How’d we get here?

Have you chosen a difficult path? Don’t panic!

Every once in a while I think back over the past couple of years, and just get this weird feeling of “How did we get here?” Not exactly in a bad way. More like despite all the mistakes and dumb stuff along the way, coupled with the challenge of picking a very difficult path in life, we’re still standing and moving forward. Not always where I want to be, but not dead in the road either. God’s truly blessed us along this path in many ways.

I can’t take credit. Often my solution to problems is to put my head down and just push harder. Somehow, despite ourselves, I believe God has been the one to carry us through everything we’ve been through – going full-time with the business, expanding the portrait studio, growing our family, etc… We’ve lived through too many ‘just in time’ moments and little miracles that give us hope for the future to think otherwise.

Romans 5:2-5
…we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

2 Corinthians 4:17
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

When you’re down, don’t quit. Don’t panic. At the precise point when things appear the most hopeless, the way out is about to appear.

Change is tough for those who lead

Leaders are out front, looking for the next path. I often think of it as a captain on the deck, turning the wheel and making the calls to his crew in the midst of a terrible storm. He might wish fleetingly that he could be below deck asleep, but he knows it’s his decisions that make the difference between staying on top or going down.

Even small changes create friction and unrest, in the leader as well as his followers. So here’s a few short words I wrote to myself today to manufacture a bit of courage.

“I experience friction, pressure, and opposition at every change, but over time things overall improve.

I might look crazy, but I’m not stupid. I have a plan. And despite mistakes and opposition, it most likely won’t suck in the long run.

In case it does suck, Jesus still loves me. He also forgives me. Even if no-one else does. And his plan is better than mine, includes mine, and won’t fail.

So I keep moving forward.”

Created for a purpose

Have you ever experienced an empty feeling in life?

Have you ever felt like you were made for more than just to try to make yourself happy?

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
– Ephesians 2:10

It’s hard work for me to move my thought patterns away from ‘I need more (x)’ and towards ‘what did God create me to do with my life’. (x) has it’s place in life, but it’s not the reason for life, it’s just another resource. Here’s a great promise regarding resources that I’ve been clinging to.

Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.
– 2 Corinthians 9:10-11

It’s interesting to look at the context of this passage. It’s not just about our own fulfillment. God gives us all an abundance of something, even though it’s not the (x) you think you need to be happy. The truth is someone else needs what we have.

We were all created for a purpose. Don’t let yourself and your lack of (x) stand in the way of discovering and pursuing it.

Fear of Success

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. –Proverbs 3:5-6

This year has started out awesome for me. We had some vehicle challenges that I thought would be really expensive that cost less than a 10th of my expectations. I’ve had a ton of work with no signs of stopping. We are less stressed than we’ve ever been. Church is good. Family drama is low. The kids are doing great in school. While we still have a long way to go, life feels like it could be on a good trajectory.

God has always provided for us in every circumstance, but I feel that especially right now. However, I have this nagging little fear in the back of my head. It’s a fear of success. More accurately, a fear that a good moment in life means another crash at the end. It’s refreshing to not be as worried about tomorrow, but now I’m worried about six months from now, or a year from now.

The last time I had an awesome year, I thought it would go on forever and I thought it was because of how awesome I was. I started trusting myself, made some mistakes, and took some hits.

In the big picture, I think a healthy fear of success is a good thing. This nagging little fear is helping me to remember to continue to trust God, not myself, and for that I’m thankful. I’ve learned in the past that nothing I can do on my own can make my life better; I hope I can remember that and keep leaning on His wisdom, not my own, through whatever circumstances this year will bring.

I’d love to be more like the apostle Paul:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. — Philippians 4:11-13

Difficult circumstances produce results

I’ve been working on a series of scholarship recipient videos for the Christie Foundation in Champaign, IL. I’ve been very impressed with the drive, determination, and passion that I’ve seen in these young adults.

One of the recurring themes I’ve noticed is that many of the students we’ve worked with have a time in their lives that’s been extremely difficult. One young man saw his brother go through an intense battle with non-Hodkins lymphoma. Another student struggled with a degenerative muscle disease and faced the loss of her musical abilities. Another had a dream of being a soccer player, but suffered through repeated injuries and couldn’t continue. One woman we interviewed lost her child at birth.

In each of these stories, the intense experience of struggle and pain sparked a passion to pursue their respective areas of study, and shaped their future careers. Someday in the future, hundreds if not thousands of people will find help in their own painful experiences because of the character in these exceptional young people.

Romans 5:3-5 says, “… We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame…”

We’d never wish suffering on anyone, but it happens. When it does, look for the resulting fruit. It could be sweeter than you’d expect.

The Power of Positive Thinking

I don’t want to pick on the book. I’ve never read it. I did see this line on Amazon though which made me stop and think: “Faith in yourself makes good things happen to you.”

I often feel negatively about myself and my circumstances. Good things do happen to me, and yet it’s still so easy to spend time focusing on the negative, and I can see how that could affect life in a long-term way.

But my question to myself is, if I change my thinking to think positively about myself, to have faith in myself, is my life really going to become much better?

There are a couple of concepts that stick in my head from the Bible that might help weigh in on this.

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

In all things — so even when I’m feeling negatively about my life and things are going wrong (presumably because I wasn’t thinking positively), God’s working for my good.

All of James 1 is brilliant on this topic too, but here’s a bit of it.

James 1:1 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

There’s definitely an encouragement here to think positively, and I’ve been working on that in my life. But it’s interesting to note here that it’s an attitude of joy in trials, because our faith being tested brings about good things in our lives.

I see two completely different beliefs here.

1) Have faith in yourself, believe good things will happen in your life, and they will. (And if you think negatively, you deserve the bad stuff that happens because of that.)

2) No matter what happens to you in life, God is working to produce good within you, and you should have joy because you know it will strengthen your faith in God.

Both concepts sell books. Which one works to bring joy to someone who is a mess and desperately searching?

Puzzle Pieces

I’m working on a project right now for Restoration Urban Ministries in Champaign, IL. They have a housing program and food pantry, and take in homeless people for about a year, feed them, offer them a wide variety of classes and church services, help them find work and train them to be self-sufficient, and then release them back into the world, hopefully as changed people.

One of the things they strongly teach is that you are a person created by God for a specific purpose, and that if you can find that purpose you’ll find peace and fulfillment in life, and you’ll be able to provide for yourself and your family responsibly.

That got my attention. I’ve been struggling with a lack of peace and fulfillment, and sometimes worry about my ability to provide. I started thinking about that – our culture tends to believe we’re blank slates and we can become anything we want, we just have to try hard enough and long enough.

There’s something unique about myself that I’ve been learning recently. I have a lot of ideas and I’m not always afraid to try them, even if they are big and crazy. I sometimes see things that other people can’t see. I can be passionate about things that make no sense whatsoever to anyone else.

Maybe it’s compulsive behavior, maybe it’s because it’s a challenge for me, I don’t know. I remember once when I was working at ATS Acoustics, we had a campfire one night and we were joking about making different kinds of panels, and someone had the idea to make an acoustic panel that looked like a guitar. I had to try it. I did, and it still hangs on the wall over there somewhere. It was pretty cool.

Little things like that led me to wonder if I could start a portrait studio for my wife. I built one in our garage, and it was pretty cool. Then we moved to Watseka and I did it again, bigger and better. It was cool.

I saw a need for a small group, wondered if I could start and lead it. I did, and it was pretty cool.

I have a corresponding weakness. Long-term things really wear on me. The thought of doing something over and over and over again for the rest of my life makes me feel miserable inside. I have trouble with mowing my lawn. I wish I could invent short grass that didn’t grow, and if I thought I could, I’d put more energy into that than actually mowing the lawn.

If I don’t have new projects coming in regularly, I go nuts. I start inventing new projects from nothing. If I don’t have any new ideas, I start to get depressed.

I do believe that God creates us for a specific purpose. We still have choices to make, but I believe He created us with gifts that fit a task we can do well.

That makes me excited for the future. I don’t have all the pieces in place yet, but I believe God has a plan for my life and He’s leading me.

I Failed the Boat Builder

Failure.

Not a fun word. Something we want to avoid in our lives. Something that doesn’t go on our resume or on our Facebook page. We run from failure, pretend it didn’t happen.

But often, failure is exactly what we need to build our character and prepare us for the next step forward.

I remember one of my first paid video projects. It came through a friend of a friend, and it was to create a video telling the story of a lovingly restored sailboat.

It should have been a very easy thing to do, looking at it now. But I made a mistake. I didn’t get the whole picture, and I didn’t hustle.

I spent a long time trying to get everything set up perfectly inside the sailboat to shoot it. I didn’t want to do any handheld shooting, because I was a little naive, so I had the guy build me a custom guide-wire through the boat for a walkthrough, and it didn’t work at all. We ended up wasting hours on that and did a handheld walkthrough in the end after all in about 30 minutes or less.

Then, I didn’t focus on the details he was hoping that I would. I didn’t pay enough attention to what he wanted and shot things that weren’t flattering.

He had a ton of photos of the construction, and wanted a slideshow with voice-over telling the story. I wasted so much time getting the boat footage that we never got to the photos.

Eventually I lost the job to a professional video company in the area. I was too slow, didn’t listen, and botched it.

I never saw it coming. I thought I was awesome. The truth is, I was a college student working for cheap with borrowed equipment and no experience, and had no idea what my client was actually looking for. He thought he was getting a great deal at first, and I didn’t deliver.

That was one of the best failures I’ve ever had. I tasted just enough of the thrill of contract work that I wanted more, and paid just enough attention that I could learn from my mistakes. I was told by yet another production person that I had no future in the business of video, which spurred me on to keep trying and to prove them wrong.

And, it knocked my pride down a few notches, which was helpful in showing me how much I still needed to learn.

Nope, I’m not awesome.

The truth is, I think I am awesome.  But I am not awesome.

Someone wiser than me recently explained to me that there are two extreme attitudes we can have in life.  This is my ultra-simple paraphrase.

1) We are awesome.  Everyone owes us.

2) We are not awesome.  We owe everyone.

There’s a famous Bible verse that reads “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first”.  Jesus lived that way, stooping so low as to wash his disciples feet.

I’m not like Jesus.  I don’t think I would be comfortable washing my wife’s feet.  I expect her to pick up my laundry.  I don’t always remember to take out the trash or fill up the dishwasher.

Even in writing this post, I think I’m awesome.  But I’m not awesome.  I really don’t want to wash someone’s stinky feet.  I just want to be comfortable in my own little world where everyone owes me.  That’s why I’m not awesome.

God’s working on that.