Monday, June 29, 2015

The Courage To Take A Closer Look

Many of us remember the story of Medusa from mythology. With snakes for hair and a face to match, she was so horrific to look at, that anyone who saw her turned to stone. (insert your own horrible date story here). The idea that something is so bad that it can’t even be acknowledged seems far-fetched, but it actually hits pretty close to home.

One of the most difficult things in life is to take an honest look at yourself. To admit all of the ugly things that you are not proud of that are lurking in your heart. Support group folks know this task as Step 4, taking a fearless moral inventory. For many of us the idea of being completely honest about how messed up we truly are seems overwhelming. We can’t bear to look at it any more than people dared to look at Medusa. But there are important reasons for taking a courageous look at your own heart:

Hiding Isn’t Healing

The mess is there whether you acknowledge it or not. You can ignore it if you want to, but it won’t go away. The bad decisions, selfishness, and arrogance inside of us will fester and grow if we ignore it. The damage that comes from not looking is worse than anything we will feel when we are honest with ourselves about it.

God Is Bigger

God’s forgiveness is bigger than your mess. Actually, it’s not even close. It’s not that my mess is small, it’s just that my God is so very big. His mercy is greater than you ever imagined. His forgiveness knows no limits. Best of all, He doesn’t want you to carry around that guilt and shame anymore.

You’re Not Alone

God is not waiting for you to clean up your mess before He shows up in your life. God wants to be a part of the cleaning-out process with you. God doesn’t want you to fix yourself (you can’t anyway). He wants to partner with you as you address one thing at a time. Piece by piece, day by day, God will heal those broken places inside of us, and leave something beautiful in its stead.

So, if you have been putting off an honest, hard look at your life, today is your chance to move in a different direction. God isn’t surprised by your failings and He won’t leave you alone with your messes. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How To Balance Contentment And Ambition

Extremes are almost never good. We all are driven to extremes at times. We hate some things and love others. We eat at the best restaurants on the planet or the absolute worst dumps around. Our trips to the beach are the best experiences of our lives and our setbacks are catastrophes that make the Titanic seem like a minor malfunction.

Not only do we explain our life in extremes, we react in extreme ways as well. School shootings make us want to ban all guns forever. Terror attacks make us want to level the offending countries with every tank and fighter jet available. While extremes are unavoidable, success in life most often comes from balancing two equal and opposite extremes. Such is the case with contentment and ambition.

You either are or know someone who is perfectly happy with the status quo. Change is scary, painful, and not fun. They are fond of the phrase, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. "Why bother with the flow of things, when things seem ok?" Most of their energy is spent in avoiding pain and discomfort. “Why make changes and deal with an entirely new set of problems? I’m perfectly happy with the problems I have now”. They may start out trying to be content with life, but end up somewhere else. When change is avoided at all costs, contentment becomes stagnation. Stagnation is what happens when we have avoided change and discomfort for so long that we begin to lose our desire for more. Growth is impossible without some level of discomfort, and life is meaningless without growth.

The opposite extreme isn’t much better.

You either are or know someone on this extreme as well. In healthy doses they are ambitious, but in extremes they are compulsively driven. They apply for any new job that hits the boards. If things aren’t constantly changing they become restless. There’s always more to be had, more to be done, and more to achieve. The problem with a compulsive life is that it can’t stop and enjoy all it has accomplished.

So, what’s to be done?

Contentment and ambition can live hand in hand. Their unhealthy extremes of stagnation and compulsivity however, cannot. So, how can you be content and at the same time ambitious? Here are some tips:

Celebrate Successes

Taking time to look back and appreciate what you have accomplished, fights against the compulsion that robs us of joy. While compulsion always looks forward, celebration takes time to look back and to look around. The act of celebration is one of the most overlooked spiritual disciplines. Celebration provides a pause and much needed clarity to life. Take a second and admit that you have actually done and seen some pretty great things.

Be Imperfect

In order to keep contentment from turning into stagnation, you have to make peace with your own imperfection. One of the reasons so many people become stagnant is that they are unsure of how to take their next step well. If they don’t know how it will all turn out, they often don’t take the step at all.  No one wants to fail or look foolish, but failing and looking foolish are an inevitable part of life. Life only works if you can endure looking foolish at times without believing you are a fool. When you realize that you don’t have to be perfect, you are set free to grow (which is not a perfect process).

Choose great ambitions in your life. Tackle big problems, seek to fight enormous injustices. As you do, stop from time to time to enjoy where you are at and the people all around you. Contentment and ambition are not only possible, they are key ingredients to a successful life.

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Shame: The Toxic Alternative To Guilt

Few things have the power to erode confidence and halt growth the way shame does. And few things destroy the credibility of leaders or of churches than the use of shame to motivate or control people. Guilt is a God-given and healthy way of thinking and feeling at times. Guilt is what we feel when we have done something wrong. Guilt alerts us when we have messed up or hurt someone. We all feel it because at some point, we have all failed. Guilt is resolved in the presence of forgiveness. When we are forgiven we are set free from the guilt we carry, and are free to move forward in our life. 

Shame is different.

Where guilt says, what I did was wrong, shame says, who I am is wrong. If you have been taught to believe that who you are is worthless and unchangeable, no amount of forgiveness will make you think otherwise. Guilt heals. Shame destroys. That’s why it is so maddening to see so many people use shame against others like some sort of religious weapon. Somewhere along the way it seems that people have come to believe that if someone is wrong, or guilty, that we are to shame them as much as possible as a remedy for their guilt. That sort of thinking is corrosive and debilitating. Shame doesn’t erase guilt or motivate different behaviors. Attacking someone’s person or identity because of their actions goes against everything that the Gospel stands for. God wants to rescue us from our broken behaviors, thoughts, and actions because of his love for us even while we remain in our brokenness. Both are guaranteed; you are broken and God loves you.

Screaming from the rooftops about what makes wrong things wrongs solves nothing. Forgiveness solves a great many things. Mercy solves a good deal as well. So, if you are feeling shame about who you are, you might be guilty of something (maybe not, I don’t know), but you can’t carry that shame around. You matter. If you are guilty of something, ask for forgiveness (and don’t forget the crucial step of forgiving yourself). In the midst of it all, know that the God of the universe knows you and loves you. Trust God on this one and walk away from the shame that is controlling you. 

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

20 Albums in 20 Weeks: Sigh No More by Mumford and Sons

My third selection for my series 20 Albums in 20 Weeks has been Sigh No More by Mumford and Sons. Babel is one of my favorite albums and I decided it was time to spend some quality time with the album that put Mumford and Sons on the map.

What They Think

Sigh No More won Best Album at the 2011 BRIT Awards and was only the sixth album to sell 1 million digital copies.

What I Think 

It’s a rougher, edgier version of the sound that I fell in love with on Babel (but they seem to have deviated from on Wilder Mind). It’s hard not to get drawn in by the variety of instruments that pop up across the album, from banjo to mandolin, trombone to cello. Marcus Mumford’s unique vocals unify and carry each song wonderfully.

Favorite Lyrics

Serve God, love me and mend
This is not the end
Live unbruised, we are friends
And I’m sorry
I’m sorry

Where It Fits

Sigh No More will be making it’s rounds through my earbuds and car speakers a great deal. It ranges from contemplative to powerfully driven, and is the perfect fall back album when you don’t know what to play. What's not to love about a bunch of English lads who can actually play their instruments, crafting a folksy yet powerful band of rock music?

Monday, June 8, 2015

How To Live With And Enjoy The Extroverts In Your Life

Having healthy relationships means learning to relate to lots of different kinds of people. This can be tough sometimes, because most of us generally assume that the things that work for me will work when relating to others. That’s not always the case. In fact, more times than not we are drawn to people who are very different from us. What works for us may not work for them at all. With that in mind, this post is the beginning of a series that will help you learn how to relate well to those around you. Our first target, your favorite outgoing extroverts.

If you don’t know what an extrovert is, just look around a crowded room for the person in the middle of a large group. If that doesn’t work, listen a second for the laugh that seems to be rising above the crowd. If that still doesn’t do it, target the person wearing bright reds, oranges, turquoises, or anything that sparkles. When you find that person, odds are you have found an extrovert.

We all have extroverts in our life, it’s hard not to. They are the life of any party and tons of fun. Their optimistic view of life and energy can be contagious. Extroverts like the rest of us however, are imperfect. The good news is that their imperfections are somewhat predictable. Knowing some of what to expect of your extrovert will enable you to love them well. Here are a few things to remember about the extroverts in your life:

Everything Feels Bigger

Extroverts are very passionate people and those passions can run both ways. While extroverts can be the happiest people on the planet, their anger can be pretty intense as well. If extroverts have filters they rarely use them. If they think it, they say it.  In fact, they may say it without pausing for much thought at all.  If they are angry, you will know it. The neighbors might as well. The good news is that the anger is very short lived. While it burns hot, it burns out quickly, and then they are ready to make up and move on. So if your favorite extrovert is angry, just hang on for a bit, and they'll be in a better place to sort things out.

Everything Sounds Bigger

Because extroverts feel things so intensely, their explanations also tend to be pretty intense. If you asked an introvert about their run, they might say, “Went pretty good, little rain”. An extrovert will tell you, “Oh my gosh! Right when I was about to turn the corner where they lady with the cute dogs lives, it began to flood. It was literally like getting hit by hail, the drops were so big. I could hardly see the path anymore. I think some of the trail may even have washed away!”. It’s not that they’re lying, although the facts may be embellished a bit. Extroverts tend to exaggerate. No extrovert has ever caught a fish that was less than 3 feet long. They aren’t just telling you what happened, they are telling you what they feel, and that's pretty big sometimes. So, don’t overreact, and don’t feel misled. You may have to question them a bit to get more realistic answers, or if you are able, just enjoy their stories. They are never dull!

Proper Care of Extroverts

Extroverts have high social energy. Another way to say that is that they get their batteries recharged in social situations. They love to be around groups of people. If your extrovert is struggling, it might be a good idea to take them for dinner in a crowded restaurant. Or walk around a busy mall where they can strike up conversations with other people. Odds are that it won’t take long for your extrovert to be feeling better.

Extroverts are amazing people and are incredible friends, spouses, and co-workers. Just remember they may not see the world the way you do. That’s not bad, in fact it’s good to have people around you who sees things in a different light. Remembering these few things about extroverts will allow you to love them well and appreciate them for who they are.

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Thursday, June 4, 2015

When The Challenges Are Too Big

One of the most important lessons I have ever learned about God, I learned sitting in the waiting room at my optometrist’s office. I was sitting there, probably with a book, waiting my turn to be seen. Across from me in the corner of the waiting room were sitting two people. One was a young teen, maybe middle-school aged, and it was clear that he was a special needs child. There was impairment in the way he thought and processed information, and the man sitting next to him appeared to be his grandfather. If you have ever worked with special needs children, you know that many of them have something that they are very good at. Something that they retreat into that gives them comfort.  Life can be pretty frightening and difficult to take for children with cognitive challenges, so they retreat into that special activity or place and it calms them down. That’s the place they go to restore order and to find peace of mind.

You could tell right away what this young man’s area of expertise was. He had brought it with him. He had a thick, well-used Sudoku book that he was working through. From the look of it, he had already completed tons of the number puzzles. That was what he was good at, that was what he knew. He completed puzzle after puzzle with eagerness and enjoyment. As I continued to watch something happened. The young man’s peaceful face creased. His eyes sharpened their focus. His breathing became more rapid. The puzzle he had just turned to wasn’t like the others. The thing that had given him comfort just a few minutes ago was now causing him pain. At this point, his grandfather noticed that something wasn’t right. He glanced from the puzzle book to his grandson’s face, then he stepped in. In a calm tone and at a deliberate pace he began to speak. “I know this one’s tough, but you can do it. It looks different, but you’ve solved problems like this before.” Then he patiently helped his grandson work through what had seemed impossible just seconds before. The young man caught his breath and confidence returned to his eyes. He had faced a challenge and with the help of his grandfather, he was better off for it. He had let his grandfather speak into his fears of incompetence and inadequacy.  The older man didn’t solve the problem for him, which would have been quicker. He simply came alongside the boy he loved, until things made sense again.

That’s like the God I know.

I’ve had times in my life and maybe you have as well when everything that I thought was safe and good was stripped away. Everything I thought I knew was flipped on its head.  The places and people that used to give us comfort now brought pain. It’s in those moments, when things seem irreparably broken, that God can step in. We must be willing to allow our fears of inadequacy and incompetence to be exposed, so that they can be calmed. God calmly reminds us that we can handle this. He wouldn’t allow us to face the challenge if we couldn’t. Then step by step and moment by moment, God patiently moves us forward. After a few days, months, or maybe even years, we realize that we’ve overcome a challenge that we felt was insurmountable, and we are better for it. God wants to share this life with you. 

Let Him.  

Monday, June 1, 2015

20 Albums In 20 Weeks: B.B. King's Live at the Regal

For the second album in my quest to fully listen to 20 albums in 20 weeks I chose B.B. King’s Live at the Regal. Recorded live in Chicago in 1964, I chose it to honor King’s recent passing.

What Others Think

Live at the Regal was given 5 stars by Rolling Stone, and was named one of its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (141st). 1

What I Think

I think B.B. King influenced more artists than we will ever likely know. You can’t listen to this album for long without hearing lyrics and licks from others songs you know. King inspired countless other musicians and his legacy is set in stone. Being a fan of Stevie Ray Vaughan, I especially enjoyed the sounds that Vaughan picked up on and added to later.

Favorite Lyrics

I gave you a brand new Ford
But you said, "I want a Cadillac"
I bought you a ten dollar dinner
And you said, "Thanks for the snack"
I let you live in my penthouse
You said, "It was just a shack"
I gave seven children
And now you wanna give 'em back
(from How Blue Can You Get)

Where It Fits

While it won’t make my every week playlist, I’ll go back and listen to B.B. King to appreciate the greatness and endurance of a musical legend. I am grateful for a week of Live at the Regal, I recommend it for anyone wanting a greater appreciation of music history.