Wednesday, September 02, 2015

When You're In the Pressure Cooker

When you are under tremendous stress, and life feels like a pressure cooker, then it's time to stop and evaluate what's happening inside of you.  Stress is like the red lights on the automobile dashboard.  It indicates a warning that something under the hood needs attention.  Here are a few questions to consider when you feel the tension rising:

1)  What symptoms indicate that I am stressed out?  

2)  What are the immediate and underlying causes of my tension?  Often, the thing that is "stressing us out", is just a symptom and not the cause.  Look beneath the immediate situation.

3)  Am I living at a sustainable pace?  Look back at your schedule over the past two weeks and ask yourself, "Is this sane?"

4)  Do I have enough breathing room between events and responsibilities?  If not, what can I eliminate from my life?

5)  Is this temporary or permanent?  Is there light at the end of the tunnel, or am I just digging a deeper hole?

6)  Am I operating out of my delight, passion and giftedness?  If not, is there a way to rearrange my duties to live more in the sweet spot?

7)  What do those closest to me feel about the way I'm interacting with them?  

8)  How has stress impacted my relationships?  

9)  How important is this?   Does it fit with my stated priorities?   Ask yourself this question before agreeing to anything new.

10)  What drains me?  Where and when are energy leaks occurring?  Can I do anything about that?

11)  How am I doing spiritually?  Is my soul well nourished?  If not, what can I do to replenish?

12)  Is there bitterness or resentment in my heart?  Unresolved anger is a primary source of inner pressure.

13)  Am I eating right?  Poor nutrition and unhealthy stress are partners.  People get crabby when they're not being fed.

14)  Do I have a schedule of exercise?  Physical exertion is a great way to reduce frustration and inner pressure.

15)  Am I a praying person?  Prayer builds faith, and faith reduces anxiety.

16)  Am I getting enough sleep?  With limited exceptions, humans require 7-8 hours of sleep per night.   Fatigue makes troubles seem bigger than they are.

17)  Are there relational conflicts that need resolution?  Is there anything I can do about that?  Am I humble and courageous enough to take the first step?

18)  What do I do for fun?  As the old saying goes, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."

19)  Am a taking time for sabbath?  We are wired to rest on a regular basis.  Take some time to stop working and rejuvenate and refresh your mind, body and soul.

20)  Am I thankful?  Gratitude and happiness are lifelong partners.  You can't find one without the other.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Shocking Sins of John Wesley

While celebrating our anniversary in Stillwater, Minnesota last week, my bride, Cathy, graciously agreed to accompany me to Loome Theological Booksellers -- a treasure trove of used and rare books.   I was like a kid in the candy store!

I found Albert Outler's work on John Wesley's theology for $2 on the bargain table, and snapped it up immediately.   What a find!  I've heard of this book for years and am now reading it during my daily quiet time. It contains so many rich insights.

John Wesley was a practical, rather than systematic theologian.  He was a thinking doer --  too busy leading a revival movement to sit down and write a comprehensive book of doctrines.  Wesley's beliefs, however, can be gleaned from his vast collection of journals, sermons and letters.  Outler does exactly that: drawing John Wesley's thoughts into grand themes that reflect Methodist understanding and priorities.  

I found this excerpt from the introduction insightful.  John Wesley had failed as a missionary to America, and was on his journey home.  God used this painful experience as a mirror -- to reveal how much he needed grace.  Although a very religous (and often self-righteous) rule-keeper, he was shocked to realize how much he lacked spiritually.  This soul searching led to his Aldersgate experience a few months later, when his "heart was strangely warmed."

We cannot be gracious to others until we embrace it for ourselves.  We cannot know the depth of grace until we see the extent of our need for it.  

On the ship back to England, John Wesley wrote to his brother, Samuel, "by the most infallible proofs, inward feeling, I am convinced,

1. Of unbelief; having no such faith in Christ as will prevent my heart from being troubled; which it could not be, if I believed in God

2. Of pride throughout my life past, inasmuch as I thought I had what I find I do not have

3. Of gross irrecollection; inasmuch as in a storm I cry to God every moment, but in calm, I do not

4. Of levity and luxuriance of spirit, recurring whenever the pressure is off, and appearing by my speaking words that do not edifying; but most by my manner of speaking of my enemies.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Surprising Seed of Heaven


Poem by Mark Wilson  Photo by Hannah Wilson

Faith, the seed of heaven
planted by surprise in earthen soil.

The barren ground reluctantly invites, mostly disdains
this small possibility of hope.

Stirs slightly, irritated, yawns and then settles
back in lazy slumber mostly convinced
that the interruption is merely
a burial of another empty dream.

Entombed in heavy darkenss
the seed of heaven sings
as it reaches for a land beyond its grasp
and hopes for the hand of God it cannot see.

But no dark place can silence
the song of faith and hope.
And calloused soil cannot withstand
for long refreshing rains.

Slowly, steadily, the seed of heaven toils
upward, onward,
through the dark
towards heaven's gate.

Sometimes singing.
Sometimes sighing.
Always longing
for destiny awaits.

Heaven beckons,
Earth responds.
That is the order of
all created things.

The earthen tomb
becomes a womb
of life anew --
and resurrection!

A seed, a sprout, a stalk,
and then a slendid crimson flower
Blooming where it first began
it's morning hour.

Looking up to see the smile of God
Looking down upon the sordid place
from which it came.
And bearing precious treasure. . .

another measure . . . 
of the seed of heaven -- faith!

Friday, August 21, 2015

What Story Are You Telling Yourself?

Two people can experience the same event, yet see it in different ways.

This happens all the time at accident scenes.  Eyewitnesses often give conflicting accounts.  The difference isn't in the facts -- but rather, in how the facts are interpreted.

When writing books, I share many stories that involve other people.  My publisher makes me obtain permission from the people who are going to be in the book.  I send them the passage where they are mentioned and they usually reply, "I remember it a little differently."

Then I respond, "Of course, it happened this way.  I recall it clearly."

And they reply, "No, it happened like this. . ."

So I go back do a bunch of editing until the story matches, at least to some degree,  how we both remember it.

Why does this happen?  I'm not making things up.  I really remember it that way -- but we end up with different perspectives based on how we processed the event.

We all have stories to interpret the facts.  Brene' Brown astutely observed that when we don't have a complete story, we fill in the gaps with our own narratives.   Stories are important because they are the only way we can understand and interpret our experiences.

We can share the same experiences, but walk away with different stories, based on our interpretations.

When you approach a group of friends, and they suddenly stop talking, how do you interpret that?

When you receive a poor performance evaluation, what story plays in your mind?

When a family member is upset,  how do you explain this to yourself?

When you face an unexpected hardship, what meaning do you draw it?

Your "in the gap" story might be true or it false -- but it is your story, and makes sense to you.

But what if you are telling yourself the wrong story?  What if you weren't even on the minds (and tongues) of those friends who stopped talking?  What if the poor performance evaluation has more to do with character development than value?  What if your upset loved ones are just expressing their own inner conflicts?  What if the hardship is really a pathway to health?

Can you re-think it?  Sometimes, our false stories need to be recognized and challenged.

"When we deny our stories, they define us," said Brene' Brown, "When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending."

On October 10, 1907, the German poet, Rainer Rilke, spent the entire day visiting an exhibit of the great artist, Cezanne.  He spent hours gazing at the masterpieces, trying to understand them.  In a letter to his wife, he said, "I remember the puzzlement and insecurity of one's first confrontation with his work, along with his name, which is just as new.  And then, for a long time nothing, and suddenly one has the right eyes." 

As we encounter the various events of life, it takes some serious reflection to "have the right eyes" and to see the right kind of story in order to "write a brave new ending."

Earth's Crammed With Heaven

Earth's crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;  
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries."
-- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Resist the Urge to Settle

"Leadership is resisting the urge to settle." says Shannon O'Dell.

Otherwise, we will spend our days (weeks, months, years) in the land where the bland leads the bland.

We all have the natural inclination to settle into a routine -- also known as a rut.  My daddy used to say, "a rut is a grave with both ends knocked out."

As an old church leadership goes: "Be we high, or be we low, the Status is the same . . . Quo."

Friday, August 14, 2015

Four Types of Thinkers

There are four different kinds of thinkers in every organization, and they are all equally important.

“What If” Thinkers:

These are the folks who look for the possibilities rather than the problems.  They are the kind of people that would see something that hasn’t been made yet, and ask, “Why not!”  They creatively seek possibilities, and are quick to see potential.  They look beyond present reality to what could be, and thrive on positive change.

Sometimes, “What If” thinkers are criticized for being na├»ve and unrealistic.  They can exhaust more practically minded people --   but it always takes an idea person to get things launched.  Every great accomplishment starts with a good idea.

“Why” Thinkers:

“Why” Thinkers look beyond the surface to the deeper meanings.  In order to buy in, they need to understand the reason behind it.  They live on purpose, and are intentional in what they do.  “Why” Thinkers look underneath every idea for the grand purpose, and won’t invest themselves if they don’t see it.

Occasionally, when they don’t make all the connections, (or fail to find 100% agreement) “Why Thinkers”  bog down progress with their reluctance.  Living with ambiguity is a struggle for them.  However, they are the ones who make sure the right things are being done.

Without their valuable input, we might end up like the driver who, going the wrong direction, said, “Well, at least I’m making good time!”

“How” Thinkers:

These individuals immediately see all the details that need to be handled, whenever an idea is proposed.  They are excellent at planning ahead, and have good organizational skills.  Creating detailed “to do” lists helps them accomplish the goal.  They have a keen ability to look ahead and play out the implications of decisions.

“How” Thinkers may appear somewhat negative when an idea is proposed, but that’s because they are looking at the larger picture.  Almost instantly, (although they may not be able to articulate it right away) they sense the full impact of a decision, including the necessary time, energy, money, and resources.

“When” Thinkers:

These are the practical “Get it Done” people.  I’ve heard it said that in every organization there are Wish Bones, Jaw Bones and Back Bones.  “When” Thinkers are the Back Bones who turn plans to action.  Why just sit around talking about an idea, when you can get to work on it?

Sometimes, they may act prematurely (Ready – Fire – Aim), – but without them, there would be too much jaw flapping.  They are the ones who make things happen.

Wise, creative progress is made when all the thinking types work together, using their unique strengths for maximum energy investment.

Effective leaders understand that not everybody thinks alike – and that team members who see it differently add valuable perspective.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Familiar Strangers


Photo Cathy Wilson
Reflecting on the large number of out of town guests who flock to Hayward each summer while taking a stroll in the woods.  I wrote the following poem:

little flowers
familiar strangers
we have not learned each others' names
but that's alright
we smile the same
and give a friendly nod and wave
whene'er we pass
because they're summer residents