Wednesday, January 28, 2015

3 Ways To Calm The Anxiety That Is Making You Miserable

Life is unpredictable and uncontrollable. Everyone would admit that to be true, and almost everyone hates it. Anxiety is what we feel when the uncertainty of life becomes overwhelming. Our minds frantically bounce from one thought to the next trying to fix, repair, predict, prepare, relate, or overcome. As our inability to control everything becomes apparent, so does our discomfort. Soon the headaches, backaches, or stomach pains set in. The small healthy fire that burns inside of us to be productive, rages into a forest fire that consumes all of our thoughts and energy. If your anxiety has become a common companion during your week, try out these three things to help control the flames:

Divide And Conquer

It seems impossible to ignore our anxious thoughts for an entire day, but 10 minutes is a reasonable start. When today’s anxious thought comes crashing in on you, decide to set it aside for 10 minutes. For example, if you are stressed about how you’re going to pay for your child’s college education in a few years, resolve to set the issue aside for 10 minutes. Say to yourself, “I will not think about the college issue for the next 10 minutes”. If after that time, you decide that you are ready to pick the thought back up, you can. If you would like to set it aside for another ten minutes, then that’s your prerogative as well. Remember, it’s not laziness or procrastination to set aside a topic until a time when our brain can think more clearly about it! Once your mind is clear enough to find the first step in the task at hand, you are ready to proceed. One step taken is better than 10 steps obsessed over. Often times the overwhelming size of the forest keeps us from chopping down the first tree.

Give Yourself Permission To Rest

 The more exhausted we become the more intense our anxiety can be. When we are tired, we are unable to think as clearly and life feels like nothing more than 1000 issues that we can’t resolve, swirling around all at once. Battling anxiety requires a great deal of mental energy. So, as hard as it can be, set a time to be in bed and stick to it. Tell yourself (out loud if necessary) that your day is over and you cannot accomplish anything else until morning. At that point, stop making lists (either on paper or in your head), let go, and go to sleep. This may take some practice and could include a few nights of staring at the ceiling, telling your brain to knock it off! But stay committed to the routine and your body will adjust.

Repeat After Me: “Who I Am Is More Than What I Do…”

 It’s incredibly tempting to believe that I am only doing well when I have done everything, and have done it perfectly. But that’s just not the case. Life is hard and we are imperfect. Even at our best, some tasks are impossible. Who you are is more than just a reflection of how well you perform. You can control your effort but not always the outcomes, so show yourself a bit or mercy. Think of all of the imperfect people that you love, odds are, several of them love you back just the way you are.

Implementing these three things into your life will reduce your anxiety and give you greater clarity in your thinking. We may not be able to avoid all anxiety in life, but we can keep it from controlling us!

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"Becoming" Isn't Easy: Three Keys To Becoming The Person You’ve Always Wanted To Be

Early in Michelangelo’s career, before the Sistine Chapel, he was commissioned to sculpt more than 40 figures for what would have been the most magnificent tomb of its time. Money for the project dried up, however, and it was pushed to the side and never completed. The result is a collection of statues that line the hall leading to Michelangelo’s masterpiece in Florence, the David. This collection of partially finished statues often referred to as Prisoners, shows figures half carved out of their blocks of marble. The images are very impactful as they appear to be fighting to emerge from the marble that holds them captive. (see image below)

We are like those statues in many ways. We are all in process. We are all becoming. Every day we strain against what we have been, working to be whatever we might become. Becoming what we hope to be isn’t an easy process. To say it another way, growth isn’t for the faint of heart. Here are a couple of thoughts as you seek to become all you were meant to be:

Don’t Listen To People Who Insist On Defining You By Your Past

Don’t forget your past, there are lessons to be learned there, but don’t listen to anyone who insists on never letting you escape your past. Your past is where you were, you get to decide where you are going next. If you constantly listen to people who feel that you will never grow to be anything new, at some point you will start believing them.

Growth Starts With Dreams But Is Enacted By Determination

Don’t stop dreaming about what you can become. Dreams are where it all starts, but dreaming isn’t enough. At some point you will have to step out and try to make those dreams come true. Becoming all you want to be isn’t easy, it takes hard work to keep from settling in to the status quo that holds you prisoner now.

Fail Mightily

If you are waiting to figure out all the steps that it’s going to take to become what you want to be, you will never get there. Sometimes you can only see the next step in front of you, sometimes not even that much. Take steps to work on whatever steps you can see, and don’t be afraid to fail. Of course you will fail along the way. Failure only kills our dreams if we refuse to get back up and try again. Failing is a sure sign that you are alive and growing. It also means you are one step closer to succeeding.

I hope you have a dream about what you can become. There is a world of potential inside of you just waiting to bust out, not to mention a world around you that needs what you have to offer. Dream big dreams and chase them all the passion and endurance you have. You will never regret it! 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Relationships Part 2: How To Have The Healthy Relationships You Crave

If you are ready to be more effective in you relationships, and to enjoy them more as well, then asking yourself the following questions is the place to start:

Have I accepted my limitations?

You have them, the only question is, are you being honest about that. You can’t relate to everyone. If you continue to ignore your limits, you will never deliberately choose how to best invest yourself relationally.

What are the most important relationships in my life?

Yes, some are more important than others. For instance, you are the only mom you daughter has. Is it possible that some relationships in your life are more time sensitive than others right now? Is your child graduating in 3 years? Is your uncle terminally ill? If you could only relate to four people on the planet who would they be? Make sure they get the majority of your time and attention.

Start with the end in mind.

Which will you want to have more by the time you are 80, a wife that feels loved and cared for or a boss that feels you were a great employee? How will you want your son to remember his childhood? When you have settled on what will be most important to you the future, translate that into action in the present.

Relationships aren’t easy, so you tend to avoid giving them concentrated attention and effort. Relationships are, however, the core of our life, and the time and deliberate attention you give them will pay off more than anything you do. I hope that this year will be the beginning of something incredible in your relational life!

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Relationships Part 1: Why Yours May Be Unhealthy And Unsatisfying

Have you ever felt that there just wasn’t enough of you to go around?

Have you ever felt that you are being pulled in too many directions?

Do you feel that you are surrounded by wonderful people but that you don’t get to relate to and enjoy them as much as you would like?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then you may be confusing “loving people” with “relating to people”.

Jesus’ call to love everyone isn’t a call to be in relationship with everyone. It’s impossible to be in relationship with everyone. Relationship requires effort, sacrifice, and time, and we only have limited amounts of those things. You only have 24 hours in a day, and you can’t stay awake for all of that for very long without suffering severe physical consequences. We have even less attention to give in a day than we do hours. You can only shove so many relationships into your life. Everyone won’t fit.

People who feel that they should relate to everybody equally have weaker and less satisfying relationships. I realize that the preceding statement is heavy, but it’s true.  It feels judgmental to choose to relate to some people and not others. It feels better to simply say, I will relate to everyone and exclude no one. The problem, however is that when you attempt to relate equally to everyone who pursues you for friendship or relationship, you will inevitably run out of time and energy at some point. When that happens it's impossible relate to more people. Not only that, you will be spent, and there will be very little of you left to relate to. Like it or not, you will be excluding people at that point. As much as we hate to admit it, the real question is not whether we will exclude people or not, but who will we exclude.

Healthy relational people make deliberate choices about where they will invest themselves relationally. You are going to make a relational impact in your life. Where you will make it and how deep will that impact be? Who gets the majority of your time? Who gets the majority of your focused attention? Where do you invest your affection? Are you getting a good return on your investment? Are the people that you say you love the most getting the best of you, or the leftovers?

If these questions have whet your appetite for relational growth, and you are eager to take the first step, stop back in at the blog tomorrow for how to take the first steps. Also, take a second and become a follower of this blog or leave a comment. I would love to hear your feedback. I look forward to meeting you back here soon!

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Don't Judge Me! On Second Thought Maybe You Should....

Coming off of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, one of the greatest quotes of all time is still ringing in my ears….

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

I can’t imagine what it must have been like to hear those words echo down from the Lincoln Memorial out of the mouth of Martin Luther King Jr. The words are heartbreaking and beautiful and were a motivating call to a generation of people to commit themselves to justice. The imagery of the first half of the quote is so powerful and emotionally evocative, however, that I fear it has led us to ignore the second half.

No one should be judged by the color of their skin.

                                                Or by the amount of money in their wallet.
                                                Or by their religious affiliation.
                                                Or by their political leanings.
                                                Or by educational background.

But they are to be judged.

I know that phrase sounds insane and critical and heartless, but it’s actually a powerfully honest statement, and it’s part of the beauty and genius of the above quote by Dr. King.

We should be judged. I need to be judged. You need to be judged, and that judgment should be on the content of our character. A world that does not judge on the content of character breeds injustice. It willingly throws its people to the wolves.

In our haste to not judge people unfairly, we have thrown out judgment altogether, which is not only short-sighted, but incredibly dishonest.  Let’s be honest with ourselves for a second and admit it: we all judge.

If you are looking for a daycare for  your precious two year old child that you love and care for dearly, you had better be a very critical (in the best way) judge. You would never just drop your child off anywhere that had a daycare sign in the window. You would judge. You would meet the staff. You would talk to other parents at the daycare. You would ask around and visit multiple places. In short, you would judge the daycare centers, and rightfully so.

We are all constantly judging, all the time. We judge the employees we are interviewing to hire, we judge the restaurants where we eat, and the hotels where we stay on vacation.

And that’s ok.

It’s more than ok, it’s critically important.

After all, if the restaurant where you are having dinner has left their chicken out on the counter for the past 8 hours, its ok to judge them for that and avoid the Chicken Caesar Salad, or better yet, just leave.

So, what areas are safe to judge?  How do we judge honestly and in a healthy way?

We judge the content of character.

Judging the content of my character, where it is weak, and where it is strong is what allows me to develop my character more fully. Better character means a better life, better for me, better for my family, and better for the community and nation I live in.  Dr. King knew that his children would be judged, he just hoped they would be judged on things that truly matter, things they could control. You may not have a lot of control over your skin color or financial standing, but every day we all have the opportunity to develop our character, and when we do our homes and nation are better off for it. So  embrace patience, generosity, mercy, forgiveness, and courage, and partner with others who do the same. It’s not easy to build our character, and it doesn’t develop overnight, but  years from now when you look back, you’ll be grateful for every minute that you chose invest. 

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Monday, January 19, 2015

My Favorite Reads From 2014

I love books, and I love reading posts about books. I have stumbled upon some amazing works by amazing authors by reading blog recommendations from others. It struck me that taking advantage of this great benefit without offering up my own thoughts was a bit selfish, so this is my attempt to share recommendations on books I have enjoyed.   I try to read books from set categories each year, in an attempt to be balanced in my reading. The following books reflect some of those categories.So, here are some of my favorite reads from the last year, I heartily recommend them and hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Also, if you have recommendations from your reading, I would love to hear them!!!!!


All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I had only known Doerr from his collections of short stories which I had enjoyed. So, when I saw his novel pop up on Amazon, I thought I would give it a try. I am incredibly glad I did. Doerr tells a hauntingly beautiful tale about love and loss among the less fortunate during World War II. Doerr’s prose is straight forward and melodic at times. He draws you in and engages not only your mind, but your heart.

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
In order to avoid his upcoming 100th birthday party at his nursing home, Allan Karlsson climbs out of his window and embarks on an absurb and humorous journey through some of the most seminal events of his time. Think Forest Gump as a centenarian. Sometimes in life you just want to get lost in a book with a likable character on an enjoyable journey. This book was that and more.


Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren Winner
We live in a literary and blog world filled with people recounting the events of their daily lives. Mostly they are tedious, (my attempts included). This is an odd thing to admit, but I keep expecting to be disappointed by Winner’s writings. Instead, I have loved everything she has written. Still was honest and moving, covering a difficult time in Winner’s life with great humility. It made me think, feel, and I believe encouraged me to be better person.

Seven Men by Eric Metaxes
I actually have a subcategory of Inspiration that is just Biographies, because I find them so inspiring and encouraging. It try to read 3-4 biographies a year, and this year it was Seven Men that stood out. Metaxes recounts short and very readable insights into the lives of George Washington, William Wilberforce, Jackie Robinson, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pope John Paul II, and Chuck Colson. The link below is a short video promo of the book.

                Promo for Seven Men

Personal Growth:

Start With Why by Simon Sinek
This book should be required reading for all church, business, and civic leaders. I sought out this book after seeing Sinek’s talk on TED Talks. The power of fully embracing why you do what you do or are attempting to do was driven home in understandable and enjoyable language. I encourage you to read the book and watch the TED Talk!

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
I honestly don’t fully understand why this book was so addictive, I just know that I couldn’t put it down. Currey compiled brief excerpts into the daily work habits of prominent writers, musicians, architects, actors, and countless others. It was a fascinating glimpse behind the process of so many skilled and successful artists. It’s a book I will return to from time to time when I get derailed and discouraged.

Other great books that crossed my path in 2014:

Simply Jesus by NT Wright (Theology). Everyone should read one book by NT Wright each year.
Sabbath As Resistance by Walter Brueggeman (Theology)
Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey (Inspiration)

Balzac And The Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie (Novel)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The 10 Movies You Absolutely Cannot Miss From 2014 (Tony's List)

I saw a lot of movies in 2014 (71) and had a hard time getting down to a list of 10 best. So I am including a few honorable mention selections. It is interesting to see what overlaps Michael and I have with each other. We see a lot of movies together but our lists seem to always vary considerably. However, this year we totally agree on the best picture from 2014. (Note: I didn't see Birdman until 2015 or it might top my list. I agree with Michael- it will be the picture I am pulling for in the Oscar race.)

Honorable mentions: Occulus, Interstellar, The Piano, Little Children, The Counselor, Much Ado About Nothing (2102), Godzilla (2014), Lone Survivor, Philomena, Antichrist, The Railway Man

10. Nebraska

A father-son road movie. Bruce Dern plays crazy so well (as he always does) but Will Forte is out of his acting league with this cast. However, it is June Squibb as the cantankerous mom that steals the movie.

9. Snowpiercer

It has all the right buzz words, climate change , post-apocalyptic, geo-political, multi-ethnic and dystopian. A very cool (pun intended) ride (pun intended). Tilda Swinton is terrific.

8. Under the Skin

Kubrickesque to the extreme. A weird and compelling movie made even more amazing by the enigmatic performance of Scarlet Johansson.

7. Enough Said

A wonderful “adult” romantic comedy. Intelligent and sad and funny at the same time. It will make you really miss James Gandolfini .

6. The Way, Way Back

 Michael convinced me to see this and I’m glad he did. A superb and understated coming-of- age story.

5. The Edge of Tomorrow

Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers and Emily Blunt is a real bada**.

4. Ida

A haunting and beautiful movie about a novice nun and a terrible family secret she unearths in 1960’s Poland. Brilliantly directed by Pawel Pawlikowski.

3. Mud

 Mark Twain-like southern “fairy tale” with a terrific cast highlighted by Matthew McConaughey.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy

 Sorry Avengers and X-Men, but this is the best super hero ensemble movie ever. Smart, funny and irreverent, it never lets the special affects overshadow the characters.

1. American Hustle

What a cast! Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis CK. All directed by David O. Russell. It’s a can’t miss movie and it doesn’t

The 10 Movies You Absolutely Can Not Miss From 2014!!!!!

It’s been a pretty good year for movies, I haven’t seen as many as usual, but the quality has made up for the quantity. I’ll invite Tony back to weigh in with his Best 10 movies from the past year, here are mine:

10.Tim’s Vermeer (2013): I went to see this movie because of my love for Johannes Vermeer and left with a great appreciation for a guy named Tim. This documentary recounts the attempt of a brilliant and eccentric man to paint a Vermeer for himself. This movie features Penn Jillette as a narrator of the process, and is directed by Teller (yes, Penn and Teller, I know, I’m not a huge fan either, but they do some really good work here). The bringing together of art and technology was fascinating!

9.Magic In The Moonlight (2014): I normally am not blown away by Woody Allen, but this movie was charming and entertaining. Firth and Emma Stone played off of each other perfectly. Firth does bumbling and disenchanted well, and Emma Stone always seems to be great.(Emma made this list twice…)

8.Interstellar (2014): Matthew McConaghey, Anne Hathaway, and Jessica Chastain were a tremendous cast. The story was entertaining and thought-provoking with shout-outs to Stanley Kubrick throughout. Definitely worth seeing, but make sure to be awake and ready to think!

7.Lone Survivor (2013): I saw two military movies this year, both of which I was excited about, this one was easily the best (Fury was the other, and was a bit disappointing). An incredible true story that should be mandatory viewing for all high school history classes, it offers a glimpse into a world of sacrifice and honor that few of us ever get to see.

6.The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014): I enjoy Wes Anderson movies, but I don’t typically love them. I loved this movie. It was visually stimulating, funny, and heart-felt. I am surprised by all of the Academy love it is getting, but all in all it was a quirky and thoroughly enjoyable movie. Anderson does a wonderful job of transporting you to a different place and time for two hours with the sort of power and conviction that few film makers today possess.

5.Nebraska (2013): I was pulling for Bruce Dern during the Academy Awards. It was a brilliant understated movie. Dern was great, even though I pretty sure he was just playing himself. This movie is a must see from the past year. Also, if you haven’t already, go watch Bruce Dern in The Shootist on Netflix or some streaming service, he was great there as well!

4.Philomena (2013): If you just want to feel good about something or someone, watch Philomena and fall in love with Judi Dench. It was a great story, and Dench was remarkable as always.

3.Birdman (2014): Why can’t we have more Michael Keaton? He was terrific in this movie, as was the entire cast (including the second appearance on this list by Emma Stone). The story of an aging actor trying to reinvent himself was brilliant, tortured, and touching. This would be my vote for Best Picture when the Academy Awards roll around….

2.Ida (2013): This is a movie most people will miss due to its limited release. (Why are there not more independent theatres???) Director Pawel Pawlikowski made each shot of this film moving. He advanced the story as much by the way he framed his shots as he did with the dialogue. This sort of cinematography is rare these days, and was much appreciated. This movie was a joy to watch and I look forward to seeing it again!

1.American Hustle (2013): You may be sick of hearing about American Hustle after all of the love it has received in the past year, but it deserved all of that love and more. The story was terrific, and the cast was one of the best in recent memory. Christian Bale is among the three best actors alive on the planet, and Bradley Cooper is proving himself to have a place on that stage as well. Jennifer Lawrence was incredible as always, and could anybody be more talented or less appreciated that Amy Adams? A terrific film!

As always we would love to hear from you on movies that you have loved, or things that we loved that you absolutely hated. All opinions  are welcomed!