Making Memories, Slowing Down, Being Flexible

IMG_2566I’m coming up to the halfway point of my cross country trip with my family. We’re about 3100 miles into the trip and it’s been an adventure. I’ve never had to change the oil on a trip before. It wasn’t because of bad timing on my part, it was because we’ve just drive THAT many miles.

We got all the way to Carlsbad, New Mexico and finally had to use our camping gear that had been stored in a roof cargo bag. Turns out, with the high temperatures and high speeds that we had been driving (all within the speed limit), the cargo bag didn’t fare very well. So, we were forced to move everything that had been on the roof into the car. 5 people, luggage, a plug-in cooler, camping gear, and everything else that we had, all packed into a mini-van.

Sound like fun yet?

We’ve seen the Biltmore House, Graceland, the French Quarter, the Civil Rights Museum, the Alamo. Carlsbad Caverns, and we’ve not even gotten to Hollywood yet.

It’s been a whirlwind and my brain hasn’t been able to process things nearly as quickly as I am seeing them. My camera shutter is going off a mile a minute and I’m wondering when my wife is going to ask the inevitable question of how many pictures I’ve taken on the trip and whether I’m going to actually include anyone in those pictures.

We’ve changed our plans here and there, abandoned destinations, added destinations, been forced to accommodate for unforeseen circumstances, and tried to keep three kids nine years old and younger occupied and under control for the thousands of miles that we have driven. Throughout all of it, there are three big lessons that have emerged. Make memories. Slow Down. Be flexible.

I have been constantly amazed at the fact that the things that I think are going to capture my kids seem to be met with ho-hum responses while the things that I wouldn’t have expected would garner excitement and response are the ones to which they react to the most strongly. It’s the moments which you least expect which are the ones that will probably last the longest.

I’ve witnessed the sun rise over the desert mountains in New Mexico with my son on multiple mornings. As we watched the sun climb up the horizon, I couldn’t help but put my arm around him, hold him a little closer, and realize that we were sharing a moment together, no one else. We’ve been to gift shops galore, bought the T-shirts and the snow globes, but it’s moments like these that will make the largest mark on my kids.

Although we’ve been to some amazing places, seen some amazing things, my daughter seems to want to judge the places we stay on their swimming pools. So, taking time to swim in these pools has had to be part of our routine, as much as possible. They’re all pools to me, but they hold some kind of magic for her. Not sure why, but there’s really no point in arguing. Swimming pools on rooftops in New Orleans to swimming pools in the desert in New Mexico, they all seem to capture the eye of my four year old, and I bet she’ll remember them when everything else seems to fade away.

Memories can’t be forcefully made. I’ve had to remind myself of that over and over again. As much as I would love to create moments along the way, the ones that stick are the ones for which I never planned, the ones that sneak up on me, the ones that just happen, without any pre-planning or contriving. Those are the moments that make for the best memories, and you just have to go with them.

There have been moments when we’ve had to put movies on the DVD player for the kids. As much as I would love for them to be as enamored with the landscape as much as my wife and I have been, I know that they just aren’t and I can’t force it. One of the films we brought along for them to watch is “Cars,” the Pixar movie. The more I watch that movie, the more I fall in love with it, and although I didn’t actually watch it (I just listened to the audio as I drove along), I couldn’t help but have my heart strings tugged when James Taylor sings about “Our Town” and I began to realize yet again how quickly things can change around you.

At one point in the movie, Lightning McQueen (the main character) and his love interest, Sally, go for a drive. It’s something McQueen isn’t familiar with, after all, he’s a race car. The idea of just going for a drive on a country road doesn’t really make any sense to him…..until he does it. Sure, his motives weren’t pure at first, but then he realizes what can happen when you just slow down.

I’ve found the same thing. When I stop rushing around and slow down, I see things that I didn’t see before, I hear things that I hadn’t heard before, the world just looks different to me. Slowing down means that I can’t pack my schedule so tight that there’s no breathing room. When my schedule is so jam-packed, the inevitable response from me will be frustration because there is no margin of error built into my schedule. Plans are good, but planning too tightly will simply result in frustration and, eventually, anger. That’s never a good place to be.

Finally, I’m learning to be flexible. I’m learning that it doesn’t matter if we take a detour. I’m learning that you can’t see everything and that the things that you want to see might not be what everyone else wants to see. Flexibility is not a family trait that I have inherited (I’ve blogged about it before), so I’ve got to work a little harder at it. But as I work to be more flexible, it leaves the space that I talked about above and it also leaves space for the memories to be made.

I won’t lie and say that there hasn’t been any frustration on the trip. There has been shouting. There have been tears. There has been anger, but I think that should be expected considering the circumstances. But we’re doing our best to make this trip of a lifetime really live up to what we’ve been calling it all along. The. Trip. Of. A. Lifetime.

We’re so incredibly grateful for this time as a family and I don’t even think that we will fully appreciate just what it’s meant to all of us for months and years to come. We’re reaching the halfway point and I can’t wait to see how this adventure goes!

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Strengths and Learning

Last week, I celebrated my fifteenth wedding anniversary. Just one week before my wife and I got married, we took part in a leadership seminar at our church. During the course of that seminar, we took a number of personality assessments such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and an assessment called StrengthsFinders. It was something new to me then but over the course of these last fifteen years, not only has it been helpful to me but it has informed much of what I do, how I interact with others, and how I lead others.

It’s hard for me to think of a time when StrengthsFinders didn’t come up over the past fifteen years. In conversations that my wife and I would have, we would talk about each other’s strengths and the strengths of others. It helped us in our understanding of ourselves, each others, and those around us.

It’s fitting that I take off today for the first of two training sessions to be a Strengths Communicator. When it’s all over, I will have the opportunity to lead others through StrengthsFinders so that it can hopefully be as helpful to them as it has been to me. I will be able to guide other people in their understanding of this valuable assessment so that they too might reap the benefits of knowing where their strengths lie.

A brief overview of StrengthsFinders for those who are not familiar with it is probably in order. There are 34 signature themes that everyone possesses, the most common talents exhibited by people, identified through the Clifton StrengthsFinders assessment. The assessment gives a person their top five strengths so that people can focus on those strengths, improving them and using them to the best of their abilities. These strengths range from Communication, Empathy, Developer. Relator, Context, and Woo. They give fairly accurate descriptions of how those who possess them exhibit them in their natural behavior.

At some point in my professional career, I started feeling a discomfort whenever it came time for year-end reviews. I appreciated the opportunity to be encouraged for the good things that I had done, but I felt that the encouragement was just a flicker of a moment compared to what I would hear when it came to all of the areas of improvement that I had.

To be honest, when I was working in the engineering field, I’m not sure that I felt this as strong as I did when I went into full-time vocational ministry. I remember a time when I sat in a review and was so pleased to hear the positive feedback that I was getting…..in the first five minutes. After that, it was all downhill, and I just scratched my head. It didn’t make sense to me. I had worked hard all year long, had good interaction with my supervisor, and yet I felt as if I was failing…..BIG TIME!

A few years later, that supervisor began to get trained in StrengthsFinders. I vividly remember walking out of our building together at the end of the day having spent a few days together with all of our staff talking through the make-up of our staff and their strengths. He looked at me and said, “Do you know what the biggest “a ha” moment has been in this whole thing? It’s you!” I looked at him and thoughts, “Well, it’s about time.” I was grateful that I was finally going to be understood.

Just a few weeks later, he resigned.

I was discouraged. I had finally felt as if I was going to experience a breakthrough. I thought that I would finally be fully understood and would finally be able to focus on my strengths. It felt like a major letdown for me, but I would continue to push forward, doing my best to broaden my own understanding and the understanding of everyone around me. After all, how else can change happen other than spreading the word and educating people?

Along the way, I began to realize that focusing on all of my weaknesses was going to drive me crazy. As a follower of Christ, I am constantly seeking to be transformed. Constantly. Growth and change should be part of who we are…..always….with no exception. We should be able to say that we are not who we once were. At the same time, understanding my strengths and using them to my advantage seemed to be a good focal point for me.

The more that I studied strengths, the more I realized how valuable it could be if organizations used them to their advantage. What would it look like if teams of people who worked together were to look at their strengths to help them better understand themselves and each other? What would it look like if people began to see how they complemented one another as they worked together towards a common goal?

I’ve got lots of theories how this can help me and the teams with whom I work, but only time will tell whether or not these theories are correct and if they can translate to others. Knowing how helpful that they have been to me over the last fifteen years and how helpful it’s been in my understanding of those around me.

I am sure that these next few days will feel like drinking from the firehose. Beyond these days and my additional days in August, I can’t wait to start putting into practice what I learn to see whether focusing on people’s strengths in an organization will be as helpful as I think it will be.

I’m Seeing More Clearly Now

When I was in high school, I worked two jobs on Saturdays to make some money. I worked from 7AM until 2PM at a local gas station and 3PM until 7PM at the local Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop. Not only did it benefit me financially, but it also gave me two very distinct windows into my culture and context. Working for people and with people has a way of doing that.

The job at Baskin-Robbins wasn’t quite as formative for me as the job at the gas station. My co-workers at the ice cream shop were much more like me while I felt like a foreigner while working at the gas station, which was a really good thing. As good of a thing as it was, I had some big lessons to learn while I was there.

You see, I was getting a good education and was most likely headed to college to pursue a professional career. My white privilege mindset had been formed in me by my surrounding culture and I thought that I was so important and special and that I knew an awful lot. Turns out, I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did.

I remember one day when it became abundantly clear to me that I didn’t know as much as I thought that I did. I watched one of my coworkers make his way around a car engine in a way that was completely foreign to me. He might not have been able to pull up all of the useless knowledge that I had stocked within my brain, but when it came to the practical and useful information of a car engine, he danced circles around me.

In that moment, I came to the realization that just because someone didn’t know what I knew didn’t mean that they didn’t know anything. While it may seem like a simple lesson, it was an important one for me to learn as a fifteen year old growing up in an incredibly affluent town surrounded by privilege and plenty. It’s stuck with me since that day, nearly thirty years ago.

The lesson that I learned that day was not something that I simply walked away from and put behind me, it was a lesson that I am brought back to over and over again in my life. If I don’t intentionally find ways to put myself into someone else’s shoes and get a different perspective and appreciation of something, I find that life has a way of forcing me into that place where I can see things more clearly.

Last week, my wife was pretty sick for days in a row. While she’s been sick before, I don’t think she’s ever been hit this hard by something (besides pregnancy) since we’ve had all three kids.

I realized early on that she wasn’t going to be able to do everything that she would normally do. The cooking. The laundry. The cleaning. The keeping track of everyone all at once. I knew that I would need to step up my game. So, that’s what I tried to do.

Now, let me say, I do my best to tell my wife how much I appreciate her. I’ve never been a fan of Mother’s Day for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that mothers need to be appreciated every day, not just on a Hallmark holiday in May. Just because I do my best doesn’t mean that there isn’t lots of room for improvement. As I surveyed the landscape of the house, the list of groceries waiting to be bought, the calendar items waiting to be attended, and the general condition of the house and our family, I realized just how much I had taken my wife for granted. I realized how I just always expected that she would be there, walking behind everyone, waiting to pick up the pieces that were dropped along the way, quietly serving and putting them back into their respective places.

While I had struggled with reentry after some much needed, restful time away, reentry is a luxury that my wife is rarely afforded because in order to experience reentry, you actually need to leave for a time. Moms are always on, whether they are working outside of the home or if they are stay at home moms, their jobs are rarely done and their “me” time is few and far between.

I’ve gained a new appreciation for a role that is not my usual role. My prayer in it all is that I show that appreciation every day. I know that my own capacity to accomplish the things that my wife accomplishes (and accomplishes well) on a daily basis is limited. I can play “Mr. Mom” for so long before I finally crash, my wife has a knack for making it look easy. No, she’s not perfect, but she’s perfect for me.

Now, you’ll have to excuse me, I think there’s something I need to be tending to around this house.

At Just the Right Time

IMG_4276I love to read. It’s not uncommon for me to be in the middle of 3 or 4 books at a time. I have stacks of books that I am waiting to get into. I have a reading plan that I do my best to follow throughout the year (check it out here). I review books here on my blog. People give me books that they recommend.

With all of the books that I have waiting in the wings to be read, I don’t always follow an order or a linear path. I’ll often put aside some books and pick up others that weren’t even on my radar before I pick them up.

I say all this because I am constantly amazed at the countless times in life when I have pulled a book off of my shelf that has sat their idle for months or even years only to have it drip with relevance as soon as I start reading it. It seems that the moment I crack the book open and begin reading was ordained so much that it hits me square between the eyes, speaking to me in the intimacy of my own thoughts and exposing me at the very moment in which I find myself. It’s almost as if I had purposely waited for just that moment to begin reading.

A few weeks ago, I finally got around to a book that had been on my radar for at least a year, Brennan Manning’s “The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus.” My lead pastor and friend had recommended it sometime last year. I ordered it, put it on my shelf, and then promptly forgot about it.

As I journey through the sabbatical that I am on, it seemed incredibly relevant for me to read these words, “Am I getting too serious about life? Have I let my sense of childlike wonder fade? Am I so caught up in preaching, teaching, writing and traveling that I no longer hear the sound of rain on the roof?” As those words jumped off the page at me, I silently snickered as I thought of how apropos these words were for such a time as I am in.

In the middle of a section of the book where he talks about Christmas, I read the above phrase. It struck me as even more relevant because for the past few years, I have worked hard to slow myself down in the midst of one of the busiest times of the year: Christmas. I’ve realized that the four weeks of Advent can too easily be lost to me if I don’t intentionally journey through them.

But these words could hardly be relegated to just the Advent season. Looking at my children, I can see that childlike wonder of which Manning speaks if I simply stop and pay attention. If I look hard enough and silence myself and all that is within me long enough, I can see a living example of wonder right there before my very eyes.

To read this during a sabbatical seemed like so much more than just coincidence. It was as if I was supposed to be reading it at this time and place in my life.

No sooner had I read these words about slowing down and taking things in then I read this, “The early Christians considered themselves supermen not because of superhuman willpower but because of reliance on the supernatural power of the Spirit.” I was pretty sure that I had said something similar in a sermon as one of my “go to” Greek words is the word dunamis which means, “power.”

These two points were incredibly relevant and poignant to read in this season of life. Reminders to not take myself too seriously and to try to keep a childlike wonder about myself, but also a reminder that I’m not nearly as important as I might convince myself and that the power that I have to do things doesn’t originate from me.

As John the Baptist said, “I must decrease and he must increase.” The Apostle Paul spoke of his boasting in his weakness and his boast being in Christ alone. My confidence and strength resides within me, but it does not originate within me, it comes from outside of me, and I can never forget that.

Brennan Manning continues to stretch me and challenge me every time that I engage one of his works. I am not nearly as gracious to myself as I need to be. I far too often find my flaws and flagellate myself with them rather than releasing them or, as Paul did, rejoicing in them. My flaws don’t show my weakness so much as they show Christ’s strength, and that’s an important distinction that I can’t forget.

I know that there will be other books that have been collecting dust on my shelves, waiting for me to pick them up, that will speak to me at the particular and specific moment in which I pick them up. It’s happened far too many times to be considered coincidence. For now, I’ll rest in the lessons that I’ve learned in this reading and do my best to savor them and soak them in.

Watching As Spiritual Discipline

amelieMovies have always been important to me. I’m not sure when they became so important to me or how it happened, but as I have gotten older, I realize that they can be used for so many different things. We’ve watched movies together as a family for a family movie night, I’ve watched movies to unwind and distract me, I’ve watched movies to help me to laugh, and I’ve watched movies to provoke my mind and help me to think deeper thoughts.

It’s the last way that I’ve watched movies that has actually been a larger focus of mine over the years. When my wife and I were living in Connecticut, we were newly married and had a number of single friends. We would host movie discussion nights at our small little house. We had some fun times and great discussions as we worked our way through some interesting films.

Film is story. I know that there are people who don’t see much redemptive qualities about films, but I firmly believe that any medium that can be used to tell honest and profound stories is worthwhile. The stories aren’t always nice and neat, they are sometimes raw and unrefined, maybe even offensive, but isn’t that the way that life really is to us if we’re honest about it?

While I was in seminary, I had the opportunity to take a movie theology class. A lot of my friends scratched their heads at that one, but I explained it was about finding the God stories in movies. The class for me was a confirmation of things that I had thought all along, that people are searching for God, they don’t always find him or come to the right conclusion in their search, but there are lessons learned along the way.

To me, watching films can be a spiritual discipline. Yes, I read God’s Word as the primary source of knowledge and understanding of who he is, but movies are helpful, especially to understand perspectives that are not my own. I know the questions that I have, the things that dwell deep within me, but how about the questions and stirrings in others. In film, we feel those stirrings, we hear those questions, we see the struggles that are real in other people.

Now I’m not naïve enough to think that this is the case with all films. It’s kind of hard to find the deeper meaning of life and the searching for God in “Dumb and Dumber” and other films whose sole purpose is to entertain. But many movies are so much more than just entertainment, they are stories of struggles that are not specific to the fictional characters within their frames, but allegorical depictions of real-life struggles that have been felt by writers, directors, producers, and others.

I still watch films for the entertainment value and to laugh, but I feel the need to watch films that stir my mind, that help me to contemplate who I am, who God is, and who I am as I am in relationship with him. When I look at films from that perspective, the act of watching becomes a spiritual discipline, something that helps me think deeper about myself, others, and God.

It might seem far off to some, and I get that, it’s not for everyone, but I think that it’s like so many things that we see in our culture, a tool. Tools are meant to be used and I’ve seen people use average and ordinary tools to do extraordinary things. Maybe average and ordinary films can be used to think extraordinary thoughts and to help us reflect deeper than we might without them.

On the Job Training

learningSince I graduated from college, I’ve spent two decades in two distinctly different fields of work. I graduated with a civil engineering degree and worked for consultants while I got a Master’s degree in environmental engineering.

After 10 years in engineering, I felt a call to go into full-time vocational ministry. I was called to be a pastor in a church in Asheville, North Carolina. The denomination in which I was serving did not care so much that I didn’t have a seminary degree, they were more concerned with what I believed and whether or not I really felt that God was calling me to do this. I eventually went to seminary, successfully achieving a graduate degree in both of the fields of work in which I had spent my time.

In both my engineering career and my ministry career, I experienced on the job training. Most of the things that I had to do once I started as a consulting engineer were not things that I had been directly taught in college or in graduate school. I had a great mentor for those first few years in engineering who showed me an awful lot. We got along fairly well, which was helpful considering the amount of time that we spent together.

The same was true when I went into ministry. Considering that I had not gone to seminary when I had first started as a pastor, I felt that I was even more behind the eight ball. Every week, I was reading two or three books about ministry or theology or some subject that was relevant to what I was doing. In those first few years as a pastor before I went to seminary, I was learning on the job and I was soaking in any and every nugget of information that I could find in the books that I read, the people that I met, and the experiences that I had.

My doctor while I was in high school and through college was a doctor that my parents had used for a number of years. He was a nice guy, personable and winsome with a great bedside manner. As can often be the case with those kinds of doctors, we would get to chatting whenever I would go to the office for a checkup or visit. In our conversations, I discovered as I was getting ready to go off to college that he had graduated from my alma mater, Lehigh University.

I’ll never forget what he said to me that day. He told me that he had gone to medical school up at Yale. I thought about how smart he must have been and imagined where my next move would be after college. But he told me that he had a harder time getting good grades at Lehigh than he had at Yale. I kind of scratched my head considering all that I had heard about Ivy League schools. Then he said, “The thing is, at Lehigh they taught me how to learn.” Those words always have stuck in my head, in college, I learned how to learn.

While I rarely touch on the things that I spent hours and hours studying in college, the act and process of learning were just as important, if not more so, than the actual subject matter. Learning how to learn was an important life lesson that set the way for the rest of my life.

Since that day, I’ve laughed often as I’ve taken personality and strengths assessments that tell me of my love for learning. Anyone who knows me knows that on any given day I am probably reading three or four books. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I still have to learn, but that’s not reason to give up, it just makes me hungrier to know more, not so that I can lord it over anyone or brag but so that I can engage with as many people as possible.

I love to talk with new people. I love to hear their story and to know where they’ve been and where they’re going in life. As I delve into different subjects in my life, I find that it helps me to connect with others because I can always find some common topic to vamp on for some amount of time.

I’ve been grateful to have had some pretty great work environments where I can learn as I go. I’ve had some great mentors along the way. It certainly didn’t hurt my entrance into ministry that my dad and I had a good relationship. Having served as a pastor for about 36 years by the time I became a pastor, he was a great mentor to me. I miss him every day and long to have conversations with him, to glean his wisdom, and to hear his insights and thoughts.

As I watch my children grow, I’m thrilled to see a strong love of reading in both of my boys (my daughter hasn’t reached the reading stage yet). That love of reading and of learning will help them wherever they go. I’m looking forward to the day that I can share some of the same insights that have been shared with me. If they crave learning and learn to learn, they’ll go far.

My 2016 Reading Plan

booksI put together a book plan for 2015 and did not get through the list nearly as well as I would have liked. I only was able to read 11 of the 35 books that I had listed, not a bad percentage if I’m playing baseball, but I’d much rather do better in accomplishing my reading goal. The biggest drawback that I faced was the books that would pop up along the way, books recommended by friends, colleagues, and others, as well as all of the books that I review for my blog, of which there were 19 total last year (approximately 36% of my total books read).

This year, I am shortening my list and including many books that I have started and left unfinished for some time. So, 2016 may be the year of closing up some loose ends. Some of the books are carry overs, books that I missed in 2015.

I’m knocking the number down from 33 books last year to 28. I read 53 books in 2015 and I expect I will read at least as much this year, but I want to make sure that I am leaving room for spontaneity as well as edification, growth, and enjoyment in my reading.

I’ve tried to mix up different genres and go with some books that I may not normally read or gravitate towards. Trying to expand my horizons a bit and see what I can learn along the way. I’ve been trying to read books by people with whom I may not agree in an effort to stretch myself.

Without further ado, here is my list:

Chris Crowley & Henry S. Lodge, M.D. “Younger Next Year”

Martin Dugard “To Be A Runner”

Rachel Held Evans “Evolving In Monkey Town”

Michael Frost “The Road To Missional”

Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch “ReJesus”

Craig Groeschel “#struggles”

Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon “Resident Aliens’

Laura Hillenbrand “Unbroken”

Howard V. and Edna H. Hong, editors “The Essential Kierkegaard”

Tim Keller “Center Church”

Tim Keller “Preaching”

Patrick Lencioni “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”

Madeline L’Engle “Walking On Water”

C.S. Lewis “Mere Christianity”

C.S. Lewis “Perelandra”

C.S. Lewis “That Hideous Strength”

Brennan Manning “The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus”

George R.R. Martin “A Game of Thrones”

Paul E. Miller “A Praying Life”

R. Albert Mohler, Jr. “We Cannot Be Silent”

Jürgen Moltmann “The Crucified God”

Jürgen Moltmann “A Broad Place”

H. Richard Niebuhr “Christ & Culture”

Flannery O’Connor “The Complete Stories”

Neil Peart “Ghost Rider”

Andrew Peterson “The Warden and the Wolf King”

David Platt “Counter Culture”

N.T. Wright “Simply Jesus”

I would love to hear about some of your favorite books and whether or not you have interacted with any on this list.

Happy reading!

Open Your Eyes

I sat on my couch, hearing the ticking of the clock behind me and trying to focus. Even in the quiet of the morning with nothing but that ticking clock to distract me, I can still somehow find ways to lose my focus.

As my eyes opened and closed, I wondered to myself, who said that the proper stance for prayer was head bowed and eyes closed? I get it, but it’s a hard thing for me to do. So, after assuming the position multiple times, I finally gave in and left my eyes open.

I turned my body to face the back of my house and the windows that looked out onto the screened porch. Beyond the porch was the horizon and I could see the sun rising in the distance. As its warm glow slowly made its way into the morning sky, I wondered how many times I had actually seen it there.

Of course, I know that every day the sun rises and the sun sets whether or not I notice it, but I wondered whether or not I had actually realized that I had the view that I had. How had I missed it? What was I doing that kept me so distracted from seeing this event unfold before my eyes?

It seems a constant theme in our world, the need to slow down and smell the roses. We can easily fall into the trap of stepping into time with the rest of our culture and becoming overwhelmed with busyness. We find ourselves running in the rat race that we didn’t even realize we had entered. We wonder how we got there when we had told ourselves that we wouldn’t fall victim to the trap, we wouldn’t get suckered in.

How many times have I said that I wouldn’t only to find that I really would?

Slow down.

Take a breath.

Breathe easy.

As I watched through the trees to see that glowing orb light up the morning sky, it was a gentle reminder to me that my eyes need to constantly be opened. If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there, it still falls. If a sun rises with beauty and grace and no one notices, it still happens.

Chances are, when I wake up tomorrow morning that I will miss this sunrise again. I will go through my day and pass by a thousand little things that will astound me should I notice them. But what things will I notice? What things will call my attention and steal my focus?

I’m watching. I’m listening. Lord, let me be attentive.

Missed Opportunities

I sat in Starbucks, typing away on my computer and waiting for a meeting that would eventually come. While I sat there, I did what I do so often in public places, I watched people. It’s a fascinating endeavor. As I soaked it all in, I suddenly realized that the two baristas were flying solo, they were the only ones there.

I guess it had occurred to me while I was standing in line upon coming through the door, but the point was hammered home to me as I sat at my table and watched the steady stream of customers walk through the door and wait.

The two baristas went about their work, trying their best to move the line along and fill every order that walked in. I didn’t notice any frustration or anger on their faces. I noticed them working diligently to accomplish what needed to be accomplished.

During moments when the line had tapered down, they caught their breath. I heard them talk about how they couldn’t believe what time it was already. They bantered back and forth with a general sense to the outsider that they got along fairly well with each, even enjoyed working together.

My meeting occurred and I even pointed out the somewhat impossible task that these two baristas had inherited through no fault of their own. Not long after, I left, not thinking about it again until this morning.

As my body woke me up way earlier than any human should have to get up, I made my way downstairs to go about my routine, and in the middle of that routine, my mind went to those two baristas and I realized that I had missed an opportunity. I had missed an opportunity to let them know that I had noticed what they did.

Sure, I pointed out their feat to my friend and I applauded them in my mind, but I didn’t acknowledge them to their faces. I didn’t take the time to tell them that I had noticed how they worked together, how they hadn’t complained, how they pushed through a situation that could easily have brought them both down.

I felt like I should have said something to them. I felt like I should have affirmed them to let them know that someone had noticed. I felt like I missed out on this opportunity.

It seems that life could easily be made up of missed opportunities, whether intentional or not. IF we are rushing around, we can easily miss things that are going on right in front of our nose. We may be preoccupied with something in our own life, we may be selfishly focused on whatever it is that we need to get done right at that moment. And in those moments, we might fail to seize an opportunity.

I’m realizing that sometimes, it’s not always preoccupation that takes me away from these opportunities, but it’s a general cowardice and fear. A fear that people will look at me strangely and wonder why I did what I did, why I noticed, why I took the time to notice.

But isn’t that what I would want? Wouldn’t I want them to wonder why I was doing this, why I had noticed what I noticed?

I’m praying for boldness. That was my honest prayer this morning as I thought through what I didn’t take the time to do. While I noticed my own missed opportunity, I gave myself a break and realized that while this may have been a missed opportunity, I have been seizing many other opportunities that I may have once not taken the time to seize. It’s all about the growth and forward motion, right?

The other thing about missed opportunity is that it’s not wasted if I notice and I make a change. Like I said, my observation of what I had missed pushed me towards action. You know, there is a difference between a missed opportunity and a wasted opportunity. Wasted opportunities don’t do any good while the missed opportunities might end up shaking us awake to the point of realization.

I’m praying for boldness and waiting for the next opportunity to come my way. We’ll see what happens when it comes!

Embrace the Journey

I keep realizing just how infrequently things go the way that I would like them to go. It’s been a hard process for me to not only come to that conclusion but to also embrace that as a way of life. Life just has a way of throwing wrenches in our gears and things rarely go according to plans. I know that I’ve quoted a wise friend here before, but it bears repeating to share that her motto was, “Embrace Plan B.”

I like to have a methodology and a process to things. People might not realize that about me when they observe what seems to be a haphazard approach towards things, but it’s the truth. I would like to say that my approach isn’t haphazard so much as it is organic. It’s a process with flexibility that I’ve learned to embrace over time, probably after many iterations of frustration and pain.

How often I’ve started projects that I thought would go a certain way only to find that they’ve taken sharp turns off of the course that I had planned for them. It’s too easy to get frustrated when this happens, at least it is to me. I like what I like and I don’t like to get thrown off course. Who does?

But I’m learning to embrace those times when I am thrown off course. After all, if I believe that God works all things together for good, I’ve got to trust that detours are sometimes the means to an end result that’s better than what I had thought out or planned. Detours might lead away from a potential danger or distraction. Detours might end up at a better destination than I thought, a destination that I might not even have known.

It’s still a process for me, a slow-moving journey towards growth. My anxiety still easily rises when things don’t go the way that I had planned, but I’m still moving, even if it is incrementally.

I feel like I’ve been taken off course over the last few weeks. I’ve been focused on things that are important but not things that I would always choose to be focused on. I find it hardest when it doesn’t seem like there is movement in my life. Those times when it doesn’t seem as if there is movement though, there usually is, but it might not be as fast as I would like it to be, or in the direction that I thought that it would be.

In the end, when I look retrospectively at a particular section of the journey, I usually find that the end result was the same or better than I thought it would be. I usually find that what happened in the midst of the journey might not be what I would have chosen, but it certainly ended up better than I would have thought. It’s those times that I need to hold on to and remember every time that I find myself in that same place again.

I’m still a control freak, no amount of detours seems able to change that, but at least I’m learning to give up control at times, or maybe it’s that I’m realizing that control is simply an illusion, something that I try to convince myself that I have to make myself feel better. If I really think that I’ve got control of a situation, it probably just means that I’m missing something important along the way.

Yes, it’s a journey and I’m taking it day by day. Just like the tides, there are ebbs and flows. Sometimes it feels as if it’s all coming at once and other times, it seems that there’s a peace and calm that allows me to relax and enjoy the moment. I’m doing my best to embrace the journey because in that journey is where I actually find the things that I need the most.