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Tracy's Blog is Moving!

I'm in the process of moving over to WordPress.  You can find the new site at:

www.travelingclues.com

It's still under construction, but I did put up a new post today called, "You've Got a Call Waiting".

By the way, any Word Press experts... I have a bunch of things I can't figure out and would be glad for some help :)

See you over there!

Tracy

Success Begins With Failure

Have you ever experienced a failure so deep that you felt as though your life was over? I know I have.  Or have you ever felt as though you could not possibly pick up the pieces and go on, or ever face that person again, or ever show your face in that place again?  Maybe you haven't experienced that level of failure, but we all experience failure.

A while back, I accidently sent a very confidential e-mail, meant for one person, to an entire group of people.  I remember that sinking feeling when I realized what had happened just seconds after I hit the 'send' button.  I called support services and pleaded with them to figure out a way to retrieve that e-mail,  knowing full well it was highly unlikely.  It was a desperate attempt.  From there, I went to talk with one of my colleagues, and as I told her what had happened, I cried and cried. I felt awful. And due to the nature of the e-mail I knew that  I had really blown it. My career was over.  At that point, all I could do was pick up the pieces and try to make right whatever I could, ask for forgiveness of the intended recipient, and acknowledge before the entire group of people my failure.  My kids have words for this.

Epic Fail

It happens to all of us.
  •  Maybe the business you always dreamed of having couldn't stay solvent and one day you closed the doors for the last time
  • A marriage hits the rocks
  • The cause you gave heart and soul to ends up being nothing but one relational difficulty after another
  • You lose the career you worked so hard to obtain
  • The art you invested many hours into isn't well received
  • Or maybe you find yourself in the middle of someone or something else's failure
The natural tendency with failure is to quit.  We're done.  We won't love again, we won't try again, we won't open our heart again, we won't risk again, we won't put our neck out there again.  We are afraid. So we batton down the hatches and let life happen to us. And that is where the true failure lies.

Micheal Jordan, Wikipedia
I love Micheal Jordan's insightful perspective:
I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career.  I've lost almost 300 games.  26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.  I've failed over and over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.
Or, in the words of my favorite rock star: "There's no failure here sweetheart.  Only when you quit." (Miracle Drug, U2)

We step on the path to success when we get back up and are willing to try again, having learned from the failure what to do differently the next time. And then what?  Rinse and Repeat.

Often its in the multiple attempts that we begin to find ourselves in new territory, new discoveries about ourselves and others that lead us to the breakthrough we needed in order to see the result we desired. My parents used to say, "If at first you don't succeed, try and try again."  While that phrase is a bit tired and worn out, it still rings true. It's true because its in the trying and trying again that we gain valuable learnings and insight  if we choose to.  And those learnings can be the ticket to success- to finally see the fulfillment of our dreams and passions, to become the person we want to be, to accomplish the goal, whatever it might be.

Life is an uphill battle of 2 steps forward, 1 step back. Whatever mountain you are trying to climb, don't stop climbing.  Don't give up.  Keep moving forward in the direction of your dreams and sense of call.  It will be worth it.


By the way, in case you were wondering, I didn't lose my career, and life wasn't over after the e-mail incident.  I did learn some things in the process, ate a whole bunch of humble pie, and moved on.  I still send e-mails.

Rise Above Average

BE YOUR TRUE, UNIQUE AND BEAUTIFUL SELF, NOT WHAT OTHERS THINK YOU SHOULD BE

KEEP YOUR PROMISES

ALWAYS  BE HONEST

DARE TO FOLLOW THE DREAMS IN YOUR OWN HEART

DO SOMETHING EVERY DAY IN THE DIRECTION OF YOUR DREAMS

CARE MORE ABOUT OTHERS

BE GENEROUS

GET OVER YOUR FEARS

STOP WAITING TO BE PICKED


BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN DO GREAT THINGS

BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD


GO THE EXTRA MILE, TAKE THE HIGH ROAD



Turtles and Burning Bushes

My goal over the summer break is to walk 4 miles every day.  In reality, that amounts to about 4 or 5 times a week rather than every day.  I know myself. I'm not the best at actually achieving the goals I set, so I set them high and fall short.  It works for me because I don't stress about that and neither do I  feel like I'm failing.  In the end I walk more often than if I had set a more realistic goal to walk  5 times a week.  Because then I would probably only be walking 2 or 3 times a week.   I guess that's just how I roll, as they say (I can see my daughter rolling her eyes right now)!

Anyways, today on my walk, I saw ANOTHER really large turtle along the path (click here for the back story).   Crazy, but in one week I have now seen more enormous turtles in the "wilds" than I have ever seen before in my entire life.

OK, you've got my attention.

If turtles remind me of how at times we are to stick our necks out there for the right reasons, I'm thinking that  perhaps something, someone is trying to speak to me

There's a story in scripture of Moses, a man just minding his own business and doing what he did every day, which was watching sheep, when out of nowhere he encounters a bush that appears to be burning.

Those of us familiar with this story may have stopped thinking about how absolutely astounding that is.

Moses thinks to himself that this is quite amazing.  He stops what he's doing, and walks over to look at the bush.  Exodus 3: 4 says it like this:  "When the Lord saw that he had caught Moses' attention, God called to him from the burning bush."

What do you do when something catches your attention?  You stop what you are doing, and pay attention.

Messages come at us every day, fast and furiously, through e-mails, tweets, facebook, blog feeds, text messages, and on and on. Most of these no longer really capture our attention.  They mostly have become part of the noise that we live with.  Something needs to be pretty unusual or unique to capture our attention any more.

But these turtles now have my attention.  I'm asking if there is something that I'm supposed to be seeing, or hearing, or understanding?  Something that I'm to do that means sticking my neck out there?  It could all have been coincidence and not amount to much of anything, but I at least want to be open and asking the questions just in case there is something that I am to see through this.

In the story of Moses, God gets Moses' attention and then invites Moses to be a part of God's epic story to rescue his people, a story which continues to this day.  All I know is that if there is the possibility of taking another step towards engaging God's story, I don't want to miss it because I wasn't paying attention.

I believe God loves us and cares about us enough to not just let us live our mundane lives, but to catch our attention if he must in order to invite us to be a part of his story, the greatest Love Story of all times.




Lessons from Turtles

Charles and I were taking a walk the other day and saw a really large turtle in a field... probably the biggest we've ever seen in the "wilds".  The turtle was off the path quite a ways, and what struck me, even from a distance, was his outstretched head and neck. In fact, it was  the long neck sticking out from the shell  that probably caused us to even notice the turtle at all. 

Being quite a distance from us,  the turtle felt quite safe.  It was a good time to stick his neck out.  Had something come nearer, I'm quite sure the turtle would have felt threatened and immediately retreated into his shell.

It made me think about how easy it is to stick our neck out there when everything seems safe.  And how quickly we can retreat at the nearest perceived threat. I recently read a blog post by Seth Godin that said this:

You will be judged (or you will be ignored). Those are pretty much the only two choices. Being judged is uncomfortable.....The alternative, of course, is much safer. To be ignored. Up to you.

I don't know about you, but I do not like being misunderstood or rejected.  I recognize in myself a tendency to play it safe, so that I'm not rejected, judged, or misunderstood.   Maybe its human nature. We don't step out because we're afraid. Yet, the alternative may mean that we don't get to live out our sense of call, courageously being true to who we are and what we are to bring to the world. And we miss the blessing of the joy and fruit that comes with pursuing our calls and our destinies.

Every time I write something and post it publicly, I am acutely aware of the two ends of the spectrum- judged or ignored.  What if people don't like what I write?  What will they think? What if I'm misunderstood? Will people think less of me? Even though I love writing and believe I am called to write, it would be much easier, safer and more convenient  to just keep writing in my journal, as I have done for years. There, no one else sees what I write. There's no risk of rejection or being misunderstood or judged. Journal writing was safe.  Writing here is not safe.

Steven Pressfield calls this battle within "resistance".  Everyone who has ever stepped out towards a better future has experienced it.  Some learn to act in spite of the resistance and do extraordinary things, and some let the resistance determine whether they ever act or not.  And you can be sure that if resistance has its way, there will be no action.

You and I were created for more.  Let's stick our necks out there together for all of the right reasons!  Yes, we may be misunderstood, judged, and even rejected.  But in the end it seems to be a better alternative to being safe and never have stepped out courageously to pursue our callings, passions, and dreams. Acting, in spite of the resistance, can lead to new and exciting places of fruitfulness, joy and growth.

What, for you, takes a determined will to do even at the risk of being misunderstood, judged or rejected?  I would love to hear!



The Pits

In high school, if something didn't work out or wasn't like we thought it should be, we would say, "That's the pits."  Does anyone say that anymore?  If not,  here's to bringing that saying back because life can be the pits. And here's to talking about the pits because our American culture sets us up to expect happiness and success.  So when things seem to be falling apart we have no idea what to do or where to turn. And worse, we feel like something is wrong with us as we look around  and see everyone else who seems to have it all together.

Hey, you're saying, I thought this was supposed to be a place with encouraging and inspiring thoughts. Right.

Life itself has its pits, as we all know.  It's those times when life doesn't  go like we anticipated, or thought  it would.  We feel lost, confused, let down, disoriented, maybe even hopeless. Uncomfortable.  That's a good way to describe how I feel during these times. Sometimes the pits last a few days, and at other times these seasons can go on and on for what seems like forever.  Or, maybe we went through the pits of life a few years back and thought we were "Done!"  only to find ourselves back in another pit years later.

Richard Rohr, OFM,  says this: "Don't be too afraid of being thrown into the pit."  My dad says it like this:  "What goes up must come down."  The Biblical pattern is clear.  There is no going up until you go down.  Joseph had to go down into the pit twice before he came into his destiny.  The examples of this pattern in scripture are numerous,  ending of course in the example of Jesus's death and resurrection.

If it's true that times of defeat, humiliation, failure, brokenness are part of life, then why do we try so hard to avoid them?  I suppose we each have to answer that for ourselves as the reasons come from our own dark side.  But what if we learned to not run from, fear, dread, or avoid the pits of life but learn to embrace them as they come our way?  Where we even learn to say, "This stinks, but through it I have the opportunity to become a better person  if I choose to."

The pits of life can be good for us.   It's during those times that God, if we allow it, meets us in profound ways. Not only do we learn things about God that we wouldn't otherwise see, but we learn things about ourselves. Corrie ten Boom and Victor Frankl are great examples to me of people who survived the Holocaust concentration camps and came out better people for their suffering.

Here are some things I've tried to live out during the pits of life, as a way of embracing these seasons:

  • Be honest about where you are and how you feel.  
  • Stop pretending that everything is alright.
  • Stop lying to yourself that you should have it all together by now
  • Stop comparing your journey to that of those around you.  Your journey is your journey.  Your journey is not their journey.
  • Find a good friend to walk with you through this season, not one who has to fix you, but one who can ask thoughtful questions or just simply walk alongside.
  • Bring all of the mixed up, confused, hurt, let down and whatever else feelings to God
  • Ask for insight to see things within that can't be known during the happy and good times of life.  Believe me, the dark times have a way of exposing junk in us.
  • Surrender to allowing your heart and inner self to be worked on
  • And finally, hang on like crazy to the One who can begin to make sense out of the pits of life, even turning it into something good and beautiful in time.
Maybe you find yourself in a pit now and it seems there is no way out.  Know that one day you will be emancipated.  You will be free again.  And you will have become a better person for your experience in the pit.  In the meantime, just keep holding on like crazy.

To My Son on His 17th Birthday

Seventeen years ago today was our first full day with you.  You had just been born the night before.  I recall being filled with joy at the thought of  spending this special first day with you.  All of the new discoveries of who you were and were going to become were before us that day.  Seventeen years later, we've had the privilege of being front row to the unfolding of your life. Here are some of the discoveries we've made about who you are, and some of the things that I most love about you:
Sylas

  • You are adventurous.  You love a new challenge, especially if it involves risk and new discoveries.  Safety and security are not generally your modus operandi.  You started walking at 7 1/2 months old and by 10 months you were climbing up the steps to slides 15 times taller than you.  This summer you will travel to Africa with your dad and brother.  You are up for the adventure and challenge that that will be.
  • On that note, you've always been very athletic and strong.  Whatever physical feat you put your mind to, you are able to excel at it.  
  • I love how your sense of humor has developed over time... you come up with some really funny one liners that catch us by surprise and make us laugh
  • From early on, you have had an appreciation for nature.  You enjoy being outside, exploring and coming up with adventurous things to do outside.  Like camping out with all of your friends in a field in spite of frigid temperatures. Or blowing up things.
  • You have character and integrity, which will take you far in life.  You are respectful of others, make good choices, willing to work hard, you follow through on responsibilities, and much more.
  • Even though you've faced some hard times in sports, you have not been a quitter.  You keep going, making the most of the situation and choosing to have a good attitude.
  • Pushing through those kinds of situations has caused others to look up to you.  You are becoming a leader.  Your style of leadership is to influence others through your quiet strength and character.

I am confident that there is much more to come for you!  Even as you hit home runs in baseball, you are hitting home runs in life and we couldn't be more proud of you.  We will always be your biggest fans.

God is with you.

Love,

Mom

3 Golden Nuggets

 "Many people die with their music still inside of them."  Well known author and physician Oliver Wendell Holmes made this statement over 150 years ago.

Her eyes are the window to a soul filled with treasures to share
Recently I wrote about how we each have been given one life to live, so let's live it the best we can, creatively making the most of every day.  But how do we do that?

Since then I came across some interesting research conducted among adults over the age of 65 who were post-retirement.  These retirees were asked one question, and it was this:  "If you could live your life over, what would you do differently?"

Anytime we can get a perspective on life from others who have lived and experienced things that we have not, it's, for us,  a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow.  I've come to realize that older adults offer a treasure of wisdom, insight and understanding that is beyond our reach simply because most of us haven't lived a span of 70 or 80 or even 90 years.

So when older people share insights from their unique vantage point and perspective, I listen.

The results of this study can help inform our lives, as younger people, if we so choose.    The top three sentiments expressed by the retirees were these:

Be More Reflective
The retirees said that they wished they had become less caught up in the day to day and taken more time to reflect on the bigger picture of life.  Reflection affords one the opportunity to step back and evaluate what is important and authentic.  Reflection allows us to evaluate whether we're living authentically and true to the call on our lives.

Take More Risks
If they had another opportunity at life, the retirees said that they would take more risks the second time around and not play it so safe.  I hear in that a willingness to fail more often, but to at least have tried something.

Live On Purpose
All of the retirees said that if they had their lives to do over again, they would want to pursue lives of purpose, of helping others, of  pursuing their passions and dreams. In essence, they wanted their lives to have mattered, to have made a difference in this world.

In fact, living with a sense of purpose is so critical to life, that other research has shown that a high percentage of persons who retire and do not find a meaningful involvement  somewhere will die within two years of retirement.  Death can be difficult as it is, but dying with "the music still inside of us" is even worse.

If you are reading this and happen to be in your 70s, 80s or 90s, would you offer your perspective on what you would do differently if you had a second chance at life?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!    Even if you're under 70,  I'd love to hear your thoughts as well.


Happiness

There is a plethora of research being generated about happiness, and what makes people happy.  I find this topic to be hugely fascinating.  It's intriguing, as well, that the quest for happiness gets so much attention.  We want answers.  We want to know how others find happiness. We want to know how to be happy.

I struggled with writing this piece because somewhere in the recesses of my mind I have some negative associations with the idea of happiness. We shouldn't talk about wanting to be happy, right?  As spiritual people happiness is supposed to be at the bottom of our list of pursuits. At least that's what I've thought at times.  I really don't know for sure where these negative messages  came from, but I picked them up somewhere and I'm ready to officially shed them.

I'm openly admitting that I have desired happiness and have sought after it.   Here are some things that I have learned about being happy:

  • Happiness is within your reach.  
  • Happiness is a choice. 
  • No one else is responsible for your happiness (this has been a HUGE one for me)
  • I am responsible for my own happiness.
  • Happiness leads to a  healthier, more vibrant, more fully alive life.   
  • Happiness can be experienced even in the most difficult circumstances.
But how to be happy?  That can be more elusive.  There's mountains of material and research out there that you can read for yourself about that, but from my experience here is pretty much the essence of happiness:

Helping others.

Giving your life away.

Serving other people.

Society would say that to be happy we have to try to grab whatever we can get.  I would suggest the opposite is true.  Letting go of what we perceive to be our rights and thinking of others first will  lead towards the path of happiness.

Part of the note from my student
This past week I received a note from a student who, upon graduation, was expressing his gratitude for the ways in which he felt that I had helped him to achieve his goals.  His thoughtful words penetrated deep into my heart and I felt such happiness welling up within.  Happy to know that I had been helpful, that somehow I had made a difference in his life.

Jesus said, "If you give, you will receive.  Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over." (Luke 6).  If this principle is applied to happiness... giving happiness to others... clearly the promise is of much happiness coming back to you.


Wayne Dyer says it like this: "If you seek happiness for yourself, it will always elude you.  If you seek happiness for others, you will find it for yourself."  


Are you as happy as you would like to be?  If not, perhaps finding even small ways to help others might help move you towards being happier.  As my dear father used to say, "It couldn't hurt and it might help."


Live An Interesting Story

My daughter has been wanting to read a book that I'm not so sure is age appropriate.  So, I'm reading it to see what it's like rather than just saying "no" without really knowing.

I asked her why she wants to read this book, knowing the general themes of it.  She said, "Because it's interesting."  Reading between the lines of her comment, I hear her saying, "Because it captures my attention, my imagination, it draws me in and takes me to another place."  That's what a good story does, right?

Her comment made me think.  I said, "Maybe the story of our lives needs to be more interesting. Perhaps one reason why this book is so popular is because not enough of us are living out our own interesting stories."  She just looked at me as if to say, "Why can't you just let me read the book."

I do think about life as a story.  Would the story of your life, if it were written in book form,  be interesting enough for anyone to want to read? Would YOU want to read your story?  Would anyone want to read MY story?  What I'm not advocating for is living carelessly just for the sake of a great story.

Speaking of Great Stories....

A couple years ago, my daughter and I took a mother-daughter adventure to Washington D.C. for spring break.  I'm terrible with directions. While traveling in a new place I tend to rely heavily on the GPS.  Late one afternoon, after having spent the day seeing the sites around the National Mall , my daughter and I  drove back to our hotel, which was in Maryland.  I could see on the GPS that my turn off was coming up fairly soon, so when the GPS lady told me to "Turn right",  I obeyed.  Immediately I found myself driving down a long, narrow lane through the deep, dark woods.  By design, there was nowhere to turn around, and  at this point I realized that I was not on the freeway I should  be on. Clearly, I had taken a right hand turn too soon.

Eventually, in the middle of the deep, dark woods, I came to a paved clearing.  Immediately my van was surrounded by men in black uniforms brandishing what looked to me like some really big weapons.  Where the heck did they come from, I wondered.  Suddenly I realized that not only did I make a wrong turn, but I must have made a significant and serious mistake by the looks of things.  Even my daughter had a man in black with a weapon standing guard on her side of the van.  I guess we  looked pretty scary with our flaming red hair.

Eventually, after much interrogation, I learned that we had inadvertently landed right in the center of certain  government headquarters.(I'm not gonna tell you which... I don't want to get in trouble!  And, just for the record I couldn't find that place again if I tried.)  Who knew.  Apparently, I had unknowingly trespassed on highly restricted federal property.  Uh-oh.  This isn't  good, I thought.  I tried to make light of the situation and crack a few nervous jokes with the men in black brandishing big weapons, but they didn't think any of it was funny at all.

Finally, we were let go.  With knees knocking and heart  still pounding I started my van back up and drove, escorted of course, out of the property.  Never have I been so happy to be free.

Back to What I Was Saying

 Great stories keep us on our toes, keep us wanting to turn the page to see what's going to happen next.  And, great stories often have similar themes: . of being in a near death situation, of being rescued, of risk, of redemption, of unconditional love and acceptance, of hope, of overcoming forces of evil and triumph.

 G. K. Chesterton said, "Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."  There are reasons why we are drawn to great stories.  We find truth in them.   And we long for those truths to be our truths.

You Can Live an Interesting Story


I want to live an interesting story, and I bet you do too.  So how do we do that?  In part, if we are living out the dreams and passions in our hearts the best we can and bringing who we are to bear on the world around us, I believe  that our stories will ring true to the truths that we often read about in great stories. We can live out a great story.  I think that each of us need to figure out how to live a good story.  I know  for myself that as my story has intersected with God's story (God has a story going since the beginning of time replete with all of the themes we love in a great story), that's what has made my story have meaning and purpose and hopefully a story worth telling.  Without that, I'm pretty sure my story would be so boring no one would ever care to hear it.  It would be a story where the main character doesn't get rescued, never knows unconditional love, gets swallowed up by the evil in the world and dies a hopeless and helpless lonely old woman.

So go live today, and as you do may it be a page worth reading in the interesting story of your life.




One Life

What if all you had was $100 to feed a family of four for two weeks?  You could choose to spend that money however you wanted, but it's all you have for for food for the entire two weeks.

You could choose to go out to eat at a nice restaurant with that amount of money,  thinking you deserve it.  Yes, a break from cooking and cleaning up sounds really good. The kids would love you when you say, "Hey, get whatever you want on the menu!  There are no limits today!"   Chances are, you wouldn't have much left for the remainder of the 2 weeks. In the end, the wanton spending would leave you and your family impoverished and hungry.

Or you could carefully take stock of the resources you have, and  plan out how to make the most of the $100 over the 2 week period of time.  Your family would be thankful and happy with this choice, no doubt, as  there is enough to go around and no one goes hungry.  You would have creatively and  intentionally made the most of what you had.

Sometimes I think we approach life as though we have unlimited days.  It's easy to choose to spend our days how we want to, even wasting time if we choose to.  And when it comes to choices on how to spend our time, we have the luxury of choosing good over best because we can get to the best at some other time in life when we feel like it. Or, we might not even realize what is the best because we've been numbed by the illusion that we have an abundance of days and time.

As part of my job, I supervise students in an oncology clinical setting.  Oncology is where people with cancer are treated.  Occasionally, one of the patient's will open up about what he or she has learned from having cancer.  More often than not, the learnings and new perspective on life have to do with seeing in a new way the value of each day.  How each day is such a gift.  And with each day, learning to make the most of the things that are truly important in life.  With the diagnosis of cancer, each day, each moment, has become extraordinarily precious in part because time is now viewed in the context of a limited number of days. Most people, in that situation, choose to spend each day embracing what they view as most valuable and important.

I don't think we have to be struck with a terminal disease in order to learn to appreciate fully each day.  I do think a careful analysis of our life is required, taking time to evaluate what is important to us, and committing to pursuing those things wholeheartedly and intentionally.  I try, most days, to start the day with gratitude for a new day and a recognition that I need help from above in living this I've been given to the fullest.

Paul says it like this:  "Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that.  Don't be impressed with yourself.  Don't compare yourself with others.  Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life." (Galatians 6)

That's a lot of good wisdom and advice to live by. We've been given one life to live.  Let's make the most of each day, doing the creative best we can.  And may we each be blessed with an ability to see what truly matters.


You've Got What it Takes

To My Students:

At the beginning of the school year, some of you didn't know if you had what it took.  Now look... you are nearly through your first year of nursing!

Think back on all of the astounding accomplishments:
  • You have overcome significant obstacles and difficulties and yet managed to stay on track
  • Some of you are the first in your family to ever go to college... you are paving a new future not only for you, but you are setting a powerful example to those who know you!  You inspire others!
  • You learned how to answer NCLEX-style questions!
  • At times you felt like quitting, but you did not. You  learned to persevere in a new way which has made you a stronger person and better equipped for all that the future holds for you.
  • Not only did you show up for clinical, but you managed to get yourself into your first patient's room...  and you even touched them!
  • From there, you learned how to give basic nursing care to someone who needs you.  Someday you will have built on these same skills and will be delivering nursing care with ease and expertise.
  • You are already making a difference in the lives of your patients by lending a listening ear to someone feeling down, a sympathetic touch, a smile, or act of kindness.
  • You have become more disciplined.  While your friends are hanging out and having a good time, you are studying and finishing care plans :)
  • Time management skills have become your best friend.
  • Each day, you got out of bed and chose to do what you knew you had to do to reach your dreams, and one day at a time you have successfully made it to the end of your first year (almost).
I'm sure that there are more accomplishments that could be identified.  Feel free to add to the list in the comment section below!

So as you approach finals next week, think of how far you've come!  You have what it takes, and don't ever forget it.

"Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; then suddenly you are doing the impossible".  St Francis of Assisi

Shooting for the Moon

Charles upgrading the kitchen of the first house we flipped
I have identified and put in writing a number of goals for the rest of my life.  One of the goals that I have identified  is to flip one house a year.  We flipped our first in 2011.  Since then, we have looked at many houses and put several offers in, yet haven't secured another house to flip.

It could get discouraging and it would be easy to give up, but remembering the specific goal... to flip one house a year... keeps me going.  Through this process, we are learning a lot as well.  We are learning how to make decisions faster, how to more quickly estimate the costs for the upgrades on the homes we look at, and much more.  So even though we haven't yet obtained another house to flip, we are learning things that will make us better at this.

Benefits to Writing Down Goals
  • Goals help you to remember what's important to you.  Working towards your goals assures that you define your life, rather than letting circumstances define your life for you.
  •  Specific, concrete, and measureable goals are motivating:  For example, knowing its already April and we haven't yet obtained a house for 2012 motivates me  to keep intentionally working at this.
  • Goals help you to accomplish more than you would without them.  We may find out that flipping a house/ year isn't an attainable goal.  On the other hand we will probably end up flipping more houses with that goal in place than if we hadn't ever set a goal at all.  You've heard the saying: "Shoot for the moon!  You may not make it but at least you will have reached the stars!"  So true.
  • You learn things about yourself and /or acquire new skill sets as you work towards your goals:  As someone with a very high value on being a life long learner, this is a pretty big deal to me.
Flipping our first house enabled a trip to Europe with the family!

 The reason for the goal of flipping one house a year?  It's because I have another goal in mind!  And that is to travel!  I have a list of countries that I want to visit in my lifetime, and since money doesn't grow on trees...

Today we put in another offer on a house and now we wait and see.  In the meantime, I have other goals to work on.

And the Future Starts Now

Never, in my whole entire life, have I worn a new dress on Easter.  Today I am.  I didn't buy it for Easter, but today is the first time to wear it. I'm wearing it as a symbol of being wrapped in the newness, freshness, and "all things new-ness" (I made that  phrase up) of this day.

I love Easter!  Easter speaks of new beginnings.
Joelle created these colored eggs

New life

Second chances

Of being rescued

Restoration of that which was dead, lost, broken

Hope

Growing up, I was always taught that Easter is a celebration of Jesus dying for our sins and then coming back to life again so that we could live forever.  While that's all true, I've come to see that there is so much more.  I think the Message version of 1 Peter 1 verse 3 says it well:

Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we've been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven.-- AND THE FUTURE STARTS NOW! (emphasis added)

Every day, every moment, is the promise of a fresh start, of a new beginning, of our lives becoming all we were meant to be... Here. Now.  Not just in some distant future.  Easter is the promise of "all things new". And its in Jesus that we find the fulfillment of that hope.

May we each reach out today for the New Life that is offered to us each day, each moment, from now to eternity.

Are you doing anything in particular to symbolize the meaning of this day?  I would love to hear about it!



Between Death and New Life

Today is Good Friday.  Whether you grew up in the church or not, we all have heard the story behind this day. And, we know how it turns out.  But what we often don't know what to do with is the awkward time between Good Friday and Easter morning.  We love to jump ahead to the rest of the story. In fact, it's easy for us, knowing how the story goes, to almost skip over what it must have been like for Jesus's followers from the time he died until....

Until what?  That's just it.  They didn't know what was going on after he had been killed and buried, but they did know that how they thought things would be were not as they were now.  Something went wrong.  All they knew now was...

Confusion.

Hurt.

Disappointment.

Hopelessness

Maybe even betrayal

Let down

Numb

Have you ever felt that way?

These followers of Jesus had given up so much to follow him.  They had put their faith, hope and trust in him and now he was gone. It was over.  Now what.

How do you begin to regroup from such a disorienting experience?  I don't know about you, but I've had those times in my life where I've felt as though I'm in limbo, trying to figure out what's next, now what.  Sometimes- often- life doesn't go like we planned, or like we thought it would or should.  Then what?

Maybe that's part of the mystery that we are invited into during this time before Easter morning.  Not knowing how it all turns out.  Not seeing the entire picture.  Not fully understanding the purpose of the deaths we experience.  Deaths of dreams, hopes, desires, longings, relationships, security.  Whatever it might be that is important to us.  Death.

May we each embrace the mystery of not knowing, of not having it all figured out, of not having life go according to the plan, and lay it all down at the foot of the cross.

In the words of Mark Waltz, "Easter is coming, but don't miss Friday."

Family.

After church today, we decided to head on up to Lake Michigan for a couple of hours.  Sylas drove, Andre sat in the passenger seat and Joelle, Charles and I were in the back of our Subaru WRX.  Cozy, but that was all part of the adventure.  Whenever we do something out of the normal patterns of our life, we get a fair amount of opposition from one, or sometimes all, of the kids.  Supposedly, they had things to "do" and places to "be".  I know them well enough that that means hanging around watching TV, playing video games, or just doing nothing really.  Today was no exception... plenty of opposition to the idea. At first.

However, as usually happens, once they knew the decision was firm and wasn't open to discussion anymore, it was all good. Once there, we walked along the water, skipped stones, threw a frisbee, knocked around a volleyball and climbed the sand dunes.  The weather was nice and the best part was that there weren't the hordes of people that warmer weather and water usually brings.

At one point in the day, I began to think about how a few years ago we weren't really doing much together as a family.  We did  more when the kids were little, but somehow we began to slip out of that pattern of going to parks, beaches, or little outings to various places.  The reasons for the decline in quality family time were complex and multi-faceted at that point in our journey.  All of us being together in the same room or car was just plain hard.  In some ways, it was easier not to be together. Just as individuals, teams, and corporations can have slumps, families experience slumps. We did.  But we determined not to stay there because I know that God had, and has, more for us.

It's been a process and it didn't happen overnight, but today represented to me so much growth, hard work and maturing as a family.  We had fun together.  We laughed, we enjoyed the day and the experience.  We did life together. Yes, the kids made their verbal jabs at each other occasionally, but if that didn't happen at all it would probably be because we were all dead.

Desmond Tutu said, "You don't choose your family.  They are God's gift to you, as you are to them."  The gift is that in the midst of being family, we learn how to love, to forgive, to not always have to have our way or be right, and much more.  It takes hard work, great effort and an unwillingness to settle for status quo, but in the end its worth every ounce of effort we put into being a family.

The 9th Reason Why I Blog

This month marks a year since I started writing here.  A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the 8 Reasons Why I Blog.  Since then, it occurred to me that there is another reason that I failed to recognize then.  The 9th reason why I blog is....

9.  Because my kids read what I write. 

(Hi Joelle.  Hi Andre.)

On the front side of getting into the world of social media, it didn't occur to me that social media could become a means for mentoring my own kids.  But as I've  waded into the ocean of social media, its through those intitial steps that I've begun to see the potential for impact.  What we impart to our kids primarily comes through doing life together, as values are more caught than taught.  However, perhaps what they read here helps them to have words for the values we have tried to live out. In addition, I think its good for them to see my as their mom pushing myself to try new things, to learn and grow and develop passions and interests.  This also models something that I want them to also be about.

How about you?  You have a sphere of people in your life that you are impacting and influencing.  Have you found some new or unexpected ways to do that? I'd love to hear about it.

Glimpses of Dawn

I remember the first time that I ever saw a sunrise.  The memory of that moment is etched clearly in my mind.  My brother and I had stayed at my Grandma's house for a few days while my parents went on a little mini-vacation together.  One morning, very early, I heard someone stirring around.  Knowing it was my Grandma, who I adored, I decided to get up early with her and see what she was up to.  I found her in the kitchen dressed in her robe, with the lights still off, just as the dawn of a new day was beginning to peek above the horizon.  She asked me if I had ever seen the sun come up, which I had to admit that I had not.  We lived in town and the Eastern horizon was mostly obliterated by the houses next to us. She told me she often got up to stand in front of the kitchen sink, which was under a row of windows that spanned the Eastern skies, to watch the sun come up.  Nothing stood between those windows and the horizon but a wide open field dotted with a few sparse trees and a distant country church.  I thought, "That's just like Grandma to do something unexpected."  That was one of the reasons I loved her so much; life with her always seemed like an adventure waiting to happen.

A glimpse of the sunrise through the houses across the street
Together, we stood in front of that long row of windows and watched the light of the new day begin to dawn.  I felt as though I was in a holy space, experiencing a very sacred moment.  I began to see a little sliver of burnished orange appear just above  ground level.  She said to me, "That is the sun beginning to come up.  Just watch.  It will get bigger."  Of course. But I had never seen that happen and I stood there in utter amazement while that little sliver took on the shape of a fiery, lustrous orange ball in the Eastern sky.  Even as the light of the dawn began to emerge, a new awareness began to come alive in me.  For the first time I realized that I was witnessing an event that had been happening for thousands and thousands of years, an event that literally spanned the globe, and yet I had been largely unaware of it all of this time, and my little world began to open up and expand in a new way.  I remember feeling as though I had been missing out on one of the most amazing things happening every day.  I felt a bit cheated, a bit robbed.... how could I have not known about this?  I recall feeling so grateful to my Grandma for introducing me to this phenomenal masterpiece, and inviting me into this transcendent experience.

The sunrise today was just as spectacular as I remember it being on that morning with my Grandma.  Sunrises like the one today always take me back to that morning with my Grandma.  This many years later, I am still in awe over the wonder of creation and the masterpiece that awaits us every day.  Somehow these are the moments that invite us to experience life beyond the here and now, to taste of eternity.

"The grand show is eternal.  It's always sunrise somewhere."  John Muir

Yearning for Approval

I believe that within all of us there is a desire, a deep yearning for validation.  We want to know that others approve of us and affirm who we are and what we are about.   I know personally that at some critical points in my life, of weighing possible courses of direction, that the validation I have received from close friends has been the impetus to launch  into the new direction.  Their affirmation gave me that little extra push to cross the line to full engagement.   Validation says, “Yes, you can do this and this is a good fit for who you are and who God has made you to be!”  Validation is comforting.  It helps us to feel good about ourselves and enables us to more freely believe in our potential.  It’s can be deeply satisfying when we have the right validation from others.

But herein lies the ditch.  A problem can begin to emerge when we look to others as our primary source of validation.  What happens when we don’t receive the approval, affirmation, and confirmation we think we need from others around us?  Do we allow the lack of validation to disqualify us from stepping out into what  we know we should do?   Does that mean that our contribution isn’t as significant?  Does the lack of validation disable us in any way?  Does it cause us to doubt that we’re on track with God’s plan and purposes for our lives?  Certainly this could be the tendency. I have seen it within myself.  While we may want to look to others to receive what we feel is much needed and desired validation, we may or may not get that.  Validation for who we are, and what we are about, our sense of call, has to come from the one who created us.  Doesn’t it make sense that God alone, as the one who formed us and knows us is the one most capable of giving us the affirmation, approval and sanction to all that we are and do? 

Sometimes the thing that we sense God leading us to seems too big for us, or too risky, or too scarey.  We hope that others will rally around us and tell us we can do it and that we have what it takes. We may get the affirmation we're looking for, but we might not.  So what do you do when those you care about don’t say the things you want to hear?  Or maybe they did when you first stepped out  into a courageous new direction but you don’t hear it so much anymore?  Are you going to give up and count your losses, or are you going to remain true to who you are and what you are to do?  Now, of course, we do need to listen to the wise counsel of those around us who have our best interests at heart and know us well.  That is God’s design for our lives.   But God’s desire is that the ultimate stamp of approval comes from him first  and then those around you who confirm what they see God doing in your life.  If all you go by is what others have to say about you, then you will  fall short of your full potential and God-given destiny.

Ps 139 reminds us “You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body;  You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something.” Think of an artist who creates a masterpiece that inspires others.  Yet, to the observer the meaning of it may not be completely clear.  The beauty of art is that it  speaks to people in different ways.  However, if the true meaning and intent of the piece is to be known, we would need to go directly to the artist for that information.  So it is with God, the artist who formed you.  Those around you can know you to some degree but ultimately it is your creator who deeply knows who you are and ultimately is the one who says, “I see you, I know you,  I get the meaning and purpose of your life because I created you.”  

 
So when you begin to doubt who you are, or what God has called you to do, simply go back to the Source. The Artist wants to be the one to deeply affirm you and recognize you and validate you.  And then you can simply enjoy the bonus of having those that love you confirm those things you already know from God to be true.



Validation:
“to give official sanction, confirmation, or approval to” (Webster)

8 Reasons Why I Blog

The Month of March  marks a year since I launched this blog!    I thought it would be fun to reflect on why I started writing here to begin with:
A favorite spot in the world.... the place where I write.

1)  I love to write.

2)  Writing here is one way of testing a growing sense of call to write.  That's how we get clarity on any call, right?  We launch into it and see if there is fruit, or what happens as we step into the new thing, as a way of testing the sense of call.

3)  I was at the point in life where I felt I needed something new to put energy into that taps into my desire to create and develop something.  My blog scratches that creative itch!

4)  Over time, the blog will become a sort of memoir.  The things I write about always come from my own life experiences and personal learnings.  Someday I'll have a collection of writings about stuff that's been important to me along the journey. Otherwise, knowing me, I'll forget. I guess you could also say then that this blog helps me to remember what's important, which is what memoirs do.

5)  To push myself to learn something new and to keep on learning.

6)  I saw the potential to connect with people all around the world, thus not being limited to the sphere of my particular geographic location.

7)  To encourage and inspire myself.  I know, sounds narcissistic but I'm learning to find encouragement and inspiration from within and learning to need it less from others or outside sources. And from someone who has historically needed quite a bit of encouragement from others, let me just say that learning to find encouragement from within is a step in the right direction.  But, feel free to send some encouragement my way anyways :)

8)  To experience God.  It's interesting, but I find that in the process of writing that I experience God in some pretty cool ways.  Writing helps me to stay connected and surrendered to the Source.

There you have it.  The reasons why I started this blog in the first place.  Later I'll write about the some of the things I've learned in the process that I didn't see coming when I first started this.  And maybe even later than that I'll write reasons why I think YOU should start a blog if you haven't already!

How about you?  What do you like to do?  What are some of the reasons why you do what you do?

Credit Where Credit is Due

It's always troubled me how God gets the blame for all of the bad stuff in the world. In blaming God for the bad, the assumption driving  that belief is that God causes bad things to happen.  The reason this is important to me is because it influences how we think about God and thus impacts, negatively, God's reputation.  I mean, really, who would want to get involved with a God who causes hurt and pain?  Best to avoid that kind of a God.  And so that's what happens... people distance themselves from God because of some really bad PR.

This morning I was reading in James, from the Bible. In the first chapter James addresses the readers who might be facing difficult times.  He encourages them to keep going with chin up during the difficulties and even promises good things to come for those who endure.  And then James says a couple of things that quickly knock this notion out of the water that the bad stuff comes from God.  He says:

1)  If your hard times are caused because you gave into temptation, don't blame that on God.  That's your own doing.  God didn't even cause the temptation.  It's your own desires that cause you to be misled. (v13-16)
2)  Whatever about this life that is good and perfect, that's what comes from God (v. 17).

I don't pretend to completely understand  how God works.  In fact, its funny because when I was younger I thought I had it all pretty much figured out.  As I get older, it seems as though I know less than ever about how God works. But one thing I am rock solid on is that the bad stuff doesn't come from God.  God's part with the bad stuff is to take the painful, ugly and broken things and turn those into something good and beautiful if we allow that.

Anything good in our lives at all, that came from God.

"Whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God above..."  




10 Vital Habits for Success

Life's seemingly small acts can end up being life's greatest contributions. Especially, when  practiced over a lifetime and combined with a number of other seemingly small acts.  This is true on a personal level, as well as a collective level.

I came up with the following list several years ago to remind me of practices that, while they may seem rather small and insignificant in and of themselves, if carried out over a course of a lifetime would lead to a life of integrity and success. Vincent Van Gogh said, "Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together." 


Integrity is one of those attributes we don't hear much about.  I'm not even going to try to define it, but we all know when we meet a person with integrity.  The world is desperately  in need of people with integrity not only to provide leadership, but to be role models.

So here are 10 habits that if practiced over time would lead to a life of integrity.  Obviously, the list is not exhaustive and I'm sure you could come up with your own set of vital habits.

 Set goals for yourself, even little ones, and then reach them.
       This is being honest with yourself.
If you see something wrong, be a positive part of the solution.
      This is creative problem solving
If you want something to happen, make it happen.
      This is being proactive
Cultivate a genuine interest in others.
     This is being other-centered.
Go the extra mile instead of getting by with the littlest amount of time, energy and resources.
      This is excellence
Be generous and give freely.
     This is love
Always thank others if they have given to you in any way, no matter how small.
      This is gratitude.
Affirm others as you see them stepping out in new areas and taking on new challenges.
      This is encouragement that empowers.
Plan and organize yourself to keep scheduled appointments and commitments.
      This is being reliable.
Be on time.
      This is recognizing that the small stuff matters.


"A life lived with integrity, even if it lacks the trappings of fame and fortune, is a shining star in whose light others may follow in the years to come."  (Denis Waitley, author and speaker)
  

Lily's Closet: Dreams Do Come True

This is Madison (see picture on right).  She lives down the street from us and our kids have gone to the same school.  Like many teenage girls, Madison loves to shop.  She enjoys hanging out with friends and having a good time.  Madison also is passionate about using her gifts to serve the world and to make a difference in the lives of others.

You Can Only Be What You Can See

You will never become someone, or do something,  that you first can't see or imagine being or doing.  Sometimes I hear people say, about their success or achievement, "I never could have imagined that I would be here!".  Perhaps, but somewhere along the way the path that led to "here" became clear one step at a time in that person's imagination, or their mind's eye. That person began to imagine and see the next step and believed that it could be achieved. If you can't see anything different or more  for your life in the future then it's likely you'll be exactly where you are right now in the future. That's why I think that one of the most important things we can go after in life is seeing the possibilities...  imagining what could be, what should be.

Message in a Bottle

The messages that we long to hear are all around us, more often than we are aware.Often our gaze goes no further than the ground 16 inches in front of our own feet.  Nor do we hear beyond the sound of our own voice talking in our heads. But if we can see farther and listen beyond, there is a whole world to be discovered!   What is it you desire to hear? Is there a question that you are asking?  Is there a message you hope to receive?

Embrace Inconvenience

If you want your life to matter, if you want to make a meaningful contribution, if you want to excel in your work,  or want to become a certain kind of person, prepare to embrace inconvenience.  We're becoming more programmed as a society to make choices based on convenience.  If something is easy, simple and less inter-ruptive, it's better and thus the logical choice.  If something requires more of us,  is costly or time consuming, then that option is less desirable and thus to be avoided.

Make Art Where It Matters

U2 has long been one of my favorite bands.  I appreciate their art and I like what they stand for.  One of my favorite music videos is "Where the Streets Have No Name", from back in the 80's.  They performed this hit song live on top of the Republic Liquor Store in Los Angeles, CA, and made a video of the performance.

Performing Live From a Rooftop in LA
The video captures the scandal this caused with local traffic police, as literally thousands and thousands of people en massed on the corner of 7th and Main Street in LA during rush hour traffic to see the band perform from the rooftop.  The radio talk show hosts, who are narrating the event, refer to the fact that this neighborhood is rough, and note that the location is an unlikely choice for a video shoot.  Be careful, they warn the crowd who might be coming down to the neighborhood.

The Power of Continuums

In one of the courses I teach, the students and I interact around the Illness-Wellness Continuum.  Basically, this model is intended to help someone determine if he or she is moving in the direction of Wellness or in the direction of Pre-Mature Death. The Illness-Wellness Continuum served as a wake up call for me a few years ago.   I have found what I call "Continuum Thinking" to be a very helpful tool in determining if I am moving in the right direction, or not.  A continuum is defined as, "anything that goes through a gradual transition from one condition, to a different condition, without any abrupt changes"

Here's how it can work:  decide what is important to you, and then determine what the opposite might be.  For example, on one end of the continuum you might identify "Financial Freedom" as the end goal.  What is the opposite of that?  "Debt" or "Foreclosure", as examples.  And then map a few indicators out on either side as points of evaluation to help you decide if you are moving towards Financial Freedom, or away from Financial Freedom.  Or, another example might be if you had a dream to  "Publish a Book".  You can ask yourself, "Am I  moving towards fulfilling that dream, or away from it?"  Every day you make choices.  You either move towards the things that matter, or you move away from the things that matter.

Today is my birthday.  It's always a good day for me to reflect and think about the overall trajectory of my life.  A question I am asking myself is: "Am I generally moving towards what's important to me, or away from those things?"

"Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses....Oh, that you would choose life...!"  (God in Deut 30:19)





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The only difference between a rut and a grave is their dimensions.  ~Ellen Glasgow

I recall a couple of years ago feeling as though I was in a rut.  Let me tell you, it was awful.  The realization came over me as one day I was driving on a familiar street in my town and then it hit me.  Just like that. Suddenly  it occurred to me that I must have traveled down that road literally thousands of times.  Same old houses, same old view, same old route. I could probably drive that route in my sleep.  I wondered if part of me was dying and I didn't even know it, because I've always thought that familiarity can numb our souls if we're not careful.

At times the news features someone with an ordinary job who turns it into something extraordinary, like the dancing traffic cop, for example.Most of us love those stories and maybe we even secretly wish we had the courage to mix it up.  You know, make the routines of life into something not so routine. I wonder if the traffic cop dances to keep his  soul alive as much as anything.

How many times have you been through a check out line at the store and the clerk functions like the walking dead?  Or the lady at the toll booth who takes your coins without an ounce of personal connection or soul.  Routine is part of life.  But routine doesn't need to become a rut and neither does it have to kill us.

Here are some ways to avoid ruts in life:
  • Volunteer somewhere 
  • Spend time with people who are different than yourself
  • Plan regular trips out of your town or state or even country if you can
  • Drive, walk or bike different routes to work or school just because you can.  
  • Start something new and push yourself to stay with it
  • Read a different kind of book than you usually prefer
  • Figure out how to turn the ordinary aspects of your job into something extraordinary
  • Pay attention to the people around you and do something to let them know you see them and notice them.
  • Listen to a variety of music
  • Check your heart often to see if you're just going through the motions in any way.
  • If you discover you are going through the motions, then do something to get out of that rut.
  • Take regular personal retreats


How about you? What have you intentionally done to avoid being in a rut?

Change Your Mind and Change Your Life

I have a single friend in her 40's who would love to be married. Her name is Susie Lambright. Rather than waiting around for the right guy to come along Susie has decided to live her life fully.  She now lives half way around the world in an exotic, far away country.  As part of embracing her stage of life and the unique opportunities being single can afford, she travels and goes places she probably wouldn't  if she were married with kids. In changing her mind, she changed her life. She used to think, "What I want most in life is to be married."  Now she thinks, "I want nothing more than to be used to make a difference and to live out my life fully wherever that takes me."  Holocaust concentration camp survivor Victor Frankl said, "When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves." 


Sure, things haven't turned out like my friend thought they would by now, but her life is far better  than if she would have staunchly held to her belief that she had to be married to be happy .  And, for the record, my friend is having a phenomenal impact.

You are more powerful than you realize.  The power to accomplish things you never thought possible lies within your own mind and thinking. Unfortunately, many of us get stuck in certain, self-limiting ways of thinking and therefore never fully move into what we are capable of.  We think....

I will always be fat.
Even though I'm miserable in my job, I can't quit because I would lose too much.
My kids don't like me and that's their problem, not mine.
I'm not the type to ever accomplish anything important in life.
If only I were married (or richer, or lived somewhere else, or smarter) I would be happy.

And on it goes, the lies we tell ourselves. In every one of those examples, there are choices to be made,  a mind that can be changed, a new and better future to experience.

What is it you want? How might a change of mind begin to move you towards that desire?

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2)