Friday, June 28, 2013

My First Stay-cation

Since I've been thinking about resting for the past few weeks, I decided to take a weekend to do just that. I had planned to hop in the car and set out for places unknown. As the day of my departure drew near, I thought this would be a great opportunity to explore the idea of a "stay-cation" and share my findings with my blog readers. Instead of hitting the road, I stayed close to home and have to admit that I'm really glad I did.

If I was going to stay home, I knew that I had to make it worth my while. One of the best reasons to opt for a stay-cation is to reduce the expense of a vacation. I decided to attempt a 3-day adventure for the average cost of a hotel stay (approximately $80). I only actually had outings on Friday and Saturday, but managed to make it all happen for $57.31! That's what I call an inexpensive weekend.

What exactly did I do?  Here's the overview:


  • Lazy breakfast at home and reading in the morning
  • visit to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art      
  • lunch at Spaghetti Warehouse                           
  • visit to the Benjamin Hooks Library                  
  • movie rental - Quartet (Redbox)
  • Dinner at home                     
  • All meals at home
  • Morning of baking (for pleasure)                        
  • Window shopping                                              
  • Circuit Playhouse's production of Deathtrap      
  • Morning and afternoon with family
  • Quiet reading
It's great to realize that it is entirely possible to find some relaxation without leaving home. Nothing I did was extravagant or terribly expensive. (The ticket to see the play topped the list at $35 and constituted over half of my budget.) In order to make it "feel" like an escape involved doing some things that were not typical for me in a normal week. I don't watch a lot of DVDs at home; that was a nice change of pace and a wonderful way to end an evening. I haven't been to the theater in several months; last Friday was my first visit to the Brooks. (I'll share more about the thrilling exhibit I viewed next week.)

I still love getting away from it all and visiting a new location. Taking advantage of the outlets that are available close to home is a great way to recharge your batteries without breaking the bank though. 

When you have time for a stay-cation, what's one of your favorite things to do? I'm looking for ideas since I am already planning my next weekend adventure in the near future. Share your thoughts in the comment section of the blog.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Getting the Rest You Need

We all know that rest is important, but we sometimes find it difficult to insure that it happens in our personal life. I'm still learning how to make Sabbath rest a part of my routine, but here are some things that are proving helpful at the moment. Take these suggestions for what their worth....

  • Schedule, Schedule, Schedule. The more carefully I plan what needs to happen each day, the less time I waste. The less time I waste, the more I accomplish. The more I accomplish, the easier it becomes to have a day devoted to rest each week
  • Write it down. I have always prided myself on having a wonderful memory and rarely having to write things down. What I'm discovering is that the physical process of writing things down purges them from my mind and provides the comfort that important things will not be forgotten. My mind can slow down...and that brings rest to my body.
  • Establish a Sleep Routine. Knowing that I'm rising at the same time each morning and going to bed consistently each night puts my body into a routine. It also allows for consistently knowing when my most productive periods of the day will occur. That is a positive in so many ways!
  • Exercise. Have I completely fallen off of my rocker? Does the physical exertion of exercise seriously help us to get rest? Definitely! By regularly participating in some physical activity, the body relieves stress naturally and is ready to rest fully each night. Taking care of the body helps to take care of the mind as well.
  • Feed your Soul. I cannot emphasize this aspect enough. It is absolutely imperative that you set aside time each day to care for your inner man. Include it in your schedule just as you would any other appointment and protect it at all costs! You decide what activity is most beneficial for you -- study, prayer, worship, meditation -- and make sure that you do AT LEAST that one thing each day. As we allow our souls to connect with the Creator daily, we will find that we are refreshed and able to be productive because of His blessing.
  • Relax. You know when your body has reached its limit. In those moments, give yourself permission to relax. Your optimal work time may not fit with everyone else. That's okay! While you still have to function, as long as you are having productive periods throughout the day, you'll get it done. 
  • Reward Yourself. I plan personal activities that I enjoy at the end of each day. When I have completed the tasks on my list, I get to enjoy something special. This allows me to look forward to finishing the day's responsibilities and gives me an extra push of energy. Additionally, set aside time for larger rewards after a particularly busy season. This might include a mini-vacation or a "stay-cation."
When I include these steps in my routine, I find that I can get most of my duties done in six days and truly enjoy a seventh day of rest each week. It's what God has ordained for our bodies and provides the needed energy to tackle the challenges that the following week will bring.

On Friday, I'll share with you a little about my most recent "stay-cation." It's actually much easier than you might think and worth the effort.

What tips would you add to my list to help get everything done in order to have a day devoted to rest and rejuvenation?

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Importance of Rest

Last week, I was asked what I had learned about myself during my sabbatical that is rapidly coming to an end. The issue that immediately came to mind was the importance of establishing Sabbath in my own life and the effects that came from neglecting it. In an effort to keep this issue firmly in my mind now and in the future, I have decided to share my feelings on the topic for a few posts here on my blog.

I suppose it's best to begin at the beginning. Following is a private journal entry I wrote in the first few days of my three-month sabbatical. The entry is dated April 20, 2013.

Rest is crucial for our very survival. Our bodies are wired to recharge through nightly rest in the form of sleep. Rest is also important mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. In order to think clearly, quickly, and logically, our minds need to rest from the constant rat race. Stress increases proportionately to decreased rest, resulting in emotional weariness.
Rest is so important to the spiritual man that the call to rest is found throughout Scripture. After completing creation, God rested on the seventh day. The Sabbath was instituted to provide the people of Israel with a day to recuperate from their week of labor. Jesus, who is our example in ministry, regularly pulled away from the crowds as well as the disciples for seasons of rest. Even a raging storm was not permitted to interrupt the Master's rest (at least, not until the disciples sounded the alarm) because Jesus recognized the importance of rest.
As ministers, we often find it difficult to rest. There is always more preparation that needs to be done. Love needs to be expressed to hurting people immediately while phone calls and emails need to be returned. There is a never-ending list of tasks that need our attention. No wonder we are desperate for rest!
While I believe this is a challenge for everyone who works in ministry, I think the issue can be extremely difficult for the part-timer. As vocational ministers, we are receiving compensation for our labor. It is not the reason we minister, but it does allow us to devote more time to the ministry. For many in music ministry, the position with the church supplements income from other professional endeavors. In my case, I teach music classes at a local junior college, serve as staff pianist at another university, and maintain a small private piano studio. Those three positions keep me quite busy Monday through Friday. Friday afternoon sees me switching hats and frantically getting everything ready for Sunday's worship. Do you see a problem? There's no day of rest built into this hectic schedule.
Some would argue that vacations can replace a weekly day of rest. If that were the intention, why didn't God establish a Sabbath month instead of one that occurred every seven days? (God did establish the Year of Jubilee, a time for the land to rest in order to guarantee its fruitfulness. I'll explore that concept more in the weeks ahead.)
What's the solution? We can't make a full-time living out of a part-time position. Neither can we ignore the ministry that God has called us to. If I had the answers to this dilemma, I suspect I would not be taking this three-month sabbatical from ministry. I do believe the answer lies in Scriptural principles and that it is of paramount importance to insure long and fruitful seasons of ministry for all ministers. It is my prayer that God will provide revelation in the coming months as I seek His face. 

There you have it. In April, I was desperate for rest. Two months later I find myself in a much healthier position than I have been in years. I am rested. I am refreshed. I am happy. I can confidently proclaim that I can once again hear God's voice in the midst of life's noise.

Do I have all the answers? Definitely not! What I do know is that the Sabbath principle is incredibly important to my spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. The responsibility to maintain it and protect it lies with me. On Wednesday, I'll share some of the methods that I have used in the past two months that have helped me to put Sabbath into practice in my own life while still insuring that things get done.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Practicing What You Have Learned

Now that you have achieved your goal and acquired a new skill through careful practice, it is important to keep practicing! Today, we will look at the maintenance of skills through practicing in the final post of this series.

Use it or lose it! Even though you have acquired the new skill, regular maintenance practice is necessary. A skill developed will quickly decline in its ease of access if we fail to use it often. I spent the last three months away from the gym after working out on a fairly regularly basis for nearly nine months. Now that I have returned to the gym, I'm recovering lost ground. Since I wasn't consistently exercising my muscles, they are not at my disposal automatically in some of the ways that I had trained them to be. Fortunately, recovering a mastered task is not nearly as difficult as it was the first time around.

Fight complacency! Once we have achieved a new skill, it is easy to be satisfied and settle into an easy rhythm. I encourage you to continue striving for new levels of mastery. The more command we have over the skill, the more beneficial it is to us and the more easily we can call it up when needed. Whether or not you decide to further your skills in this area, recognize the value that has been added to your life and continue practicing -- furthering your current skill or pursuing a new dream. Never stop growing!

Perfection or Excellence? There is a huge difference between perfection and excellence. Perfection is an impossibility in our human condition; excellence can be achieved in every endeavor. Pursuing excellence encourages us to do the best job we can with our abilities. When our focus shifts to the pursuit of perfection, we begin to focus exclusively on what we cannot do. This negative focus can often lead to self-esteem issues, discouragement, and feelings of failure. Do the best you can in everything and reap the rewards of your efforts.

Celebrate success! Celebrations may be personal and private or they may be enormous parties with guests! Either option is valid; the important thing is that you honor yourself for your achievement. You worked hard through disciplined practice to achieve your goal. Celebrating encourages our spirits to pursue new things and achieve new heights.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Making Practice a Success

As we explored on Monday, practicing can be used by everyone to obtain skills that ultimately become second nature. Today, I'll draw from my experience practicing piano to give you some tips to help your own practice lead to success.

Goal setting is crucial! If the destination is not clearly defined, we'll never know that we've reached it. Avoid being too general though. If I am learning a new piece at the piano, it's not enough to say I want to learn to play the song; instead, I have to specify that I want to play the piece accurately with a tempo of no less than 172 beats per minute. If I don't play the notes accurately, I am not playing the song. At the same time, I can't play the song at whatever speed I choose. There needs to be a standard of expectation.

Similarly, I can't simply state that I want to be more patient without providing a measurement that qualifies as reaching my goal. Perhaps I am going to exhibit patience by not tapping my fingers on my desk in irritation for 5 consecutive days. The point is that you must identify what you are trying to modify or develop through your practicing.

Include short term goals along the way. Once you identify your ultimate goal, it is helpful to break it up into smaller steps. In the example of learning a new piece of music, one goal may be to correctly play all of the notes at a slow steady tempo. Then I may begin to increase the metronome speed gradually. These short term goals allow me to see progress in my journey without the frustration that I may never achieve the ultimate goal. We all need small victories to celebrate along the way to give us the encouragement to persevere.

Map your journey's path. In order to know where we are and where we're going, sometimes it is important to take note of where we've been. This is where a practice log can be helpful. A practice log is simply a diary devoted to your pursuit of your goal. If you are training for a 5K, it may simply be a record of the date, distance, and time for your run. There is obvious value in this method to help you see your progress, but I strongly encourage you to include brief notes about the run as well.

Notes in your practice log give signs of improvement when numbers seem to be stagnant. If you're running at approximately the same speed for several weeks, it might become discouraging. Notes may tell that you were feeling under the weather or that the conditions were challenging. Not only do notes present explanations, often they provide insight into new short term goals that need to be achieved on the way to your ultimate goal. When patterns begin to reveal themselves in the log, we may realize there is an obstacle inhibiting our progress that must be addressed.

You will make mistakes! Accept it from the beginning. There will be days you don't practice. Other days will see an unintentional error in your efforts to reach the goal. Don't get frustrated. Making mistakes is an important part of the learning process. The trick is making sure that errors don't go undiagnosed, which brings us to our final point of the day.

Don't underestimate the importance of evaluation. Whatever you are attempting to add to your skill set, you simply must have self-evaluation as well as the evaluation of a trusted person who has more skill in the discipline than you do. Assume that I am learning to make chocolate pie. While I can identify errors in measurements, some of the subtleties of technique also need to be addressed. I can't determine if I'm doing things correctly because I DON'T KNOW HOW TO DO THEM AT ALL! I have to allow someone with authority to critique my efforts.

Evaluation is uncomfortable. We present our best effort and listen to an explanation of what we did wrong. We have to publicly admit that we are fallible and ignorant of the topic at hand. Because this is such an awkward situation for many adults, it is crucial that you feel empowered to select the mentor/teacher who is the best fit for you. Make sure to find a trusted individual who feels like a friend. The best mentor will easily identify your mistake and then patiently explain (and hopefully demonstrate) how to correct the problem. Ask for suggestions of things to do to overcome the obstacle and ask if you can check back in with them in a few weeks.

On Friday, I'll look at maintaining your skills once you have achieved them as we learn together how important it is to continue practicing what you have already learned.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect

I have been practicing for 36 years. As a pianist, most days find me spending quality time at my instrument perfecting my craft and learning more about music, myself, and life. Sadly, I think that the concept of "practicing" has been stolen from the general population by the performing arts and sports teams. Each individual daily practices something -- whether intentionally or not.

The Oxford dictionary defines the verb practice as "performing an activity or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one's proficiency." ( In other words, a person chooses to practice something in which they hope to achieve improved abilities. By separating the concept of practicing from music, theater, and sports, the potential power of practice becomes apparent.

  • Do you want to be more patient? Practice patience!
  • Do you want to learn to knit? Practice knitting!
  • Have you wished you were a better writer? Practice writing!
  • Want to improve your skills in the kitchen? Pull out a recipe and practice cooking!
Practicing can be applied to any area of life. The goal of practice is to gain new skills to a desired level of mastery in such a way that the new activity becomes a naturally occurring habit in the way you do things. Since we can all benefit from practicing, this week's blog posts will be devoted to the topic. 

Every journey begins with a single step. When you decide exactly what it is that you are pursuing and choosing to practice, the first step is often the most difficult. We're not certain how to achieve our target, so we put off practicing until we know how things are supposed to work. We aren't certain we can acquire the new skill, so we decide to do nothing rather than risk failure. Here's the good news..... YOU DON'T HAVE TO HAVE EVERYTHING FIGURED OUT BEFORE STARTING TO PRACTICE! Part of the value of practicing is pointing out areas that need attention as you move forward in your journey to mastering this new skill. Simply get started the best way that you know how!

K.I.S.S. For the uninitiated, K.I.S.S. is an acronym meaning "Keep it simple, Stupid." We've all heard it said that "Rome wasn't built in a day" and our goal will not be achieved overnight. So whatever you are practicing, remember to begin simply. Someone practicing cooking will be better served boiling water or scrambling eggs instead of cooking a seven-course gourmet meal! If you are hoping to become a voracious reader, it's probably not wise to pick up Gone with the Wind or The Brothers Karamazov as your first novel. In the earliest stages of practicing, it is important to set yourself up for regular success as you build the habit of devoting some time daily to the art of practicing.

Additionally, it is important that we avoid the temptation to begin practicing multiple things at the same time. I want to be more patient, read a novel a week, write an intriguing daily blog, and learn to speak Italian. I have the ability to do all of these things, but I need to prioritize. If I begin practicing each of these things immediately, my focus is stretched so thin that I will accomplish very little in any of the processes.....and will have little time to manage the regular parts of my life. I need to determine what is truly my passion and what is simply a fleeting obsession. If you're not sure whether it's a passion or temporary fancy, I recommend putting it on the back burner for a while; those things that are important to us will continue to burn deep within despite our lack of immediate attention.

Intentionally schedule your practice time. How much time do I need to devote to practicing? Honestly, it depends upon your age and your current ability in relation to the skill you are developing. I ask my beginning piano students to try to play at least 10 minutes each day. An adult who is trying to develop the habit of daily reading sessions might begin with 15 minutes of reading for 5 days of the week. 

Once you establish how much time you will be investing, determine how you will add it to your daily routine. One of my colleagues meticulously schedules her day and includes practice time, then protects that time from interruption. On the other hand, I work better with a to-do list. Practice activities are listed along with the day's other responsibilities and I complete the tasks when I'm in the best frame of mind to handle each one. The to-do list works for me since it allows me to experiment and find what times of my day are best suited for which activities. 

Once you schedule your practice time and its duration, give yourself permission to modify the plan as needed. It is more important that you DO the thing you are practicing than avoiding it because you don't have the amount of time allotted. Practice should not be a chore every day; if it feels that way, you may be attempting to devote too much time to the task for your current skill level. Evaluate and adjust as needed. Regular repetition is what we're after. As with other things, quality of practice supersedes quantity of time spent practicing.

On Wednesday, we'll explore some tips that have proven effective in my own practice and explain how you can adapt them to any activity that you are seeking improvement in. For now, determine what it is that you want to practice in your life and take the first step. Then repeat it again tomorrow and the day after. Before you know it, you'll be on your way to having the ability that you desperately want to add to your life!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Making Small Talk

Regardless of who you are or what you do, the ability to make small talk with strangers and casual acquaintances is essential. Some people are blessed with the gift of gab. I'm not one of those people. I don't enjoy hearing myself talk and tend to allow others to lead the way. Still, I have learned to chat when the need arises.

Small talk is easy in certain situations. I met a new colleague this week and we discovered that we share a common interest. There's something to talk about.....and we talked and talked! Nothing was earth-shattering about our conversation, but we began to build a relationship. When you run into treasured people from your past after months or years of separation, conversation flows as you remember times gone by and catch up on each other's lives.

The worst possible situation is making small talk with those people that really didn't leave a positive impression on you during previous interactions. The dialogue is only made worse when the other party thinks that you have more in common than you really do. Earlier this week I experienced one of those horribly awkward situations. I ran into an acquaintance who I was hoping would be satisfied with a simple hello. No....this person wanted to chat. Questions are asked and answered with little real sharing. Then there was the dreaded sound of the proverbial crickets chirping as I frantically waited for something to be said. Ugh! Finally, the individual ended the conversation with "Well, don't let me keep you." It wasn't my intention to be rude, but the conversation was over before it began.

For years, people have tried to make me feel guilty for not being a social butterfly. News alert, folks:  I don't! There's a huge difference between unacceptable rudeness and the quiet introversion that makes me who I am. While I can make small talk with others in my profession, I choose not to do that in my personal life. If I don't have an authentic connection with a person, I'm not going to attempt to convince you that we do. I choose to leave the small talk for the office; I prefer real dialogue with my friends.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

One Historic Road Trip!

On my drive home this afternoon, I saw a van filled with college students pulled off the interstate to take pictures in front of the "Welcome to Tennessee" sign. There's no doubt about it....they were on a road trip. As much as I love to fly, some of my favorite travel memories come from road trips.  Some of the trips were extremely fast paced and possibly stupid, but all were fun.

Since I was attending school in southern California, many of my road trips were along Interstate 40. Driving along the historic Route 66 was a joy -- most of the time.  I loved seeing the desert in New Mexico, the mountains (and inevitably snow) around Flagstaff, and the rolling fields through Oklahoma and Texas. Normally I allowed 3 or 4 days to make the trip. There were a few times where I was stupid though.

In their great "wisdom", my parents sent me to California in a Ford Escort Hatchback that had been retired as the family car. They were certain everything was okay since they had replaced the engine in the car. For a Christmas present, my family flew my roommate Andy to Arkansas and we drove back to Malibu. The desert was not kind to the Escort, but we finally made it in one piece.  A couple of years later, Andy and I had loaded the red beast down with luggage and equipment to drive out to Pasadena for a performance before heading to Arkansas for a break. While we approached the 101-405 interchange late on a Friday afternoon (non-Californians should read that as INSANE TRAFFIC), smoke began to billow from the car. That's actually a bit of an understatement.....the thing blew up! We managed to get to the side of the road, got a tow to a garage, called a cab and loaded the essential equipment. We made it to the performance minutes before I needed to be on stage and then headed back to Malibu to call my parents; I wouldn't be coming home anytime soon.

Over the next few weeks, my parents purchased a new car for me and instructed me to try to get the garage to take the Escort for scraps. They refused! That tells you what a nightmare this car truly was! In the end, they took pity on me and allowed me to pay the cost of the tow to the junk yard to get it out of everyone's hair. My car was in Arkansas and orientation was starting in a week. I was a student leader of orientation and could not be late!

My parents and I decide that I can rent a car to get to Arkansas. They'll take the rental to Memphis on Monday by which time I'll be back in Malibu if everything goes according to plan. Somehow, I convinced my roommate along with another of our fraternity brothers (Andy Hughes) to make this whirlwind trip. Since none of us were 25 yet, we couldn't rent a car.....but another friend, Heidi, came to the rescue!  So on Friday afternoon, the three amigos left Malibu and drove non-stop to Crawfordsville, Arkansas.  We arrived around 1am CST; we woke my parents, got the nickel tour of the car, grabbed a quick bite to eat and loaded the Mitsubishi for our return trip. An hour later, we were back on the road. Despite a flat tire in the Dallas area (really!?!), we pulled into Pepperdine on Monday morning at 8am. We dashed to our rooms, showered, and started welcoming a new class of students to the campus.

You would think I would have learned my lesson, wouldn't you? I didn't. Later that fall, a friend and I would drive home for Thanksgiving and got back to Malibu on Monday morning. There were trips up and down California, a few dangerous jaunts into Mexico (another example of my youthful stupidity), and more trips to Vegas than I care to remember. (Most of these trips involved various fraternity brothers as well....I'm beginning to notice a trend!)

I still love to travel by car. My traveling partners have changed a I drag my parents around with me.....but we still have a lot of laughter in the car and make memories that will last a lifetime.  It's time to pull out the road map and figure out where I need to head on my next adventure. I'm open to suggestions!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Choices, Choices

Throughout our lives, we make plans for the future. What do I want to be when I grow up? What school do I want to attend to train for my job? Who will I marry? Where will I live? Should I change careers? How will I care for my aging parents? How do I know I've made the right decision?

Inevitably all of these questions include an amount of uncertainty. Planning for the future is planning for the unknown. We don't know the circumstances that tomorrow will bring. We acknowledge that our choices today will effect the reality of tomorrow and we sometimes find ourselves dreading the future. Even worse, we can sometimes fall into taking no action today in fear of tomorrow's consequences. Yet we also know that "nothing comes from nothing." Do nothing today and you are certain to achieve nothing tomorrow.

So today's question is actually quite simple: How do you go about planning for the future? I certainly contend that prayerful consideration of the future is a first step. There are times when God is silent though. If we're honest, those situations come along more often than we would like. It's easy when we are confident of divine direction to make a choice for tomorrow in absolute faith. It's the choices that we have to made amidst the silence that are so frightening. As humans, we are prone to make mistakes. I have to wonder, when God is silent, is it possible to make an enormous error if neither choice violates God's law?

When choices appear and I don't have clear direction, I personally believe that those are decisions that are left to me. Neither is going to be harmful in the grand scheme of things. One may be more profitable than the other though. That's where I can begin to use logic, insight, advice from others, and discernment to weigh the options and make the best possible decision. I take comfort in knowing that most of these decisions are not irreversible. If I discover I made a poor choice, I can back track and correct my path. I might lose a little time, but I'm able to consider the first decision a learning experience.

What do you think? How do you go about making decisions?

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Lesson from Lemonade

Nothing says summer quite like a cold glass of lemonade. I love freshly squeezed lemonade that's carefully mixed with ice cold water and sugar to achieve the perfect balance between sweet and sour. Let's be honest though. Making fresh lemonade is too much work! Why bother to thinly slice the lemons, find the perfect balance, and make it look as though Martha Steward herself prepared the beverage when I can easily fill a plaster pitcher with cold water and stir in the Country Time mix! After all, who needs the trouble when the artificial is just as good as the real stuff?

As I sip on my Country Time lemonade, let me assure you that there definitely IS a difference between the artificial and the authentic. That same truth can be applied to many things in life. Authentic, unconditional love is far superior to that which is contrived in hopes of receiving something. Instant potatoes are no match for the fluffy creamed potatoes impeccably blended in Mom's kitchen. Polished cubic zirconia cannot compare with the luminosity of fine diamond. Then why do we settle for the inferior imitations of authenticity?

I've had my share of the fake in life. I've plastered on a smile rather than finding true happiness. I've settled for friendships that were interested in what I could offer without giving anything in return. I've spent seasons satisfied with a shallow spiritual life instead of the deep abiding relationship the Savior offers. In every instance I have found the same thing; settling for anything less than the authentic will always leave you wanting more.

Sometimes I've settled because it was easy. I didn't want to confront the problem head on, so I settled by gritting my teeth and bearing the burden alone. I was afraid of appearing weak so I didn't address the sadness that I was really feeling. I was unwilling to surrender every part of me in order to walk in communion with Christ. I feared what others would say if my pursuit of the authentic resulted in failure.

I'm tired of settling for the fake. It's worthless. It's draining. It's empty because we know that there is something more. The good news is that we can have authenticity in every area of our life if we're willing to pursue it. The pursuit may be difficult and there may be times that we miss the mark. The chase will be worth the effort when we finally experience authenticity.

Are you going to settle for Country Time or will you attempt to make a perfect gallon of fresh lemonade? It's time for me to start slicing the lemons. Maybe you'll want to join me......

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Whatcha Doin'?

With that simple question, an adventure began on Monday afternoon. Last Saturday afternoon, I sent a quick email to my nieces, asking when they would like to get together and just have an afternoon of fun. I left the planning to them (with a couple of suggestions) and decided to see where things would go. Late Sunday afternoon, I got the reply; they wanted to go to the Memphis zoo on Monday afternoon. We spent a few hours together and had a wonderful time.

Why do I even bother to mention such a mundane experience? Because I think that the simple question that ignited the conversation needs to be asked by adults more often. My nieces have had a less-than-easy life. They have watched their parents' marriage end and experienced the frustrations and stresses that come with being raised in a single-parent home. Please don't misunderstand. I'm not assigning blame to anyone. That's simply the fact of the situation. The girls live with my sister and have very few positive interactions with men on a regular basis.

When I asked them to spend some time with me, I thought I would simply provide an escape from the four walls of their apartment during the summer break. If that's all I accomplished, that would certainly be worth the effort. As we walked through the zoo, ate lunch together, and headed to the bookstore (youth literacy is a personal passion for me), I learned things about them and their lives that I had no clue about. By simply being with them and listening to their words, I had opportunity to speak positively into their lives while gaining insight into areas that need prayer. And it all started with a simple question.

At home that night, I watched the series premiere of The Fosters on ABC family. (I'll write more about my feelings of that television program in a later post.) The Fosters traces the lives of a non-traditional family who has been actively involved in the child foster care system. As the show's opening episode depicted the challenges faced by children and teens in our nation, I noticed a recurring theme. We all have something that we can give to these precious treasures of our society. If I don't pour into the children and teens in my sphere of influence, someone else will. The problem is that what's being poured into the children may not necessarily be positive. When children are desperate for love and attention, they will take it however (and from whomever) they can get it!

So I ask you the same question I asked the girls: Whatcha doin'? There is a generation of kids growing up all around us that need to know that they are important. Are you willing to be part of the solution or are you just going to sit by and watch as their generation is caught up in political correctness, questionable moral choices, and indifference? Certainly you should invest in the children in your family. But what about the kid around the corner that your child hangs out with? Who's influencing them? The good news is that it can be you, if you're willing to make a little effort.

Here's my challenge to you today. Take a look around you and see a child in your sphere of influence that needs encouragement, mentoring, or simply a little human love. Allow the Holy Spirit to give you direction. Take 15-minutes out of your day and listen to what they have to say. How do you get a child to talk? It normally works best over a scoop of ice cream, a glass of lemonade, or while tossing a ball around in the park. Don't say the challenge is too tough; make the effort, watch the joy that you can bring to the life of a child or teen, and get ready for a flood of love from Heaven above! I promise that you'll be glad you made the effort.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Need to Be Needed

Everyone likes to get a pat on the back from time to time. We need to hear that we are doing a good job. We need to know that what we are doing is important and significant. Does this mean that we are all looking to have our egos stroked? Does it make us insecure and immature? I don't think so. I think this need for affirmation from others is because we all desperately want to know that our lives and our work has significance. We need to know that we are needed.

Words of affirmation are a powerful tool in the arsenal of successful leaders. A thoughtful word of praise lets me know that you noticed my effort. Affirmation encourages me to continue pursuing excellence. It lets me know that my presence makes a difference and that what I'm doing makes a difference. Affirmation means that I'm not just "showing up."

When affirmation is missing, I begin to wonder why I even bother. It makes me think that I'm not doing a good job. I begin to second guess myself, my abilities, and my significance. The joy I found in the activity is gone because I'm only seeing the negative. Many creative people (like me) are hard-wired to be extremely critical of themselves and their work; we fail to see the good because of all the things that could have been done better in a project.

On the flip side, however, is false affirmation. When a person consistently gives me the same affirmation without any thought or constructive criticism, I quickly become convinced that I'm nothing more than a body filling a void that any idiot could handle. There's nothing special that I bring to the table. In many ways false affirmation can be more harmful to productivity than missing affirmation.

What's gotten me thinking about the need to be needed? I received an email last week from a knowledgeable person who gave me some unsolicited feedback about a recent project. While I have received affirmation from this individual in the past, the words were genuine, thoughtful, and based on specific observations. Suddenly, I knew that my efforts were noticed and I began to feel invigorated! I started to ask myself what I can do to be even better in relation to this responsibility. The increased effort is not based on a desire to receive public praise or to boast in the affirmation; it's simply because I know that what I do matters!

It's amazing to think that an email that was composed in less than 15 minutes with no public acknowledgement made such a world of difference and will carry me for quite a while in regards to that responsibility. I began to wonder who I could affirm with a word of encouragement. Just think of the impact we could all make if we chose to offer honest words of affirmation to a deserving person every time we considered criticizing another. One set of words builds up and encourages while the other destroys, depresses, and divides. I need to know that I am needed and want to pass that same sense of significance to others I meet daily.