Friends Sharpening Friends

I currently facilitate an adult Bible study group at our church.  I’ve been doing it for several years, and I just love the folks that attend!  They consistently show up eager to discuss the section of scripture we’re studying and share their knowledge, while also remaining open to the fact that we don’t know everything, and that we all still have much to learn.  Spending time with them every Sunday is one of the highlights of my week!

I was especially encouraged by our group this week when one of the members suggested that we have a Zoom meeting during the week to further discuss a specific concept we were studying in our weekly class.  (Right now, we’re in the middle of studying the book of Romans.)  The class was up for it, so this person scheduled the meeting and sent out invites.  We met for almost 90 minutes on Thursday evening to dig deeper into our study.  It was an enjoyable and energizing time.

I love spending time with growth minded people. There’s a verse in the Bible that states, “As iron sharpens iron, so a fried sharpens a friend.”  May we all look for, and spend time with, those friends that sharpen us.  So too should we do our part to sharpen them as well.

It’s Not Always Someone Else

When you see a natural disaster on TV or hear about people dealing with life challenges, it’s easy to think that those kinds of things only happen to other people.  Until they happen to you.

In the past 2 years I’ve had some life events happen that, in the past, I would have seen as things that happen to other people, but not to me.  One was some health news and another is the current wildfires burning in Oregon that is directly impacting friends and family.

Its’ quite different when these things are happening to you versus happening to others.  When it happens to others we think, “That’s too bad” and then go about our business.  It’s different when it’s happening to us, because we can’t just turn it off or change the channel like we do when we’re watching a disaster on the TV.  When it’s happening to us, we’re living it, and there is no off switch.

I’m reminded of the importance of empathy toward others in the struggles they face.  While that doesn’t mean I have to take on, and be responsible for, everyone’s burdens, it does remind me that others don’t have an off switch in the troubles they face either.  With that in mind, I should offer what I can to help others in their struggles, because I know I appreciate it when others do that for me.

Enjoying What We Have When We Have It

I’ve really been enjoying summer this year, which seems odd due to this being the Summer of COVID.  Like many people, I’ve been working from home since late March, so my morning commute has morphed from a 20-minute drive into a walk through the neighborhood with my wife.  It’s been great!

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I love early sunny mornings in the summer.  The bright, calm, cool skies, coupled with the quiet, slow pace that exists before the world starts to wake up and get busy, is one of my favorite parts of summer.

As September has arrived, I am keenly aware that these beautiful mornings will soon give way to the gray, cold, rainy events that describe many late fall and winter mornings in the Pacific Northwest.  This certainty fills me with a sense of urgency to take advantage of these sunny mornings as much as I can before they’re gone for the season.  I don’t want to waste a single remaining morning, because as soon as rainy mornings are the norm, I’ll wish I had taken advantage of any sunny mornings I might have squandered in the summer.

Therefore, my plan is to enjoy them as much as I can while I still have them.  I want to look back on them this fall and winter with the satisfied feeling that comes from knowing I appreciated what I had when I had it. 

Is there anything currently in your life that will soon be gone, either for a season or for good?  If so, enjoy it while you have it.

It Was Awesome

Last week my wife and I spent an evening at Crater Lake National Park.  While the deep blue water of the lake is reason enough to visit, I was there primarily for the clear, dark, moonless sky that would prove ideal for stargazing.  (The sunset and following sunrise were a delightful bonus!)  Seeing the Milky Way over Crater Lake was an Oregon bucket list item I was looking forward to checking off.

Wile we were at an overlook on the east side of the lake, with our picnic dinner watching the sunset, we met a guy named Aaron from Columbus Ohio that was traveling through Oregon after a recent business trip.  He was telling us that he and his wife were eager to move out to Oregon after some family obligations that wee keeping them in Ohio.

We continued taking as the sun set, until finally the darkened sky revealed the Milky Way that stretched overhead from north to south.  It was absolutely beautiful.

The three of us took turns pointing out satellites, and shooting starts and unanimously agreeing that this was awesome.

It was awesome, and not just the starts.  I think it was awesome that even during this season of so much division and turmoil in our country and world, my wife and I could share such a cool experience with someone who, hours before was a stranger, but someone who left as a friend.

May we all be on the lookout for opportunities to share a kind word, friendly conversation, or cool experience with those around us.

Small Beginnings

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin […]”   ~Zechariah 4:10

The first stages of a new venture always seem small.  Whether it’s getting in shape, building and growing a business, pursuing an educational goal, building a new house, learning a new skill, or any number of big worthy pursuits, the initial steps are small and feel insignificant when compared to the overall goal.  However, it’s important not to poo-poo this stage in the process, because from small, seemingly insignificant beginnings are where great things start.

Very rarely (actually never, in my experience!) does a big goal start out as a great success in the early stages.  Significant results come slow initially, and require consistent effort over time… lots of time!  This is where people can feel like they aren’t making progress, become frustrated, and give up on their goal during the small beginnings. 

For this reason, it’s important to be aware that our big goals will grow from small beginnings, so we shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed by them.  Small beginnings should be an expected, and even welcomed, part of the pursuit of our goals.

Is there a goal you’ve recently started that you’re feeling frustrated by?  Does the lack of perceived progress leave you considering giving up on your goal?  If so, I encourage you to look at this time as the small beginnings of your larger goal; much like the progress of the growth of a large oak tree.  Would you be frustrated with an oak that was only a few inches tall after a year?  Out of frustration, would you pull that young oak out of the ground and throw it away because it wasn’t a full-grown mature oak after such a short time?  Of course not!

Then why would we do that with our goals?

You Learn As You Go

I did it!  I potted and started pruning my first Bonsai tree.  Last week I wrote about how I finally caused something to happen to get me int Bonsai.  Now I’m learning that although I’ve discovered much about potting, pruning and shaping, there’s still a lot I don’t know, but that’s not keeping me from getting started.

After I got my juniper start, I was reading how to pot it and discovered that there is a lot written about the soil you should use.  Apparently, there are certain soil mixtures that work best for certain trees.  I found myself getting overwhelmed with what specific kinds of soil to use, where to get it, and whether I was making the right choice.  Ultimately, all these questions were keeping me getting the juniper potted.

Finally, after much reading, and little success finding the perfect soil mixture, I bought a plain old bag of Bonsai soil and got it potted.  Maybe the exact soil would have been a better choice, but for me, the more important point is to just get started and learn as I go.

My plan with learning Bonsai is to gather enough knowledge to take the next step… and then to take it.  I can always check my results and adjust my actions as I gain experience. 

I’m grateful we don’t have to have all the answers before we get started on a new endeavor.  For me, a lot of the fun comes from learning as I go.

Causing Something To Happen

For about 2.5 decades I’ve had this recurring interest in Bonsai trees.  I’m intrigued by their shape and diminutive size and how you can shape them and train them to get the look you’re after.  I’ve always thought, “that would be fun to get into”, but I never have… until now.

A few weeks ago, I began thinking about Bonsais again, only this time I caused something to happen.  I watched a video of Bonsai expert Peter Chang pruning an Alberta Spruce from a nursery.  That caused me to go to the library and checkout (and read!) some books on Bonsai.  That caused me to run down to a local nursery and pick up a small juniper that I will shape and train into a beautiful Bonsai tree.  I’m finally getting into Bonsai!

This week I was reminded that, if we are interested in a desired result, how important it is to cause something to happen toward that end.  The video lead to the books, which lead to purchasing a small plant I will shape and pot.  It isn’t until we take action that will cause something to happen that things actually start happening.

So, what do you need to cause to happen?

A Lesson From A Blueberry Bush

This summer the blueberry bushes at my house have been going crazy! We have 3 young bushes and for the past several years they’ve been somewhat light in the production department.  This year, however, they seemed to have turned a corner and re producing more berries that we can keep up with.  It’s quite a change from years past when they produced only a couple of handfuls per season.

Fortunately, my wife and I were aware that it takes a time for the bushes to mature before they start yielding a large quantity. Therefore, we weren’t mad at the bushes in the early years.  We didn’t put the plants in the ground one day and expect a bumper crop the next.  We realize that it takes time

These bushes remind me that learning something new also involves a process that takes time.  We all know this.  Yet we often become frustrated with ourselves when we expect to be further along in the process after only a short time.  The best thing we can do when learning a new skill is to realize that it will take time… and to be ok with that.  We simply have to put in the effort over time and the results are sure to follow.

Here’s a fun thing you can do to observe the impacts of time on something you’re actively trying to learn.  Write yourself an email that will be sent to you one year from today.  In that email describe what you’re attempting to lean and the level of skill you currently possess.  When you read the email next year, you’ll likely be amazed at how far you’ve come.

Building Valuable Experience

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

We often think that learning takes place in a controlled environment like a classroom or an online course.  Here, lessons are orderly, information is dispersed, and an opportunity to apply the knowledge we’ve gained is provided.  While this is certainly one way to gain knowledge, the best learning and experience is usually gained when the wheels are coming off.

Don’t get me wrong, the base knowledge we gain on a topic from classroom instruction, or in other ideal conditions, is crucial in helping us develop an understanding of our topic of choice.  However, when we find ourselves having to apply this knowledge to solve a problem in an uncontrolled setting where conditions are far from ideal, that’s where experience is forged.  And that experience is valuable!

Consider the following scenarios:

  • Parenting a child through a challenging time or situation
  • Restoring a computer network outage that is keeping scores of people from working
  • Leading a family or team through an unexpected tragedy
  • Running a business during a global pandemic

Problems like these can easily cause us to feel like we’re in over our heads, which may be accurate. What we can do, is take the skills and knowledge we’ve gained to this point and focus it toward solving the problem we’re facing.  No, it’s never fun to be in “rough seas”, but if we can see past the storm and be confident in our abilities to apply what we have, we’ll likely come through with a greater depth of experience, and even wisdom, than we possessed before.

Be confident and apply what you’ve learned.

Enjoying It While You Can

It’s summer in the Pacific Northwest and that means it’s sunny when I wake up!  I usually get out of bed around 5:30 AM, and most of the year it’s dark at that time, and depending on the time of year, it can also be rainy as well.  Knowing this makes sunny summer morning that much more enjoyable. 

Since I’ve started working from home, I’ve been making sure to get out and walk around the neighborhood before work begins.  These sun-filled walks get me feeling good and charged up for the day ahead.   I’m doing my best to take advantage of these beautiful mornings, knowing that they will soon be replaced by darker and even rainier ones.

My walks are a reminder for me to enjoy what I have while I have it.  Before long, the warm sunny mornings will be memories, leaving me eagerly looking forward to the following summer, when they make their splendid return.  For now, I’m doing my best to enjoy them while they’re here.

Do you have something in your life that will be, or could potentially be, gone soon?  If so, be sure to enjoy it now, while you still have the opportunity.  Because once it’s gone, you’ll be glad you did.