Monday, March 29, 2010

Ninja Writing Mode

Last week, someone who doesn't know me well yet, asked where I'd been for a couple of days as I hadn't spent much time on Twitter and hadn't blogged. I wrote back, telling him that I had gone into Ninja Writing Mode and when I do that I use up all of my 'interesting' in a short period of time.

He asked me to expand a little on Ninja Writing Mode - maybe this is something that is a positive experience in my life.

My immediate response was to negate my activity because I really don't believe anyone should do what I do on purpose. I much prefer to be organized and settle down at 9 am each morning to write. That's what the pundits tell us to do over and over. For most of them, it seems to work. They set their schedule, stick to their schedule and produce page after page of writing - whether good or bad.

I would love to live and work that way. In fact, it is something that I strive towards regularly. But right now this isn't working for me.

I've discovered a lot of things about myself over the last 35+ years (I allow those early years to be discovery of the world - not myself). Here are some things I've learned.

1. If I'm going to do something creative, like writing or designing a graphic project or creating a program, I need to allot myself a four hour minimum time span for the ideas to begin flowing and then get them honed down. The problem is that as I close in on the end of the four hours, if there is something coming up, my mind actually begins processing on the next task and I lose my focus.

2. I can't have chaos in my immediate vicinity. Bills have to be paid, the desktop has to be clear, tasks have to be finished, etc. Once my mind begins to process on an unfinished item, I can't think of anything other than finishing it.

3. I need quiet - maybe even silence. I actually don't listen to music when I'm being creative. Music tends to draw me in and I become part of the creation of music. I sing harmonies, see the note patterns, drum out the rhythms. Music does me no good at that point, my mind is totally distracted.

These three requirements are pretty standard for anyone doing anything creative: uninterrupted time, clear mind and space, quiet.

Since I decided to go on sabbatical awhile ago, I expected that all of these things would become normal parts of my life. I spent 22 years in an intense, fast-paced environment ... heck, an intense, fast-paced life. There were only a few days a year that I felt as if I got quality time given to me in which I could be creative. Most of the time I would wait until Max went to sleep and then go like crazy until 3 or 4 in the morning, only to have to wake up and start my day at 7. After those 22 years, I moved into a different environment that still required me to engage fully with everyone around me every moment of the day. Not a lot of time for individual creativity.

Then, I stopped it all.

I haven't filled my days back up with crazy activity, but I do manage to find distractions that are important to me. When I am in Omaha, I spend time with my family, doing things at church, seeing friends, handling my world. My living space is filled with things that need to be taken care of (I really need a wife) - I can't turn around without finding one more task that should be dealt with before I settle down to work.

So I leave town and head for the cabin where the distractions are at a minimum, phone calls rarely come in, no one is talking to me and the space doesn't actually change when I walk away from it. I get a few short days there, so I know that I need to be as productive as possible.

Enter: Ninja Writing Mode.

I allow myself an hour or so in the morning to reconnect with my electronic world. A lot of my creativity comes from the ideas that I grab while I'm reading blogs, talking to friends, getting input from the world. It might take me awhile to get my head together enough to take a shower and have breakfast, but once all of that is complete, I'm generally ready to go.

The best part of it is, that there are no distractions to taunt me throughout the day. I don't think about a meeting or a social event that I need to get dressed up for. I just write. Once I start the reading and writing, I'm off and I can easily spend 6-8 hours tearing through the next week's writing. If it requires a lot of reading and comprehension, I'll use those hours up with no issue.

I can work like crazy on anything in front of me that doesn't require my mind to wander into unknown spaces to discover new ideas when I'm in the real world. It has never been a problem for me to write papers and do projects that only pull from the surface of my brain with distractions all around me. THAT part of my life is easy to do and blend into the real world. That's what I did for the last 35 years of my life.

But there were those mornings that I woke up and I just knew there was something more my mind wanted to explore and I simply didn't have time to let it run free. I had too much in front of me to handle. I spent too many years shutting down that creative brain.

I like my Ninja Writing Mode. I like exploring ideas and thoughts that I've never before had time to understand.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Imperfections - Self-Reflection

It occurs to me that I might spend WAY too much time in self-reflection. Most of the time I think I'm fairly interesting - at least to myself. But, I guess I can see why I might be alone in that thought. I hope that each of us finds ourselves fairly interesting. In fact I hope that we find ourselves to be darned interesting!

Part of my self-reflection always ends up making me consider why or how I do things and whether or not I should continue down the path I'm walking. For the big stuff in my life, I'm satisfied that God and I have this figured out and I'm totally cool with the fact that He is my guide.

For the little stuff ... there is a lot to be fixed in my life. Let me tell you that is a bit of a crisis for me. Why? Because for heaven's sake, I'm fifty years old! I certainly thought that by now I would have figured out my life and might have rid myself of at least some of my foibles and tendencies to err. But, whenever I spend any time at all in self-reflection, I discover many splotches and imperfections that could be corrected.

Please don't think for a moment that I'm asking you to reassure me as to how terrific I am or try to make me feel better about myself. This is all a very good thing. It's good to re-evaluate ourselves regularly, to ask questions about how we interact with the world around us and to measure our actions within our relationships. Like most of you, I have no problem with the sound belief that I'm always right ... but just in case I might not be correct 100% of the time, I probably need to keep an eye out so that I can readjust.

I share a lot of the changes in my life on this blog. Maybe it's all about accountability. Probably it's all about the fact that I can't keep my mouth shut. Hopefully it's all about real change.

Peter Shallard talks about beating procrastination in his "7 Jedi Mind Tricks for Overcoming Procrastination" and the fourth point is about advertising your deadline: accountability.

I kind of like the idea that I share so much of my self-reflection and hope for change in this blog, so that I will always feel responsible to everyone who might read it, to actually do the things that I write about and to act the way that I encourage others to act. I certainly don't want to be the person with a Jesus bumper sticker on my vehicle flipping off other drivers or the guy who works for Coca-Cola caught drinking a Pepsi in their break room.

As I look back over my day and reflect on my conversations and behaviors, I either come away disgusted or encouraged. If I need to, I will apologize. If I find that I didn't encourage someone that was searching for something in a conversation, I'll make another attempt at communication. If I had an amazing interaction, I will either tell you about it, or ensure that I write about it so that I don't forget. Then, I will wake up tomorrow morning and hope that I'm one step closer to ridding myself of another imperfection.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What are you afraid of?

What are you afraid of?

For the longest time, I feared death. Well, that's not true. I was just plain scared of dead bodies. I even know where that fear came from. Here's the story.

I would have been in early elementary school. One day, mom asked me to run to the church to get Dad for lunch. She could have called him to let him know lunch was ready - aw heck, he came home promptly at noon every day anyway, but it was obviously important for her to get me out of the house for a little while and a 2 block run to the church to walk home with Dad was a great idea.

As I darted into the church, I had to run up the front steps, through the sanctuary to Dad's office in the back. What I didn't realize until I was smack dab in front of it, was that there was going to be a funeral that afternoon and the morticians were there preparing the body for the parade of mourners. I went running up those steps with all of the joy a little girl could have as she went to get her daddy for lunch. I hit the top step just as they were pulling the body up in the casket.

I was stupefied. I couldn't move. Until I did. Back I went down those stairs and I cried and sobbed all the way home. Dad had to make the trek without me. I was finally able to explain to mom what I'd seen and she tried to make it into a non-issue for me, but obviously 40+ years later, I still remember the trauma.

For years I avoided death as often as possible. Dad didn't ask me to play or sing for funerals, I just avoided them. Then, I moved out after college and got a job in a church in Spencer, Iowa. Sharing our parking lot was a terrific funeral home and by golly, I could make some serious extra money by being on call for them whenever they needed a musician. It would be stupid for me to ignore this chance.

The guys were wonderful. They didn't have a clue about my fears, but it always seems as if I was facing some person's loved one in an open casket while either singing or playing. After a year or so, I began to relax. It's still not a favorite thing for me to do, but at least I don't have a strange abhorrence for those situations any longer.

When mom died, Carol, Dad and I sat with her holding her hand until she took her last breath. Death became quite personal to me that night and I realized that mom's final gift to me was removing the overwhelming fear I had.

Her fears were something else. Mom had an intense fear of closed doors. She has friends who remember having to go places with her and walking through the door first so that she could enter a room. Once she'd been in a room she was fine, if the door was clear glass, she was fine. Closed doors terrified her. Carol remembers going places just to ensure that Mom could get into a room to speak or for a class. All Carol had to do was open the door and Mom would be fine.

The funny thing is - when we opened our business, Mom decided that she would make sales calls. Cold calls. She just did it! By herself. She finally had something that was so important to her it overwhelmed her fear.

I still have a lot of fears. Fears that make me say terrible things in reaction to others, or refuse to attempt new adventures. I hate it when I realize that fears stop me from being or doing anything I desire. As soon as I realize that it is fear stopping me, I have to make a decision, whether to allow it to control me or to wrangle control back into my own hands.

Do you recognize your fears? How do you handle them? Do you see any places in your life where you've conquered your fears? Do people around you enable your fear or challenge you to be bigger than your fears?

John said that "perfect love casts out fear." (1 John 4:18)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What is your superpower?

Last night I watched as a Twitter cohort commented throughout a Webinar by one of my (now) favorite authors, Seth Godin.

(I'm going to just interject right now - that last sentence cracked me up. 10 years ago it would have made absolutely no sense to me. What changes we have seen!)

Seth Godin calls himself an agent of change. He calls us out on our low-level expectations and less than possible lives. We don't have to live lives of dreary compromise. No matter what we do during the day, no matter where we work, we make the choice as to whether or not our lives are filled with hope and expectation or we're just getting by with minimal input. This isn't the choice of our boss, our family, our spouse, our friends. Our life attitude is our own choice.

I probably find myself drawn to his writing because each day he expects something great to happen and he encourages everyone to make changes regularly so that great things can happen.

Anyway ...

In the burst of tweets coming from this Webinar, one theme struck me - mostly because I wasn't able to answer the question.

What is your superpower?

A superpower is something your friends would agree you are good at. It's the thing you do well that people seek you out for.

I still don't have a concise answer to this question. I am beginning to identify what it is that my friends ask me to do regularly and the things that I love doing for them, but I haven't been able to break it down to a superpower.

Can you? What is your superpower?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Change: Fear it or Love it - But Do it!

For the last several months I have been reading books that seem to center around Leadership, Motivation, Productivity, Management, Business Strategies.

If you know me at all, you might find this reading list a little strange, but what I have been discovering as I dig into the meat of all of this is that these authors are reacting to a great need within our society, in both the personal and business lives of their readers.

I'll sum it up in one word: Change.

We want change. We want to be better. We want more out of life than the mundane existence that seems to hover before us. We want to feel as if we are appreciated and that our talents won't be wasted. We want others to see us as we dream that we can be. We want things to be different than they are now. We want change.

But, that word scares us to death.

I posted that question to my friends on Facebook and most were fully ready to admit that they could only accept change if there was a payoff at the end. They couldn't embrace change for the sake of it. I get that!

Last week at the Camp Logos training seminar I attended, Morris Proctor said this: "Change is always initially viewed as loss."

Change is always initially viewed as loss.

He's right! I was involved in a building campaign to erect a newer, bigger facility for our church. The reaction against that change was vehement and many times practically hate-filled. What I (and many others) saw as an exciting time in the life of the church, was seen by just as many as loss. They were losing the building that they had been comfortable in, they were losing control of the path of the church, they might lose some of their money. They weren't happy with the possibility of change.

New Coke was a perfect example. The company saw a better idea for the flavor of their signature drink, implemented it and the public reacted badly. They were losing something they had been comfortable with for years and demanded that it be returned to them.

People will stay in jobs they despise because they fear change. The known pain is much easier to deal with than the possibilities that exist in the unknown.

All of this is in direct contrast, though, to the level of dissatisfaction that most of us face on a day to day basis in our lives. We complain and whine about everything that we encounter. We lament the fact that we haven't got a more exciting or fulfilling life.

I am grateful for my dad's job. Every four-six years we moved to a new community. Each time I was forced to make new friends and learn how to exist in a new environment. Change was thrust on me over and over again. The greatest piece of that education was that change always makes your life better. The circumstances might not be better, you might have just as many problems, but there is learning and experience that comes with change and that causes you to be better.

Another piece of that education was that I learned to embrace the change as rapidly as possible so as to begin life again. I didn't move into a new community crying about the friends I left behind, I moved in and began to make friends as fast as possible. I didn't move into a new house and miss my old room desperately, I moved in and made my new room a great place in which to live. I didn't cry about how successful I had been with my old teachers, I accepted that the new teachers were going to open my eyes to an entirely new world. I didn't cry about leaving behind a piano instructor that seemed to really understand my talent, I hurried to a new teacher hoping to be challenged and presented with literature I'd never experienced.

Great leaders help those around them move towards a better future (Marcus Buckingham). Great managers help their employees transform to new levels of achievement. Whether I'm reading about increasing productivity or motivating others or leadership, business or management, what I am reading is that change MUST happen or we will never grow.

It seems obvious. But, it's nearly impossible to achieve. Steven Pressfield tells us that Resistance stops us from growth. Seth Godin describes the Lizard Brain as that part of us that keeps us safe and holds us back from risk-taking.

Personally, I love change. I do like to be in control of the change. I'm compulsive that way. But, I know that in my life ... change is always better. Because I'm always better when I grow and change makes me grow.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Is God Big Enough?

Is God big enough?

Is God big enough to love you and the guy who flipped you off in traffic the other day?

Is God big enough to have created beauty in various forms? A glorious sunset and a child with Down's Syndrome?

Is God big enough to forgive a murderer and a gossip?

Is God big enough to have brought forth life by creation and by evolution?

Is God big enough to love an American evangelist and a child born in the mountains of Tibet who might never hear His name spoken?

Is God bigger than politics, wars, religious denominations, differences in doctrine or belief, petty disagreements?

Is God bigger than your sin?

Is God big enough to see past your blustering mouth to the heart within?

Is God big enough to desire that every person since the beginning of time spend eternity with Him?

Is God big enough to find a way to draw us close to His perfection?

Is God big enough?

If God is big enough ... why do we try to limit Him according to our small minds?

We curse the guy who flipped us off. We question the reason for Down's Syndrome. We execute murderers and promote gossip. We loudly argue creation vs. evolution. We buy books and tapes of American evangelists and decide that Hindus and Buddhists are going to hell. We promote our beliefs in politics, denominations, doctrines and disagreements so vociferously to ensure that others know just how wrong they are. We condemn sin in others while failing to see it in ourselves. We are afraid of being tenderhearted because someone might hurt us, so we hurt them first. We decide whose name is written in the Book of Life based on our interpretation of scripture. We forget that God's Son was sent to redeem the world, not just those who are similar to us.

God is big enough. Bigger than we can imagine.

We are made in His image. He calls us to open our minds to love like He loves.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Encouraging Words

What are the words that tell you how special you are?

Between my first and second grade of school, we moved to a new community. While there were only 23 kids in my class, I never fit in. Dad was the Methodist minister, in third grade I had a terrible heart condition that set me apart from everyone else, I was transient and it seemed as if everyone knew I wouldn't be there for long, I was bright, I excelled in my studies and in music. We didn't have a lot of money, so mom made most of my clothes or fixed hand-me-downs from other families in the church. I thought independently and refused to make an attempt to fit in with the crowd. I was different.

Those were the days when girls were expected to invite everyone from their class to slumber parties and birthday parties. My heart managed to act up at one of the first ones I was invited to and Mom had to come get me. Parents weren't thrilled about that responsibility, so I didn't get invited to many more.

I was more comfortable around older kids and adults than I was children my age. One of my best friends was Gladys Rhodes, a much older woman who lived next door.

All of these things combined to beat me down on a regular basis. More than once I came home from school in tears because of the things those nasty little girls said to me during the day. Do you know that I still have an intense fear of leaping onto a stage because my short little legs didn't reach and they laughed at me? That's forty or more years ago!

Every time I would stand in front of Mom with tears running down my face, she took the time to remind me that she loved me, that I was special and that my life was not defined by hideous little girls who were jealous of me.

She took the time day after day to remind me of my uniqueness. She went out of her way to encourage me to stand on my own, even when it seemed I was alone. Those things that made me different - my reading skills, my music, my independent thinking - were gifts and even though I couldn't see how they were positive at that moment, a day would come when I would be grateful.

The amount of time that Mom invested in my self-esteem is what made me who I am. I still hear her voice in my head when doubts assail me. Her words of affirmation continue to remind me that I am unique and special, I am bright and talented.

We don't hear or speak those words often enough. Who do you speak them to? Who hears from you how amazing they are? Who do you build up and encourage with words on a regular basis?

I could ask you who speaks these words to you, but that's not where the focus should be. You see, we spend an inordinate amount of time thinking that the world should tell us how terrific we are. I know it's necessary ... it's very necessary. But, I can promise you that if you invest all of that time you spend worrying about how the world views you - telling others how incredible they are ... finding their strengths and reminding them of those things - you will discover that the world builds your esteem.

I will start ... every single person I know is filled with incredible gifts. As I think about you individually, I can come up with unique traits that make you important to me and to others who love you and rely on your life in their world. I hear your voices, I read your words, I know your heart and I sense your intentions. This world needs what you have to offer.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Tired and Satisfied

I have attempted to get to this blog site for several minutes. Each time I thought about logging in, something distracted me and I spent time reading other random information. It just occurred to me that I had never finished what I started. Ah heck, I really hadn't even started!

Tired. That's just what I'll call it. Tired and satisfied.

The last two days have been glorious. Here's the deal ...

I use this incredibly powerful Bible study software tool from Logos. It is so amazing that there is no way I would figure out all of its power on my own and I am a software power user. There isn't much about software that I can't figure out quickly.

There is a training seminar available and I finally had the time and motivation (and every other impetus) to go. I had told Max that when the training came close enough to Omaha for the trip to make sense, there would be nothing to hold me back.

Kansas City!!! I signed up immediately.

Over the course of the last two days I have been floored by the learning and training that happened for me. At one point this morning, tears spurted out of my eyes because I was so gloriously overwhelmed by the power of the software.

The most fun for me has been just simply learning something new. I've had this software for five years and while I've managed to get a lot of great use out of it with my limited knowledge of the techniques, I have full confidence that ... well, honestly, I have full confidence that I would like to repeat this seminar to cement more of the information. I'm just hoping that as I begin to use the tips and tricks that I learned, they will become second nature.

I could go on and on about both the software and the training. If you are interested at all in Bible study, you should begin to invest in this. There's a package that begins at $150.00. The money that you spend on books would be better invested this way. Everything - I mean EVERYTHING - is linked together to aid your study. If you wanted to study Ephesians 1:7 and had purchased A.W. Tozer's collection of books, you would be able to find everything he had to say in any (and all) of his books about Ephesians 1:7.

Yup, I'm a huge fan.

I spent two nights in KC in a great hotel. However, this morning I woke up with pain in my lower back. Most of the time when that happens (after sleeping on an unfamiliar bed), all I need to do is relax for several minutes and the muscles loosen up and I'm fine. Well, this morning I was running late and had to check out, pack up, get moving, drive quickly, park far away (cuz I was late), haul my stuff into the retreat center, get settled and then sit all day. My poor back just kept getting worse and worse.

I drove for 3 hours to get home and by the time I got into the house, I was a mess. I haven't done this in years! The last time things were so awful (this was before I got married), I was at the cabin with a group from Council Bluffs, most had gone home and when I went to the bathroom, I had to call my father in to help me get up. It wasn't quite that bad, but close.

I've been pushing Advil all day, but Max remembered that we had something from the last time the dog hurt her back falling down some steps. There were two little 1/2 pills left and I swallowed 'em.

Yes, things are relaxing in my back. However, I seem to be more easily distracted and am actually feeling a little loopy right now. I can't understand how my 10 pound dachshund functioned!

I was planning on working within my software tonight, but I think that I'll just lean back in the rocking chair, attempt to read a novel and go to bed early. Tomorrow is another day!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Wow, Random thoughts

I've decided I have one of the most schizophrenic blogs on the internet. I believe that it might have something to do with the randomness that is me. I'd worry about it, except for the fact that I manage to maintain two fairly structured blogs as well (Pour Out A Blessing - study of scripture and God in History - Christian history). Whew! At least I can point to those and say, "There ... see ... I can focus when I need to!"

My blog received a little attention because I used the words "Lizard Brain" in one of the titles this last week. That's the hot new term used by Seth Godin in his latest book "Linchpin." Everyone is talking about it with good reason. It helps us to understand why we allow ourselves to fail. The book encourages us to be more than we can be. The use of those words, though, managed to draw in a few readers just to check out what I do. Great to have 'em, but the rest of my posts are definitely not focused on entrepreneurs or business leaders, etc. They aren't aimed toward Christians or any specific niche group. They're just an outflow of what's happening.

Some of my friends find encouragement by seeing the failures and successes in my life and how I learn through them. To be honest, at the age of 50, I'm awfully tired of still having to relearn lessons I should have managed to learn years ago. Since I am obviously a slow learner, there will be plenty of blog fodder for years to come, I'm afraid.

Then, there's just the random stuff that happens to me throughout the day, or things that I read which cause me to think and observe. I'd like to believe that God shows up every once in awhile through my words. Probably not as often as several of my readers think He should. But, that's not my concern.

Speaking of God, I read a FABULOUS book by Krista Tippett, "Speaking of Faith: Why Religion Matters and How to Talk About It" last weekend. She sees this great, big God. Bigger than the God that many of us try to limit. She quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote in 1944, "I'm still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith ... I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God."

You might need to read that quote again. I had to read it a couple of times to fully comprehend what he was thinking. I loved it! I've been studying a lot of Christian history the last few months and most of the time people worked hard to separate themselves from the world so that they could know Christ better. What a radically different way to look at how we are called to live in this world.

Neither Jesus nor his disciples separated themselves from the world. They waded right into the midst of everything that was happening and relied on God fully. That's what faith is about - standing in the midst of chaos, knowing that God is responsible for everything that happens and we are simply there as His tools. Allowing God to use us wherever we are is faith.

Well, how was that for a totally schizophrenic post. I think I succeeded.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

God, don't send me to Africa

1970s. High School. Passionate, angst-filled teenager trying to figure out what her purpose is in life. I spent a lot of time praying about that purpose and the single thing that I prayed out loud was, "God, don't send me to Africa as a missionary."

Over and over I prayed that prayer, because in those days, that's what Christians did if they wanted to change the world. They went to Africa. I didn't want to, and I was absolutely certain that if God got His hands on me, He might think it was a really good idea for me to go to Africa. I did not want that. If you think I'm kidding about praying that prayer over and over, I'm not. You can't imagine how many times I begged and pleaded.

Flash forward. 1984. I'd just started the process of opening a quick printing business with my mom and sister. One of my best friends in college spent a year in Cairo teaching in a Christian school. It was an amazing experience for her. She called me when she was back in the states and as we talked, I realized that this could be wonderful for me as well. I started the process to apply for a position, having completely forgotten my prayers begging God to never send me to Africa.

Doors closed, windows slammed shut. I ended up not going to Africa. It took awhile for me to remember my prayers. But, when I did, I realized that not only was God honoring those, He was reminding me that prayers have power. I'm fairly certain that I heard Him chuckling about the whole thing, too.

I've never tried to go to Africa since that point. I'm not crazy.

Two of my friends are heading to South Africa this month to work with Music For Life, the parent organization of African Children's Choir. They have a lot of money to raise. I'll do whatever I can to get them there. I spent the evening at a fundraiser for them and had a fabulous time. Any chance I get to hear great music (The 9's and Korey Anderson band), I'll take it.

These two girls want to go - more than they want to do anything else. It's a deep-seated passion for them. They have fears about traveling that far from home and doing things that are alien to their daily lives. Unlike me, they chose to ask God what it was He wanted them to do, rather than telling Him what they didn't want to do.

Don't you like the way He honored both requests? I do.

I just hope that at some point when I try to travel to Egypt or Kenya or Uganda or anywhere else in Africa, I can find a way to make it happen without doors and windows slamming shut on me. Because someday I'm going to want to get there. Maybe if I don't go as a missionary, it will be ok.

And by the way, if you have a heart for African Children's Choir and want to support some amazing young women as they go to teach music and dance, let me know ... I'll hook you up.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Shutting up the lizard brain

Talk about a day with ups and downs. This has been filled with all sorts of 'em!

I was awake through the middle of the night, so planned to sleep late, which I did. I woke up feeling pretty good about life and began packing stuff to head home, especially since I'm going to be traveling a bit this week.

As I got on the road, all of a sudden this incredible feeling of malaise hit me. I began crying as I considered what a failure I was in my life. A complete and utter failure. Everything that I've done, everything that I've touched, everything is failure.

Before too long I had myself worked up into an incredibly passionate, self-loathing pity party. There were torrents of rain streaming down the windshield of my car and torrents of tears flowing down my face. I was a wreck.

Oh, I did it all during that period of time. Why in the world did I think I was going to fix my modus operandi (failure) with another degree. If I couldn't succeed with what I already had, how would this change it? I pretty well had myself convinced that it wasn't worth it for me to continue to exist in the world.

Then, for some reason or other, I thought about two words from Seth Godin's book, "Lynchpin." Those two words - Lizard Brain - flashed through my mind and I started chuckling. Your lizard brain is that part of you that believes that you can't do great things. The lizard brain exists to keep you safe. Safety comes from never changing, never growing, never attempting new things. The lizard brain reminds us of our failures so that we won't try that again. It's not a good thing to have going on, but there it is.

I would love to tell you that instead of hearing the words "Lizard Brain," God placed some profound piece of scripture in my heart, but today He reminded me of something that makes a lot of sense to me. When I get all freaked out by my past and my future, it's my fears talking. And fears will never allow me to grow.

Within a few minutes of thinking through the fact that I was allowing fear to mess with my day, I dried my tears and put it all behind me.

The rest of the day has gone quite well. A wonderful dinner with friends, a quiet evening with a good book or two and when I sleep I receive the gift of tomorrow.

You know ... there were some other ups and downs during my day, but once I reminded my stupid lizard brain that it wasn't actually in charge, everything evened out to be pretty manageable. So, instead of looking back on today as stressful and emotional, I get to look back on the day as a success.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Created for a Purpose

Like many people, I participated in the six week study on a Purpose Driven Life, using the text written by Rick Warren. It was a best selling book and inspired a lot of people to think for a short period of time about what might be the reason they were placed on the earth.

If you look at your life right now, are you fulfilling your purpose? Are you doing what God called you to do? If not, why not?

When I was in third grade, I nearly died. All of a sudden the top chambers of my heart would beat abnormally fast. Sometimes the heart would slow itself, but things got to a point where it didn't slow down. We rushed to Iowa City (lived in eastern Iowa at the time) and before I knew it I was hooked up to an EKG for two days, had a rather large needle full of digitalis thrust into my upper thigh and slept with my parents kneeling beside my bed in prayer. What I didn't know at the time was the doctor had told them that if I didn't die, I would have such massive heart damage that I wouldn't be able to live a normal life.

They prayed. Neither thing happened and as I grew older, the problem presented itself as an annoyance, no longer life threatening.

When I was a senior in high school, we took our senior trip to St. Louis. The charter bus was going under bridges in the city when someone up front called my name. I leaned forward just as a very large bolt flew through an open window, ripped an hole in the head of the seat where I had just been relaxing, flew on to another window and shattered it. I saw the face of the person who was talking to me turn ashen and I realized that in that moment my life was spared.

I always knew that God had a purpose for my life. As I prayed about it over the years, I wondered what that purpose might be. I don't know that I have an answer.

But, I do know that I will continually search for that answer. I don't want to sit back and assume that I've either already fulfilled my purpose or maybe I just don't have one. We all were created by God with a purpose.

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart..." (Jeremiah 1:5)

Each of us has a reason to be here. Each of us has a reason that we continue to be here. As long as we live, as long as we can take a breath, God will continue to work out His purpose in our lives if we allow Him to do that.

As long as we sit still and do nothing with our lives, we deny His work within us. He calls us to be all that we can be - not to sit still and allow the world to move around us. He doesn't call all of us to be writers or artists, presidents or physicians. He calls teachers and mothers, construction workers and nurses, gardeners and architects, assistants and salesmen. He calls each of us to find who we are in His will so that the world will see Him through us.

We are created for a purpose. This is not something to take lightly. We can't allow others to define that purpose for us, we can't allow ourselves to be less than who we are. We are created for a purpose.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Comfort in the Psalms

Today has been a weird, emotional day for me. I realized at one point that people can't be the ones to take care of me through some of my emotional ups and downs and began to wonder how I was going to be able to move past it to get back to a sense of normalcy.

My Bible sits beside me all day as I work. Depending on the project I'm studying and researching, I might spend quite a bit of time digging through it for answers. This book is the one constant in my life beyond all other things.

While I am confident that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and I am fully confident that He cares for me and wants to comfort me, sometimes I need something tangible. His words in scripture are that tangible sense of Him in my life.

Over the last years, I've gotten to know this book better and better and I know where I will be able to find comfort. (I also know where I'm going to find challenges, beatings and discipline as well as love, joy and excitement.)

Today I needed these words from Psalm 3:1-8. I am always thankful that God is my shield - He is your shield as well. He has battled more enemies than I can imagine and always been successful. He is my deliverer.

O Lord, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me, 'God will not deliver him.'

But you are a shield around me,
O Lord, my Glorious One, who lifts up my head.
To the Lord I cry aloud and
he answers me from his holy hill.

I lie down and sleep;
I wake again,
because the Lord sustains me.
I will not fear the tens of thousands
drawn up against me on every side.

Arise, O Lord!
Deliver me, O my God!
For you have struck all my enemies on the jaw;
you have broken the teeth of the wicked.

Form the Lord comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

What limits your dreaming?

When I was young, I believed that I could learn anything, do anything, go anywhere, be anyone. All I would need to do was apply myself to the task at hand and the world would unfold before me. It was a good time to live.

As each year passed, I began to set limits on those things. The world became smaller and smaller as I grew more cynical and realized that I wouldn't actually be able to have an unlimited life ahead of me.

I think that at some point, I introduced too much reality into myself and began to eliminate flights of fancy and dreams that reached beyond me. I no longer trusted that I could do all things. Hah, that's funny. It's one of my favorite verses, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." I knew I believed scripture to be true, but I was setting limits about those 'all things.'

I was too old to learn new things or too set in my ways to try wild things. I had too many responsibilities to be traipsing around the world or change my life. I forgot how to dream.

As I was reading something by Seth Godin, he talked about how he learned the techniques for brainstorming while participating in a young business person's club in college. He and four friends changed his business school because they dreamed up grand schemes and figured out how to implement them.

I had lost the technique of even dreaming up grand schemes. As I thought about that, I realized that what I had done to myself was build walls that shut out my dreams. Those walls were made thicker by my fears ... of failure, ridicule, loss. I knew what life could do to a person. I knew how bad things could get and I couldn't imagine facing massive change without the elasticity of youth - whether physical, mental or emotional. I quit dreaming.

That was the biggest loss over the last 20+ years. That is the greatest thing I have recovered in the last year.

The difference now is that while I know what real life looks like and I know that there are limits to what I am able to do, learn, where I can go, who I can be, what I can afford, I don't have to let those limits stop me from actually dreaming about a bigger life. When I allow my mind to take off into flights of fancy, I can begin constructing a realistic path. I can reorganize the dream into something that might actually come true.

It was a wonderful thing to remember what dreaming can do for me. What about you?

Chocolate milk memories

I will be the first to admit that I am a chocoholic. I don't have quite as much passion for chocolate as I do for bread, but it is close.

Last night as I was driving late in the night, I was hungry. I hadn't eaten anything since lunch and didn't particularly want to wait another two hours before I staved off the screeching of my stomach, so I stopped. I'll have to admit another of my guilty pleasures - cheese and peanut butter crackers. A little package of those goes a long way in making me happy.

While I'm driving I completely avoid caffeine. That helps me also avoid potty breaks every 20 minutes or so. So that means that I always pick up a bottle of water, but I generally want something else as well. I always end up pacing back and forth in front of the drink coolers at the convenient mart hoping something will look amazing. That is usually accomplished by some strange and odd fruit juice that makes me smile as I try new flavors. Last night, however, I saw a little bottle of chocolate milk and before I knew what had happened, the bottle flew into my hands and I was checking out.

Once I was back on the road, I snapped the top off and as I drank that milk a flood of memories hit me hard. I was chuckling and giggling as I drove.

I went to elementary school in a little tiny town in southeast Iowa (Morning Sun). The lunchroom was such an interesting experience. A few things I hated (little cubes of beets), but for the most part it was pretty awesome. If you didn't like the meal that day, at the end of the line there were always bread and butter sandwiches or lettuce sandwiches (bread, mayonnaise and lettuce - AMEN!). My favorite day of the week, though was Friday when we got chocolate milk if we wanted it. And I always did.

Don't forget, I was in elementary school in the 1960s. Those were the days of milk in glass bottles. There really wasn't much better than ice cold chocolate milk coming from a bottle of glass. What joy for a kid.

My mom's mother lived in the Boston area and as a kid, I spent time with her. Grammy was an unpleasant woman, to say the least, but of all her grandkids (there were only 3 of us), I was the one she could tolerate, so I got to visit her. She took me shopping, entertained me around the Boston area with history and all sorts of interesting places, let me meet her friends (I think she had 2 or 3) and watched me like a hawk. I was a pretty adaptable kid, so I was easy to have around. If she wanted things to be quiet, I was glad to curl up in a chair and read a book.

Each day at breakfast, though, I had to make a choice. I could either have chocolate milk for breakfast or save my chocolate allotment to have it on ice cream after dinner that night. For a 10 year old girl, that's a tough decision to make! I either got immediate satisfaction or learned about anticipation. Not much fun for me, but every day I made a choice. There was no way that I was going to get more chocolate than Grammy wanted me to have. I knew not to complain, she was crazy enough to remove it from me altogether.

But, Grammy didn't have Nestles Quick or a bottle of Hershey's syrup. It was the can of Hershey's syrup. She would buy it just to have while I was there. I knew that she was trying to make this special for me and so I accepted her little bit of crazy (actually I accepted a whole lot of crazy from that woman, but those are other stories).

As I continued to drive, I thought about the fact that I had a bag filled with Girl Scout cookies in the back. I had picked them up earlier that day. How many cookies can you eat? Well, I have to tell you that I will only eat two ... at a time. Whenever there were cookies in the house, mom would allow us two. She must have known that one was never enough and three was probably too many. So ... two. "Mom, can I have a cookie?" "Yes, Diane. You can have two. Don't take anymore ... just two." Somehow her radar let her know if I had taken more than the allotment. I catch myself today only taking two cookies and walking away. However, I will continue to walk back and forth if I want more than that, but for some reason, two is my limit ... at a time.

I don't drink much chocolate milk anymore, I actually haven't opened any of my Girl Scout cookies yet, but I still love chocolate. When I took that first drink of milk last night, the memories that came flooding back were from a time of innocence and joy at something as simple as a choice between white milk and chocolate milk on a Friday afternoon. My choices these days never seem to be that simple until I find myself standing in front of an array of drinks in a Caseys convenient mart off I-80 late on a Tuesday night.

It occurs to me that we make life much too difficult. I thought Grammy forced me to make difficult choices, but they really weren't. One or the other and both was guaranteed to bring a moment of joy. Simple joys come in simple packages sometimes.

Maybe my response to difficult decisions in my life should just be to drink more chocolate milk.

Monday, March 01, 2010

It's late ... and this is random

Well, I did it. I managed to post every day during the month of February. There were a few days I struggled with having anything interesting to say ... at all. But, I posted anyway. Sometimes it is just important to do what you say you are going to do.

Everything I've been reading about the creative process encourages me along those lines. Just do what you are going to do. Some days you will write garbage, some days you will get a FEW good lines written and then there are those glorious days when a large percentage of what hits the computer keyboard is good stuff. Even on the days when it's all garbage, though ... you can't stop.

I'm not terribly sure what March is going to bring, but I am going to do my best to get thoughts written down one way or the other. I'll just apologize up front for the garbage that you might be subjected to. I've come to understand during this last year as I've rediscovered a lot of who I am, that there are a lot of things I just can't share with the world. Those things are much too personal. But, heck ... there are way too many days that I don't actually do or see or read anything interesting. Believe it!

There have actually been a few days when I've scoured my geek blogs and news sites for interesting information that might trigger a response from my brain. And on those days, nothing at all seems interesting. Hardly seems fair, doesn't it! This is a world, though, where having 500 channels of television does not guarantee that there is anything on to watch. Having an internet filled with information doesn't guarantee that there is anything that will interest me enough to share captivating insights.

OH!!! I have been reading a book: "Planet Google: One Company's Audacious Plan to Organize Everything We Know" by Randall Stross. In this book he talks about the beginning of the Web. It was introduced in 1991, two years later, less than 1/2 of 1 percent of all Internet traffic was web pages - the rest was email, file transfers and news groups. There were only about 130 websites. In 1994, there were 2700 websites, but this was still only 6% of internet traffic. By 1998, the Web had so many sites that searching required highly sophisticated search engines. Think about the rapidity of that growth. Information was exploding! What an insane time of life that was.

In reality, it still is insane. The amount of information and knowledge that we have access to is incredible. Let me tell you, for someone like me, this is a dream come true. Tonight at dinner, we were talking about the movie "Footloose." The question arose about the year when it came out. Within seconds, I had the information on my Blackberry (because that really isn't information I maintain in my brain - sorry! Oh ... and 1984 was the answer). Immediate access to information. Absolutely incredible.

It's late ... I should be sleeping, or at least reading before I fall asleep.

I've enjoyed writing this last month and I look forward to what March is going to bring. I'm going to do my best to write nearly every day. I hope you will join me!