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Entries in life (6)

Thursday
Apr182013

opportuniticity

Last night, in week four of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, one of the things we discussed was "opportunity cost." I've heard of the concept before, but in light of the things that have been on my mind lately, and the changes that are happening in my life, it struck a chord with me on more than just the level of financial education.

Here's a simple definition to start with:

Opportunity cost  n. The loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.

In other words, what are you giving up when you make the decision to buy or do something else? 

From a money perspective, this is a handy way to talk yourself out of making a significant, pricey purchase of something that doesn't add value to your life. "If I buy this television, I lose the opportunity take a trip to Disney World." Or maybe "If I buy this car, I lose the opportunity to put a down payment on a house." Or maybe "If I spend $30 on lunch at this restaurant I'll lose the opportunity to take my wife to a movie tonight." 

This idea makes great sense to me. I'm a "consequences" kind of guy. I know that every action has a consequence, and the secret to having a good and happy life is to decide, in advance, the types of consequences you want to cultivate. So thinking in terms of opportunity costs works well for me.

It isn't limited to money, of course. Everything in life is an opportunity, and most of the time accepting one means losing out on another.

If you date this cute girl, you miss out on the opportunity to date her best friend—so which girl do you like or connect with better? 

If you choose to gossip about someone, you miss out on the opportunity to build a strong friendship with them—so do you want to be their friend?

If you choose not to exercise, and instead eat lots of junk food and do nothing but watch TV, you miss out on the opportunity to be fit and attractive and have lots of energy and strength—so do you care more for chicken wings and the latest episode of "Complete Trash: The un-Reality Show" than for your own body? 

If you cheat on your wife, you miss out on an opportunity to have a loving and trusting marriage—so do you love your wife more than the affair?

Looking at life from the perspective of "opportunity cost" can change your perspective on daily decisions, big and small. This is long-tail thinking, far-reaching perspective. This is you looking ahead at the life you want, rather than the life you have.

I'm a believer, so I see this from the perspective of God's will for my life. I think that one of the best ways to weigh opportunity costs for my daily decisions is to pray for wisdom and increased faith and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. With God's Word as my guide, I have something to weigh my choices against. It gives me a compass point, a life to aim for.

Maybe for you, that isn't the case. Maybe you value family values or professional success or personal integrity more. I respect that, because I know how powerful those things can be as motivations. I think, personally, you'd get all of those as part of a strong relationship with God, but I understand if you see it differently.

This is life-changing advice, and it's advice I'm following myself. Look at every decision in your life from the perspective of opportunity cost, and ask yourself if what you're choosing is leading you away from or toward your goals.

Which begs the question: Have you set any goals?

You can't weigh your opportunity costs without knowing where you're trying to go. This tool only works if you have a plan. So sit down, right now, and jot down three things you want to accomplish with your life. They can be anything, from "Lose 20 pounds in six months" to "Win a Pulitzer Prize before I turn 30."  Just make sure they're specific and that they have a timeline for completion. 

Once you have those three goals, use them to determine the opportunity costs of your decisions. Will Choice A get you closer to or further away from your goals? Will Choice B? Go with the choice that gets you closer, and you'll never regret the choice.

Last parting advice—choose the opportunity God has opened up for you. This is a chance to have a life that outlasts your time on Earth. It's a chance to have joy that makes your best memories seem like the least of your good days. It's a chance to experience love that goes deeper, farther, higher, and wider than any you've ever experienced, or ever thought you could. 

If you need help or advice about reaching this opportunity, let me know. I want to help you see it, if you're curious. And maybe I can help you see some other opportunities in your life, too. Sometimes we need someone who loves us to point out what's right in front of us, hiding in plain sight.

Thursday
Apr112013

perspectification

It's a pretty gloomy day here in Houston. The sky is as gray as wet newspaper. A steady drizzle is coating everything just enough to make it seem that there is a thin slime eveyrwhere. And despite temperatures in the 80s early yesterday afternoon, by late afternoon we were already heading into the 40s. Just outside my window it's cold, it's wet, it's kind of depressing.

And yet here I sit—warm, dry, in a pretty happy mood. 

What a difference a half-inch of glass can make! I can see a world, just beyond, that I know to be unpleasant and even painful, because I was out in it for a time. I know it's there. But here, where I choose to sit, I'm beyond that world. I'm outside of it, in a sense, by being on the inside. 

Life is like that for most people. Me included. We were out in the storm for a while, but then we chose to come inside. Maybe we were forced to be out there, to get to our job or to get back home. We come in contact with it from time to time, it can't be avoided. But ultimately that outside world, with its cold and drizzle and whipping wind, isn't for us. It's not where we choose to stay. Why would we?

Some do, you know. There are some who can't seem to escape it. The best they can hope for is to huddle up, to bundle up, to take shelter anywhere they can find it. They may know of a way out, but are unwilling or unable to take it. 

Sometimes it's up to us, the inside-dwellers, to help them get to someplace safe and dry and warm. Sometimes we have to take them by the hand and lead them, because they don't know the way on their own. We have to nudge them. We have to do a little investigating and thinking, find a way to convince them to get somewhere safe. Sometimes the burden of the other is on us, simply because we have the perspective of having been inside.

We should also remember that if we can still see that world, it'd be easy enough for us to end up back out in it. We do have to pass through it, sometimes. We have to operate in it, while trying to hold on to our dry, warm, comfortable existence. We have to pass through a rainy patch, open to the sky and the wind, before passing into the next warm, dry corridor. It would be so easy to get to the door and find it locked. So what then?

We knock like crazy. We bang on the door and beg to be let in. And if that doesn't work, we go looking for another way in, another door that isn't locked, another building that offers shelter. From our perspective, there's no need to resolve ourselves to our fate. We don't have to stay out in the cold and the rain.

Sometimes, though, we forget. Or we get discouraged. We decide that there really is no hope. The doors are locked, and that's the end. Why go looking for another way in? All the doors are probably locked anyway. The people inside either can't hear us, can't understand, or they don't care, don't want to hear our plight. 

So we give up, and we huddle up, and we bundle up as best we can, and we just try to tough it out until the rain and the cold give way to a warmer, dryer world. That happens, from time to time. The rain stops. The cold fades. And life seems pretty good, out here in the world. 

Trouble is, the rain and the cold come back. They always do. It's the nature of nature. It's the way of the world. No matter how nice the day is, it's just a day. Later, the day turns to night, clear days turn to storms, summer turns to winter, and there you are again, right back in the drizzle and cold of the world, trying to survive, trying to get by.

Come inside! 

Door's locked? Find another! Find a window! Keep banging until someone hears you, or go find a different building with an open door and a dry, warm place to sit! 

Often, our mistake is to get locked into only one way of seeing our world. But that's not how the world works. The world is a place of perspectives and opportunities.

No one wants to lose their job, because no one wants to struggle. I've been there. But I've also been in the spot where I was stuck in a job I hated, because I was too afraid to start looking for something else. I was afraid I'd just make a bad choice, end up somewhere worse. I was afraid my boss might discover I was looking and fire me for it. I was afraid I would just move laterally, from one crummy gig to another.

And then, when I lost that job, I suddenly had to get creative and proactive and organized. I got my resume together (finally). I started talking to people I knew (finally). I started putting in calls and applications (finally). I started thining about what I would want to do 40 hours a week for months and years at a stretch (finally). I started asking myself what I really needed and what I really wanted, and where, in that Vinn Diagram, was the overlap? Finally!

No one wants their health to go bad, because they fear being weak or sick or even dying. I was there, too. I was weak and sick, and then someone happened to notice that my pulse was too low. My heart wasn't working right. I had a birth defect no one had ever known about.

I ended up with a pacemaker. And at first, all I could think about was how much I might have to give up. How limiting it might be. I was afraid. But turns out, I'm more alive than ever now. I have more options. My health is getting better. My energy is getting better. My life is getting better. That's a new feeling, and a new perspective!

No one wants to lose a loved one, because the pain of loss is too great. I know that first hand, too. I've lost some of the dearest souls in my life. It hurts. It always hurts. It hurts even now, years later, just as much as it did the day I lost them. I didn't "grow past" that pain. It became a thread within me. Something I could feel occasionally, even if I'd rather avoid it. 

But what wonderful memories I have of those amazing people! What brilliant, bright lights they have been in my life, even after their deaths! What great and wonderful growth I've experienced because of what they taught me while they were with me! I'll never stop missing them. I'll never stop loving them. I'll never stop being better because of them.

God doesn't want us to suffer or be targeted by evil. And we wonder why, then, it happens. And the reason is, at best, difficult to explain, and at worst, impossible for us to understand. My own take on why evil is allowed to exist is this: God allows some bad to happen so a greater good can follow

The argument I heard for this that resonates most with me, and even haunts me, was made by Christian Apologist Dr. William L. Craig. I'm going to paraphrase it, so what you read next is my interpretation and not a direct quote.

"God allows evil, such as a school shooting, to take place so that a greater good, such as a nation focused on better laws and strategies for gun control, will be possible." (remember, completely paraphrased by J. Kevin Tumlinson)

God doesn't want children to die because of violence. It grieves Him. It horrifies Him just as it horrifies us. If such a violent act leads to a change in how we, as a nation, approach gun control? If it changes the perspective of the nation, and of the world? If out of the tragedy new laws and new ways of thinking evolve or erupt, and make it more and more difficult for such a thing to happen? If the lives of billions of children, spanning into the future, are spared because these precious, invaluable lives were lost at the hands of a lunatic? That serves a greater good. It has purpose. It means something. It defines the tragedy in terms of strength and grace and growth.

That is bitter, cold comfort for those who lose children in this way. No, we do not want it. No, we DO NOT WANT IT. Please, dear God, take that evil from us for ever.

The answer is yes. Don't you see? God is saying, "Yes. I will take the evil from  you. Bite down on something, because surgery like this always hurts." It's a new perspective for us to thinking of tragedy in this way, and it's not comfortable. But it's necessary. It helps us grow. It brings meaning to horrible, unjust things.

Look for the other way. Look for the new perspective. Your life, marked and marred as it may be, isn't the limit of who you are and who you can become. Look at the tragedy, the pain, the evil, the darkness and cold and rain that you're in, and choose to see the opportunity it can provide. Pray for wisdom. Pray for faith. Pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Go look for another way.

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. 

Friday
Mar082013

expectationism

Things don't always turn out the way you blue bird in that tree outside my window.

But that's the point, isn't it? Life ... it's like it was meant to be unpredictable and unknowable. Yeah, we can predict and know a lot of the bits that are a granular part of this nutritious existence, but we can never see the whole. We don't have the perspective. Ain't no mountain high enough.

We set ourselves on a path, with every intention of just keeping one foot in front of the other, only to discover that the path itself is moving. We thought we were walking in one direction, when all along the path was taking us in another. In fact, we weren't walking at all. We were being carried, the whole time. We were essentially marching in place.

I believe in choice, and purpose, and goals. I believe that you can't have success without those. But God is teaching me that I can only choose and plan so far ahead. I can choose the next step. I can pick the next direction, the next distant goal. But I can't determine the journey as a whole with my "planning." Life happens way too often for that.

Recently I've watched my amazing wife deal with changes to her plans. And, just as she (and me, too) was thinking, "OK ... that didn't work out, so I'll pick this direction instead," it all changed again. And then, quicker than we could blink, it all changed AGAIN, and even the small bit of planning she'd committed to was shot, worth nothing. Ferriss Bueller was right, life does move pretty fast some times. It's like a slight of hand trick, and in the end your wristwatch ends up in someone's bag of Doritos, and you're asking, "How'd that HAPPEN?!?"

The most important thing about expectations is how you deal with them when they aren't met. 

Right now, I have a vision for myself—for my career, for my marriage, for my physical fitness. I'm making plans, and I'm acting on them. I'm praying that all these plans will glorify God, because that's the rule of my life now. And even as I'm planning, I have this awareness, tickling at the confident bits of my soul, that these plans, too, shall pass. Tomorrow I might have to improvise, because everything I thought was anything is anything but everything now. 

That's the point, though. When God says "have faith," it's not just a command to "shut off all your thinking and let me drive." It's about choices, really. It's about choosing to stand back from the plans you had, the expectations you were cultivating, and say, "OK. I planned, God. You laughed. So what's next? How do I serve you with the next choice I make and the next action I take?" And then you shut up and listen.

Advice even I should consider taking.

 

 

Wednesday
Sep122012

i read my tweets to see what i'm up to

When you're posting on Facebook about your tweeting habit, there is no 12 step program for that.