Reality Reflection: DNF

Are you familiar with the acronym DNF? While it’s possible there are several variations on what DNF stands for, the one I’m thinking about is from the literary world meaning “Did Not Finish.” When it’s included in a review it usually raises a red flag suggesting to not read a book because while sometimes, yes, life does get in the way of finishing books, for avid readers if you take the time to leave a review stating that you didn’t finish the book, that means it was that poor of an experience or the book just got boring at the end. I got to thinking about this because of the books I read for and about business and leadership and how so often they start off so well, but by the time you’re 3/4 of the way through sometimes it can get really difficult to keep going.

In some ways for non-fiction books, I understand that the author might put their best stuff, or the stuff they know that more people will relate to or learn from, at the beginning because they know that not everyone will get to the end and therefore the author wants readers to feel they at least got something for the money they paid for the book and the time they took to read it. And when it comes to non-fiction books including biographies, there are always parts that are more interesting or educational or stay with you more than others, so you don’t necessarily expect going into one of those books that you’ll love and learn from every page.

But most readers start a book with the intention to finish a book. So why does DNF happen? On the part of the author I think it is an issue that most of us face at one point in time or another, and that’s the desire to just get something done. Sure you started off well, but eventually you get to a point where you either have been working on it for so long or you’ve now got something else that’s taking a higher priority or you forget what the original goal or destination was and you rush or don’t put as much effort into the ending as you did the beginning. Does that mean you shouldn’t publish the book or blog post or finish the project or the conversation? No, but I think it’s a good reminder that we don’t always finish as strong as we start, and if we find ourselves getting into that tendency we need to start doing a better job of finishing strong. It’s also a big encouragement to make sure that we’ve got people in our corner who can keep us on track, as well as review the work we’ve done to make sure it’s cohesive and strong from start to finish. There’s no shame in needing a helping hand to get over the finish line. And while sometimes a job done is more than sufficient, when it’s something that really matters or will impact others, I encourage you to do your best work from start to finish.

What Really Matters in Getting Organized

No matter how many clients I work with to assist them in getting organized, it amazes me that what works for one client doesn’t always work for another. Sure, many people use the same software products to keep their finances organized, or use sticky notes as part of their to-do/to-done list, or use hangers to hang items in their closets. Some of them use certain products or organize in a certain way because that’s what they were “told” to do, or how their parents did it or because it’s the “cool” way to do it. But that’s not what really matters, nor does it matter if you’re using the most contemporary organization systems. What matters the most is if you really want to get organized, and what will work with you going forward to stay organized.

Why does it matter to be or get organized? Because it means you don’t unnecessarily buy items that you don’t want or need more of. It means you’re on top of your finances and paperwork (or the digital version of it). It means less stress and time spent on trying to find things around your home. It means less clutter and stuff you don’t want or won’t use again. It also means it will be easier to relocate in the future or for family members to take care of if you die or become ill. It also means peace of mind that you don’t have a mess in your house that would take days to clean up.

But as with many areas of making victories happen, with getting organized it can be overwhelming to start with looking at the goal. So instead, start with one project, one task, one I-can-do-this. Don’t get down into the details of the entire project if you’re not ready or find it overwhelms you. Start with decluttering or just organizing closets or the garage or sorting papers/emails by year or category. Start as simply as you need to and build from there, because once you get going, once you make those initial victories you’ll feel encouraged to keep going and eventually you won’t be overwhelmed but rather you’ll be organized.

But as you may know, getting organized is only half of the battle. Don’t be discouraged if you spend time decluttering and getting organized only to find out that the system you chose isn’t going to work well for you going forward. Why should you not be discouraged? Because you’ve already done most of the hard work of sorting out the stuff you wouldn’t have kept anyway and now you can just move things around to find a system that does work for you and you are able to follow through on a regular basis without much stress or extra work added to your daily activities. What aspects of being organized or areas of organization are the most important to keeping your stress low?

What’s Wrong with Simple?

Are you familiar with the story of Naaman? He’s one of the many characters we meet in the Old Testament of the Bible, and one of several we meet in the Bible who has leprosy. He obviously wants to be healed, so when he hears that there’s a prophet who heals people he reaches out to the king where the prophet lives and asks for help. Word gets to the prophet, Elisha, and by way of a messenger Elisha tells Naaman: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:10). Of course Naaman gets bent out of shape over the fact that Elisha didn’t speak to him personally, heal him directly, and told him to do something so simple and stupid, and considers just going on with life. But a wise member of Naaman’s community basically asked “If you did what he told you to do, what’s the worst that could happen?”

I’m all for details, layers, complexity, and depth, they have a role to play in our world. It’s those very things that make a meal taste so great, computers work, and ecosystems thrive. But not everything has to be that complicated and complex. There’s something very satisfying about a beer on the deck at the end of a hot summer day, a hot beverage and a good book, a walk through a nature park, playing with a dog or child, coloring or crafting, or even just lighting a candle. There’s nothing complicated or complex about any of those things, yet because they’re so simple we think we shouldn’t spend much time on them because as “adults” we should be doing “adult” things, not things that are so basic and simple.

But as Naaman’s story illustrates, God works through all of it, through every situation and in ways that are both simple and complex. One of the verses I received in my inbox the other day had to do with the story of Moses parting the Red Sea (Exodus 14). Talk about complex! Not only did God part the waters and keep the fish on the sides until the Israelites got through, but it obviously had to be dry enough for the people to walk through and not get stuck in what was years of muck that tend to be on the bottom of every body of water, and then be wet enough that the chariots from Egypt that followed shortly after did get stuck. So yes, God can absolutely do complex things, but sometimes God just asks for a little faith, a little trust, and a little effort from us. Is God asking you to do something so simple it seems stupid like He did Naaman? Put a little faith into it and don’t sulk your way through the oh-so-simple directions, but go into it believing in the blessings, healing and hope that can be found in trusting God.

Reality Reflection: Rewriting History

I’ve always questioned the place that history has in our world and education, it’s a topic I’ve shared about before on the blog. Why do we need to know these people’s names and remember these dates and talk about battles and inventions that people don’t use anymore? The two arguments that are used most often have to do with knowing where you came from (or how your country began) and so that people don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. But sometimes the past can bog you down and holding onto it too hard can mean that you don’t move into the future like you could or should, and I don’t know about you, but I know some really stubborn people who aren’t real good at learning their lessons and keep doing the same thing again and again and hope for different results however unlikely it may be.

It’s only through the human connection, through having stories I can relate to put to names and seeing items that were part of their lives, that I’m able to find any appreciation for learning, knowing and protecting the pieces of history we have access to today. But as I was watching a show about a portion of history the other day, I realized that what they teach us in school is so lacking in detail, which is why it’s easy to find it unimportant or boring or “no big deal” or even to romanticize it. For instance, when you see the words on a page “people were slaves and worked in fields” it kind of sounds like the annual trip to the local farm where people pick strawberries or apples (except not quite as awesome), when the reality is it was a horrific, brutal, period in our history that cost far too many people their lives in not pleasant ways.

While I think that reparations have a place, I don’t know that they’re really the answer to the topic of “history.” I think we have to start with more honesty (even brutal honesty at times) and doing our best to be truly factual, which means that sometimes we’ll have to edit the history books and rewrite things based on the new knowledge we’ve gained from research we’ve done (and by “we” I mean historians, archaeologists, architects etc. as well as those who have a passion to bring light and life to parts of history). I also think we should do a better job of exposing kids to more portions of history rather than just repeating the same stories/moments in history over and over throughout their schooling years.

But to the earlier point, what will people say about the history we’re creating 50 years from now when those kids are learning about it in history class? Will they applaud our efforts to uncover history and tell the truth about it, or will they talk about how little progress we made? Because for many parts of history we are losing both information and physical evidence of history as people pass away and those pieces of history return to dust because they’re so old. History, life years ago, was much harder and more violent than we often give it credit for, so are we being honest with ourselves about both the past and our present, or are we hoping that it will just get swept under the same rug that so many history books seem to have?

On a Schedule

One of the many things I enjoy in life is organization. I’m not necessarily a fan of organization when it comes to layers of red tape in business or unnecessary levels of people between you and the real boss, but I do appreciate the many other types of organization. There are many different reasons why and aspects to organization impacting your victory journey. For instance, if you’re trying to make victories around your home but don’t have a good structure and organization system to help you get and stay tidy, it will be a constant battle that you’ll never end up winning. Or you’ll never be able to get things done if you don’t organize your activities so that you get things done in an order that makes sense and you don’t have to constantly be going back and forth and wasting time and energy. Which is the organizational topic I want to focus on today: schedules.

It’s an interesting subject because we can absolutely overschedule ourselves and schedules can be a source of stress. When we schedule ourselves from the moment we wake to the moment we sleep, we leave no room for creativity or opportunities that pop up. It’s really stressful to be on the go 100% of the time, and we tend to take on more than we really have time, space and resources for. We’ve talked about how when the pandemic began we realized how fully packed our schedules were, and many of us have made a point of not filling our schedules as much as we come out of what was hopefully the core of the pandemic. So yes, we do have to be careful about how much we pack into our schedules, but I don’t think that we should hate or fear them because we haven’t always done the best with them in the past.

One reason schedules are so helpful is because they can even take some of the work off your plate. You may use an app or program to have a certain percentage of your bank account or paycheck automatically go into a savings or investment account each month. Scheduling means things get taken care of before they become overwhelming (could you imagine if we didn’t have trash pickup on a regular schedule, and how overwhelming it would be if your neighbors didn’t have the same commitment to cleanliness you did and the negative impact it would have on the world and wildlife around you?) Scheduling regular meetings with specific people helps reduce friction and allows you to catch issues before they become unstoppable, and build on healthy relationships and trust (this includes your accountant, significant other, kids and team members at work).

Schedules are so powerful when it comes to accomplishing victories, because if you can schedule in time each day to work on your victories, you’ll make regular progress and actually accomplish what you want to accomplish. So many people don’t accomplish their victories because they aren’t setting aside the necessary time, which raises questions about whether those victories are really important to them or not. When you put your victory efforts on a schedule, even if it’s just a few minutes a day or an hour or two each week, you’ll be surprised how much progress you see and you’ll be able to work on even more victories because you’ll be consistently accomplishing them. Do you have time committed each day or each week to helping you accomplish your victories?

Prayer: Context and Answers

Prayer is one of those gifts that you don’t always know what to do with. What do I mean by that? Well, it’s really awesome to have a direct connection to God at any point in time day or night that we need to share something with Him or ask Him something, but it’s challenging to be on the quiet end of prayers and not hear back from God ever or for a long time. A lack of direct or immediate answers is kind of like going to a fast food drive through and them not having most of what’s listed on the menu or only being able to hear every 5th word through the speaker. But even if God doesn’t answer ever or right away, He still wants us to pray and talk with Him, and for most of us it is a practice we do regularly, whether it’s little thoughts throughout the day or focused prayer time we set aside each day or week.

So, do you know the old saying “be careful what you wish for?” It came to mind when I read a verse on the topic of prayer this week: 1 John 5:15 says: “And since we know He hears us when we make our requests, we also know that He will give us what we ask for.” Yes this verse is a reminder that the things we ask God about we should be very serious about and have thought through, because what if God does give you what you ask for? But where this verse initially sounds very reassuring, it also is confusing because we know that God says “no” to things we ask for on a regular basis. So what is the truth?

The truth is found in something I continually return to: context. Context has to with the facts or information that surround, precede or follow something. It’s so important because it gives you that movie-worthy back story that helps explain so much or helps you understand the foundation on which something is built or established. In this case, we look at the two verses prior to understand the full context of this verse. 1 John 5:13-15 says “I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life. And we are confident that He hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases Him. And since we know He hears us when we make our requests, we also know that He will give us what we ask for.” And here we find the caveat to getting every prayer answered: it has to be in line with what pleases God.

So if your prayers aren’t being answered, it’s possible you’re not praying about the wrong things, maybe you’re just praying about them wrong and God’s waiting for you to understand the situation a little fuller or do some heavy lifting on the situation yourself before He comes in to answer. Or maybe you are asking for something that God doesn’t agree with or doesn’t agree is in line with His plans for you to prosper and be blessed (Jeremiah 29:11), and He’s got even bigger and better things for you if you’re open to them. If you think that might be the case, maybe the prayer you should pray for a season is “thy will be done” or maybe you should pray the prayer of Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4:10: “”Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!”” What prayer are you praying and what is God saying to you during your prayer time?

Reality Reflection: Let’s Come Together

There’s something about holidays that make people sentimental and get them thinking. I know we’ve done a whole lot of reflecting over the past 2 years about our lives, our relationships and our role in this world, and yet with another holiday hours away I’m thinking some more. There’s a gift some people have that is especially relevant to the holiday discussion, and that’s the gift of glue. Often it is a biological mom of the group or it could be a woman who’s in the mom role of the group, but sometimes it is a man (my partner is often this person). My dad’s mom had this gift, and her funeral really showed that because everyone showed up: all the kids, most of the cousins and many of her friends who were still alive at the time. It was because of her that I knew my cousins and aunts and uncles on my Dad’s side, and without her I’m sure there would have been many quiet holidays spent around a much smaller dining table.

People like Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr, Sojourner Truth, Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan, Michelangelo, and so many more have made an indelible impact on our world with leadership, kindness, compassion, caring, honesty, perspective and so much more. Over the past two years our world has been shaped by the men and women who have been in the hospitals and food stores and have provided essential services to keep our world alive through the pandemic, as well as the men and women who have stood up for civil rights and continue to do so. In recent months another leader has decided to make his mark on history and has decided the way to do that is killing many and destroying homes and lands, joining the ranks of those who impacted history in a negative way.

If you have the gift of “glue” I want to thank you today for stepping up and encouraging people to get together. I know that it’s tough to navigate the squabbles that may pop up or figure out seating to keep those who don’t get along the best separate or to make sure that there’s enough food at the event, let alone find a time and place everyone is willing to meet, but what you do is important. You’re the person we rely on to teach our kids what it means to be part of a family (biological or otherwise), to connect us in ways that those of us who aren’t as social don’t have the courage to do, to pass on the stories of family long gone, and to remind us how important it is to be together.

Your name may not go down in history with the names of those that I’ve mentioned here, but you’re just as important as they are because you’re part of the hope for the future. Without people like you we’ll continue to separate and divide ourselves, to go our separate ways and build our separate worlds. When we choose to bring people together we have a chance at making the world a better place for the next few generations, not a place that they look back on and wonder how we managed to trash it all in the span of a few decades. Who will you help bring together?

Pray a Different Prayer

Today is National Day of Prayer in the US, it’s an opportunity for people around the country who believe in God to join in prayer for each other, our leadership and our world. As I was reflecting on things that are going on in our world and around the country, as well as on the verse that the organization behind the National Day of Prayer chose for this year, I was reminded that not everyone prays the same prayer. Yes, there are many who pray about their finances or health, about the safety of family in the military, or about their careers, but we’re not all praying for the same thing let alone praying for the same thing all at the same time.

What about seemingly unanswered prayers? I don’t think we should give up on things or stop praying for things, but sometimes our time of waiting is best served working on and praying about other things to a greater degree. Or maybe the lack of answer is really an answer and God is telling us His answer is “no” and it’s time to move on. Or maybe it’s not a case of God not answering our prayers, but waiting for us to take certain action or do something rather than just praying.

Unwavering focus is good until it’s not, and as we saw from Jesus’ time on Earth, He didn’t only spend time with one segment of the population, or talk on only one issue. Even the verses of the Bible speak to us in different ways on different days and during different seasons of our lives. Right now you may be repeating and rereading the words of Psalm 23, or you may be revisiting Psalm 91, or you may be reading 1 Corinthians 13 depending on what’s going on in your life.

Yes, today I do encourage you to spend time in prayer, or to restart your daily prayer habit if you’ve let it lapse. Pray as your heart encourages you to, whether it’s the same prayer you’ve been praying or a new prayer on a topic you’ve been praying about for a long time, and if you feel so encouraged add action to your prayer time too.

The Kindness of Strangers

I don’t know if you’ve been following an interesting story that’s really relevant in light of all that’s happening in the Ukraine right now, but the story began with two teen sisters who were coming to America as refugees from the former Yugoslavia and were given a gift when they got off the plane of an envelope with an encouraging message, $100 and a pair of earrings by a virtual stranger 23 years ago. The sisters were so touched by the gift that for many years now they’ve been trying to reconnect with this stranger and thank her for the encouragement and hope that she shared with them. The timing was right this time and the story was picked up by a major news outlet and reshared around social media, which finally helped to connect enough people together that the sisters were able to reconnect virtually with the kind woman.

There are many special things we could talk about regarding this story, but the one that I want to focus on is what the one response one of the sisters got years ago after she posted a message about her search online. The responder said that they couldn’t help the sister find the woman she was looking for, but maybe the sister could give some advice on how they could be like this kind stranger to a refugee they might meet in the future.

Yes, the money was a huge help to the sisters when they first arrived in America, but the gesture and the letter that accompanied the money almost had a bigger impact on their lives. It’s a reminder to all of us that the welcome you provide, the kindness you can offer, the patience you can give, the love you live with may be not only exactly what someone else needs, but would be exactly what Jesus would do and encourages each of us to do. Yes, when you get blessed like this you can pay it forward with resources which absolutely do make a difference, but as most of us have experienced, long after the money or food is gone we remember and even feel how others treated us. Jesus made a practice of seeing people, even those who weren’t seen by the people who lived in the same village or city as them and time and again we read the stories of what an incredible impact it had on their lives, Zaccheus being one of those (Luke 19).

So this week be conscious of the impact you’re having on others around you and do your best to be patient with each other as we’ve all been hurt before, we all go through times of struggle, and we can also all use a friend.

Reality Reflection: In this Together

I talk often about the power of being part of a community. Whether it’s the diversity of knowledge and support a child benefits from when they’re raised by not just their immediate family but by a greater community as well, the fullness of life we experience by exploring cultures and other parts of the world instead of just staying in our little box of known experiences and places, or the way we’re able to have and do so much more than any other time in civilization, community is essential.

Community also matters when times are tough, and time and again I’m so impressed by the way people open their arms and wallets to let others know that they’re not alone. Whether it’s a child’s school fundraiser, walk for suicide prevention, “barn raising” to put homes together or clean up after a natural disaster, or prayers and a couch to sleep on, time and again we see people step up for those in their community.

But the only way community works is if we each put in what we can. I know it seems impossible to believe that your drop in the bucket really makes a difference, but all those drops add up. You’ve probably seen the text on Wikipedia inviting you to donate just the cost of a cup of coffee, and you wonder how that money can really help (and why you would make the effort). But the reality is that yes, with just $3 donations from more people, those who manage the site would have a little peace each month knowing that their expenses are covered and they’re being supported and appreciated for the work they do. The same is true for the larger scale of things too. You may not think much of stopping at the local bakery or florist, or hiring a babysitter or life/business/health coach but even your small investments of a muffin or flowers or night out with your partner or support to grow means that someone else can feed their family another meal, or buy their kid new shoes, or contribute to a fund for new glasses or a necessary surgery.

I love that the world we live in allows us to contribute in so many different ways, ways that are perfect for each of us. We don’t all have to be farmers or blacksmiths or bakers or builders or doctors because that’s what’s most needed to keep everyone alive and surviving, we can contribute in our own way with dance or baseball or travel blogging or photography or raising guide dogs or financial advising or updating websites. But this world only works if and when we do make that contribution, and recognize the importance of the contribution that others bring. So as we enter this new month of May I encourage you to think about the little ways you can support other people in your physical and virtual community, because the world we all imagine and dream about living in can only happen if we keep moving forward together.