Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Power of a Deadline

I'm in the thick of it. Every room shows evidence of this work in progress. No stone -- piece of paper, souvenir, book (really!), practical or impractical item -- unturned. It's a mess. But there is progress. I've been ransacking my home for months now and have finally come to realize what I have always known to be true of myself. I love a deadline. Or perhaps more true, I need a deadline.

As a marketing and communications counselor for the past 30 years, this was well known by me and my colleagues. I do my best work closer to the deadline. Apparently a journalist at heart. My world was ruled by deadlines. I rarely missed one. And a personal pattern was born and habitually replayed for 30 years.

How about you? Are you a "get it done as soon as possible" or a "wait until the last minute" or "I never finish anything before starting the next thing" type of person?

My deadlines are very different these days; longer stretches of discretionary hours. I do well with client deadlines but personal ones...they are self-determined, and consequently, pretty fluid. And I'm discovering that's not a great thing. My house is exhibit A.

Ah, but the power of a deadline. I'm entertaining a group on Friday. The clock is ticking.

What I want to understand and figure out is how I can harness the power of deadlines in my life.

I have a perpetually long to-do list (the curse of a visionary-type...always seeing the possibilities). Recently I began shifting from a to-do list to a done-it list. I love the sense of completion and accomplishment in the ordinary tasks of daily life.

But deadlines. I realize I really need them. They are gift and motivator and accountability.

Friday, May 18, 2012

How to Backslide in 9 Easy Steps

Thank you Tim Challies for this terrific blog post: http://www.challies.com/
How to Backslide in 9 Easy Steps

A few days ago I shared John Bunyan’s wisdom on why some who profess faith in Christ eventually backslide. Today I want to follow him a little bit farther. Having covered the why, I’ve now drawn from Pilgrim’s Progress instruction on the how. In each case I’ve given my short summary followed by Bunyan’s own words. Here is how to backslide in nine easy steps:

  1. Stop meditating on the gospel. “They draw off their thoughts, all that they may, from the remembrance of God, death, and judgment to come.”
  2. Neglect your devotions and stop battling sin. “Then they cast off by degrees private duties, as closet prayer, curbing their lusts, watching, sorrow for sin, and the like.”
  3. Isolate yourself from Christian fellowship. “Then they shun the company of lively and warm Christians.”
  4. Stop going to church. “After that, they grow cold to public duty, as hearing, reading, godly conference, and the like.”
  5. Determine that Christians are hypocrites because they continue to sin. “They then begin to pick holes, as we say, in the coats of some of the godly, and that devilishly, that they may have a seeming color to throw religion (for the sake of some infirmities they have espied in them) behind their backs.”
  6. Trade Christian community for distinctly unChristian company. “Then they begin to adhere to, and associate themselves with, carnal, loose, and wanton men.”
  7. Pursue rebellious conversation and fellowship. “Then they give way to carnal and wanton discourses in secret; and glad are they if they can see such things in any that are counted honest, that they may the more boldly do it through their example.”
  8. Allow yourself to enjoy some small, sinful pleasures. “After this they begin to play with little sins openly.”
Admit what you are and prepare yourself for everlasting torment. “And then, being hardened, they show themselves as they are. Thus, being launched again into the gulf of misery, unless a miracle of grace prevent it, they everlastingly perish in their own deceivings.”

Monday, May 14, 2012

Those Darn Weeds!

I have a couple weeks ahead of me for rather concentrated work on the house and garden (it just means I put in a lot of work hours early in the month and have pretty much finished my hours for May). Today I started tackling those darn weeds in the backyard.
I love Spring, new life creeping out of the soil and at other spots absolutely exploding in growth. But with that new growth it always seems like the weeds have an equal opportunity to thrive.

So today was my day to dig in the dirt and separate the weeds from the new growth - making sure that the weeds weren't getting in the way of those plants soaking in the sun. I discovered fledging sprouts from a perennial long forgotten through the Winter months. A weed was overwhelming it and little sun could reach its few little leaves.

I think this might well be the story of me. Weeding my personal garden of "stuff" that's getting in the way of new growth.

My garden is still more promise than fulfillment, but the weeds are gone.  Plants I 'loved on' last year are thriving, others appear to be struggling to make it. Seriously, gardening in Colorado is a challenge for the hardiest gardener.

With every weed pulled is the possibility of beauty in its place.

Matthew 13:20-23 (The Message)
My first rose of 2012 ready to bloom!
"The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it. The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it. The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Too Much Stuff

2012 is my year for digging into books on organization, de-cluttering, and simplicity (in hope of seeing some real change in my own life). Too Much Stuff - De-cluttering Your Heart and Home by Kathryn Porter was the third book I read on my weekend away at Glen Eyrie several weeks ago. What I loved about this book was how the author opened the book. She told her own story about growing up with a hoarder and the tragic death of her mom in the midst of the stuff. Well, that gets your attention - especially if you are a mom.

"My mother loved her children dearly, but I don't think we ever fully felt the depth of her love in our messy house. Clutter kills. It diminshes, even destroys, relationships."

Enough said. I need to take this seriously. (I'm pleased to confess that I made good progress on my own clutter projects today.)

So what really got the attention of the author Kathryn as she confronted her own issues? A friend who told her, "'You can't keep everything and keep a clean house.' Those words, spoken ever so casually, changed my life." Then a question from the same friend: "If you are not using them, then why are you keeping them?"

First things first is to define the clutter. Porter has a great 'what-is-clutter' list: trash, unorganized things, unfinished projects, homeless things, unused goodies, unnecessary duplicates, visually displeasing objects, broken items, clothes that don't fit, outdated or obsolete things, and too much of anything.

But just as importantly, "That which we possess and that which we desire to possess also clutters our hearts. We think, worry, and dream about these things. When it comes to the stuff we own, protecting it, insuring it, maintaining it, storing it, and cleaning it resides in the back of our minds. Even if we're not actively thinking about it, it weighs on us, stealing the room in our hearts once reserved for loved ones and for God."

The book is part counsel and insight, part practical and how-to. So here's some of the tough love medicine: "There is a spiritual element in our battle to de-clutter. As you wage your war against too much stuff, remember to wear spiritual armor. Invite God into the process. Ask Him to help you defeat emotional attachment to material possessions. Seek His guidance as you develop your own strategy to create a dwelling place that is clean and comfortable."

All-in-all, this was a great book. It asked tough questions. It dug beneath the surface while providing practice help for navigating a clear path out the othe clutter.

Finding Eucharisteo

I was not prepared for the poetry of this book, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. The sheer beauty of the writing. The depth of the writer. It has taken me nearly six months to complete it. My experience has been more absorbing than reading. I have taken it slow, a chapter at a time; some days just a page. Savoring the riches.  "A dare to live fully right where you are." Eucharisteo. Thanksgiving. Daily. Moment by moment. Always aware of the gift around us. Writing it down, Keeping track. One thousand gifts. "It is a dare to name all the ways that God loves me."
What starts as tragedy in Ann's life takes her on a quest into the world of eucharisteo and transforms her life. She walks us through that journey - instructing simply by telling her story in such poetry of  thoughts, confessions, insights.

"With memories of gravestones, of combing fingers through tangled hair, I wonder too...if the rent in the canvas of our life backdrop, the loses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see. To see through to God. That that which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God whom we endlessly crave."

It really is her journey but you get completely pulled into the reality that it is yours as well. And for many of us a new list of 1000 from our own lives. Offerings back to God for His gifts. She calls it "making a ledger of God's love."

"I don't even know they are gifts really until I write them down and that is really what they look like. Gifts He bestows. This writing it down -- it is sort of like...unwrapping love."

"I discover that slapping a sloppy brush of thanksgiving over everything in my life leaves me deeply thankful for very few things in my life. A lifetime of sermons on "thanks in all things" and the shelves sagging with books on these things and I testify: life-changing gratitude does not fasten to a life unless nailed through with one very specific nail at a time."

"It's this sleuthing for the glory that slows a life gloriously. It's plain, bubble straight through: Giving thanks for one thousand things is ultimately an invitation to slow time down with weight of full attention. In this space of time and sphere, I am attentive, aware, accepting the whole of the moment, weighing it down with me all here."

Yes, we are now paying attention.

And what of joy? "As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible."

"When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows."

And of belief? "Our salvation in Christ is real, yet the completeness of that salvation is not fully realized in a life until the life realizes the need to give thanks. In everything? I would never experience the fullness of my salvation until I expressed the fullness of my thanks every day, and eucharisteo is elemental to living the saved life."

"If authentic, saving belief is an act of trusting, then to choose stress is an act of unbelief...atheism. Anything less than gratitude and trust is practical atheism. I wince. Perhaps the opposite of faith is not doubt. Perhaps the opposite of faith is fear. To lack faith perhaps isn't as much an intellectual disbelief in the existence of God as fear and distrust that there is a good God."

And of prayer? "Praying with eyes wide open is the only way to pray without ceasing."

"Eucharisteo makes the knees the vantage point of a life."

And of seeing? "The practice of giving thanks...eucharisteo...this is the way we practice the presence of God, stay present to His presence, and it is always a practice of the eyes. We don't have to change what we see. Only the way we see."

"I have to seek God beauty. Because isn't my internal circuitry wired to seek out something worthy of worship? Every moment I live, I live bowed to something. And if I don't see God, I'll bow down before something else....All beauty is only reflection. And whether I am conscious of it or not, any created thing of which I am amazed, it is the glimpse of His to which I bow down. Do I have eyes to see it's Him and not the thing?"

And of emotions, feelings? "The only way to fight a feeling is with a feeling....Feel thanks and it's absolutely impossible to feel angry. We can only experience one emotion at a time. And we get to choose -- which emotion do we want to feel?"

"Worry is the facade of taking action when prayer really is."

"While I may not feel joy, God asks me to give thanks in all things, because He knows that the feeling of joy begins in the action of thanksgiving."

And of humility? "The quiet song of gratitude, eucharisteo, lures humility out of the shadows because to recieve a gift the knees must bend humble and the hand must lie vulnerably open and the will must bow to accept whatever the Giver chooses to give."

"That whenever I am parched and dry, I must go lower with the water and I must kneel low in thanks. The river of joy flows down to the lowest places."

This is a book worth reading, really a book worth living out. My bright orange eucharisteo journal sits here on the table, waiting for me to see yet another evidence of His love.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

My One Life Well

I speak to God: I don't really want more time; I just want enough time. Time to breathe deep and time to see real and time to laugh long, time to give You glory and rest deep and sing joy and just enough time in a day not to feel hounded, pressed, driven, or wild to get it all done — yesterday.

I just want to do my one life well.

Excerpt from Selections from One Thousand Gifts: Finding Joy in What Really Matters by Ann Voskamp.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Pause...for Love

A NYC Taxi driver wrote:

I arrived at the address and honked the horn. After waiting a few minutes I honked again. Since this was going to be my last ride of my shift I thought about just driving away, but instead I put the car in park and walked up to the door and knocked.. 'Just a minute', answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor.

After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 90's stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940's movie.

By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets.

There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard
box filled with photos and glassware.

'Would you carry my bag out to the car?' she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman.

She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb.

She kept thanking me for my kindness. 'It's nothing', I told her.. 'I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother to be treated.'

'Oh, you're such a good boy, she said. When we got in the cab, she gave me an address and then asked, 'Could you drive
through downtown?'

'It's not the shortest way,' I answered quickly..

'Oh, I don't mind,' she said. 'I'm in no hurry. I'm on my way to a hospice.

I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening. 'I don't have any family left,' she continued in a soft voice..'The doctor says I don't have very long.' I quietly reached over and shut off the meter.

'What route would you like me to take?' I asked.

For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator.

We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.

Sometimes she'd ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, 'I'm tired.Let's go now'.
We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico.

Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move.
They must have been expecting her.

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

'How much do I owe you?' She asked, reaching into her purse.

'Nothing,' I said

'You have to make a living,' she answered.

'There are other passengers,' I responded.

Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug.She held onto me tightly.

'You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,' she said. 'Thank you.'

I squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light.. Behind me, a door shut.It was the sound of the closing of a life..

I didn't pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly lost in thought. For the rest of that day,I could hardly talk.What if that woman had gotten an angry driver,or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On a quick review, I don't think that I have done anything more important in my life.

We're conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments.

But great moments often catch us unaware-beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.

(Thank you Homestead Survival ... and Patty Stone...for this story)

Use the China (guest post)

I loved this post so I had to share it with you. Yes, use the china! - Laura



Do you live by the 5% rule?  I am guessing that you do because most of the world functions in this way. See if this sounds familiar.... We focus our energy on the things that are for special occasions rather than on things that we do or use everyday of our lives.  We save up "special" for a few occasions each year such as a birthday party, anniversary, having company over, or the traditional holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.  Such events really only compromise about 5% of our year while the other 95% is often merely walked through in a robotic state, just getting through the days, weeks, until the next "special occasion."  We are in wistful anticipation of some later joy.
What if we started treating everyday like it was special and we began to live in the present and we started enjoying the special details of life.  As we all have heard many times, life is not a dress rehearsal.  Living well becomes a habit and if you think about it , so does just getting by.  Let's change the habit of just getting through the day and really live fully and enjoy the details.
Here are some fun ideas to get you thinking and hopefully placing more joy in the present.  They are in no particular order and therefore will seem quite random.  Just pick a few and get started!
* Create a special place where you read your Bible each day , have a throw blanket to cuddle up with, light a candle, listen to praise music.
* Drink your coffee from a beautiful cup, I give you permission to throw away the one with the chipped top.
* Enjoy afternoon tea, drinking out of a real cup and saucer and having a fun treat to eat too.
*  Use the expensive perfume you received as a gift.
* Purchase beautiful stationery and write a friend a note of encouragement.
* Soak in a bubble bath.
* Place real flowers in your home, don't be afraid to cut flowers from your yard and enjoy them inside too.  Grocery store flowers can be made into beautiful bouquets as well.
* Take time to look around you and see the beautiful world God created for you each day.
* USE  the China, if you break something, Oh well, you can't take it with you.  Surprise your family this week by setting the table with your good dishes.  They will all be stunned and wondering what the special occasion is - the special occasion is LIFE!
Break the 5% rule, start enjoying the beauty that surrounds you and take the time to create beauty in your everyday life.  When the small moments are handled with love and thought and care are put into our plans, we begin to appreciate life and the gift from God that it truly is.