Thriving Amidst Constraints

Last Monday morning I was enjoying a beautiful sunny walk through the neighborhood before work when I noticed a plant growing out of the asphalt.  “Must be a weed” I thought to myself as I approached the spot in the road where the plant was growing.  I was shocked when I got close and observed that it was not a weed, but instead, a small, beautiful flowering plant!  Its purple and yellow petals a striking contrast against the charcoal colored asphalt.  It was a wonderfully unexpected surprise!

Tenacity

I love the tenacity of that little plant!  Not only the plant, but the seed from whence it came.  That seed was dropped in the least likely place for it to grow.  None the less, it literally took root and found a way to thrive within the environmental constraints it had been dropped into.  No greenhouse.  No potting soil.  Nothing more than an opportunity to succeed.

That plant was a great reminder to do my best with the opportunities I’m given.  Even when conditions might not seem optimal.

Breaking Through

I started playing the electric bass 3 years ago and I’ve really enjoyed the process of learning how chords are made and fit together with other chords to make bass lines and fills.  While I’ve enjoyed the learning process, I’ll also admit that I’d been frustrated by the slow pace at which improvement has come. However, I have to remind myself that consistent effort leads to breakthroughs, whereas quitting does not.

For the past 3 months I’ve been focusing on the pentatonic scale and how to use it with other scales.  What’s been frustrating is that I’ve been learning and practicing these concepts, but have been struggling to put them together in the context of a song.  I’ve practiced the chord shapes, but feel like I have a mental block when it comes to putting it all together.

However, tonight (Thursday) when I sat down to practice, I noticed that the concepts I’ve been learning had come together and I was actually using them in the context of a song!  It’s like my brain finally said, “Oh, I get it now.”  What a breakthrough!  And it’s all the result of consistent practice, even when the results were slow.

Is there something you’re struggling to learn or accomplish?  Are you not seeing the results you’d like as quickly as you ‘d like?  If so, I encourage you to stay diligent in your practice, even when it seems you’re not making headway.

There are 2 things I know for certain:

  1. If you keep at it, you’ll eventually have a breakthrough
  2. If you quit, you wont

Do You Need To Make A Point

Earlier this week I was having a conversation with someone about recent events. At several times during the conversation, I felt like there was a point I could make about what they were saying.  Fortunately, I decided not to, and just listened to where they were coming from.  In that circumstance, I think I made the right choice.

Speaking from my own observations and experienced, it seems like people are all over the spectrum with regard to what they think, how they’re dealing with the current myriad issues and how they’re being impacted by those issues.  There are so many opinions, world-views and stressors on people, and so many different ways people are handling them, that it’s unlikely you’ll find someone on the exact same place on the spectrum as you are.  I certainly haven’t.  As such, in our effort to make a point, we could easy turn a conversation into a divisive exchange without even meaning to.

I think it would serve us well to know when the time to make a point is, and when it would be more appropriate to compassionately listen to someone in order to better understand where they are coming from.

May we continually be able to discern which response is appropriate for the conversations we find ourselves in.

Informed Vs.Over Saturated

There’s so much going on in world and the US lately!  Compared to what was happening just 6 months ago, it feels like we’ve been transported and dropped off in a whole new world.  As a result, there is so much news coming at us every hour (or very often in real time) in an attempt to keep us informed.  While it’s good to be informed, it’s not good to be over saturated.

When I watch too much negative news, it starts to impact my attitude and my thinking.  It leaves me feeling weighted down.  I’m grateful that I know this about myself, so that I can monitor my news intake and stop watching once I’ve been informed, instead of continuing to watching to the point of over saturation.  It’s good to know my limit!

Do you know your oversaturation limit for negative news?  If not, pay attention to your attitude and outlook based on the amount of news your consuming.  If you too find yourself being weighted down by current events, perhaps throttle back on the consumption.  Who knows, you might be able to improve your outlook, and free up some time, by watching less news.

Thoughts On Worry And Anxiety

I laugh when I look back at things that seemed like such a big deal in the moment, but are soon forgotten.  Like the time I tried to put in a sprinkler system in my yard.  It seemed so simple and made perfect sense on paper, until I actually set about the task.  After renting a ditch witch (that I didn’t even know how to operate) I proceeded to tear up my lawn in a failed attempt to dig trenches for the sprinkler lines.  I addition, I also broke off my main water line to the house at the meter while attempting to connect the sprinklers to water.  What a mess!

Needless to say, I was pretty anxious and discouraged in that moment, and for several moments beyond.  I had a hard time seeing past the big expensive-looking mistake I had just made and was worrying about I would get it corrected.

Fortunately, I was able to get things rectified.  The plumber came out and fixed the main water line, and a local landscaper came out and took over where I left off.  Never before have I been happier to pay for someone’s services!  Everything worked out, and before long, my discouragement and frustration were a distant memory.

I think back to my sprinkler event whenever I find myself experiencing a similar “adventure”.  This memory is important in that it helps me not to become anxious or fall into needless worry.  When I think back now about how much worrying I did over the sprinkler situation, it seems like such a waste of time.  I don’t want to waste time like that because it doesn’t achieve anything.  Mathew 6:27 sums it up well for me, “Can anyone of you, by worrying, add a single hour to your life?”  I know I can’t.

Dale Carnegie also has several good thoughts on worrying.  One of my favorites is, “Decide just how much anxiety a thing may be worth and refuse to give it more.”  I like the premise in this statement that we decide how much anxiety or worry we give something, and we can choose to give it less.

I hope you’ve got some “adventures” of your own, where in the moment they seemed like such a big deal, but after you worked through them, you now wonder why you worried so much.  If you do, use those memories to help regulate your anxiety when the next adventure occurs.  We’ve got better things to do with our lives besides parking in worry’s driveway.

Last Time For Everything

This week a good friend from church told me that they’ll be moving to another state to restore an old house they’ll be living in.  This friend has a real knack for restoration, interior design, and overall leaving the world better than they found it, so I’m super excited for this adventure of theirs.

I’ve been thinking of the years we’ve spent together in the same Sunday school class, the fun we’ve had playing in the worship band, and the great conversations we’ve had over the years.  I also remember the often-spoken kind and encouraging words from this friend that have been a source of joy and comfort as we’ve traveled life together for several years.

There’s a song I’ve heard recently by country singer Brad Paisley titled, “Last Time for Everything”.  It’s about how good things transition away, and as they go, you experience them for the last time.  This song, and my friend’s move, again remind me that we’re to enjoy the people, places, things, and even the time of life we’re currently in, while we have it, because things transition.

I’m certain my friend and I will continue to stay in touch and will no doubt see each other again in the future.  And I’m also reminded that while good things transition out of our life, just as often, equally good things transition in.

Those On Your Team

Earlier this week I had a video visit with my primary care provider.  Nothing major, just a follow up from a previous annual visit.  I really like my doctor and as he was talking to me, I was extremely grateful to have him to help me navigate the healthcare world when I need it.  I am grateful to have him on my team.

We all have a team.  Our team are those people we seek out when we need advice or guidance in an area where we are not very skilled or familiar with, or they’re those people we regularly visit to make sure we’re on the right path.  A team can consist of such things as a:

  • Doctor or dentist
  • Financial planner
  • Trusted mechanic
  • Personal trainer
  • Pastor
  • Coach

One thing that is nice about our team is that we get the privilege of picking who is on them.  As such, we should be looking for specific attributes when we’re looking for someone to join our team.  For example, what I especially appreciate about my doctor is that he takes the time to teach me about the concepts he’s talking to me about in a way that I can understand.  He doesn’t dump a bunch of jargon on me that I’m not familiar with, and then get frustrated that I don’t understand what he’s trying to tell me.  He actually teaches me.  I come away from my visits with him knowing more than I did when I arrived.

I also appreciate that he asks me if I have any questions.  He’s not an information dump truck that quickly dumps a pile of information on me and drives off.  He wants to make sure that I leave with my questions answered, versus making sure that I just leave.

The next time you’re seeking to add someone to your team, do your homework.  Make sure they have the attributes you’re looking from someone who will influence your decision making in a certain area of your life.  And if you have someone on your team that doesn’t have the attributes you’re looking for, perhaps it’s time to consider replacing them.  It’s your team.  Fill it accordingly.

The Meaning We Give It

When you hear a discouraging word or someone says something false or unkind about you, remember this:  those words only have the meaning you give them.

Unkind thoughts, words, or opinions of others are not an indictment or sentence someone else gets to place on you.  You are the one who decides what meaning, if any at all you give to those words.  If someone says that you’re, say, selfish, and you’re clearly not, you don’t have to be negatively impacted by theirs words or opinion.  You can decide that those words don’t ring true about you, and therefore have no meaning for you.  You are then free to let those words go and not carry them around with you.

If perhaps, in this scenario, you realize that you are indeed selfish, the meaning you give those words may be along the lines of agreement and that this is an area you’re going to seek to better yourself.  A rebuke of who you are is not the meaning you give them, but rather it’s a picture of something you’d like (you decide) to change about yourself.

We can also give positive meaning to words of encouragement or affirmation.  We can take these words to mean that we’re on track to being the person we’d like to become.

We are the ones who get to decide the meaning we give something.  It is not placed on us by others but determined by us alone.  What a privilege!

“Make every minute two:  one to experience it, one to savor it.”  ~Neal Peart

“Your gonna miss this.  You’re gonna want this back.  You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast.”  ~Trace Atkins – You’re Gonna Miss This

I’ve been thinking about the passing of time lately.  Isn’t it amazing how quickly it goes by?  Consider the following scenarios:

You plan a vacation and eagerly look forward to it.  Before you know it, you’re actually experiencing it.  Then, almost overnight, it seems, the trip is a 5-year-old memory.

You and your new spouse are just starting your lives together.  You’ve got nothing but dreams for the future that you’re excitedly anticipating.  You can hardly wait to move from your current situation to the life you envision.  Before you know it, you’ve realized some of your dreams and you’re looking back at where you started with 2 thoughts:

  • That went fast!
  • Those were some good times!

Time’s march, at a 24-hour cadence, is steady and brisk.  When I was in basic training for the Army National Guard (several decades ago!  Like it was yesterday.)  I was amazed at how slow each single day went, yet how fast the weeks and months seemed to fly by.

This steady cadence reminds me to take time to enjoy the experiences I’m having as I’m having them because they’ll be memories (and soon old memories) before I know it.

Let’s make sure to makes sure to not only experience our moments, but to savor them as well.  They go so fast that it would be worth stretching them out as much as we can.

Being an Expert

Earlier this week I was working on a project with two colleagues from work.  These two had spent a significant amount of time with the dataset we were working with, and it didn’t take long to realize that these two had a significant understanding of the intricacies of this data.

As we struggled to figure out a solution to our specific problem, one colleague said, “I feel like I should know more about be an expert at his point.”

His comment intrigued me and caused me to consider what an “expert” is.  We hear this term thrown around frequently, especially during this pandemic.  After thinking about his comment, I told him that I thought an expert was someone who has spent more time learning, understanding, and experiencing a topic than most folks.  Being an expert doesn’t mean we have all the answers (in my searching through definitions of expert, not one mentioned being all -knowing… that’s God’s domain!) it means we have knowledge, skill, and experience that we can apply to solve new problems and address new questions.

I told my colleague that definition would qualify him as an expert on the dataset we were working on.

We’re not required to have all the answers to be an expert, and we certainly don’t have to possess all the answers to offer our knowledge and experience to solve a problem.  So, the only expectation is that you share the knowledge, skill, and experience that you have.