RLL 57: Puppies and Pictures--Memories and Encouragement

RLL 57: Puppies and Pictures--A Bit of Encouragement

 The pups and I slowing down in the evening

The pups and I slowing down in the evening

This week, like every week, was very busy: basketball practices, school work, preparing for finals, rehearsing and revising an upcoming presentation, and of course, putting up more Christmas decorations. However, this week also brought with it some unexpected encouragement through our dogs and in looking through old pictures of my daughters. In sharing these things in the blog this week, I want to help you be inspired and encouraged as well.

One night this week I found myself overwhelmed with work to do: essays to grade, revisions to make, other school work, all while what I really wanted to do was just spend time with my kids and wife. When I reached a stopping place in my work, I went at sat down on the floor with our pups, and well, you can see the result in that picture above. I was beat! It’s also been a very rain-filled couple of weeks where we live, and the dogs are normally pitiful because they’re scared. Then they get stir-crazy because they haven’t been able to be outside. This week, for some reason, they were hardly ever pitiful and crazy, and it made a giant difference because instead, they were great: snuggly, mostly calm, and always wanting to be where we were.

 My older daughter and my first niece, both very excited about this birthday cake!

My older daughter and my first niece, both very excited about this birthday cake!

The other encouragement this week was that my daughter’s school asked for a toddler picture of her, so that meant my wife and I spent time looking through old pictures of the girls, and it was pure fun and joy! We saw such sweet pictures of the girls, from newborn pictures through early childhood, many of which I’d forgotten. I saw pictures of them playing and laughing, pictures of them sleeping and eating, and pictures of them just being kids.

These two bits of encouragement were just what I needed to help me through a difficult week, and so I wanted to do two things: one, to share them with you in hopes that they’d make you smile; and two, to ask you what encouraged you this week? A conversation? A photo? A memory? Christmas decorations? A conversation? Whatever it was, be sure to share it with someone else and give them a bit of encouragement as well.

Action Step: Consciously choose to try to encourage at least one person today by sharing something that has encouraged you!

RLL 56: Christmas Crazy vs. Christmas holiday?

Real Life Leading 56:

Christmas Crazy vs. Christmas holiday?

Christmas season is in full swing this week, and that means many different things to different people. For some people it means decorating, presents, trees, candles, food, candy, travel, and family. For others it means sadness, loss, reminders of pain, isolation, or at least stress (also often related to family). This Christmas season, I want to give a couple of quick encouraging reminders: to slow down, and to rejoice.

 One of my favorite things is getting to hang out with Bruiser at home.

One of my favorite things is getting to hang out with Bruiser at home.

The word holiday comes from the term ‘holy day,’ or a day set aside for a special or specific purpose. This Christmas season, I would encourage you to set aside time to both slow down and to reflect and rejoice: to see the beauty, to enjoy the company, to be amazed at the possibilities the future holds. In the midst of the crazy, let’s remember to slow down and set time aside to be reminded of Joy (one of C.S. Lewis’ favorite terms).

My world is complicated: being divorced and remarried (with kids involved) means that our schedule is hectic already, and it becomes even moreso when extended family comes to visit from out of town. As a school teacher it also means that this is exam time, and since one of my kids is in high school, it’s exam time for her as well. This is in addition to all of the usual Christmas season stresses mentioned above.

Because of all these things, I am glad to be able to remind myself and you to slow down, and also to rejoice. We should slow down because it’s the only way to enjoy what should be an amazing and encouraging season of the year. I’m not a huge fan of most modern Christmas songs, but I do appreciate that so many of them are positive, reminding us to be amazed and cheered by decorations, by kind greetings from strangers, and by the joys of the season. But if we’re going too fast, staying too busy, or trying to do too much, we miss it.

Even more importantly, I would remind you to rejoice this Christmas season. As a history person, I understand that Jesus’ actual birth was nearer to spring than to when we celebrate Christmas; however, that doesn’t make Christmas less special, any more than it would to celebrate a friend’s or child’s birthday on a different day of the year. This season is one that reminds me of the greatest gift I could ever receive: hope.

 The most recent kitten rescued (and then given to a friend) by my wife.

The most recent kitten rescued (and then given to a friend) by my wife.

Jesus’ coming to earth—His life, death, and resurrection—all represent the greatest eucatastrophe (to borrow a word from J.R.R. Tolkien, meaning ‘good catastrophe’) in the history of the world. And that is cause to rejoice. This world is broken and fallen, and there are sorrows and pains that shouldn’t exist; yet Jesus reminds us that it isn’t meant to be this way, and that it won’t always be this way. His coming points us to a beautiful, wonderful future, full of blessings and joy that we cannot currently imagine. And every good blessing we have now is simply a signpost pointing us to that future.

So, when we get to snuggle with our kids (as I was blessed to do on Friday) or our pups (as many of us love to do); or when we are able to rescue kittens (as my wife tends to do); or when we see beautiful lights and decorations; when we are able to spend time with our families and loved ones; when we experience the joy of food and fellowship; when we slow down enough to appreciate these things, let us be reminded that these things are but a taste of what is to come.

Action Step: This week, take a few moments each day to consciously slow down to enjoy and appreciate the many blessings we have received, and be reminded of the joy that is still to come.

RLL 55: Rainy Days and Recliners--The Importance of Perspective

Real Life Leading #55

Rainy Days and Recliners: The Importance of Perspective

 THANKS to my best friend David for recommending this book to me!

THANKS to my best friend David for recommending this book to me!

This past week saw a couple of brutally rainy days where my family lives in north Alabama: flash flood warnings, soaked yards, dangerous driving conditions, etc. These were the kinds of days that make a person want to remain in pajama pants and just read or sleep all day. Unfortunately, we were unable to do that, especially since the end-of-semester exams are rapidly approaching. It would have been easy to be depressed or irritable about the weather and the work to be done, but fortunately I had a couple of great reminders this week about the importance of my perspective.

You see, this week I read two amazing books by Andy Andrews, called The Noticer and The Noticer Returns. In both of those books, the main character has an uncanny ability to help people gain what he calls ‘proper perspective.’ Inevitably, Jones (the main character) helps various people to realize that things are different than they had originally thought by helping people change their perspective. When that happens, they also see a change in their attitudes and eventually their choices. And that is the key today: how we think about and how we view our situation will greatly shape our future.

 A kid, a book, a pup, and a recliner. This is a serious high-point of life in my world!

A kid, a book, a pup, and a recliner. This is a serious high-point of life in my world!

For example, if you’re reading this right now, there’s a great chance you’re reading it indoors: in a home, a school, or a business somewhere. This building has electricity, heat, and (obviously) internet access. These things that we take for granted are not as universally available as we often tend to think, and when we remember that, it helps us regain proper perspective as well.

By way of another example, let me share this: on my off days, I enjoy reading books in a recliner that my siblings and I gave our dad as a gift not long before he passed away. Since then, it has been in my home as a place of comfort and ease and memories. Often, to what used to cause me great annoyance, I would come into the den only to find that my recliner had been usurped by either one of my daughters or one of my dogs. One day, however, I was struck by the thought—and I can’t believe it took me so long to realize this—that Dad would have been happy for his recliner to be used not just by me but also by others that he loved. He would have preferred it, really, since that meant that more people were enjoying his chair. And ever since then it’s become my habit to say a quick prayer of thanks whenever my recliner is occupied, because it means I’m also surrounded by loved ones, even if they’re in my seat.

 These books contain incredible truth and power. Give them a read!

These books contain incredible truth and power. Give them a read!

The same goes for each time I see my wife or one of my daughters wearing some of my clothes, especially soccer gear: t-shirts, pullovers, hoodies, etc. I like my clothes and I like to wear them, but it makes me smile to see my wife and kids borrow them and enjoy them too. So instead of being irritated at not being able to wear a specific shirt on a certain day, I can be glad that I have loved ones around who want to borrow them.

Gaining ‘perspective,’ as Andy Andrews points out, has the power to change not just how we view our situation, but the situation itself. Correct thinking is the key to gaining wisdom, to seeing things properly, and to growing in appreciation for the gifts we have been given.

“The way a person thinks is the key to everything that follows -- good or bad, success or failure. A person's thinking -- the way he thinks -- is the foundation structure upon which a life is built. Thinking guides decisions. Thinking -- how a person thinks -- determines every choice.” - from The Noticer Returns

Action Step: This week, let us commit to right thinking and proper perspective. Make a list of situations that cause you stress or annoyance. Then spend some time thinking of ways to view the situation differently, to regain happiness or joy from the situation.

(For more info on this and how to change your thinking, be sure to go by www.beliefhacker.com and check out the work being done by my friend Dr. Bill Findley. #ThinkBetterLiveBetter)