Coinciding with the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, I set-up an office Olympics where I work. We had three teams: Fiji, Jamaica, and Barbados. I chose tropical locales because, frankly, it has been a long cold winter here and we all needed a hint of the islands. Over the course of three weeks we had a variety of different events such as Recycling Basketball, Paper Airplane Javelin, Lemon Fencing, Synchronized Office Chair Swivel, Finger Skating, and Rubber Band Archery. Each activity only took about 15 minutes out of our day and it was well worth it. The resulting laughter and just the simple act of getting out of our individual offices and workstations and coming together for a few minutes every day around something other than work was refreshing. The closing ceremonies were this past Friday and included a photo slide show (set to the Olympic theme song, naturally) of the participants and spectators at each of the events.
What I found to be the most rewarding part of the whole experience was seeing how everyone in the office rallied around one of our co-workers in particular. She is a quiet lady who works hard and keeps busy. She hails from outside the United States, and has a lovely accent and a gentle spirit. During the office Olympics, her team needed someone to sign-up to compete in Rubber Band Archery and she agreed even though she admitted that she didn't know how to shoot a rubber band. She approached me in the hallway one day and I thanked her for volunteering and she said, she was nervous about it because she didn't know what rubber band archery was. I told her that it isn't a thing... that I just made it up as a fun activity...that nobody knows what it is. She was so relieved to hear that! Have you ever been sure that everyone else knows about something and you are the odd, clueless man out? I explained that I would be setting up some targets and that rubber bands would be given out and that the object was to shoot the rubber band with your fingers at the targets and try to hit them. Nothing to worry about!
The day of the event arrived and I set up a bunch of paper and plastic cups on the ledge of an empty cubicle and let the competitors from teams Jamaica, Fiji and Barbados have a few minutes to practice. She stepped up to the line and acted like she had been shooting rubber bands her whole life. It was like the heavens opened and shined down on her and her alone for those few moments. She knocked those cups off the ledge one right after the other like a sharp shooter, stretching each rubber band back nearly to its breaking point before letting them fly. The staff who were gathered around cheered and watched in awe, even those who weren't on her team. Turns out that someone on her team had sent her a link to a YouTube video of how to shoot rubber bands (Is there nothing you can't find on the internet these days?) and she had been practicing at home since she had signed-up! She ended up winning the gold medal without breaking a sweat and a conversation broke out around the office at how her approach to rubber band archery closely resembled her approach to everything that she does. Her colleagues raved about how if there was skill she didn't have or a program she didn't know how to use, she would pay close attention as it was taught and she would work at it diligently until she became as good or better at it than the person who taught her. Everyone in the office started seeing this quiet, sweet lady in a different light and by the time the closing ceremonies came around last week, when a photo of the rubber band archery champ came up on the screen, the whole office clapped and cheered.
It took stepping outside of the normal routine to be able to see her uniqueness for what it was. Now when we step back into the norm, we will have a new found respect and a clearer picture of who she is and what she is capable of.
How can you create opportunities in your family, your job, your church, your group of friends to shake off the old routine enough to give people a chance to let their uniqueness show and give yourself a chance to notice it? Give it a try! You'll be glad you did.
As I sit on the couch resting on LABOR Day, I started doing a little internet research on the concept of work (clearly I am more fun than a barrel of monkeys). Specifically, I was curious about what makes people WANT to work hard. Too many times, I'd rather take an easier way out and yet the call to hard work and dedication is ever present... nagging, really. *so rude*
I guess since it will always be the voice in the back of my head, so I might as well find ways to increase my "want-to" where hard work is concerned. Here are some of the positive things, other than the potential to make money, that I found which consistently seem to help make people willing to work harder than your average Joe:
1. A trustworthy leader.
2. Recognizing the importance of the fruits of your labor.
3. The collaboration and camaraderie of a great team.
4. A compelling vision of the future.
If there is an an area of your life where you, like me, want to increase your motivation to work harder, maybe you need to find someone trustworthy to follow who can point the way. Perhaps you need to remember all the good things that could be byproducts of your hard work. Maybe it is time to recruit some enjoyable teammates to join you in the pursuit, or perhaps it is time to imagine what the future could be like if you stuck to it and gave it your all.
If all of that fails, crank up some great music and just do the next right thing for 1 more hour... just one more hour. Maybe after that hour, we'll be too engrossed to quit, but even if we aren't we're closer to the goal than we were before!
Colossians 3:23 "Whatever you do,work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men." ESV
Proverbs 14:23 "In all toil there is profit, but mere talk only leads to poverty." ESV
Philippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength."
NOTE: The quote in the picture above is questionably attributed to Thomas Edison. Check out this link for the history of the quote and to look into any other quotes you find online to verify who really said them first.
When our son was a toddler, we learned a nifty parenting trick. After suffering through meltdown after meltdown whenever it was time to transition from one activity to the next, we discovered that if we gave our son a 5 or 10 minute warning before the transition was about to happen, the meltdowns were a thing of the past. "Tim, it will be time to help clean up toys and say goodbye in ten minutes." "Tim, dinner will be in five minutes, so get ready to stop your video." As long as he knew what was coming and when, he could cope. When he had time to wrap things up or finish on his own terms, he was golden. If the meltdown wasn't completely averted, it was at least lessened in severity.
Don't you wish we had the luxury of those kinds of warnings in life as adults. "Carla, in six months you will not be living here any more and you'll have to start over." "Carla, within the year, that person that you are so attached to will pass away." "Carla, in the next week someone in your family will become ill." Just a little warning, wouldn't that be nice? Just a little heads up so we can wrap our minds around what is coming and finish or adjust on our own terms.
The thing is, these little advance warnings weren't the most valuable things we could offer our son. Yes, they made life a little more bearable in the moment, especially as he was making his way through those toddler years, but it was never meant to be a way of life. After all, we wouldn't always have a warning ourselves. Sometimes we would need to make a transition with little to no warning and we would need him to trust us and spring into action before his emotions could catch up. What we really wanted him to learn were things like - Your Mom and Dad love you and we are in charge. We know what is best and we are working with an agenda that includes more than your immediate happiness, things you just aren't prepared to understand yet. The more you trust us, the more you will see that we have your best interest at heart. We may ask you to do some things that you do not want to do, but it is never out of cruelty. At the end of the day, what we really wanted him to learn to do was to rest in our trustworthiness, and to respond based on our relationship not on an attachment to an established, predictable routine.
The same is true with our walk through life. The routine will inevitably vary, so putting our trust in things always being the way they have been in the past is foolish. Many times God will orchestrate situations in such a way as to soften the blows of painful change. Other times, however, we will be called upon to simply respond in faith-filled obedience, when there is no resemblance of the normal routine anywhere in sight, no promise of how things will be resolved or how long the transition to a new normal will take.
In the end, through the pages of scripture, I have been given three things that are of greater value than a glimpse into the immediate future:
At the end of the day, this is what has been offered to me and it is what I have to offer the world. It isn't a safe, predictable routine, it is a relationship with the One who created all of us and has a vested interest in our future. It isn't an advance warning system of difficult changes that lie ahead and it isn't a promise that life will be easy or pain-free. It is the message of the gospel and it is enough.
For the past two days, I've been dealing with a sudden onset of lower back pain. A couple trips to the chiropractor and some x-rays to rule out anything serious, and I am now feeling 65% better. Any time an ache or pain slows me down, I HATE IT. I hate being sick. I hate injuries. I don't manage health related setbacks well. I'm not a fun patient. I just want it to "be over."
Meanwhile, I have a friend in California, a mom of three elementary school-aged kids, who is being treated for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. RSD (as I understand it) is an unexplainable disease of the nervous system that is triggered by an injury. The nervous system and body "overreact" to the injury and go a little haywire, making the pain related to the injury disproportionately severe. Not only that, but the intense pain spreads to other body parts not affected by the injury, basically making life completely miserable, if not unbearable even after the injury heals.
Suddenly, perspective settles in. Why was I complaining again?
My friend is currently undergoing a Ketamine treatment that requires her to be at the hospital from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day. The side effects include nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue, and hallucinations. She has had all of these.
From now on when my back twinges or pain wakes me up at night when I try to roll over in bed, I'm going to stop and pray for my friend instead of focusing on my own pain. Would you do the same? You don't have to know her name or anything about her really... just pray for my friend... a fellow planet-wanderer who has been thrown a difficult curve ball.
So how do you pray?
Maybe if in our own pain (whether it is emotional, spiritual, or physical), we can be reminded of the ache of another and lift her up in prayer, none of our pain will be in vain. And God will bring a kind of healing we never could have imagined.
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Jason and I recently celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary with a day in Washington D.C. together. While we were waiting on our bus, we took turns listing off some of our favorite memories from the past 15 years, one at a time. He would describe a memory; I would smile and nod. I would recall something; he would smile and nod. After this had gone on quite awhile and we both had unfading smiles on our faces and fond memories filling our minds, it dawned on me that none of the memories we listed as our favorites occurred on holidays. Huh. Interesting. We didn’t say, “Remember that Christmas when…,” or “I’ll never forget that Thanksgiving when…” It seemed that our best memories happened when we weren’t planning for them to happen!
This was a major revelation to me. It is something that I am still pondering now, a few days later. You see, I’m “the planner.” I’m the one who sees a holiday coming on the calendar and is prone to feel more PRESSURE than pleasure. The pressure of who to spend it with, where to spend it at, how much money to spend, how to make it the most memorable, how to make it meaningful (particularly if it is a faith-centered holiday), how to incorporate tradition and still try new things. It’s no wonder that my favorite memories don’t seem to happen on holidays! They happen on days when I’m not feeling pressured to MAKE memories. When I’m just living life and remembering to appreciate the people I’m with, the places I’m at, and the God who generously provided both. They happen, not when my mind is focused on the details of executing a plan, but when the overriding agenda is being 100% present in the given moment.
A great example of this is a vacation we took to Disney World when our son was 9. I planned my hiney off, folks. As we prepared to leave, I knew I was on the precipice of dangerous territory. I had spent so much time doing so much research that I was poised to spend our trip being so interested in doing things in “the right order” and in “the most efficient way” that I would frustrate my guys and suck the joy right out of the only family vacation we’d had in years. Thank God for self awareness! Somehow, I caught a glimpse of where my pressure-filled, over-planning tendency was heading and I was able to shut it off… that mental compulsion to execute the plan at all costs. Instead, I told myself I had prepared well and now it was time to hold all of that information in reserve and pull it out when it was needed, but not be enslaved to it or force others to conform to it. The result – we had a BLAST! Best. Family. Vacation. Ever. Most of the fun we had and the most lasting memories we made were completely unexpected, like the people we met while sitting in line for a ride in the Animal Kingdom waiting out a thunder storm and the instant bond we formed with them, spending the rest of the evening together going on the same two rides together as a big group over-and-over-and-over again until the park closed and they actually closed the ride down while we were on it; or the daily afternoon family nap we ended up taking at our hotel during the hottest part of the day (if I had planned that ahead of time, both the guys would have balked and it would have seemed like a drag… but it happened naturally and we all laugh about how hard we crashed each afternoon to this day).
So now we look forward to the next 15 years, and hopefully learn from the best memories of the first 15. Here’s to holding our plans loosely, and to waking up each day with the realization that we don’t have to MAKE memories happen. Our God is a good God and He gives good gifts to His children. We don’t have to cleverly conjure up gifts for ourselves – we just have to unwrap His gifts when He gives them! He has built joy into the equation of our lives and He is the one who knows how to bring it out at just the right time to create moments that leave a permanent smile in our souls. No amount of human planning can equal that!
“What’s the worst that could happen?” Have you ever been faced with something that was causing you anxiety and when you reached out to a friend or family member to help you process it, she responded with that question? It’s a good exercise, don’t you think? Facing that thing you are inwardly fearing the most? Well, it is the start of a good exercise, anyway.
Up until that point, you probably haven’t actually said OUT LOUD what the worst case scenario actually is… it has just been haunting the depths of your mind without ever taking a clear shape. So you come right out and say it. The worst case scenario is… Fill in the blank. I lose my job. We lose our house. Someone I love dies. Someone I love leaves me. The doctor will say it is cancer. I will screw up royally and hurt other people. The truth will come out and I will lose the respect of those who I cherish. Whatever the “worst that could happen” in any given situation happens to be, is now out there on the table. You’ve said it. Whew! That’s a relief, right?
Not necessarily. Your friend probably asked that question because she doesn’t think it is likely that the worst case scenario will actually occur. She wants you to say it out loud so she can remind you that it probably won’t happen like that. If the conversation stops with simply answering that question, however, our fear and anxiety may actually increase rather than diminish. Because, even though your friend is playing the odds and counting on positivity to rule the day, you know that even if it isn’t likely… it is possible… and now you’ve said it out loud and have no answers.
A better response to gain peace and arrive at the place where you are getting the upper hand on your fear is to START by asking that question, but not to STOP there. Once you’ve identified your worst case scenario and said it out loud, don’t play the odds. Don’t talk about how likely or unlikely that result is… it doesn’t matter – you don’t know the future so wasting time trying to predict it is futile. Instead, ask the next important question: Then what?
Beth Moore demonstrates this beautifully (and somehow humorously) in one of the lessons she teaches in her study on the biblical book of Esther. In Esther’s story, we see her come to the point where she realizes that the worst case scenario in her situation is that she will die. The king will have her killed for daring to appear before him uninvited. She faces this worst case scenario and in the end asks for the prayers and support of her people and then says, “If I perish, I perish.” As Beth reflects on this idea of facing your fear, she talks about how she occasionally would develop a horrible fear that her husband was going to be attracted to another woman. It would build up inside her and every time he was distant or came home later than expected, or just didn’t seem like himself, the fear would rise immediately to the surface and her thoughts would be plagued with the worst case scenario. So she finally asked herself. “What IS the worst case scenario?” In her mind, the worst possibility was that he wasn’t just attracted to another woman, but that he loved her, and that she was darling and beautiful, and that her own children liked this other woman! Okay. “Then what?” Well, I would be devastated!!! I would throw a fit, a big fit! I would writhe on the floor in pain and my heart would break! Okay. “Then what?” I would be consumed with thoughts of them together and I would have to lay down on the floor with my Bible on my head (you’d have to know Beth Moore to imagine her saying all this. She is a kick) and listen to worship music in the car really loud and cry out to God just to make it through each day. Okay. “Then what?” Well, I’d be mad as a hornet for quite a while and I might take it out on other people until I got a hold of it. Okay. “Then what?” Well, eventually, I’d get back up. Go back to ministry and take it one day at a time.
Well, what do you know about that?! If you ask enough “Then what’s?” you eventually get to a place where a new normal emerges in your realm of possibility… one that is hard, but doable. One that helps you to take in the worst case scenario and not just play the odds, but face the fear and see the hope on the other side.
A word of caution: Faith is the basis of all of this. Faith in God and His goodness and in His faithfulness to fulfill His promises. If you don’t have that as a starting place, then asking yourself “Then what?” is a dangerous proposition, indeed. In Esther’s case, the end result was the possibility of her death… that thought isn’t going to fill you with hope unless you have a faith in what comes after death. So depending on where your relationship is with God today, you may want to start with a different question… before jumping to “What’s the worst that could happen?” why not try, “Is there a God who loves me?”
There is. He does.
Jeremiah 29:13 NIV "You will seek Me and find Me when you seek me with all your heart."
On a recent trip to the National Zoo, we had a great time watching this meerkat. The other meerkats in the habitat were rolling in the dirt, playing, and digging, but this one climbed up on the highest rock in the enclosure and stood very still and just looked, systematically, in every possible direction. The educational plaque hanging on the wall nearby explained that this behavior is common for meerkats. Since they are such tiny creatures and generally walk on all-fours, meerkats will frequently pull themselves up on their hind legs to get a better, higher view of their surroundings and search for predators.
This week on my commute to work, I've been reading in Genesis about the life of Joseph. You remember Joseph - the coat of many colors, being sold into slavery by his brothers, being bought by the Captain of the Guard in Egypt, ending up in prison (unjustly), interpreting dreams beyond his own capability, being restored and elevated to the position of second in command to the pharaoh, saving his family from the effects of a severe famine, being reunited with his father who thought he was dead. AMAZING LIFE STORY to be sure. The thing that struck me this week as I read through the account of the life of Joseph again was that He was always experiencing God's favor, regardless of his circumstances:
1. His brothers threw him in a pit, but didn't kill him.
2. He was sold into slavery, but everything he did prospered and he was not treated like a slave in the home of Potiphar.
3. He was put into prison unjustly, but again everything he did there prospered and he was given responsibility and meaningful work even in prison.
4. He was offered a high position in the government of the pharaoh which he did not seek out.
5. Everything he did in Egypt prospered and his work there resulted in saving a nation from a devastating famine and in restoring his family to him.
As I read and reflected on Joseph's life, I was reminded that we cannot gauge whether or not we are living out God's will for our lives based on our circumstances. After all, Joseph was rejected by his brothers. a slave, and a prisoner, all while being right where God wanted him to be. A better gauge of living out God's will, it seems, is His favor. God's favor plays out in the smallest of ways and on the grandest of scales, but is of equal value regardless of the way it is displayed. Sometimes we have to be like that meerkat, and rise above our own limited perspective and try to catch a glimpse of what is really going on in the midst of our suffering. If we don't, we are destined to be enslaved to our current circumstances and our limited interpretations of them.
This is more than looking for a "silver-lining." This is about remaining faith-filled in our attitudes and faithful in our actions regardless of our situation. Refusing to despair when we know we are on the path God wants for us. Submitting to the route that He has deemed best and looking for evidences of His favor along the way to keep us going. When we are in the pit (rejected by those who are supposed to love us and protect us), in slavery (stuck in a difficult situation without any control over it), or imprisoned unjustly (falsely accused and punished without cause) - may we rise up to our full height (in his mercy and grace) and look for evidences of favor smack dab in the middle of the pain and difficulty. If they are there, then we have cause to rejoice in the midst of the mess and hold on for the deliverance that will surely come. If they are absent, we have cause to repent and wait for the restoration that God has promised never to withhold from His children.
Psalm 121:1-2 (NIV)
"I lift up my eyes to the mountains-- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth."
Psalm 30:5 (NIV)
"For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning."
I've decided life is really about sifting.
Perhaps I should clarify. In 2013 in the United States, I would venture to guess that most households do not own a sifter and most youngsters today have likely never even seen one. There are many different types of sifters for many different purposes, but the one I'm most familiar with is a flour sifter. Hang with me here... I think it will be worth it in the end... Kitchensavvy.com tells us that, "In earlier days, sifting flour served several purposes. When flour was milled using stone wheels, as opposed to modern steel rollers, sifting removed bits of the millstone and other impurities that might be found in the flour. Sifting also breaks up clumps, adds air to the flour which helps produce lighter cakes and pastries, and makes measurement more uniform."
So why do I think life is really all about sifting? Well, I've seen people who've been through horrible, nightmarish things in life who still live healthy, happy, fulfilled, purposeful lives and I've seen others who've been completely sidelined by the most minor offense.
The bottom line is that what we hold onto and what we let slip away, for better or for worse, really does define our human experience.
So how do we sift what life hands us? We can't hold onto everything we experience in life, so how do we decide what to hold onto and what to release? Here are two questions to ask about the stuff in our lives we are holding onto to determine whether it should survive a good sifting:
1. Is it pure? In the description of the flour sifter, we learned that one reason for sifting is to remove impurities. Is what you are holding onto pure? Is it True? Is it producing purity and truth in you? If yes, then hold on to it. If not, let it go.
2. Is it adding lasting value? A flour sifter incorporates air into the flour which makes the resulting baked goods light and fluffy. Is what you are holding onto adding value to your life that will produce something even better in the long run? If yes, then hold on to it. If not, let it go.
So, what sorts of things need to be sifted...
If the flour sifter example is any indicator, things get clumpy the longer they sit. Why not run the stagnant, clumpy parts of your life through the sifter and see what happens... chances are there are some things that you've held on to that need to be broken up (reevaluated), filled with air (reinvigorated or reframed), and thoroughly filtered (keeping the good and releasing the impure and untruthful).
Hosea 10:12 "Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you." ESV
The video below is a PERFECT example of a life that has been well sifted.
This is Luke McMaster. He is a multiplatinum song-writer who recently launched a solo career with a billboard hit song - "Good Morning Beautiful." About a month ago, just before Christmas, a friend of mine from childhood was facing a heart surgery for her 3 year old daughter, Elouise. Prior to her surgery, Elouise's grandma introduced her to "Good Morning Beautiful" and it became her favorite song. They tweeted Luke McMaster (a stranger to them) a picture of Elouise listening to the song before going into surgery. He promised to record a special version just for her.
The thing is, he actually did it.
He chose to be delightful. He didn't have to. Elouise came through her surgery beautifully and would have lived a happy life without a personalized version of a billboard hit song. But he did it anyway. This isn't the first story or video to inspire this kind of attitude that I've come across lately: Jon Acuff wrote this blog post called Choose To Be Delightful about his experience at Trader Joe's, and if you haven't been watching the Kid President videos... well then you are missing out big time!
I guess the theme is, Why NOT be delightful?! It only takes a few extra moments of your time and makes a HUGE difference in the world around you.
P.S. You can get Luke McMaster's debut album, "All Roads," on iTunes or Amazon. (not a paid endorsement, I just think it is great to support artists who take the time to be delightful)
My day started off with a problem yesterday. Don't you just love it when that happens? Yeah, me neither.
Our family car has been on its last legs for awhile and its latest malfunction finally forced me to call a mechanic yesterday morning. The key has been getting stuck in the ignition for quite some time (this is the original problem), but we've always been able to eventually get it out, but lately getting it out hasn't been quite so easy. In fact, Monday night I couldn't get it to come out at all, so "Old Yeller" sat outside with the key in the ignition all night. The next morning when I went out to start-er-up, the battery was dead as a door nail. That was the first problem of the day. My son needed to get to school and the bus had already come by our house. That was problem number two. I called a dear friend and neighbor and she came over at once to take Tim to school for me (problem two solved). Then she came back with jumper cables and a can-do attitude. Only issue was - we couldn't get the hood latch to release on my car. You got it, problem numero three. She called her husband and he walked us through the process and before we knew it problem three was history and the hood was open! We got the car started in no time flat - and when I say WE, I mean SHE - (problem one alleviated) and she left to begin her day.
Problem four reared its ugly head when I realized that I had less than an eighth of a tank of gas and I couldn't leave the car idling for very long to get the battery fully charged. I attached a battery charger to it and hoped for the best. The best was not in the cards and the car refused to start when I needed to take it to a mechanic (Problem #5 - which is basically a do-over of problem #1). I called another good friend who came over with jumper cables and a "can you really do this?" attitude. I assured her I was capable (I had after all just watched friend #1 jump-start the car and had quickly watched a youtube video on how to go about it right before she showed up. I was practically a pro!). Thankfully I got the car started without anything blowing up (problem five solved) and my friend followed me to the mechanic's shop, because she's cool like that.
To continue making a long story longer - here is what happened after that:
So, what is the moral of this story? Take your pick:
1. It is good to have friends. It is VERY good to have friends.
2. Problems aren't always solved in the same order in which they arise. Tackle one thing at a time, but don't get hung up on the way it all comes together.
3. Sometimes your problems might make other people laugh - go with it, we could all use a good laugh. Getting bent out of shape only robs you of your own shot at joy in the middle of junk. (Shout-out to the windshield-wiper-horn-blowing friend, I do hope everything worked out!)
4. Don't assume the worst when a problem arises - you aren't God and you have no idea where your "stuck key" will lead you today, perhaps at the end of the day you'll still have a key that sticks, but you could also have a way to deal with it, a comforting knowledge of how far your friends are willing to go to help you, and a small glimpse at how much God truly loves you.
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!