ACT!

Do you know where you’re headed? Do you have a plan to get there? You’ll never reach your destination if you don’t take the first step!

Everything we attempt in life requires planning. No matter your age, a plan is necessary to achieve whatever goal you set. Maybe your goal is to write a book or to be a better parent. The only way to reach that goal is to strategically plan a course to accomplish the desired result. You have to begin to begin. Take a small step forward today. Don’t wait until tomorrow. The things we plan to start tomorrow become the regrets we face later in life.

Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” What is the first step? Write out a goal and then, ACT on it. Planning is pointless without action to put the plan in motion. Don’t bury the plan hoping that it will happen “in time.” ACT! That single action puts things in motion.

Author Katherine Anne Porter said, “I am appalled at the aimlessness of most people’s lives. Fifty percent don’t pay any attention to where they are going; forty percent are undecided and will go in any direction. Only ten percent know what they want, and even all of them don’t go toward it.” Most people get caught up in the busyness of life. They feel helpless to change their situation so they drudge ahead through the same routine without hope of accomplishing the things about which they used to be most passionate.

The person who aspires to write a book will only dream about it until they take pen to paper and begin to write. (Or put hands to the keyboard!) Many people never start toward a goal because they don’t know where to begin. One sentence on paper is closer than an entire book written in the mind. The idea is to begin. Start writing. It may never go any further but it is necessary to achieve the goal.

The parent who struggles with their child desires a strong relationship throughout their child’s life. It takes time to build the foundation for that strong relationship. So look at your calendar and plan time now!  Intentional time is more valuable than passive time. A child, from birth throughout college and beyond needs a parent to focus on and encourage them. Focused activity doesn’t just happen! It requires a plan and then setting that plan into action.

Goals are necessary to achieve a desired result in every area of life, be it relationships, dreams, or career aspirations. If you aren’t planning to achieve the next goal and putting action to the plan, you will not arrive at the desired result.  An object at rest stays at rest, but even the slightest motion has the power to bring great change. Once it has begun, it is nearly impossible to stop. God’s plan for your life requires your action.

Pray, plan, and act upon that plan. That is the only way to get to the destination!

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Back to Balance

Back to school is upon us. If your family is anything like ours, this time of year is a mix of relief because the kids have something to do and frustration because of the little unexpected extras a new school year brings. New fees, meetings with teachers, and practice schedules can play havoc with the family calendar. How do you find balance between school, work schedules (if your kids are older), extracurricular activities, and church, let alone time with family? It can be incredibly overwhelming!

Typically, the two things that suffer the most are time with family and church. Finding balance can be so difficult! If we aren’t intentional with our time, we find ourselves quickly becoming enslaved by the calendar. Waiting to get settled into a routine doesn’t work because routines tend to change so quickly. Before we realize it, the holiday season approaches and we are asking ourselves where the time has gone.

When we get caught living for tomorrow, today passes by quickly. We miss the moments where relationship could be built because the schedule demands we live life in fast forward, speeding from one event to the next. The modern family rarely eats a meal together that isn’t from a sack. It’s enough to make you want to pull your hair out while screaming, “No, I don’t want an apple pie with that! I want time to get to know my family better. You got any of that?”

Relax! Take a deep breath and let go of the clown’s throat. You can get through this school year with your family intact. All it takes is a little discipline and some planning! The hardest part is sticking to the plan when we so desperately want to hit the easy button.

Intentionality is crucial for a family in the hectic pace of society. Make a point of sitting at the table and eating a meal together, apart from electronic distractions. Take a few minutes to talk about their dreams and hopes. It doesn’t have to be an hour to make an impact. Fifteen minutes each day can build a solid relationship between parent and child. Make the moments you have each day count.

Planning out your mealtimes helps but you have to avoid the temptation to take the easy way out. Try a weekly menu and make it fun! Go for a walk together as a family. Once you establish a habit it’s so much easier to maintain. So make a plan and stick with it. Yes, it is hard, but remember what David said. “I will give the Lord nothing which costs me nothing.”

The Touch of a Father: Connecting with Your Teenage Daughter

f you are the father of a teenage girl, you have been entrusted with a great responsibility. It can be daunting. It’s not unusual to feel inadequate for the task. You may feel you have nothing to offer your little girl turned young woman.

In a dad’s eyes, she will always be a little girl. The idea that she will grow and become a young women is incomprehensible. We hold on to that image of our daughter in a beautiful new dress twirling for daddy’s approval. Our opinion mattered. We hugged and wrestled with her, building a relationship that engendered trust and a feeling of safety.

Then something happens beyond our control. Adolescence brings changes to our little girl that make sustaining the relationship downright awkward. She is becoming a young woman both inside and out. We don’t know exactly how to touch them without making them uncomfortable. Often, we withdraw at this formative time in a young woman’s life and defer to their mother’s wisdom. After all, she has an understanding of what our little girl is going through that, as a father, we can’t match.

We wonder why so many young Christian women find themselves in failing relationships. They know God’s plan for marriage and raising a family but they find themselves in compromising situations. These often lead to teenage pregnancy, increased school attrition rate, and a higher prevalence of depression.

There is a connection between a father’s feeling of inadequacy and a teenage daughter’s need to find love and acceptance. They need the touch of a father. The safety they became accustomed to is vital at this stage. Dads assume they know this is still there for them, but daughters often assume it is no longer available because Dad has withdraw.

In the space of a few months to a year, we go from wrestling and hugging each other with abandon to uncomfortable side hugs and strained communication. She questions what has changed and even looks at her body as unacceptable in her father’s eyes. She looks for acceptance else where and often finds it.

Fathers have to take the lead in this situation. Her opinion of self is based highly on her perception of your approval. Her ability to trust, love, and set strong, healthy relationship patterns is based on her relationship with you. It’s equally awkward to your daughter and she may reject you for a time, but pursue her. Show her she is worth fighting for. Make a point to hug her each day. Write her a note each week. Take her on a date monthly. It will establish a foundation for the love of her heavenly Father to grow and take her to places she wouldn’t dare dream. All from the touch of a loving father.

Selfless Service

Remember full service gas stations? When I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, they had begun to disappear. Those that were still operating had lost a great deal of the romantic novelty of the 50’s and 60’s versions where a crew of uniformed attendants would swarm over your automobile performing basic service like checking tire pressure and fluid levels while filling your gas tank. Instead a single person, typically a man in some sort of coveralls with their name stitched on their left chest pocket, would come out of the station, smoking a cigarette, and ask, “Regular or unleaded?” Then they would place the appropriate nozzle in the gas fill, and while wiping their hands on a faded red rag, they would indifferently ask, “How much you want?”

Chances are you won’t find that kind of service anymore unless you’re out in the more rural areas of our country. The desire to serve has been replaced by a mindset that gives just enough to keep us coming back because of a need that can’t be met anywhere else. Most of us would drive halfway across town at the thought we might save a couple of cents on a gallon of gas oblivious to the fact that we nullified our savings by driving there in the first place. It placates some part of us that wants as much as we can get for as little effort as possible.

For the vast majority of people today, that mindset is the way of life. Gone are the days when people would drive across town to help a friend in need simply because their friend needed a hand. Chances are if it doesn’t benefit the individual doing the giving in some way, they probably won’t give at all. When someone offers us something purely out of a desire to serve someone, we look at them and think, What’s the catch? We secretly keep score and dread the idea of accepting something from someone else out of a self-imposed obligation to the person who gave selflessly. How ridiculous is that?

I long for the days when people would go out of their way to do something for someone simply because they wanted to be bless that person. Selflessly sacrificing their time and energy to show love to someone in need is a prescription our society needs administered, stat! Our motivation for serving others is revealed when we hold what we’ve done over the heads of those we’ve helped. If we could simply take hold of the ideals set by this verse found in the book of John, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

A noble thought, right? But it’s about so much more than a willingness to die for your friend. The very notion of “lay down one’s life” speaks to the idea of placing the needs of others before self, or serving with no thought of gain. Another verse comes to mind, “The greatest among you must be a servant.”

In the book Three Feet from Gold, the author sought audience with the most successful people in our nations to ask them what lead to their achievement. He was astonished to find that those at the top had an attitude of service for those they encountered daily. In nearly every exchange, he was greeted with the question, “How may I serve you?” It brings to mind another bit of wisdom, “To whom much is given, much is required.”

But the term servant has such a negative connotation in society. We would prefer to be served. We deserve it. We’ve worked hard for what we have and want to enjoy it. What if, hypothetically, the next time your server came to your table you stood, offered them your chair, and proceeded to give them a glass of water? Ridiculous? How much better would the world be if we all sought out opportunities to serve rather than judging the poor service of those around us? After all, it’s better to give than to receive. And better still to give motivated by love without expectation of return, simply because you care and you can.

Who’s Watching You?

How much better the world would be if we didn’t act based on who’s watching us? Why do we try so hard to win the approval of others? What if we just did what we do and lived how we live? What if we truly were who we are in every circumstance?

Because people might not like us, that’s why! Maybe we aren’t all that impressed with ourselves so we think in order for someone else to find us valuable we have to be something we aren’t.

It really isn’t a uniquely human trait. We share the tendency to show-out with many other species that inhabit our planet. Men seem especially prone to this behavior but it isn’t expressly a male trait. Women are equally guilty but they tend to be somewhat more subtle in the approach. I think that’s so they have deniability, but they would never admit it!

From gorillas to lizards, the animal kingdom is full of examples of individuals making a spectacle of themselves in order to grab a little attention. Humans are no exception! We like to think we’re more evolved and civilized, but let your gaze fall upon that special someone sitting in the crowd at a competition and we all tend to crank it up a notch. Similar to a gorilla trying to tempt a mate, we puff out our checks and beat our chest as if to say, “Look at me!” Usually something unexpected follows, typically something funny or embarrassing. Rarely does it work out the way we hope, but we do it time and again anyway!

It’s fun to watch people at the mall or in a park because, if you watch closely, you can usually tell who’s competing for whose affection. It’s our mating ritual of sorts! I’m still guilty of it and my wife and I have been married 20 years! Let her walk by the court while I’m playing racquetball and you better believe I’ll run a little faster, try a little more and hit the ball a lot harder just to impress her and prove that she choose wisely! I might as well be in the forest shaking trees and grunting like an animal!

Women do it too, though they tend to be a little more reserved in the effort. They’re more like runners getting ready to take off on an endurance race cross country. They push a little, poking with their elbows, jostling for the best spot to start the race. They play on the reaction of the males seeking their attention while playing off the efforts of the very one they are hoping to attract. It’s a strange process, but it isn’t limited to male-female relationships!

 From the schoolyard to sports teams to the workplace, even in church, people are always pushing for favor! We try to catch the eye of that one person, hoping they’ll see us in the middle of the moment doing just the right thing in just the right way to elicit a complement or validation of some kind. We’re addicted to it. We crave affirmation like a junky craves a fix. We play it off, but deep down inside, most of us crave it.

How much better would it be if we always gave everything? No matter the situation, no matter who’s looking, with no desire to impress, we perform at 100% just because it’s the right thing to do? The world would be a different place for sure! But it’s difficult to always go full out. We hold back ever so slightly so that we still have something left for what we really want to be doing. Maybe the real problem isn’t consistency in our character but the motivation with which we do what we do. No, I imagine until the end of it all, we will see young men making fools of themselves’ to win the attention of that young lady gently jostling her way to the best position for him to see her act like she’s uninterested. No wonder we’re so confused and relationships are so hard!

Crash the Machine

Sometimes I wish life came with a reset switch. Kind of like the Staples Easy Button, but better. When I’ve made a stupid decision, just flip the switch and we’re back to the moment before the poor choice but with the added knowledge time provides. Like system restore on a computer, it would definitely have it’s advantages.

I’m not sure if it’s just a product of my generation or if most people have wished for a do-over. Video games only seem to encourage the idea. If I’m losing, it’s so easy to start over. Some games even have the ability to rewind in the midst of play to a point prior to the moment you want erased. How convenient is that! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished that I could find that box Mario found that gave him unbeatable strength or even an extra life. It’s never happened, but I hoped for it nonetheless.

In all honesty, sometimes I get so overwhelmed, I just want to unplug the machine. Don’t take me wrong, this isn’t about giving up; it’s about escaping the things that push me to the brink. It would be far easier to unplug the machine before it crashes then deal with the situations life sometimes puts in our path. It’s in that moment I want to hide from life’s trials and reboot the system.

It would be advantageous. I would never be fearful of stepping out of my comfort zone because I could always go back to that moment before I took a risk. Think of the chances you would take! Some good, some not so good. Come to think of it, life without consequence might seem appealing, anarchy often does, but some choices shouldn’t be made.

The disadvantages of a life lived with no thought given to cause and effect far outweighs any foreseen benefits. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take risks, but they need to calculated. We need to be wise and make decisions fully aware of possible consequences.

Are you comfortable with the possible result of the decisions you’ve made today? Are there things you should have done and didn’t because you were afraid to fail? Are there things you wish you could take back?

The sooner we realize that we won’t hit it out of the park every time we step to the plate the better off we will be. It’s better to stand in the batter’s box and face the day swinging than sit on the bench because you’re afraid of the ball. Just because you’re at the plate doesn’t mean you should try to crush it over the fences. Some situations call for a bunt.

You have to be in the moment to know what the situation calls for, and you can’t be in the moment when you’re afraid to try or too overwhelmed to get involved. Chances are if we want to push the reset button our choices put us in that position and yes, not choosing to act is a choice. Rare is the time that we find ourselves in a predicament that’s completely out of our control. If we look back along the timeline of our lives we can probably find the exact moment that led us to the circumstance that’s got us frustrated and ready to blow.

So before you hit the reset, take a moment and look at where you’re at. Once you’ve come to grips with the idea that somewhere along the path your choices, however round about, brought you to this place, accept it. OWN IT! Make the most of it. Figure out what one thing you could change right now to make it better and do it.

Change comes from within, not without, and it takes a great deal of determination to achieve. Don’t make wholesale changes and set unreasonable expectations on your day! That’s what leads us to frustration. Find joy in the moments where you are truly doing what you’ve been called to do, it will help to temper the times when you’re carrying someone else’s ball. And when you’ve done all you can do, as Paul stated so wisely, stand. You have choices to make today! Choose wisely!

Extinguished

Ever feel burnt out? Like the torch at the end of an episode of Survivor, your flame has been snuffed. Only, you don’t get to leave the island. The game isn’t over and you don’t feel like going on, but you have no choice.

If only life were like a game. You play until your flame goes out then you go and relax until the game starts up again. Real life doesn’t work like that though. Often times you simply need to push through, but how can you when your flame is barely an ember? In those moments when we feel like everything is coming down around us and we can’t possibly go on, we often are a step away from a breakthrough.

We fight against so many things in life and, honestly, many of the battles aren’t ours to begin with. We take the weight of the world (not literally, but it can seem so heavy) and wonder why we never seem to achieve what we set out to accomplish. We spin our wheels because we can’t get the necessary traction. We spread ourselves so thin. We try to solve the problems of everyone we feel responsible for, all the while, forgetting to take responsibility for ourselves. In that moment, we loose our passion and drive. Our flame begins to diminish.

How great would it be to have the passion you once had before life began to wear away at you? No, it’s easier to not try than to experience the hurt of never realizing our passions. The stress of achievement might just be to great. Maybe you can’t take another disappointment. Besides, you have to many people counting on you to solve all their problems, they need you to be strong for them. Your passion will have to wait.

Did you know that one technique for fighting fires, especially forest fires, is to light smaller fires in the path of the oncoming blaze to consume the fuel the larger fire would need to continue. Through controlled burns, they create a firebreak to stop the fire or make it more manageable. In dire cases, they will use backfiring to consume entire areas in an attempt to redirect the flames. Dynamite can even be used to cause a massive loss of oxygen at the source of the burn in a hope to extinguish the fire.

Sounds like life to me. Often times when my passion is strong, it’s not failure that extinguishes my flame, but the wildfires I’m forced to deal with that take the energy and fuel that would have kept me burning. Many times things blow up that are beyond my control. Those explosions take resources that I had planned to use down the road. They eat up the tinder that would have kept my fire burning.

It’s not the fault of the fires. How ridiculous would it be for me to get mad at the flames, and what good would it do? You have to know what needs your immediate attention in the moment, deal with it and then move on to the next, all the while remembering that your flame is your responsibility and you need to protect it. Do all you can to keep an ember burning. Sometimes, you’ll have to let someone else handle all those other fires. They might have been set to distract you from the things that need your attention most.

Instead, we often try to fight all fires, ours and those of others in an attempt to protect those we love. We take on their stress and add it to our own. Eventually, we buckle under the strain. We try to deal with everyone’s adversity but often find ourselves personally crumbling because we haven’t done what was necessary in our own lives. We haven’t tended our own flame so we burnout. The adversity that was meant to make us stronger destroys us because our fuel was burnt up before we ever began the fight.

Parents, we can be guilty of this in the lives of our kids. We want to save them from a lesson we learned. We put so much effort into protecting them from adversity, we forget what the trial did for us. We fight their fires for them but our job is to teach them to fight on their own.

Adversity isn’t bad. Adversity helps us grow. When our faith is tested and we stand firm, perseverance is our reward. When we see that we can make it when all hope seemed lost, our faith becomes even stronger. When we tend to our faith, we keep life in our flame! What a great lesson to teach our kids and what a wonderful gift to show the world!

When all seems to be falling down around you and you’ve done all you can do, stand firm! Finish your race! Not my words, but Paul knew what life could do to those without faith. He understood the necessity of passion to drive us when the fight was raging. It was true then and it’s true today. Hold onto your faith and tend to your flame.