Concealing or Revealing?

12562511033_cef1da644b_m“Can someone please remove the tubes from this photo?”

Photo editing software has morphed to such a point that it is hard to tell if what you are seeing is the real thing or simply someone’s wild imagination being played out in digital media. It used to be that if you wanted to pass off a muscular body as your own you would need to cut your face out of an existing printed photo and tape it on to a magazine clipping of Mr. Olympia. This rudimentary technique could also be used to change the location of the photo, the friends you are with or the activity being done. This may be funny, but hardly convincing.

Now airbrushed photos are the norm, not only for movie stars, but also even for family photos. Want to take off ten pounds? Done. Want to get rid of that zit. Zapped. You get the picture. Now almost any amateur digital artist can cook up or alter images in an effort to go viral with their creation. A convincing or shocking photo may get millions of hits, some people immediately being sucked in and forwarding the photo as a shocking truth while others see through the electronic veneer of paint brushes and erasers.

Rarely does an enhanced photo reveal more than it conceals or elicit such an outpouring of emotion as an Ohio father’s plea to have members of the Reddit online community help remove the tubes from his daughter Sophia’s picture.

She had never been without tubes.

And her parents would never have a memory of her without them. Sophia lost her battle to cancer on July 10. She was still an infant. Every memory, every photo they had of her included tubes in her mouth and hands, with a special brace that wrapped from cheek to cheek, like a football helmet mask, to keep the tube from being pushed out of her tiny mouth.

Those tubes kept Sophia alive, but they weren’t a natural part of her. Instead, they partially concealed her.

Thanks to the Reddit social community, technology, much like the tubes that allowed Sophia to breathe during her brief moments on earth, brought the real her to life in an astonishing way. Like a photo that stops you in your tracks, the photo of Sophia lying contented without tubes took my breath away. And moistened my eyes.

Now her parents are able to create a memory of their precious daughter and her true beauty fully revealed.

People who never knew Sophia or her family gave a gift to them. Some sketching pictures, others editing, and still others just pouring out their soul to the grieving family. They helped a dad and family re-write a page in an otherwise painful chapter of life.

Want to give a gift today? Reveal yourself. Open yourself up to another. Fight the urge to conceal. You may pave the way for them to do the same to you. In that moment something tremendously powerful happens. You begin to use brush strokes that reveal the true beauty hidden on a human canvas.

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Guaranteed Ways to Avoid Eating your Words

Alphabet SoupMy mind screamed out “Why did you just say that?”

There is that critical moment in a conversation when words hang heavy in mid-air like rain clouds about to unleash a torrential downpour of destruction, and you can do nothing except wait for the damage report. Maybe you’ve been in that situation with a friend or co-worker. You get passionate about a certain subject, and before you know it you have spoken words that can’t take back. Even if apologies are begged for and forgiveness is granted, the words will forever be etched in granite, never to be erased completely from memory.

As a fairly young leader I was in a boardroom when I felt my temperature rising with each passing minute. The discussion centered around where money was going to be spent on a Youth Centre that was being built. There was casual discussion about sending old chairs to the Youth Centre while buying new ones for the church. I must have been in a bad mood that day. I was likely hungry, or tired, or maybe I just didn’t want to be given the hand me downs. In an instant my temper flared and I blurted out my feelings about getting the “seconds” instead of buying the best for the Centre. I was fired up.

And as soon as I made my point I knew I had made a big mistake.

I was promptly put in my place by a gentleman who reminded me (in a passionate tone that eclipsed my own) how several people had sacrificially given hundreds of thousands of dollars for this project. They cared about the youth, and I better not forget that.

I instantly flushed hot with embarrassment and shame. He was right. I was wrong. I couldn’t apologize fast enough, but I also couldn’t undo what I had said. Thankfully this man was wise and graceful, and let it slide. But I still remember to this day.

“Be quick to listen slow to speak” are the words of wisdom from James 1:19. This can sound like an impossible task for an extrovert like me who needs to say things out loud in order to process them. However, wisdom calls out that there are things that must be done to “rein in” our tongues.

Here are a few practical tools to avoid foot-in-mouth disease:

*Remember that not all discussions need your engagement. Mom said it best; “When you can’t say nuthin’ good, don’t say nuthin’ at all.” Often attempts to reason with boardroom bullies amounts to “casting our pearls before swine.” Know when you have a receptive audience and when you are simply engaged in an exercise in futility.

*Have a few sounding boards that you can bounce ideas off of in safety…other than your boss, spouse, parent, or anyone you may have conflict with.

*Take a time out. I have avoided saying many dumb things by simply biting my tongue till it bleeds and counting to ten.

*When you do speak, make sure it is flavored with truth AND love! Truth without love is mean spirited. And love without truth is often deceptive. Both need to be in balance. You can say hard things in a soft way. Before you take a swing, put on some gloves.

Don’t get caught trying to stuff words back in your mouth. Listen. Wait. Then if you must, speak with truth and love.

 

I’d love to hear any ways that you avoid the distasteful delicacy of eating your words, or any personal reflection you have on this topic.

Leverage for Life

leverage-resized-600It’s interesting to me how often I focus on what I don’t have at my disposal rather than what I do have in spades, or even in pretty humbling amounts.

In an amazing real-life object lesson in 2 Kings 4, the prophet Elisha has an encounter with a poor, widowed woman and her two sons. They are in debt up to their eyeballs and creditors are about to take her sons as payment. This would be a death sentence not only emotionally for this woman, but also physically. Without sons to support her it is unlikely that she would have lived long. She was broken (grieving the loss of a husband), broke (without any money), and about to break (Could she live without the comfort and love of her sons?).

Perhaps you’ve been there. You are out of options, your back’s against the wall and it seems like there is little way out. At those times we tend to focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do. Elisha zeros in on her situation and asks her what she has in her house. This was Mother Hubbard’s cupboard in real life. All she had was a small jar of olive oil. What good could that be? And yet, with what she has a miracle occurs. It is multiplied over and over. So much so that she is able to sell the oil she has poured into empty containers from her house and those borrowed from her neighbors, covering her debts and leaving enough to live on for the next little while.

I’m sure you would like a miracle like that to happen in your life. But I think the cool part of the miracle is that what little she had is what was used to bring the miracle. Elisha used something of hers, as well as the resources of friends to provide the miracle (it was, in fact, many of their pots that she poured the excess oil into).

In your life, what might you be able to leverage, be it ever so small, to produce a miracle?

-Time

-Savings

-Specific talent

-Connections

I have found that God often wants to use the “little” I have to make a “lot” happen.

So what do you have in your house? Don’t squander it. Put it to good use!

Increase Your Writing Productivity in 4 Easy Steps

dscn1062We’ve all been there before. You have something you just have to get finished. Maybe it’s a proposal for work, a reference letter, term paper or even a blog. You know you have to just bear down and do it, but procrastination sets in, and before you know it you are surprisingly taken in by the profound products being displayed on the shopping network. It’s amazing how almost anything can provide an adequate excuse when avoiding the inevitable!

Here are a few tricks that I have found to be very helpful to get er’ done. If you follow these recommendations you just might finish that blog post that will go viral making you an instant celebrity. Or you’ll have the satisfaction of doing what you said you would do. I think that’s enough reason to put the following tips into practice.

1)   Kill the media

Watching hockey or a series on Netflix can be a great way to relax, but it can also steal several hours that you will never get back. Set up strict times when you refuse to turn on the tv or other media. Maybe even shut off your phone (I promise you and your friends will be ok).

2)   Get focused

There are a ton of great word processors out there. I happen to use Word because I have forever and because almost anyone anywhere can read docs I send them. When I really need to get down and focus, I go to View-Focus. Everything except the page you are working on goes black. No more notifications and other cool reminders going off. It’s writing time!

3)   Listen to brain music

I am one of those people who cannot listen to regular music when I write because I am too distracted by lyrics. You see I actually listen to the lyrics. Then I ponder them. Then before you know it I am critiquing Mumford and Sons rather than writing. Instead, I have a free account with Focus@Will (www.focusatwill.com). You will get 60 minutes of uninterrupted, lyric-free music that has been scientifically proven to increase focus. Or that’s what they claim. It seems to work for me. I am currently writing to the “Alpha Chill” channel.

4)   Find the right spot

I cannot write while I am being interrupted by kids and phone calls. I need a place that is either quiet, like the desk in our basement or in my favourite chair on the main floor, or even in the local Starbucks. I seem to be able to write there because if I were just staring off into space rather than working I would seem like a creeper.

Now just write whatever comes to your mind. Stop making excuses!

Feel free to share any tips you have for increasing writing productivity. I’d like to hear about them.

4 Reasons You Need To Keep A Journal

origin_4762384399-500x257I have been journaling since I was in my very early twenties. I may have periodically done it before that point, but it has been a regular part of my life for at least the last fifteen years. Here’s why I keep a journal, and why you might want to consider keeping one yourself, especially if you are a leader who wants to grow and develop.

1)   My memory is not as good as I think it is. When I look back at journals from the past I can see the highs and lows through the years. I am reminded of conversations, celebrations and insights I had years ago. I can see the growth in my thinking and attitudes. I am reminded of how God has guided me through the years. It is a measuring stick of my thought growth, much like a measuring stick on the wall for growing children.

2)   I can see where I am stuck. If I write the same thing over and over, or I see a pattern of negativity or thinking that is not helpful, it gets very real when I have to write and read those thoughts over and over. Journal keeping has been a way to get out the ugly on a page and then make the decision to move on to a healthier, faith-filled future.

3)   I can record leadership and discipleship insights. I always record thoughts about my daily Bible reading as well as quotes from a current book I am reading. This is one more way that I am able to better remember what I have read and also to interact with what I have read. What stood out to me? What do I agree or disagree with and why? What do I need to learn?

4)   It keeps me writing. If nothing else, journaling puts me in the habit of writing something each day. It may spur a thought for a sermon, a blog, a book or even a conversation I need to have with someone else.

In years past I have done all my journaling in black notebooks and a fountain pen or some other writing instrument. While I still love doing this, I have found that it doesn’t always work with my schedule. When I want to write I may not have my journal, but I always have my iPhone and usually have my MacBook Pro or iPad.

That’s why I have digitized my journaling using Day One. It synchs over the cloud, I can add pictures, and whenever I have some downtime I can add my thoughts and musings for the day. It even recommends questions that may spur your creative writing. I highly recommend it.

No more excuses. Get journaling and grow.

3 Proven Ways to Smash Through Barriers

koolaidRight now I feel totally depleted. The tanks are dry. I am running on empty.

I have been dieting for three months and have been doing two-a-days to keep my metabolism high in preparation for a contest in June. Up until a few days ago I was doing well, but now I’ve hit a wall, a very hard wall. And I am reeling.

Have you ever been there? You know that feeling where you would rather go to bed than face the day, or you are pulled in to the lure of escaping through media or midnight snacks rather than doing what you know you ought to do?

Here’s what I am doing to crush through this wall (like the Kool-Aid guy) and I know it will get me through this tough patch, and just may help you through whatever you are going through right now.

1) Remember the “why” of your goal. I once read a quote that said, “Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do long after the mood you said it in has left you.” Often when things get hard we give up. It is not the time to give up now, it’s time be reminded why you made the goal in the first place. Did you want to make more money, grow your marriage or get healthier? At some point you knew that where you were was not good enough. You weren’t happy and you wanted something better for yourself. In my case, I have come a long way, and throwing in the towel now would be a waste of all the hard hours I have put in so far.

2) Re-commit to the goal. The way that I do this is to write about it (this blog) or talk to my wife Melissa or a few of my trusted friends about it. They will quickly get me past feeling sorry for myself and whip me back into the right mindset. No more excuses. I will finish what I started.

3) Re-Ignite. This is where I hit the crazy button. I do what I don’t want to do. I hit the gym, I avoid any junk food, and I trash downtime that does not line up with my goals. I go hard after my goal, and the more I do this, the more the fire gets burning within me. I no longer feel sorry for myself, I feel empowered to do what I have set out to do in the first place.

Whatever your goal, when the going gets tough just Remember, Re-commit and Re-Ignite. The world needs to have more examples of people who will not settle for mediocrity. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to get on the spin bike.

 

PS-If none of this makes sense please forgive me and disregard this post. I haven’t had any carbs for several hours.

Take 3 Steps Away from the Envy Slope

envy4-2Often when people refer to something being a slippery slope, it is said in the context of a fairly banal action that may lead to an unintended consequence if taken to the extreme. When I was in Bible College it was feared that if blue jeans were allowed in class what might be next? People may become so casual they may attend class in the buff! As you can see, some slopes are more slippery than others.

In Psalm 73 Asaph records a time when he came close to the edge of a cliff and almost lost his footing. It wasn’t so much because of an action that he did or didn’t take, but an attitude that he allowed to harbour in his heart.

What was his heart attitude?

At some point we have all been there. We have envied the person next to us, desiring the prestige, position, beauty or bank account that they have. We look at our paltry place in life and long to be like them. For the Christian this can be even more frustrating because many times the wicked prosper while the righteous flounder. What is the deal with that?

Green is often the color associated with envy. However, it is much darker and destructive in reality. When we let envy set in it can lead to very ugly consequences. Asaph found this out first hand as pain and bitterness that had cemented into his psyche because of his envy. It had blurred his perspective-making him foolish and ignorant (vs. 21-22).

So how did Asaph come to his senses before falling off the cliff? He came to a few key realizations:

1)   He belonged to God

We lose perspective when we are straining to see the success of others and fail to see the reality that God does not only like us, but we are loved by Him. We are his prized possession. When you get your mind around that principle it quickly puts things in perspective.

2)   God was still guiding him

One of my favorite sayings is “Do not question in the darkness what God has fully revealed in the light.” When things look bleak it is very tempting to wonder where God is or what his plan is. While others prosper and we are paupers we must remember that God isn’t finished with us yet. He is still guiding us. We just need to make sure that we are following.

3)   He needed to focus on God rather than others

A psalm that started out very bleak ends in triumph as Asaph proclaims “I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do” (v. 28).

If you are falling down the slippery slope of envy today, take a few minutes to refocus like Asaph did. The same God who guided him through the darkness will also guide you. He certainly has done it for me a time or two.