Sunday, July 26, 2009

Moments of Re-Creation

We have just returned to Franklin, Tenn., after a two-week road trip to Florida. I had the chance to visit family, numerous (but not all) good friends who are based down there, and one of my favorite things in the world, the ocean.

Vacation carries mixed emotions. The anticipation builds up for weeks or months; often the execution of the vacation itself does not live up to the expectations, but in this case it did. But then there is the knowledge in the back of your mind that the trip must end, that you must resume "normalcy." Such knowledge is in the front of my mind today, on Sunday, the day before I return to work.

However, I would like to transcend the typical, dead-end way of thinking that the end of vacation means a return to drudgery. Must life really be about 48 or 49 weeks per year of just trying to survive, and then a few precious weeks of recreation and relaxation? There must be some way to be more holistic, to be intentional about "re-creating" one self every day.

I want to pay attention to those re-creating moments, rather than just hang on until the Christmas holidays and the anticipation of my next two week chunk of "freedom." The best avenue toward this that I can think of features embracing a vibrant faith, consistently tapping into a few core strengths, and building deep relationships on a constant basis.

There is existence, and then there is abundant living; I choose the latter!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Knowing Your Heart's Desire: Better Than Obtaining It?

Today I read a striking paragraph near the end of a little novel I just finished, Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos:

"...I'd figured out that a real life didn't mean attaining my heart's desire, but knowing it, meant not the satisfaction, but the longing. Knowing what you love and why, I found out, is as real as it gets."

The love story had some unexpected twists and turns, and the protagonist--Cornelia--gets much more than she could have imagined after facing some heart-wrenching disappointments. Her quotes above are her first-person summary of what she has learned about herself through both the disappointments and blessings that have come her way. And they caught me off guard, with a different angle from the many I had considered about what truly makes for authentic living.

I am de-constructing the sentences even as I write this:

"A real life didn't mean attaining my heart's desire..."

"...But knowing it."

"Not the satisfaction, but the longing..."

"Knowing what you love, and as real as it gets."

So much of this screams counter-intuition, counter-culture, anti-consumerism. Illogical. Isn't life all about reaching the goal, securing the prize, winning over that person you desire, landing the job, getting the book contract...all of the accomplishments by which we measure ourselves or are evaluated by others in terms of what constitutes a "successful" life...and yet, when this wife and mother of two writing this book allowed Cornelia to share this observation for her readers, it resonated with my soul and made sense.

There is something deeply alive about gaining clarity. On your values, your passions, your niche customers, your preferences, your strengths...and your loves. There is boundless integrity in making sense of love and being willing to feel and hope even if you are not guaranteed some semblance of satisfaction or reciprocation.

And there are no guarantees, are there, even for whom or what you hold loosely in your possession at this very moment?

The bottom line: Cornelia's quotes are another twist of the adage, "It's not the destination, it's the journey." Self-awareness, self-understanding--these are wonderful stops along this sojourn. Too many of us rush past them to grab hold of the fruit of the destination, only to realize that it doesn't agree with our taste buds.

Do the hard work to learn what you value or love and why, and you're much more likely to be in the ballpark of actually attaining it...but the learning itself is the ultimate joy, which the end results--gain or loss--can never take away from you.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In Scorn of Excess

Everywhere I look this week, I see too much. Highways teeming with billboards advertising endless restaurant chains at best, and houses of ill repute at worst. Houses loaded with trinkets and furniture cluttering up every single inch of space. Kitchen pantries and restaurants full of junky, sugary snacks and processed foods. Ahhhhh. Stop the insanity. Please.

I am blessed—or cursed—with a penchant toward the simple, and this cuts across the mental, physical and spiritual dimensions of health and well-being. Thankfully my wife is wired pretty much the same way, so this creates unity in our marriage rather than tension. Our joint challenge is the surrounding culture that seems to want to clutter everything up and inundate us—and, frustratingly, our children—with junky ideas and junky foods. Stand up to the culture and you’re considered a snob or high maintenance. Give in to it, and you get sucked into the tepid, swirling whirlpool of consumerism, shallowness and overall mediocrity. I suppose that, at times, my family has fallen victim to all of these conditions.

There is excess all about, and to me it feels like a bottomless warehouse of crutches to be relied upon because possibly there is not enough reality or introspection inside. One resorts to overconsumption to not just serve practical needs or enjoy the products that are being consumed, but to fill a void or avoid dealing with something. It does not matter whether the product is toys, vehicles, gadgets, trinkets, trips, tabloid publications, alcohol or junky foods. The things being consumed to the excess become transformed into vehicles of delay, distractions to the mind and spirit so that the real, disciplined work of personal transformation can be put off as long as possible or blissfully ignored.

If you choose to live that way, I feel bad for you but I will spend only so much energy trying to “change you.” In the end, you have to make your choices.

But please keep other people’s kids out of this unhealthy cycle. I can only do so much for my own. In the context of my home, they experience a minimalist environment when it comes to commercialism and consumption. Our household is more about ideas, exercise, spiritual growth and open-ended questioning geared toward stoking the fires of critical thinking. I get really frustrated, however, when other households aren’t run quite so intentionally and my kids—naturally, being kids—come home full of junk in their heads and their bodies. And yeah, call me a snob or a control freak or high maintenance, but I’ve got a problem with that.

Sometimes I just want to scream at the culture around me: “Enough already! Turn off the TV for a while…try reading a book…try exercising a bit…clean the sugary junk out of your cupboard and help stem the ongoing rise in childhood obesity…STOP THE MADNESS!” Am I the mad one because I feel this way? Or am I one of a minority of voices being constantly drowned out by the din of excess, frustrated that others choose to ignore the diseased manner in which we are desperately avoiding looking inside by worshipping everything we can grab a hold of on the surface?

I recommend an antidote. It’s a book called Freedom of Simplicity by Richard J. Foster. Foster offers some specific mind shifts and tactics to gradually learn to counter the madness. Check out this work and others by Foster as well, and visit to learn more about Foster and his community of fellow writers.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Life is Precious

Life continues to feel frail and precious these days. I learned early Wednesday that a 41-year-old father of three young children had died in the middle of the night; I had met his wife and kids on several occasions through mutual friends. Even before this I was getting a bit jarred by all the recent deaths of younger celebrities--Jacko, Billy Mays, and especially the Steve McNair tragedy--but here was another dad exactly my age in the community where I live, with children bustling with the same energy and hope as my kids. Now they are growing up without their dad.

I've been praying extra tenaciously for my wife and children the past few days. Too often I assume or just take for granted that everything will stay normal and intact. More specifically, I do not focus on the gratitude for this precious window of time with a beautiful wife and two adorable children. Today it feels like the window is smaller than it used to be, that some of the best seasons have gone by...and if I knew then just how incredible those seasons were, I would not have complained so much about this or that or longed to get through certain things or had so many self-centered priorities.

So the big challenge is what I might do differently today, as I sense the window compressing, its glass and panes brittle but tenacious. A season of relational abundance is sprawled out all around me right now, and the highest response to its moments of goodness is to love well and to trust deeply in that which cannot be seen.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Steve McNair and the Reality of Our Own Frailty

The Steve McNair tragedy is troubling for myriads of obvious reasons. But I believe what has me in a particular mental wrestling mode today is my ambivalent feelings about how people are responding to the idea of McNair's alleged behavior leading up to his fatal hour at a Nashville condominium.

Whatever the outcome of the police investigation reveals, one dynamic seems certain. McNair was in the wrong place, where it's always the wrong time. He made choices steeped in whatever brokenness had overtaken him and his marriage. No one ever knows the full extent of a marriage's ups and downs except for the two partners.

But I wonder what the best reaction can be from those of us on the sidelines, trying to Monday Morning Quarterback who Steve McNair truly was and what he should or should not have done. Should the brunt of our dialogue be focused on our shock at the tragedy and our disappointment with the retired athlete, or would it be most fruitful for us to gradually transfer that adrenaline toward examining our own brokenness?

For there but by the grace of God go even those not actively pursuing the grace of God. And those of us who have scratched and clawed for it, at times pushed it aside but always in the end thirsted for it again, know with certain humility that nothing can be taken for granted--including our own potential behavior in the face of temptation.

My blatant need for God in every moment reminds me that I am far better off praying for Steve McNair than judging him, even if I am quite disappointed in his apparent choices.

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Wonder of This Moment

I am having a weird thought while writing a chapter for a book, sitting at my usual Panera Bread in the Cool Springs district of Franklin, Tenn.

Perhaps it is not so much a thought but an enhanced awareness: of my position at the table with my laptop, half-listening to classical music while tapping away and allowing the jumbled vision of words in my mind to flow through my fingers onto a screen with some semblance of order. It is as though I am watching myself full of hope and effort at the table, seeing a live broadcast of a man attempting to write a book. I am both the man and the observer, the two are intertwined.

This is not an "out of body experience," as the Oprah culture would term it, but simply an impression of sorts. And the impression remains with me as I offer this blog entry, and look out the large windows at a gorgeous blue sky.

The impression is something like, "You are alive, and you are writing. For you, to be alive is to write. Writing is a vessel that integrates and makes sense of your life. Here you sit, practicing the art of being alive. Celebrate the wonder of this moment."

I am overtaken now by awe. Awe at how truly wondrous each moment is, and yet so easily overlooked. I must stop writing and simply be.

Reader: What is happening in the present moment for you, right now? What do you see on the live broadcast, that for you depicts your personalized practice of the art of being alive?

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Invite Me to "80s Day" at Your Office

The other day at work I was talked into wearing a purple wig and singing parodies to popular 1980s songs such as "Billie Jean," "Who Can It Be Now" and "What I Like About You." I changed the lyrics to reflect T-Mobile USA-related goals while the musical scores blared in the background. I was off key, I was off pitch--but I was in my zone because once again, on the job, I was permitted to connect pop culture to business needs. Sort of like the week back in August 2006 when I wore a Superman costume. Anything for the good of the cause; well, almost anything.

Give me almost any popular songs whose lyrics I know well, and toss me a particular subject from nearly any field (except for, say, astro-physics or molecular biology), and chances are I will promptly give you new lines that relate to the matter at hand. It still surprises me how easy it can feel, and usually entertains the other persons at hand. The vast majority of the time it is just for fun, but you never know when such an obscure, twisted talent can home in handy for a larger purpose.

I wonder how often we overlook the off-beat talent that is latent within the people around us. If we cannot immediately put it to pragmatic use or measure it in some manner, do we quickly dismiss it or fail to even notice? I encourage leaders to cultivate whatever talent rises to the surface in their people, because there is some thread you can tie to a business outcome if you are creative enough in your intent. When we become a community at work that truly celebrates all gifts found within the space, incredible things can happen that delight customers and retain good employees.

The same approach is screamingly relevant to marriages, relationships, raising children and friendships. Celebrate the quirky abilities of someone you care about, and that person's sense of being understood and accepted increases manifold.

Several people already have asked if there was video taken of my 80s romp. Yes, there was. No, you will not see it, unless you happen to work for T-Mobile and have access to our internal network. The rest of you will have to either play the video in your minds, or invite me to perform at your company. As to the latter, don't think I'm not serious!