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500+ for 50 – day 25: the smell of a new season

This evening as I headed up the road on my jog I was blessed to encounter a familiar welcoming aroma.  We’ve had several days of rain here in Chapel Hill, but somehow the local roadway crews must have found the perfect break in the weather earlier in the day to cut the grass along the edge of the sidewalk where I run.  And what remained was an inviting scent that took me back nearly fifteen years to the early morning high school football practices of mid-August summer camp.  I’ll never forget the smell of the dew on the grass of a freshly trimmed lawn signaling the beginning of a new season.  It’s an aroma that’s fresh and alive – there’s nothing else like it.  It’s absolutely intoxicating.

I think that we all probably have scents that we are able to tie to certain emotional responses and memories.  I have several that trigger a reaction within me.  For instance, I love the smell of a charcoal grill at a tailgate.  Something about it gets the juices flowing inside of me – it’s a signal to my brain to lace them up, because it’s game time.  And then there’s the smell of my girlfriend’s perfume.  That aroma ignites a passion within me that burns deep – the fire in my heart that flames for her and her only.  Or take for example the smell of the sand and salty ocean water on my sun drenched skin.  Gosh I love that.  It’s always reminded me of my freedom and the lighthearted nature with which we were meant to live life.

But nothing truly compares to the fragrant offering that I encountered this evening which like clockwork will first present itself to me around this time of the year every year.  It’s not the aroma itself that I’m in love with…it’s really all that it signifies that I adore.  I believe that it’s God’s way of signaling and ushering in the new season.  And I don’t just mean the new football season (even though I am a HUGE fan of the pigskin).  It’s the new season of life.  Fall is the time of year when everything takes on a new color.  It’s an amazing time of transformation and change.  And for those of us who follow the gridiron, it’s an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and begin anew, undefeated.

Fall is a time to leave what lies in the past behind as we storm the field with a new mindset, a new mission.  If we are going to truly embrace transformative growth in our lives we need to disengage from the seasons that left us wallowing in defeat.  And instead we need to move forward with our hope and vision for the greatness that we will actively seek to achieve this season.  After all, we are undefeated, so who’s to say that this will not be our year of triumph?  If our minds can conceive it, we can most certainly achieve it. 

You have the opportunity today to start your season undefeated.  God has given you the signal.  Now it’s time to suit up and get ready for battle.  The failures of your past are long forgotten.  Remain in the mindset of a victor – hold your head high and take the field with confidence.  Because this, my friend is going to be your year.  This is the season of growth and change that you’ve been anticipating – this is the fall when your colors shine among the landscape of life. 

Breathe deep – can you smell it?  That’s the smell of the success that lies ahead… now go take it.

May God Bless!

500+ for 50 – day 24: shock values

A person’s values in life are extremely important.  Values will serve as the driver behind the behaviors and actions that will lead to an individual’s future successes and failures.  They are not to be compromised, as they are the backbone of who we are and what we become.  If we live without well-developed values in place, we will float about life aimlessly and will develop into nothing more than a product of our circumstances.  Values keep us grounded.  They affirm our beliefs and set a standard for the way that we handle ourselves both personally and professionally. Values define an individual’s brand identity.

Recently I read an article quoting Reid Hoffman, cofounder of LinkedIn who suggested that on his professional network it’s best to “establish an identity independent of your employer, city and industry. For example, make the headline of your LinkedIn profile not a specific job title … but personal-brand or asset focused … that way, you’ll have a professional identity that can carry with you as you shift jobs. You own yourself.”  I really enjoy Reid’s perspective.  I believe that an individual’s personal brand carries far more weight in life than the title that they hold or the responsibilities that they manage in an average workweek.  What is unique about what you have to bring to the table?  What do you have to offer society that is different than the other more than 7 billion people who live on this earth?  Our greatness lies in our willingness to be different, and there is something exceptional about each and every one of us.  When we define exactly what it is that we value in life and we begin living according to those standards, they become our personal brand…our LinkedIn headline if you will.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the last several weeks about the values that I embody that have helped to mold me into the person that I am today.  How would someone assess my personal brand if given the opportunity?  They might describe me as unconventional or shocking if they judged me based upon the way that I write.  After all, I do convey my message a bit differently than anyone else that I’ve ever read.  And that’s something that I take quite a bit of pride in.  So perhaps that’s a fair definition of who I am.  I’m a person who is willing to stick to his values and beliefs no matter the criticism that he may encounter as a result.  I’m not afraid to stand out from the crowd.  In fact, I embrace that, because the values that I do my best to uphold I firmly believe to be the truth in life, no matter how unconventional they may appear in the eyes of society. 

There are few things that I simply will not compromise with regards to who I am.  And these few values, as innocent as they appear to me have often led to questions by others who feel intimidated by the scrutinizing eyes of society.  There are a handful of people within my network both personally and professionally who have chosen to offer their advice on my willingness to share and promote the things that I value in my writing.  Their position has been portrayed as one of protection, but in my view their perspective serves as nothing more than a representation of their own fears and insecurities.  If I am comfortable with the beliefs and standards that I’ve chosen to live my life by, then why should anyone feel compelled to deter me from promoting such values?  After all, I am not working on defining anyone else’s personal brand…I’m working on building my own.

My personal brand can be summed up by these five values:

  1. My faith: without it, I am nothing.  My relationship with God is what drives every fruitful decision that I make in my life.  It’s what gives me the courage to share the things that I do without fearing the judgment of anyone.  And it’s what drives me to servicing the needs of others by offering myself and my story as a sacrifice.
  2. Brutal honesty: it’s all fair game.  There is nothing that I am not willing to share with others through my writing.  If God calls me to share something, I do not hesitate.  There is no moment of indecisiveness as a result of what someone may think about the subject matter…I simply follow His lead.  If my openness can serve as a benefit to even one person who is in need of hearing my story, than I have succeeded.
  3. Perfectly imperfect: my flaws have made me who I am, so I embrace them.  When I look in the mirror, I am proud of the scars that I see.  Because those scars remind me of the adversity that has made me a stronger person.  They remind me of the dramatic story that I have to share that allows me to touch the lives of others.  And more than anything else they remind me of how much I need the Lord in my life directing my course, and for that I am forever thankful.
  4. Courage to be different: this is something that I do not take lightly.  I don’t ever want to compromise the man that God has created me to be to fit in to any social circle, be it personally or professionally.  I was made to be the person that I am full time, and if that means that I stand out from the crowd, I’m okay with that.  I’m comfortable with pulling a few weeds as I’m confident in God’s ability to plant an abundance of rich seedlings in all areas of my life.
  5. Pain to prosperity: there is no greatness to be achieved prior to the introduction of pain.  Anyone who has done anything of meaning in their life has encountered walls of adversity that they’ve had to scale in order to reach their next milestones.  I am a believer that it is our ability to manage and overcome pain that will be the barometer of our success in life.  And I plan on always being a fair representation of that belief.

Nothing too shocking there, right?  You’d be surprised.  Society is driven by conformity.  And when you promote these types of beliefs freely you most certainly open yourself up to criticism from the masses who have defined what it takes to fit in and be successful in life.  But who is to say that society’s standards and values are correct?  If the brand that I’ve built above is one to be criticized or deemed unacceptable, then perhaps society has things a bit backwards. 

And maybe it’s time for me to start working on number 6…

  1. Changing the way the world thinks.

May God Bless!

500+ for 50 – day 23: the first day of school

Summer is nearing its end.  Newspapers and televisions are flooded these days with Back to School advertisements.  Office supply stores are gearing up and checking their inventories in preparation for the crowds of parents that will be rushing their doors in the coming weeks.  It’s an exciting time of the year for many.  By my accounts it appears that most parents tend to be ready and eager to get their kids back into the school led routine by the time that August arrives on the calendar.  The kids however are generally a mixed bag of emotions.  There are some children who absolutely love school.  But many would rather that their summer freedoms continue on forever.  It can be hard to give up those days by the pool with friends.  There’s really nothing better than summer break as a young child.

I know with certainty that I was never one of those kids who was excited to head back to school.  I dreaded it.  But it wasn’t nearly as discouraging for me as I got older.  During high school it became pretty difficult to complain much about the first week of class, after all that meant that our two-a-day football practices were over, and that’s something that everyone welcomed. The time that I really remember it being hard for me was during the early years of elementary school.  I can recall Kindergarten being a bit of a challenge for me emotionally.  I had a hard time letting go of my Mom.

The elementary school that I called home for K-2nd was just a short walk from my parents’ house.  At the time, our district offered half day Kindergarten.  My Mom would walk me to school from the house, often with our dog by our side, and then she’d be there waiting for me at the end of the day to pick me up.  I remember never wanting to let go.  I was afraid to say goodbye to her.  And while I became a bit more accustomed to it as the year went on, I never really felt comfortable being on my own at school.  There were many days when it was very hard for me to concentrate on my school work because really I was just nervous and desired to be at home. 

At the time I wasn’t mature enough in my emotional development to really understand what it was that I was feeling.  And although my initial thoughts here were to describe those feelings as fear, I think it was something a bit deeper than that.  I felt the pain of loss when I said goodbye to my Mom and headed up the stairs to my classroom.  It was the same type of feeling that one might encounter as an adult when they truly do experience tragic losses in their life, possibly as the result of a relationship ending or a loved one passing away.  That’s what I experienced day in and day out when I left my Mom’s side and headed in to my Kindergarten class.  The deep rooted emptiness resulting would stick with me all day long, making it a real challenge for me to focus and remain at the top of my game mentally.

Looking back on those times now as an adult, I can identify what took place then as the first experiences that I can recall that led me to encountering my fear of abandonment.  When I was at school, I don’t recall dealing with any worries that my Mom would not return for me at day’s end or that she would perhaps love me less as a result of our time apart (object constancy).  I just remember feeling a deep emptiness when I left her side.  And it was powerful.  It felt as though my whole world had been turned upside down, day in and day out.  I felt emotionally heavy, as though I was holding back from sobbing all throughout the day.  In fact, I was even brought to tears just moments ago as I reminisced on those experiences so that I might be able to share them with you in this blog.

My first experience in dealing with my fear of abandonment was certainly not my last.  Unfortunately, when these types of things present themselves during the early part of your life, they often reappear with regularity.  Looking back on nearly 31 years of a life filled with heartaches, I can tell you that many of my relationships have followed a similar pattern.  And I am to blame for many different aspects of those that did not work out because I brought to the table with me a very destructive fear that will show no remorse as it devours loving relationships time and time again.  My fears of abandonment led me to compulsive behaviors that caused others to feel claustrophobic in my presence.  And I became controlling and demanding at times in my life with those whom I loved because that was my way of surviving and knowing that I would not be left alone.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that my best efforts to maintain security for myself were only driving those that I cared for further away from me. 

The fear of abandonment is a wrecking ball.  It will destroy everything that you love if you do not harness it and work to reform your illogical ways of thinking.  It takes a relentless commitment to retrain a brain that has followed the same patterns since early childhood.  But in order to live a fulfilling life, it’s something that I and others who suffer with this powerful fear must do.  We cannot sit back and continue to allow it to direct our courses of action, or our life will be no prettier than a daytime soap opera.  And we all want more for ourselves than that, don’t we?  I know I do.

I was made an emotional being.  My early childhood experiences did most certainly mold me into the person that I am today.  And for all of the struggles that came with reinforcing my deep rooted fears throughout the first 31 years of my life, I am not discouraged, but rather I am thankful.  Because those experiences have made me more aware, and they will serve to make me a better father someday when I see my children encounter their own adversities as they grow and develop.

I’ve received a priceless education in life.  And for that I am forever thankful.  Even if it was difficult to let go of Mom’s hand.  I see no shame in that.  It has all served to make me who I am today.  And of that person I am very proud.

May God Bless!

500+ for 50 – day 22: selective hearing

Have you ever heard someone use the term “selective hearing”?  Selective hearing occurs when a person’s auditory signals are directed towards the things that they wish to hear while unpleasant noise is essentially blocked from their brain’s processing system.  This is not a physical disability as all noises are received by the individual’s auditory system, but only the sounds that encourage a pleasing or positive response tend to make it to the listener’s mind for further processing.  These types of habits can be very evident in young children who respond very favorably to gifts and rewards but seem to be able to tune out responsibility and punishment altogether.  That’s to be anticipated right?  I mean they’re just kids.  It’s when we see these traits present themselves in adults that we aren’t nearly as forgiving. 

I think that we all expect age and maturity to rid those around us of the childlike attributes that make relationships and communication difficult.  So often we respond quickly with negativity to the selective hearers in our lives who distort our words and gather alternative meanings from the things that we say.  It can be challenging not to…we all want to be acknowledged for the truth and sincerity behind the statements that we make.  But we need to be careful not to let the pot call the kettle black.  The reality is that we all employ selective hearing from time to time.  In a world where technology and rapid processing is being pushed on us day after day, it has become a means of survival.  The world can be overwhelming.  And society’s pace of living will not slow down anytime soon.  So you need to expect people to fast forward to the good parts, it’s their way of finding comfort in the midst of madness.

That’s a challenging one.  Too much comfort will kill you.  But we all desire a little of that home cooking, hug from mama-type of feeling every once in awhile.  The unfortunate thing about comfort is that it’s far too often a blatant liar.  Comfort is many times the byproduct of living a fear driven life.  And fear is a monster.  It will seek to control every aspect of your being by encouraging you to run back to safety every single time that adversity comes knocking.  Fear uses comfort to manipulate the mind into retreating at the first perceived threat.  When you cater to comfort, your appetite for risk is starved.  And your life becomes a representation not of who you are meant to be but rather who you feel safe in being among those around you.

Individuals ridden with fear and anxiety are notorious for being selective listeners.  I know this to be true because I’ve been one of those people at varying points of my life.  As a person with anxiety, I had a place that I considered my comfort zone.  It was a lot like home base in a game of tag with children.  As a kid, it takes a bit of courage to step out of security and run with the other children at the threat of being caught.  That first step out into the danger zone sends most kids’ adrenaline through the roof.  And like children, many people love that rush.  Some spend their lives seeking it.  But individuals with anxiety and panic disorders are wired a bit differently.  We will spend every waking moment trying to avoid that feeling because to us, the adrenaline spike can be absolutely intolerable.  When we are threatened with fear, our minds instruct us to remain as close to our comfort zones (home bases) as possible.  And unfortunately to our detriment, many times we listen.

While it may frustrate you to find yourself in a conversation with someone who employs selective hearing, please do keep in mind that they are suffering too in ways that they cannot necessarily understand in that moment.  A person who is risk or responsibility averse or who is overwhelmed with fear and anxiety will often selectively hear the words that give them comfort.  Because that is a person’s number one goal when threatened by fear, to restore peace and quiet.  Already in a position to feel overcome by panic and anxiety, a person will often make every effort to tune out all of the words that could possibly pose a threat to their calm.  And they will latch on to the words that bring them peace.  It’s a means of survival in their battle with fear. 

That’s why in my recovery from a severe anxiety disorder I’ve tried to make a focused effort to become uncomfortable with comfort.  I take risks and make efforts to push myself beyond my preconceived limits every single day.  Because I know that I am going to be put in positions in life, in situations and in conversations with others that are going to cause me to hear things a certain way.  And I want my mind to be trained to respond to adversity effectively when I receive an auditory signal of distress.  I was not put on this earth to ignore or flee the battles that lie before me…I was put here to fight them.  If I make it a habit of attaching my peace and happiness to comfort, I will sleep through the siren beckoning me to war.  

And this is a battle that I must fight, not simply for myself but for others too who are now resting quietly in their comfort zones unaware of the blood being shed just outside their windows.  Perhaps someday they will hear my victory cry and start envisioning for themselves the glory to found in adversity.  Then when the enemy returns they will be prepared to listen to their calling and slay the comfort driven soul within.

Selective hearing doesn’t need to be your downfall.  You just need to be careful to tune in to the right programming.

May God Bless!

500+ for 50 – day 21: case dismissed

Throughout the course of my life I’ve far too often assumed the role of judge.  And quite honestly it’s about time that I own up to my actions and direct my full attention towards becoming a more accepting individual.  I spend a good bit of my time writing to inspire and empower those around me, yet I tend to frequently regress in hypocritical fashion by judging the life choices of others who may not yet be in a position to hear the message that I’m working so hard to convey.  If you don’t buy in to the mission that I’m selling, that does not make you a bad person.  I’m just as flawed as the man standing next to me.  And it wasn’t long ago that I was riddled with compulsive, addictive, and damaging habitual behaviors. Up until my late twenties I could have never called myself a man of faith as I do today.  I was nothing more than the image of endless potential being wasted.  If anyone’s life was deserving of criticism, it was mine.

So why is it that I am so impatient at times with those around me who are not on my schedule of personal transformation?  That’s a tough question.  I really do not like the person that I become in those moments when I sit back and critique the limitations of others.  I can feel the negativity stirring within me as critical thoughts develop in my mind. And while I am far more disciplined now than I ever have been at any other stage in my life, I still tend to slip from time to time and allow my innate desire to play judge get the best of me.  Perhaps it’s my own insecurities still fighting for their place in my mind?  I guess the devil really doesn’t want to let go.  He knows that if he can put me in a position to criticize the lives of others that I will only cause further harm to myself, and that the internal damage resulting will dilute the positive influence that I seek to offer to the world and God’s people.

As a Christian it pains me deeply when I allow myself to fall into the traps set by my own mind.  I work far too hard to eradicate limiting behaviors from all aspects of my life to allow myself to fall victim to the sinful nature of my mind time and time again.  I don’t expect to be perfect, but I know that I can be better and that I MUST be on a consistent basis if I am ever going to fulfill God’s calling for my life.  If I don’t eliminate my need to play judge, my habit will ultimately serve only to drown me in guilt, anger, and negativity.  And I have bigger ideas for my life than that.

Being a critic is playing small.  And every time that I choose to play small, I not only deprive myself of opportunities for advancement, I also negatively impact the lives of those around me.  Judgment hurts, and when it’s vocalized, it spreads like wildfire.  Have you ever sat with a friend or loved one and made a negative remark about someone?  What generally occurs?  In my experience, the other person is often persuaded to start stirring criticism in their own mind where perhaps nothing existed prior to the initial comment.  And just like that the evil multiplies.  It’s no wonder that our world is so unforgiving. 

Faith tells me that there is only one Judge.  And while I tend to be able to apply that principle to my life in the story that I share, I still fall flat on my face with regularity as I assume the role of assessor in the lives of others.  I often forget that I was once I man who was lost and begging for understanding.  And in my dealings with those around me, I don’t seem to easily recall how challenging it was for me to start confronting my own limitations.  I tend to grow impatient with the hesitancy and limiting habits of others.  But that’s not the way of Christ, and that’s not a road that will lead to the fulfillment of my purpose here on earth.  To be effective on my mission, I must get better…now.

Let’s commit to doing it together.  Remember, criticism is contagious.  Cover your mouth.  Learn to tame your tongue and your mind.  And if you see it as your calling to lift up the lives of others, always do so without offering judgment.  I’ve wasted too many years being a critic, and I understand now just how very much I’ve limited my potential impact among those around me.

“By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

May God Bless!

500+ for 50 – day 20: acceptance speech

Red carpets.  Backstage interviews.  Fashionable attire.  Smiles from ear to ear.  The awards show is certainly a sight to be seen.  No matter the stage, be it Hollywood or your local social club, an event that serves to honor the successes and sacrifices of others among industry or community can be quite an inspiring gathering.  When you gather people of influence together, you can feel the positive energy swell in the crowd around them.  It’s a sight that brings out the dreamer in all of us.  We can’t help but ask the question, “if them, then why not me?”

I find the most intriguing aspect of any awards show to be the acceptance speeches of those honored.  These are the brief moments when we are offered the opportunity to take a look inside the minds of the men and women behind the exceptional service that we have chosen to celebrate.  In many cases, unless we are a part of the recipient’s inner circle, this will be our sole opportunity to evaluate the character of the individual that we may very well seek to model our future successes after.  So their speech is very important.  Perhaps if we are able to catch a glimpse of the world from that individual’s view, we’ll be able to better understand the road that led them to their success so that we can develop a similar journey to prosperity in our own lives.

Unfortunately many of the Hollywood acceptance speeches that we see on TV routinely leave a lot to be desired.  There are very few personalities of celebrity fame that are willing to remain true to who they are on stage.  So the authenticity of their speech is sometimes a bit questionable.  They spend time thanking their families, friends, co-workers, crew members, etc.  But often it feels as though they’re really just naming names.  And anyone can do that.  But to the victor, you’re on stage for a reason…we’ve chosen to honor you because you’ve excelled in your profession or in your service to others, so tell us candidly, what really drove you to your success? 

Anyone that’s ever excelled at anything in life has faced and conquered adversity on their journey to the top of their profession.  So there’s no doubt in my mind that our awards show honorees have a unique story to share, no matter how much or how little they are willing to reveal about who they are on the night that they are recognized among the masses.  Generally we aren’t offered much insight into the battles that they have fought on their way to distinction.  And that’s a shame, because that’s the meaty substance that could serve to inspire many others to greatness. 

Here is a list of 7 of the most frequently “unthanked” life-forming contributors that could and should be a part of nearly every individual’s candid acceptance speech:

  1.  Thank you to the man/woman who broke my heart… we’ve all had to experience loss at one time or another throughout the course of our lives, and without failed relationships, we would never understand how to become better suited to support the key individuals that will present themselves later on in our lives…the individuals who will become our best friends and the backbone of all our successes.
  2. Thank you to the boss who never realized my true potential… while following the pathway to success, much of what we do will go unnoticed by our superiors whose only intentions may be to see to it that we follow our job descriptions day in and day out…if we remain in those dead end environments for too long, we will risk losing our drive to aspire to greater opportunities that will better promote our talent and skills.
  3. Thank you to the environment that confined me… the picture outside of our window at the moment of our dream’s manifestation will not likely match the one that we will view on the day of its realization…the challenging environment where we reside prior to achieving all that we desire is meant to serve us positively, motivating us think bigger and push harder…it’s only an obstacle if we define it as one.
  4. Thank you to the critics who said it wasn’t possible… to a person who is sincere about their commitment to excellence there is nothing more inspiring than a critic…we cannot not be moved to negative thinking by those who seek to direct us off course by highlighting our perceived inadequacies and introducing the idea of failure, instead we must harness our will to assure that we do everything in our power to succeed despite them.
  5. Thank you to the world who set limits on my beliefs… thanks to society’s prescribed definition of what is and isn’t possible, we are encouraged to seek support from a greater power who puts no limits on what a person can or can’t do with their life…through Him, all things are possible…miracles appear with regularity and dreams are realized through faith.
  6. Thank you for the career that left me unfulfilled… if we enjoyed the monotony of employment that lacks the ability to help us foster our own personal growth, we would remain in positions that are not representative of our true callings in life…so we can be thankful that we had those positions in our working careers because it was those vocations that did ultimately spur the internal conflict driving us to seek far greener pastures.
  7. Thank you for the cloudy skies and rain drenched days… life is certainly not all sunshine and rainbows, and while some may stand at the podium referencing all of the bright spots throughout their career, it’s important to remember that our success really depends upon our response to the less than perfect conditions that we will inevitably encounter our journey…without learning to adapt and perform beneath the darkened skies that so often beckon, we’ll never be able to celebrate our victories in the sunshine that is destined to return.

In life it’s really the people and things which challenge us that are deserving of the bulk of our gratitude.  They activate our resiliency and promote personal growth and change in our lives.  So it’s really a shame that they are so often forgotten at the podium.  I know if I’m ever in a position to be honored for my own development and service, I will never forget to give thanks to my adversity.  It’s what’s made me who I am.

May God Bless!

500+ for 50 – day 19: faith led, effortlessly inspired

When I made the commitment 19 days ago to offer a contribution to my blog of 500 words or more daily for 50 consecutive days, I anticipated that I might run into some challenges.  I understood that even some the most seasoned writers may have trouble fulfilling such a pledge.  But I decided not to allow my fears and doubts to discourage my efforts.  I had already proven to myself that I could make the sacrifices necessary to take a healthy stance in other areas of my life, so I saw no reason why writing should be any different?  If I wasn’t open to compromising my physical workout routine, then why would I be willing to take a different position on my mental training?  Writing was going to be critical to the overall success of my push towards personal growth and development.

I’m sure that one of the toughest questions one might pose with regards to my commitment to the task at hand would be “what in the world are you going to write about for 50 days straight?”  And that would be a very legitimate concern for most people.  After all, prior to venturing off on this journey my entire blog was made up of 50 posts.  So by early September, I will have matched the output of three years in less than two months’ time.  Seems like a pretty lofty feat for an amateur blogger who’s less than adequately conditioned for the road before him.  But amazingly enough, thanks be God, my subject matter is never an issue.  The Lord prepares my mind with fresh ideas every day, and he gracefully guides me through the completion of each and every work.  To a point it becomes almost effortless.

While working full time and managing the other responsibilities of my life, I find very few opportunities to set time aside to sit quietly and reflect on the focus of my blog and develop new creative ideas.  I’ve been forced to learn to adapt to the rat race and roll with the madness.  There are moments throughout the day when something may catch my eye, a quote may inspire me, or a memory may appear and encourage the focus of my next post. When I encounter those bits of inspiration, I log them immediately on a Post-It note by my desk or in the notes section of my phone.  But there are days when I’m just too overwhelmed with life to perhaps even be enough in tune with the world around me to see the signals and direction that are offering their guidance to me.  And those are the nights that I reach for my laptop, open a new Word document and sit by the screen watching the cursor blink as I await God’s further instruction.

Generally, after a few deep breaths and perhaps a couple moments of meditation and prayer, it hits me.  I’m given a glimpse of a topic that needs my attention.  And I begin writing immediately.  The first paragraph is generally where I spend the bulk of my time.  Because it’s in that first paragraph that I settle in to my subject matter.  I still may not fully understand the direction or meaning behind what I’m about to tackle, but I usually have established a basic idea of where I’m headed.  And as I continue to develop my post, God’s influence takes over.  Words begin to flow to my mind at a rapid rate.  Memories become more vivid and thoughts more clear, and my motivational pulse begins racing with enthusiasm.  I can feel myself transition into a person far more developed and well-rounded than the one that I often see in the mirror.  And I believe that it’s in those moments that I embody the vision of my future as my writing and my life are paired with Christ.

When you team up your vision with your faith, your efforts to pursue your passion will become nearly effortless.  The day that you realize that God has chosen to involve Himself directly in your work, you will rest easy about the road ahead knowing that you won’t be required to have all the answers. Your job from that day forward will simply be to show up on time and embrace and develop the talents and abilities that He has given you.  If you commit to your purpose, He will see to it that your dreams come to fruition as He continues to bless you with His abundance.  Your remarkable gifts will be revealed to everyone around you and your service will create opportunities for miracles in the lives of others.  And you will feel blessed to say that every day you are living the dream, doing your life’s work.

I feel that it is my calling to write.  But you may find your mission to be something completely different that is as unique to you as you are a person. No matter your circumstances, don’t allow yourself to settle for anything less than what God has intended for you.  If you haven’t discovered your purpose, keep searching.  You will know when you’ve found it, because you will recognize His presence immediately and you will feel led to a greater calling in your life.  And your vision of your life’s “work” will never be the same…

May God Bless!

500+ for 50 – day 18: perfect vision

“Faith is the ability to see the invisible and believe in the incredible and that is what enables believers to receive what the masses think is impossible.” (Clarence Smithison)

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges for any man is the necessary creation of a well-defined vision of the future accomplishments that he wishes to achieve throughout the course of his life.  Most people are circumstantial thinkers.  They live within the confines of their present surroundings.  And while there’s something to be said about appreciating the “now”, if you want to swim in a bigger pond, you’ll need to see yourself outside of the fish bowl in which you currently reside.  You’ll need to start living the life you wish to have years from now today in your mind.  Unless you are willing to see it, you will never achieve it.  To realize success, you must first define your vision.

Many people don’t know where they’re going or what they truly want out of life.  They simply follow society’s course load until they arrive in a full time working position that will serve to provide them with the resources necessary to reach life’s next defined milestone.  It’s a shame, but often we become so wrapped up in the process that we forget to slow down and define what it is that we really wish to achieve.  It’s no wonder why so many people find themselves feeling lost and miserable in their careers many years into their working lives.  Did they ever stop to create a vision for their future?  Or did they simply start down a path with no real destination in mind, hoping that somehow they’d attain happiness and fulfillment as a result of their willingness to trudge forward on life’s curriculum?

Growing up I had absolutely no idea what it was that I wanted to be.  I only knew that I loved sports and that for the foreseeable future I wanted to promote every opportunity that I had to further my opportunities to excel in them.  My passion was football.  Unfortunately, football is not a feasible career path for the average individual.  Less than one tenth of 1% of all high school players will ever be drafted to play in the NFL.  And that wasn’t really my dream anyway.  I had my eyes set on a Division 1 collegiate scholarship.  What I wasn’t thinking about was life after graduation.  I wanted to put that off as long as I possibly could.  I was not ready to deal with making a decision on what would be my life’s work.

When I graduated college, I started down a path, following a paycheck and an opportunity to excel in a competitive environment.  But I never really had a final destination in mind.  I was just living my circumstances and trying to make every effort to get ahead in life…one step closer to the next milestone.  And that mindset and course of action prevailed for the next six years of my life until the day that I finally collapsed under the weight of a pile of adversity and surrendered my life to God.  When I came to know Christ, I was led to a whole new mission for my future that I had never even thought about before.  And I realized that without faith, there really could have been no true plan or course of action established in my life.

My relationship with God allowed me to develop a vision for my future that freed me from the pressure and burden that I felt under society’s conventional system of personal growth evaluation.  I came to realize that there would be no one who could more accurately measure my success in this life than God Himself.  So I set out to embrace the talents and skills that He had offered me in an effort to share my gifts with the world and fulfill His calling for my life.  I had defined my final destination – it was at home with Him.  But I also hoped to make some fulfilling pit stops along the way.  And those required a bit more imagination and mapping on my part.

Unfortunately, I always seemed to encounter lots of trouble envisioning my future successes in life.  Admittedly, I was very much trapped in my own fish bowl.  It felt as though I was regularly fighting tirelessly to simply tread water.  And I grew deeply involved with those feelings of confinement, thereby further limiting the vision of what my future might entail.  Rather than closing my eyes and allowing my imagination to dream me off to my destiny, I made the mistake of gazing out the window, or even worse, looking back into the rearview mirror.  And what I saw discouraged me.  It held me hostage.  I would never escape if I wasn’t able to effectively visualize better outcomes.

Then one day while I was watching The Secret I was introduced to the concept of a vision board.  A vision board is a visual representation of the goals and accomplishments that you desire to achieve in your life.  It’s a simple thing to create.  All that you need are a bunch of magazines and photos, a blank piece of poster board, and a glue stick.  Simply cut out the imagery representative of all that you wish to embody and achieve in your future and then glue those images onto the board as you desire.  Finally, hang your vision board someplace where you can engage it multiple times throughout your day.  Your finished product will serve as a visual depiction of your future, and it will act as a tremendously useful resource for stimulating your imagination process and developing your focus. 

Sometimes the view from the window is simply not going to be a fair representation of the direction that we wish to head with our lives.  So it’s critical that we utilize our imagination to envision the life that we seek beyond our present circumstances.  If we wish to swim in a bigger pond, we have to also be willing to view ourselves as a bigger fish.  And we need to really get involved in the feelings of freedom that we embody in those moments when we are able to effectively imagine the realization of our dreams.  Because when a committed vision and faith get together, miracles are bound to occur.

I’ve seen things in my own life that have absolutely blown me away.  The vision boards that I created back in 2011 still hang above my desk in my home office space today.  And when I review them each morning, I’m able to note several items that I’ve already been able to check off of my list of goals to be accomplished…many of which I never had any idea how I’d be able to attain.  God works in mysterious, magical ways, my friends.  If you allow Him to define your vision and then focus your heart and soul on all that you desire with unwavering faith in His ability to bring those things to pass in your life, there will be no limits to your success.  And you will live a life that is rich and fulfilling in every way.

We need to dream like a child who lives by faith and not by sight.  If we are willing to “see the invisible and believe in the incredible” then surely we will have every opportunity to “receive what the masses think is impossible.” 

May God Bless!

500+ for 50 – day 17: waiting on fear

Most of us at one point or another during the course of our lives have worked in the service business.  So even if service is not truly a direct part of your vocation today, there’s a strong likelihood that sometime perhaps when you were younger you were employed to cater to the needs of others.  Maybe you waited on tables, cleaned rooms at a hotel, caddied at a golf resort, or worked as a valet at a local night club?  When I was in high school I worked at a local pizza place where I wore many hats.  I cooked food, washed dishes, interacted with customers at the front counter, and made countless delivery runs. I certainly didn’t love my job description then, but now looking back on that time of my life I can most definitely see the value of the experience.

An introduction to the service industry is an introduction to life.  It’s a vocation that gives you the opportunity to interact with and get to know a variety of people on a daily basis.  It forces you to set aside your insecurities and worries to provide for the desires and needs of others.  After all, it’s your job to ensure that your company’s clientele has an enjoyable and memorable experience while interacting with you.  And that fact remains true regardless of your current mood or circumstances.  For the duration of the customer’s visit, they are meant to take priority over everything else going on in your life.  Your goal is to provide the best service possible to ensure that they return to your establishment again and again, requesting you personally by name.

Not all customers are built the same.  So the real beauty of the service professional lies in his ability to adapt to the unique needs of the clientele that he works with in his position.  Every day is certain to bring new challenges.  To excel in such a profession, you need to have a sincere love for people and a willingness to put the needs of others before your own.  Some clients will earn your respect and mutual adoration.  Others will be more difficult to handle.  And despite your best efforts to cater to their every need, some customers will be rude, condescending, and will make it well known that their intention is simply to walk all over you.

If you’ve ever waited on tables in a restaurant before, you know the type. The customer walks in demanding the best table in the house, yet still complains about the noise, or the lighting, or the view out the window.  He makes every step of the ordering process painful, critiquing the menu and making obnoxious special requests.  But you maintain your calm and smile politely, doing everything in your kind nature to accommodate him.  Unfortunately it’s never enough.  The food is undercooked or overdone, the presentation doesn’t match his expectations, and the check does not accurately represent what he had anticipated.  With every trip back to the kitchen you take a huge deep breath, praying that he’ll just pay the bill and relieve you of the torment.  Then finally, following a snide remark or two about how the restaurant could upgrade its menu, he leaves the table.  And behind he leaves his payment, void of any tip for your service whatsoever.

Life in itself has its own unruly, disgruntled customer. Its name is fear.  And it threatens to barge into your establishment at any time and start demanding that you cater to its each and every whim.  While you may make your livelihood servicing the needs of others, you are not in the business of waiting on fear.  Fear will make unreasonable demands on each and every visit.  It will rob you of any joy that you could possibly find in your “work” because it offers no potential reward for your compliance with its demands.  And I assure you, fear is not a good tipper.  If you spend your time chasing around its requests, you will miss out on the opportunity to interact with the good customers who are walking in the door.  Fear will demand your full attention.  It will run you absolutely ragged if you allow it.

That’s why it’s critical that you post a sign at the door of your mind affirming your stance on such clientele.  Just like “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service”, in this establishment there is “No Fear Allowed”.  Because when you start allowing fear to dictate your actions, you will undoubtedly lose your ability to service the other more important aspects of your life.  When you cater to fear, you allow it to take charge of the operations of your business.  And in a short time, all that will remain are fragments of the framework that led to your success.  Fear takes no prisoners.  It will run your mind bankrupt in an instant if you allow it access to the register.  It is not to be trusted within the front door, let alone behind the counter.

Fear creates clutter and chaos in the mind.  It seeks to limit and confine you.  And more than anything it seeks to control your every move since it desperately desires to be the driving force behind all of your decisions.  So it’s critical that you make every effort to deny it any service in your life.  But if by chance you’ve already allowed it to be seated in your section (as most of us have at one point or another) you need to resist its unruly demands to take you on its wild, unforgiving ride.  Set boundaries on your priorities.  Commit to remaining true to yourself.  Do not let fear ridicule you and cause you to settle for an image that is less than what you know yourself to be. Tell it to dine elsewhere.  Fear cannot be trusted and it is not welcome in your establishment.  So set the tone upfront so that it understands never to return again.

Don’t spend another moment of your life waiting on fear when success is at the door just waiting to be seated…clear your section and start servicing the needs of those things which will bear fruit in your life.

May God Bless!

500+ for 50 – day 16: risky business

Since I began my blog back in 2011, I’ve had a lot of people come to me and express their admiration for the vulnerability that I offer in my writing.  If you’ve had the opportunity to read any of my previous posts, you’ve seen that I conceal very little about who I am.  There’s no doubt that I’m a flawed human being – that’s very evident in the story that I have to share.  But I don’t view my perceived weaknesses as traits that I need to hide from the public eye.  I delight in my flaws because they are what make me, me.  They’re the gifts that I’ve been blessed with that allow me to have a unique story to share.  My story is one that often leads to the empowerment of others and it also allows me to follow more closely alongside my Creator in my journey towards liberating my soul.  Why would I ever view myself as being afflicted when I receive so much in return for what others consider pain and hardship?

Unfortunately, not everyone is able to view my writing as I do.  Over the last few years I’ve had a handful of “supporters” question the passion with which I write and the nature of the delicate personal subject matter that I openly offer to my audience.  They perceive my writing as being potentially intimidating to others and they fear the judgment and scrutiny that I might receive as a result of my honesty.  And then in an effort to protect me, they offer their advice on what is or is not acceptable in the eyes of the world.  What they fail to remember is that I’ve made a conscious decision not to follow the world, but to follow Christ.  And His judgment and His plan are the only things that carry any meaning with me.  I know that if I am listening to God, my life will head in the direction that He has intended, and that’s all that truly matters to me.

Some people might consider what I do a risky undertaking…putting myself out there and inviting criticism and judgment in both my personal life and perhaps even in my professional career.  But I don’t worry about those things.  I find that there is a far greater risk involved with me choosing to avoid taking action on my life’s calling than there is in sharing a story that some might view as unique or flawed.  I understand fully that not everyone will appreciate the experiences and inspirational guidance that I have to offer.  That’s absolutely fine.  But there will be some people who will feel moved by what I write.  And perhaps it will be my writing that motivates them to make a commitment to the pursuit of their own goals and dreams, to their own personal liberation.  You never know how you can impact the direction of a person’s life in a positive way.  You can only put the very best of YOU out there and hope that something sticks.  God has told me many times, “Matt, if you work your whole life and serve to aid in saving just one person’s life, you’ve done your part.”

I might never know how many wins and losses I’ve accumulated as a result of my writing.  But I’m not the one keeping score, so I really have no concern with that.  There will at times be critics and people who choose not to involve themselves in my life because of the faith-led passion with which I live and speak.  Those individuals are not likely to benefit from any service that I provide as a direct result of who I am, and it’s not probable that I am going to gain much from their presence either.  But on the flipside, there will be individuals whom I will attract to my life both personally and professionally as a result of my writing.  And they will arrive at a far faster rate than those who disappear.  Such individuals will bring tremendous value to my world and will bear great fruit in my life.  And I can only hope that I will do the same in theirs.  God will provide.  I trust that His plan will lead me to far more victories than defeats when it’s all said and done.

So to those whom it may concern:  I assure you, there is no need to worry.  I have no fear in revealing my perceived inadequacies to the scrutinizing eyes of those around me.  I don’t see any risk in being who it is that God created me to be.  I am unique, I am flawed, and I am not for everyone.  But I wasn’t put here on this earth to fit in, and neither were you.  We were called to service in the name of our Creator, and each person’s mission is unique to them.  My purpose is to utilize my story to free others from the chains that hold them captive, and I intend on accessing every resource available to touch as many people as I possibly can.  Not everyone will choose to tune in to my blog and that’s okay, but if I am able to touch just one person and impact their life in a positive way, it will all be worth it. 

If I risk losing who it is I was, only to gain who it is I am meant to become, there is truly no risk at all.

May God Bless!