What did you have for breakfast? Can you even remember? If not, you’re not alone — most days I can’t. Not that I’m so busy that I forget, but I’m distracted, hurried, preoccupied–those words pretty much sum up my experience lately. It’s a weed that’s grown back many times in my life.
I started this ordinary day a little differently. (There’s great invitation offered when our days start like this, a little differently.) Today started with a chocolate-covered strawberry! Now that’s a great way to start a day — experiencing strawberries — and that got me thinking about how I’ve been living lately. I’m not talking just about food, but how I handled this strawberry exposes a pattern that spills over into the rest of my life.
This thought started last night when my daughter made a plate full of chocolate-covered strawberries. She left a couple for me for this morning! I saw them sitting on a plate in the kitchen. I ate one on first sight. Soooo good. As I walked out the door, I grabbed the other in a napkin and headed to my car. I got settled in on the road and grabbed the strawberry in all its sweet, red, juicy, chocolate-covered goodness, and chomp, chomp, chomp, swallow. It was gone. Just like that. Hastily. Thoughtlessly, really. The whole process took seconds. Seconds! I have to admit, I felt a little empty sitting there with only the memory of what I could recall it tasted like. Tasted? Did I even taste it? Wow, some memories fade so quickly.
I’ve got to do a better job chewing my food. I’m sitting here thinking about how that works — if I chew more slowly, I’d actually benefit from it. Slowing down helps my body’s digestion. And, even better, slowing down lets me actually taste my food. (In my head I hear a parental voice saying, “Your taste buds are in your mouth, not your stomach!” 😄) Sometimes I’m just excited about what I’m eating and so I shovel it down in huge, efficient bites. Or I’m just so busy and hurried, ready to get on to the next thing, or distracted by everything going on around me that I just scarf it down. I don’t chew it well. I don’t linger, letting myself take in the flavor. In the end, I don’t enjoy what was meant to be enjoyed. I miss out on the best part.
That’s when the thought comes to me about how I’ve been living lately. It dawns on me that I often live life this way, like eating those strawberries. I can feel the effects of this way of life. My appetite has grown dull. I don’t have the attention span that I used to have. I’ve actually become a little lazy in my relationships and distracted in my conversations. Because I ‘eat too fast’, the food I eat tastes bland, and that is a fitting metaphor to much of my life.
I rush through conversations, not lingering on what’s being said. Instead, I spend too much time thinking about what I’ll say next. Or, I allow my mind to drift to what I need to get done after our interaction—distracted, planning, and scheduling. I go on vacations, and then busy myself to the point of distraction. My phone screams at me in it’s quiet, vibrating voice. My mind is so busy sometimes I can’t think straight, cluttered with chores and to-do lists and worries.
I’ve tried to fix it through efficiency, productivity. Ugh. I have such a love-hate relationship with these words. Efficient. Productive. Busy. There are times for them, sure, in business, in a trip to the store, when you need to finish an hour-long task in 30 minutes, but not in the more important things in life. Friendship. Romance. Happiness. Exploration. Fun. A walk around a mountain lake. Laughing with a friend. Letting someone cry on our shoulder. Hugging my children. Heck, even eating strawberries. These things require extravagance, generosity, time, presence, whole-hearted engagement.
I don’t want to let this idea go without letting it change something in me. I think the solution to my problem is close. Maybe simple, even. I’ve tried all-or-nothing approaches, they haven’t worked. Maybe it doesn’t need to be radical as much as it needs to be intentional.
So much of life is in the way we see. We don’t see a desert at seventy miles an hour from an Interstate the same way we see it at, say, thirty from a two-lane. . . the Great Plains from a two-lane the same way we see them from a bicycle. . . the Appalachians from a bike the same way we see them when we hike the trails. . . And the mountains in the same way when we hike as when we stop and stay in one spot for an hour or a day or a year. . . there [are] two ways to see the world. . . One is to stand back, squint, and see the landscape in a beautiful blur of colors. The other is to go down on your hands and knees and examine the flowers one petal at a time. ~ From “The Everlasting Stream”, Walt Harrington [edited]
So, today I’m going to make a few readjustments: I’m going to adjust my engagement. Slow my pace. Add pauses. Linger in moments. Not like holding my breath until an explosive exhale, but long, slow breaths, filling my lungs with air. Focused. Ready to ask questions of the person talking to me. To engage, and hear, and deepen the conversation. When I come home at the end of the day, I’m going to look my wife in the eye, and pause. I’ll ask her to share with me her day, and I’m going to be fully present and not just think about my day or the chores that I need to get done now that I’m home. When I eat, I’m going to slow down there, too. Breathe in the aroma. Actually taste my food not just make it another effort in efficiency.
And in my faith, here’s an area that I think is even more important. More, because it is the headwater of all my other efforts. Nothing I’ve ever learned or tried has impacted my life as much as attention given to the growth, maturity, healing, and development of my soul. It impacts everything else. Not coincidentally, it is one of the hardest (and most assaulted) growth areas of my life.
Efforts in faith often lead people toward doing more, striving, adopting a “nose to the grindstone” sort of approach. But, what I’m suggesting, what I’m trying to learn, is how to reduce, not strive. Pull back, not add on. Strip away, not heap on more. Life already bombards me with more than I can handle. World affairs. Global pandemics. Family needs. Heck, even Netflix begs me to watch more TV series’ than I have hours in a day. My response is simple: I’m going to pause. Listen. Create intentional pockets of quiet, instead of filling every minute. I have had some of my best, most inspired thoughts in paused moments. I installed the One-minute Pause app on my phone, setting it to remind me twice a day. I’m going to shift my engagement a bit, marinate, deepen, in a series of small choices to pause along the way.
I’m looking forward to what’s ahead. I have a feeling my appetite is going to come back.
P.S. UPDATE: Several days have passed since I wrote this. I have to admit, my efforts to slow down have been met with opposition. It was naïve of me to think the patterns I’d fallen into would be so quickly dismantled. It’s been hard. My first few bites (ok, first few meals) I didn’t catch myself stuffing my face until the meal was over. My first few days of using the “Pause App” went well, but then I’ve seen the notification pop-up and paused my pause, telling myself I’ll get to it in a second, once I finish this one last thing. (Truth: There’s two notifications on my screen inviting me to Pause right now.) But, something good is happening, too. Last night I cut my food into smaller bites and slowed down to savor the flavor. It was a Sautéed Lemon Chicken Piccata with seasoned rice. It was so good. And, yes, I’ve missed several pauses, but the One-minute Pause app is making a difference. I can feel the shift inside. I’ve paused 28 times for 87 total minutes. 28 times I’ve given space to my soul and invited a deeper connection with the Father. My adjustments haven’t been radical, but they are having a positive impact. It’s been like a pit-stop for the soul. And I think I’m just beginning to feel the effects of my efforts. I’m going to keep going… or I should say, pausing. 😉
My wife and I went to see Steven Curtis Chapman (SCC) in concert last night. It was one of those unique solo performances, just him, three guitars, and a piano on stage. Intimate. Providing space for him to tell stories and interact with the audience. I love this format.
We heard he was coming to town just when my birthday was approaching, and so we bought tickets right away as a birthday present. We scored really good seats. Tenth row, center. It reminded us of the last time we’d seen him. It was years ago in Los Angeles, CA at The Greek Theater, great outdoor venue. And almost the exact same seat location.
Weeks past and the date of the concert finally arrived. The day before, our daughter-in-law mentioned she had two tickets to give away. We immediately thought of two close friends and in no time we had made plans to go together. When we arrived at the auditorium we each set out to find our seats. The concert started and it was amazing. We were close enough to see everything.
My wife just told me I’m being really negative lately. What?! I don’t see it. At least, I hadn’t seen it until she pointed it out. All along I was just being practical, informational, helpful even, or so I thought. But, she’s right. Lately, I haven’t seen the world as a happy, hopeful place. I’ve sort of lost the ability to dream and hope and believe into the future. I’ve become “realistic”, concrete, and short-sighted — negative. It’s like I can only see two feet in front of me. The rest is a blur. So, I’ve reacted with this cautious, controlling, less hopeful approach. It’s not how I want to live.
This isn’t an excuse, but I just feel so busy. (I know, who doesn’t feel busy these days, am I right?!) I don’t feel like I have time to process. It’s weird, because I have spare minutes. I watch TV. I listen to podcasts. I sleep 7 hours each night. But, something is going on. Calling myself “busy” doesn’t really describe it. We’re all ‘busy’, but we’re not all ‘negative’. Maybe another word fits — words like Distracted. Anxious. Cluttered. Hurried. Yup.
This is deeper than just my busy calendar. My mind is cluttered. And deeper still, my heart is distracted, disengaged. My life is crammed with unfinished “to do” lists and projects, unmet goals, unsolved problems, unfulfilled expectations, unresolved relationship issues – the list seems endless. My wife feels the effect. Heck, I feel the effect. I’m missing out on important things. I’m half present. I’m half listening. I’m scattered in twenty different places. Everyone and everything gets only a piece of me.
My wife’s words were like a glass of cold water to the face. I needed it. Awareness and acknowledgement are powerful friends, if only I’m willing take the time to know them. And like any relationship, I must put time aside for them.
I should have recognized the signs sooner. In my last job, I was a computer ‘fix-it’ guy. People would come to me saying, “My computer isn’t working right! It’s running really slow. Things are crashing.” And my job was to find the answer and fix it. Most of the time the solution was actually pretty simple, and I’d ask, “When is the last time you rebooted?”
This time of the year begins to take on a slower feel for me. The outdoor chores fade from the green that bursts into life and demands attention into browns and grays and shorter days that offer a few more minutes of rest and an ebb to the normal flow. It’s a good time to pause (or at least slow down) and recognize the changes not only in the season, but in all that’s happened in our lives during the year.
Then a conversation this morning with some friends about how God speaks reminded me of something God did for me a couple of years ago. He awakened me (literally and figuratively) and extended to me an invitation. The invitation was to write a short story!
And so, since we’re in this season, and since I want to slow down a bit and remember and enjoy what God and I have done together lately (during this season of life) (Grant, that phrase was for you. 🙂 ) I thought to myself — there’s no better time for a story. So, I’m revisiting a couple of stories that are part of my story, part of my risking and exploring and discovering, part of my coming alive.
I hope they inspire you to take the risk to pause from your busy life, to listen to the voice of God, to become aware of what he stirs in your heart, and to step toward the invitations he’s offering.
In my post, “Bringing Our Unique Self to the Surface“, I tell the story of how I was awakened by God at 4:00am with a special invitation — the invitation to create, to dream, to embark on a project with the Father, and to take a risk that his invitations are true and possible. This invitation was to write the short story, “A Powerful Grip“.
Sometime later, in much the same way, I was again invited to write another short story. That story is called “One Last Letter For Christmas“. I’ve only ever written two short stories, so these were unexpected gifts.
Let me just say, the LoveGodLovePeopleLiveFree.com blog is not a “short story” forum. But, it is about finding life and freedom by living out our stories, our hopes and dreams, and our faith in genuine and unfolding ways. So, I’m offering these couple of stories not to publicize my efforts, but because they are part of my journey to find LIFE — my calling, my passions, my purpose, and most importantly my connection to our heavenly Father. These stories (and the way they came about) were highlights of my life. And they were important trail-markers in my own journey and my learning to trust the leading of the Father.
Quotes. Those little snippets of thought we see pasted at the bottom of emails or as clever memes on social media or as instructive posters hanging on the wall at work.
Sometimes funny. Sometimes inspiring. Sometimes clever. They can become white-noise, elevator music to our consciousness. But, if we’ll tune in, I believe Quotes hold a tremendous power most of us fail to tap in to.
This is a RE-BLOG of an article written by a friend. It is really good and exposed an unhelpful tendency in the way I live my life — reading it encouraged me and has helped me say “Yes” to life. I hope it helps you find life, too!
“Most of us lead far more meaningful lives than we know” wrote Rachel Naomi Remen in her great memoir, My Grandfather’s Blessings.
For most of us the meaning of our life is right under our nose. It’s been there all our lives; we fail to see it because we are focused on the distant horizon, the giant landscape, wondering when our day will finally arrive.
One of my favorite movies this past year has turned out to be The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), starring Ben Stiller. It’s based on a character created by New Yorker writer James Thurber in 1939, a man who spent most of his life daydreaming about being a hero, saving the day, doing something epic that proved his existence to the world, proved that he mattered.
In the movie, Walter Mitty discovers that his fantasies are actually holding him back from living his real life. He learns: don’t dream it, be it. This movie is for all us dreamers. And for all of us who feel stuck. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty tells the story of everyone who has a secret life they want to live. That includes me. Even now as I’m typing I’m thinking of adventures I want to have, changes I want to make, goals I want to achieve.
To quote from another movie, Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About,“I just don’t want to come to the end of my live and have to say, “I was gonna be different but I chickened out when I had the chance.”
I hit these times every so often. Times when life just feels hard. Times I don’t feel needed. Like the universe takes this “I can take it or leave it” attitude toward my existence on this planet. My impact on the world being reduced to what it looks like for me to pull my hand out of a bucket of water, it leaves a small ripple then nothing. I feel it when I’m stuck and feel maxed out, when it feels like I’ve hit the end of the road in my life-pursuits. As I sit here and think about it, this feeling shows up in a lot different ways.
This feeling sucks!
I’ve tried to analyze it. Sometimes it comes from too much work (I’ve seen it enough times and watched it drive my neglect of the deeper places within me.) Sometimes it’s from outright assault from the enemy (we’ve been warned he exists to ‘steal and kill and destroy’ our lives.*) I see where it has roots in unfinished places within me. And if I’m honest, sometimes it’s just plain old self-pity. But, however it comes, it feels real. Very real. And too familiar. So, here I am again today — I feel like giving up. I can’t draw an arrow to exactly what I’m giving up on. Maybe just myself. It just feels like nothing I do matters.
This is painful. It’s hard. And it’s disorienting. I can’t think straight. Can’t think my way out of it. It hurts below the surface. The resignation and frustration it brings with it feels more like a broken bone than a scraped knee. It lingers in a part of me that I can’t access, can’t overcome with simple ‘will-power’. I want to shake it off, but alone I can’t find the strength.
So, here I am, sitting here thinking and feeling and wondering where to turn with all this, and a picture of my grandson is coming to mind. He is 7-years old. And last year he was learning to ride without training wheels on his bike. He just couldn’t get it. Couldn’t figure it out. Couldn’t master it. And he wanted to give up.
A couple of years ago a friend handed me one of the most unique birthday cards I’ve ever received. Not unique because of its design, but because of what he wrote inside. Written inside the card, as a sort of climax to the typical birthday sentiments, he concluded with a simple thought — take the next year to be quiet, say less, grow, and deepen.
To be honest, when I first read the words I was sort of confused and a little hurt. I mean, “quiet?” For a year? Is it just that he doesn’t think I have anything of value to say and just wants me shut-up?! But, I know my friend and his motives. And, I’ve watched his efforts to build quiet space into his life. Still, the words stung more than they should have. I just couldn’t shake them. Do you ever have those moments? When something jars you, is painful even, but you know down inside you shouldn’t ignore it?
I couldn’t forget his words, but thought to myself about how crazy it seemed.
Wait! What just happened? Has ANOTHER year passed? Again?! It seems like just a few weeks ago I was making plans to lose weight, go to the gym more, get more organized, spend less, save more, enjoy life to the fullest, learn something exciting, help others, spend more time with family, etc., etc.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t achieve everything on my list. Not even close. Last year’s “resolutions” (those hope-filled promises we make to ourselves) didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped.
I’m guessing we have similar lists. And, my hunch is your resolutions didn’t fully work for you either. I see it in the numbers — according to the Statistic Brain Research Institute*, a huge percentage of us resolve to change things along the same lines.
47% Self Improvement or education related resolutions
38% Weight related resolutions
34% Money related resolutions
31% Relationship related resolutions
We ALL want SOMETHING more out of life. It’s universal. And our problems are similar. Take a glance at these ‘resolution’ lists. They reveal something really important about our approach to life. Whether or not you make formal “resolutions” (and about half of us do), the desire for our best possible life exists in all of us. Continue reading “Ditch New Year’s Resolutions For Something Bigger”→
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We raised the topic like a glass at a wedding, full of anticipation — and yet we sat there, staring at the floor, waiting — silence.
I have a small group of good friends, my inner circle. We refer to ourselves as a ‘band of brothers’ (a reference to Stephen Ambrose book, “Band of Brothers”). We like the term. It reminds us of our need to be there for each other, that we are not alone – we have intimate allies who have our back, who believe in us, who we can turn to.
Over the years, we’ve gotten to know each other well, and we’re pretty good about spotting blind-spots in each other’s lives. So, I made the suggestion a while back that we take some time to reflect and affirm the ‘glory’ of each other’s life. (By ‘glory’ I mean the weightiness and strength of our life. God’s work in us, expressed, our effect on others and on our world.)
So, the date arrived and we gathered to talk. We raised the topic like a glass at a wedding, full of anticipation — and yet we sat there, staring at the floor, waiting for someone to speak — silence.
Why is that? We were excited about the idea. We’ve walked together for years – this should have been easy. Joyful. Confirming. Celebrative. But it wasn’t. It was awkward. When called upon to recognize, reflect and affirm the glory we see in each other’s lives, we floundered. And frankly, it really rattled me. What does this say about our friendships? Is this just normal? Just true of most relationships?
It happened again. It was a beautiful, sunny, perfect day. I was relaxed and at rest on the couch and having a conversation with a great friend. And it happened… again.
The conversation that morning began light and fun. But it took a subtle turn as the conversation drifted into deeper water (difficult issues about life and struggles and people). I began drifting into an all too familiar self-righteousness, a “Holier than thou” way of thinking.
You’ve seen this happen… some people make it sound better, calling it a “soapbox”. It usually occurs when someone feels like they have a certain thing “figured out”, nailed, are living it well, and so they begin to “tell it like it is.” Unaware, intentionally or not, they begin to look down on and minimize those who don’t have it figured out, who aren’t living it as well, who aren’t doing it ‘right’.
I get like this sometimes. I boil down complex issues to a single sentence, a simple tip, technique, or bit of advice. “If they had only done x, y, and z. this wouldn’t have happened!” “Don’t they know the bible says xyz about that?!” “They are just messed up.” “They brought it upon themselves!” “All you gotta do is…” And on it goes.
I might have gone along unaware of myself and my impact, until when, with feet planted firmly on my soapbox from which I’m expertly diagnosing and solving yet another of the world’s problems, I’m stopped dead in my tracks — utterly halted by a simple, loving act.
A Mirror. My friend held up a mirror. And in it I saw a glimpse of the fruit that is my life.
It was a rainy day in October when a few of us got together–old friends reconnecting. We talked about our past, our present, and our future. There were some awkward pauses… but we listened to each other. We spoke of our hopes and desires for the future. We wondered together about life and community and the intersections of our lives. We left each other with the plan to get together again soon. It was a really good conversation… but still I left with something nagging me… like the feeling you get when you can’t remember something but its right on the “tip of your tongue”… like there was something just outside of my conscious senses that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
The holidays are upon us (again). And this means parties, get-togethers, and family gatherings. So, it got me thinking about both the joy and the misery we feel when it comes to gathering together with others. For those “social butterflies” reading this, you will read my words and think “Duh” and wonder why any of this needs to be said — for you, read this as a sort of refresher and pick up an idea or two for your social toolbox.
Let’s be honest — we skim our way through life. There seems to be no way around it. We are inundated with information. Our email boxes are overflowing. There are more TV programs than we could watch in a lifetime. There are more cooking shows offering recipes on more meals than we could cook in a 100 years. Our Kindle offers page after page of new reading material. Yes, we are overrun by information. Even our relationships can feel this way, there is always something to do, always someone that needs something. It is one of the most exciting eras ever known to humankind.
So how do we make it work? We skim.
And this in and of itself isn’t a bad thing — in fact, I believe it is a critical skill. But, this powerful technique must not be applied haphazardly – it can be catastrophic if not harnessed!
I’ve begun to pay attention to this skimming process as it occurs all around me. I’ve noticed how often we skim our favorite TV programs using the “30-second skip-ahead button”. I’ve begun to notice how I skim articles in magazines. I “browse” the internet (a clever word for “skimming”). I’m catching myself skim books for nuggets of information. I listen to my Podcasts at 1.5x speed. What a rush! I have to admit, my skimming techniques do seem to help me feel more productive. Much like driving 10 mph above the speed limit helps me feel like I’m saving tons of time in my drive to work. Continue reading “Something Is Sucking The Awesomeness Out Of Your Life”→
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The other night I cheated on my wife. Well, sort of. It felt like it. It was all part of a disturbing dream I had. Ever have those? A dream so real you wake up wondering if it’s all true? I hate these kinds of dreams. They leave me feeling dirty and sad and hopeless and ( in this dream), helpless, without control. I awoke in a sweat.
As I replayed the scenario over and over in my mind, a thought began to emerge, a thought about ‘real life’ — it’s not inevitable, I have a choice. Cheating doesn’t start with “cheating“. What I mean is, cheating starts with an idea, entertained early on.
In the same way, choosing to not cheat starts with a decision. I’m not talking about a decision made as you walk to someone’s bedroom (although its never too late to stop and RUN!), but I’m talking about a decision made early on. You must answer the questions: Will I cheat? Will I entertain the thoughts coming into my mind?
If we wait until we are faced with the temptation, it may be too late. Like waiting until we’re holding a donut in our hand and trying to decide whether or not we should eat it. Or like driving a car toward the edge of a cliff, the closer we get before deciding to put on the brakes the more likely we will go over the edge.
It started a long time ago. I think it all began from a seed planted by those old “Keep America Beautiful” commercials from the 70’s — the one where a man portraying an American Indian stands by the side of the road and as a car drives by the passenger throws trash at his feet, and a tear comes to his eye.**
In many ways that picture has stuck with me. So, when I see trash and I’m able, I pick it up. It happened again today, another opportunity. And as I stood there eyeing the discarded paper towel (wanting to ignore it but not sure I wanted to win the internal wrestling match I was feeling between “I should” and “I don’t want to”), I walked past. This time I did not pick it up.
I was almost to the hallway when a thought began to emerge in my mind. And in a moment I realized this ritual of mine touches on something far deeper. This simple act of picking up trash is somehow linked to something deep within my heart — it serves to expose my beliefs and motives about life.
I have a treat for you today. A dear friend offered me a chance to post her thoughts online. I hope you enjoy her insights as much as I did. (Thanks Clara!)
June was Father’s Day month. Some people don’t get very excited about it. They spend most of Saturday trying to find a Father’s Day card that isn’t too mushy cause they have never been close. Or finding one that doesn’t lie: “To the most wonderful dad in the world!” or “Thank you for always being there for me.” It’s hard if your dad met few of the real needs of your heart. How can you give Continue reading “Father’s Day. What a Dilemma!”→
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I was talking with some buddies the other day about one of them is inviting his son into the “larger story” by passing along to him “3 eternal truths”. I wrote last time about “Truth #1 – Things are not what they seem“. Today I’m offering some thoughts on Truth #2 — You were born into a world at war.