In Pursuit of Clarity

Clarity.

What is clarity?

We all crave it. We all desire it. But why is it so elusive?

We all want to know what the futures holds. We want to know that one day all our finances will be in order. That one day we’ll have all our ducks in a row (whatever that means). 

The clarity I’m speaking of has to do with predicting the future. We all want to know what happens next. It’s why we keep watching movies and reading novels. 

We’re always asking ourselves: “What happens next?”

I heard an interview recently with Science Mike that said almost a third of our waking hours are spent daydreaming. But this daydreaming didn’t simply consist of unicorns, rainbows and fairies. Our dayreaming is spent trying to predict the future.

Our brains are powerful. Far more powerful than we can understand. It’s constantly trying to make sense of the world around us...processing what’s important and what’s not important. It’s the reason my toddler runs into coffee tables and couches in pursuit of a nearby toy: her brain hasn’t quite developed to the point that she’s able to easily see the obstacle and avoid it...that’s my theory anyway.

But back to predicting the future -- our brains are constantly trying to figure out what’s going to happen next. So much so that a third of our waking hours are spent working on dozens of potential outcomes. 

Given that we all have a rich history of experiences and knowledge, our minds take that information and try to project it into the future.

Why does this matter?

From my perspective, I think it’s incredibly important to understand that this is happening. Why? Because oftentimes, I believe that the future we’re predicting is a scary one. And if a scary future is what’s being predicted, then our current reality is spent in fear...NOT in clarity.

What an interesting dichotomy. 

Stuck between clarity and fear

As Donald Miller points out, our brains crave clarity and avoid confusion. So why is it that our future-predicting brains can create so much confusion if clarity is what it desires?

To be honest, I don’t know. But I have some ideas.

For me, much of my daydreaming ends up focusing on all the ways in which I could die, fail or be rejected. Pretty morbid, but true. 

When there’s someone I’d like to meet to network with, my mind automatically goes to all the ways that meeting could backfire on me. 

When there’s a hike I want to go on with my family, my mind automatically thinks of all the ways we could die in the wilderness. Bear attack. Mudslide. Avalanche. Falling off a cliff. You name it and I’ve probably thought about it.

I’ve realized that my brain is just trying to protect me. But in trying to protect me, it amplifies my fears. And living in fear is no way to live at all. 

This might be a stretch, but what I’m saying is:

In pursuit of clarity for your future, don’t let your future-predicting, fear-inducing brain keep you from taking the risks necessary to achieve your dreams and live a rich, full life. 

Maybe your mind doesn’t bring up as much fear as mine. If so, that’s awesome. Kudos to you! Still, don’t let a lack of clarity in your life paralyze you, as it does so many. 

Many of us have grand goals and dreams, but because we can’t predict the end we don’t take a single step. We stay stuck. And unhappy. Paralyzed. 

Take a step!

Clarity comes with movement. I can map my way to the grocery store, but I can’t predict all the obstacles that might be in the way. And I’ll never know until I get in the car and drive.

So, get in the car and begin your journey. It might take you where you expect. Or it might take you in a completely different direction. And that could be a good thing.

What sorts of fear keep you from taking a step in the right direction? In what ways have you quieted the fears and overcome the obstacles to clarity? Leave a comment below!

Posted on July 26, 2016 .

What are we free for?

What does it mean to be free?

On this 4th of July in 2016, here in the United States we are celebrating the day we declared independence from the tyrannical oligarchy that was Britain in 1776. 

As Americans we love to talk about our freedom and what we’re free from.

But I’d like to pose a different perspective...

What if instead of talking about what we’re free from, we starting asking the question:

What are we free for?

To focus on what we’re free from is to stare into the rearview mirror of history, constantly pointing backwards. And don’t get me wrong, I believe there is merit in that...

...BUT...

I believe that focusing on what we’re free for has much more merit.

I believe that our freedom has more to do with loving our neighbor than free speech or the right to bear arms.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m Texan through and through. I believe in the values of free speech and I am absolutely for the right to bear arms. PLEASE don’t misunderstand me.

But those values and rights shouldn’t be held above loving our neighbor.

As a follower of Jesus, I have a certain perspective on this. If you don’t follow Jesus, know that I’m not trying to force anything down your throat...I simply want to share my beliefs and stance on why I believe that our freedom as Americans should compel us to love our neighbors well. 

In the scriptures, when Jesus is asked what the greatest commandement is, he says, (from Mark 12:31) “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Jesus is actually quoting the Old Testament with this response. The ‘Love your neighbor” bit is from Leviticus 19:18. It was a Levitical law to ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ 

But there’s a flaw with this law. (ha...that rhymes)

Loving your neighbor as yourself means you first have to actually love yourself. And let’s be honest, some of us have a hard time doing that.

Some of us have self-esteem issues. Body image issues. Social issues. The list goes on. There are things we don’t like/appreciate/understand about ourselves. And that can make it hard to love ourselves.

So if we have a hard time loving ourselves, how in the world can we love others well?

Thankfully, Jesus changed the precedent. 

In John 13:34, Jesus says: 

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."

Jesus repeats it again in John 15:12: "This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.”

No longer do we look to ourselves as the example of how to love, but now we have a perfect example of how to love others. 

And the source is not ourselves. It’s Jesus himself.

So when I think about loving others, I don’t look to my own standard (wherever that might come from), but I look to the standard that Jesus set.

How did Jesus love others? Unconditionally and sacrificially

So, as Americans, how does that relate to our freedom? I’m not going to answer that for you. I merely want to challenge the tendency to always look back at what we’re free from. Instead, let’s focus on more on the present and think about what we’re free for...or rather, who we're free for. 

For clarity’s sake: this wasn’t written to be political or even religious. I believe in our freedoms. But sometimes we can focus too much on ‘being right’ instead of loving well. 

 

What do you think we are free for? I'd love to know your thoughts. Leave a comment below to discuss!

 

Posted on July 4, 2016 .

Why I Hated My Vacation (It's My Fault)

Sometimes I feel like I have nothing left to give.

Do you ever feel like that?

Sometimes I sit down to write and I feel like I have nothing valuable to say. I'm having that moment right now...

Or sometimes when I'm talking with my wife and she's sharing something deep and intimate with me...sometimes I feel like I have no words to offer. No encouragement. No response. 

Sometimes when I ponder how I'm contributing to the world, I often get discouraged at the impact I feel like I'm NOT making. 

Do you ever feel like that?

It's excruciatingly painful to think that what I'm doing doesn't matter. That what I say doesn't matter. That what I write...doesn't...matter.

But it's not true. It does matter.

I recently got back from a two week vacation to the Pacific Northwest to visit my wife's family. I've always enjoyed spending time up there with her parents and brother. 

But this time...I stayed pretty discouraged. For one, as soon as I landed in Seattle, my throat started to itch. It got worse every day: itching, sneezing, runny nose, congestion, sinus headache, fever, achey....it was the worst. And it lasted almost the entire trip. I was mildly miserable.

At the same time, I had major mismanaged expectations. Every time we've visited before, I've always gotten (usually, accidentally) a decent amount of time to myself. I'm an introvert, so I'm refreshed and revitalized by spending time alone. Just me and a book, or journal, or piano/guitar. Then, as I look out over the Puget Sound or the Columbia River Gorge at Mt. Hood, I reflect. I pray. I write. I sing. I replenish. 

And that didn't happen this trip. 

Don't get me wrong, we had fun. We relaxed. We explored.

I just didn't get what I expected. (Those blasted expectations...RUTHLESS)

In many scenarios, I can be pretty go-with-the-flow. It can drive my wife crazy when she wants decision-making-Derek to be present, and I'm wanting to be float-down-the-lazy-river-Derek. We're working on it. But this trip, I stayed pretty go-with-the-flow.

What a mistake that was.

I know myself too well. And I know that for me to recharge, I need alone time. And I didn't get that. 

Every other trip we've taken up there it happened by accident. For some reason, I expected the same. But things change when you have a toddler. 

I didn't fight for time to myself. I didn't fight for time to reflect. I didn't fight to be recharged. I came back frustrated that I didn't feel refreshed. And it's no one's fault but my own. 

And here’s what I know about myself: 

When I don’t regularly recharge, I feel empty and useless

So my goal, starting now, is to carve out time once a week to do things that replenish me. 

It’s just like being a passenger on an airplane. In case of emergency, you have to put YOUR oxygen mask on first before helping others.

Because you’re no good to others if you can’t take care of yourself.
 

So here's my advice to you today:

  1. Take care of yourself! Only you know what you need to be refreshed. It could be a bike ride, a walk around town, an afternoon at a coffee shop by yourself, or a friend's birthday party. Only you know. Fight to be recharged. We're no good to anyone else when we are depleted.
  2. You DO matter. What you do matters. You could be feeling down simply because you're depleted. Don’t give up! Get recharged and refreshed.
     

How do you replenish yourself? What adjustments have you made in your life in order to overcome mistakes like the one I made on vacation? Leave a comment and share your story!

Posted on June 7, 2016 .

Being scared and doing it anyway

It was dark, cold, and wet. 5am came early and with it, an abundance of rain. 

I arrived at the convention center exhilirated. I was about to run my first (and so far, last) half marathon. I had been training for almost six months and was ready to conquer this race.

As the time came to approach the starting line with the 25,000 other runners, I thought to myself, “This is absurd. What the heck am I doing out here in forty degree weather in the pouring rain in the dark to run thirteen miles?”

As the guns went off and the masses of people started to run, I suddenly realized something terrible...I had forgotten to urinate

“Just my luck...I’m about to spend two hours running and I forgot to use the restroom!”

Luckily, I looked up ahead and could make out some port-a-pottys in the dark.

“Oh, thank God.”

I practically sprinted to the toilet. I was so caught up in the starting of the race I didn’t even realize how full my bladder was. I was determined to not stop running once I started, so stopping to pee would have ruined the plan. Better to take care of this now.

As I finally crossed the starting line (like I said...twenty-five THOUSAND people...most of them in front of me), I felt a rush of excitement. I’m finally doing it! I’m finally running a half marathon!

In Houston, there’s a bridge about a mile into the race that everyone runs over before the course splits between the marathoners and the half-marathoners. As the bridge curved downards and leveled out on the ground, all I could see was a giant mass of people before me. All of them have been anticipating this day. Most of them have trained for at least several months prior. And here we finally were...running in the pouring rain, in forty degree weather.

And I suddenly realized how special that moment was. 

I no longer just saw this race as something to cross off my bucket list, but a privileged opportunity to join with 25,000 other people in a shared experience. I became very aware that I had two working lungs, two strong legs, and a pretty healthy body, while many in this city alone are unable to walk. 

And yet, had I never started, I wouldn’t have had that moment.

I wonder...how many of you have yet to start? Maybe it’s fear of not finishing? Or maybe it’s just fear of starting?

How many of you have pent up dreams and ideas just waiting to be released but something is holding you back

How many of you have been waiting to have that honest conversation, but the idea of potential conflict scares you?

Trust me, I get that fear. That fear can be crippling.

But some of the scariest things I’ve embarked on are the most rewarding.

Moving away from home. Getting married. Becoming a father. Even having honest conversations that have the potential to backfire on you (those are pretty scary).

My friend Celeste wrote a post recently on being fearless. And I absolutely love her revelation on the topic. She quotes Michael Hyatt when she says...

“More often than not, being brave means doing it scared.”

So many of us are waiting to be fearless before we take our first step. But much of life is doing it scared. That’s bravery. Being scared and doing it anyway. 

There are moments and revelations that await us on the horizon, but we have to be willing to start. And those moments won’t be experienced until we step out into the unknown. 

When I sit down to write, quite often I have no clue where I’m going to end up or what’s going to paint the page. Many times I look back and love it. Other times I hate it. 
 

Part of adventure is experiencing both extremes.
 

So what have you been waiting to start? What opportunities are on the horizon that you don’t even know are possible yet because fear is holding you back? Share in the comments and discuss!

Posted on May 19, 2016 .

What we're all REALLY afraid of

Why are we afraid?

Where does fear come from?

Those are the questions my wife asked me on our date night last night.

I was a little caught off guard. We were driving to dinner as Tessa was looking out the window at the city when the words flew out of her mouth.

I sat and thought a minute. I’m a deep thinker. Sitting and thinking is a prerequisite to any response I make...usually.

I finally responded with, “I think we’re afraid of not being significant.”

Significance seems to be this monumenal achievement. This unattainable “thing” that is so high in the sky and utterly unreachable.

But if it’s so unreachable, why do we strive so hard to reach for it?

I heard the incredible story of a man named Viktor Frankl. He was a Jewish doctor of sorts in Austria during World War II. He and his family were eventually taken to concentration camps in 1942. And what they experienced was horrific. 

All of Frankl’s family died in the camps (except his sister who fled to Australia). Yet, everywhere Frankl went, the suicide rate dropped dramatically in the camps. 

Why?

Because Frankl helped the people in the camps see that their suffering mattered...that they could eventually redeem their suffering...that it would mean something later. That they were significant, even in the face of horrific circumstances.

There’s that word again...

Hitler saw the Jewish people as insignificant. But Frankl was able to rescue many a suicidal Jew just be helping them see that they were significant. That they had meaning and value and worth.

What it seems we have in our society today is a search for pleasure. Pyschologist Sigmund Freud’s research seemed to conclude that man’s primary desire was for pleasure

But Frankl disagrees.

Frankl says that man’s desire for pleasure is a cover. When people feel insignificant, they reach for pleasure instead to fill that void in their soul.

And our society is rampant with pleasure-seekers.

Pleasure is easily attainable. Our world is filled with opportunities to distract us from what really matters.

Significance is also easily attainable. I just think we’ve been looking at it wrong.

Many of us see significance as that unattainable pie-in-the-sky I described earlier. And I’ve been there. I've had that perspective. 
 

But what is significance? Really?

The dictionary defines significance as: “the quality of being worthy of attention; importance.”

There’s a key word in that definition, and it’s not what you think.

It’s not attention.

It’s not importance.

It’s WORTHY.

I think deep down we don’t see ourselves as worthy. Because of that, we’d rather pass the time entertaining ourselves with pleasure so we don’t feel that empty void. 

But here’s the thing...you ARE worthy

Not because of something you did or do, but because of who you are. 

As a follower of Jesus, one of the reasons I believe I’m significant is that I was designed and created with a purpose.

Part of that purpose is connection and relationship

Our relationships are so much more significant than we can think or imagine. My relationship with my wife, my kid, my friends, my family.

They all matter. A lot. 

There’s a Proverb that says, “A wise man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” 

I don’t believe that’s merely talking about financial wealth. 

How we treat people, how we do business, how we cultivate and create and make something of the world around us...all those things can be communicated and passed down...to make the world a better place.

I’ve barely scratched the surface with this topic, I know. But here’s what I want you to walk away with:

  • Significance doesn't have to be daunting.
  • Significance happens every day, in every interaction, with everyone we meet.
  • Choose to be significant today, and help shine a light on other’s significance.

What do you think it takes to be significant? How can you choose to be significant today? Leave a comment below to discuss!


**Here's a couple of resources I think you should check out:
1. Video of Viktor Frankl describing why we should believe in others - 4:22
2. Viktor Frankl's book: "Man's Search for Meaning"

Posted on May 10, 2016 and filed under relationship.