First Words

The first words we choose to speak in a day, give insight into the state of our hearts and minds.

I was watching the sun rise through the window of our living room this weekend, and it was as if something had lit the sky ablaze. The sky changed from soft gray to a blazing orange surrounded by purple, and I felt blessed and encouraged once again as I do with each sunrise. A sunrise greets the day with hope, the promise to rise again holds true each day. As I sat in the orange glow, it occurred to me that how we choose to greet each day can have an immense impact on those around us as well how we choose to view the day ahead.

Most of my days starts with silence, as I am usually the first one awake. In this silence I get a chance to choose my state of mind. Will I greet the day with a grateful heart, or will I choose a less positive path? In these times of silence, we are formulating the trajectory for our day, and choosing the lens through which we will see the day ahead. Entitlement or humility? Compassion or hate? The line that separates these dichotomies can be very thin at times depending on our filter for the day.

I want to be as committed and steadfast as the sun. It does not matter if the skies are clear or cloudy; the sun will arrive and shed light to the best of it’s ability.

When my oldest daughter wakes, she is usually greeted with kindness and calmness. We have a mellow morning before she is off to school and I am off to work; and the days with each other start pleasant. As we part ways I feel peace, because I see and feel the reciprocation of that positive attitude that I put forth. But there have been times when I had chosen to see the day through a lens of self centeredness or grumpiness, and in those times I could see and feel the reciprocation of what I put forth; and as we had parted ways, I felt restlessness rather than peace.

As the day goes on, I will continue to have first encounters with people; I have a choice as to what my first words to each person will be. Will I choose to encourage and inquire on their well-being, or will I choose to say something unimportant and somewhat negative like? There is not a need for the first words to be deep wells of wisdom or philosophy, they can be as simple as good day or how are you doing today? There is weight to those first words, because they can set the stage for the direction of our attitude; and they can set a trajectory for someone else’s day. If we put forth negativity, we will likely receive negativity; and we negate our responsibility to this life to be a source of light and hope.

As with most areas of life in which we want to succeed, there needs to be a goal or mission that you are working towards that guides our decisions. Whether we simply choose a few words (compassion, hope, inspiration, etc.), or have a declaration that states our intentions; there needs to be something in place if we wish to be intentional about our impact. I would like to end this article with some words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. regarding this idea of a blueprint for life.

Now each of you is in the process of building the structure of your lives, and the question is whether you have a proper, a solid and a sound blueprint.

I want to suggest some of the things that should begin your life’s blueprint. Number one in your life’s blueprint, should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your worth and your own somebodiness. Don’t allow anybody to make you fell that you’re nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance.

Secondly, in your life’s blueprint you must have as the basic principle the determination to achieve excellence in your various fields of endeavor. You’re going to be deciding as the days, as the years unfold what you will do in life — what your life’s work will be. Set out to do it well.

“And finally, and finally, in your life’s blueprint, must be a commitment to the eternal principles of beauty, love, and justice….However young you are, you have a responsibility to seek to make your nation a better nation in which to live. You have a responsibility to seek to make life better for everybody. And so you must be involved in the struggle of freedom and justice.”

This is an example of intentional living. Value yourself, work hard, and be committed to beauty, love, and justice. What will our blueprint be? What words will guide our days? What story are we choosing to write? Be as committed and steadfast as the sun, and rise to greet each day, as well as the people in it, with an intentionality to make the day a little brighter.

Forward Motion, Empathy, and Impact

If we can learn to see what we accomplish in the midst of a struggle, we can find the strength and confidence to keep moving.

We find ourselves, at times, in situations that are less than ideal; be it a momentary discomfort of completing undesirable tasks, or a stage of life that is constantly calling you to a sense of duty or obligation. Likewise, we will also be taken into dire situations outside of our choosing; with the only choice being how to proceed.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”   J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

I love this excerpt, because every one of us has been here. Not literally journeying to Mordor to destroy the ring of power because the fate of the world is in our hands; but potentially left standing in disarray because life has taken a turn for the worst. We have sat across the table from friends and family struggling with death, addiction, divorce, abuse, and the list goes on; and the conversation turns to “I wish it need not happen in my lifetime”; yet here we are. We can not always change our environment, or the stage of life that we are in; but we can choose how we will move forward.

We can choose what impact we will leave in this life.

Great stories are wrought with adversity. Great stories take you through the struggles. Heroes do not arise out of a state of Utopia, they rise from necessity. We can only run away from purpose for so long. The choice between apathy and empathy is always before us, and each path shapes our heart. If I am being honest, empathy is an attribute that I need to build upon in my life. I have a tendency to avoid discomfort or the pain that comes with empathy; therefore, I lean towards apathy at times. Though, I would still say that I am more so an empathetic person than an apathetic person; at least, that is the hope.

The word apathy in itself is harsh, or it hits you in a certain way when you hear it or read it. If we label someone as apathetic, there are negative connotations that come along with it. There is danger in labeling someone, or ourselves, because labels come with a lot of extra baggage. For example, apathy comes with the following baggage: callous, cold, and emotionless. Who would associate with those words? Also, we are in danger of possibly becoming or remaining apathetic if we choose to only identify the term in those words.

I choose to break down this idea of apathy into words, because I believe that in the words we find understanding, and in the words we can begin to see a path. Another word that I believe better describes the true nature of what we are up against with apathy is the word passive. All of us can say that we have been passive at times, and associating apathy in terms of passiveness creates a smaller focused picture of what to work on. Passivity puts our choices into the hands of others. Passivity in times of struggle   can be dangerous because we are left to the flow of the situation instead of choosing to steer that ship ourselves.

To choose what impact we will have in this life, we have to do just that…choose. To find victory in struggle, we need perspective; we need to be able to take that snapshot of our situation and place it against the bigger picture.  

If we choose to care, if we are able to see our impact on others through our tough times or momentary troubles, and if we can choose to be intentional rather than passive; then perhaps we can find victory in the struggle. This shift towards forward motion may begin with something as seemingly minute as changing our mindset or perspective. We are actually meant to grow, develop, and live a life of impact; and empathy may be the key to endure. Choosing compassion, or choosing to put ourselves into someone else’s shoes, may give us the perspective we need to find victories in the midst of struggles.

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.

To Be Yourself

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

The quote above is from Ralph Waldo Emerson; and I often turn to it when I need motivation or need to be reminded that there is a whole world taking place as I walk through my days.

What is it to be yourself? Is this a form of destiny combined with ambition? The truest form of who we are is somewhere in our soul, and that part of our soul speaks to our mind; and in those words, we hear whispers of what we need to do. In our soul, we can feel the rumblings of purpose.

Purpose. Our purpose can be found by asking what does life expect from me? This is a question that I have mentioned before as it comes from one of the most influential books I have read titled Man’s Search for Meaning by Dr. Viktor Frankl. This question was raised as he observed not only himself, but other men who had lost everything as prisoners in concentration camps during the Holocaust; and had been stripped of their very humanity, yet found the strength to rise again each day and believe that there was a reason to persevere in the face of their great suffering.

We can learn from their perseverance, and find strength from their strength. So I ask, what does life expect from you?

Another of my favorite quotes that I have shared before is from Howard Thurman about coming alive:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

What moments in your life did feel truly alive?

To be truly alive is akin to being yourself. When the task at hand can be done with joy amidst struggle, or the process becomes  more enjoyable than the product; perhaps you have glimpsed your purpose. This is found in the space where your skills or talents align with what you enjoy doing. This is a sacred space when you discover that your passions and talents also align with what the world needs.

I ask you these questions as I ask them myself. Perhaps together we can find our true self, our purpose, come alive, and in turn provide the world around us with what it needs.

 

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.

 

Transitions, Courage, and Insight

Life is an array of transitions.

Starting from the moment we are brought into this world; we find ourselves in the momentum of life. We grow, learn, and develop. Whether we choose it or not, we are moving. Yet, we do choose what we do with the time that is given to us.

gandalf.gif (nerd alert)

When facing decision points in life, do you have a tendency towards fearful thinking or courageous thinking?

I was watching the Disney musical Newsies with my daughters the other day, and there was a line that struck me while they were deciding whether or not to go on strike against the newspaper company. David says to the other newsies:

“Courage cannot erase our fear, courage is when we face our fear.” – Newsies Broadway musical

Courage. It is found in adversity and challenge, it is uncovered only when fear enters the situation. It is in these moments that we need to state our fears clearly, and in doing so, we will find where the fear is rooted. Once we understand the root of our fear, the path to overcoming it becomes clear.

I was having a conversation the other day about my fear of change, and I was challenged to look back at my past for times that I had to rise up in the face of my fear. I began to think:  My family move from Lakewood California to Flagstaff Arizona, my first piano recital, the first time I played guitar on stage, The first time I sang on stage, Every job that I applied for, every talk I’ve given to a group, proposing to my wife, having a daughter, having another daughter! The list went on and on, and I began to feel confident in my ability to adapt and maintain a forward momentum in life.

What insights can be taken from our past?

Ask yourself this question; and find confidence, wisdom, and empowerment. We may not have always responded the right way to change, or even made the right changes; but we always…ALWAYS… have a choice. Our tomorrow is happening today, so enter each day with confidence and courage.

There is a fragility to all of us, but there is also great resilience. Where there is fear, courage lies also. May you find insight from your past, and today may you find courage to face the future.

 

Obligation to Opportunity

I had to take a moment to step outside and take a few breaths tonight. Something about the dark sky and bright stars brings me calm, and I needed to be calmed ; though I could not quite figure out why. There has been a lot going on the past few days, but it was good; and if I desire good in my life, then I need to figure how to transition from overwhelmed to energized.

Contentment and resentment can both spring from the same circumstance depending on our mindset, and the words we use describe our current state.

I have used the “stressed” to describe how I feel lately, yet the choice to define my situation as stressful may be the very reason that I feel stressed. The words we use to describe our life hold a level of power in how we respond to and view our situation. By choosing to name my current state as “stressed”, I have now limited my possibilities because I will not want to put any thing else on my plate.

A stressed state is a survival state, a survival state is a reactionary state, and living in a  reactionary state reduces our ability to be intentional about our actions and circumstances.

I am trying to replace the word “stressed” when describing busy times to “full”, after all, who doesn’t want a full life? The subtle change from Stressed to Full changes how I view a busy life. “Stress” adds a negative connotation to our circumstances, can even turn fun times into obligations. “Full”, on the other hand, relates to a life abounding with opportunity.

In summary, transitioning from a “stressed” life to a “full” life; creates opportunities out of obligations. Likewise, embracing a full life will open our eyes to the unending opportunities we have to connect with humanity; as well as encounter our own selves on a deep level.

I was hit with this realization the other day. I had been able to spend a lot of time with one of my daughters (who is a little ball of conversation) over a few day stretch, waking up together to watch the World Cup, hiking together, playing together, hammocking together, etc. I found myself talking with my wife about how The non stop energy from this little girl was starting to get to me. After I spoke those words, I was hit hard on a very deep level, and I had a realization. That complaint was spoke out of selfishness, and a “stressed” mindset. It was at that moment that I realized how lucky I am to have a little human in this life that actually wants to spend all day with me!

This was an amazing opportunity.

Therefore, I will embrace opportunity over obligation. I will seek a full life.

In the Bible, Jesus says ” I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.” These words have always inspired me, as they remind me that we each have a purpose in this world. We all are surrounded with opportunity that we need to reach out and grab.

Join me in shifting our mindsets from obligation to opportunity; or, if you are already embracing this mindset, continue to pursue your life of impact.

 

 

Wake

Death it comes and it leaves a hole, and it takes it’s toll on us. 

There are few experiences in life that hit like the death of a friend or loved one. It is finite, and that is hard to come to grips with. It is hard to see someone’s face in your mind, yet be unable to see them in person.

 

The aftermath of a death cuts deeper than the news of the loss itself. You slowly begin to realize the ripples created by the loss, and your heart breaks for those caught in the wake. It is interesting that “wake” is a funeral term used when you view the body before it is buried.

When you are rowing in a lake and a motor boat goes by, you get caught in it’s wake; it gets hard to paddle and you have to stop and catch your balance so that you don’t tip over. Death has that same effect it seems. It is expected to some extent, as we know that we are finite creatures; yet we find ourselves tossed in the waves when it happens, trying to stay afloat.

In an instance, a life is gone.

In an instance we find ourselves in deep reflection, and possibly receive epiphany or clarity. The course of our life, and our priorities are brought to the forefront of our minds. How do I respond? How will you respond?

My daughter asked me how the death of a friend compared to the death of my dad. I told her that each person is unique, and each death is different. Each life affects another. We are intertwined, woven into the same story of this world; and those connected to us are impacted by our actions…even our death.

To those who are hurting: If you find yourself feeling helpless, please cling to hopefulness. If you feel defeated, fight to endure. If you feel alone, embrace your relationships. Do not listen to the voice inside that tells you who you are not and what you can not handle; seek instead the voice that reminds you with every breath that you are valuable, and you are meant to be here.

To those who have lost: May peace find you; and may your tears be a pathway to beauty.

 

The Fortunate Ones

I love my wife.

There is no one is this world who knows me as well as she does. That is because there is no one in this world I trust more than her, for we have bared our hearts to one another.

That sounds pretty romantic right?

What that means a lot of the time though, is that she gets to hear me complain more than anyone else in my life. She gets to see me lose my temper more than anyone else in my life. She gets the tears, the fears, the rants, the stresses, the heartaches, the insecurities, and insight to the darkest parts of who I am…oh joy.

“Wow, what a lucky lady!”, you say.

The truth is, true love takes you much deeper than walks on the beach and candle light dinners. When two hearts become entangled with each other, our emotions can be experienced on an exponential level. The hurts cut much deeper, the losses rip you in two, and our words and actions are not given as much thought as when in the presence of others.

I have learned two things in life that are key to contentment and purpose: Mindfulness and selflessness. Mindfulness is the ability to be right here, right now; and experience life as it is happening without constantly setting expectations for each moment. Selflessness, is the ability to see how our decisions affect those around us, and consider the needs of others when considering our own needs. Knowing  this and putting this into action are two different things.

I know that a red light means stop, but what really matters is that I stop. Likewise, understanding mindfulness and selflessness are not as important as putting them into action.

I write this blog today because my wife got to see me lose my temper during a project yesterday, and I pretty much threw a full on fit… 36 year old man style. The impact it had on her floored me, and stopped me in my tracks. I had lost sight of the bigger picture of the present. My wife and I had a day to ourselves to work on a cool house project together. It was a gift to work hard and problem solve together, it was an opportunity to grow closer through accomplishing something together.

If I had put my mindfulness exercises into practice, I would have taken a few seconds each time a tile broke to breathe and realize that this is just part of the project. I could have decided to maximize our experience together by rolling with the imperfections, but I chose to minimize the experience because I became selfish instead of selfless. I chose to gratify my own selfish desire to get angry, clench my fists, and say some choice words. In doing this, I changed the dynamic of our day together. I introduced a darkness and a new stress into our project; and this really hurt my wife.

Love exposes the best and worst of us. Though it is a gift to be transparent with someone, we need to remain mindful and selfless of the time we have together.

I titled this blog “The Fortunate Ones” not because I like CCR (which I do), but because I considered how our friends and acquaintances in our lives usually get to see the best of us…how fortunate. We strive to motivate, inspire, and energize those we interact with to leave our mark on this world; the one’s we love most deserve the same intentionality.

Let us make the choice today to bring not only our whole selves, but the best of us, into the spaces where we love the deepest.