Ah Thanksgiving and Christmas…a time to be thankful and a time for greed.
A time to spend with family and friends and a time to attend Christmas cantatas, rush to holiday parties, shop-til-ya-drop, decorate the house like Clark W. Griswold, and cook with all the fixin’s.
A time to spread peace on earth and a time to stress out over imperfections.
A time to give back and a time to trample over people for an HD TV.
A time to make resolutions and a time to gorge on turkey and holiday goodies.
A time to worship and a time where it’s socially unacceptable to utter “Merry Christmas.”
I have hard time with our culture this time of year – the inconsistencies of what are known as “the holidays.” For what is Thanksgiving and Christmas anymore, except for two holidays wrapped together like peanut butter and jelly smooshed between two slices of bread.
The inconsistencies are due to two separate cultures bucking up against one another – one side that asserts “I am the center of the universe” and another which professes, “Not my will but Yours be done.”
So as we celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with a turkey leg in one hand and a new iPhone in the other, we recognize that our hearts are not made for such inconsistencies. We long for eternity when the inconsistencies will vanish. Until then, finding consistency and meaning during the holiday season requires an individual, intentional paddling upstream with brute force against the currents of culture. When the holidays are focused on our own self-gratification, they cease being holidays at all. Instead, they are diminished into another season of celebrating self at the expense of the One who made us.
If you are facing a similar holiday battle, consider these four counter-cultural acts as a way of overcoming holiday inconsistencies:
1. Reflect on 2013 and 2014. How would I gauge my relationship with God? Did I seek his leading in my goals this past year? What would He have for me in 2014?
2. Slow down. Sit by the fire and just be present. Look at the ornaments on your Christmas tree and reflect on the memories that some of them represent. As I was putting up our Christmas tree yesterday, I came across an “Our First Christmas 2003″ ornament. Ten years later, this will be our final “solo” Christmas, with our son on the way in 2014. These are precious, memorable moments.
3. Make memories together with your family and friends. For the past several years, Karen and I have made a tradition out of going to watch the Grand Illumination in Colonial Williamsburg to kickoff the Christmas season. It has become one of our unique Christmas traditions. Find a few memorable activities to participate in as a family without over-doing it.
4. Discuss non-traditional gift ideas with your family. Instead of giving the usual socks and sweaters, why not take a trip together or give the money that would have been used for gifts toward a worthy cause? You will have forgotten the sweater and socks by the 26th, but participating in a unique experience will remain with you for a lifetime.
How do you overcome the inconsistencies of the holidays?
The megachurch worship service has turned into a slick stage production.
The friendly catch phrases uttered by the barista are part of new marketing campaign.
Face-to-face relationships have taken a backseat to our always-connected romance with our electronic devices.
News is manufactured to further a storyline.
People flock to theme parks filled with pseudo-thrill rides in an attempt to experience adventure and escape their own dissatisfied worlds.
We give extensive time, money, and credibility to this pseudo-culture, searching for something that will satisfy.
At the end of the day, how do we cut through the fakery in a culture where style is elevated over substance?
We can start by simply reflecting upon what is real: God, Truth, God’s word, nature, relationships, sin, our innate desire to worship, our longing to find our place and purpose in this world.
The pseudo-world aims to distract us from what is real and take out our hearts. So often, we simply need to divert our eyes from the noise and onto the real world.
In our culture, do you take time to distinguish between the fake and the real? How you pursue more reality in our pseudo-world?
Photo Courtesy: -just-jen-
After blogging about calling and intentional living for nearly two years, the following recurring questions and frustrations stand out in our discussions: What am I supposed to do next? What does living out my calling look like on a daily basis? Am I on the right track?
I think these questions scare me more than anything else in this life. Maybe they keep you up at night, as well.
I don’t have an easy 3-step plan to answer these questions. I wish it were that simple.
The reality is that God tends to allow us to journey through dry spells and deep valleys that, at the time, appear to have no end. Once you walk with God through your first major, life-altering struggle is when you really begin to view life from an eternal perspective. What mattered to you previously seems trite after meandering through the valley.
My first real test came around age 26 when Karen was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease and a year later with a heart/adrenal condition.
If you’ve never been through a life-altering experience, then count yourself blessed and among the few who are pursing their callings prior to a time spent wandering through the wilderness. For those of us who have experienced the lowest of lows, we can never go back to the pre-struggle mindset. Through our pain, God changed our hearts and focused our minds on His call for our lives.
Which is where the inward struggle comes in. We wouldn’t be incessantly reflecting on our place in this world if we were focused on self-gratification and the shallow things of this world. We have a deep longing to be used by God to build relationships, grow in wisdom, and pursue a life that matters.
If you are struggling with finding your place in this world and engaging in a life that God has for you, be encouraged. By pondering those nagging questions, you are already trekking along the right and narrow path.
What nagging questions do you have about your life’s calling?
Photo Courtesy: ed_needs_a_bicycle
Can you believe that Thanksgiving and Christmas are at our doorstep? That means that 2014 will be here in no time.
Before the holiday season comes at you in full force, right now is the ideal time to plan out what your life will look like in 2014. For the last three years, I’ve made a habit of writing out my yearly goals. Looking back, I have achieved many of those goals because I reflected on what I wanted out of life and wrote out my desires.
While I did not achieve everything I set out to accomplish, the bottom line is that I still achieved more than if I had not taken the time to put my goals into writing.
“People with clear, written goals, accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could ever imagine.” - Brian Tracy
I would encourage you to take some time to assess where you are today, and where you hope to be one year from now. For a thorough guide in setting your goals for 2014, Dan Miller offers a fantastic goal setting worksheet over at 48 Days.
“God, Bless My Goals”
Have you ever prayed something like this: “God, I’ve decided to go back to school and become a _________. Bless my decision.”
In other words, “God, here are my goals. Bless me as I pursue them.”
One question we often fail to ask is, “God, are you in the midst of this? Are you calling me to this endeavor?”
As you are planning your life for 2014 and beyond, don’t simply ask God to bless your goals. Rather, ask Him, “What do you desire for me next year?”
Where do you sense God leading you in 2014?
Photo Courtesy: creepyed
In today’s “Around the Water Cooler” post, I want to pose one simple question: What has God been up to in your life?
As for me, Karen is six months pregnant with our first child – a boy! He’s due February 12th. After three miscarriages, Karen has done remarkably well (nausea and discomfort aside).
In addition, I recently received an unexpected job promotion, which is such a blessing during this season of life.
Finally, I have completed my first eBook, Blaze Your Own Trail! In the book, I help you blaze the new trail God is calling you to create. I will be sharing more about it next week.
Of course, most of our culture spends barely a nanosecond pondering deep, meaningful issues, especially those that have eternal value and are pertinent to the pursuit of God’s call on their lives. Yet if we desire to live with greater purpose, it is imperative that we assume a counter-cultural approach, setting aside regular time to reflect on whether or not we’re on the correct trail and making progress toward the destination.
However, if you are a regular reader here, you likely deal with the opposite extreme – spending way too much time and energy in reflection about everything, from why your coworker glared at you to how you should proceed in pursuit of your dreams.
I know. I’m guilty of over-thinking the minor details.
When you’re constantly reflecting on and interpreting every little word uttered, action taken, and dreams unmet, you’re not spending time taking action. Instead, you’re likely considering why something hasn’t worked or won’t succeed. A relationship. A job. A business. An idea. The focus is on the past or the future, rarely the present.
Too much reflection keeps you stuck in the past and the future.
In order to engage life with intention, reflection is a necessity, but reflection should ultimately draw us closer to the Father and lead us to engage the world.
How do you balance reflecting and engaging?
Photo Courtesy: planetschwa
…but you can achieve those which require your strengths and God-given abilities.
For example, I’m not going to spend forty hours of my week training to become an NFL wide receiver. Not too many pro football teams are looking for a slow, 5’7″, 33-year-old to run fade routes and catch the pigskin. As much as I would not mind catching footballs thrown by Peyton Manning and raking in millions, it’s not going to happen. I’d have a better chance of winning the lottery.
I could choose to sit around and wallow in misery about my lack of football prowess: too short, not athletic enough, too slow, etc. Or, I could run sprints for the rest of my life, and yet my dream of playing football would likely remain unfulfilled. Consider, while the movie Rudy is an incredible story of overcoming long odds, Rudy Ruettiger only played a grand total of three plays in his collegiate career. (Okay, okay…it was still inspirational.)
In all likelihood, you have a mental record of your own perceived shortfalls. Why is it that we have a God-given glory within us, but we so often refuse to recognize it? Instead, we focus our minds on the missing chinks in our armor.
Granted, it is a necessity to recognize our weaknesses. If nothing else, determining our shortcomings allows us to focus in our ares of strengths and to delegate those energy-zapping activities to someone more skilled in those spheres.
Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken. – Oscar Wilde
How do I focus on my strengths? I choose to invest my time in developing my writing ability. I take time to shoot thousands of photos in order to improve my photography skills. I work on developing my leadership skills and growing in my position at my job and developing this blog. And I read and listen to podcasts that increase my knowledge.
You can’t achieve all of your dreams, but you can achieve those God has specifically gifted you to accomplish.
What about you? What are your dreams, and what skill areas are you developing in order to achieve them?
Up until three weeks ago, it had been years since I unplugged from the internet and technology for any length of time. The web has become almost like breathing to me. It’s a natural part of my daily routine. In all honesty, unplugging caused me to realize something I didn’t want to admit – my addiction to the internet and social media.
I’m addicted to the “likes” and comments that my posts receive. If I don’t receive enough social media clout for my artsy photo of the Smoky Mountains, I feel a bit down and neglected. Additionally, I must be in-the-know at all times. Otherwise, I might become disconnected from seeing your dinner plate filled with tacos and refried beans, or I might miss the umpteenth photo of your child making cutesy faces.
On our recent vacation, my hand was forced a bit by the prohibitive costs of international data, texting, and calling rates. Not to mention that Karen and I made the decision to stay off of technology during our trip. Taking our ten-year anniversary cruise, we ventured into the Atlantic totally disengaged from the world. No news, sports, blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, texting, emailing, surfing, or calling. We have yet to sell our souls to Pinterest and Instagram, but those would have been off limits, as well. We were completely unplugged for six days.
At first, it felt a little weird. I couldn’t Tweet out a shot of the sunset or Facebook a photo of the really cool, life-size chess pieces on the ship’s main deck. And I couldn’t check to see how our cats were doing or to confirm that everything was okay back home.
Instead, unplugging for six days offered me the opportunity to be completely present and to capture the essence of each moment.
As we were waiting for our dolphin excursion on our final day of the cruise, a mom was telling her young daughter she couldn’t text her grandmother until the next day because of how expensive it is to send a text in the Bahamas. A nearby man offered, “It’s been so hard not getting on Facebook.” The mother agreed wholeheartedly. “Oh I know. It’s the first thing we’ll be doing when get off.”
I sat there astonished. We were surrounded by crystal blue water and palm trees in a tropical paradise. How could anyone be thinking about Facebook? Instead of being caught up in what I might be missing, I was filled with the complete opposite emotion of refreshment through disengagement. In fact, I wondered why I had gone so many years without unplugging from the virtual world, finally recognizing the sheer joy in being fully present in the moment.
Since I’ve been back for a little over two weeks, I’ve found myself reaching for the phone far less than before. Usually, there is nothing more important going on than what’s right in front of me. I’m spending less energy pondering witty quotes to Tweet out that usually get lost in the sea of information overload. I’ll still be on Twitter and posting some occasional thoughts and my blogs, but my main focus for maintaining a presence on social media is to create a bridge to real relationship.
Most importantly, unplugging for six days caused me to recognize how often we substitute online relationships for face-to-face interaction. The reality is there is no substitute for looking a friend in the eye and sharing a meal and an adventure together.
When we returned to the US and I finally had a chance to check email after seven days, naturally my inbox was clogged. As I scoured through the messages, I kept hitting ‘delete.’ I hadn’t really missed anything at all.
Do you ever unplug for an extended period of time? If so, what emotions have you experienced, and what did you take away from your time disconnected from the virtual world?
Photo Courtesy: Foomandoonian