Month: December 2018

Resolutions NEVER Work

It is that time of year again when we all say to ourselves, this year I’m going to… days later we even forget that we told ourselves that.

Just a reminder to those of you that made this resolution last year, you only have five days to read the entire Bible, or lose those pesky 50 lbs. Good luck with that.

Image result for resolutions never workIt seems to happen year after year. We set a resolution and then we just say oh it’s too hard. Oh, I completely forgot, or I just did not have the ambition to do it.

There has to be an easier way to stay on track, right? Well, I think I may have found it. I have been doing this for the past 3 years and so far, really every single goal I made I have achieved. I won’t get into the fine details of what my goals were. I’m really not here to talk about me…ok that would be a lie.

But let’s just imagine for a minute if you really could get the goals you made to yourself done. Where would that put you in the game of life? What would be the number one goal you want to achieve this year.

Most people fail at resolutions it is a proven fact. Why do we fail? The number one reason we fail is that we set too high of a goal. One that cannot be reached without some sort of divine intervention and when that divine intervention does not come, we give up quicker than you can say “RESOLUTION.”

Don’t waste your time with resolutions this year.

They NEVER work.

 I have found success in focusing on something far better: resolve

Image result for resolveWhile the words are similar, the difference is that a resolution is something you make; resolve is something you have. Call it semantics, but I think the distinction is important.

This year, a lot of people will make resolutions and then immediately break them. Why? Because they’re not really resolving to do anything different. They’re just wishing.

Here’s the bottom line:

Without a stronger resolve, you have no hope of accomplishing your resolutions.

In other words, you need to commit. You need to choose into an intentional process that will make you better. Not a set of audacious goals you’ll never meet.

Goal-setting, while admirable, is essentially pointless. Goals, in and of themselves, aren’t sustainable. They tell you where you want to go, not how you’re going to get there.

What you need are new habits, a new way of living that will bring different results.

It’s time to commit to being the type of person you’ve always dreamed of being. And that begins with creating new disciplines. Here are three important one’s worth mastering, if you want to be better this year (at writing, making art, or anything else):

  1. Set aside a time to practice. Be it early morning, during lunch, or late at night, it’s important to have a special time to spend with your craft. Although I at first hated it, I’ve now grown quite fond of my 5:00 am writing times. There’s something peaceful about the solitude of working while the rest of the world is asleep.
  2. Show up. When I say I’m going to write, I often procrastinate and run out of time. I give excuses and justifications and end up creating nothing. I hate this. So, I have refused to allow myself an “out” any longer. I must write every day, no matter what, even if for only 15 minutes. The crazy thing is this is where some of my best work comes from — concentrated blocks of forced productivity.
  3. Give yourself grace. This goes hand-in-hand with the last one. A natural byproduct of discipline is dread. When you start showing up to do the work, you may grow fearful of the desk. I know I have struggled with this, feeling like my work in never good enough. In times like these, remember to have fun. Remind yourself why you go through the painful parts because there is joy waiting for you at the finish line.

Sure, there are other strategies for setting and achieving your goals this year, but those three are enough to get you started.

Most days, if you can remember to set aside time to practice, to actually show up and do the work, and to give yourself grace when you fall short, you are going to be just fine.

What about you? What habits are you trying to work on this new year?

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A Light in the Midst of the Darkness

When my kids were little, I remember a few times that we would pile into the car after supper and ride around looking at Christmas lights. We would choose streets that were lined with glittering homes and with yards dotted by Image result for christmas Lightsbeautiful lights and illuminated snowmen.

Awe-inspired gasps, thrilled giggles, and shouts of “Look! Look!” tumbled out of the back seat as we rolled along. Light piercing the night cast a spell on all of us back then. Honestly, it does the same to me still.

My post-sunset drives are now mostly solo.

On these shortest of days, I am usually traveling home from the office. The neighborhoods through which I pass are frequently not those we would have chosen those many years ago for Christmas-light viewing.

On a recent night, I drove home a different way than usual.

No Christmas lights. No signs of the season.

Image result for dark street at nightHouse after house retreated from my sight into the gloom.

It was depressing.

And then, ahead to my left, green and red flickered in the corner of my eye. I slowed to see a strand of lights rimming the frame of the single window and another strand around the door of the houses to my left.

Those few lights cast a new spell. A light in the darkness.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

(John 1:5)

God joins us even in the midst of the gloom.

The gloom of poverty, of racism. The gloom of loneliness or grief. The gloom of family dysfunction or addiction.

The light shines. God is there. God is with us.

And the gloom cannot overcome it.

To be light in the darkest gloom, refusing to be extinguished.

God sent Jesus into this world. And the address that God chose for Jesus’s birthRelated image turned out not to be a nice room at the local Inn. Instead, Mary gave birth to her baby boy in a dark, unlit shed whose address was so obscure and gloomy that there was no place else to go.

In Jesus, we see that God comes to dwell in the midst of gloom.

Not merely to provide the comfort of a little light to those who happen to believe.

But to be the light that once and for all dispels the gloom—in all its forms—that too often hangs over the world.

To follow Jesus is to be an inextinguishable light in the gloomy places of the world.

Not just on Christmas.

But every day of the year.

 

Mistakes and Grace

There was once upon a long time ago, I thought of myself as being artistic.

I had recently won a first-place ribbon at the Ottawa County Fair for my age group in “Pencil Drawing”.  I had never won first place in anything in my life and in aImage result for first place ribbon short time, I was convinced that this was my “talent” and I would make a career out being an artist.

I remember clearly rushing home from our local five-n-dime store with a sketch artists notebook. It was a notebook with blank pages, no lines just an empty page waiting to be filled with my drawings. I was sure that this was the first of many notebooks that I would have in my collection that would show I was a talented artist.

I still have that notebook.

It is filled with two whole pages of my doodles and drawings.

That’s right… two whole pages.

You see… it did not take long for me to see that what I had drawn in art class at school was just a fluke and I really had no talent at drawing at all. What is more important, I really had no desire to become an “artist.” Truth be told, I was 12 and I still had not given up on my real dream of becoming a professional baseball player.

That doesn’t mean that I did not learn a lesson or two from my short-lived career as a budding artist.

Related imageI learned this all-important lesson… at the very moment you touch a pencil to paper, you’re committed. You’ve made a mark that you cannot completely erase. The line may disappear, but the paper is smudged, it isn’t perfect anymore. I cannot tell you how many crumpled-up false starts sat next to my desk.

I simply stopped drawing and left that to people who were talented. 

When I reached high school, I started to take art class again.  Not because of my talent, but because of the cute girls that were in the class.

Linda Cherry was my art teacher. I learned a lot from her.  She taught in such a way to teach me much more than art. She used illustrations that have stuck with me my whole life.

At the beginning of the year she handed out another artist sketchbook and we were required to draw a picture to turn in at the end of each week. As you can assume, my book of hand-drawn pictures was horrific. Mrs. Cherry was always encouraging. She always gave constructive critiques and one day after she handed back my dreadful pencil drawing, she wrote this note in the corner of my paper…

“Learn to incorporate your mistakes into the picture as you’re drawing it. Arriving at a completed image is not about erasing your mistakes. It’s about continuing to draw in such a way that you make something meaningful from those mistakes.”

At the time, I did not pay attention to the real wisdom that is found in such a statement.

Only years later, as I would stumble across this old sketch notebook and read some of Mrs. Cherry’s comments did such a profound statement hit me like a ton of bricks.

God does not toss us out like all those pieces of paper I threw out when I made a mistake in my drawings. God sees the mistake. He sees the imperfection. If I allow Him to do so, He works with and incorporates those imperfections to paint a beautiful picture in my life.   

Image result for mistakes and graceWhen we cooperate with grace, living resembles the process of drawing. The beauty, goodness, wholeness, and even holiness of our lives incorporate and even emerge from the mistakes we have made and even the disfiguring marks left on our lives by the mistakes that others have made.

Jesus came to show us who God really is.

Jesus did not come to make sinners pay and to hand out gold stars to the world’s spiritual superstars. Jesus came to mend a shattered world. He came to offer forgiveness and salvation.

Each day we are drafting our messy life. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve inherited or suffered from the mistakes of others. And as it turns out, the picture we are drawing is more than a self-portrait and God joins us in the midst of this grand drawing project.

In Jesus, we see that God does not toss our mistakes into a cosmic waste bin.

Instead, God says, “Let’s see what we can make of this together. I think it can be something beautiful.”

That’s what grace looks like.

Emphasizing Life

Draw the blinds, open the windows, and let the sun in, my friends—it’s time to talk about it.

What is this “it”?

Life.

I want to emphasize life. However… in order to properly emphasize life we have to talk about issues we usually avoid at all costs.

Like Death.

For all ages—young, old, and everyone in between.

Death is the one reality we all share.

To everything… there is a beginning and an end.

I wrote an article a few weeks ago about dealing with the changing of the seasons in our life. Things are changing… and changing quickly. The subject was spurred in me because I was in Virginia to visit my 87-year-old mom in the hospital. She is home now, on the road to recovery and planning to live for a long time.

That is how it should be. We should all embrace life and enjoy it. 

It is a gift from God and it is precious.

It is a lesson I am learning.  There was a time (not too long ago) when I had my foot planted on the gas pedal to the floorboard and burying the needle of my life speedometer in a race to my demise.  I simply didn’t take care of myself.

I now have pumped the brakes and slowed down in the race to end my life. To date, I have lost 125 lbs. (more to lose for sure) and started to make real change in my life. I see things in a clearer way than I did.

However, sometimes it is hard to slow down the results of living your life without the slightest concern for your health. Not to mention, when you slow down and spend time in reflection you see errors and mistakes you made in the things you said or did to your family and friends.

Losing 125 lbs. is so much easier than trying to fix the stupid you were at times.  

So why am I talking about life and death? Well… one reason is that I need to heed to this advice. I have found that I have failed in treating my eventual death with any real concern.

I need to apply these truths.

More importantly, discussing death is actually more about emphasizing life.Image result for Life

I want to emphasize life.

I am learning that how we choose to live our life in the later seasons of our living years will tell us how to live and die without regret.

And, for the record, I’m not talking about death because I long for it or because I believe that others to need to quickly do something about it. 

I am at the age that I believe I have more days in the rearview mirror than we I on the road ahead. And to be clear—we’re all going to die, right?  We can agree on that.

If there’s any doubt, let me be the bearer of bad news:

55 million people alive right now will be dead within 12 months. That breaks down to 151,600 people dying each day, 6,316 people each hour, 105 each minute, and 2 people each second.

Think about that for a minute. (in which time 120 more people will have died).

AnImage result for Life is a vapord I don’t intend to be so carefree with such a heavy subject. There is mind-boggling loss and grieving going on in the world. I know people are suffering and living with deep pain, trying to figure out how to survive and go on—alone and wounded. Personally, it’s incomprehensible to imagine. Like most people, I don’t want to go there, and not so much for me and my death, as much as it is for those in my life.

However, that story of loss and resilience is a story we’ll save for another day. Today, we will look at death from what we can only hope is at arm’s length—even if that arm’s length is an illusion. And we won’t pretend to embrace death with bear hugs and high-fives. Instead, I want to approach death with a wisdom that knows what we’re really embracing is impermanence, change, and an acceptance of who we are beneath our flesh and bones.

 Step 1: Get your affairs in order.

As long as we’re agreed that we’re all going to die, it makes sense to get ready for it, euphemistically known in the circles as “getting your affairs in order.” One thing I am not talking about is going through your “stuff” and designating it to a child or grandchild. I say live and own your “stuff” until you don’t.  Somber tone aside, the language works. We are getting our affairs in order. We’ve been doing it since we Image result for Get your affairs in orderwere old enough to walk. Why stop now?

Getting your affairs in order involves taking all kinds of positive steps, including creating a living will, declaring power of attorney, planning for the end of life medical care, perhaps donating your organs. It also means digital planning—what happens to your electronic bills, your Facebook page, your entire digital footprint? The world you leave online is real. You’ll also want to decide on the disposition of your body, the type of funeral you want, the song you want to be played at your funeral. Dealing with these smaller tasks is not only practical, but it’s also a gift for those you leave behind.  Most importantly, it means you have to start thinking about death, talking about it, and engaging in tough conversations. Once you make your arrangements, store them safely and then get back to living.

Step 2: Quit trying to fool yourself.  You know who you are.

Sure, you could get hit by an ice cream truck and have yourself a Spielberg-worthy near-death experience—complete with bright white lights and Elvis waiting for you Image result for Elvis in heavenat the end of a long tunnel. Perhaps all the mysteries of the universe will be revealed to you before you have to come back to your body and a home filled with dirty dishes. OR, there is an alternative—you could close your eyes and seek the same awareness through allowing God to really get ahold of you.  

Having a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ is not only about creating more mindfulness and peace in your life; it’s about finding deeper connections with yourself. Embracing death begins by discovering for ourselves that we are not our eyes, hair color, sex, career choice, bank account, or family. We are “something else.” And finding this “something else” unmasks death as the illusion it is.

Step 3: Simplify your life and make room for what matters.

 A “less is more” mentality is the perfect way to embrace death and the “can’t take it with you” transitory nature of life. Simplifying is a clearing out that allows more into our lives (something we should have been doing our whole lives). We are not emptying the contents of our lives, we are filling it with only that which matters. Simplifying is our opportunity to not only “get our affairs in order,” but reset and refocus—to shift priorities that allow us to live a more intentional life.

Step 4: Say what needs to be said.

Share feelings. Show gratitude. Mend fences. Resolve conflicts. Tell people how you feel. Again, these lessons are valuable at any age. Hopefully, you were an early adopter. But, it’s never too late to learn from those who have inched close to death (on whatever side of the deathbed). Their message is always the same—life is too Image result for Say what you need to sayshort to hold on, hold back, and not give it all we have. And, of course, we all know it’s true. But, how often do we do anything about it? It’s up to each of us to transform what can easily sound like a bumper sticker into a bold way of living. It takes choice. And action.

What are you holding in your pocket right now that you need to share? It may be exactly what someone needs to hear. Be vulnerable and share it.

Step 5: Talk news, weather, and sports…and a little death.

We need to talk about death more. I know it’s not something you want to bring up at a party, or in the cafeteria, or the elevator at work. There is no natural segue. “Floor 11 please…and while you’re at it, cremation or burial?” Life doesn’t work this way. For the most part, we keep our thoughts about death to ourselves, not even sharing with family or close friends. And this is true, especially as we get older and recognize that, in chronological time, we are on the back nine of life. At this point, we all have a choice. We can stay in chronological time, and keep watching the hourglass, feeling the hourglass, dreading the hourglass, OR we can unearth the wisdom that has come with that hourglass and use it to look at life that lives beyond chronological time. Of course, to do this, one must go deeper and start looking for the profound.

 And it is only in the profound where we will find meaning. And it is only in meaning where we will find solace—not an escape from heartache or sorrow (that comes with the birth certificate)—but the solace to find meaning in death. And life.

While none of this will keep tears from falling when death touches close, maybe if we’re lucky, it will help dry them a little quicker, or at the very least, warm them with the glow that comes from knowing we are part of a universe that is more expansive and loving than we could have ever imagined.

Recalculating

For many years I fought the idea of using GPS because I already had a GPS.

Her name was Pam. She is my wife.

“Turn left in 500 ft – Stay on this road for three miles – Stop, the mall is on your right! – We’re here!”

Pam has a knack of knowing exactly where the nearest mall is and where all the “good” restrooms are for a 200-mile radius of wherever we are. I think of it as a Image result for recalculating“sixth sense” if you will.  She is always right and she didn’t need batteries.

Now the truth is, if I ever need to find a destination that wasn’t an outlet mall or a T.J. Maxx, I have had to become dependent on the voice of a strange woman. She has my destination locked in her memory and shows me the perfect way to get there.

My GPS.

Like Pam, she’s always right. Unlike Pam, she never asks me what I am thinking or insists on stopping at every outlet mall we pass.

But occasionally I deliberately, or by accident, make a wrong turn. 

What happens next is amazing!

My GPS gently tells meImage result for recalculating how to get back on track. With no hint of anger or disappointment, I hear a single word, “recalculating.” Then she comes up with a whole new perfect plan for me.

A new beginning from my current position. How cool is that! The destination remains the same… the journey getting there has been adjusted taking into account my diversion.

I have a lot to learn from this woman. 

A lesson that can make 2019 a productive and happy new year.

Here is the strategy to help lead you to a happy and successful new year.

Anticipate the need to recalculate!

The path to success, in business, marriage, friendship or faith is NEVER, you heard it right, NEVER, without misguided or intentional detours.

Like rockets fired at some distant target, we begin making errors shortly after liftoff.

Every rocket fired into space goes astray, every single one. Back at the command center, the missiles “GPS” is constantly recalculating and sending new commands, “correct one degree to the left.” Soon the rocket is back on course….. but not for Image result for rocketlong. What looks like a flawless shot to the moon is actually a million little recalculations made along the way. The ability to recalculate gets the rocket to where it is going. The same ability will get you where you want to go and where you are supposed to go.

We are extremely reluctant to accept “recalculating” as a pattern of success. We want to believe the journey will be seamless and without error. But it is those who accept failure as a reality, those who eagerly seek to learn from mistakes, those who are anxious to recalculate and get back on course, those are the people who reach the pinnacles of success.

  • It took Thomas Edison thousands of failures and approximately 10,000 experiments to invent the electric light bulb. He knew how to recalculate.
  • Robert Fulton, the inventor of the steam engine, failed so publicly that his creation was dubbed Fulton’s Folly.  But he knew how to recalculate!
  • Abraham Lincoln was defeated in several elections before he was elected as president of the United States. He didn’t give up! He recalculated, made adjustments, and changed the face of history.

Even God recalculates for us. It’s called GRACE! God’s Provision for our stupidity!

So if God does it, why shouldn’t we? When we make a wrong turn in life God doesn’t ban us from making the journey. He just whispers, “recalculating” and redirects us, from where we find ourselves at the moment, to a NEW and PERFECT path to the right destination.

Where are you right now? Where do you want to be?  Recalculate!!!

You can get there from exactly where you are!!!