Perception

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)

RLL 54: How Gratitude Changes Our Hearts

RLL 54: How Gratitude Changes Our Hearts

My best friend, David, and me—just doing what we do at his wedding rehearsal dinner back in October.

My best friend, David, and me—just doing what we do at his wedding rehearsal dinner back in October.

I’ll get this out right up front: I am a short, short human being. I am 5’3” inches tall (that’s 160.02 cm for my metric-minded friends, according to Google), roughly the same height as Napoleon Bonaparte (at least according to British propaganda from the era) and much shorter than many notable celebrities that are considered ‘short.’ Also according to Google, the average American male is 5’9” tall…which puts the average American man as a full 6 inches taller than I am. Half a foot. Shorter than average.

I get hobbit jokes all the time from my students, elf jokes every Christmas season from the whole world, and short jokes from my best friend (who is 6’4”) and his family pretty much always.

As a result of my short stature, I’ve always felt frustrated at many aspects of life that average height men take for granted: getting things off of high shelves, washing my hands in public restrooms (which for me results in getting water from the counter top on my shirt right at belly-button level), etc. But here’s the thing: it could be worse.

When my daughters put heels on, they really are almost my height!

When my daughters put heels on, they really are almost my height!

Over the past year, though, I’ve realized just how much I have to be thankful for, despite the fact that I’m roughly the size of a middle school student. And the more I focused on reasons to be thankful, the more thankful I’ve become. C.S. Lewis talks about a similar phenomenon in ‘Mere Christianity’ regarding how we treat others, and I believe the principle holds true for how we think of ourselves. Here’s what he wrote:

“When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less…[W]henever we do good to another self, just because it is a self, made (like us) by God, and desiring its own happiness as we desire ours, we shall have learned to love it a little more or, at least, to dislike it less.”

I believe this same idea also applies to how we think about our situations in life: if we constantly focus on the negative, then the negatives only seem to grow. If, however, we choose to focus on the positives, then the negatives seem to fade into the background.

They don’t go away entirely (after all, I still need help getting things off of high shelves), but they’re not as big of a deal as they used to be. And they can even turn into moments of light-heartedness and fun, such as when my children get to laugh as I jump up to knock something off of a store shelf and then catch it before it hits the tiled floor.

I’m thankful that I’m short, because it means I get more opportunities to jump than most adults get on a regular day.

When my wife and I visited Cameron Indoor Stadium this summer, It was fun to see just how much smaller our feet are than those of former Duke basketball players.

When my wife and I visited Cameron Indoor Stadium this summer, It was fun to see just how much smaller our feet are than those of former Duke basketball players.

I’m thankful that I’m short because not once in my life have I hit my head on a pull-up bar, a ceiling fan blade, or the top of a door frame (all of which my best friend has done).

I’m thankful that I’m short because the old “Jump, knock it off a shelf then catch it” trick made for a lot of laughs (and extra tips) when I was a bartender in college.

I’m thankful I’m short because when I played soccer in high school and college, I almost never got called for fouls because referees thought, “Surely that little guy didn’t actually knock that big dude over. He must have been diving.”

I’m thankful I’m short because it’s obviously how God intended me to be.

Action Step: This Thanksgiving week, in addition to just listing things we’re thankful for, I would challenge you to ask yourself how you might reframe your situation mentally (to learn more about ‘reframing,’ check out podcasts from both Bob Burg and Jordan Harbinger). In other words, think of something that normally bothers you or drags you down; then, examine how can you think differently about it so that it becomes an opportunity for gratitude.

(Bonus: For more info on how to do this, also go check out my friend Dr. William Findley over at BeliefHacker.com to learn how to #thinkbetter and #livebetter)