Monday, February 13, 2017
Every year, Jamie and I spend time together setting goals and reflecting on how we fared on our previous year's goals. In past years, I feel like I have personally been able to get those goals to paper with a moderate degree of speed, but this year, it seems that we both have been carrying our goals and our reflections in our head more than we have been putting them to paper. It has been a time of major transition as we adjust to what it means to be a father and a mother, but we still have our goals, and we are making some headway. I'm sure every parent transitions into this new role in a series of adjustments, and maybe those adjustments become more accurately described as adaptations as life takes on new color and dimension with new life.
One theme of our goals that has endured as long as we have been together has been the theme of simplicity. One could also call this goal the goal of making space. As I think about it, that's definitely an aspect of simplicity, and one which it seems there is dire need of in our lives. Whether it is making space in our homes or in our habits, all of our "habitations" or places and spaces in which we dwell, are very easily filled.
We each have been granted a gift (among many) from our Creator limited in scope from our birth. That gift is time. We have a limited number of days in a week, and hours in a day, just like we have a limited amount of space in our homes. Without some degree of intentionality and development, our time and our spaces become packed, congested, cluttered, full, and sometimes even suffocating. We can get caught up in checking our Twitter feeds, our Facebook streams, and our emails as our mobile devices continue to send us notifications from a wide array of apps and tools. We can gather more and more activity and more and more material goods, and crowd out the space for enjoyment of these activities and goods.
So what is the solution to the problem of filling our habitations with activity and clutter? I believe the answer lies in simplicity. What do I mean by simplicity? For me, I believe simplicity means exercising my ability to say no to busyness, say no to activity, and say no to holding on to items that could be bringing joy to others, and that have served their purposes in our home and life (books and clothes probably rank highest here). Simplicity also means saying no to distractions. It means refraining from checking email, Facebook, Twitter, or other 'news feeds' before or after a certain hour of day. (Jamie just recently made me aware of how I've slid into this habit over the last few months, and I'm grateful for her insight.) It means keeping the TV covered up for the most part, and making watching television into a special occasion or treat.
As a result of this line of thinking, Jamie and I have (among other things) made a habit of going through clothes and books and giving them away so they can have new life and bring more people joy. Each year, we give away bags of clothes, and the incredible thing is that we have never seemed to run short of something to wear. Each year, we take a hard look at the goods we have been blessed with, express our gratitude for them, and say goodbye to some of them.
And while this is healthy and good, I'll have to admit, that making space, whether physical or in time, is also challenging. When we looked back on our year last year, there was so much happening. And after a time of incredible busy-ness, at least for me, one of the hardest things to do is to slow down and to make space. Busy-ness becomes the norm, and then it feels weird to have space where something isn't happening whether it is a project moving forward or a new goal to conquer. But, I know that I need that space--we all do. It's probably one of the reasons that God gave humanity the practice, the space, and the commandment of Sabbath.
May we all create space for enjoyment, for reflection, for simplicity, and slow down on our desire to fill all of our moments with activity and acquisition. May we each slow down for a few moments to enjoy being present to what is happening in us and around us, caring for our souls and our world in the process.
Monday, January 16, 2017
For the last several years, I have tried to take a few moments on Martin Luther King Day to pause and consider the life of Dr. King and his example of service. Each year I also try to share a recorded excerpt of one of his speeches. The one below, is not only a reminder to do our work, whatever our lot in this life, with excellence, but also to become servant leaders, wherever we are.
As Dr. King says in the last moments of the recording above, "Man has not begun to live until he can rise above his individual concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity." As you and I start our 2017, we each have an opportunity to recalibrate and refocus. As a world and as individuals, we are much more aware of the needs of both our local and global neighbors, and we are much more aware of what we might do to rise above our individual concerns to those of humanity. In fact, sometimes it is downright paralyzing because we are so aware. There are so many problems in our world; where does one start? I believe where we start is less important than simply starting. Once we start, we will become more attuned to the hopes and needs of others just by practicing care for our neighbors.
So today, on MLK Day, may we each start somewhere. And if we have already begun, may we remember Dr. King's life and example and continue. And whatever our lot, may we faithfully live out our calling, so that others will be inspired to live out theirs as well.
Friday, January 13, 2017
As I sit down to write this post, I'm a little in shock. My mind is swirling with memories--laughter tears, and long, meaningful conversations that won't happen again on this side of eternity. Last night, I learned that one of my oldest friends, and one I had not seen in person for a very long time, died of a heart attack. He had just recently turned 43 years old.
Frank was a proud West Virginian and a proud Mountaineer. He had grown up in some of the hill country of West Virginia (Elkins), and had moved to some of the river country (Parkersburg) our senior year of high school. And while we both knew each other then, we really became good friends our freshman year of college at WVU on the basketball courts and in the residence halls.
Frank had a deep appreciation for music, and probably had the biggest music collection of anyone I have ever known. And he knew the music too--every album--he could tell you about the artist and explain the nuances of the songs. He was a huge fan of all kinds of music from Pearl Jam to Cyprus Hill and just about everything in between. Back in college we would spend hours listening to and talking about the latest albums, and he would be among the first to acquire them at the Discount Den in Morgantown.
Frank and his sister Angie introduced me to the Forest Festival in Elkins, and because of them, I have been able to introduce it to members of my own family as well. Frank was incredibly generous with his time and was always willing to help out a friend in need. When I was installed as a chief in my tribal community nearly 17 years ago, Frank was among a select few friends from outside my tribe who I was privileged to invite to our land and have him witness that historic moment. Frank was a history major in his undergrad too, and so there was something special about having this friend share in a piece of history.
I believe it was through Frank that I discovered just how close Pittsburgh was to Morgantown as he would invite a group of friends to travel with him to explore the city. I can remember many drives to Pittsburgh while we were in school. Frank also believed in being well-dressed. In fact, he and a couple of other friends took me on a "fashion emergency" trip (before it was a thing) because my wardrobe and style could "use some work." We definitely had a lot of awesome road trips together.
And wow, we could spend HOURS on the basketball court. We would play hoops outside til dark, or head to Stansbury Hall (the courts where Jerry West played) and shoot hoops until we got kicked out of the building. In fact, many times we would shoot hoops and then listen to tunes and talk about the games we played--we would even try to come up with creative plays. And actually, there was a time where me, Frank, and my roommate at the time (Andy) got invited to play in a prison by a dude we were playing who happened to be a prison guard at a supermax prison in Pennsylvania. That game was pretty unforgettable--everyone in the prison came out to watch the game with us "outsiders" and we got SMOKED--I think we lost by 30+ points. I have lots of great memories with Frank on the basketball court, and he was a strong athlete.
Frank was always willing to speak truth to me (and to anyone) whether it might hurt or not. He never did it out of malice, but always to help people be better human beings and better friends. I remember one occasion when I had told him that I was going to come to a cookout he was hosting, and as I was walking there I ran into two other groups of friends at two different times, and ended up not making it to the cookout. He called me out for not honoring my word. At the time it really stung because I really valued keeping my word (and I still do). He told me he knew that I had the intention of being there but that if I commit and I don't follow through it hurts people, and that it wasn't the first time I had done it and that he wasn't the only person I had done it to. He told me that other people understood my intentions were good, but that I was hurting my friends and friendships when I didn't follow through and honor my word. Frank made me, and everyone he met a better person.
We went through our share of hardships together. One of the foremost burned into my mind happened during 2006 and 2007. Frank's dad and my mom were both diagnosed with cancer. We would see each other at the hospital often as our parents were going through the last stages of their fights with cancer. And as Frank was watching his dad fight hard in a losing battle against cancer, he was also getting ready to marry the love of his life, Dena. I remember going to their wedding in Ohio, and all of the sadness and joy being swirled together. Frank lost his dad, and I lost my mom within days of each other. Loss is always hard, but enduring it as you are starting a new life with someone and adding to your family is a difficult path to walk. Frank always walked the path bravely though, in every area of life.
Frank was 43 years old. And now his wife, sister, and mom (and many others) are grieving his unexpected death. For my part, I had hoped that we might be able to connect the last time I was in Parkersburg--I was hoping he would be able to meet my daughter and wife. And learning news of his death makes me want to be even more committed to do everything I can to live as long as I can on this earth with Jamie and Sylvia. I know our time of departure from this life is not entirely up to us, but I want to do everything within my power to ensure that my choices are not limiting the quality and quantity of the time I have left.
May we each savor the moments and memories we have, and as we are able, make new ones to cherish and treasure in this life, and Frank, may you rest in peace my brother.
Tuesday, January 03, 2017
I don’t often pick up fiction books, although when I do I usually enjoy them. They are much more fast-paced and typically easier to digest than a textbook, and they give creative perspective. I stumbled upon The Road by Cormac McCarthy while reading a blog called The Art of Manliness. The blog by Brett McKay has a ton of helpful tips for men that often are passed from father to son (but not always) like how to tie a Windsor knot or how to make conversation with others. It’s a great blog by the way, but that is content for another post. J Brett had written a post about The Road, and said that he has read it every year as a bit of a tradition. His post inspired me to check out the book.
I probably should have been more aware of the book long before Brett’s post though. The book was made into a movie in 2009, and it also won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006. Reading this book evoked images for me of something like a Mad Max or Book of Eli post-apocalyptic world. The land was cold, and the people left on earth were struggling to survive.
The story is one of a journey of survival for a father and son through a wasteland. A journey filled with people who were bent on evil—robbers, cannibals, and many other unsavory and untrustworthy people. The father had made it his mission to protect his son and keep them both alive for as long as he could.
He used a metaphor with his son to emphasize character, “Carrying the fire.” People who carry the fire, are not cannibals, they are the good guys. The father and son reminded one another regularly that they were the good guys as they struggled to survive, and struggled to do the right thing as they traveled the road.
For me, the book, while a sobering look at love for one’s family, and the hard choices many people have to face for daily living, was more of a book about character and love. How will I raise my child to be a person of good character? What kind of person am I becoming by my own routines? How am I making the most of the limited time I have on this earth to care for others?
I recommend The Road, but I don’t think I’ll make it an annual reading. It is a dark and gripping story of a world that has largely lost its way and lost hope, but through the love of this father and son, a cold and unrelenting post-apocalyptic world seems like cannot hinder the power of virtue to shine forth through the darkness.
Whatever the darkness that may encompass our own lives, may we ever be mindful that faith, hope, and love abide, and even more so, may we, as we are able, seek to push back the darkness and live as ambassadors of hope.
Monday, January 02, 2017
Sometimes the hardest part of goals is coming up with them.--actually taking five minutes and writing down what you want to accomplish. But then, once you've made a list of goals, or maybe just set one goal, the appeal of waiting til tomorrow slips in. All of the reasons not to pursue the goal start calling out to you.
"I'm too busy."
"There's no time."
"What if I fail?"
"I'm making soup"~because as an old friend once told me, that's about as good as any other excuse. ;)
I'm sure you can come up with a few additional ones too. And maybe, some of these reasons are correct. More than likely they are just excuses meant to distract you. Set an intention in your mind and your heart that you will not be knocked off course by excuses--you can do this!
If these reasons are not excuses, and they have some merit, then it means you might need to think through your goal a little more, and make sure you have something tangible--if your goal is too ambiguous, then it is harder to know if you are making progress. Also make sure it is realistic--working on a project for 25 hours a day is not a realistic or possible goal, right?
Here's something I've learned through the years that has helped me set and achieve goals more effectively--making SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. So how do we make SMART goals? For instance, how could a person love their spouse better or get in shape? We know that there are people who run marathons multiple times per year--are they just naturally able to go out and run 26.2 miles (rarely, but I guess it's possible). So how does one do it? I would say it is kind of like eating an elephant (not that I believe in killing or eating elephants), you do it one bite at a time.
So let's think about a goal like "I want to be more healthy." That's a little ambiguous. How could we make that a little SMARTer?
Here's one idea. "I will walk for at 30 minutes per day, three days per week."
Will this goal make me more healthy? Yes.
Is it specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely? More than likely, yes.
May we each set and achieve goals that will help us enjoy life more, love others better, and savor the wonder of each new day! May God speed you toward realizing your goals!
Sunday, January 01, 2017
Welcome to 2017! You made it! It is a new year! I'm not one for wishing away the past or anything like that--I think every day and every year has some pretty amazing stuff, and some really difficult times--that's just a part of life in this world.
Now's not the time for lamenting about how much the past year stunk or how awesome it was though. Now's the time for embracing the moment and moving forward--resolving to be a better version of yourself.
Some people debate about their resolutions or their disbelief in resolutions, but personally, I've always felt like New Year's Day gives us an opportunity for new beginnings and fresh starts. If you use a planner, this is a point during which most of the pages are blank. There is a world of possibility out there. Truth be told, there's always a world of possibility out there, but sometimes having that mindset allows us to procrastinate our lives away, waiting for the perfect time to plan and "get organized" or start a diet or workout regimen. In fact, did you know what the number one day is for launching new diets and workouts and similar activities? If you said New Year's Day, you would be wrong. The number one day for starting to pursue a new goal is tomorrow...
Let that sink in for a minute. It is soooooo easy to wait for tomorrow to start doing the things you want to do. Tomorrow always seems like it will be a better day than today.
"I'll wake up early tomorrow, my bed is too comfortable right now."
"I'll start exercising tomorrow; I'm feeling kind of tired today."
"I'll eat better tomorrow; I'd hate for that dessert to go to waste."
"I'll write that blog post tomorrow, I'm just too busy right now."
"I'll set goals tomorrow, I've gotta watch some tv."
And so we let tomorrow tempt us to squander today's opportunity.
Don't do it!
Soon, the sun will set on the first day of the year. Resolution or no resolution, what are the goals you want to start moving toward in 2017? What's one of them? Make a conscious decision right now, that you will at least take a step toward one of your goals before you let your head hit that pillow tonight.
Maybe you haven't really given it a lot of thought. What do you want to set for a goal in 2017? Maybe that's your starting point. Before going to sleep, take a few minutes (not more than 5), and dream about what you want to really want accomplish this week, month, and year. Write it down. Put it on your mirror, and start moving toward it.
I'll be doing the same. I've got some goals that are always there, top of mind--those are the one's I'm starting to take action toward today. But then, I've found there are always goals and hopes that are hanging out just below the surface that percolate when I make a little time to mentally focus on them.
May today be a new beginning for focus, for hope, and for moving toward some incredible goals that will allow you to bring your absolute best into each day--not only for your own benefit, but for the benefit of others.
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
Last summer, our friend Naomi recommended the book essentialism: The Disiciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown to myself and Jamie in the middle of a period where we were looking at ways to simplify and streamline our life. The book has a simple and compelling cover showing just exactly what happens to our bodies, minds, hearts, and lives when we choose to fill our life with nonessential things. The book is a quick read, and super helpful for anyone who is looking to get back to basics, and build from a solid foundation
The book is a fun read, and the way the book is set up helps to think through simplifying from the highest priority. Each chapter not only lays out an example of someone who is focused on essentials as well as someone focused on non-essentials, but also gives a path to get to what’s really important.
If each of us is honest, we spend a significant amount of our time and energy focused on things that are urgent, but not necessarily important. We give up our sleep for getting a few more emails out, or we give up on our exercise so we can surf the internet or watch tv. It’s like our thinking has gotten completely backward.
With Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) on the rise, and a strong illusion that we can “do all the things” we find ourselves wanting to include more and more habits, skills, responsibilities, and tasks in our lives. As two people who have historically tried to figure out how to say yes to just about every opportunity, Jamie and I have really benefitted from this book’s encouragement to say no to things that are less important, and to determine what is of prime importance.
The book offers some great tools and reminders to each of us with regard to keeping our life simple, and rather than trying to determine how to add activities to our already busy lives, essentialism by Greg McKeon encourages us to take stock and take away some of the flurry of busyness, to subtract things and say no to what is not essential. May we each live more simple and fulfilling lives and bring our very best selves to this world for the good of those around us, and for the good of those whose time has not yet come.