When the Holiday Season Brings a Happy Sadness

As I write this the sun is setting and the sky is orange, pink, and purple. I wish there were a word to describe the feeling that washes over me at this time of the day. A friend of mine calls it “a happy sadness.” I suppose that’s as close as I can get to really describing it. It’s really the same feeling I get at this time of the year. The holiday season brings a happy sadness. Maybe you feel that way, too.

I have a long and sordid love affair with the holiday season. Some of my earliest memories are of the lights on the Christmas tree in our house on Milwaukee’s Tacoma Street. They were the big glass bulbs that you don’t anymore see on trees. There were no mini twinkling lights or LED “cool” lights. Our family always got a real tree and it sat right in front of our big picture window. The big lights on that tree fascinated me and helped me anticipate Christmas morning when the tree would be overflowing with gifts.

But my early memories also include those long holi-“days” home from school. There were times I suffered from a stomach ache so bad that I couldn’t eat for days at a time. I remember feeling an awful feeling both physically and emotionally that I just wanted to go away. I don’t know where the stomach ache came from, but it was relenting. Eventually I would feel better and Christmas morning was as wonderful as could be. The holidays were for me a happy sadness.

Thanksgiving is now over and we are head first into the 2017 holiday season. I go into the grocery store with all of the decorations and specialty foods and think, “This is my favorite time of the year.” I hear (most of) the Christmas songs on the radio or in the store and have a happy feeling.

But the holidays are also a reminder of times past. I think about all of the great times with my girl friend, who then became my fiancé, who then became my wife. I remember those days when our children were very little and seeing that happy anticipation on their faces. There was so much joy over the years finding just the right gifts for each of our kids. And it was always fun to see what they, in their creativity would get me.

Christmas will be different this year. Our son and his wife live out of state and won’t be able to make it to our house this year. Our daughter and her family rightly need time to celebrate Christmas on their own with their little boy, our grandson. This will really be the first time we haven’t had our whole family together at some point at Christmas. That’s the sad part.

But there’s a wonderfully happy part, too. It’s that little boy. Our less-than-one-year-old grandson has brought a special kind of joy to life that simply cannot be matched. His smile lights me up and his presence is the truest gift there is. If I received no other gift this year he would be more than enough.

It’s only a small reminder of the eternally joyful part of Christmas. It’s the part that also has to do with a Baby Boy. The One who was born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger brings the present of His presence. Every day. Every year. Holiday season or not. No matter how I feel. His joy takes any sadness I may have and washes it eternally away. His perfect life takes any sin I have ever committed and nails it to His looming cross. It’s a happy sadness. But it’s always — yes always — undergirded by joy (which is a much different thing than mere “happiness” and ultimately drives away even the deepest sadness.)

This holiday season I wish for you more happiness than sadness.

More than that, I wish you the true joy that comes only from the Newborn King.

The Amazing Power of a Team to Accomplish One Big Thing

Last week I spent three full days starting something new. Actually, that’s not completely accurate. It wasn’t just me. There was a team of five of us attempting to lay the groundwork for something really big. We were working with an organization called Five Two (i.e., Five Loaves and Two Fish) creating a new ministry which we pray, in the end, will culminate in more baptized believers in Jesus. When Five Two begins work with anyone they insist you bring a team along with you. There’s good reason for that.

If you want to accomplish one big thing it’s best to have a team together with you for the ride. You’ll be amazed at the power behind you to make it all happen. A good team helps you by doing these things:

  1. Expanding the vision. The dream the five of us have is a pretty big dream. Far bigger than any of us individually, and even bigger than the five of us collectively. Even though we went in with a big vision, over the course of three days the five of us made it even bigger. We were bold enough to see possibility. It’s so much fun to dream with a team.
  2. Bringing the best gifts. In addition to myself, our team consists of a corporate coach, a retail manager, a tech guru, and an incredibly talented creative. As we worked our way through issues and challenges over the course of the three days it always seemed as though the right person was in the right place to resolve the thing at hand. Wide ranging gifts and talents make a team great.
  3. Reining in one another. A team will help you bring a realistic bent to the proceedings. I tend to be an optimistic dreamer. I need people around me who will show me the realistic side of it all. My fantastic team is helping me do just that. Their realism helps protect my sometimes blind optimism.
  4. Honing the vision. One of the purposes of our three day workshop was to drill down and focus the vision before us. One of the things we had to do was come up with our perfect “customer.” Her name is Hipster Hannah. We could tell you almost everything about where she lives, what she drives, where she shops, what her family’s like, and where she works. it took the entire team to come up with such focused detail. It was one of the most fun parts of our three days together.
  5. Bearing up one another. Three days of hard work can be tiring. It’s a good thing our team is filled with people who have a great sense of humor. There was a great deal of laughter. When things got tiring, we encouraged each other and shared the burden. There tends to be more energy flowing in and through a team than in an individual. Need some energy? Go be with other people.

There is amazing power in a group of people. Don’t have one for yourself? Recruit one. I bet there are people ready and willing to help you right now with the big project thetas’ right in front of you.

What benefits have you seen when working with a team?

The Incredible Power of a Simple Affirmation

The person shall remain nameless. Suffice it to say that there is a fair amount of contact between the two of us. We see each other rather frequently. The person has the opportunity to observe on at least a weekly basis what I do publicly as a pastor. I certainly don’t need affirmation from this person. But it would most definitely be a nice courtesy. Though there have been a myriad of opportunities to do so, not once has there ever been a word of affirmation directed toward me from my friend. In comparison to other people in my life it is a noticeable deficiency.

Do you know how that is? One small word of affirmation can make or break a day. For that matter, it can make or break a relationship. It really doesn’t take much at all. Even if it’s difficult to say something nice about a person to their face there is always something nice you can say. It is a common courtesy and something that seems to be lacking in much of our world today.

What this personal experience has taught me is that I want to be more affirming to the people around me. I know how it feels to be frequently around someone who seems to refuse to provide any kind of affirmation. I don’t want others to feel that way when they’re around me. There is incredible power in a simple affirmation. So I try my best to do the following things:

  1. Affirm the people in my profession. An affirmation from a peer is not just a common courtesy. It seems to be the kind of affirmation that holds a bit more weight. I always feel very good when I am affirmed by another pastor. So whenever I hear another pastor preach I try to find something specific about which I can affirm them. Then I say it.
  2. Affirm my family. It’s so important to affirm those in one’s own family. In the case of children it boosts self-esteem. In the case of a spouse it creates greater trust and intimacy.
  3. Affirm my friends. Why would anyone want to be friends with someone who never recognizes accomplishments or positive qualities? You can certainly do so publicly. But another way is to send a real piece of first class mail to show how much you appreciate your friendship.
  4. Affirm those who work with me. Do you want your co-workers to work well with you and for you? Again, a little bit of affirmation goes a long way. I try to find opportunities to compliment my coworkers in front of other people. I want to recognize their fine work in as many ways as possible, as many times as possible.
  5. Affirm even those who don’t affirm me. There’s no excuse for failing to affirm someone even if they don’t affirm you. The Bible says something about “heaping burning coals” upon someone’s head. But it’s really about raising the level of common courtesy in general. I’ve done it with the person I mentioned at the top of this post, and it feels good to do so.

How do you affirm the people in your life?

The Key to Making Almost Anything Better

I’m in the middle of writing my second book. I guess I should really say I’ve just started writing it. It’s going at a snail’s pace. I hope to move faster pretty soon but I’m in the middle of busy season right now. Writing the book gets pushed a little further down the list of priorities. But it’s still a priority. Another reason the process is a bit slower is because of another tool I’m using this time around. I’m finding that it’s a key to making almost anything better.

Before I started writing my book I hired a writing coach. With trepidation I sent my first chapter off to her. When I got it back she had some incredibly insightful notes for me. She suggested things to work on. She prodded better writing out of me.

So I revised that first chapter. It was hard work. But it was fun work. I had to dig down and do what I wasn’t sure I could do. I had to tell myself that I’m a writer and I can write better when I set my mind to it. Man, was it fun.

When I went back and read the revised chapter I was astounded. It was so much better than I ever thought it could be. I sent it back to my coach and she affirmed that I did what she asked me to do.

The key to making almost anything better is having someone else look at it. Want to be a better writer? Have someone else look over your first draft. Want to be a better teacher? Let someone else observe you. Want to be better at any sport? Be coachable.

We live in a world that encourages us to be Lone Rangers. But the better way is to let people in on your dreams, your projects, your goals. Let another set of eyes look at your work. Listen to what they have to say. Improve on it. Revise and edit. There is no such things as perfection, but there’s always room for improvement. Let a trusted friend, coach, or helper help you.

You’ll be glad you did. 

Then after you improve it (whatever it is), ship it (as Seth Godin says). The key to making almost anything better is to get some help — even just a little.

What will you do improve something in your life today?

What I Learned By Weighing Myself Daily

I weigh myself every day. It didn’t used to be that way. I had always been taught that you should only weigh yourself once a week. Then I joined a program called Omada. Omada is an online health system that provides a coach, lessons, a group of peers, suggested food choices, exercise motivation, and a scale that automatically transmits data. It’s a proven program that decreases diabetes risk and increases the potential for greater weight loss and a more healthy lifestyle. Now I’m weighing myself every day. It’s what Omada tells me to do.

Weighing myself every day has been a game changer. I have completely transformed my diet. Exercise is the first thing I do at least five days of the week. And I’ve lost fourteen pounds in twelve weeks. I can honestly say I feel so much better. But I believe one of the keys has been that daily weigh-in. Here’s what I’ve learned by doing it:

  1. Knowledge is power. When you weigh yourself daily you know exactly where you stand. If your weight goes up you can reflect on the previous day and the (poor) choices you made. It helps you make improvements moving forward. If your weight goes down you can pat yourself on the back and continue making the same good choices. It’s true in every aspect of life: the more you know the better choices you make.
  2. Trends are helpful. As I weigh myself every day I can look back at the chart of my weigh-ins. The trend has been very helpful to me as I see my weight decreasing. The daily weigh-in gives me daily knowledge. But the trend gives me an overall picture. It feels so good to look back and see from where I came. It’s true in every aspect of life: Take a look at trends and see from where you came. You might be surprised.
  3. Motivation comes more naturally. I actually look forward to weighing myself every morning. Sometimes I’m not happy, and I scream (!). Just ask my wife. She hears it. Other times I look at the scale and it starts my day off brilliantly. It’s amazing how a simple number can make an entire day better. When I’m getting ready to eat a cookie I remember that I have to weigh myself in the morning. When I’m eating a salad with grilled chicken and everyone else is eating enchiladas I remember that I have to weigh myself in the morning. It’s a powerful, powerful motivator. And it has worked. It’s true in every aspect of life: accountability works. Why not set up some kind of accountability today?

Knowledge, trends, and accountability are powerful tools. They don’t only work when you’re trying to lose weight. They can help you in almost any area of life. When you use them you will be surprised by the goals you will accomplish.

What do you do to motivate yourself?

What to Do When You’re Up Next

Do you know the name Brett Hundley? If you don’t know by now Aaron Rodgers, quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, broke his collar bone in a game against the Minnesota Vikings. You’re about to hear Brett Hundley’s name a great deal more. He’s the back up for Aaron Rodgers. He will now be the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. He is the so-called “next man up.”

I’ve always lived under the mantra that no one is indispensable. There is someone who can do your job, take your place, or bring something different to your current position. That thought isn’t meant to depress or discourage you. It simply means that there is always a way through a difficult time, even if it means another person having to step up. You may even be asked to be the one who steps up and takes the place of another person thought to be irreplaceable. It’s a difficult position. But the next person up may be just the key to a new level or a big breakthrough.

We have yet to see if Brett Hundley will in any way be able to fill Aaron Rodgers Hall of Fame shoes. But the games will go on. They still have to be played. And the Green Bay Packers need a quarterback. So Brett Hundley is the next man up.

Here’s what we can learn from Brett Hundley about being the next person in line:

  1. Show your respect. The first thing Hundley did when Rodgers got hurt was go over to him and say, “I love you, man. I’m gonna do my best.” He respects the person’s whose shoes he’s about to fill. That respect goes a long way with the fans and with his teammates. It shows he knows his place. But it also shows he’s ready to step up.
  2. Do the job. Hundley went out and had a good game. Not a great game, but under the circumstances a good game. He was feeling his way through a difficult situation. He did what he could to keep the team in the game. In the end the Packers lost. But Hundley learned some things he will take into the next games. When you find yourself in a “next person up” situation just go in with a good attitude and do the job.
  3. Be confident. Hundley had nothing to lose. He went into the game with confidence. But more than that, in the post-game interview he expressed confidence that he’d be able to confidently lead the team in the coming games. Confidence will fill the gaps of his inexperience. Be confident but not cocky. It will help you, too.
  4. Keep learning. Now Hundley will be practicing with the starting team. He will have the opportunity to learn even more In the post-game press conference he said, “I’ll prepare and I’ll be ready.” Life is a never-ending classroom. Never stop learning. It will do you will at the perfect time.
  5. Stay humble. The one thing that really stood out to me was that Hundley was humble. He knows he’s got his work cut out for him. He’s confident because he’s a professional. But he knows that if he gets cocky he may not only lose his edge, but his teammates as well. Humility is a great quality. It helps you keep perspective while maintaining confidence.

When will it be your opportunity to be the next person up? You never know. But when it is, here’s the encouragement to do it with respect, confidence, and humility.

Sadness in Search of Hope and Answers

I’m sad. This has not been a good day for our country or, for that matter, people anywhere. I woke up to the news that almost 60 people were gunned down by a madman with an assault rifle, and hundreds more are wounded. Some are still fighting for their lives. This should have been a good day (and part of it really was) because I got to spend the morning with our daughter and grandson. But sadness overcame the day.

Thankfully, (for now) little nine-month-old Crosby is oblivious to what is going on in the world around him. Since he has been born he has lived through a few hurricanes (one of which hit his own city as he slept), deep division in our country, and now our nation’s worst mass shooting. I’m concerned for him and all that he will face as he grows.

But in a way it’s nothing new. There have always been trials, challenges, and tragedies in the world. It just seems that recently so many of them have been bunching together. I suppose that has something to do with the ubiquitous media and social media. We are more aware of tragedy than we ever have been before.

As we are more aware we search for more answers in the face of evil sadness. I completely understand those who solidly support the Second Amendment, but I do question the need for assault rifles and devices that can make them automatic or “machine guns.” And yet my questions go deeper than that. I marvel at the total depravity of evil. I wonder how people can be so callous toward others. And mostly I wonder why our world has fallen so far away from the only thing — the only One — who can help in any real way. The most real way. The eternal way.

When sadness searches for hope and answers they will only be found in one Person: Jesus Christ and Him crucified. His perfect life and substitutionary death means forgiveness for the sins of every person. His resurrection means real life — eternal life — for all who believe in Him. It’s something no evil, no callousness, and no gunman can ever take away.

Though I’m sad today I hold onto the promise of the Psalms that “joy comes in the morning.” I look forward to the joy the morrow will bring. And I will do my best to share that joy with others.

How about you?

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Determination as a Key to Learning New Things

The other day our eight-month-old grandson, Crosby, came over to our house. We’re with him enough to know how active he is. But when he came over to our place it became even more evident. The boy never stops moving. He explores. He’s curious. Crosby can’t help himself from discovering new things. He climbs. His little legs crawl from one place to another. The magnets on the refrigerator and the steps that go upstairs are far too tempting for a little boy. Watching him is a glorious display of determination.

Our son-in-law posted a picture of Crosby online with this quote:

Determined. The one word [Ashlyn] and I keep going back to when describing Crosby lately. To him, everything is possible. Especially when he always has a toy by his side…or mouth.

Watching Crosby reminds me, on the one hand, that as I grow older I sometimes lose my curiosity. My determination sometimes wanes. Energy that I once had degrades.

But on the other hand I am also reminded to look at the world through Crosby’s eyes. I want to think, like Crosby, that everything is possible. I want to see everything as though it were new. I want to discover the way things work. I desire new energy for old things.

So here’s a challenge for today: Look at everything like an eight-month-old.

  • Find new determination
  • Consider anything possible
  • Look at something like you’ve never seen it before
  • Discover the way something works
  • Summon the energy for creativity
  • Move your eyes left, right, up, and down
  • Climb up or dig down

There’s creative power in thinking, acting, and being determined like an infant.

What does determination look like to you?

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It Doesn’t Have to Take a Birthday to Do Something Special

Sometimes those human interest stories at the end of newscasts really get to me. It happened tonight. The story told about a teacher who asked one of her students about her birthday party. The little girl told her she had never had a birthday party, or even a slice of her own birthday cake. The teacher said when she heard those words her breath was taken away. It moved her so much that she quit her job and started her own non-profit organization. Now she raises money so that low income, underprivileged, and homeless children can have their very own birthday party, gifts and all.

Now this woman buys the gifts, dresses up in costumes, and brings the cakes to the parties. Professional baseball teams have gotten involved. Volunteers help out. And the smiles on the children’s faces beam like the sun. The story brought a lump to my throat.

You don’t have to start a non-profit or even throw a birthday party to bring joy or uplift. The same can be done even in the most mundane situations. Walter Wangerin, Jr. reminds us of this when he writes:

Every time you meet another human being you have the opportunity. It’s a chance at holiness. For you will do one of two things. Either you will build him up or you will tear him down. There are no useless, minor meetings. There are no dead-end jobs. There are no pointless lives. Swallow your sorrows; forget your grievances and all the hurt your poor life has sustained. Turn your face truly to the human before you and let her, for one pure moment, shine. Think her important, and then she will suspect that she is fashioned of God.

So do something special today. Go with your compassionate idea. Throw a birthday party. Sit face to face with someone. Make the visit you promised you would. You might even come up with an idea that leads to a non-profit organization.

What will you do to make someone smile today?

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When a Little Wave Makes a Big Difference

It’s the end of the first quarter at the Iowa Hawkeyes’ football game. Suddenly the entire crowd turns in one direction. Smiles cover the faces. The fans look up beyond the wall of the stadium. And they begin to wave.

It’s a tradition that just began this year. A new children’s hospital was built with windows overlooking the field. A fan floated the idea of waving to the kids in those windows. People thought it was a great idea so the word spread. The next thing you know every time there’s a football game a little bit of joy is injected into the lives of kids who are sick enough to be hospitalized. And all it takes is a wave multiplied thousands of times.

Isn’t it amazing what a little gesture can do? I love it when I take my morning bike ride and a motorist is friendly enough to gesture me across the street and follow it with a friendly wave. Our grandson is on the verge of learning how to wave. Don’t you love it when little babies do that? Waves can be emotional, too. I vividly remember waving to both of our kids when we dropped them off at their respective colleges and made our way home. If I’m being honest, more than a few tears accompanied those waves.

Sometimes a wave is not so much physical as it is emotional. Here in Florida we have felt the nation “waving” to us by sending financial support, their linemen and women, and their prayers. It’s almost as though the rest of the nation is turning their collective faces toward us like the fans at an Iowa football game. And we feel the warmth and love. It brings a smile to our faces.

Why not make it your goal to wave to someone today? Even if it may feel a little uncomfortable, give it a try. Especially if you don’t normally do it, wave to a fellow motorist, neighbor, or pedestrian today. You might just make their day. And your day will be better as well.

To whom will you wave today?

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