A number of years ago, I was trudging through some dark days. My easy-going, comfortable world had been shattered into tiny pieces, as Karen was enduring numerous health issues with few answers. I had a tough time adapting, attempting to turn to friends to help fill the void.
I thought I needed friendships for the benefits they could offer me – people I could open up to and spend time with away from the seriousness of life’s difficulties. Guys with whom I could pursue adventure and just do guy things. An escape.
While there is nothing wrong with the desire for meaningful community, the problem came from the heart of the matter.
While all of us have a need for community, true community does not occur when we solely focus on our own desires. By doing so out of my desperation for real connection, I fell flat on my face. I tried befriending this person and that person. I attempted double dates that went nowhere. I cut off a friendship in-part because my needs weren’t being met.
Considering how I pride myself on loyalty in friendship, looking back, I can’t believe how self-absorbed I had become and how many expectations I had placed upon others, often without even realizing it.
My friendship failures taught me that there are two simple yet powerful keys to successful relationship building:
1. Hold few expectations of others. Expectations tend to creep into many of our relationships, especially as we become more comfortable in them. Yet, few issues are more detrimental to any type of relationship than unmet expectations.
2. Love unconditionally. As our expectations are lowered, we are free to be the true individuals God has called us to be and to utilize our callings to bless others.
This is not an argument against reciprocity in relationships or relational boundaries. In fact, those are two solid indicators of relationships worthy of investment.
By holding few expectations and loving unconditionally, we place relationships in their proper context. We don’t seek our validation from people, but from God. And we are free to utilize our skills and passions more effectively within the context of community.
What have you learned from relational failures? What keys have helped you build stronger relationships?
Photo Courtesy: Linus Bohman
“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Ryan. Happy birthday to you.”
Led by the doctor, the most stirring rendition of “Happy Birthday” I have ever heard reverberated throughout the operating room. Moments before, my newborn son had let out a majestic cry for the first time. Admittedly, I couldn’t quit sobbing. Thankfully my face was shielded by a hospital mask, and no one probably even noticed my tears due to the absurd, white alien-looking body suit I had donned.
Just an hour earlier, the doctor had burst into Karen’s delivery room, jarred me out of my brief nap, and spoken with an uncomfortable fear in his voice. “We need to do a c-section.” The vaginal delivery had stalled. Karen’s heart rate was far too high, and she was shaking uncontrollably. The baby’s heart rate was bouncing around from too low to too high, and he seemed to be in quite a bit of distress.
With a great deal of concern in the pit of my stomach, I asked the doctor to communicate the details to our sleep-deprived parents, who were napping in the family waiting room. My mom and dad and Karen’s dad had traversed nine hours through the mountains on the cold, snowy night, having arrived just two hours earlier at 2:30 AM. By that point, Karen’s mom and I had been in the delivery room with Karen for what seemed like an eternity.
The Journey of Eight Years
Few things in our married life have come easy. At least that is the mantra Karen and I have adopted over the years. Ryan’s birth last week was the culmination of nearly eight years of struggle, pain, and resolve.
After undergoing a thyroidectomy for Graves’ disease in 2006, Karen began experiencing numerous health issues. We spent the next four years searching for answers from the top heart and POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) specialists here locally, and at VCU, the Mayo Clinic, Vanderbilt, and Toledo.
All throughout our consultations with numerous doctors, we heard various opinions as to the safety of having a child. The POTS diagnosis is relatively new, and researchers continue to explore the chronic condition and its effects. Hence, a great deal is still unknown about POTS. It wasn’t until November 2011, when we met with a POTS specialist and researcher in Toledo, that she was able to alleviate our concerns due to her success rate with POTS patients and pregnancies.
Yet still, how could we have anticipated that the process of trying to start a family would be the source of additional wounds? In November 2012, we sat disillusioned in the OB doctor’s office. What was supposed to have been a joyous first glimpse at our baby turned into heartbreak. No heartbeat could be detected. Karen had miscarried twins.
After two additional miscarriages in early 2013, I wondered aloud if it was time to stop putting Karen through trauma after trauma.
A Newborn’s Cry
The day following Ryan’s birth, I had gone home to shower and pick up some clean clothes and essentials. As I was flipping radio stations on the drive back to the hospital, Matt Redmon’s “Your Grace Finds Me” came on. The first line: “It’s there in the newborn cry…Your great grace.”
Tears gushed uncontrollably down my face, as I thanked God for the miraculous gift he has given us. Our baby’s cry is such a reminder of every tear we have cried and every struggle we have overcome.
Seasons of Life
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die…” – Ecclesiates 3:1-2
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include another story that will always be a part of Ryan’s birth. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a clearer depiction of Ecclesiastes 3 than on February 21st. Less than 12 hours after we brought home Ryan from the hospital, Karen’s brother Bryan passed away from complications due to a brain hemorrhage he had suffered nearly two weeks prior.
How do you even know what to feel during such competing and opposite spectrums of life and death?
No matter the pain, no matter the season of life, I’m reminded still that in the newborn cry, Your grace finds me.
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Productivity techniques. Time saving tips. Organizational tools. Apps galore. My head is spinning.
In today’s Information Age, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tips, tools, and techniques available at your fingertips.
However, in the midst of trying to discover our own personal successes, our hearts get suffocated in the process. We lose sight of the why. We disengage form our original intent. We lose track of what is most important – people.
I’ve noticed a trend in the messages reverberating throughout the blogosphere. Many well-meaning sites, tools, and apps are designed to help you be successful. They key word there is “you.” And who doesn’t want “success”?
Unfortunately, the message of productivity misses the mark. It often leaves God, our hearts, and others out of the process. It fixates on our 21st-century definition of success, one that typically involves being seen and heard by the masses and attracting Paparazzis.
If you want to be “successful” in this life, stop worrying about the latest apps and productivity techniques. Instead, engage your heart. Ask God for clarity in the desires He has written on your heart. Start pouring your life out to a world in need of what you have to offer.
What has God written on your heart? How are those desires manifested in your daily life?
Photo Courtesy: Sean MacEntee
A recent perusal of my Facebook feed revealed some unscientific but interesting findings. I discovered commentary on the Super Bowl halftime show, numerous tributes to an actor who had passed away far too early in life, discussions about the latest political happenings, and opinions about TV shows and movies.
Of course there were many additional posts about real life, along with photos of new babies, anniversaries, and random moments in both the past and present.
Absent were deeper discussions about life calling, purpose, and meaning. I’m not arguing that Facebook is the ideal location for such a discussion. Facebook provides us with a snapshot of surface-level happenings in people’s lives. However, I do sense that Facebook discussions are somewhat typical of the subjects we discuss in everyday conversations around the water cooler. They reveal the importance we place upon popular culture and offer a glimpse at the shallowness of our hearts.
Frankly, it’s much easier to talk about pop culture than to discuss the deep questions of calling. The lines between real life and pop culture have blurred to the point that we barely recognize the real versus the fake.
In The Trouble With Paris, author and pastor Mark Sayers asserts, “In the face of so much exposure to media’s version of life, we must ask whether we are more influenced by the model of reality we find in our everyday lives or by the model we are shown by media.”
Here’s a question I want you to ponder for a moment: How many of your daily conversations revolve around the topics of pop culture and multimedia?
Did you see Downton Abbey last night? Can you believe what Miley Cyrus wore on stage? What about that Audi commercial during the Super Bowl?
Now, how many of your conversations deal with your life calling? Consider the last time someone asked you the following:
What do you feel so compelled to do that you must take action?
What did you do this past weekend to further engage in your life calling?
How have you experienced God working in your life recently?
The things that matter the most to us will naturally come out of our mouths in conversation. Unfortunately, we tend to keep our distance from diving into discussions that matter. We prefer to keep our chit-chat at surface-level. It’s far less stress-inducing to discuss last night’s football game than why we feel stuck in our current circumstances. Who desires to speak about the pain of underachieving when we can drone on about reality TV? Why get to know someone’s heart and become accountable to them when you can freely move in and out of friendships with no attachments?
It’s much easier to talk about pop culture than to be engaged in your own life and the life of another.
So, let’s talk. I’d love to hear about what’s going on in your world right now.
What do you feel so compelled to do that you must take action?
What did you do this past weekend to further engage in your life calling?
How have you experienced God working in your life recently?
Photo Courtesy: *USB*
At one point in my life, I was miserable in my own skin. I spent most of my down time living inside my own head instead of out in the real world.
When a friendship would shift directions with the winds, I pondered what I had done wrong…over and over and over. My mind was a broken record. I analyzed every small word uttered, every action taken. I allowed other people to affect my attitude.
Do you ever find yourself living inside your head?
What do I mean by “living inside your head?” It’s when you over-analyze life to the point of diminishing returns. You are unable to live in the present because you are busy pondering the past. The enemy’s words are taken captive instead of “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5)
I’m an introvert, so it’s natural for me to spend much time contemplating the deep meanings of life. Much like breathing, I am constantly analyzing and reflecting without even realizing it. But it’s a dangerous place to remain inside your mind without any outlets.
Living solely inside your head will lead you on a downward spiral toward sadness and regret at the least, deep depression at the worst. In addition, the never-ending reflection brings any type of positive action to a grinding halt.
Psychotherapist Amy Morin recently penned an article titled “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.” Many of her thoughts deal with overcoming the resistance inside our minds, including this trait of the mentally strong: “They don’t dwell on the past.” Morin adds, “…they don’t constantly relive bad experiences or fantasize about the glory days. Instead, they live for the present and plan for the future.”
How do you live outside of your head and discover freedom?
1. Find a creative outlet and commit to engaging in it weekly. My creative outlets include writing and photography. Yours will likely be something different. We are made to create. When we’re not creating, we begin to ponder our past. Even dwelling on the positive past can cause us to yearn for “the glory days.”
2. Regularly meet with like-minded friends. It doesn’t have to be anything formal, but the conversation should go deeper than discussing who will win the Super Bowl. I have a mastermind group I meet with via conference all twice per month. While our main focus is centered around life calling and entrepreneurial endeavors, we inevitably talk about life. There is something freeing about being transparent with a small group of close friends.
3. Pursue a life that involves something bigger than yourself. There is a lot of buzz online about living a better story and pursuing meaning and purpose. Unfortunately, too much of the content comes from a self-centered point-of-view. You will never find fulfillment in seeking personal success alone. In addition, you won’t have time to live in your head when you are fixated on meeting the needs of someone else.
4. Pray. Inevitably, the enemy is going to smack you upside the head and deliver blow-after-blow, reminding you of your failures from 1990 to present. Choose not to make an agreement with the enemy’s list. Pray as many times as necessary.
5. Get outdoors. The world is a massive place. Go explore it. Exploration offers us a chance to see how big God is and to bring nourishment to our souls.
6. Fill your mind with positive material. There is no shortage of available material available at your disposal. Listen to inspirational podcasts in the car and while exercising. Read motivational books instead of watching TV. This practice alone with change your life perspective dramatically.
Do you ever struggle with living inside your own head? What other ways are effective in helping us find freedom?
If you read last week’s blog, you know that the Peek household is undergoing a major life change. As part of the preparation in going from two to three, we have been insanely cleaning out and rearranging our house.
We cleared out our second bedroom in order to make way for the nursery. In the meantime, my office was transformed into an office / guest room. If that wasn’t enough work, we finally purchased a bedroom suite after sleeping on a 50-plus-year-old mattress throughout our married life. Literally, every bedroom in our house has undergone a major transformation in the last month. I’m about to pass out from sheer exhaustion just reliving the hauling of furniture up-and-down the stairs.
Throughout this process, we have been furiously discarding and donating items that we no longer need or desire. Our list includes a couch, love seat, numerous books, a desk, a bookshelf, three TVs, a Gameboy (Tetris anyone?), outdated electronics, DVDs, and on and on. How did we acquire so much stuff – stuff that just sits in boxes, on shelves, in closets, and in drawers and cabinets?
Culture asserts that pursuing the American dream and collecting as much stuff as we can will lead to greater happiness. The reality is far different.
Possessions tend to own us. We become physically and mentally exhausted from maintaining stuff. What happens when we purchase a gadget to make our lives “easier” or provide us with a bit of recreation? Inevitably, it costs us additional time, energy, and money in order to maintain it.
The thought of living a minimalist lifestyle has struck a chord with me lately. For those who have not heard of the idea of minimalism, I’ll defer to an expert on the subject – minimalist blogger Joshua Becker. He defines minimalism this way: “I am intentionally trying to live with only the things I really need.” (For more in-depth reading, check out his article: “What is Minimalism”.)
Granted, I am nowhere close to calling myself a minimalist at this point. We still have too much stuff and not enough house. I have plenty of items I really don’t need and that I would have a difficult time tossing into the Goodwill sack. And I realize bringing up the conversation about minimalism is, on the surface, a bit ridiculous at a time when our house is being infiltrated with cutesy baby clothes and adorable talking stuffed bears that go “Peek-a-boo.”
However, the process of decluttering our home to make room for the baby has shown me that I needlessly and mindlessly hold onto too many possessions. Maybe I thought my future self could utilize 17 extra telephone cords or that I would eventually get around to reading those books that have sat on my bookshelf for 15 years. Ironically, I tend to forget about quite a number of my own possessions until I discover the hidden treasures (or trash) while cleaning out. Usually, I would just toss the item back in the drawer and forget about it until the next clean-out season.
Granted, developing a minimalist attitude is like anything else – a long-term process, rather than an overnight success. In addition, the definition of minimalism will be a little different for each one of us.
The concept of minimalism is Biblical, although it is not referred to by that name.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:19-20
Frankly, I’m tired of storing up treasures for myself on earth. I still have a long way to go, but this initial process of cleaning out has been a bit freeing. Discarding unnecessary possessions frees us to spend more time with the ones we love, more money on giving and life experiences, and more time making lasting memories.
What do you think about incorporating a few minimalist principles in your life? Have you ever done so? If so, what were the lasting effects?
As I write this, Karen and I are counting down to the final days and weeks leading up to the birth of our son. The past eight months have come and gone in a flash, but at the same time, taken an eternity to get here. After months of cleaning out and rearranging the house, purchasing new furniture, preparing the baby’s nursery, and waiting with a flurry of excitement and nervousness, the adventure of a lifetime is about to commence.
Over the past several months, I have been mentally preparing myself for the ways in which life will change. I don’t think it’s fully possible to grasp all of those changes until our son is outside the womb. And by that point, I probably won’t have as much time to ponder the shifting, tectonic plates of life.
I’m not sure any of us ever feels quite ready to be a parent. Maybe some of you did. But something tells me that a lot of training happens on the job. And a lot of prayer, too.
I’m in awe of the miracle a new life represents. God has given Karen and me the responsibility of loving, parenting, teaching, and guiding our son.
Growing a family is a natural transition in life, but we go into the season a bit naive. We don’t know what is going to happen or how a child will turn out. We can lead a child to wisdom and offer guidance, but there are no guarantees. If I may speak a bit prematurely, raising our son will be a life-long adventure into the unknown.
Our hearts are made for adventure, but adventure doesn’t always encompass road trips and hiking mountains. In reality, having a baby is quite the adventure.
In our culture, we get so wrapped up in seeking personal pleasure and creating an ideal life for ourselves. Yet, the greatest adventures are those that involve others – when we give sacrificially of ourselves time and again.
Over the past few months, my thoughts have pivoted to our coming, new reality. While I still focus on my own life calling, I’m also lamenting the type of world in which my son will grow up. I’m pondering the type of education he will receive, as I desire him to know Truth. My focus has transitioned on how we will financially support him. And I’m concerned I won’t know how to properly change a diaper, though something tells me I’ll be learning real fast.
The grandest of adventures don’t always involve climbing Mt. Everest, as incredible a feat that may be. The grandest of adventures often begins right where you are. Don’t miss the grand adventure because you’re constantly searching out there.
Sometimes, it takes a baby to remind us that an adventure encompasses something bigger than ourselves.
What grand adventures are you in the midst of?
Do any of the following conversations sound eerily familiar? The names have been changed to protect the guilty…
“I can’t believe Coach Smith called that idiotic play on 4th down and lost the game against Central High. I’ve just put the finishing touches on FireCoachSmith.com.”
“Why is Timmy still with that girl? She just isn’t good enough for my little boy. Have you ever tasted her chicken casserole surprise?”
“My coworker really needs to buckle down and do his job. I could have done that report ten times better, and we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
“Pastor Ron hasn’t been on top of his game lately. If only he’d make the sermons more relevant and stop yelling so much. And he’s so long winded that the Methodists keep beating us to lunch.”
“Can you believe she wore that outfit and posted that hideous photo on Facebook? What was she thinking?!”
Our daily conversations often involve a slew of unsolicited opinions about other people and how they should act, speak, and think. We’re an awfully opinionated bunch, as if we have this thing called life all figured out. I have recently taken a mental inventory of my own conversations and recognize that, far too often, I drive the conversation down this unproductive road.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we have a gossip problem. Dictionary.com defines ‘gossip’ this way: “idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others.”
According to a 2012 study by a team of psychologists at the University of Amsterdam, gossip makes up a whopping 90 percent of our workplace conversations. And a 2009 study found that a hefty 80 percent of our words involve gossip.
Apparently financial guru Dave Ramsey’s organization was not included in the first survey. Gossiping while on the job at his office is considered “a fireable offense.”
Why do we feel the need to discuss what’s going on with other people? We have this ongoing temptation to be in-the-know at all times. We desire to compare ourselves to others so that we can confirm, “My life isn’t so bad after all.”
Part of the struggle comes from living smack dab in the midst of the information age. We are constantly monitoring the words and actions of others through in-person interactions, media, TV, the web, and social media. Numerous TV programs are devoted solely to celebrity gossip. We waste countless hours with our legs propped up as an audience member rather than getting our hands dirty as a participator.
“Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” – anonymous
What if we spent more energy reflecting upon what we should be doing instead? How much more could be accomplished? How much greater would our impact be? Beyond reflecting, what if more of our day consisted of creating instead of criticizing behind someone’s back?
What I’m not arguing for is putting our heads in the sand and ignoring real issues with people. There are times we must discuss important life struggles with others.
However, it’s pretty obvious that we spend far too many of our waking hours conversing about people and issues that we have absolutely no control over. We ponder problems, real and perceived, that don’t involve us and/or that we cannot affect.
Maybe this is why James offered us this warning in James 1:19, “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger…”.
In Ephesians 4:29, the apostle Paul urged, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others upaccording to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
What could we accomplish if we stopped gossiping? For starters, were would receive several additional hours per day.
Now go. Live. Encourage. Create…
…Or stay stuck. Live small. Be negative. Consume.
It’s your life. The choice is yours.
Okay, I’m done with all this gossip talk. Off to accomplish some unfinished goals.
Photo Courtesy: JackVinson