Spring Clean Up in Amish Country

This past weekend I got outside for a run for the first time in many months. It was so nice to be outside in God’s creation running along a quiet country road.

I came across a group of Amish as I was running. An Amish man with about 10 children out picking up trash in the field and along the road. I’m sure they were part of the family that owns the farm, and clean up is a part of every Spring for them. They can’t use those fields if it’s full of trash.

It’s amazing to me how many people through bottles, cans and junk out their windows, and litter our neighborhoods, streets and roadways. I guess that’s part of living in this world,  if you’re a land owner part of what needs to happen is cleaning up your property, even if the mess was caused by someone else.

It’s like that in our spiritual and emotional lives as well. Sometimes people litter on us emotionally or spiritually. Maybe it’s saying something hurtful, or doing something abusive to us. Maybe it’s leading us away from our relationship with God, or getting distracted by other things. The reality is our lives are often quite messy, some of it we bring on ourselves, and some is thrown out the window by others, and it lands on us.

So how do we clean up and get rid of the litter? Well, let’s learn from this Amish family.

  1. Acknowledge that you have a mess to clean up – They saw the mess and decided to clean it up. This can be the hardest step because most of us want to bury the mess. The problem is, those buried things keep popping up in our lives. Sometimes it’s buried so deep we need some help uncovering it. Emotional and spiritual hurts that are buried can never heal properly unless they are picked up and thrown out. Pride is often the reason we don’t take this first step.
  2. Build a team – They knew it would go faster with more help. Life is hard, and it’s even harder when we do it alone. Find some people that care about you, and are willing to walk with you through whatever you need to clean up. This should be a small team and you need to be careful, because there are a lot of people that might mean well, but are not helpful. When adding to this team ask these questions. Does this person want what’s best for me? Does this person have a relationship with God that is growing? Will this person keep things confidential? Will this person lift me up or pull me down? Ask God to help you as you surround yourself with the right people.
  3. Get Started – They had to pick a day and just start cleaning.  At some point we have to start making some changes. We can get great counsel and have some great self-awareness, but if we never make any changes or try something new or different, nothing will change. Sometimes we need to just start picking up the trash and throwing it away. It’s in this process that a lot of the growth and healing will happen. It’s having that difficult conversation, asking for forgiveness, forgiving someone else, reading a book, seeing a counselor and doing the homework. If we just keep doing the same old thing, we just keep getting the same old result.
  4. Keep God in the center of it all – This is God’s creation, let’s keep it beautiful. Those first three steps are things we can do to start improving our lives, but this step is really the key to lasting life change. The spiritual side of our lives is the most important, and often the most neglected part of our lives. We try to fix all the junk and yet still feel empty and broken. When we plug into God He transforms, heals, buildings, shapes, restores and renews us. When we bring God into every part of our lives and fully surrender it all to Him it leads to freedom, fulfillment  and wholeness. When we trust God completely, He is faithful and brings the needed transformation in our lives. He is God and we are not.
  5. Once you’ve picked up the trash, choose to throw it away – Once they picked up all the trash it went to the dumpster.  We can actually get comfortable with our junk. Throwing something away can be hard, especially if we’ve been carrying it for years. That’s why having God involved helps so much. The more we trust God the less we rely the junk we’ve held onto, making it easier to pitch it in the trash and not pick it up again.
  6. Stick with it – I’m sure they have to do this once or twice a year. There will be more trash thrown at us, and we need to keep cleaning up every year. If our spiritual lives are thriving, most of the time there is less clean up to do. When we are healthy spiritually and emotionally we have better boundaries in our lives and are much more resilient when things go wrong or get hard.

It’s so helpful to remember that God is for us and He is in us. That combination is amazing, and it leads directly to less trash to pick up. So focus on God and build that level of trust and closeness to Him. Doing that will lead to breakthroughs in other areas of our lives.

If you are ready to start cleaning up, a good place to start is a growing, thriving local church. Find a place where you can connect with God, and other people. Step out of your comfort zone and take some risks to grow spiritually, that’s the best way to clean up the junk and change your life.

 

A Key Principle that Leads to Success

I recently met with a group of men in their workplace.  I’m part of a leadership development and culture building process with this organization.  The topic for the day was self-control.  A good definition of self-control is disciplining your thoughts, words, actions, and attitude.

The conversation we had was one of the best I’ve been a part of, because most of these guys struggle with self-control.  We talked about both work and home and when it came to self-control at home with their wives and children it got real interesting.

You see these guys are like you and me.  They have relationships at work and at home.  Both are important to them and both take work and effort.  However most of us struggle more at home than at work, because at work we could get fired if we get too out of control.  Of course when we are out of control at home for long enough it leads to getting fired as well.

Why is self-control so important?  There was a study done back in the early 70’s with children.  They put a kid in a room and gave them one marshmallow.  They told them that if they can wait until we return we will give you another marshmallow.  If you eat it before we come back that’s all you get.  They left the room for 15 minutes.  Only a minority of children ate the marshmallow right away, most at least tried to delay.  Of those who attempted to delay, one third deferred gratification long enough to get a second marshmallow.

They followed up with these children several times later in life.  The children that delayed gratification longer were described by parents 10 years later as significantly more competent, the children also scored higher on their SAT scores in high school.  They also went further in education beyond high school and even had a lower Body Mass Index (BMI).

So self-control is an important attribute for people to develop in order to do better in all areas of life.  Jan Mckingley Hilado said “Self-control is a key factor in achieving success.  We can’t control everything in life, but we can definitely control ourselves.”

To have healthy thriving relationships it’s important to have self-control in these 3 key areas:

  1. Words Our words are incredibly powerful and they can help our hurt.  Words cannot be taken back once spoken so having self-control with our words is vital to healthy relationships.  Don’t allow emotions to drive your words.  Wait until you have calmed down before making a decision or having the difficult conversation.  If you already said hurtful things, humble yourself and go ask for forgiveness.
  2. Thought Life – The things we think about tend to become the most import in our lives.  Our thoughts lead to actions and words so it matters what you think about and what you believe.  If you are believing things that are not true it can lead to negative hurtful words or actions.  If your focused on the wrong things it can lead to wrong actions and words.  Feed your mind things that are true, good and helpful.  Get wise counsel from others for a better perspective.
  3. Attitude – Every day you get to choose your attitude.  You can choose to smile, believe the best and be positive or you can frown, believe the worst and be negative.  Having self-control in our attitude is one of the hardest, but most important things we can do to have a healthy relationship with anyone.  If your attitude toward a person is negative it will adversely affect that relationship.

People that have good self-control with words, thoughts and attitude are much more likely to have healthy thriving relationships and also be more effective and productive at work and home.

My faith in Jesus Christ helps me to have better self-control.  It’s one of the results of my relationship with Jesus, I get help from Him in those moments I need self-control.  I get strength and power in those critical moments when conflict arises or life happens.

So where do you need to have more self-control?

 

Lessons Learned This Past Year

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As we approach the end of another year I can’t help but reflect on this past year.  It was filled with good times, bad times, positive emotions and negative emotions.  I cried and I laughed.  I opened up and I shut down.  I made some good decisions and I made some bad decisions.  I got angry and had a negative attitude and I was filled with joy and had a positive attitude.  I also learned a lot this past year about leadership, my relationship with God and the baggage that I still tend to carry.

If you’re like me this can describe almost every year.  However every year I like to ask myself if I have grown in my faith, character and leadership in this past year.  For me it’s a big yes this year.  Probably more than many other years because of the amount of change I experienced at work.  Here are some of the lessons I learned or went deeper in understanding.

  1. God opposed the proud but supports the humble – Every time I allow pride to creep into my life I get knocked down a few notches.  This often happens to me when things are going well and I start comparing myself to others.  It can happen when I’m meeting with someone that is going through a hardship and I think I can fix it with three simple steps.  Or when I don’t think a certain strategy or decision is the best and my way is better.  Or if I don’t pay attention to my wife and just do what I want.  I keep learning and understanding more deeply to humble myself and in due time the Lord will lift me up, but it’s his decision not mine.  I need to remain faithful, work hard and focus on doing what is right and good and submit to God and other people.
  2. Value your relationships because life can change in an instant – I was reminded through several tragic events that life is precious and things can change very quickly.  I was reminded to spend time with the people I love and to work on those relationship by practicing forgiveness, communicating clearly and often and by loving well.  The Bible says to love extravagantly and that we are bankrupt without love.  Learning to love or how to express love is one of the best things we can do to improve our lives and value the people around us.
  3. Having the hard conversations is a game changer – Conflict is not fun and many people tend to avoid it.  However if you want to grow, make progress, change for the better or have less stress, then you must deal directly with conflict.  Learning to admit when your wrong and confronting issues quickly when they come up does not allow things to fester and get infected.  I had many hard conversations this past year and most of them ended well and improved the relationship or the situation.  Resolving conflict is hard but it leads to relational, emotional and physical health.
  4. Vulnerability and openness are strengths not weakness – I studied and read a lot about vulnerability, shame and courage this past year.  It takes great courage to be vulnerable and be honest, but when you do it, you experience great freedom, creativity and strength.  I became more vulnerable in some of my relationships and took some risks by sharing more of me with others.  I grew in confidence and courage by facing the junk in my life head on and sharing that with some trusted people in my life.  Everyone knows your not perfect so stop trying to be, take off the mask and be real, that’s when things start to change.
  5. Emotional health is one of the most import things a leader can have – Being healthy emotionally allows you to lead at a high level and take on enormous responsibility.  However staying healthy emotionally takes constant work just like staying physically healthy takes constant work.  Caring for your soul and understanding your emotions is a sign of maturity and leadership.  Sometimes you have to go to a professional counselor in order to break through some of the emotional walls that come up in your life.  It’s always worth the time and energy and money to get healthy emotionally.
  6. When you keep God first and submit to Him other things fall into place – My relationship with God has grown and deepened over the years, but this did not just happen, I had to be intentional.  I have found that the more time I spend with God the more I can accomplish, the healthier I am and and the lower my stress tends to be.  Having a spiritual rhythm in life is vital.  What I mean by rhythm is having a thriving prayer life, feeding on God’s word regularly, being silent and being with God and living a life of worship.  That is staying focused on the most important thing in life, your relationship with Jesus Christ.  When that is growing the rest of life tends to be healthier as well.

Keep growing in Faith, Character and Leadership.

Six Guideposts for an Emotionally Healthy Life

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Living an emotionally healthy life is incredibly freeing.  Yet it is very difficult to do because we all grow up learning unhealthy behaviors and unhealthy emotions.  Think of it like pieces of armor that we put on growing up, defense mechanisms, ways of handling conflict, how to treat other people, what we think about ourselves, others and God.

In order to get healthy here are a six guideposts that can help us all get healthier emotionally and live with freedom and joy.  Many of these guideposts come from researcher, author and speaker Brene’ Brown.

  1. Cultivate authenticity and let go of what other people think –   Authenticity is a choice and must be practiced every day.  It’s letting ourselves been seen for who we really are and also setting healthy boundaries in our lives.  It’s being able to say no in a kind way yet stay firm when pressured.  It’s choosing to have a hard conversation instead of stuffing it and letting resentment fill us up.  It’s paying attention to what we are feeling and why and dealing with the truth.  It’s speaking up instead of holding it in.  It’s taking our mask off and being our true self, imperfections and all.
  2. Cultivate self-compassion and let go of perfectionism – Perfectionism leads to frustration, anger and a host of other unhealthy emotions.  It also leads to negative self-talk and keeps you from moving forward in relationships and projects.  It can feed fear and keep us paralyzed.  To let go of perfectionism we need to be able to practice self-compassion or being kind to ourselves.  It’s allowing ourselves to deeply feel what we are currently going through and understanding that we are not alone in our struggles.  Others have gone through similar things and survived.  We must be able to love ourselves before we can love others.  It’s giving ourselves a break from having to be perfect and always doing the right thing.
  3. Cultivate a resilient spirit and let go of numbing behaviors – This involves knowing who we are and how we are wired.  It is the self-awareness to know what our numbing behaviors are and a willingness to get help to avoid going there.  It’s understanding our purpose in life and God’s plan for our lives.  When we grow spiritually it strengthens our spirit and allows us to bounce back much faster when troubles come.  It’s having a healthy outlet for venting frustrations and pain.  Allowing people close to us to know us and be vulnerable with them about what is happening.  numbing behaviors include things like spending hours on Facebook or social media, watching TV, video games, working.  It can be drinking alcohol, taking drugs, smoking or watching porn.  It can also be focusing on our phone and not being fully present with the people around us.
  4. Cultivate gratitude & joy and let go of scarcity & fear – It’s not just having an attitude of gratitude, but actually practicing gratitude.  Keeping a gratitude journal and actually telling others how grateful we are for them and the things we are grateful for.  It’s living with an eternal perspective and knowing we have a higher purpose in life.  It’s noticing the little things in life and being able to live in the moment and just be.  It is being comfortable in our own skin and not trying to be somebody we are not.  It’s having an abundance mentality, and not a scarcity mentality.  It’s being generous with our time, our money and possessions and our abilities by helping and serving others.
  5. Cultivate intuition and trusting faith and let go of the need for certainty – Certainty is not real but uncertainty is.  Our intuition comes from the experiences we have had in life.  To cultivate intuition we need to think about and learn from our experiences.  It’s also important to grow in our faith and keep searching for answers to life’s questions.  Yet it’s also being OK with not having all the answers.  Many people would rather be miserable and certain than emotionally healthy and uncertain.  One way to cultivate intuition and trusting faith to create time for silence and solitude.  Building time into our schedules to connect with God, feed our soul and nourish our minds.
  6. Cultivate creativity and let go of comparison – Every human being is creative, some people practice using it more than others.  Unused creativity turns into unhealthy emotions like anger, judgement, rage and depression.  When we start comparing ourselves to others our creativity goes down because of fear.  Often because of something someone said or did to us as a child we avoid being creative because we fear not being good enough.  When children get to be in the 4th and 5th grade their level of creativity goes way down because that is when their art begins to get graded and compared to others.  To cultivate creativity we need to start doing something we gave up or thought we were no good at.  Start drawing, painting, sculpting, writing, taking pictures, making videos.  Finding our creative side and exercising it will bring joy, freedom and energy into our lives.  Do something creative today.

Start pursuing an emotionally healthy life by cultivating the good and letting go of the bad.

A Key to Stronger Relationships

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I’ve been studying the idea of vulnerability and how that plays out in our relationships.   Brene Brown has some incredible insights on this tough topic.  Much of this post is based on her research.

One of the things that keeps us from being vulnerable is shame.  Shame thrives in secrecy, silence and judgement.  However when we introduce empathy, shame cannot grow.  So in order to be open and vulnerable we need to be around people that are great at empathizing and we need to learn how to be empathetic with others.  Learning how to be empathetic is one of the most powerful ways to improve your relationships.

In order to be empathetic we need to be able to see the world as others see it.  This is all about perspective, being able to take the perspective of another person and not our own.  It’s being able to listen to someone and not interject our own experience but to really what to hear it from them.  It’s not one upping the person by sharing what you did or how you messed up.  It’s being able to realize that our lens of life and our experiences are different than others and being OK with that.

Empathy also requires that we are nonjudgmental.   Most of us are  judgmental and we are usually judgmental in areas where we are vulnerable to shame.  We tend to judge people that are worse than we are so that we feel better about ourselves.  We do that because we are looking for validation that at least I’m not as bad as so and so.

Empathy is not our default or natural mode, it’s a skill that must be worked on and developed in order for this to happen naturally.  Empathy is usually very subtle, it can be just a knowing look or going to be with someone in a time of crisis instead of calling to express sympathy.

When we empathize with someone, we go to that dark place with them, we don’t flip on the lights and try to cheer them up and fix the problem or make light of the situation.  It’s like walking up to your friend that is in a hole and going down into the hole with them, but knowing how to get back out of the hole because it’s not your hole.  Sympathy is walking up to the hole and asking what happened.  When they tell you, you express that your sorry to hear that, that’s a terrible thing.  Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.  There is a big difference.

When we empathize with someone, we are creating a safe environment for people to be vulnerable.  Being vulnerable is one of the most accurate measures of a persons courage.  To be vulnerable takes bravery, because it is walking into uncertainty, it’s taking a risk and it’s exposing your emotions.  It takes courage because the reality is you can get hurt when you do this with someone that is not able to empathize or keep things confidential.

However if you live in secrecy, and silence you might feel safe, but are most likely miserable.  When we are vulnerable we are our true self.  We are showing that we are imperfect, messed up, awkward and goofy.  The greatest relationships are the ones where you can be all  of that and the person loves you even more.

So if your looking to improve your relationships, first learn how to empathize better with the people around you. Work on those skills of listening and trying to understand their perspective.  Don’t try to fix them or the situation, but let them know we can do this together.  Then work at being vulnerable with the people in your life.  Expose yourself emotionally by being honest about your struggles and your shame.  When we do that there is incredible freedom and life when we push past our fear.