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Learning to Follow at Forty

So….a few weeks ago, I turned forty.

I don’t want you to think that I’ve been undergoing some major mid-life crisis (40 isn’t really mid-life anymore, anyway, right?), that I’ve given up writing, or been in a drunken stupor.  I just…needed a little time to come to terms with where I am right now in life, and learn to fully appreciate it.

As I turn 40, I see a world of possibilities in front of me.  I started playing guitar.  I’m taking on new adventures in writing, charity work, voiceovers, even sports.  Everything’s a new beginning, and God only knows which iron I have in the fire is going to burn the brightest.

I have nothing but beginnings ahead of me, and that’s thrilling.

It’s also very humbling, because honestly, 20 years ago, I thought that by 40,  I’d be reaping the benefits of a long distinguished career, not finding out what I was going to be when I grew up. But here I am, ready to begin my next adventure, and only one thing is for certain:

I am going to be learning, not leading, for a while.

In order to do any of the things I want to do, I am going to have to humble myself and learn to follow others with more experience than me…even if they are in their 20’s.  Or 11, in the case of my son teaching me how to work my new iPad.

The virtues and qualities of “Leadership” have been crammed down my throat for as long as I remember…no one ever encouraged me to be a follower at forty.  But as I come to terms with this, I am learning the beauty of following, serving, paying my dues, doing the “front lines” work of any organization or cause.

It’s by following that we most clearly see the needs, the inefficiencies, the processes, the waste, the opportunities.  Through simply serving and listening, the specific skills needed for a certain job collide with the transferable qualities of wisdom, perspective, empathy, and values.

Learning something for the first time at this age ensures our skills are  current, fresh, young.  Unsoiled.  But applying this information reveals our perspectives as experienced, multi-faceted, broad.  This is a powerful combination.

And when you think about it, being young and old at the same time is what 40 really should be all about. And 50. And 60.  Heck, I  know some young, wise 90-year-olds.

So let’s enjoy being beginners, followers, learners.  Let’s go out and make mistakes, fall flat on our face, ask the embarassing questions.  Let’s get our hands dirty by digging deep into the worthwhile things that scare us, intimidate us, even bore us.

Then let’s see what happens when our lifetime of experience collides with it.  Then we will truly prove ourselves as “old enough.”

 

 

 

 

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Abundant Life in Transition: Springtime pleasure or pain??

“AHHHH! Another inchworm on me!!!”

“I can’t go outside, there are BEES everywhere!”

“ This !@#$ pollen…I’m dyin’, Babe…”

Ah, the sounds of Spring.  If the gorgeous image above has you sneezing and itching rather than sighing and rejoicing, then you’re feeling the pain of many of us as we struggle to come to terms with this season.

It seems so unfair that during the most beautiful time of the year, when the world bursts into splendid color and temperatures are ideal, there are so many other things we have to deal with.  Bugs.  Pollen.  These bizarre inchworms I don’t remember before that are hanging from seemingly nowhere, creating a spider web of every parking lot, backyard, or school campus before terrorizing my kids, hours later, as they discover them on their clothes, in their ears, in their lunch bags…

Too bad Spring has to come with so much…life.

Because that’s what it is, isn’t it? Spring is when everything wakes up, blooms, reproduces, spreads itself around, matures, creates, combines, transforms.  Spring is the process of creating life, and it is both exquisitely beautiful and unbelievably messy.  Spring is the necessary transition that every living thing must go through in order to obtain sustainability.

Spring is temporary, and nothing in bloom or in caterpillar form will look the same in a matter of weeks, or even days.  These things will eventually turn into what they were created to be, but in the meantime, the process can be viewed as either beautiful or an inconvenient, disgusting mess.

This spring, are we going to appreciate the flowers or begrudge the pollen?  In our own lives, are we going to appreciate the inevitable transformations, growth opportunities, and transitional periods we all go through?  Will we see them as temporary, prompting us to both relish the beauty of it AND have strength to get through the messier parts?

This is life.  This is the season we are in.  Recognize it, appreciate it, use it.  Don’t stay inside and wait for something better to come along later- you and all creation have important work to do.   It will beautiful and messy and weird…enjoy the ride, and enjoy the assurance that it’s turning into something fantastic.

The Power of Ten Minutes

Okay, I’m going to be honest.  Today I feel like I’m living out the lyrics to Bruno Mars’ “lazy song”, which goes something like “Today, I don’t feel like doing anything…”

I just got back from a fabulous vacation, and instead of being rested and inspired to take on the dirty laundry, empty refrigerator, unread mail, and unpacked bags, I have instead only scheduled a massage and eyed the novel I haven’t quite finished.

This kind of behavior would be all fine and good if I were indeed still on vacation, but the truth is, I’m not.  I have to get started, including getting my fingers working again on the computer and getting my brain back in the mode of appreciating the simple things around me. I know I need to do these things, and can’t truly relax until I got started.

I give myself ten minutes.

Ten minutes to write this blog, ten minutes to read the backlogged email, ten minutes to clean up, ten minutes to exercise, ten minutes to practice my guitar, and ten minutes to meditate/pray.

Turns out, this ten minute pledge can be life-changing.  All of us know we can do anything for ten minutes, no matter how much we hate it, how out of shape we are, or how busy our day appears to be.   It’s buying into that all-or-nothing American mentality that every single thing must be done to the Utmost if it’s going to be done at all that paralyzes us into doing just that…nothing.

No, my house is not going to be fully clean, I will not play like Jimmy Hendricks, and I am not going to write the Great American Novel in 10 minutes.  But you know what?  That little something proves to be infinitely better than nothing.

I’ve found that when I pledge 10 minutes to something, one of three things happen:

1) I discover that what I had avoided doing actually takes way less than 10 minutes (examples: emptying the dishwasher, flossing my teeth, doing 100 sit-ups).

2) The dreaded 10 minutes flies by as I race myself to complete the task, and before I know it, I’m making up excuses for why I am allowing myself extra time to complete the very task I’d been avoiding.

3) I am so empowered by how much I accomplished in “just” 10 minutes that I am inspired to find other 10-minute chunks of time in my day to accomplish other items from my “cringe list.”

What could we all do today with 10 minutes?  Pick the one thing nagging at you and give yourself ten minutes to work on it…no more.  I can almost guarantee you’ll be surprised at how much you accomplish, how easy it was, and how empowered you will be to take on more.

We’re onto something with this 10 minute thing.  We can save our day by just devoting this small chunk of time to the one thing standing in the way of our enjoying it.  Just imagine what could happen if the whole world devoted 10 minutes a day to saving it? If we all spent an extra ten minutes a day learning? Loving? Listening? Healing? Praying? Meditating? Fixing? Strengthening?

What 10 minutes are we lacking in our day? Our lives?  Let’s do it together.  We’re so close…

This week, let’s recognize every 10 minute opportunity we have.  We all have it- let’s all use it to its full potential.

And for the record, I allowed myself an extra few minutes to complete this blog (see #2 above.)

 

Productive Presence in an Unclear Future

I have no idea what the future holds for me.  I know you don’t either (and if you think you do, you’re deluding yourself), but I really, really don’t.  My career path could go in about 6 different directions at the moment, and those are only the paths I can see.  I live acutely aware of the fact that I am one phone call away, at any moment, from having my entire life changed.  I know you are, too.  We all are.

Though we never truly know what lies ahead of us, there are some days where we are more acutely aware of the fact.  For me, these days can be absolutely paralyzing.  I mean, if I don’t know where I’m going, how do I start? What am I supposed to be DOING right now?

These are the days most likely to be wasted by all of us, and we tend to do this in a few different ways: Circle, Wait, or Fix:

  • Circle:  We don’t know where we’re going, so we just start running…only to have to backtrack, circle around, restart.  We know we don’t know what we’re doing, so every effort is timid and half-way, but as a child with a skinned knee will run in circles to distract himself from the pain, we too will often just start running without thinking, without feeling.
  • Wait.  As Dr. Seuss calls it, “The Waiting Place: a Most Useless Space.”  Just waiting for something to happen to us – this can take a lifetime. All of our actions depend on someone else, so anything rocks our world and can have a dangerous degree of influence on our decisions.
  • Fix.  We don’t know where we’re going, but we know we don’t like it here, so that must mean we need to find something to fix…NOW!  We start noticing imperfections in our house, our spouses, ourselves.  We start reacting to these irritants, which only reveal more. We end the day exhausted, unfulfilled, and discontent.

I refuse to do any of those things today, even as clueless as I am.  I know that today is not the day to make any major decisions, start running down any new paths, or solve any of life’s major problems.  I just don’t have it in me.

Today is going to be a Productive Presence Day.  Due to the very fact that I can’t see the future, I am enabled to more clearly appreciate the present, and react accordingly.

So how do we get the most out of a Presence Day?  Love, Listen, and Learn.

  • Love: No matter what our circumstances, no moment spent loving is ever wasted.  Loving who and what is in front of us: our neighbor, our God, our family, ourselves, is the best way to seize the day we are given.  No clarity needed.
  • Listen: When we don’t know the answers, that’s a great time to shut up.  For those of us who find it hard to stay quiet and listen to the wisdom, needs, or even seemingly trivial details of another, these days are a perfect way to start.  Maybe soon we’ll learn to hear the Still Quiet Voice that has the real answers.
  • Learn: While many actions may be wasted if done down the wrong path, learning is not one of them.  Today may just be the day we have the patience to learn about the unknown now that we have the humility to recognize what we don’t know.

By practicing presence in this way, we have no fear of tomorrow, or any chance of wasting today.  But the greatest benefit of living in the present? Making ourselves aware of, and grateful for, the gifts around us- and that is a fundamental part of what’s called “abiding in God.”  And when we do that, everything else is taken care of:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9

God is continually asking us to abide in His love, lie down in green pastures, be still and know.  Sounds pretty good on a day like today, doesn’t it?  And what happens when we do this for a while?  Look at the promise:

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7)

So today, let’s all just abide; loving, learning, and listening all the while, knowing that if we do this, we will be preparing ourselves for the wondrous answers that reveal themselves at exactly the right time.

Enjoy today- that’s all we have to do.

Don’t Give Up; Give Away

We knew we wanted to end the trip on this note: our kids, grinning ear to ear, dressed in aprons and hairnets while clutching their bags filled with “custom-made” candy bars and commemorative “Hershey Chocolate World” tins.

We had accomplished more in two days than any family should be able in our long weekend trip to Pennsylvania: Independence Hall, the Liberty Bill, Ben Franklin’s Print Shop, Philadelphia Museum of Art (complete with running up the steps while playing the Rocky theme song), Philly Cheesesteak, Lancaster County, Hershey PA.

Problem was, it was only 6pm Saturday evening, and knew that the trip had come to its natural conclusion.  We had planned to get a hotel room and putz around for another day, but my husband had another plan: drive home now.  Save the hotel money.

We were all for it.

Getting the kids excited about spending another 3 ½ hours in the car would have been impossible but for a new game we’d recently installed in our family: The Savings Jar (pictured above with our “Bean Jar” from earlier posts).  Every time we decide not to spend money on something already in the budget, we write down the cause and the savings, and put it in a glass jar: “No hotel 3/2/12: $150”, “Ate ice cream at home instead of Cold Stone Creamery: $14” (yes, it’s that much for 5 people!); “Found same shoes at thrift store: $35 saved”.

Now it’s nice to save money and keep track of your progress, but what’s so fun and meaningful about the Savings Jar isn’t the pieces of paper that go into it, but what we DO with them: once the total has built up enough, half of the savings go toward a meaningful, intentional fun family purchase (TBD) and the other half to a meaningful, intentionally chosen cause.

What I love about this game is that it not only motivates us to save, but it makes sure that when we do, we have something to show for it- not just an abbreviated vacation and a fatter bank account.

Having a POINT to any sacrifice we make is key- otherwise, we fail to fully use what we have gained, or even worse…sacrifice for nothing.  Finding a way to recognize, appreciate, and use the savings in our lives can guide us to making intentional choices that will ensure nothing goes to waste.

What if we can do this kind of thing with ALL of our savings?

So often, we work so hard to save time and money, only to have them disappear into oblivion…never felt, used, enjoyed, or shared.  We work so hard to finish a job quickly, only so we can finish another job quickly.  What if we used the time saved to relax? Meditate? Reach out to a co-worker? Stretch?

We work hard to save money at the grocery store.  Where do those savings go? What if every time we saved $5 in coupons, $2.50 went to the Food Bank?

Sometimes “savings” are thrust upon us against our will.  The concert is cancelled.  Our date stood us up.  We broke our leg so can’t do the ski trip. What do we do with our new-found extra time, money, and opportunities?  Seeing the abundance in these situations is life-changing. Every time we can’t do one thing, it means we can do something else.  Don’t waste that something else.

And sometimes we sacrifice for no purpose.  I do this all the time- refrain from doing something I really want to, or purchasing something I can easily afford, just so I can feel good about myself for “doing without.”  This is stupid.  Unless we can see the good in it, don’t do it.  Period. Money and time are precious resources- they are meant to be used and enjoyed.

In this season of Lent, when many of us are giving up something, let’s make sure it goes somewhere.  Let’s not just give up, let’s get and give away.

Right now my favorite verse in the Bible is Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”  I see its application everywhere, but this week, let’s apply it to the things we are giving up-

This week:

1)      Inventory the things in your life that you are giving up, and ask yourself “Why?”  Examine your answer, and find ways you can quantifiably enjoy and share the results.  If you can’t answer “why?” then re-examine the point of your sacrifice!

2)      Look for new places in your life where you can painlessly “lean up” your spending of time, energy, or money…then find a place for the savings that both benefits you and your world.

3)      Consider starting a Savings Jar of your own, if it appeals.  If you already have another method of doing this, share with us!

4)      Meditate on Romans 8:28 in relation to the things under our stewardship.  What “things” could “work together for good” that we could give away? What “purpose” could they,  be “called” to?

On Leap Day, Celebrating Fractions of Time

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This week, I was going to simply post my revamped “What’s Efficient Abundance?” tab that you can all find at the top of this page…something I hope you all read, because there are some exciting things coming down the pipe dealing with this movement, and how we can all start to quickly and easily DO something with the information we’re discussing to make a real difference in our lives, our community, and even our world. Relax- it’ll be easy- this is ME talking, remember?

But today is Leap Day, so I can’t waste that, can I?

Today, we have been given the Gift of Time.  It’s been ours all along, accruing each year in quarter-day increments, but today is the day we recognize it, appreciate it, and use it.

How perfect.

Every day, the gift of time is there all along- it just may not fit into our “calendar” the way we have it set up.  It will take the form of a fraction, but, as we see today, fractions add up.  Fractions can be celebrated and enjoyed.  Fractions can be used.

So today let’s appreciate the efficiency of finally using the fractions in our year.  Let’s recognize the abundance this extra day has given us.  Let’s find ways of putting the concepts of efficiency and abundance together to USE today to it’s fullest. This week’s 30 Rock episode was about how “nothing counts” on Leap Day, so Liz Lemmon (Tiny Fey) tried to live that out, to hilarious consequences.  How about today, we realize that “everything counts”?

How about we all become aware of the gift of every second of the day? How about we concentrate on enjoying even 10 seconds or 5 minutes leftover from a project or job?

How about we use those seemingly insignificant fractions of time we KNOW are present in the schedules of even the BUSIEST of us to do some of the things we have said “I don’t have time for…”?

How long does it really take for us to floss our teeth? To send a card? To hug a child? To make eye contact and smile? To do 50 sit-ups? To say I Love You?  To make up our bed? To read that opinion column? To email our representative? To recycle? To give a sincere compliment? To apologize? To listen? To teach someone how to do it themselves? To change the batteries? To look up that fact? To take our medicine?

Maybe these things will take a fraction longer than otherwise barreling through our day, but the miracle of fractional time works the other way too…we won’t notice it at first, and everything will get done just fine.

But if we start using our fractions NOW, in little increments, down the road, we WILL notice the results, and those results  will truly be something to celebrate.

Happy Leap Day! Make it count!

On Fat Tuesday, Creating a Lean Lent

Looking at my calendar this morning, I had a similar thought process I suspect I share with many of you: Oh, wow- Lent starts tomorrow! I need to think of something to give up…

For many of us, our mind immediately goes to our bodies. Our inner multi-tasker says, “If I’m going to give something up, it’s going to be something that helps me look better.”  We want to be leaner, so instinctively know we need to “trim the fat” and now’s a great time to think about doing it.

Even those of us who didn’t grow up in a tradition that follows Lent still feel the urge to use it as a tool for refocusing our lives…kind of a “do-over” from already broken New Year’s Resolutions.  NOW I mean it.  It’s just 40 days, and by that time, it will have become a habit, right?  This time it’s gonna stick.

But this approach only scratches the surface of what we could be doing with this wonderful, annointed process.  There’s magic on the “40 days” rule (you’ll see this number throughout the Bible and in other holy books and traditions), and reducing it something involving wearing a bikini is a huge wasted opportunity.

This year, let’s think beyond our bodies to something deeper…much deeper: “What do we want, ultimately, out of life?”

Before you roll your eyes and think I’m making too much out of this, think about this: the fundamental principle of efficiency is to achieve a goal using the least amount of energy possible.  This involves three things: Trimming the fat (dead weight), fully utilizing the “muscles” (usable resources), and most importantly…knowing where we are going (what IS our ultimate goal in it all?).  If we do not have a clear indication of the last point, the first two amount to nothing.

So let’s get the most out of Lent, which is meant to be an exercise in getting our lives ready to receive the blessings of Easter (a PERFECT fit for everything we’ve been talking about, don’t you think?), and instead of turning it into just an exercise in self-control (“no chocolate!”), make sure we’re using it as a means to the best end:

  1. Start with the End in mind: Don’t get rid of anything until we know what we want to keep.  What do we WANT? Ultimately? Any single action we take in life that does not lead to this goal is wasted.
  2. What “Fat” is hindering us from reaching that goal? The most obvious one that pops into our mind first is what we will give up for Lent.  No questions asked.
  3. What’s the biggest “Muscle” we’re not using that will get us to our goal?  We ‘ve all heard that the easiest way to stop doing something is to start doing something else in its place.  Replacing fat with muscle is the leanest way to go, so let’s not miss this opportunity to do so.

Our “End” is the Abundance we want for yourselves, our family, and our world.  Our means will determine how efficiently we get there.  It’s not as hard as we’re making it out to be- let’s just drop some dead weight so we can relax and enjoy the ride!