What Are You Refusing To See?

I love reading and stories of all kinds as you may know. The other day I was reading a fiction book that had a great story line and fantastic (happy) ending and for some reason the story of Jonah in the Bible came to mind. I was thinking about how sad it was that we don’t know how his story ends; I’m definitely not a huge fan of cliffhanger endings unless there’s a next book to jump into to find out how it really (happily and properly) ends. I like stories with both happy endings and with tidy bows, and Jonah doesn’t have this because his story ends with him upset with God and God with him because of his consistent focus on what he wants and what’s going on in his life and not about the people of Nineveh or what God’s plans are.

But the more I thought about it, there is a huge happy ending and a big bow on the story for the people of Nineveh. They definitely got a happy ending because God forcibly persuaded Jonah to get there and deliver His message, and warned them how unhappy God was with them and if they didn’t change their ways they and their city would be destroyed. They took the message to heart, repented “from greatest to least” (Jonah 3:5), and God had mercy on them and didn’t follow through on his destruction threat.

And then I thought about how as much as the book is titled “Jonah” and it is about this part of his life, if we’re focused more on Jonah in the story and not the victory God and the people of Nineveh, are we focused on the wrong thing or not giving that aspect of the story enough attention? If so, what else are we missing or ignoring or not clearly seeing in our lives? I’ve written plenty on the story of Jonah and the many ways we can personally identify with him in different situations of our lives and how much we can learn from him about listening to and obeying God, and I think that’s often the focus of devotionals and other spiritual media because it is so at odds with many of the other greats in the Bible and we can learn a lot from Jonah about what not to do in our lives. But we should never ignore or gloss over the fact that there was a huge victory and 120,000 people’s lives were saved because they heard the message Jonah reluctantly delivered.

So this week I encourage you to ask God to reveal in your life what you might be blind to or not giving the attention it should be given or focusing on the issue or challenge instead of celebrating the victory, and be more willing than Jonah to follow that path and realign your focus.

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Reality Reflection: That Song in Your Head

It never ceases to amaze me how powerful music is. It crosses the boundaries of time, ignores the limits of language, unites people of all ages, and transforms and sticks with you sometimes for a lifetime. I think the world has always been musical, I can imagine that back in the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve might have sung (or sung lullabies to their kids once they left the garden), and we know from many references and historical discoveries that music was part of societies and cultures throughout the history of the world just like it is part of ours today. Why? Because for so many of us (even those of use who are tone deaf) there’s a song in our hearts, in our spirits that never goes away even if the melody and words change from time to time.

Of course this post started because I had a song in my head. It wasn’t one of those “earworms” as they call them like the car donation song or the one about the sea creatures with big teeth, but it was a good one that was full of heart, faith, and hope. Of course song writers and artists alike have an interest in creating songs that stick with you, either because they know that will make them popular or because they know that it will make it more likely that they’ll be memorable enough that people will do things like donate their cars even when they haven’t heard the jingle for years.

But what do you do with that song in your head? It’s not like a dish that you can clean off and the dirt will be gone, that song can stick with you for hours if not days (have you ever woken up the next day still singing it?!). While I didn’t want to get rid of the song in my head the other day, I’ve certainly been there before. And maybe the answer is it just goes away when it does and there’s nothing you can do about it. But what if that song is a reminder in one way or another? Maybe it’s a reminder that your car needs some work done and you have to schedule it, or that there’s a certain person who you should send a message to, or maybe it’s a reminder to lighten up and do something fun. Not everything has a deep meaning behind it, but maybe, just maybe, doing something connected with the song in your head will help it go away or not feel so distracting.

Give a Little Extra

I am a lover of just about all things that come from a bakery. Some of my best (and tastiest!) memories of growing up are of my mother baking, which is something she loves to do, crisps, pies, cookies, breads, rolls and many other things. I enjoyed both helping and eating, and the same holds true today. As I was thinking about words the other day, as I often do (both in connection with and separate from thought about baked goods), I got to wondering about the phrase “bakers dozen” and where it came from. In case you’re not familiar with the phrase instead of a quantity of 12 which is what you get when you get a dozen of something, a bakers dozen almost always is a count of 13. So I went on a little adventure around the internet to see what it could tell me about this phrase.

It got started really because of how hard it can be to be exact with finished product weight in baking. It’s not like filling a water bottle with water and knowing that from start to finish it’s the same amount. Even when you use your very best exact measurements and try your hardest there are some deviations in the end result of most baked goods, even in this era where we’ve got really good measuring tools and scales. So, the most common explanation of where a bakers dozen came from is that somewhere back in the 16 or 1700’s in the UK people were getting upset because they were getting a dozen items from the bakery, but they were often on the small side and if the bakers were caught not meeting the minimum quantity or weight, depending on the region, they could be fined or even given a beating. So they started including an extra (the 13th) in each dozen so that they definitely got to at least the minimum required amount.

It’s a fun story, isn’t it? There are a couple of really great lessons in this story for our victory journeys I want to focus on. First is that if you make a commitment it’s important to see that commitment through. Sure when it comes to the arts (of which baking is one) there’s always artistic license, but you still have to deliver both the agreed upon item(s) or service(s) and meet any standards that are in place. Second, there’s something to be said about covering yourself. In business customers expect that you’ll deliver what is ordered, and just in case they’re a little disappointed or something isn’t quite what they expected, giving an “extra” can help with smoothing that over. Sure it cuts a bit into your time or profit or resources, but isn’t it better to make sure everything is taken care of than to deliver a victory that’s on the not-quite-there side of things? And finally there’s something to be said about giving a little extra. I’m not talking about going an extra mile when you were only supposed to deliver one mile in the first place, or going way over and beyond the call of duty, but rather think about it like putting a bow on a nicely wrapped gift or having a graduation ceremony in addition to getting the diploma. It just shows that you care or appreciate the other person, it shows you value what you do, it completes the picture, or is a way to show that you really gave it your best effort.

Could a little extra go a long way for your next victory journey?

Take the First Step

Sometimes I feel like being a Christian is like being in the Honors program at school or advanced courses (or whatever you called them where you attended) or being a dog owner or taking care of animals at the zoo/wildlife sanctuary. What do I mean by this? I mean that there are no days off, you’re asked to do more than the average human is, and often it can be hard to keep all the balls in the air. I absolutely get it, as Christians we’re held to a higher standard than the average human, because we’ve accepted the responsibility of being God’s representative here on Earth and that means giving life more effort and consideration than some others might.

One of the words I say regularly when working with my clients is “consistency” because so often it’s not about how much effort or how many resources you can throw at something, but how consistently you can keep up an effort or continue to add resources that makes all the difference. Think about it like an athlete: they can have maybe one or two days where they’re sick or eat poorly or don’t exercise, but if they continue after that, they really notice their performance being affected negatively and they have to work even harder to get back to the top of their game.

Which brings me to our verse for today: Psalm 34:14: “Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.”

I’m thankful that I’ve never lived in an active war zone or abusive relationship, so I can only imagine how impossible not only getting to momentary peace, but maintained peace would feel to them. But that’s the goal isn’t it? Sure, most of us can achieve a temporary peace in our lives, like for the 10 minutes we get to shower each day and lock our kids (or phone) out of the bathroom for example. But some days peace beyond those 10 minutes seems impossible. But I don’t think it’s possible to get to maintained peace until we start with some peace and work from there.

So this week as you face your challenges, don’t feel like you have to conquer the whole mountain in one jump. Instead, start with one step and build from there. It’s a lot easier to get to the top if you put one foot in front of the other again and again than it is to try and figure out how to turn into a huge mythical creature that can jump or fly from bottom to top with little effort. Let God show you the little steps you can take to get from where you are to where He wants you to be, a place where peace, relationships, health, strength, spirituality, happiness and safety are not only consistently present in your life, but things you can maintain without feeling like you’re going to fail at any second. What’s your first step today?

Reality Reflection: The Light of One Candle

I love candles. I think they’re something I’ve always been fascinated by and interested in even from a young age. I can remember loving going out to look at Christmas lights as a child or even just driving around during winter and getting excited even to see candles in home windows. I loved learning about and trying my hand at making candles the old fashioned (dipped) way at one of those “life in early America” reenactment villages. I am fascinated when I watch various renditions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and how some show Christmas trees with (actual) candles on them, and learning about how that’s what people did back in the day, and am equally impressed with the beauty and how few accidents there seemed to be even with the incredible risk. I love coming home or going into a room to find my partner has lit a candle. And of course I love lighting a candle in my office as I work.

But what I kept returning to today was the fact that one candle can be incredibly powerful. If you’ve ever attended a vigil or candle light church service, you’ve probably experienced having one or two candles that are lit and each person who attends lights their own candle from that one or those two candles. It doesn’t matter how many candles you light, the first candle that’s lit never runs out of fire. If you’ve got a candle with a good (strong) scent, you know that one candle can light a room, if not a whole house. Even by the light of just one candle you can see better in the dark than you can without it. As I mentioned before even one candle, one little bit of fire, can cause great destruction. And maybe most important: even a candle as small as a tealight can bring inspiration, hope, peace and comfort to someone.

Don’t be discouraged because you aren’t a big blazing fire, don’t have a light that is bright enough to be seen by half the world at one time, or aren’t hot enough to chase away the winter cold. Instead, focus on the little, incremental difference you can create in the world with one word, one social post, one person, or one seemingly small effort. You can be that one small candle for someone else.

The Courage to Say Enough

There’s a point in your victory journey that you have to decide if you’ve reached the goal or if there’s still more mountain you can climb. One of the world leaders I’ve paid attention to is Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister, who announced that she’s stepping down from her leadership position even before a new election can happen. Why? Because she feels she’s done the job for as long as she can, for as well as she can and now she needs to pass the baton off to someone else. I’ve admired her leadership for many reasons including how self aware she is. How do I know she’s self aware? Because in the minds of many she has been successful as one of the top leaders of the world while giving birth to and raising a child and now she says she realizes she can’t do it any longer. Jacinda feels she’s reached the top of this mountain in her life, she’s successfully completed the victory journey, and now it’s time to climb down from this mountain and move on to the next one.

It takes a ton of courage to decide that you’ve reached your mountain top in a victory journey and be able to let it go before you end up falling down the other side. You have to really be in tune with who you are, with your limits, with your risk tolerance, with your energy levels, with your responsibilities, and even with your goals for the long term beyond your current victory to be able to make a wise decision about what’s best for you and anyone else who may be affected by your continued presence and efforts to stay on the mountain top. I have yet to hear about or work on a victory that doesn’t have an end (or goal to reach which is how you know you’ve accomplished the victory), or at least a completion before the next level of the victory journey begins, and people who work on victories in their lives regularly don’t usually have one victory and are done, they keep growing and learning.

To be clear, this is a big difference from saying you’re not going to be able to reach the mountain top and that you’ve done your best and now are deciding to move on to a new victory journey with the lessons you learned from this partially successful one. In this case you have indeed accomplished the victory you set out to accomplish, you celebrated that accomplishment and have done anything else that needs to happen to wrap up the victory and now it’s time to move on to the next stage of your life. I know it’s not easy to say good bye to the mountain top and your successful victory, but you can’t get to the next great victory unless you say thank you to this victory experience and step forward with courage into the next. Is it time for you to move on to a new victory journey?

All Things New

We each have 365 new days each year (and a bonus day every few years), we (usually) have some 70+ years to look forward to, we have new experiences constantly happening around us that we can try and learn from, we have new people we meet (or could meet) every day, and we never know exactly what a day will bring. Each day some 360,000 new people (babies) join us on this journey, on this planet we all share. Most we will never meet but some will greatly impact our lives either through their discoveries or choices.

Ultimately what it comes down to are countless moments where we have choices to make: will we let this moment be the one that does the most damage, or will we let it be a fresh moment and sweep away what happened in the past? Will we use the moment to face our fears? Will we use the moment to do some soul searching? Will we use the moment to heal a relationship? Will we use the moment to be courageous? What will you do with the moments you’re given?

The book of Revelation in the Bible is one of the most unique in the whole Bible. Yes, each book, each chapter, each page is filled with different stories of people who lived, loved, screwed up, forgave and passed on. It’s full of valuable insights and lessons. But Revelation is a little different than all the rest. It’s filled with words that create incredible images, words that may speak to what happened, what has happened since it was written, what could still happen, it could be symbolic words to represent a situation, or it could be just words of warning and lesson like other parts of the rest of the Bible. But it does follow the rest of the Bible because it includes words from God Himself, including the words of Revelation 21:5a:

“And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!””

As much as Revelation speaks to fears, doom, gloom, and Holy Power, it ends very specifically on a positive and hopeful note. Revelation 21 and 22 (the last 2 chapters of the Bible) speak of new things, of new life, of a God that cares for His people, and of hope. The story isn’t over yet it says, there’s still hope, a new beginning, new opportunities, and a God who loves through it all.

Since today is the first day of the rest of your life, what will you do with it? Maybe there’s something that God has been putting on your heart, a change or new path in your life journey to follow. Maybe it’s committing to something you’ve been struggling with. Maybe it’s stepping up in a bigger way in some area of your life. Maybe it’s just remaining faithful to what you’ve been doing and the path you’re on. Or maybe God is giving you the opportunity to have a fresh start with something or someone new. Whatever it is I encourage you to remain in hope and trust God as He walks the path with you.

Reality Reflection: Flexible Schedules

The past few months have brought many changes to my life and as a result I’ve been in a big struggle with my schedule, or at least the ability to fit everything in with all the time that some things take, with everything seeming to end up in pieces but done to the best of my ability. By and large I’d say I’ve done pretty good managing to keep all the balls in the air, but some days the pressure gets to me and my brain just doesn’t work as I’d like it to and things don’t get done in the time frame I’d like them to get done in. So as I was sitting in the car the other day and wishing I could get from one place to the next without having to watch other drivers take their life and the lives of the other drivers on the road into their not-so-considerate hands, I asked myself what would happen if we didn’t require so much focus on the clock?

What do I mean? How would our stress levels change and our behavior towards/around others change if we had the flexibility of getting somewhere or doing something between 15 minutes before and 15 minutes after the designated start time and depending on when you got there, you’d either leave 15 minutes early or 15 minutes late? I know it wouldn’t work for every situation or circumstance, but what if we could have a little flexibility in our lives when it comes to things like this? Would it make us better (safer) drivers? Would we be more willing to do the right thing for a customer or our boss if we knew they were working with us in this regard? Would we be better parents or partners if we were less focused on a specific time and instead worked within a time frame? Would we turn out better quality of work or have better conversations if we didn’t look at the clock so much?

Of course throughout my life I have worked under many deadlines and produced work that I’m satisfied with. I’m definitely proud of all I’ve gotten done these past few months and how I’ve managed to do it all well. But sometimes in order to get everything done and done well, I’ve had to be flexible with the time frame in which it all got done, usually adjusting between a few minutes and a few hours. I definitely don’t think we should write stuff off because we aren’t willing to adjust our timing on things, and I don’t think we should use this gift of flexibility to make us worse at understanding the amount of time it takes to get things done (and therefore overcommitting ourselves) either.

But if we were a little gentler with ourselves and others could be a little more flexible with us too, how would that change our world? Would it make us better people or would it make us worse and more self centered? I guess it comes down to a question of if we’re mature, adult, evolved, conscious, considerate enough to recognize when things need to be done according to the clock and when we can be flexible with ourselves and others. Which of course isn’t a “yes” for everyone, but for a lot of people I think it could make an improvement in their lives and communities.

Time Grows and Changes Perspective

Do you often notice when you’ve grown or learned and as a result your perspective has changed? The other day my partner was talking about doing an ad in the yearbook for his oldest and about the cost and it brought me back to when I was in high school and thinking how expensive it was to place an ad in the yearbook. I still don’t think the cost is anything to be indifferent about, but compared to what cars cost, what it costs to go to Disney, or what housing costs, it’s pretty small in the scheme of things, something I only really recognize that now because I interact with those types of costs as an adult, helping me understand the difference between “expensive” and expensive.

Sure you could have shown me those numbers when I was in high school and I would have acknowledged the true price difference, but it’s not the same as actually having all those types of payments in your life and knowing what it takes to cover them each month versus the relatively small one time charge that is associated with a yearbook ad. Making the leap from logically understanding something to really internalizing and having a living understanding of something often makes the difference in being able to accomplishing something and being able to have a victory that truly changes you on a deep, personal level.

No, every success or victory doesn’t have to stick with you for a long time, but often to get to the true level of success you’re working towards you have to take time and really work in, work on, meditate on, contemplate, learn about/from and consider what you’re working on. Conscious, caring, considerate decisions and victories only happen when you put in the time, effort and thought to them to take your victory beyond a “it’s done” to “I did that!” Some of that perspective shift definitely happens with maturity and age, but you don’t have to be “old” before you start getting things done on that deeply personal level.

One more example of what this perspective shift looks like: consider the difference between cleaning up a hoarder’s home and helping the hoarder understand and move through their behavior to a healthier place in life where they don’t return (or don’t return as significantly) to their hoarding behavior. Yes, both actions helped accomplish the house getting clean, but only one of them took the necessary effort and time and resources to work through the deeper emotions, reasons, challenges, and causes that started and perpetuated the hoarding behavior. I’d even argue it’s irresponsible to just clean out a hoarder’s house and not work with them on the deeper, more personal aspects of the hoarding.

So don’t let the time it takes to do something frustrate you if you’re doing the hard work to really understand and do it right, and recognize that some understanding only happens through the passage of time, the addition of experience and the lessons learned in life.

The NEW Year

Just 10 days into this new year I think it’s a good time to once again to recognize the goodnesses God has put in our lives over the past year, and thank Him for the people who were part of our lives but are no longer because they’ve gone home to be with Him.  It’s also a time for us to consider who we’ve been and who we want to be in this time of change. 

We’re born as imperfect humans, little babies who don’t have a care in the world except being hungry, dirty and tired. But quickly we learn that the world is filled with many more complications than those we thought there were.  At some point in time we make a decision about whether or not to believe in and trust God with our lives and our future.  If we choose to follow God, He may or may not completely turn our lives upside down, so that we can fulfill the purposes he has for our lives.

Revelation 21:5b says “Look I am making everything new!”  I love this verse because it speaks to what God does in our lives.  When we accept God into our lives He wipes our slates clean and gives us the chance to live our lives knowing that someday we’ll be in heaven and blessed with perfection and beauty around us.  For those of us who have led far less than stellar lives we have a chance to be made new. 

The cool thing about our lives on earth is that at any point in time we can choose to let go of the past and start over.  Sometimes God asks that we don’t totally let go of the past, for instance when He sends former drug dealers to preach to convicts and other people living against the law.  God sends them back into their former lives because He knows they can talk with those people in ways that others can’t.  Other people start over with a new life and God-directed purpose. 

With this New Year, you do have a chance to make all things new.  God’s ready to direct you down a new path if you’re in need of one.  Sometimes totally redoing your life isn’t what is necessary though.  Sometimes God just has little tweaks in mind to help you get back on the path with renewed energy and purpose.  In this New Year I encourage you to spend some time in discussion with God and ask Him what His goals are for you in this New Year.  You may be surprised with what He desires.