A Thought On Unity

There’s a lot of talk currently about how divided we are in the US.  While I think that’s true, I also think there is a lot that still unites us. 

Consider the following things that still unite us with other people:

  • Family
  • Friendships
  • Church and religious beliefs
  • Hobbies
  • Places we work
  • Clubs and affinity groups
  • Colleges and universities we’ve attended
  • Civic groups
  • Volunteer organizations
  • Common goals
  • Neighborhoods
  • Common experiences
  • Countries or states of origin

That’s a good, yet incomplete list!  We don’t realize all the things that bring unity until we pause long enough to consider them.  I’m encouraged by such list. 

Unity doesn’t mean “in total agreement with”.  In fact, we can have unity with someone, even when we don’t agree with them.  For example, you can disagree with a relative, yet still have unity with them as a member of your family. 

Disagreeing, or having differing viewpoints, with someone doesn’t mean we can’t have unity with them.  We’re not required to hate someone and treat them poorly, simply because we don’t agree with them on a specific topc. Why would we sacrifice unity on the altar of disagreement?  Why would we throw out a relationship simply because of differing viewpoint or opinion?  That seems wasteful to me.

When you have a disagreement with a friend, family member, or someone you currently have unity with, remember that you can still be united, even amidst differing opinions or viewpoints.

Unity and disagreement are not mutually exclusive.

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.

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.

Start At Disaster

I’ve been playing the electric bass for 3 years now, and while I know a whole lot more than I did 3 years ago, I’m acutely aware that I have a lot more to learn.

When I listen to professional bass players, or those who have put in years of effort, I’m amazed at the skill and mastery they possess.  To me, their playing looks effortless, and reminds me how far I still have to go.  Yet their skill also reminds me that every master was once a disaster.

I know for certain that the best bass players didn’t start out that way.  When they first picked up a bass for the first time, they were likely a disaster… just like I was!  They didn’t stay there however.  They put in the effort to eventually become a master at their craft.

I think that’s cool.  Mastery isn’t the starting point, disaster is.  When we begin something new, we’re not supposed to be any good at it.  You know why?  BECAUSE IT’S NEW!

It’s only when we continuously learn about our chosen craft and apply what we’ve learned, that we’re on our way toward mastery.  And if we continue this process, we are, by definition, a success:

“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal.”  ~Earl Nightingale

So, embrace the disaster that you’re sure to be at the beginning of your next new undertaking.  For it’s the starting point on your journey toward mastery.

What Goes In Comes Back Out

I’ve recently finished listening to a couple of audio books that has some “colorful” language sprinkled throughout.  Not a big deal.  In fact, I use to swear a lot as a teen and young adult.  However, now I prefer not having those words in my vocabulary.  The just don’t align with how I want to present myself to the world.

While the audio books were extremely interesting, I noticed that they sere influential in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

Since listening to them I’ve found myself muttering expletives under my breath when I get frustrated with something.  It was hardly noticeable at first, but I’m noticing it occurring more often. I’m reminded how what we allow into our mind has a way of coming back out in our thoughts, speech and actions., especially when we’re squeezed or under pressure.  Therefore, need to be more discerning with regard to the content I’m allowing into my mind.

I like what Philippians 4:8 states,

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things

I’m going to focus more on doing this, because I want to make sure what comes out, through my thoughts, speech, or actions, is a positive result of the good things I’ve placed in my mind.

We Choose

Weird times going on in the world today!  We have an abundance of uncertainty, and with it comes the potential for fear, anxiety, and worry.  It’s important to realize this, because left unchecked, these feelings can cause us to behave in ways that we might otherwise not.

We choose how we behave.  Circumstances don’t make us act poorly; we choose to act poorly.  Situations don’ cause to treat others badly.  We choose to do that too.

The good news is that in spite of situations or circumstances, we can also choose to treat others well.  We can choose to treat others with compassion and dignity. That choice is completely up to us.

So, let’s pay attention to how we’re choosing to treat one another.  Let’s choose to treat each other well; not just during these crazy times, but from this moment forward.

That sounds pretty good to me!