Being Like a Spider: Living Out Our Fullest Potential

When I stop to enjoy the wonder and beauty of God’s creation around me, I am in awe. I recently discovered a documentary narrated by Gordon Wilson entitled The Riot and the Dance. It is a beautiful and awe-inspiring look into the wonders of God’s creation. When you consider any animal that God created, they are very good at being themselves. He has made snakes that can fly through the air; spiders that can spin intricate and beautiful webs, spinning dolphins that can jump out of the water and spin through the air; beautiful birds that soar; ants that can create astounding and complex colonies underground; and the list is endless of all the variety of beautiful creatures. But as I consider these creatures, one thing stands out to me about all of them–All of these beautiful creatures that God has made are all very good at being themselves. None of them seems to be bad at being what God has made them. He designed them with instincts and knowledge about how to do the things they each are good at doing. And yet, with humans it is not that simple. Or is it? We humans so often fail at being who God designed us to be due to our own self-inflicted limitations we place on ourselves. Of course some animals fail at being themselves. We all can remember seeing a dead baby bird that tried to fly and couldn’t. But even in that failure they failed while fully being who God designed them to be. Much of our struggle as humans is in our inability or subconscious unwillingness to even try due to our internal belief that we “can’t”.

Can you imagine a spider that needs to spin a web, but spends all of its time thinking about how it can’t spin a web because it is so hard and she is not sure if she can do it? Can you imagine a beaver who doesn’t even try to build a dam because he had parents who didn’t teach him how, and so he spends all of his time thinking about his difficult upbringing and doesn’t believe he has the skills to build a dam? God’s creatures bring to glory to Him because they live fully in the essence of what God made them to be? So why do we humans so often struggle? We make the mistake of believing we could never accomplish our dreams, or could never land that job, or could never build a successful business, or could never lose that much weight, or could never, could never, could never…….

Much of our failure to even try can be attributed to our own self-limiting self talk. We have a voice within our own mind that we often don’t even notice. This voice can be a force for good. But I find so often in my life that it ends up being a voice for bad. And the worst part about it is how incredibly subtle and sneaky this voice can be. I can go years without realizing I have been listening to the voice inside me that tells me I can’t do something and that I shouldn’t even try.

Don’t get me wrong; we do have limits that are reasonable. I am almost 40 years old with severe arthritis. I would be a fool to dream about playing football in the NFL. But much of what I have not accomplished in life is due more to subconsciously believing that I can’t and so never trying, more than it is about my inability to do it.

So as you stop and take a moment to appreciate God’s kind and beautiful creation around you, remember that He has also, along with the rest of His created beings, made you to accomplish great things. He has given you so much. So much potential. So much ability. So much intellect. Your lack of using it could be much less due to an inability and much more due to your errant belief that you don’t possess it. Take some time today to pray and thank your Creator for what He has given you within yourself and ask Him to help you to live to your fullest potential for His glory.

The Law of “Throwing Them Open”: How to Lead a Person into Maturity

people playing american football
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

My 9 year old son just told me he is excited because he just completed his next piano lesson book. My wife, a gifted pianist, teaches all of our children piano. In our home, our children have no choice but to learn piano. There is no discussion about it. It is an automatic assumption that as each of our 4 children turn 5 or 6 years old, they begin taking lessons from their mother. Our youngest is about to turn 5, so 3 of our kids are already well on their way to being gifted musicians. As my son briefly discussed with me about the work that he and I both have to accomplish today, he said something that astounded me, and led me to discover a law of human interaction that has driven our parenting for the past 11 years: I will call the law “The Law of Throwing Them Open”.

My son turned to me and said, “Its so weird. When we are busy it seems like 30 minutes goes by so fast. But when we have nothing to do it seems like time goes by so slowly.” What he said next is what made the lightbulb turn on for me, “It’s like relativity.” He said it nonchalantly. I couldn’t believe my ears. Did my 9 year old son just correctly make a connection between life and a complex scientific idea that most 9 year olds would not even know about. I couldn’t remember who came up with the idea of relativity, so I asked him to clarify. He said, “It’s like Einstein and the law of relativity.” Wow. How does my 9 year old think so deeply. He turned and went back upstairs, leaving me pondering.

In the NFL, the best quarterbacks are ones who are able to complete a high percentage of their passes. If you ever watch the NFL, you will occasionally hear the broadcasters talk about how the great quarterbacks will throw their receivers open. It sounds strange at first, but it actually makes a lot of sense. The idea of throwing a receiver open refers to when a quarterback will see that a receiver is being very well covered by a defender, and so the quarterback will throw the ball to a spot where he sees the defender could not get to but his receiver could. When done correctly, by throwing the receiver open, the quarterback is leading the receiver into being successful, instead of waiting for the receiver to be successful. We can learn much about leadership when we apply this concept.

Whether you are parenting, managing a team, or any kind of leading of others, you can either wait for those you are leading to demonstrate they are ready and mature enough for increased responsibility and recognition, or you can give them increased responsibility as a tool to help them to mature. Like the great quarterbacks, it is the difference between waiting for someone to mature on his own, and leading someone to mature by leading him to where he needs to go.

The more I pondered my 9 year old son’s unusually mature relation of real world experiences to the theory of relativity, the more I realized this has been a consistent law of leadership at work in my own life over the years- both how I successfully led others, and how others have led me.

You can also see this concept at work with great teachers. I have a degree in education and a lot of experience teaching people. I have consistently observed over the years that the best teachers are the ones who keep their students engaged during a lesson or lecture by moving at a fast pace. When I have struggled to keep my students engaged and interested, it is often when I am moving too slowly through the content, and boring them to death. That is when behavior problems and students’ immaturity is most likely to rise to the surface. However, when I move at a fast pace, setting high expectations for their development and growth while still making the content understandable, that is when my students are interested and engaged, and when they mature in their learning.

I can see how this law of leadership has worked itself out in my parenting as well. We expect a lot out of our children. Don’t get me wrong, we also want them to have a full and fun child’s life. But we also don’t want them to grow up with standards that reflect the lowest common denominator of maturity and development. So we expect and demand obedience from a very young age. It has been our goal that by the age of 5 or 6, our children have mastered the idea that they have been born into a world of order and authority, and they are expected to submit to that good order and authority in their lives. Around the age of 7, we begin giving our kids a household job to do, careful to use the word job and not chore. Chore has a negative connotation. We want to teach them from an early age that a job is a good thing that reaps benefits when done faithfully. We are certainly imperfect in our execution of this law. But as a whole, I have seen our kids mature as we strive to lead them into more mature roles and responsibilities.

When I have excelled in life in different roles and capacities as a leader, it is when someone above me in leadership has decided to not wait for me to demonstrate that I am a strong leader already, mature in every way necessary to lead. Instead it is when they have seen some leadership or maturity qualities necessary for the job at hand, while not yet developed fully, and then they decided to hand over increased responsibility to me and assist me in growing and maturing into the role or responsibility they have given me. Like the great quarterbacks who don’t wait for an open receiver, but lead their receivers into success, great leaders will set high expectations for those whom they lead, causing them to mature and develop, instead of holding them back.

My son was able to make a real world connection with Einstein’s law of relativity because we expect much out of him as a learner. When he slows down in his schoolwork, we push him more. We work hard at teaching him that he can do far more than he thinks he can do. In a sense every day we are striving to throw our kids open, instead of waiting for them mature on their own.

Breaking the Poverty Mindset: Budget versus Increasing Income

The poverty mindset is a phrase I use to discuss a way of thinking many who grow up in poverty have learned. It is very deceptive. Relatively speaking, I grew up in poverty. Of course there are varying degrees of poverty, and poverty for some may be wealth for others. Part of the poverty mindset is believing that all your financial problems will go away if you could just make a little more money. This is a critical error that is incredibly simple, but is so deeply ingrained in the poverty mindset that it is very hard to undo.

The other day I was driving with my kids in the car. I was talking to them about the importance of salting the sidewalk in front of our home so that no one slips and gets hurt. If someone slipped, not only would it cause injury, but we could get sued. Responding to my son who asked what it meant to get sued, I told them a story about how my father one time got injured on the job and collected a settlement of a large lump sum of money. My son astutely responded with, “If grandpa got all that money, then you weren’t poor your whole life then right?” What a profound question.

My boys know the history of our family and how we struggled a lot financially growing up. We would sometimes be without electricity, or hot water, or a working home phone (this was before the mobile phone era).

This question my son asked was so incredibly insightful and perfectly captures the poverty mindset. Although my father received a lump sum of money at one point, we still never stopped living our lives to some extent in poverty. I still remember my mother rationing out the cereal even after that lump sum of money. Sure, we enjoyed a temporary time of relief for a year or two in which we were not lacking as much as we did earlier in my life. However, my father also had the home foreclosed on not more than 6 years after purchasing it. So why the poverty lifestyle even after a large sum of money was infused into the finances?

The answer lies in something that I am still learning to correct. Daily lifestyle, especially budgeting. If someone wants to break the poverty cycle, possibly the most important thing they need to do is learn to live within their means no matter how much they make, learn to write a budget and live under the authority of that budget. If we cannot learn to do that then we will never truly break the poverty cycle because no matter how much money we have, we will always feel like we need a little bit more because our spending will always be more than we bring in.

Below are a list of resources which may help you if you are trying to learn to break free from the poverty mindset and poverty cycle in your life. I hope you will join me in striving hard after learning how to discipline ourselves to live within our means and live according a budget.

https://www.crown.org

https://www.everydollar.com

 

Living with a Child-Like Passion

One of the greatest struggles of my life is figuring out how to motivate myself to exercise. I don’t. I am in my late thirties and I have gained 75 pounds from when I was a fit 18 year old just graduating from high school. Back then, I played all the time. It came easy to me for two reasons: 1. I played on the high school football team; 2. I simply loved playing sports. I was often out running around and playing with friends. Whether it was basketball, riding my bike, volleyball, or whatever other physical activity I could find, I didn’t tell myself to exercise, I simply naturally was active all the time. As a child, it was common for me to spend hours playing backyard football with my friends. I recall being totally exhausted and barely able to breath, and then lining up for the next play to try to score the next big touchdown. It was a regular part of my life. Children have a natural ability to play hard and love life that adults seem to completely lack.

We live in Michigan, where there is snow in the winter. This year, we did not get our first accumulation of snowfall until late January. It was kind of strange but, as an adult, very pleasant to not have to deal with snow until this late into the winter. My children, however, felt differently. They lamented the lack of snow and couldn’t wait for it to come. They wanted to go outside in it and make a snow fort and go sledding.

The snow finally came on Saturday. Just like clockwork the kids wanted to go outside and play in it. And the onslaught of requests to take them sledding commenced. Given that the snow came on a Saturday, I had a lot of discretionary time and could have easily taken the kids sledding. It’s what a good dad would do right? The problem is, I absolutely did not feel like going out in the cold and taking them sledding. My oldest son kept asking me. I kept giving the answer that all adults use when they don’t want to do something for their children but have no good reason for it except they are being lazy…”I’ll think about it.” The problem with “I’ll think about it” is that the kids see that as a weakness which they can exploit. And so the requests from the children intensified.

As the day went on, it became apparent that my kids really did want to go sledding as their requests turned into pleas. We only have one sled, so with 4 children they even devised a plan that included me driving them to the dollar store, and the two older boys using their money to buy their own sleds on the way to the sledding hill. It obviously meant a lot to them that I take them sledding. But I DID NOT FEEL LIKE IT AT ALL.

Suddenly something hit me.

I have an opportunity to be a blessing to my children and take them sledding. They are asking me to go out and have fun with them. And I am selfishly rejecting their requests. I began realizing that my laziness and selfishness was depriving them of the opportunity to express their natural child-like wonder, but also depriving me of that same thing as well. If I didn’t take them, I was going to deeply regret it later. What is it about adults that we completely lose the ability to know how to have fun and love life to the fullest? I decided to die to myself and take them sledding. Dread it as I did, I had to do it. They are kids. They deserved the chance to express their kid-ness after 2 snow-less months in Michigan winter.

Once I gave in to their requests and died to my own laziness and selfishness, I was able to remember. I remembered the wonder and love of life with which kids live naturally. As we arrived at the sledding hill near our house, the three oldest immediately began sledding down the hill on their sleds like it was as natural as eating or breathing. I remembered how often I loved going sledding as a kid and how naturally it came to me. I remembered what life was like before I became a boring adult that lazily sits inside when it snows instead of going out to build snow forts and endure the cold for the fun of being out in the snow.

sledding
Sledding January 19th, 2019

Ironically, as this life lesson hit me, I was scheduled to begin volunteering at my church youth group the next day for the Sunday evening youth group meetings. The boys in attendance spent their free time running around the church building playing tag. As I discussed the evening with one of the regular youth group volunteers I told them I was surprised that the kids didn’t utilize the fuse ball table, the air hockey table, and the pool table more. And she told me the boys generally just like to run around, and around, and around. Of course that is what it looks like to adults. But to those boys they are probably actually playing a game with rules imperceptible to us adults. It is as if once you get a mortgage and car payments you lose the ability to have fun. Again I was faced with how much I have changed since becoming a bill-burdened adult, and was reminded what life was like when I was just a kid who loved to run and play with my friends.

There is a huge life lesson in all of this. Maybe we struggle to motivate ourselves to exercise because we are doing it for the wrong reason. Maybe we shouldn’t even think of it as exercise. My doctor, when talking to me about my need to exercise more, told me that instead of getting a gym membership and never using it, I should think of an activity I like to do such as soccer, basketball, swimming, or whatever, and find a local club that I can sign up to join to do that activity with other adults. I think he is on to something. Kids are typically more fit. I think one of the reasons for this is because they don’t tell themselves they need to go to the gym to exercise, but instead just run after life with all their might. They love life. They play and they play hard. They remember what fun it is to fly down a hill with snow spraying in their face. They remember the joy of running around with their friends and trying to win whatever game it is they are playing. Maybe we need to stop thinking that we should exercise because it is healthy, and just live life more fully, having fun because we still can.

Should You Believe in Yourself?

Belief is a powerful thing. What we believe about any one thing will directly affect how we interact with that thing. If I believe the floor is sturdy, I will stand on it without questioning or even thinking of its integrity. If I believe something is dangerous, even if it’s not, I will be more careful when interacting with that thing. An example of this is being under a car. No matter how strong, sturdy, or secure a car is when it is up on a lift or pulled up on a set of ramps, I can’t seem to shake my fear of it falling on me when I am underneath it. Recently I was changing the oil on my Ford Explorer, which has tires big enough that I can crawl underneath the vehicle without having to lift it at all. Even though the truck was not lifted and was resting on its tires on the ground, when I was underneath it draining the oil, I could not shake my fear that the tires were going to burst in that moment and the truck was going to fall on me and crush me. What we believe about anything affects how we act when interacting with it.

This is also true about what we believe about ourselves. When we believe we can do something, we will try it. When we believe we can’t do something, we will never try it or give up quickly. This is why, as a teacher, I often saw my students, and still see my own children, quickly give up when working on something that is difficult and then just sit there, waiting for “help” instead of struggling and trying on their own. Similarly, we humans foolishly choose paths in life too often based on these false perceptions about what we believe is true about ourselves, which have no basis in reality. I have made many life decisions in the past 20 years of my life based on a false understanding I had about myself which I now call the poverty mindset, which was based entirely on a myth that I was not worthy to be counted as successful by society’s standards.

That is what the content of this blog symbolizes for me. An internal change in my beliefs about myself.

Believe in yourself. For some of you that seems like not a very profound statement. Not me. As a Christian for most of my life, I have always wanted to be careful to not ascribe to statements that would compete with all glory going to God. I used to go to a church that was very intent on identifying the right things to say, and which highlighted a very close link between your beliefs and your actions and words. This church was full of wonderful people and I learned much and developed a love of Jesus there that I never had before. However, this church also instilled in me an overly critical mindset. When someone would say something like “Believe in yourself.” I was trained to instantly identify that as a heretical statement. For, humans are only sinful wretches and offer nothing good. We shouldn’t believe in ourselves, we should believe in Jesus; He is the only one worthy of our trust.

Like a good follower, I always reacted to the “Believe in yourself” statement with instant criticism. I would not fall into that trap of believing in yourself. No way. The problem with my commitment to never condone the “believe in yourself” mantra is that I have also always struggled with lack of confidence around fellow adults, especially other guys. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake this lack of confidence.

I believe there is a direct link between my religiously-based rejection of “Believe in yourself” and my lack of confidence. Could it be that it is okay to “Believe in yourself” and still be a faithful Christian who wants to glorify Jesus in all you do?

Not too long ago, as I wrote about in a previous post, I stumbled upon the story of how Matt Nagy, who was just voted NFL Coach of the Year in his first season as the Chicago Bears head coach, rose to become an NFL football coach. Nagy’s story and example of how he lives his life has been inspiring to me. During games he carries with him a large laminated play-calling sheet. In big words in one corner are the words, “BE YOU!”. He told some reporters that he tries to live by that saying. That if he is going to fail he will fail giving it his all while being who he truly is. That struck a chord with me, and continued me on an exciting journey. I began more deeply reflecting on my life and who I am and how I got here.

In my full time job I am a Realtor. I used to be a middle and high school teacher, but left teaching for various reasons two years ago to be a full time Realtor. Having always struggled with self-confidence, especially around other guys, I felt very frustrated with myself that I had not accomplished more in my life and gone further in any given career.   As I began to self-reflect with honesty and began asking myself some hard questions, I began to realize that I had what I call a poverty mindset, and this poverty mindset was limiting my ability to grow.

A story about an encounter I had with someone while I was serving with my wife in the church nursery caring for babies on a Sunday morning best captures one of the major causes of my confidence struggles, and sheds light on the solution. As I was speaking with a fellow church member who was serving in the nursery with us, he was telling me about being unemployed and how hard that had been for him. At the time, I was a teacher at a small Christian school making $20,000 per year with no benefits. My wife worked as a stay-at-home mom and we had two boys under the age of 5. We struggled to pay the bills. As this guy was telling me about his own struggle of unemployment, he said, “This year has been hard. It is the first time in my life that I have never made at least $100,000 in a year.” My jaw dropped. I was working 50+ hours per week making a poverty income and had to pick up a job stocking shelves at night and on the weekends for an additional 15 to 20 hours per week just to pay our bills, and this dude is complaining to me that he hasn’t made $100,000 this year?! Who does he think he is?! How arrogant of him to say that to me! Doesn’t he know who he is talking to? Those were my thoughts after his comment.

For several years after that I was pretty ticked off at the guy. You see, when someone believes it is wrong to “Believe in yourself.” and they struggle with self-confidence, they put powerful and low limits on what they can accomplish. This was an amazing scene. The other guy believed in himself and I didn’t believe in myself. So his comment was very offensive to me because I did not believe that I would ever make that much money in my life.

My family grew up poor by American standards. My father never finished high school. He was a very good man who did the best he knew how to care for and provide for his family, but he was not very well equipped. We moved from house to house growing up. We would get behind in rent and we would be forced to move to a new rental home. Consequently I changed school districts about every 1 to 2 years. By the time I was in 8th grade I had been in 6 different school districts. Consequently my grades were also bad. My dad did not effectively teach me to be disciplined. My mother worked very hard to teach me self-discipline but I was a stubborn, resistant child. Furthermore, I remember there were many times when our power was shut off for days or weeks at a time, or we had no hot water and we had to boil water to take a sponge bath or take a cold shower.

My dad struggled with a lot of insecurity as well. He was often borrowing money from people and unable to pay it back. He created a low self-image for himself and our family and projected that low self-image onto others. I recall one time I was sitting in the bleachers around 12 years old at a church softball game in which my dad was playing. A couple of young men in their early twenties sitting right in front of me began making fun of my dad behind his back unaware of my presence. When they realized I was sitting behind them and could hear them, they seemed embarrassed but said nothing to me. I understood who we were and that identity became my identity. When my dad was finally able to buy a home for the first time when I was in high school, he then had it repossessed when I was 19 years old. This way of life was generated out of a way of thinking within my dad, and I was brought up in that same way.

So when this man in the nursery lamented having not made $100,000 for the first time in his life, it offended me because he was supposed to know what I already believed, that he was talking to a failure whose lot in life was to always struggle to provide for his family. That was the way I saw myself. I wouldn’t dare to allow myself to believe I could make $100,000 per year, and if I did dare to think that might be possible, I certainly wouldn’t let anyone else know I was thinking it. They might mock me and think I was crazy. After all, it is me we are talking about here.

This whole mindset was supported out of a belief that it is wrong to “believe in yourself.” I would never let myself ascribe to the “believe in yourself” mantra. It was a couple of years after the $100,000 comment that I began to slowly realize that I am no different than the other guy, and I can give myself permission to think big and dream big. I continued to teach another 5 years at two other schools before I decided that if I was ever going to break this low self-image, and earn enough money to truly provide for my family, that I would have to leave the teaching profession altogether and pursue a career which had an uncapped earning potential. So I became a full time realtor. Ever since then I have been on a journey of slowly identifying ways I am still living in the self-inflected poverty mindset and trying to break down those false barriers I have constructed preventing my own success.

Then I learned of Matt Nagy and his rise to head coach. Nagy was selling homes as a realtor when he had a chance to become an assistant coach in the NFL. Something about his “Be You” slogan, his self-confidence, and his risk-taking struck a chord with me. Around the same time, I stumbled across a book entitled The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by a Christian man named John Maxwell. In the book, he urges his readers to believe they are dignified humans with a lot more potential than they realize. He spends a lot of time encouraging his readers to believe in themselves. This challenged me. How can a Christian writer be saying we should believe in ourselves. Believe in Yourself? Could it be that it is okay for me to believe in myself. That I can do that without compromising my faith in Jesus.

That I can confess to be a sinner in need of God’s grace while also believing I am a human created by a creative God who has given me certain gifts and qualities that are good and worthy to be developed. Yes! Something clicked. 

When I realized it was okay to be a Christian and still believe in myself, my gifts and abilities, and that I have great potential to accomplish great things, it was like something clicked inside of me. The potential to excel and accomplish great things, and earn enough to provide for my family has always been there but I lacked the ability to access it. I suspect I will be continuing to gradually uncover ways I have limited myself by believing something was impossible for me. I suppose living in the reality that it is okay to believe in yourself will be a lifelong journey in which I have to uncover many old barriers I need to break down, but I now have access to the right mindset to break down those barriers. If you or someone you know has struggled to believe in yourself/themselves, I hope this post will be an encouragement to you. I hope you will realize that no matter where you come from, you truly are a person created by God with dignity and the potential to do more than you realize. The first or next step for you just might be to believe in yourself.

Writing Goals Is Stunting Your Growth

Have you ever considered the possibility that being goal oriented might be limiting your overall growth. I know, sounds crazy right? Everyone talks about the importance of setting goals, writing them down, looking at them regularly in order to accomplish them. This is what I have been doing lately. However, this morning I was challenged by John Maxwell in his book, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, where he challenges his readers to stop setting goals and instead be “growth-conscious”. The concept is astoundingly insightful.

He describes setting goals as limiting or putting a cap on our potential. In this short section, he outlines the differences between someone who is growth-conscious versus someone who is goal-conscious.

“If you’re goal-conscious, you focus on the destination. Whereas if you’re growth-conscious, you focus on the journey. Goal-conscience motivates you and others; growth conscious matures you and others. Goal-conscious leads you to be seasonal; whereas growth-conscious leads you to be lifelong. Goal-conscious challenges you; whereas growth conscious changes you. Those people who are goal-conscious stop when a goal is reached. People who are growth-conscious keep growing beyond their goal.”

This concept has hit me like a ton of bricks, challenging me to rethink my growth as a human. It was so opposite to what is typical for good advice that I thought I would share it with you today. Consider transitioning from being goal-oriented to being growth-oriented. You may find yourself growing in ways you hadn’t seen before.

Update on 1/18/19

I don’t mean to say that writing goals is bad or detrimental, and I don’t think that John Maxwell would say that. I think that writing goals can be very helpful. But John Maxwell’s point seemed to be about the mindset we have. We may use goals to grow, but we must live with a growth mindset instead of a goal mindset. A growth mindset will help us grow far beyond our goals.

Have You Ever Stopped to Notice?

Aren’t wheel barrows glorious? My favorite poem is about a wheel barrow.. sort of. If the length of a poem was any indicator of how intellectual you are, then I suppose I am not very intellectual. The Red Wheel Barrow is only 16 words long. It’s my favorite poem because it is a reminder to me to notice the beauty all around, and to notice the “small” things as blessings in my life.

“The Red Wheel Barrow” by William Carlos Williams

So much depends

upon

The red wheel

barrow

Glazed with rain

water

Beside the white

Chickens

I know, short right? William Carlos Williams is an accomplished poet. And yet at first glance this poem seems so….unpoetic.

But I have always loved this poem. Something about it strikes me to the core. It excites me. You see I have pondered much about its meaning. “So much depends” suggests that there are many blessings that are symbolized by the red wheel barrow sitting outside next to the chickens. It reminds me to stop and notice the blessings I have. This tool that is used for work is worn, is not properly appreciated as it is left outside to get rained on. And yet, so much depends upon it. It is something that is taken for granted, but the poet decided it was important enough to stop and write a shockingly short poem about it.

It’s a reminder to me to remember to pause my life regularly to appreciate things which I typically forget to appreciate. Sadly, we humans can often forget to appreciate the beauty and blessing of things that we have, things we should be appreciating: our children, our home, the trees, the sky, the crisp cool air in the morning, the birds chirping as the sun rises, our coffee (oh wait, we are probably pretty good about appreciating that), our work, forgiveness in Christ.

In John Piper’s article from desiringgod.org entitled, “10 Resolutions for Mental Health” he says the following for resolution number 6, “I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.”

Let us live today with renewed inspired resolve by remembering to pause and notice the beauty and wonder of the things in our life which we normally take for granted. Remember to notice.

Purpose in All Things

Do you believe everything happens for a purpose? Everything? That is a question my wife and I had to struggle with intensely the dreadful night the doctors told us our six year old son had a tumor in his pelvis and they believed it to be an aggressive soft tissue bone cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma. I will never forget that moment. I am sure you have life experiences of your own which cause you to wrestle with whether there is a purpose to everything that happens.

This morning I came across an article on a popular Christian site called Desiringgod.org. John Piper wrote an article entitled “10 Resolutions for Mental Health”. Each of the resolutions struck a cord with me, especially number 10: He writes, “Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.”

zachary with anne and the other kids after his surgery
Zachary getting a visit from his siblings after his hemipelvectomy.

As we walked through Zachary’s cancer treatment we had to work hard to see how our theoretical faith played a real life role in giving us comfort in the midst of the most difficult trial of our lives so far. The idea that God is good and loving, even in the midst of difficult life trials, was comforting to us. But it goes further. God is not only good in the midst of our trials, but we are firmly convinced that God is good and loving by giving us our trials.

God loves us so much that he cares about our eternal happiness more than our temporal happiness. The Lord is always working in our trials. He has a purpose. I think of the number of people who were encouraged and touched, the number of people who touched us, the number of people whose lives were changed forever by encountering our sweet, joy-filled, always-smiling, never-complaining son as he endured all the intense pains, difficulties, and struggles that go along with his treatment.

zachary's xray after his surgery
This is the X-ray after Zachary’s surgery on December 9th, 2014. This was taken two days later. You can see the two straps which are drains as well as his staples. They removed portions of his pelvis on his left side where his tumor was. Over time his pelvis grew scar tissue fusing his femur back to his pelvis. However, upon completion of the surgery, his femur was completely detached from his pelvis. The two were fused back together over the next two years naturally. The doctors’ plan worked beautifully.

God is doing things, big things, good things with your trials. This brought us much comfort in the midst of the trial. We could rest knowing that every aspect of that difficulty, no matter how it turned out in the end, had a good purpose. What comfort to know that our God was involving us and our family in His grand plans to pour out His love on others, and in the process was intentionally loving us through the trials He was giving us. One day maybe we will get to see a more clear glimpse of how God used Zachary’s cancer to glorify himself by loving us and the world around us. Until that day, we trust.

Small Stones Make Long-Lasting Ripples: How A Small Part of Your Day Is Either Helping or Hurting You.

water wave circle drop of water
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Have you ever thrown stones in a lake? For some reason it seems to be one of the greatest joys of boyhood. One of the many things I love doing with my boys is going hiking at local parks. Inevitably, when we come to the edge of a lake, pond, or river, they begin passionately looking for stashes of stones in the ground that they can throw into the water. A competition ensues to see who is able to throw a stone the furthest or who can skip a rock the most times. But have you ever watched what happens after the stone lands in the water? Of course you know that it creates ripples in the water that gradually expand out from the point at which the stone first entered the surface of the water. But have you ever stopped to take a moment to watch it? The ripples, even from a small stone, carry on and effect the water surprisingly far away from the point of entrance of the stone. There is much we can learn about that concept when we apply it to our life. Our lives are made up of a collection of small decisions which create ripple effects upon the lake of our entire life. One of these small daily decisions that has huge impacts on whether we are making progress toward our life goals or moving backwards away from our goals is how we handle our bedtime routine.

Of course, I am assuming you are already on a path of living on purpose or living with what I have called inspired resolve. This means you have written down your life purpose and have written some lofty life goals for yourself which are directly connected to your life purpose. If you have not done that yet, then it won’t really matter to you one way or another whether you have a productive bedtime routine or not. And your bedtime routine will also depend on if you are single, married, living with a roommate, have children or not, etc. But make no mistake, we can trace the ripples that are created by our bedtime routines.

I have done a lot of reading about what makes successful people stand out from those who have no direction or are unsuccessful. There are many things that make them stand out, one of the most important being how they spend their early mornings. Successful people see their mornings as invaluable parts of their day. Intentionally living the early morning part of your day is critical to living your life with inspired resolve and growing towards accomplishing your life goals.

Imagine going through your life always sleeping in until the last possible minute before you have to get up to get somewhere on time. For some of you, you don’t have to imagine. You start your day out stressed, hurried, eating an unhealthy breakfast if you eat one at all. You are speeding to get to work or school, trying to see how many traffic laws you can come close to breaking without getting pulled over. You are wearing a wrinkled shirt because you had no time to iron. You are playing catch up with every aspect of your day from the moment you awake. Sounds unpleasant right?

Now imagine you wake up early, let’s say 5:00 am for the purpose of this conversation. You have a rigidly structured morning routine which includes a time of prayer and inspirational reading, stretching, exercise, reviewing your plans and goals for the day, and giving yourself plenty of time to begin your work. As you sit in the quietness of the early morning before other members of the home have awaken, you hear the birds begin to chirp while you read and drink your coffee. You get ready with plenty of time to spare. You leave for work with plenty of time to be a few minutes early. You are calm, already feel productive for the day, and feel physically and emotionally refreshed and confident as you set out to live your day with inspired resolve.

Which type of day would you like to live? I assume you said the second one, the one where you awoke early and were productive.

Let me ask you another question: What is your normal bedtime routine? Do you have a set bedtime for yourself or do you go to bed when you are just too tired to stay awake any longer. Do you watch tv or movies in bed? Do you stay awake late into the night? Remember you most likely already acknowledged the fact that you would like to live a life of inspired resolve, awaking early every morning with purpose and intention.

The way we spend our mornings creates ripples throughout our entire day, and then those days turn into weeks, months, years, and a lifetime. The way you wake up each morning is directly related to whether you are living your life accomplishing your goals and, ultimately, your purpose in life.

If you, like me, see the value of starting each day early and living on purpose, you need to realize that it requires you to have an equally intentional and purposeful bedtime routine the night before. Something that my wife and I got into the bad habit of doing is going to bed every night with a digital device and watching our favorite shows on Netflix until we couldn’t stay awake any longer. This became very harmful to our relationship and to our overall life. We both found it very difficult to get up in the morning even though we both wanted to live our early mornings with inspired resolve. We have decided to commit to no longer ending our day this way.

My new routine is to sit down some time in the late afternoon or early evening (before I am too tired) and review what I accomplished that day and what I want to accomplish the next day. I then write out my agenda for the next day with all the tasks I want to finish carefully planned out. I have a very strict bedtime of 10pm so that I can be sure to wake up at 4:15am, my desired wake up time. Some days I am not faithful at this routine, but I am growing. I review my goals every night as a reminder about why I want to do this so that when the temptation comes to break this routine, I am able to remember what inspires me.

Just like my boys and I throwing stones in a lake and creating ripples that effect the water far away from where the stone fell in, we are constantly making ripples in our life with our daily choices. It is entirely up to you how you want your life to go. You just have to realize that the ripples you are living in today are a direct result of the stones you threw days, weeks, months, and years ago. And if you don’t like how your life is going today, then maybe you should begin to start throwing different kinds of stones in new places in your life. The ripples always come, but you get to dictate where and how.

 

 

The Glory of the Daily Grind

In “Break Free from Our Self-Adorned Chains”, I discussed the need for us to stop limiting ourselves with a focus on our own limitations. I challenged you to identify an area in your life where you have been limiting yourself based on your own false self-limitations. Too often we live our life wishing we could accomplish things we see others accomplishing, but never trying because we falsely believe they are beyond our grasp. However, breaking free from self-inflicted limitations is only the first step of accomplishing your lofty goals. If we are to accomplish much in our short time on this earth, we must not only be inspired but live daily with resolve to work at our goals, even when we don’t feel inspired.

I was sharing with my wife how discouraged I am because at 37 years old, I feel like there is so much I wanted to have accomplished by now. She encouraged me that great accomplishments happen through the mundane daily struggle of daily faithfulness. That is the key! It clicked in my heart at a deeper level than ever before. If I wanted to learn to play the piano, it is not out of my grasp; it is very achievable if I am willing to practice every day. If you want to write a book, it is not just a pipe dream that you should think you will never accomplish, it is very achievable if you are willing to sit down and do the work.

I am currently listening to an audio book by John Maxwell called The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. In Chapter One he tells a riddle that goes something like this: 4 turtles were sitting on a log in the water. Three of them decided to jump into the water. How many were left still on the log? If you think the answer is 1, you are wrong. There were still 4 turtles left on the log. Why? Because 3 of them only decided to jump into the water. If they were going to accomplish it, they still needed to go from deciding in their minds to actually doing.

So as we begin to work on changing our own self-perceptions and beliefs, we still need to take another step–actually begin to do. And that is a very hard step to take. You see it can be easy to motivate ourselves to take the first step towards our goals. (Indeed, you are reading this blog because I made the first step towards executing my decision.) But the real success comes when we commit ourselves to the daily faithfulness of working toward that goal.

I can tell you right now that I am not making rapid progress in learning the piano. I only sit down to practice once or twice per week and usually only for 15 minutes at a time. This blog was exhilarating and exciting for me for the first 4 of my posts. (I am actually surprised it lasted that long without my excitement waning). But today was a different story. My goal is to write and post something every day. But when I sat down to write this post, I initially felt uninspired and unmotivated, and did not feel like doing it. Thankfully, I was able to fight through that feeling, and I hope you are the better for having read this far.

We love beauty. We are wired for it. We vacation to places where we can behold the beauty of the majestic creation. We listen to beautiful music. We enjoy watching professional athletes because they manifest an element of beauty as they compete to be the best at their craft. We appreciate beautiful furniture, clothing, cars, homes, etc. But the greatest violinist or the most gifted ballet dancer, or the most beautiful opera singer did not become that way without hours upon hours of hard work in the quiet places and in the early morning and late at night. They did not work at practice and discipline only when they felt inspired and only when they felt refreshed and motivated. They had to commit themselves to discipline and practice on a daily basis. They lived their daily life with inspired resolve. For while it is easy to pursue your goals when you are inspired, you need resolve to pursue them when you can’t find or remember the inspiration that led you to make the goal to begin with.

As you walk with me on my journey of living with inspired resolve, I hope you and I will both commit to growing in the seemingly boring, mundane, grind of daily faithfulness working towards our goals. For it is in that boring world, that we can truly accomplish great things.