Reflections on 2014

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As the year comes to a close, I feel obliged to reflect a bit on 2014. I’ve linked some of my favorite blog posts throughout this summary to illustrate my thinking throughout the year. And since no post would be complete without an accompanying picture, I’ve selected one with each of my 3 favorite people from the end of the year – my beautiful wife and I headed out to her company’s Christmas party, my daughter Josie (5) and I at a Gardner-Webb University basketball game, and my son Jack (8) and I at Thanksmas (what our family calls the exchanging of gifts at Thanksgiving instead of Christmas) after we finished assembling his rocket and were heading out to launch it. I love all three of these pics with the most important people in my life.

So on to some reflection on the year…my college English Education teacher taught me once that when you are critiquing a student’s work you should start by telling them something they did well, then be critical of the things you want them to improve, and then finish with a positive comment about the overall work. She called it the “Sandwich Method.” I think it would be appropriate to apply the Sandwich Method to my year.

2014 was a breakthrough year for me in the understanding and practice of mindfulness and awareness. I would not say I’ve perfected the discipline, but as the year went on I became more and more consistent with spending time just being quiet, meditating and reflecting, and observing my thinking. This mindfulness allowed me to feel calmer and at peace more often and had a great impact on my relationships – strengthening many, clarifying a need to eliminate others, and opening doors to new ones. My accountability partner in this endeavor has been Dr. Jason Pittser and to him I am greatly indebted for his reminders to stick with it.

Professionally, 2014 was the year of breaking waves. My first full year with a new company, I finally started to see some of the work that I had put in come to fruition in the form of contracts. I am excited to see this trend continue in 2015 as we have many positive relationships developing that could lead to more fantastic projects for our team. I traveled to some new places for work in 2014 – Sacramento, Kansas City, and London among others and I look forward to some more new cities next year.

Our family had a year of maturity and development as well. Our first big family vacation (2 weeks to the West Coast) was a fun and exciting learning experience for all of us. The real result, however, was a renewed desire to explore in Jessi and I along with a realization that we could do this exploring with our kids. We had some great trips with friends this year as well. We closed 2014 with a nearly 2 week trek to the Midwest to see family and friends for the holidays that found us sleeping in 5 different states in 11 days and re-connecting with some of the most important people in our lives. We have big plans for 2015, so I am excited to continue our family adventures.

2014 left some areas for improvement for me as well. 2013 was the year of running for me as I completed 2 half marathons and my first marathon through a very regimented training plan. I wouldn’t say I ‘fell off the wagon’ in 2014, but I didn’t work as hard as the year before. My weight, body image, and overall feeling of being healthy suffered from my lack of commitment in 2014. I realized that I need goals to work towards, so 2015 will again find me choosing some races to train for so that I can stay on track with my running.

I also had poor sleep habits and gave in to television too much in 2014. Early in the year we dropped our cable to the very basic plan and I had intentions to spend more evenings reading and less in front of the tv. That was good for awhile, but when college football and basketball rolled around I gave in and added the sports channels back on to the cable. The result was too many late nights watching games which cost me both precious sleep and valuable reading time. I love basketball, and I love watching college basketball, so I don’t want to give that up, but I’m going to try to be more disciplined about a consistent, and earlier bedtime in 2015. I know my body will feel better and it will make that running commitment easier as well.

2014 was a pretty good year. I’ve enjoyed blogging here about the various ups and downs of the year. I look forward to continuing to work out my thoughts in writing in 2015 as I have realized how powerful and valuable the working out of the words can be for me. The coming year is sure to have its good times and bad, but I know that if I continue to focus on being in the moment, aware of the people and things around me, mindful of my own thinking and open to the world, the health of my soul will continue to improve. When our souls are healthy, our bodies and relationships follow. Here’s to a healthful and mindful 2015.

Blowing up the Dam

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When I was a young man, my soul was a river. It flowed freely and wildly, traveling wherever the land would allow. I was an emotional being and a dynamic one that was comfortable with where that emotion took me spiritually, relationally, and emotionally. Like any river, my soul started to find patterns where it could flow smoothly. An emotional personality started to form and some banks were created on my river that were comfortable and made me who I was.

By the time I reached college, my ‘river soul’ was a pretty well defined waterway with a strong current and a defined path that led to an ocean of happiness. Like all young people, my river would flow out of its banks with happiness, love, and excitement from time to time and I’d lose control over it, but it would settle down. Like many rivers, I had dry points in my young adult life where my river seemed to all but dry up, leaving little or no water flowing to share with others or even keep myself nourished. By the time I graduated from college, however, I had become a strong, flowing river again; defined by clear banks and an occasional tributary that fed my soul (like a group of friends who taught me how to camp, hike, and mountain bike and fueled my passion for the outdoors), I set off into the adult world with the beginnings of an understanding of who I was and the power that was within me in the form of that river soul.

As I look back on my early career, I mostly let the river within me flow. I wasn’t too concerned about how others interacted with the river, I just knew that when it was flowing people enjoyed my personality and when it dried up it wasn’t much fun to be around. I grew a lot as a person the first 5-6 years after college as my river soul flowed freely and I followed it wherever it wanted to go. I saw it spill out in generosity and kindness to others, it was refreshed with the energy of new love (another important tributary) when I met my wife and we were started our life together as a shared river. I wasn’t risky, per se, but not cautious either, just allowing my soul to grow and flow freely.

I can’t clearly recall when I started to build the dam. At some point, I realized that I could harness the energy and power of my soul if I would build a dam and force the river to flow through it. It seemed like a great idea at the time – take all of the great things that flow out of you naturally and start to control them. Over time, as the dam was built, I began to feel like I was taking control of my river soul, using its power for the greater good of my family, my career, myself. When the situation required it, I could open up the gates and let the river flow freely and powerfully over the dam – this created energy and was impressive to all who saw it at job interviews, company business meetings, vacations, or family get togethers. When people viewed the river with the gates all the way open, it looked like a thriving, healthy river. Then, at times, I could slow the flow to a trickle. The water levels would drop and the flow became more controlled. I didn’t realize it then, but when I forcefully closed those gates, it had a dramatic impact – my marriage and family were not nourished because there wasn’t enough water, my business relationships became stagnant due to the lack of moving water, and life became generally dull and dry. Too often, when I was trying to slow the flow of water it was in the midst of a season of drought that I didn’t even recognize. While I thought I was preserving my river in the dry time by slowing the flow to a trickle, what was really happening was that the river was drying up behind the dam.

The result looked something like this:
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The water levels of my soul behind the dam I had created had become so low, the water was evaporating away, and the fact that there was ever a river there was almost imperceptible.

And then I decided to blow up the dam.

It takes a long time and a lot of effort to blow up a huge dam that has been holding back a rushing river for years. You can’t do it with a pick axe, it takes dynamite. It is loud, and it hurts. There is no quiet, discreet way to blow up a dam.

The result of releasing the river soul to flow again has been amazing. True, there aren’t many of the ‘open the floodgates’ rushes of emotional water anymore that used to happen when I was in control; but my soul is once again flowing smoothly and uninhibited. It has returned to its original banks in most places and has forged new ones in other places. My river soul still goes up and down based on seasons of emotional and spiritual rain and drought. Every now and then a chunk of the old dam comes loose and barrels down the river, reminding me of the damage I did by trying to control my river soul. But now I don’t try to control it, instead I see my primary job as keeping it clean so it can flow freely and nourish others. When it gets clogged after a heavy rain with trees, debris, and rocks, I’ve got to get those out of the way. When the levels are low because of drought, I’ve got to dredge the bottom to maintain the river’s flow. I don’t have to control it anymore, just make sure that it is genuine, free, and clear of anything that might slow it down. The water of my river soul takes care of the rest.

Inspired by the book Soul Keeping by John Ortberg

Kid Pictures

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I don’t think there are many adults alive who would argue that we could all use a dose of childhood on a regular basis. Kids care about each other, adults are selfish; kids are honest, adults hide the truth; kids stay in the moment, adults worry about the past and future while they often ignore the moment; kids have genuine emotions of both joy and sadness, adults try to hide all of their emotions, or at best, control who sees them.

This past Thanksgiving Weekend, I became aware of another thing we adults need to learn from kids in the attempt to take some “Kid Pictures.” Like many families around the country, we got together with the entire clan for several days and as our kids and their cousins don’t get together more than a couple of times a year, we wanted to mark the occasion with a Facebook worthy picture, suitable for framing. Needless to say, the kids had a different idea, and I think we need to learn something from them when it comes to pictures (whether they are actual pictures, or the emotional pictures that we snap when we’re together).

We had bought the requisite matching outfits – striped shirts for the boys, cute flowered print shirts for the girls, all in matching orange and blue (for Auburn or Florida, depending on who you ask). It was a beautiful fall day at my brother’s Florida home and we placed the wicker sofa in just the right spot on the lawn for the ideal picture. Should be simple to then get an 8, 7, 5, and 4 year old to sit together for 30 seconds to take a picture, right? Nope, didn’t feel authentic to the kids. So they did what they wanted to do – piled on top of each other in a laughing, screaming mosh pit with the oldest cousin on the bottom and everyone sitting on top. Luckily, we snapped the above shots anyway and captured what life is really like for these 4 when they get together for family gatherings – it is just having fun being together. No pretenses, no false selfs involved, no talking behind each others’ backs. They just play together when they want to play together, get away from each other when they’re tired of each other; they laugh, they argue, they cry, they share; all along they are developing real relationships.

We adults ought to stop trying so hard to make every picture – literally and figuratively – a presentation of the self we want the world to see too. We ought to be ok with spending time together and spending time alone near each other. We ought to stop trying to accomplish our agendas when we get together and start just being together developing real relationships. Life is messy, we don’t always agree and we don’t always get along – even with family. That is ok, it is what makes life interesting and fun. But we need to recognize it and appreciate it, not hide it and pretend it doesn’t exist.

I dearly love my parents, my brother, my sister-in-law, and my niece and nephew. I don’t agree with my parents or brother on everything and that is fine with me. We have interesting conversations with divergent points of view and I appreciate those. I don’t live my day to day life the same way as my brother and his family and our family dynamics are different. That is ok, and it makes our time together interesting for parents and kids alike because they get to interact with a different way of doing things. Everything in life doesn’t have to be neat and organized, scheduled and set. We certainly don’t all have to have the same methods to get to the outcomes we’re seeking. So let’s continue to celebrate the fact that we can just get together, pile on top of each other with laughing, screaming, and crying…and enjoy living in each moment. Oh, and let’s make sure we take some pictures of it that way so we can show each other how similar we actually are in our dysfunction.