rest.

Kenny Chesney had it right when he wrote and sang, “There’s jerk chicken grillin’ on the grill. Sure feels good for some time to be still. Even if its only for a little while. Sight of those sails in the wind makes me smile. And I got nowhere to go and nowhere to be.”

Now, if you will excuse me, it’s hammock time.

What are you doing this summer?

 

Have You Got the Time?

 

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In my last post, I wrote about the one bit of power we all have, the power of choice. We don’t have power over others nor do we have power to control outcomes. There are two areas of life in which our choices impact us in a dramatic way: how we spend our time and how we treat other people. This post will focus on how we spend our time. The next edition will explore our relationships.

Our time is our life. When we run out of time, we run out of life.  The end result of our life amounts to how we’ve spent our time. How we spend our time is a result of our values and priorities. We get to choose how we spend our time. This week I saw the fantastic TEDx San Francisco talk by Louie Schwartzberg, founder of Blacklight Films, titled “Gratitude” (http://youtu.be/gXDMoiEkyuQ). I was struck by what the elderly gentleman said in the film, “It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you, today.” Tomorrow is not guaranteed. All we have is the time before us today. I’ve been guilty of taking the gift of today for granted. I’ve lived too far in the future that I’ve missed the joy of today.

We are very subjective about how we spend our time. We may think we are not spending much time on certain things, but we are. We may think we can do it all, but then reality smacks us in the face reminding us that we can’t do it all. So we have to choose wisely. Our choices are tell tale signs of what we consider important.

Time is easily measured. Numbers don’t lie. People who start a Weight Watchers program tell us that one of their first assignments is to write track calories of the food they eat. They are given a calorie log so they can start writing down what they eat. Initially, they think, “there is no way I’m eating that many calories!” But then they record it in a log and realize the numbers don’t lie. It’s a way of objectifying the subjective. The same technique works for our time and for our money. Track it for a week and see what happens. Where is our time going? It can be an eye opening experience!

Do something fun today. Life is made to be enjoyed, not just endured. In the wise words of Kermit the Frog, “Time’s fun when you’re having flies.”  Thanks for taking the time to read this!

What is the most important thing you did today? At the end of this day, what will you point to as being the best use of your time? I’d love to hear your feedback.