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Entries in growth (6)

Thursday
Apr252013

dream jobification

Sometimes my day job can be such a day job. Meetings and deadlines and demands and fielding some weird combination of professional concern and personal anxiety from all corners and from everyone in the office (including me). There are days when I wake up thinking, "Wow, I used to love this job. Right now I feel like I could be happier working on a pig farm." 

Except I wouldn't. I know I wouldn't. Because frankly, there are aspects of my job that make it the best job I've ever had. I'm respected by the people I work with. I'm known to be a contributor, a hustler, an asset to the company. I'm an influence on company culture here, and I've been told I'm a good one. I feel vital to the company's goals and mission, and that's an amazing feeling.

Of course there are days when it's hard to face the work. Any time you're doing something worthwhile, something that builds and grows and makes the world better even in a slight way, eventually the adversary of us all will take notice and try to flick you off track. But let's say you don't "buy in" to Kevin's "wacky Christian philosophy"—in that case we'll just say that sometimes even the best job has challenges we don't really want to face, and that makes it tough to get out of bed.

It's especially tough when your job, even if it's a great job, isn't really your dream job. If you have a dream that doesn't involve working for someone else, or involves working in a different industry or doing a specific kind of work, and your current gig doesn't seem to support that, all of the challenges start to feel pretty heavy. 

In his book Quitter, Jon Acuff writes about the concept of thinking of your day job as an opportunity to practice for your dream job. I had never quite put it into those words, but that's a great way of thinking about my "recent" (as in, over the past four years or so) approach to my career.

I'm a writer. When I was a kid I wrote a book on both sides of about five pieces of lined notebook paper (top that, other second graders!). I used to dictate Encyclopedia Brown-esque short stories into a tape recorder and play them back for the amusement of my mom as she washed dishes. I wrote short stories that my step-dad actually found moving enough to include in our family Bible study. Some of my stories and papers got kudos and approval from my teachers, and I actually won a scholarship for something I wrote off the cuff in less than 10 minutes (because I had forgotten to do the assignment during the week prior). So you could say that my whole life I wanted to be a writer, wanted to tell a story, wanted to move people, and I've done that.

But I never wanted to be a Copywriter. I never wanted to be a Creative Director. I never wanted to work in advertising or work for a software company. These weren't on the list. And for a while there, some of these realities seemed to work against my dream. I became bitter and resentful and flat-out angry because "All of you are dream killers!"

Except they weren't. And the dream wasn't dead. I kept at it, in fact, in my spare time. And over time, it sort of ... changed. Most of that change was due to the fact that what I thought was my dream was really just that ... a dream. It couldn't be real, because it wasn't realistic. I had dreamt of essentially waking up to find whole manuscripts sitting there waiting for me to fire off to a publisher, who would gleefully print them without any further work needed on my part, and then send me gobs and gobs of money that I'd use to buy my exact working replica of the Starship Enterprise, so I could sail into the far reaches of space with Spider-man and Alyssa Milano as my companions in adventure. I love my dream.

What my dream became, though, as I learned more about the work, about the world, and about myself was the realistic version. I could write books, and I could sell them. That's real. But I'd have to work at them. I'd have to craft them. I'd have to work hard and learn and apply what I'd learned, and be prepared for my attempts to meet with failure. Failure has always been a possibility. It just doesn't have to be an end.

And my day jobs? I hadn't realized it before, but every day job I've had, every dream-killing block of work I had to endure, has actually been practice for my dream job. I've learned how to have a work ethic, how to manage time and resources, how to do research, how to build and lead a team that can support me. I've learned how to overcome my own laziness and do the work I have to do, to meet deadlines, to get along with co-workers, and to be honorable in what I do.

It's true, the day jobs aren't always ideal, or fun. But that's mostly because I'm the one making them torturous. If instead of ticking off each day on a mental calendar of anguish, counting down to the weekend, what if I spent those days thinking in terms of "How can I use this as practice for my dream job?" What if I looked at tiffs and dust-ups with my team as practice for dealing with clients or publishers or agents or readers? What if I looked at each day as an opportunity to get my "brand" in order, to establish how people think of me and what they come to me for? What if I used each day as a way to define myself to myself? 

I do this now, and have for a while, so I can cheat and give you the results up front: This friggin' works. 

Seriously, it works. It works so well you'll start wondering why you were dumb enough to do it another way all along. You can use your day job to fine tune your life and prepare for and build to your dream job. You can turn something that seems hard and useless into a challenge with great worth. 

So what's the trick? 

Caring. Loving. Looking. Listening. Paying attention and giving focus. Pausing before speaking, responding from a place of love and understanding. 

Easy? Nope. Hard. Really hard. That's why we're calling it "practice."

You will likely mess up from time to time or all the time. But when you do, you can take a few minutes to analyze that mess up and learn from it. You can try again the next day. If your screw up causes you to lose your day job, you can learn from that too, and take that knowledge into your next job.

I'm not just blowing smoke here, I've done this. I was let go from a couple of jobs because of my attitude. I was, at times, lazy and angry and rude and egotistical. I regret it all. But beyond regret, I learned from it all. And now I'm much better. And getting better all the time. Because I've had practice.

And when it's time for my dream job to become my day job, I'll be ready for it, because I didn't let the dream die while I learned how to live it. 

Now it's your turn.

Wednesday
Apr242013

focusitivity

One of the recurring bits of wisdom I keep reading about is focus. The quickest and easiest analogy is always a laser—a highly focused beam of ... wait, you know this, right? You've heard of a laser? Why does everyone always feel the need to define what a laser is when they use it in an analogy? Hasn't the laser been around since the 1960s? We know what this is now.

I digress.

That's easy to do, actually. Digress. Get distracted. Get off point. We live in a world of instant facts and information. The answer to any question (such as "when was the laser invented?") is just a few key taps away. So is our ability to get buried in so much detail we lose track of what we were looking for. We keep losing the needle of our attention in haystack of data we pull onto ourselves.

Most of the authors I admire are big advocates of focus. If you can focus your energy and effort on something, and give it enough intensity, you can accomplish things you might have thought were impossible before. Writing a book, for example. Rebuilding a car engine. Walking a tight rope. Focus and intensity for the win.

God is always talking about attention in the Bible. There are ten instances of the phrase "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" In Luke 22:46 Jesus reprimanded the disciples for sleeping instead of remaining alert. All throughout the New Testament Christ informed the disciples that the message was hidden in plain sight, and that it takes focused attention to receive it. Check out Matthew 13:18, where Christ says, "So listen to what the story means, about the man who sowed the seed." He was about to lay down some sweet God wisdom on these fellas, and he wanted to make sure they were paying attention. 

I have a tendency to tune people out, especially if they aren't saying something I find interesting. The problem is, they may be saying something they believe to be vital. It's improtant to them, and by being dismissive or inattentive I'm essentially saying that they aren't important enough to me, and I don't care what they think is "vital." 

I'm working on being more focused when I listen. I'm starting by asking, "What is this person really trying to say, and what is their motive for saying it?" Knowing the "why" of things, or at least being interested in learning the why, helps you to be more focused and attentive. It's a step toward caring for others. 

I have this belief that the Word of God is all around us, in everything we encounter in our day, and wisdom is the tool we use and the treasure we gain when we start focusing on finding God's Word in our daily life. So let's focus and concentrate on being attentive, on listening, on learning. Let's focus on being faithful and compassionate and caring and wise. Let's be lasers.

 

Wednesday
Apr102013

brilliancification 

I was always very arrogant about how "smart" I was. And as a friend recently pointed out, I've recently gone the other way, falling into extreme self deprecation, pointing at myself and saying, "me not so smart after all." He actually chastised me about this, telling me, "God has blessed you with intelligence. Don't demean that by tearing yourself down." I'm paraphrasingthe conversation went on for a while.

So here's where I stand: I believe I'm pretty smart, and I believe I have been pretty arrogant about that in the past. And I believe that God has blessed me with a talent and an ability that, until now, I have used selfishly and foolishly. I'm a learner. I'm a grower. I'm a son of God, and I'm trying to be humble without demeaning the gifts God has given me.

What about you?

I think a lot about you. Most of you, I don't even know. I've never met you, and we've never corresponded. But I hope you realize how much I love and respect you, and appreciate you for being in my life. I thank God for you, because you are strength to me. You are a source of energy when I need it. I write this blog for God's glory, but the goal is to reach you and help you and show you what I learn as I learn it. And I also want to learn from you. I want us to interact and be a strength to each other in God's name and under His eye.

What I'm curious about right now is, what is the talent God has blessed you with? What is it you bring to the table, that you can learn to hone and improve? How can you maximize the potential of what God has given you? 

I am constantly working on improving myself and my life. I want to learn and grow. I do this because I want a better life, but I recently discovered that I can accomplish my goals better and faster by helping you learn and grow as well. In that pursuit, I've discovered a trove of treasures that help me meet my "learn and grow" goal, and I want to share some of these with you now. Use them to start your own journey.

  1. Pray for change. Ask God, every day, to create change in your life. It can be a simple prayer: "Lord, change me." You'd be surprised how far this, alone, can take you! 
  2. Pray for wisdom. God blessed you with a mind, and it is amazing. Has anyone ever told you that before? Do you believe it? You should! Think about all the things you've learned to do in your life! Now pray for increased wisdom, every day. Ask God to show you truth in everything you study. Learn to look at everything—from books to television shows and movies to conversations with friends to everything you encounter in life—with your "discerning heart." Pray about everything you encounter and learn, and ask God what you need to take with you from the experience.
  3. Pray for increased faith. Did you know this was possible? I didn't. I always worried that my faith wasn't strong enough. I wasn't seeing miracles in my life, because I didn't believe enough. But then I read in Luke 17:5 that disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith, and suddenly it hit me that faith, like anything else, is something we can ask for and nurture for growth! So pray, every day, that God will increase your faith. 
  4. Pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit. When Christ went on to bigger and better things, He told the disciples that another would come and be their strength. The Holy Spirit, the third person of God, is God's agency on Earth. He is there, waiting for you to acknowledge Him, to let Him roll up His sleeves and get to work in your life. But He won't take over uninvited. You have free will. So you have to constantly put yourself in check, and ask the Holy Spirit to take the wheel. Surrender, and let the Holy Spirit act where you would have tried on your own before. Ask, every chance you get, to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
  5. Read, study, listen, learn, grow. I've never understood why people felt such dread about learning. We do it every day anyway! If reading isn't your thing, try podcasts. Watch documentaries and indie films. Watch television programs on a topic that interests you. Have a conversation with someone about a topic they know more about than you do. King Solomonwho wrote the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament, and who is considered to be the wisest man to have ever lived—studied more than just the writings of his faith. He studied works from Egypt and other cultures. He studied everything he could get his hands on, hungry to learn something new. And he applied his "discerning heart" to it. He viewed every new fact through the lens of his faith, to see how it lined up with the truth he knew about God. We humans all learn in essentially the same way—we connect what we're learning to what we already know. That's how learning and growth happen. So go out, learn something new, and think about how it connects to what you knew yesterday!

Here's a prayer you can pray every day to help you keep all of this in mind:

Lord, change me. Increase my wisdom and increase my faith. Fill me with your Holy Spirit. Give me a discerning heart, so I can learn and grow and glorify you in all I think, say, and do. Amen.

That prayer, or some variation of it, can be your mantra in daily life. It can be your road map for personal growth, and for Christian growth. 

And as you grow, share! Sharing what you learn with others is a sure way to cement it within yourself. Others will test you, debate you, argue with you. They can also support you, give you more information to consider and use for growth. Take it all.

When approached with debate that you can't answer, say, "That's interesting. I have to look for an answer to that. Thank you!" And then go look for that answer. Don't just pay it lip service.

When approached with new and additional or even contradictory information, say, "That's interesting. I need to think about/read about/watch something about that and learn more. Thank you!" And then go learn about this new thing! Every new piece of information is a chance to grow and change your life.

And be sure to share it with me! I need it! I need to hear from you, to learn what you learn, and to grow as you grow. We'll support each other, because that's what God wants for us. All for His glory.

We're all brililant. Just like God intended us to be.

So ... chat with you soon?

 

Monday
Apr082013

failureocity

You are a complete and utter failure. Me too, actually.

Ain't it great? Wow! What freedom! What a wonderful gift! Can you believe that we ... err ... some of you have that "look" on your  face. OK, let me back up a bit.

A while back I was thinking about my life. Mostly I was thinking, "Wow. I really haven't accomplished anything worthwhile, have I? And I'm overweight. And I'm in debt. And I tend to make some bad choices. I'm pretty sure God's unhappy with me."

Best. Thought process. EVER.

Because it was around that time I started to realize I have to actually change something if I want to live the life I want to live, and that God intended me to live.

Haven't accomplished anything worthwhile? Did I plan to do anything worthwhile?

Overweight? Was I adjusting my diet, and was I exercising more often?

In debt? Was I improving my financial education and making to changes to how I think about and manage money?

Bad choices? Was I learning from them, and consciously deciding not to repeat them?

God's unhappy with me? Can I blame Him? What have I done to please Him? What have I done to glorify Him? What have I done to be obedient to Him?

Thank God I finally woke up. I spent the first 40 years of my life vacillating about right and wrong, about wealth and poverty, about health and sickness, about all the aspects of my life I was unhappy with, and whether or not I was unhappy enough to CHANGE THEM. 

I wasn't. Or rather, I was, but I wasn't willing to change them. I hadn't made the decision to make changes in my life. I hadn't asked God to change me, because I was afraid of the pain that would come with change. But above all, I was afraid of failing.

Thing is, I actually made a thinking error right from the start. See, I made this assumption that God was unhappy with me based on the fact that I was unhappy with me. And sure, maybe God would have preferred I make better choices. Maybe He was displeased with the choices I was making. But "unhappy" is a long way from "not loving," which is how I was thinking of it. I was thinking, "I haven't done anything to earn God's love."

Brrrrt. WRONG! Back to zero. Re-read the rules. You are playing the wrong game. No wonder you're losing!

God may well be unhappy about your life and your choices. But that isn't the same as not loving you. He loves you, no matter what, because He made you to be loved. He sent Christ as a sacrifice, the embodiment of God and man, to die in our place for the evil and sin in our lives, and to be reborn to prove God's power over evil and sin and death. He did that so that He could just love us, straight up, without us having to do a thing to "earn it." 

We do not have to earn God's love. We have it. We do not have to earn God's forgiveness. We have it. We have only to accept Christ as the guiding force in our lives, the strength in our hearts, the rule for how we think and behave and decide. All of that, it's what Christ came here to make available to us.

And we fail.

Oh yeah, we fail. Big time. We lust. We envy. We lie. We steal. We cheat. We experience wrath and anger. We are gluttonous. If you don't fall somewhere in that list, I bet we can dig for a bit and find something that applies to you. Because we fail. It's what we do.

And God knows that. And He's OK with it. He loves you "even though."

That phrase has special meaning for me and my wife, Kara. When we were planning our wedding, our minister sat with us to counsel us about marriage and the decision we were making. And when he wrote our vows, he included something in them that he had brought up during those sessions. "God loves you even though." Even though you sin. Even though you become angry. Even though you doubt or disbelieve. Even though you fail. God loves you even though.

Look, we're all falling on our faces, all the time. It's going to happen. You should try your best to avoid it, try to make changes, try to be a better steward of the gifts God has given you. But you're going to fail sometimes. It's part of the package. 

God loves you, even though.

And God is your only way to improve. It starts by asking him to change you.

I recommend reading Lord Change Me, by James MacDonald. I first encountered this book when I started attending Sugar Creek Baptist Church in Sugar Land, and it was a great start for changing my life to the glory of God. It offers very practical advice and a structure for asking God to change your life, and for turning away from the sin that has dominated you in the past. 

Short version: Ask God to change you. Repent (turn away) from the sin in your life by proclaiming, "I'm dead to that. And Christ is alive in me." And act on what you know to be good while avoiding what you know to be sin. 

You're going to fail. God knows I do, every day. And when you fail, your first impulse will be to feel an overwhelming guilt and shame. Go ahead. Feel it. Then pray a sincere apology to God, and start again with "Lord, change me." Make the request every time you fall, and make your best effort to die to sin and live in Christ. The effort is worth a lot.

Failing does not make you a failure. In the end, every failure is just a chance to learn and grow and become stronger and better than before. When you pick up and keep going, the failures in your wake become the steps you climb to reach new heights. God is waiting for you at the top, but he's also walking along beside you, to help you get to where you're going. Trust that. Trust that even in failure, God has your back. 

You are amazing. God made you, so you know it's true. 

Tuesday
Apr022013

struggleation

Sometimes there's a whole lot of tough stuff hitting you at once. Money gets tight just when your air conditioner breaks down, and your mother calls to tell you her apartment is flooded and she needs a place to stay for a few weeks, and one of your cats gets injured and has to go to the vet, which ends up costing more than a house payment, and while you're coordinating all of this you get a flat tire. For a nice cherry on top, while trying to find a parking spot at the grocery store, someone zips in ahead of you without so much as a wave. 

I've always handled things like this very poorly. I get mad. I say things (paint-peeling things that could make a sailor blush). I make rash decisions and take stupid actions. More than once I have hopped out of my truck to confront the jerk that just cut me off, or the one who won't back up and let me get out of a parking space, or the one who was just minding her own business but happened to be in my way on a very bad day. 

Not good. Dangerous, even. But beyond that, so outside the scope of what God wants for us it's unbelievable. 

Here's a news flash—bad stuff happens. It's like it happens all the time, am I right? 

It's true. Even when we are fervently praying that nothing bad will happen, something always seems to go wrong. Scary stuff that makes us feel like we're alone here, like no one, but especially not God, is looking out for us. We're on our own.

And it's true. We really are on our own. 

What ... you expected something different?

Here's the truth—when we are focusing on the things that scare us, that make us angry, that make us worry, we are on our own. God is there, of course. Always. But he's more or less hovering just a bit away, waiting for you to realize that you're thrashing and struggling and trying to stay afloat in a situation in which you have no hope of surviving.

I like the lifeguard analogy.

I heard this from my pastor, Mark Hartman, at Sugar Creek Baptist Church in Sugar Land. Lifeguards are trained to scan the waters for danger, for swimmers who are struggling. And when they see someone, they leap into action. They grab their rescue board and dive in, they swim to the person who is struggling and drowning and then ...

They stop.

Whazzawhozitnow? Stop?!? Hello! Drowning victim here! Struggling, barely keeping my head above water, trying desperately to hold on to something, anything that will keep me firmly in the "living" category! And you choose now to take a break?!?

The thing is, if a lifeguard immediately rushes over and grabs the person who is drowning, panic will cause that person to resist and struggle even harder. They'll grasp onto the lifeguard, clinging for life, and end up dragging both of them down. There's a greater chance that they'll both drown out there if the lifeguard doesn't stop, assess, wait just a beat, and act only when the person has stopped struggling.

That's God. He sees us struggling, he knows that we're drowning and that we are scared, but until we stop the struggle He's going to wait. Until we realize that there's nothing we can do—that it was us that got us here in the first place, that if we could swim our way out we would have done so already—He's just going to wait, just out of reach. 

We can swim toward Him, of course. That means that we've calmed down enough to be rational. We're focusing less on the struggle and the danger and more on the positive things in our life. We've realized that our struggle is getting us nowhere, and if we don't get a grip we're going to go down. We can move toward God, and He will open up His arms and take us back to shore.

More often, though, we can't seem to get out of the struggle. We're focused on everything that's wrong about the situation. We can't find our footing, we can't find anything to grip on to, we can't seem to calm down enough to even out and take smooth, steady strokes, to follow a pattern that will get us back to safety. In those cases, God waits. He's not going to let us down ... He's still there, still cares, still knows exactly what to do. And eventually He acts to save us, because He loves us.

Of course, some of us keep strugglng for a long, long time. We've been treading water for so long, we have no idea how to stop. We're so afraid of sinking that we expend massive amounts of energy resources to keep our head above water. And it seems like it's working for a time. From the outside, from anyone swimming nearby or walking on the distant shoreline, we may not even look like we're struggling. "I'm OK," we say. "I can do this. I can keep kicking, keep paddling, keep struggling until I suddenly fly out of the water and glide safely to land on a cloud of my own making!"

Get real.

This is the kind of swimmer I've been for years. I struggle, but I largely keep it hidden. God sees me, though. He knows the truth. He's a trained lifeguard, able to see all the signs. And he's just waiting, waiting, waiting. Immortal, omnipotent deities seem to have way more patience than we mere mortals do, am I right?

If you're facing struggles in your own life, it's OK. It's OK that it bothers you. It's OK that it scares you. It's OK that you don't know what to do or where to turn. God's there, waiting. He won't let you down.

Sometimes we lose the things we're trying to hold on to—our home, our job, our pets, our family, our health. That's going to happen. Everything has its time in our lives, and when that time is over we have to deal with the grief of loss. God is there, too. He's waiting for you to come to him for comfort. We can't always understand the "why" of loss, but we can have faith that there is a reason for it, somewhere, somehow, and that it's tied to the love God has for us.

Our child playing with something dangerous—it could be fun for the kid, and it could hurt their feelings if they lose their toy, but we take it away for their good, whether they know it or not.

A student is punished for cheating on a test and has to miss out on after-school sports—no fun, and they don't get the benefits of being part of the team, but when they have to retake the test they learn and grow in a way they would have missed out on before.

A drowning man, struggling in the waves as a lifeguard floats nearby—he's afraid, panicking, and not thinking clearly, but someone is there to rescue him, once the struggling stops.

Lots of things happen that aren't pleasant, and that seem to bring no good at all. In the end it's about our perspective. What are we capable of understanding in that moment? Not much, really. That's why faith is so important. We have to know that God is aware of our struggle, and beyond that He knows how to use our struggles and pain to make us safer, stronger, better. 

Believe that, and act on it in faith, and the things that you struggle with become less frightening. Look for a way to learn and grow from every experience, and count all of the good that you have in your life, even during the hard times, and you will live a fuller life with less fear and pain. That's the point. That's the plan God has for you. Accepting it takes a leap of faith, but living it makes for a grander life than you ever imagined.