How Being Uncomfortable Brings the Surprise of Joy

In this day and age world travel makes most anyone uncomfortable. If you’re a bit of a neurotic traveler it is even more so. And if you’ve spent most of your life just a little more nervous than the average person about germs and disease the discomfort will be enough to question any travel in the first place. That’s our son, Ben.

Ben and Boys

As I write this, Ben is at the top of mountain in Honduras. It’s a country where people walk around with machetes and assault rifles. It’s where the media-hyped Zika virus is known to exist. According to Wikipedia, Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, with 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people. By comparison, the international average is 6.2 intentional homicides per 100,000 people. It’s also a known major drug route to the U.S.

But the things that make people uncomfortable are often the most rewarding. Ben’s fiancé, Emily, is the founder of a company called Consider the Wldflwrs. Ten percent of the proceeds of her business go toward helping a group of Honduran women start their own jewelry micro businesses to support their families. That’s why Ben, Emily, and another Consider the Wldflwrs team member are in Honduras. They are there to help, teach, and document it all so that further service will be provided.

All this is taking place at the top of a Honduran mountain. It could be a pretty uncomfortable place to be. But it turns out that on the mountain is a peaceful coffee plantation. It also happens to be a place that houses a program for children who were abandoned or taken from dangerous situations.

In a rare, free wifi hot spot Ben texted me. He told me about the things that made him uncomfortable. Things like no traffic rules, swarms of mosquitoes, and bunk beds. But he was quick to text about the kids he met there on the mountain. They are given housing and education until they’re eighteen-years-old. He wrote that the program just received a six-month-old baby.

I had a one word response: “Sad.”

Ben’s response was where discomfort met hope: “Yes. But cool! The kids seem happy!”

Then, on Facebook, Ben posted the picture you see above. He wrote this caption:

Been hanging with these kids the past few days. They’re hilarious, they school me in soccer, and they’re teaching me a lot about contentment. Language barriers got nothing on us.

That’s when being uncomfortable brings the surprise of joy. You find yourself amidst poverty and orphans. You’re sleeping in a bunk bed and eating in a foreign cafeteria. But in the middle of it all you realize that you should be content with the overwhelming blessings you’ve been given. You are grateful for the opportunity to touch lives. And you make a group of Honduran kids laugh their heads off as you show them silly Snapchat filters.

Where do you find joy in an uncomfortable situation?

Why I Really, Really, Really Like My Dental Hygienist

I know it’s an odd thing; and, no, my wife has nothing to worry about. But I love my dental hygienist. I’ve been going to the dentist most of my life, and many of the dental hygienists I’ve had have been sadistic torturers. They were rough on my teeth. They were tough on my gums. And they often had a personality to match.

Smile 2

But the reasons I really like her go more deeply than that. The way she does her work and cares about her job are a lesson to those of us who want to lead and inspire others. It doesn’t matter what your job or position is, you can make someone’s day better in a few simple ways.

Here’s what my dental hygienist does:

  1. She spends time getting to know me. The first thing my dental hygienist does, even before we get to the examination room, is to engage me with meaningful conversation. She remembers from my last visit details about my life. So she asks me about my daughter’s job, my son’s wedding, and how my wife is doing. And she’s not one of those hygienists who likes to keep the conversation going while I have my mouth wide open. She knows when to simply go about her work and save the conversation for later.
  2. She is careful and care full. She is not one of those torturous souls who loves to inflict pain. In fact, she’s the most gentle hygienist I’ve ever had. She takes her time, but she’s not too slow. Instead, she is careful. And I can tell that she cares about her work because she is meticulous. I have yet to have her stab my gum or be too harsh with the floss.
  3. She sends me a thank you note. Yes, really. A few days after I go to the dentist I receive from her a handwritten note thanking me for coming in, mentioning some things she gleaned from our conversation, and telling me that she’s looking forward to my next appointment.

Here’s what you and I can learn from her:

  1. People appreciate being “known.” How can you get to know someone today on a deeper level? Take the time to have good conversations, including plenty of time for listening to the other person.
  2. People appreciate attention to detail. No matter what you are doing in life there is always the opportunity to do it well. Excellence and care seem to be in high demand yet short supply these days. Make it your business to be careful and care full.
  3. People appreciate being thanked. When’s the last time you received a written thank you note in the mail? I bet it was the first thing you opened in the stack of mail. We love the personal touch. There aren’t many things that have a more personal touch than a handwritten note.

How do you show people you care?

5 Happy Reasons Why You Should Be Positive Today

Sometimes all you want is some peace and quiet. It’s an atypically beautiful, mild Florida summer evening. The front door is open. The humidity is low. A slight breeze is blowing in. And, wouldn’t you know it, someone turns on their lawn mower. Peace and quiet is quite literally out the door. But I’m choosing to stay positive. It’s so very beautiful outside. I can’t let the noise pollution get me down.

Happy

Wouldn’t you agree that this world could use a little more positivity? Like a movie that introduces some comic relief just when things seem to be darkest, we need people who introduce things positive into the darkness of this world. But sometimes it takes some intentionality to do just that.

So here are five happy reasons for you to be positive today:

  1. You’re alive. You know how fragile life can be. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is not promised. Today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present. So many people in the world live in conditions far more sparse than you and I do. You are blessed to live in the land of the free and home of the brave.
  2. You’re loved. Look around you. There is someone who loves you. Even if you don’t always feel that way, I promise that you are loved. If nobody else loves you I most certainly do. Live loved.
  3. You’re unique. There is no one else anywhere in the universe just like you. You have gifts and talents that are special just to you. The world wants what you have to give. Today is the day to share your art — whatever it may be — with the world.
  4. You’re able. You live in a day and age that has so very few restrictions and so very many technologies that make life simpler and easier. The possibilities that lie before you are endless. You have countless opportunities to make a difference and to create an impact.
  5. You’re forgiven. You’ve made mistakes. You’ve done things you regret. But there is One who lives for you, loves you, uniquely carried out your salvation, and is fully able to forgive you. Jesus gave His life to make your forgiveness certain.

Choose to be positive today. You are alive. You are loved. You are unique. You are able. You are forgiven.

What happy reason would you give for being positive today?

How to Care More Deeply in a Superficial Media World

It’s been a week since the Orlando massacre. The national media is still hanging around our city, The City Beautiful. But I wonder how long they’ll stay. What will be the next big thing to steal the spotlight in the never-ending media cycle? Pretty soon they’ll take away their satellite trucks, their reporters, and their location-focused shots.

TV Landscape

Then we’ll be left to pick up the pieces by ourselves. It isn’t the first tragedy to receive 24-7 media attention. It won’t be the last. Tragedies drive ratings and the networks and news stations know where their bread is buttered. But when the Attention Deficit Disorder of the American public and the national media flicks away from Orlando there will soon be another obsession.

We don’t live our lives inside the television. We live our lives in the real world. That means we have to continue to care, love, bring compassion, and share peace long after the world’s attention is focused elsewhere. It means that we’re not just dealing with images on a screen, we’re dealing with people who have feelings, who hurt, who care, and who need attention.

It’s so tempting to be superficial in a world with such a short attention span. But we can do better. We must do better.

Here’s how we can care more deeply when we’re tempted not to:

  1. Turn off the TV more often. It’s meant to be sensational and it often distracts your attention from the things that really matter. You’re better off limiting your viewing.
  2. Focus on the people in front of you. Here in Orlando it seems like everyone is impacted by last week’s events in one way or another. We may be 3 or more degrees removed from those who were immediately involved. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t others who are questioning, hurting, and crying. We can focus on those who need help in our own sphere of influence.
  3. Listen. In the last week I have found myself trying to listen more deeply. When I’m out in public I try to actually hear what people are saying. It helps me to be more empathetic not only with them, but with the people I know and those with whom I have more frequent face time.

Though we so often find our faces in screens, to truly care we have to put them down more often. Though the media is often superficial, we need not be. We can listen to stories, pay attention, love more deeply, and look into people’s eyes.

In a superficial world, how do you show you care?

Life Is Short — So Live It

As if I needed any more reminders, life is short. Living in Orlando this past week has reminded me of that more than 52 times. Now I have received word that Brad, my first cousin once-removed, passed away in his sleep last night. We haven’t been in touch for years, but my memories of him remind me of what it means to truly live life.

Los Angeles

Brad and I played freshman football together. He was the toughest player I knew. He could knock a guy out of his socks. He could then be on the receiving end of a monstrous hit and pop right up off the ground without a wince. He was always smiling. He loved telling jokes. People loved being around him. Brad was not only a relative, he was also one of my best friends.

Shortly after our freshman year of high school Brad and his family moved to Texas. We both got busy with our high school careers. The miles that separated us in the days before social media and cell phones meant that our lives would go in different directions.

But I still felt a strong connection to Brad later in life when I discovered that he took on an extremely unique career. He became a sand sculptor. He traveled the world to display his amazing creativity. His work brought joy and fascination to people in countless places all over the globe. He knew how to live. He did what he loved and shared it.

I can think of worse ways to live life.

I’m reminded of Psalm 39:

O Lord, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!

I am not a fatalist or an epicurean (“Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die”). But I am an advocate for living life to the full:

  • Enjoying each and every day
  • Looking for the best in people
  • Discovering new things
  • Doing what you do best
  • Finding “flow”
  • Attempting to dispense with worry
  • Appreciating family
  • Having a nice dinner around a table with good friends
  • Traveling whenever you get the chance
  • Making good art
  • Doing what you love and sharing it

Psalm 39 doesn’t leave us in a lurch:

And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in you.

Live in hope. Live life to the full.

The Amazing Power of Putting Faith into Words

Sometimes taking a step of faith has an impact on everyday life. Within the past couple of weeks my wife, Tammy, started her own business called PerfectlyPillō. She’s been thinking about and planning for it for quite some time. Now that school’s out for the summer she decided to take the leap. And it is a leap of faith.

Trust

Starting anything new comes with all kinds of questions. Will it work? Will it be worth my time? Will people respond? Will I be able to learn everything I need to in order for success?

But perhaps the biggest question is: Am I an imposter? 

This is where the faith you had to start something new needs to come from the depths of your heart and out your mouth in the form of words. There is such thing is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe that you are an imposter and you start to speak those kinds of doubt-filled words out of your mouth, they will soon come to fruition in the form of failed ventures.

But when you speak out loud words of faith they tend to come true. There is a great power in words. They have the power to move, to guide, to stop, and to start. They have the power to motivate, to celebrate, to appreciate, and dedicate.

Jesus Himself once said: 

Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. (Luke 11:23)

Jesus is, of course, referring to faith in Him as Savior. But He is most certainly speaking of the power of faith-filled words. Faith in Him is far stronger than faith in our own abilities.

But when we possess both faith in Him and faith in the abilities He has given us, we are doubly able to actually carry out the vocational things we are gifted to do. We are motivated to work hard to carry out in action what we have spoken with our words. We are much more likely to climb the challenging hills and less likely to slide down the slippery slopes.

So I’m encouraging Tammy to speak out of her mouth positive words about her new business. I’m encouraging you, too, to speak out of your mouth positive words regarding the wonderful challenges you face in life. When you conquer them you will look back and realize what an incredible impact was made by your positive words. You will find yourself further along and higher up the hill than you would have had you focused on the negative.

How can you more consistently put your faith into words?

Why Orlando Is Still The City Beautiful

We’ve lived in the Orlando area for almost exactly four years now. Though my wife, Tammy, and I are from the northern states of Wisconsin and Illinois we have willingly and lovingly adopted Orlando as our home. We love it for the weather, its beautiful lakes and parks, Disney and Sea World, the restaurants, places like Winter Park and Mills 50, and especially the people.

Orlando Palms

I know full well that Florida gets a bad rap because of the crazy news stories that seem to flow out of our state. But the news story that came out of our city in the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, could have happened anywhere. As the day wore on we were more and more horrified by the reckless disregard for human life, by the stories that were released, and by the sheer numbers of those who had lost their lives.

We prayed in church even before we knew the entire impact.

Orlando’s nickname is “The City Beautiful.” And it most certainly is for a myriad of reasons. But today Orlando bleeds with the blood of too many victims. The City Beautiful has been marred by terror. We thought things like this only happened in Paris or London.

Now it has come home. As one Law Enforcement officer said, “This is not an attack on our city. It is an attack on America.”

We know far too many people who could have been at that night club. We’ve got friends in the Orlando theatre community, we have gay friends in the service industry, we have a close friend who is a pastor and does ministry in the LGBT community of Orlando.

Beauty turned to the horrible ugliness of death in the dark hours of a Sunday morning.

But here’s why Orlando is still The City Beautiful:

  • When there was an urgent call for blood donation, people lined up hundreds deep in the Florida heat to freely give that precious commodity
  • Counseling centers opened immediately to help people deal with grief and fear
  • Churches all over town scheduled vigils to pray for peace and for the families and friends of the victims
  • Orlando is a part of the United States of America and Americans are resilient, brave, and resolute

I love my city. 

So does my Savior.

He poured out His own blood for it.

It is my hope and prayer that this event will do nothing other than draw people closer to Jesus. That they will know Him as Savior. That they will know the most beautiful thing of all: Jesus’ love, forgiveness, peace, hope, life, and salvation all made possible by His own life, death, and resurrection.

For we all hope and long for The City Beautiful that is to come. As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until the rest in Thee.”

Orlando is The City Beautiful. 

And it is my home.

When the wound “heals” from all of this there will always be a scar on The City Beautiful. 

But beauty will rise from the ashes and our city will rise up, stronger than ever.

10 Ideas to Bring Sizzle to Your Summer Creativity

Summer is a great time to bring sizzle to your creativity. Even though much of the world drops down a gear over the summer, creativity is never on vacation. In fact, it might just be the time you find your creativity kicking into high gear. Summer often brings a more relaxed atmosphere with school out, travel, and longer daylight hours. I have found that when I’m more relaxed and less stressed, it’s easier for me to elevate my creative game.

Campfire

So here are 10 ideas to bring sizzle to your summer creativity:

  1. Sit around a campfire. Watching the sparks fly and hearing the embers sizzle is just the ticket to dream a little. Let your imagination run wild as you watch the fire slowly dim down.
  2. Walk on the beach. Whether it’s the ocean or a local lake, simply being close to the water, listening to the waves, and taking in the fresh air is more than enough to light a creative fire. Go out there with the predetermined intention to come up with three creative ideas.
  3. Read something you normally wouldn’t. If you tend to read fiction read a non-fiction book. If you tend to read non-fiction read a novel. Here are ideas for each… Fiction: Motherless BrooklynNon-Fiction: Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind.
  4. Take a day trip. It’s not always easy to plunk down big bucks for an extravagant vacation. What about simply taking a couple of day trips this summer? Here are 20 of them right here in Florida alone. I’m sure there are plenty where you live, as well.
  5. Watch a sunset. Find a place where you can view a spectacular sunset. Most every state has picturesque places to do just that. Anna Maria Island here in Florida is one such place. As you watch the sun set imagine what the people are doing where the sun is coming up.
  6. Ride a bike. You could ride your own bike or, even better, get to a big city and rent one of those bikes by the hour. As you do so, notice the new things that are passing by all around you. Make up stories in your mind of the things you see.
  7. Learn a new skill. With the extra time you (may) have, try to learn something you always wanted to know how to do. Pick up the guitar. Try watercolors. Write a poem. There are all kinds of online tools and videos to help you out.
  8. Go to a garage/yard sale. But go with the mind to find something unique and interesting…something you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Use the object or item to inspire a creative project.
  9. Have a picnic. When was the last time you did this? Go to a local park and bring your lunch. Creativity comes in when you try to make your picnic as “gourmet” as you possibly can. Then, as you eat, look for further inspiration in the natural surroundings.
  10. Go see that summer blockbuster. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, go see one of the big blockbuster movies that comes out this summer. Jot down some of the creative elements you see. What can the creative moments in movies teach you about your own creativity?

What would you add to this list?

The Thankful Way to (Begin or) End Each Day

What’s on your back burner? James Clear talks about the “four burners” we have going in our life: health, work, family, and friends. The theory goes that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. In order to be really successful you have to cut off two of them. Clear explains that there are ways to work around keeping all four burners burning, but every choice has a cost. One way to find your way through all of this is to be thankful.

Writing

It can be pretty overwhelming to stay healthy, excel at work, devote time to your family, and cultivate solid friendships. When I reflect on those four things I realize that it is next to impossible to have all four going and glowing well. If I devote too much time to work, my family suffers. If I don’t leave any time for exercise my health suffers. If work, family, and health crowds into all my time I may find myself without friends.

But what if I dedicate just a minute amount of time to be consciously thankful each day for something in each category? It won’t buy me any time or help me with any of the trade-offs, but it will give me a better attitude to work my way through the challenges each day of keeping all four burners burning.

In order to help me do that, I have a small notebook. I use it every night before I go to bed to write down four specific things for which I’m thankful. The more specific I can be I’ve found, the better it is to keep me grounded and moving forward with a positive attitude.

For example, here’s what I’m thankful for today:

  • Health: I’m thankful I have recovered from the cold I had last week
  • Work: I’m thankful that the member of our church I visited in the hospital today is recovering well from cancer surgery
  • Family: I’m thankful for my wife’s creativity and hard work in the new little business she started this week
  • Friends: I’m thankful for the friend who texted me these encouraging words: “You are doing amazing work in very difficult times for the ‘Church’ in our culture”

I have found that the act of simply writing these things down is enough to calm me down, get me ready for a good night’s sleep, and help me wake up with a positive attitude. I’ve also found this to be helpful at the beginning of a day to get things off on a thankful and positive note. Either way, it’s an incredibly helpful practice.

What are the four things you are thankful for today?

How to Be Heroic Like the Hot Dog Princess

The internet is making everyday people celebrities and heroes. First we had “Chewbacca Mom.” Now we have the Hot Dog Princess. You can read about her “heroic” effort here. As Mashable puts it:

It was recently princess week at five-year-old Ainsley’s dance studio, so, naturally, Ainsley dressed as her favorite princess: a hot dog.

Princess (Black and White)

People loved it because Ainsley expressed her individuality rather than conforming with the crowd. If you look at the photos taken that day all the other girls are dressed in the traditional way you would expect a little to dress as a princess. But not Ainsley. She’s dressed as a hot dog. She has become internet famous. Her dad says it was all her idea.

Let’s just admit for a moment that using the word “heroic” for a little girl dressed as a hot dog is a bit of hyperbole. The word “heroic” ought to be saved for people who risk their lives in our defense. But in terms of expressing her originality, Ainsley might just be a minor hero. She knows who she is and she’s not afraid to express it.

One of the things that I’ve enjoyed about spending time in Nashville, where our son lives, is that it is filled with people who aren’t afraid to express their individuality and originality. It’s a city filled with artists. Folks there have come to expect unique tattoos, eccentric styles of dress, and an artsy flair in the people they encounter. I have always respected and admired people courageous enough to be themselves.

I appreciate it when people wear their creativity on their sleeve…sometimes literally. That might mean dressing like a hot dog during princess week, or it might mean wearing skinny jeans, a t-shirt, and a baseball hat.

Being heroic like the Hot Dog Princess means not being afraid to express who you are. Life is too short to conform only because you’re concerned about what other people think.

So here’s how to be heroic like the Hot Dog Princess:

  • Have a little flair
  • Buy that hat
  • Take a leap into an endeavor you’ve always longed for
  • Try something new
  • Take a selfie doing something fun
  • Join Snap Chat and make some creative videos
  • Get out of your comfort zone
  • Be in touch with who you really are
  • Express it
  • Get a (gulp) tattoo

It’s OK to be who you are. Don’t be afraid to show it. People might even call you “heroic.”

How will you express your individuality today?