Tag Archives: gratitude

Fueling Positivity

A couple of days ago, I was asked what fuels my positivity. The thing is, I don’t consider myself a consistently positive person. I’m a man of faith. And as much as a man of faith can be, I’m a realist. And I get irked by any number of things on a daily basis. So if you’re reading this as some sort of expert testimonial… stop. I am not that guy. I do know a few wildly positive people and thinkers, and between their daily lives and me at my best, I think I can answer that question fairly well. But for clarity, in my spirit and true for my life, positivity is fought for. It is not natural. Ok, onto the meat…

What Fuels Positivity?

What are you feeding on? The idea of fuel is that it nourishes a thing. Good fuel is a combustible element to an already existing flame. So before I discuss what fuel is, and how it can be used to fuel daily positivity, lets talk about what fuel is not.

Fuel is Not Flame

That is, in all honesty, the whole point. Fuel catalyzes the flame. Fuel can power the fire, but it is not the fire. And it is also not the spark. I could go on a long tangent about what sparks the flame, and the flame itself. But this would go on forever. So here’s a quick delineation of those terms.

Whatever gets you going or motivated, that is your spark. It can be a little thing, used daily to launch you into whatever you do. It can also be a mountaintop moment that set the course for your big life choices (marriage, profession, passions, philanthropy, etc.). And in my life, those big sparks have come from outside of myself. I didn’t initiate the big events, and in many cases, didn’t realize their true value until long after they occurred. However, the smaller sparks, those daily moments that get me going – I own the majority of those. I wake up trying to create that spark. And the effective sparks in my life are a wide variety of consistent thoughts, fun events, momentary hopes, and excitements over a number of things.

But the fire is a whole other thing. Simon Sinek might call this your “Why? I think of it as the things that personally inspire and motivate us. What are those big plumblines that penetrate into our guts? And again, there are a lot of right answers. Off the top of my head, here are a bunch: family, sense of duty, happiness, patriotism, and truth. But here’s a word of caution about the flames inside of us — sometimes our flames are kind of ugly: fear, hatred, self-preservation, and elitism come to mind.

Defining Your Flame

Not a Webster’s definition. You can google that.

What keeps you moving? What propels you in the direction of your most basic desires? Do you know? Have you even evaluated those basic desires? Let’s define your flame with a quick thought experiment:

When someone around you experiences something, what is your response? Because that immediate reaction to someone else’s experiences is a solid indicator of both your influences and your fire. If you complain or promote a negative, you’re likely miserable, and your fire might be ugly. If you immediately move to top their story/experience, you’re probably really self-centered and nothing lights your fire like… yourself. If you engage and express a proper response (laughter at a joke, empathy to a hardship, encouragement to a challenge, advice to a request for help, etc.), then you’re likely others-minded and you probably have a solid social circle. This isn’t a blog about friends and how to make them, but here’s a quick tip… genuinely care about other people. They love that stuff!

If you are able to take an honest look at how you respond to others, you likely got a solid indication of the composition of your internal fire. If you don’t like it, change it. If you dig it, engage it! Feed it. And take advantage of the knowledge you now possess about yourself. Fuel the best parts of your fire.

If Positivity Be the Flame…

Three key elements to fueling positivity:

  1. Fight Negativity – nothing hurts a positive like a negative. Right? Ground-breaking. And we can’t control all the negatives around us, but we can control some. Negative people… don’t need em. Negative environments… avoid them. Negative thoughts… fight them. And again, I am no expert here, but I don’t follow people online or in life that are consumed by negatives and expressing ‘anti-‘ views all the time. I’ve also all but stopped watching the news. It gets to me, and while blaming the news for being negative is very fashionable, it’s pointless. So I just don’t allow myself to feed on that stuff. And then thoughts… the best advice I’ve ever given on thought-life is this: The removal of a negative is not a positive. Just because you ‘unfriended’ a bunch of people and turned off some combination of CNN/FOX/MSNBC, doesn’t mean life becomes all roses. You need…
  2. Wide-Open, Insatiable Gratitude – buckets filled to the brim of things that make you smile, feel fulfilled, extend purpose, make you feel good vibes, get a good cry going, or remind you of all the things you love. I am intensely grateful for my wife and my parents. So I call on them for no reason. I send them messages. I say thank you for no clear reason. I tell them I love them when I can’t think of anything else to say. I tell them that I love them when I know exactly what I want to say. And I think about them when I’m doing something I love, something I don’t love, something at work or just hanging out with my sons. And what’s so great about gratitude is that you can spread it around without ever losing an ounce of it. Gratitude multiplies. For instance, my sister and I have always been close, but we have not always been great for each other. But right now, as she rocks out being a mom and a wife and a person dedicated to helping people professionally and personally, she’s become significantly more positive to and for me. She may have been on this path for years, but I just figured it out over a year ago. And once I did, she started getting more phone calls. I started asking her advice more. We updated each other more on life, and we said ‘I love you’ more. And we don’t do those things because we love each other more… I just have more gratitude for her today. And I want my life immersed in reasons to be grateful. You should too.
  3. Seek Goodness – I don’t mean that we should all be on some philosophical journey to inner-peace. I’m too busy for peace. And oftentimes, the burn of my inner fire doesn’t let me rest. I don’t want peace all the time. I want passion. And my passions are birthed from my fire. So if you’re in business, and growth lights your fire, fight for that with every inch of your being. If you’re a teacher, and seeing a child awaken to some kind of knowledge is your jam, pour your life into those chances to sit front-row for that awakening moment. And it goes on and on…. Know you! Know what lights your fire, and feed it with the same. Tirelessly hustle to accomplish the good you know, to find more good around every turn, and to breathe that goodness into others.

That’s it. Fight the Negative. Set Your Mind to Gratitude. Hustle to the Positive.

Share

Quick add-on here at the end. Share the fire. People share a negative without a thought. It’s a weird compulsion to point out awful. I’m sure we all have the compulsion. But there has to be more to positive than trying to filter out the negative. Again, the removal of a negative is not a positive. So take every ounce of positive you have and share it. Teach. Tell. Try.

And feed on the positivity of others. People are awesome… well, a lot of them are. I don’t really see the others too much anymore.

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“The ‘N’ Word” – Unwanted Parenting Moments

Parenting is a trip. It’s normally, at least in my experience, a fascinating experiment set that tests the depths of my affection and impatience, somehow simultaneously. And I have been tested this week, as a parent for sure, but also as a people-loving man.

The ‘N’ Word

My oldest is nine. He’s tender-hearted, compassionate, and deeply engaged in family and friendship. I love him, but not just because he’s mine… he’s just awesome. And recently, a friend at school told him about a movie he watched and a weird word he’d heard.

My son heard the ‘N’ word that day.

First, and important that I state it up front, the little boy that my son learned it from didn’t have a definition for the word, and seemingly didn’t understand the context it was used in. So basically, an innocent kid told another innocent kid an awful, awful thing. And their teacher and school principle did an exceptional job walking both boys through the awfulness of some words.

Second, it breaks my heart that a word that has historically dehumanized humans, extended prejudice, supported racism, and proved to be a conduit for hatred and evil now rings around in my child’s head. Yes, it was going to happen ‘one day’. And yes, it’s normal for him to hear bad words. But profanity is one thing [full disclosure – I love Jesus, but I cuss a little], as those words can have a lot of contexts: offense, insult, humor, emotion, emphasis, etc. But the ‘N’ word only has one context outside of black American culture. And the other contexts within black American culture don’t really make sense to me, which is fine. See, I’m not black, so an explanation isn’t needed. As a white guy, that word has a single context, and all of its meanings are atrocious.

So, what do I do with that?

Intentional, Clueless Parenting

I beat him. The end.

Just kidding… we talked. And any worry he had about the discipline associated with doing bad things evaporated when his dad cried. Yeah, I cried. I really hate that word. And I really love that boy. I will never be ok that anyone knows that word, but especially my sweet children.

So then came the daunting task of explaining centuries of hate and racism, marked by initial enslavement, war, defining people with dark skin as 3/5 of a person, hate groups, sanctioned violence, into today and how it has persisted with horrible words (among many other things) like the one he had just learned.

I still don’t know what to tell him. We talked, but I don’t feel like I crushed the discussion. But if you’re reading this and you think your brown-skinned child is a friend of his, trust that I tried my hardest to raise the brilliance and beauty of your son or daughter to the light, while casting racism and prejudice into the darkness it belongs to.

Excluding v. Including

The problem with defining something like an insult, is that you attach the group(s) associated with the insult to the insult… and that’s just stupid. In order to tell my kid why that word hurts my hurt and deeply offends people that we love, I have to explain the association.

If there’s a better way to explain it, I don’t know it. But man, I wish I did.

We have such a bad habit, humanity, of excluding people. We are against so many things, and our language so often reflects who we exclude. And oftentimes, we are so proud of our uniquenesses that we create strange factions of belonging. All the while, we are creating large groups of the excluded.

I bring that up because I am now faced with the reality that my son just created two awful groups: people who use the ‘N’ word, and people that could be labeled by the ‘N’ word. And I don’t want him to have either group in his head. I want my son… my family… all of us, really, to speak life into a group that hates and to speak life into a group that’s hated. But not because we can tell the difference.

What if we just spoke the language of belonging to everyone? What if the measure of our speech was quantified by the number of people that felt like they belonged to our groups, and we belonged to theirs too? Even if it’s not true!! What if Christians/Muslims spoke so lovingly to all people, that everyone just loved Christians/Muslims in spite of the differences that we know we have? What if the poor/wealthy in our nation were so welcoming that the wealthy/poor just liked being around them? What if, instead of untrue monikers like ‘colorblindness’, we all wanted to know everyone else’s cultures? What if differences were lauded? What if we loved… just loved… all the time. Love.

Reality Bites

I know, I know, I know… I sound ridiculous.

But this morning, I got a phone call I didn’t want. A mentor in my life died just last night. [To CJ’s family and friends… thank you for sharing him with me for the last decade.] And I am running out of mentors. I am running out of leaders who can speak into my life and guide me as I balance the disappointments of reality with the joys of… reality. And while that is a bit scary, to feel like I am down a rudder while the flow of life is not slowing down, I am grateful.

I’m grateful that the mentors and friends and family in my life have pointed me to a place I didn’t know I was prepared for.

My son heard the ‘N’ word this week, and I got to be the voice of love, inclusion, and faith to one of my favorite people.

Not a bad way to have a tough day.

Go love people. All the people.

– Brad

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The Myth of Balance

What if we stopped pretending that any of us was trying for balance? The more I think about it, the less it makes sense. And it’s so stress-inducing, because it is just impossible: a constant maintenance of a scale that’s not meant to bear the weight of our whole lives. There’s no flow in balance, unless you’re talking about ch’i, and even then, I don’t think ch’i is nearly as much about balance as it is about harmony.

I started a new job about a month ago. I love what I do. Basically, my job is to make other people’s businesses better through consultation, development opportunities, and top of the line design and production services. It’s a blast! Check out Olive Group if you’re interested, or just shoot me a note with any questions you have.

The Bad Advice of New Ventures

Hands down, the worst part of starting anything new is the bad advice that comes with the news. If you announce an engagement, someone tells you how to endure engagement or gives you some nightmare story about how awful theirs was. As a newlywed, you’re bombarded with phrases like “honeymoon stage”, “first year” ignorance, or pressing thoughts about having children. And once you have children, someone will always be there to tell you what they think, how many more you should have, or what the algorithm of their age gap means for your entire future.

It’s insane.

As I begin my new job, I’ve been overwhelmed by the encouragement, affirmation, and positivity from so many friends, new colleagues, and family members. But there’s a buzzword that is just driving me crazy.

Work/Life Balance

I know what they mean. But it’s an absurd premise. At the very least, it’s terrible phrasing, but more than a danger to our already wayward take on English, it speaks to a cognitive dissonance we have with work, home, our own abilities, and reality.

Balance: an even distribution; a steady, maintained position; staying the course without adjustment.

Could you imagine taking the time with my wife and boss, to try to articulate a 50/50 system for how to do the jobs of marriage and business equally? It’s just not a thing. Why do we talk like this? Why do we force ourselves into untenable, living contradictions. Let’s not pretend for a minute that we don’t all have a full set of priorities that force a shift in the myth of ‘balance’: the kids are sick; the fiscal year is about to end; your anniversary; that one project is due; Mom has called twice or WAY worse, Dad just called… we all have that list. And we all know that it’s much longer than what I’ve listed.

Work/Life Harmony

If you aren’t familiar with ch’i (or qi), it’s a foundational principle of Chinese medicine and martial arts. Bruce Lee talked about it all the time. You’ve mentioned it… although, you likely meant balance. And ch’i is not balance. It’s an energy, an internal force, that permeates existence, regardless of things around it. Ch’i is the thing you want to balance, not balance itself, because you aren’t meant to balance life.

You were made for harmony. Taking the notes of work, life, love, growth, and disappointment, and using your energy (ch’i, if you prefer) to harmonize them all together. And there is no formula for that, but here are some things that I think make the process more fulfilling and consistent.

  1. Honesty – Are you ok working late? Be honest about it. Would you drop everything if your buddy calls? Know that about yourself. And then find appropriate ways to be honest with your family, colleagues, and extended connections.
  2. Communication – My wife knows I like my job. She’s also known when I didn’t like my job. She knows when I’m working longer hours, or when, like today, I’m dedicating a few hours to work and growth, then I’m with my family for the afternoon. My boss knows too.
  3. Adaptability – I have a former boss that is going to read this, and right about now, he knows I’m going to talk about him. Because I had a great job with him… a great job that I didn’t enjoy. And he knew it. He knew it because first, he’s smart and perceptive, and second, well, I told him. And that was not great for my career…. but it has been incredible for my work/life harmony. I lost my job, but I was a better husband and father, almost immediately. I had energy again. I dreamed better. And within a month, we were making huge life plans that got us where we are right now. But make no mistake, I lost my job. I didn’t run to some utopian state where severance met security. Harmony isn’t a fairy tale. We had to adapt to the results of honest communication. I was honest about work. My boss was honest about expectations. And the consequence of honest communication might not be what you want, but you have to grow through and beyond it.
  4. Resolve – If you really want harmony in your life, you have to be resolved to it. It has to be a priority. Because it is up to you. Harmony isn’t dependent on how much you love your job, how understanding your spouse is, how well-behaved your kids are, or how things break for you. Harmony in life depends on you, and your resolve to pursue it.

Beyond balance…. or circumstances, breaks, good fortune, or bad timing…. there lies a capacity within all of us to live in harmony with all the things around us. But it’s up to us. It’s up to me. And when we just can’t get there, what do we have to change?

I don’t want anything to do with balancing my daily changing life. I want harmony. I want all the things in my life to be all the things in my life. Take the good, and grow. Take the bad, and grow.

Good luck to you!

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Keep Throwing Darts

I recently saw a clip of Will Farrell’s commencement speech at USC. Google it. It’s great. And somewhere in it, he mentions his goals post-graduation, and how one of his most proud accomplishments is that he never stopped trying. He just kept throwing darts at the dartboard, hoping one would eventually stick. I respect that.

I’m in the middle of a job hunt right now. As our family has trekked across America, truly learned to appreciate a new set of cultural norms in Washington State, and bought more rain-ready clothing than I’d ever previously seen, let alone owned, we kinda want to stay around. But there’s a nagging passion that for me, for us, is inescapable. Ministry.

Last fall, when my buddy passed away unexpectedly, his dad called me and asked me to fly home. He called me their pastor. Some of you reading this consider me your pastor. Or maybe I’m the only pastor you know, or the only one you willfully talk to. Or I’m one of the many pastors you know. Or maybe you have no idea who I am and you accidentally stumbled onto my blog because you like darts… and you are so disappointed right now. My apologies. But to someone, to a few people for certain, I’m their pastor. And that absolutely lights my fire. I’m Parker and Elliott’s dad, and that gets me up and going every day. I’m Grace’s husband, and that stills my heart when I’m hurting and lifts my heart higher, even on great days. And to God, I got picked to teach and love people, and that gives me a purpose for all of this extroverted energy inside of me. But to those who think of me as someone trusted enough to call Pastor… well, that keeps me throwing darts. The idea that someone would listen to me, seek me out for advice, in triumphs, in sadness, or in doubt, or trust me to teach them about the role of Christians in the world and how following Christ gets us to those right places… that’s just humbling. Thrilling. Horrifying. Humbling. 

The prophet Jeremiah contemplated quitting. His path was hard, on a scale that I cannot fully comprehend. He was against a nation that liked the comfort of their brand of disobedience, and despised being told they were wrong. And sometimes, I can’t tell if I’m Jeremiah, fighting to keep the fire burning in my own ministry because I cannot stop if I wanted to [ref. Jeremiah 20:9], or if I’m the defiant Israel, shaking my fists at the idea that I might not be on the right path, because ministry is hard, finding work is obnoxious, and the idea of moving my family again weighs so heavy on my heart. 

Centered-Set & Preaching

Somewhere around 40-50 years ago, a man named Paul Hiebert theorized that missiology had truly become a study of two methods of expressing Christianity, based on two ideas of how Christians become Christians: Bounded-Set and Center-Set. Basically, you’re taking Set Theory from Applied Mathematics, and laying it over how we view missions, belief, and the requirements for belonging to Christianity. Dumbed way down, you are a Christian either because you meet certain criteria [Bounded Set] or you’re a Christian because you are moving toward Jesus [Centered Set]. Admittedly, I don’t think it’s so cut and dry. If anything, I’m probably a Centered-Set guy that recognizes that some boundaries (profession of faith, exclusive belief in Christ, etc.) must exist, but not nearly as many as we often try to lay on top of faith. 

So the goal has always been to get people moving Christward. In my relationships, teaching, training, counseling, the aim has always been to point in the direction of Jesus, and draw the necessary connection between Him and us. So when I got the chance to preach at First Presbyterian Church of Tacoma last Sunday, my goal was to point all of us toward Jesus. And I had a blast. I love all of the stuff that comes with preaching. The over-studying, gathering too much material, tying to fit a message into a time constraint that allows people to eat all three meals on a Sunday, and the nervous tension between doing what I love and fearing that I’m not that good at it… love it! And no one walked out mid-sermon, thank God, but the pastor hasn’t told me yet if anyone emailed about that awful preaching on Mother’s Day. If you want to hear it, bless your heart, and you can find it on the website (linked already) or the church’s app.

And now, sermon behind me, job applications and copious resume dissemination in front me, I’m throwing darts hoping that one sticks. 

So Thanks…

If you’re reading this, I appreciate you. Maybe you disagree. You might be opposed to faith, to me as a pastor, or still disappointed that this isn’t a blog on dart-throwing. But you’re here, allowing me to point, whether you agree or not. Thank you.

To that faithful group of folks that claim me as a pastor. As their pastor. I keep you closer to my heart than you will ever know. To the Ted’s crew, lifelong Durham friends, some family, everyone at Clements, and people from Cornerstone, Guess Road, Patterson Park, and Lakeview – you keep me hopeful that I’m not done, there is still a word to be said and people willing to hear it, and I might still be a man for the job.
So until the darts run out or one lands, I’ll just keep throwing. Grateful. 

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Gratitude

I’ve spent the last 15 months or more in some form of spiritual depression. I don’t know how else to describe it. My spirit had been extremely hard-pressed through a series of mistakes, missteps, attacks & ministry disasters. I stepped away from the pulpit, moved my wife & son back home, & avoided anything that resembled engaged ministry. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have lead worship or sought any accountability if I simply didn’t enjoy singing & love the men that God has placed in my life to hold me up, lift me up & beat me up. [It takes all three for righteous accountability… especially if God gives you me for a dance partner.]

So a tip of the cap to Ridgecrest Bapt.’s Exalt Team for pressing me to sing along with them a couple of times last year. It helped me clean out some clogged spiritual arteries. I believe the words we sang, & needed to let them out at the top of lungs. A nod also must go to my pastor at New Horizon Church, Dave Bowman. He pursued me, grounded my emotions, & patiently helped me sort through the garbled mess of personal responsibility, unfortunate circumstance, issues of disobedience, & the byproducts of divorcing that season of ministry. I could not have walked through this without that consistency. And above all other people & ministries, my heart & spirit have been protected & propelled by my sweet wife, Grace. She knows how important she is to me, but if two people read this, one of you is bound to berate me for not extolling her virtues & my gratitude, so here goes: she has been patient, compassionate, & wise. She has delicately balanced fighting for me & fighting against my wayward tendencies. She has frankly, had to lead. That admission is gut-wrenching & awful, but it is true nonetheless. I’ve taken that mantle back, & again she has humbly relented, & the state of our marriage & family is as strong as it has ever been. She deserves so much credit for her faithfulness, patience, & unwavering love for me & our union in Christ. My wife is awesome. I love her.

And now, through a series of unexpected, blessed events, I am being reminded of the ‘joy set before me’. Church excites me again, & I think that God has given our family a really cool, thoughtful church to worship at & engage in community with. The group of men that I meet with on Wednesday mornings are honest, faithful men who encourage me back toward my passion for life-on-life discipleship & accountability. And working at Chick-Fil-A in Durham [Roxboro Rd. site] is going to be great. They have a faithful, focused business model & I have loved meeting with Matt & Tony [GM & Owner], hearing their heart for people, Durham, obedience & the development of themselves & their employees.

I spent an hour this past week visiting my Aunt Marie. She had just had surgery to remove a brain tumor & is recovering at Duke. Groggy, exhausted, & certainly uncomfortable, she was so welcoming & warm when I walked in. And I was struck by the one phrase that she kept repeating. ‘I’m just so grateful.’ She would pause, smile at me, readjust to try to find some additional comfort on that awful plastic bed, & say ‘I’m just so grateful.’

It was inspiring. She mentioned her family, her health of all things, her granddaughter, my parents & sister, her nurse that was rubbing her feet with lotion, the doctors… she went on & on about all things gratitude-worthy. She either couldn’t or didn’t want to verbalize much of anything else. And I loved it. The only other thing she brought up was the one thing that is apparently required to discuss in any conversation with me: Parker, my son. I’m used ot it now, & he is a pretty great kid.

But the thought that has gripped me this week is this: do I express gratitude to & for the things that I am most grateful? Think about it. And expressions aren’t required to be verbal. Churchgoers can volunteer, serve, & sacrificially give gratitude. Husbands can hug & kiss their wives & kids, knock out some chores, & go on a date. Sons can clean. Employees can do that little extra that goes unpromoted but ever-appreciated.

Admittedly, however, I’m wildly verbal. And I have thoroughly enjoyed expressing gratitude this week. Give it a try. Let me know how it works out for you. And don’t look for responses. Act in gratitude towards those that you’re grateful for. And let that be all the reaction that you need.

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