Last Words

It was a cold winter morning, and the stars were making their final plea to be seen. Dawn soon would come and the sun would chase away the brilliance of the stars. In that moment, I felt inspired. These lights will shine until the sunlight spreads the expanse of the sky, and in that, there is a beautiful lesson to be learned: We must shine as bright as we can until light begins to take over. 

In a previous post, I wrote about the first words we speak each day; and the impact those words can have on the trajectory of our thought process, as well as the thought processes of those we speak to. The comparison was made to the sun rising each day with a continual promise of hope. In this post, I would like to take that same look into the last words we speak in a day.

We can enter the day well, yet find ourselves feeling worse by the night. Likewise, we can greet the day with discontent, yet find our minds moved toward contentment by the day’s end. The same goes for the words we speak. The last words will remain after we have left or moved on. They will ruminate, be evaluated, and after they have settled in; we may not be available for a response.

I would like t share what I’ve been learning about this idea of last words from my experiences at home, in texting, and in the workplace.

At home. I think about the words I speak to my wife and kids before we go to sleep; I wish them a good night sleep or sweet dreams, and these words serve as a final send off as they drift away into dreamland. The hope is that in saying these words, they will somehow sleep easier and feel a sense of peace. Sometimes, these words are spoken to bring peace to myself, because I may have not brought my best self to my family that day, but I hope that those last words can still redeem.

I drop my daughter off at the bus stop every morning before I head to work. Sometimes there are not many words spoken because it is very early and we are still settling into the day. Most of the time, those last words before she leaves closes the door are “I love you”, “I’m proud of you”, or “have a good day”. But once in a while, whether it is exhaustion or just plain old grumpiness, those last words may be less encouraging or less inspiring; and in those times, in takes only but a second for my heart to break as I watch her get on that bus. Thankfully, due to the age with live in, I can try to change the trajectory that has just been set by engaging in a text conversation with her. We can usually make things right again in just a few texts with a little bit of humbleness and forgiveness.

This brings me to my next learning.

In texting. The words we choose to type hold so much weight. When you text someone, there is not any voice inflection or body language to assist the words; the words are alone, and they can be read in many different ways. It is in these times that the words we choose must be thoughtful and intentional. In this media of communication, we must be careful to write clear and succinct; because every text is left hanging. We cannot read the other persons facial reactions, we are not even sure if the message has been read. I have had many talks with my daughter about the responsibility that comes along with texting. To utilize this tool of communication properly, you must be patient, straight forward, non-passive, and it must not replace a phone call or face to face conversations.

Because of the nature of this style of communication, I worldly strongly urge anyone to begin viewing texting as an opportunity to encourage the recipient instead of trying to make a case for ourselves. I do believe that in an existing healthy relationship where there is already an established groundwork of effective communication skills that texting can be used for deeper discussions that require a lot of back and forth.

From my experience as 1. Being someone who uses texts, 2. Experiencing people who don’t always utilize best practices when texting, and 3. Seeing the effects of passive aggressive or self-seeking texts; I believe that this is a topic that deserves an entire book. Being that this is only a blog, I would just encourage all of us to be extremely mindful and intentional of the words we choose, and realize that each text left hanging on that screen and could be the last words of that conversation.

In the workplace. I have many conversations throughout the day. Some are simple greetings and catching up on what the past days have brought us, yet most are focused on goals and tasks that need to be completed. In these conversations, it is important that the last words leave direction and gratefulness. No matter how many tangents we end up talking about, it is important to bring it back to the common goal. I feel the most confident and energized if at the end of the chat I am left with a clear expectation and an endearing statement of gratefulness. Clear goals and gratitude.

At the core of making beneficial decisions in life, it is essential that we put in the work to establish the core of who we are. It’s easy to lose our way from time to time on the path towards mindfulness and intentionality; Whether it’s stress, anxiety, fatigue, or just an off day. This will happen because being intentional and mindful takes hard work and commitment. Here are two learnings on intentionality before we wrap this up.

Meditation. I’m pretty sure if you are reading this, then you have read some of the same research or listened to some of the same Ted Talks that I have. We know what we need to do, but getting started is the hardest part. For example: we know that meditation is key to a more balanced mind and greater self-control, but the kick is that making yourself do a 5 – 10 minute meditation is harder to commit to than you’d think. There are immediate benefits once a meditation has ended, such as a sense of calm; but the sustaining benefits like self control, patience, and the like are achieved by the continual practice of meditation.

Exercise. Exercise is another arena of life that has immediate payoff mentally, as there is a surge of endorphins that we get from a workout. If we want to lose weight though, get stronger, run farther, look different; then we must stay committed to consistent exercise. Both of these are examples of ways to improve our state of mental well-being. Now, let’s see if there is a way to bring all of this back to the stars.

When it comes to starlight, did you know that the light we are seeing is from the past? Besides the sun, the closest start to us is Alpha Centauri; and the light from that star takes approximately four years to reach us. That means that the light of stars breaking through the blanket of midnight to reach us is an ancient light, and those stars will someday die; but the light will continue to reach us.

This speaks to the longer lasting impact of our actions, our words, our love, and our intentions. We are writing a story each day. The words we leave with others, and leave with ourselves, are setting the course of that story. As the light of the stars last long after they are gone, so our words will outlast us. Together, may we write stories that leave a lasting impact for goodness and inspiration.

Cover photo credit: Daniel Grayum (find him on instagram @dan_grayum)

Hope

I love the Christmas season. I love the smell of pine, the chill in the air, the good food, the merry gatherings, and the music all around. The songs range from reindeer on the rooftops to declarations of the glory of God, and in that space, there is a story. Whether we long for Santa or God (or both), our hearts ache for someone or something greater than ourselves; a story of grandeur.

When we hope, we are longing for that which we do not have; we are reaching for something that is beyond us. We dream of a life that we want, yet sometimes that life is out of our grasps in our current state; but that dream, that hope, can fill us with such passion and drive that the life we desire will not be out of reach for long. We all have something to hope for, because we are all in need. We are in need of kindness, love, peace, and a better world.

Where there is a need, there is a need for hope.

We should always be challenging ourselves to grow, and pursue that which makes us come alive. The hope of the world, is that people will come alive and bring the healing that the world needs.

Hope is the campaign slogan that won Barak Obama his first term as president. He spoke to the very core of all of us as he laid out a vision of a country that can change the trajectory of this world. He called us to become the people that we dream we can be, and embrace our role in the future of our world.

Lou Holtz says that for someone to life a fulfilling life they need to have something to do, someone to love, something to believe in, and something to look forward to. In other words, we need a purpose, and hope is a pillar of that purpose.

Hope has always been a guiding force in my life. I have had to remind myself time and time again that we are not at the end, and that no matter how many times I fail; there is always a chance to make things right and try again. This expectation becomes even more important as I get older. If I believe that my best chance to accomplish something great is behind me, then dreams lose their power to inspire and purpose fades; the moments, days, and years ahead seem meaningless. On the other hand, when you believe that your chance for impact and accomplishment is ever before you; purpose and inspiration will abound all around.

When hope thrives, the future is bright.

While I was looking back through one of my journals today, I was reminded of my fundamentals in life. The words I saw on those pages were written over the past three years. The themes I saw were love, faith, creativity, perseverance, and hope. There were many struggles and disappointments on pages, but they were met with words of hope and strength; the words I have written in the past were speaking to me in the present.

Each day is a building block in the tower of who we are, and if the days are the structure; then our decisions are the mortar that hold the building together. We choose hopelessness or hopefulness constantly throughout our days, we can see the cup half empty or we can see the chance to fill the cup.

Hope is a fundamental of life; do not lose it, and if it is fading; seek it fiercely.

Lessons from the stars: Comfort and the Necessary

Last night was a good night for stargazing.

Piercing through the ebony background, the stars seemed to appear before my eyes. I just stood there for a while soaking in the grandness of it all, wondering how many people I was sharing that piece of sky with? How many people were at that moment looking up at those stars, and what was going through our minds?

The beauty of stargazing, is that it opens up your world. Stars broaden our perspective, expand our worldview, and open our hearts. I have looked up at the stars in sorrow, I have looked up at the stars in joy; and they will always speak to me. It’s not an audible voice, but a subtle whispering in my soul; something stirs inside me, and I receive insight.

Last night, the stars reminded me that there is a big world out there. I was reminded to stay connected to the world around me. I naturally move towards what is comfortable in life, which is natural for all of us, but I also want to be aware of the necessary.

The necessary is the part of life that requires something from us.

This will intersect with the comfortable parts of life, meaning that what is required is that which we already enjoy. This varies from person to person, but I would describe this as when the need falls in line with our passion and strengths. This may also be comfortable if the person in need is someone you already love dearly, and this love may be the key to unlocking a world of purpose.

The necessary will at times require sacrifice. Not an Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom kind of sacrifice, but that which requires us to dig deep inside and summon courage, forgiveness, and the love. It takes courage to confront someone who has wronged you, and forgiveness must follow. It may require you to give money to a cause at the expense of not buying something for yourself. We may need to ask forgiveness from someone we have hurt, and in turn learn to forgive ourselves.

The necessary may also be something that you need to do for yourself. You may find inspiration to create something, from a painting to a charity. You may find direction in life, or change in the direction of your life. You may be reminded that you are loved.

The necessary requires love, because if can learn to love on a broader scale; we will become more comfortable with the uncomfortable. In love, we are eager to serve, help, and rescue. In love, we can be freed from regret and as stated above, find the key for unlocking our purpose.

The stars speak, if we are willing to listen.

 

Solitude

Loneliness.

This is a powerful word, because out sparks such strong emotional reaction; and I believe that it is something that all of us can relate to at some point in our lives. If being alone becomes translated as loneliness, then sadness and desperation will begin to take root. Desperation mode is survival mode, and we will find ourselves  reacting to our circumstances instead of creating our circumstances.

Time.

Time gives and takes, it builds and breaks down, and it can be a gift if we choose to see it as so.

I start with these words, loneliness and time, because they are in relation to each other. We all have the same amount of hours in a day, though not the same amount of hours in a life; and we all want to make the most of our life. The feeling of loneliness can cause us to enter a place of circular thinking, which in my case, leads to feeling of self-doubt and regret. This is a downward spiral that I have found can rip the hours and the days, which are a gift, away from us.

Now even the darkest of nights lead to a new dawn, and time is reflected best in the form of a new day; though one day may feel lost, a new day is given.

The best book I’ve read this year is Reaching Out  by Henri Nouwen.

The theme of this book is rooted in a transformation from loneliness to solitude, and that is what we will focus on. Just as time is a gift, our being alone is truly a gift, because it is in those moments that we can dig deep to discover who we truly are and what passions lie inside of us. A simple word swap can change everything, so we translate loneliness  to solitude.

The best thing I can recommend is to go out and get this book, but for the purpose of our time right now; I will share some highlights to inspire you to join me on the path of finding solitude in what has been described as loneliness, starting with probably my favorite excerpt from the book:

“When loneliness is haunting me  with it’s possibility of being a threshold instead of a dead end, a new creation instead of a grave, a meeting place instead of an abyss, then time loses it’s desperate clutch on me. Then I no longer have to live in a frenzy of activity, overwhelmed and afraid for the missed opportunity.”

“The more we come to the painful confession of our loneliness, hostilities, and illusions, the more we are able to see solitude, hospitality, and prayer as part of the vision of our life.”

“Does not all creativity ask for a certain encounter with our loneliness, and does not the fear of this encounter severely limit our possible self expression?”

“Friendship and love cannot develop in the form of  an anxious clinging to each other. They ask for gentle fearless space in which we can move to and from each other.”

“Instead of running away from our loneliness and trying to forget or deny it, we have to protect it and turn it into a fruitful solitude.”

“Then our life would indeed be a different life because then fate becomes opportunity, wounds a warning and paralysis an invitation to search for deeper sources of vitality. Then we can look for hope in the middle of crying cities, burning hospitals, and desperate parents and children. Then we can cast off the temptation of despair and speak about the fertile tree while witnessing the dying of the seed. Then indeed we can break out of the prison of an anonymous series of events and listen to the God of history who speaks to us in the center our solitude and respond to his ever new call for conversion.”

I hope these words have brought hope and healing, if not for you, then for someone close to you. Let us make the most of the time we have been given, this beautiful gift that lies in each day; and may the moments that we find ourselves feeling alone be transformed into moments of solitude.

 

Tales from the Trails: Why We Run

I like to run. Actually, I may even go so far as to say I love to run. That wasn’t always the case, and I didn’t actually start running consistently until about six years ago.

When you start to talk about running, you are met either with passion or disdain. It’s a love/hate relationship for some, a hate/hate relationship for others, and then there is the love/growth relationship for the rest of us.

We run for clarity.

We run for peace.

We run for community.

We run for pizza and beer.

While I was on a run a few weeks ago, I found myself able to be fully in the moment. 2400 feet of elevation gain in 3.8 miles, and I found myself loving every minute of it; which was new for me. Bombing down those 3.8 miles was even more fun! Typically, I would see the climb as an obstacle; but this time, it was an opportunity. I enjoyed the pain, the grit needed to keep moving, the smell of the forest, and the chill in the air. I discovered something that day.

Visualize the good and true

I usually prepare for a run the day before. I will start taking in a little more calories than usual and hydrate all day; but I also will usually start worrying about waking up early, will I get enough sleep, will I be able to keep pace with the pack, and how much water or nutrition to bring, if any. That is a lot of mind space dedicated to negative thinking. This time around I chose to visualize everything that I will love about the run:

I love being in the forest, I love being on mountains, I love a good view, I love the rain, I love the way my body feels after a run, I love eating after a run.

I also spoke basic truths into my mind:

My legs are strong, the outdoors rejuvenates me, I can run 8 miles, I have sure feet, the view from the top will be worth it!

I was not only ready to hit the trails, but excited to get out there.

Define your fears, remember the good and true

I defined what was making me anxious: elevation gain and waking up early.

Elevation gain: The fears were the pain and the ability to finish. The good and true; Pain is my friend, pain leads to growth, and I will finish, because that’s what I do. You don’t get mountain top views unless you climb mountains. Fear of elevation gain dissected and removed.

Waking up early: The fears, dragging myself out of bed to the alarm again, starting the weekend sleep deprived, being zonked the rest of the day with my family. The good and true: I get up early everyday for work, I have always been a “morning person”, I love the forest in the early morning. Also, I need some sleep.

I responded to this fear different from the elevation gain. I was particularly exhausted last week, and felt like I needed a day to wake up naturally without an alarm. It was a 5:45am meet up time, and that made me anxious. This time around, I contacted the crew that I would not be able to join. Now I love running with friends, but I felt a huge weight lifted. Apparently, the only thing that was making me anxious was not getting the sleep I needed.

I slept like a baby, and actually ended up waking up at 5:30am without an alarm and full of energy. The anxiety of waking to an alarm was removed, therefore, what remained was clarity. I ran alone, but what I found was solitude.

Clarity, peace, strength, community; the list goes on, and this is why we run.