Tag Archives: journey

Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect … But it Sure Helps!

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I’m counting the days now.  I have five precious days between now and then. I have a tad less than 120 hours between now and then.  I have two formal lessons between now and then.  I also have two children to teach, three scheduled appointments to attend, and six youth group children to lead between now and then.

This is something I’ve prepared for over the course of the past 11 years, more heavily over the past two years, but devotedly over the past six months.  Call it a hobby, if you must, but I call it a passion; I call it part of me; I call it dedication.  What is it that lives in my future, a breath away, anticipating my appearance?

In five days, I will stand with a group of peers, before an examination board of five members to demonstrate my abilities in Soo Bahk Do while seeking a rank promotion.  Soo Bahk Do, a traditional Korean martial art, is not a sport, so to suggest that my demonstration involves competition would be technically incorrect. However, on that particular night on the floor of the dojang, I will be in competition – not the competition that would bring to mind two rivals ferociously seeking to triumph over their opponent, but rather the competition that occurs within oneself. Instead of demonstrating superiority over my peers, I will be contending for outstanding execution  of all I’ve ever learned. I will be competing for my finest hour … er … three hours.

Competition. Does it conjure up a positive feeling?  If team sports, such as baseball, football, or soccer, have been part of your life, or perhaps part of the life of your children, competition can feel inspiring or motivating. Likewise, it can also feel discouraging or disheartening, probably depending upon the outcome of the event!  The same is true for those that compete in individual sports or arts, such as gymnastics, dance, golf … or martial arts.

Until recently, I’ve viewed competition as rivals attempting to triumph at the cost of defeating of the other. Both sides walk away; one having conquered, the other having surrendered. Personally, that has always presented a conundrum … how to feel completely content with that win, understanding that it came at a cost to others. At the heart of it, however, we discover that we compete with others, not against others, since we are all striving together to produce excellence. To give the opponent anything less than our best would be out of the question, as it would prohibit them from improving themselves.

Despite the fierce competition that comes from the outside, competition within ourselves can be even more intense as we know better than any other where our capabilities lie and therefore know when we’ve fallen short. While it’s true that we are typically our own worst critics, we can positively utilize that inner-striving to produce excellence. We can use both setbacks and success to improve ourselves. To use setbacks for the purpose of growth is called grace, and as we extend grace to others, we need to extend it to ourselves as well. To fail gracefully, while learning from the process, is a win. We can view our very best attempt as a win, simply because we attempted.

On my journey to this newest martial arts rank advancement, I’ve achieved so many smaller successes.  Previous rank advancements would be obvious achievements. But I’ve also learned the art of dedication and drive, the profession of perseverance and practice, the capacity to comprehend new material, and the ability to overcome adversity in training, Incrementally I have received lessons, beyond the techniques themselves, that I didn’t expect to learn inside the four walls of the dojang.

Soon I will take part in a dan classing where my technique will be showcased to five examiners. While I do not yet know the outcome of that event, I do know that I have grown through the process of preparation. I have developed in ways that far surpass my technique alone.  Fortunately, my instructor is more concerned about my development than my three hours on the floor.

Interestingly, that’s just how God works. He refines us from the inside out and cares about our growth through the process we call life.  Our striving in life mirrors our striving in the various arts and sports … and through both, we grow.

I’ve absorbed, practiced, and persevered. After all that, I still cannot claim perfection in technique. On October 11, 2013, I’ll be leaving the results to God. Like my instructor, He too is interested in the process of development and any lessons left to learn, He will be teaching me!

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LOOK UP!

Seriously. Look up, especially if there are currently others near you. You’ll find it doesn’t take much effort to direct the attention of others in the direction you look. Don’t believe me? Do it. Look up!

As I explained this concept to my younger sons, it was easy to see that they they didn’t believe that they have the power to direct anyone’s attention in any direction. So tonight I assigned them *homework* while they are at school tomorrow. All they need to do is look up while with someone. I’m confident that they will find that they are indeed capable of directing attention. In fact, even animals can direct our attention!

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It doesn’t seem very important, does it? But it carries much more weight than a simple sociology experiment carried out in the classroom of an elementary school by my children.  We’re always being observed … by our boss, colleague, teacher, peer, parent, friend  and yes, even by our foe. Those observations carry with them incredible opportunities, but if we lack awareness, they will be missed.

With the choices I make personally, I have opportunities to influence someone in either a positive or negative manner. That choice will cause others to at least momentarily direct their attention my way.

So what do I want others to see in me?

  • I want them to see someone that works hard and plays hard;
  • I want them to see someone who is trustworthy;
  • I want them to see someone that is both kind and loving;
  • I want them to see someone that lives courageously;
  • I want them to see someone who is grateful; and most importantly
  • I want them to see Christ, not really me.

That imparts so much more significance to our choices, yes? While others look at me, I need to be looking up!  I need to be Christ-centered, demonstrating godliness in my actions, behaviors, and choices because others are watching me. I want them to have what I have, to know Who I know, to love and be loved by Him.

It’s such a simple concept bearing more power than we often realize.

Look up! Others are watching you.

Colossians 3:23

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.

Second Sock Syndrome (Or Do It Again! and again and again)

socksKnitting.  Apparently it’s all the rage.  I didn’t know that when I discovered my new love a little less than four months ago. But honestly I’m grateful that knitting is considered trendy right now since it opens up so many doors for me by way of local yarn shops, publications, websites, inspirations, and co-addicts  fellow knitters.

Four months into this new hobby, I have created approximately 15 scarves, 10 hats, a varied numbers of cowls, headbands, washcloths, and fingerless gloves. Yes, I am even in the process of knitting (gulp) socks.

When a friend told me she knitted her socks, my immediate questions was, “What possesses you?”  I would ogle the socks that adorned her feet, studying the micro stitches and intricate patterns, and a feeling of incapability would immediately wash over me.  Each time this happened, I would quickly dismiss the notion of knitting socks as something only attempted by the most masterful knitter or the criminally insane.  I was neither so I was safe.

It’s never really that easy though, is it?  I wounder if you are much like I am. When faced with something that appears to be essentially impossible, it becomes difficult to dismiss for more than ten minutes at a time.  An inner voice whispers in my ear, softly at first, then louder with the passage of time, like a child whose questions have gone unheard for too long.

“You can do it.” “You CAN do it.” “YOU can DO it!” “YOU CAN DO IT!”

OK.  Admittedly, THAT is about all the motivation that I require to tackle something new.  Understandably, there are things that I cannot do.  A triple twisting back flip off a 4″ ledge comes quickly to mind.  Other than that, I appreciate a challenge and typically work hard to accomplish a new goal.  In cases such as this, motivation runs naturally high for me.

For three weeks now I have knit with needles the size of toothpicks and yarn seemingly no thicker than thread. I have watched the pattern emerge as I repeatedly hold my first sock to my foot and imagine the end product, all while I question the sanity of working so hard at something that will soon be covered up by a boot!

As that first sock nears completion, however, the stark realization sets in. That exact sock needs to be knit again.  This time around will be easier since I have just proven that, in fact, I can knit a sock.  But the motivational level has dropped significantly. This is a project that I have already done. I really want to set my sights on the horizon and select a new project rather than repeating the  exact item I just completed.  In the knitting community, this is known as Second Sock Syndrome and it often strikes both the seasoned and new knitter with a vengeance.

This mirrors life, doesn’t it?  Whether in school, at work, or in the home, there are many tasks that require repetition.  A student will daily board the school bus, arrive at a prescribed time, navigate the halls to attend classes, work complicated math problems and write long papers. At home we never truly finish the laundry, meal prep, or dishes.  And even though the same carpet has been vacuumed thousands of times, it will require it again and again and again.  In the work environment, there will always be meetings to attend, customers to serve, and files to be restored.  Often these tasks will involve the same people on a daily basis.

Conversely, a two year-old will repeatedly squeal with delight, yelling, “More, more!” as you pop your head over the top of his favorite blanket in a jovial game of Peek-A-Boo!  A year later, he will plead with you, “Do it again!” as you twirl him around the backyard, helicopter fashion.  At five years-old, he will be in front of the TV at 11 a.m. to watch SpongeBob and find humor in it – even when he has watched the same episode three times already.

I have no doubt that, at a young age, there is still a freshness to much of life in just the everyday, so unless it involves potty training, self-motivation is extremely accessible.

How often do we squeal with delight, singing out, “Do it again!” as we dislodge the vacuum cleaner from the closet and prepare to vacuum the carpet? Have we ever seen anyone board a school or city bus, smiling and calling out, “More! More!”?  Do we find excitement in running the same backup tapes at work as a myriad of colorful lights flash excitedly before our eyes?

So what motivates you? Since Second Sock Syndrome set in with me, I’ve begun questioning people about their motivation in the everyday.  The answers are always varied. Some are surprising, others are more predictable. Some are internal motivators, others are external motivators. Examples include:

  • the threat of punitive measures if not completed (fear);
  • the desire to please someone else (recognition);
  • the determination to set a good example for others (futurity);
  • the opportunity to grow in both patience and persistence (progress);
  • the hope of learning new information (knowledge acquisition) ; and
  • the start-strong, finish-strong mentality (achievement).

Regardless of the motivation, I find there is always one thing that remains constant.  That constant is an end goal that the person sees and strives to attain.  The student strives for the grade in hopes of a scholarship.  The employee strives to meet or exceed expectations at the end of the day, week, month or year, in anticipation of a salary increase, promotion, or both. The stay-at-home mom strives to create an environment that is both aesthetically pleasing and physically comfortable for her family.

Motivation is really a requirement in goal accomplishment since it usually determines whether or not we will even attempt to achieve our goals. Therefore it becomes important to realize what our motivators are. What do we respond well to? From where do we draw our strength to continue?  Are we able to develop internal motivation or do we depend solely on external motivators? As individuals we all differ in what drives us, yet there is motivation in nearly everything we do.

Today I invite you to consider your motivators. Determine what moves you toward your goals. By knowing and understanding your personal motivators, you create a life line in time of need when you are able to recall WHY you are doing something – especially when it appears mundane.

That Second Sock Syndrome I refer to?  It CAN be beat … I need only put the first sock on my foot to realize how important it is to finish the task!

Philippians 3:13-14

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 

The Stepping Stone in the Journey

Minnesotans … We’re a people known for our extended goodbyes. We start saying goodbye in the living room, lumber through the dining room remembering missed conversations, progress slowly to the entryway discussing plans for tomorrow, follow the guests out the the driveway while providing armfuls of hugs and ample driving advice, and then wave unceasingly as the guests drive out of view. Eventually we walk back inside and turn off the lights, resigning ourselves to the fact that our guests have left.

I’m in the process of saying goodbye now and it is tough. Incredibly tough.

I’ve had the same neighbor for over 20 years now. Rob has been a friend, a confident and quite often a role model to my children. For 18 of those 20 years, he has consistently beaten back the cancer monster. He would go into remission time and time again, only to have it rear it’s ugly head in some other form, but Rob was a fighter and no one ever thought that cancer could overcome him.

As I sat inside Rob’s living room, perched on the couch next to his bed, I made light conversation with him, hoping that he was able to hear and process at least some of the things I spoke to him. Occasionally he would open his eyes and I would see him in there, looking at me, wanting to talk but unable.

“The Cowboys won last night. It was a close game, but they pulled it off in the end.”

“You’ve been the best of neighbors. I couldn’t have asked for better.”

“Thanks for always being there when we needed you. We appreciate you.”

“We’ll be here to help JoAnne out. Don’t worry about her at all.”

“It won’t be long now and your body will be restored; healed.”

“I love you. You will be missed.”

While Rob slept on and off, I gently held his hand and talked to his wife seated across the other side of his bed.  We talked about his childhood memories, his kind nature, his football allegiances, his squirrel-shooting hobby, the length of his illness, and his incredibly valiant efforts to survive his odds.

“He didn’t deserve this.” she said.  I nodded in agreement. He so did not deserve this.

“This isn’t what it’s about. Life is just a stepping stone for what follows.” she continued.

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Bird’s Feather Stepping Stone

Amen. I could not have said that better myself. A stepping stone … intricately designed before being carefully set in place, then lovingly positioned into just the right spot, placed to   provide both direction and confidence of footing on the journey. Once established in its given path, it quickly becomes dirty with use and time, yet is easily restored to its initial beauty with one sweeping motion.

A stepping stone … just a small part of a journey along a much longer path. Over time it wears down. Through the hot sun, the brisk winds, and the seasonal storms, it gradually erodes – an unavoidable process that begins at the exact moment it is laid in place. Amid the dirt of life and the inevitable erosion, the One who laid that stone is enthralled with its beauty while understanding its very temporary nature.  Quite often, time itself will cause that stone’s mere existence to cease. Other times, there will be situations that expedite the process.  One day there may even come those that have never known of the stone’s existence.  And yet, fragments will continue to be carried along in the sands, leaving an indelible footprint; proof of its time here on earth.

It looked painfully obvious to me that Rob needed to be moving on from this life. His stepping stone had been well-utilized, but was now wearing so very thin.  Even though Rob wasn’t a Minnesota native, he (not unlike myself) had mastered the long goodbye – both in everyday life and in leaving for the next life. Now, however, was my turn to linger. In my heart, I knew this was probably my very last earthly goodbye to my friend and walking out his door was extremely difficult. I kissed my dear friend on the head, gently hugged his frail body, and told him I loved him one last time.

Today Rob’s stepping stone has served its purpose; his earthly journey complete.

A light has gone out indicating that one of earth’s guests has gone home.

God speed, my friend. You will be so very missed.

Romans 8:38-39

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Go Beyond Saturated

Saturated. What comes to mind when you read the word saturated?

  • For mothers of young children, it might be a droopy diaper on the occasionally overlooked offspring;
  • Students might feel saturated after enduring a lengthy Latin lesson;
  • It’s a descriptive word for my soaking wet socks after unintentionally finding a puppy puddle on the floor;
  • For the chemist, it simply means singly bonded to an atom;
  • The health-conscious might immediately think negatively of fats on a food nutrition label;
  • It expresses the water content of a swim suit upon departing from the pool or lake;
  • It defines the roaring sound filling the Minnesota Twin’s Stadium in their first World Series games;
  • For the naturalist, it might be the feel of the grass underfoot after a heavy rainfall;
  • It describes the paper towels used by the Kindergarten teacher to clean up juice spills in her bustling classroom;
  • For the pet owner, it is likely the wet dog as it vigorously shakes off the excessive water from his thick fur coat;
  • And for photographers, it depicts the highest intensity of hue in a picture.

Although the definitions for saturated are finite, it can take on varied meanings depending on WHO we are and WHERE we are in any given moment.

While it really only comes down to meaning “filled to capacity,” all too often we mistakenly interpret the word as “filled beyond capacity.” Consider the saturated diaper. The mind automatically conjures up an image depicting a diaper that is too full. That lengthy Latin lesson? It was too long. I feel that my soaking wet socks are too wet, although I’d argue that any moisture contained in my socks is too much!

The question is whether something can actually go beyond saturation. A diaper can be saturated or filled to capacity. But once it is actually filled, any additional input would simply flow out from the boundaries. Most parents can attest to this based on first-hand experience! The student who reaches brain-overload will often shut down, unable to absorb additional information for that class. My socks will reach a point where they will be unable to suck up any added puppy puddles. In many cases, it is not possible to go beyond the saturation point.

However, there are other instances in life where over-saturation is not only possible but preferable. As I contemplated this, various verses from the Bible sprung to mind as I began to realize that God desires our lives to be more than saturated with both His love abounding and His bountiful blessings.  He wants to fill us with joy and peace so that we can experience His overflowing hope.

Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

David, the shepherd boy, proclaims the bounty that he experiences from the Lord. His reference to a cup that overflows further indicates the blessings beyond full measure that the Lord intends for us.

Psalm 23:5 – You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

God never intended us to live a mediocre life. He didn’t ordain our days that we should proclaim, “Enough! I’m full!” He wants so much more than that for each of us.

When we fully experience God, we can experience a life beyond saturation. But as with any other relationship, communication is required for bountiful fellowship with God. It is our willingness to go beyond saturation in His Word that will help us develop and deepen our relationship with Him and come to appreciate all that He has already given us and all that he intends for our future.

Reader, do you feel saturated in the Word of God? If so, that’s not enough. Go beyond saturation, go beyond full. Be yourself overflowing with thanksgiving and praise so you can fully experience His abundance, His extravagance, His lavish love, His plentiful power. He awaits you today.

Life – The Game

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The Game of Life

It’s been a while since I’ve played Life. My older kids (19 and 17 years old) are really not interested in board games and haven’t been since they discovered video games. o_O  My two younger kids (8.83 and 5.92 years old) have recently rediscovered these gems that were long ago relegated to the far reaches of the basement, however, and LIFE hasn’t been quite the same since then.

Now I am greeted in the morning with an obligatory good morning, followed immediately with the question, “Do you want to play Life?” or “Can we please play Spy Alley?”  Don’t get me wrong – I’m SO glad they are requesting board games! They require cooperation, communication, creativity … most of which are all lacking when they choose the alternate – those dreaded video games!!

I couldn’t help but laugh as I played The Game of Life with my youngest yesterday!  How closely it emulates real life, right?

As the players spin and move around the board, they land on squares that are supposed to replicate …. LIFE.  One of several things may happen: the car lands on a happy little square where you’ve done something grand and you get to choose a LIFE card (seemingly no big deal immediately, but WOW … it pays off later in life!); the car lands on a happy little square where you’ve done something grand and you realize immediate financial gain; OR the car lands on a sad little square and you pay money either to the bank or to other players for a plethora of reasons (taxes, tattoos, and TVs to name just a few). But the number of happy, financial beneficial squares outweigh the sad, cost-incurring squares, so …… LIFE IS GOOD!  🙂

Each player begins with a car.  HEY!  I never began life WITH a car! Before I could get a car, I had to have a job and have money in the bank so I could make payments.

The players are given the option to buy or NOT to buy automobile insurance. That’s not even a CHOICE for most of us. In Minnesota, a licensed vehicle MUST carry liability, personal injury protection, uninsured motorist, and under-insured motorist coverage. To opt out of this is illegal and carries a significant fine if the indiscretion is discovered. Buying automobile insurance WILL save you cash later in the game, however, if you happen to land on one of those sad, cost-incurring squares declaring you’ve been in an accident. So while this does not quite imitate the legal consequences to non-insured motorists, it DOES imitate risk-avoidance assessment!

Each player can choose to go to college, acquiring immediate debt.  OK, admittedly that part is incredibly realistic, but the debt incurred in the game is a mere pittance in comparison to actual debt incurred by young adults unequipped with wealthy parents – which are NOT an option in this game!  Deciding against college is an option in the game but will limit your salary immediately. OK, that is probably pretty realistic, too.

Quite often a spin can result in passing TWO PAYDAY squares simultaneously. Sweet!  I would LOVE that option in real life! How do I sign up?

Securing employment is not optional in Life. Everyone has to work if they expect to proceed! What a noble concept that is!  You can, however, choose from a few career cards ranging from a rock star to a doctor, with a number of obsoleted careers falling in between those choices. And you’ll have some options regarding an associated (or not!) salary!  Beware though, because if you BEGIN your career as a doctor earning $100K per year, someone MAY have the privilege of exchanging salaries with you midway through Life while remaining in their same career! That’s realistic, right?  o_O

You don’t WANT to get married? Tough. You can’t proceed without a spouse!  But take heart … You’ll also get a LIFE card (with the promise of future riches!) with that spouse!  It’s as though that spouse came with a modern-day dowry! And per my youngest (and wittiest?) child, women CANNOT be in the driver’s seat. It’s to dangerous. Even WITH insurance! (What da ….. ?  Makes me wonder whom he’s been talking to!)

You don’t WANT a house?  Again, if you want to proceed, you’ll have to buy one! And again, insurance is entirely optional, mortgage or not. Realistic …. um, no. Definitely not. But it’s a consistent (just not fair or well thought out) 25% of the value of your chosen home, whether you choose the home on Monsoon Bay, the Victorian mansion with a nicely manicured lawn, or entry level, split-level, fixer-upper dump!

You don’t WANT kids? You don’t get to choose that for yourself but kids come with Life cards, too!  It’s incentive to have MORE kids. Load up the car, Honey!  One day this will all pay off financially!!

There are stock options, too, where you can either make a small fortune or dole out a few easily earned pay checks to the bank. We ignore those. I decided to do that after observing the deer-in-headlights stare after I tried to explain stock options to a five-year-old.  THAT probably emulates Life since I don’t really have a good grasp of the stock market and largely ignore it myself! 🙂

As each player spins their way into retirement, there exists a choice to live at either Countryside Acres or Millionaire Estates. Either way, you’ll end up retiring wealthy as all those Life cards are redeemed so it’s a win-win situation. Assessing your accomplishments, totaling their value, and counting your cash at the end of the game of Life will determine the REAL winner. In this case, yes, the old saying rings true: He who retires with the most money wins!

In hindsight, I’m not sure if I inadvertently taught Owen that material STUFF with great monetary value are the greatest goals in Life. I could argue with myself (and I always win!!!) that he is learning turn-taking, counting, the concepts of banking, and the fleeting nature of money, and risk-assessment. But he’s five. The latter items are entirely unnecessary for him however at this stage of his Life!

I guess the game DID teach him a few things though.  He probably noted that he was broke after spending money on things he didn’t really need to have … that lake cabin and sailboat comes quickly to mind!  He also likely noticed that, as we journey through Life, events will likely occur that will not have been in our own foreseeable future.

He probably missed the very real lesson that risk is inherent in Life. Some risks will require more thought or effort than others and may or may not work in our favor. We will take other risks that afford less effort and garner and the payback might end up being incredible, even if delayed.

My own Life has been fraught with risk. While I’ve taken numerous risks, there has been one risk I’ve been unwilling to take. That would be the risk of neglecting to entrust my Life to Christ. With Him, the journey can still be bumpy but without him the end is so very, very bleak. With Christ as my Savior, I WILL end up at Millionaire Estates regardless of my financial status here on earth.

Where will YOU retire? Do you know? Don’t risk it … It won’t bode well for you, Friend.