Absence

Darkness. Despair. Silence. Death.

Each of these are not things; they are the absence of a thing. Darkness is the absence of light. Despair is the absence of hope. Silence is the absence of sound. Death is the absence of life.

But would we know that light existed except that it sometimes does not exist? If there was no darkness, would we even notice light? If we never were in despair, would we ever know that hope existed? Too often appreciation only comes after a thing has been taken away. We don’t realize how important it is to us until it’s gone.

Is that the way it should be? What if we didn’t take the things in our life for granted? What if we didn’t wait to appreciate the small things in life until we noticed they were gone? What if we chose to open our eyes and see what we haven’t noticed?

It’s not easy. It might even seem silly. Appreciating the things in life that are always around, the mundane, the small, the seemingly insignificant. It could appear quite odd. If we’d never experienced silence, why would we appreciate sound?  But it’s not silly. We find out just how important something is once it’s gone. But do we want to wait? Celebrate life before death, not just after. Appreciate the people in your life while they’re still here; don’t wait until they’re gone.

We probably won’t ever truly understand the value of some things in life until they’re taken away from us. But we can at least try. We can be intentional about living life with thankfulness and with eyes open. We can choose to not take things for granted.

How would this change the way we live? We’d be more thankful. We’d live with more wonder in our eyes. We wouldn’t waste opportunities. We would be more careful with our resources. But I think the biggest change is that our relationships with people would change. We’d be more patient. We’d love more. We’d care more.

Absence may make the heart grow fonder. But why wait for absence?

Don’t wait. Don’t let absence be the reason you appreciate. Appreciate because it’s here. Even if you haven’t noticed it yet.

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Just Because I Can

head buttNo one likes to argue. No one likes conflict. Or at least that’s what we think. That’s what we tell ourselves. But it’s not true. In fact, often we feed on conflict. We like to argue. We like going contrary to everyone else. Why?

God has created humans in an incredible way. We are complex, full of emotion and depth that I don’t believe anyone will ever completely understand. And one of those characteristics is our rebellious side. Yes, we all have one. Even the most compliant person has a part of them that wants to resist. Rebellion makes us feel independent and strong. We’re standing against something. And in some ways, that’s really good. If that rebellious nature is channeled right, it can make us stronger and better people.

Unfortunately, there’s a downside of our rebellious side. When we find that we have the strength and gut to be contrary to others, we then start exercising that just because we can. We feel good being different and strong and independent, so we want more.

Now, this is different from a good healthy critical mind. It’s really important that we are careful about what we believe and what we think. But sadly what can happen is we can move from healthy critical thinking to always looking for a bone to pick. This has happened to me. At times I’ve found myself intentionally looking for problems in what others are saying not because I want to be cautious in what I believe and not because I want to have an intelligent conversation with them, but instead just because I want to find something wrong just so I can be a little rebellious. I want to argue just because I can.

We express this tendency in many different situations. It may be in a dinner time conversation. Maybe a text. Maybe it’s Facebook. In fact, today I was tempted to respond to a Facebook post I disagreed with. But I didn’t. And part of the reason was because I knew that deep down I just wanted to disagree because I could. It wasn’t really because I wanted to engage in a discussion on the issue. I just wanted to be a little rebellious. I might have been right about my opinion, but my motive was wrong.

Let’s admit it, it’s fun sometimes to go against the status quo. It’s fun to shake things up. But don’t let that feed you. Don’t rebel just for the sake of rebelling. Don’t start an argument (as orderly as it might be) just for the sake of criticizing. Have a purpose. And be honest with yourself. I’ve found that sometimes I’ll create a purpose for myself just so I feel good about arguing. Basically I’m lying to myself, telling myself that I have a good reason to be critical and rebel a little, but in reality I just want to argue because I can.

calvin_arguingNo one likes people who are always correcting everyone else. No one likes people who always have to bring up something contradictory whenever they’re in a conversation. Don’t be that person. Choose your battles. Choose the ones that matter, the ones that you actually care about. The ones that don’t fuel your desire to rebel just because you can.

Be the kind of person that people enjoy conversing with because you can disagree respectfully but you’re not out to disagree for the sake of disagreement. Be uplifting. Be encouraging. Be wise in choosing to be contradictory.

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Grace

For about the past two weeks, I’ve been out of town helping plan and run a national conference with an organization I’m heavily involved in. One of the themes we focused on was grace. Our guest speaker spoke about the need to give and receive both grace and reconciliation. But grace is hard. Because it means giving something up. When we extend grace and reconciliation, we give up some of our desire for justice. We forgive. We move on. And that’s hard. When we receive grace and reconciliation, we admit we’re wrong. We are humbled. And that’s hard.

But either way, grace is good. It’s powerful. It’s life-changing.

However we can’t give and receive grace without the power of Christ working in us. Grace is a characteristic of Christ. It’s in His nature. We can only give and receive grace because Christ did it first. And now, it’s our responsibility to do the same.

Extend some grace today. Receive some grace today. It will change your life.

Social Media and Self-Worth

social media

I love social media. I have a presence on most major social media/networking platforms; I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+. Not quite all of them, but a good majority.

I think that social media is an incredible tool and has definitely benefited me in many ways. But I’m frustrated. Not with the tool, but with how it’s being used/viewed (by me included. I don’t believe for a moment I’ve got all of this figured out). I’ve noticed that a lot of social media users are just looking for attention. It’s all about how many likes we can get on our Facebook post or Instagram picture or how many favorites and retweets we can get on that Tweet. We seem to think that our “performance” on social media is a reflection of who we are and that our self-worth is directly proportional to how “popular” we are on social media.

That is not true. It’s just not. Your self-worth has nothing to do with social media. Nothing.

Posting more often, posting less often, posting completely random stuff, posting a ton of pointless photos, posting a ton of meaningful photos, posting only deep quotes, posting only “important” information, none of those “tactics” are going to make you a better person. They’re not going to affect your self-worth.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that social media is about connecting with people. It’s about communicating with them, talking with them, getting to know them. Don’t use social media just to get, but rather to give. 

I’ve found that when I do let myself slip into the mindset that I need to “perform well” on social media, I tend to be more discontent and more frustrated. But I when treat social media as the tool it’s supposed to be and  just enjoy it for what it is, I’m a whole lot more satisfied and much happier.

Think about it this way. In the long run, which is going to matter more? The number of likes you get on your profile picture or status? Or the lives you impact and bless because you care about others?

Use social media. Don’t let it use you or define you.

P.S. – In a previous blog post, I discussed a video that looks at the connection between social media and loneliness. Here’s the video again if you’re interested. It’s very thought-provoking and helps explain some of the challenges that come with social media.

Giving and Receiving

I really like analyzing people and their behavioral habits. Over the past few months, I’ve noticed something really interesting about people. As a general rule of thumb, people can be classified into two groups: givers and receivers.

Givers are the kind of people who tend to invest more in other people. They’re the ones who encourage and are more focused on other people, instead of themselves. They can often come across as independent and as the kind of person that doesn’t need any help.

Receivers are the kind of people who tend to seek encouragement instead of provide it. It’s not that receivers don’t focus on other people, but they can often interact with others with the purpose of wanting to be affirmed by others. They can often come across and “needy” and less self-sufficient.

Now, the two types of people I just described are extreme examples. But I’ve noticed that most of us fall into one of those two categories, even if we’re not as extreme as what I just described. I’ve also noticed that it’s easy to view both of these types of people and their actions incorrectly.

You see, givers are often viewed as independent. But they need encouragement just like receivers do. They might seem like they don’t need anyone’s help, but they really do. They’ve just realized how important it is to be outward-focused. And receivers can come across as needy and dependent, people who only focus on themselves. But receivers can encourage others. They’ve just realized how important it is not to drain oneself and that it’s okay to focus on yourself sometimes.

Often it is easy to get caught up in focusing on others (being a giver) that we exhaust ourselves. Or we get caught up in taking care of ourselves (being a receiver) that we stop thinking about others.

So don’t be a giver. And don’t be a receiver. Be both. Be an encourager, but don’t wear yourself out. Invest yourself in others. But also be willing to receive encouragement and help from others when they offer it. Don’t be independent. Don’t be dependent. Be interdependent. Give and receive. Don’t be one. Be both.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

– Galatians 6:2

Chain. Image courtesy of Max Klingensmith on Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/mklingo/

Image courtesy of Max Klingensmith on Flickr – http://www.flickr.com/photos/mklingo/

Lollipop Moments

This is one of the best TED talks I have seen. The six minutes it takes to watch it is a valuable investment of your time.

I came away from watching this video with two main observations:

Tell people that you appreciate them.

“How many of you guys have a lollipop moment? A moment where someone said something or did something that you feel fundamentally made your life better? How many of you have told that person they did it? See, why not? We celebrate birthdays where all you have to do is not die for 365 days, and yet we’ve got people who have made our lives better walk around without knowing it.”

Drew Dudley hit the nail on the head with this quote. Imagine if someone came up to you and told you that you’d had a profound impact on their lives. Think about the impact that would make on you. I know it would make my day, or even my whole week! Some of you may have had that experience already – you know what it’s like. Go do that for the people in your life who have profoundly impacted you. Show appreciation to the people you appreciate.

What kind of influence did you have when you don’t remember what you did?

Drew Dudley said that he didn’t at all remember the entire situation. In this case, something he had no recollection of ended up positively impacting someone. But he didn’t remember it. What about the times we don’t remember? What kind of impact have we had that we aren’t aware of? It could have been a positive impact, but it could also have been negative. This is why purposeful communication is so important. Apparently the scenario didn’t stick with Drew Dudley because his brain for some reason didn’t recognize it as important. But it was important. We can never let our guard down. We’re always communicating, so we always have to be intentional in what we communicate.

People have changed our lives, and we are changing other’s lives. Don’t let opportunities slip away, both to thank people and to be a positive influence.

Influencers: Leaders vs. Rulers

Influence. If you think about it, everyone has influence in some sphere of life. It’s just a fact. But that fact should make you stop and think. What am I doing with that influence? How am I using and managing that influence? How am I acquiring that influence?

There are two ways to use your influence. You can be a leader, or you can be a ruler. The difference between leaders and rulers is huge and extremely fundamental. At an Institute for Cultural Communicators training event this past spring, president and co-founder of ICC, Teresa Moon, spoke on the differences between leaders and rulers. Let’s take a look at a few of the differences that she pointed out:

  1. Leaders have followers; rulers have subjects. This is big! The primary difference between leaders and followers is the people they are influencing. Leaders have followers, people who want to follow and be influenced. Rulers, on the other hand, have subjects, people who have no choice but to follow and do what they’re told.
  2. Leaders are given their influence; rulers create their influence. Leaders are given their position by their followers. The followers want the leader to lead because of something in them – their character. Rulers force their position on their subjects. Followers choose; subjects are chosen.
  3. Leaders care about their followers; rulers use their subjects. Leaders are who they are not because they want influence but because they care about people and want to help them. That’s why followers choose them as leaders to start with. To contrast, rulers are only interested in influence and view their subjects only as means to an end. Rulers don’t care about their subjects as people, but merely as “things” to exert influence on.

Ultimately, leaders reflect the heart of God and His love, whereas rulers use force, which isn’t in accordance with what God calls us to.

From this comparison, it’s pretty clear which we should desire to be! Like I said at the beginning, we all have influence in some way. We must, therefore, choose whether we’ll be leaders or rulers. It’s easy to want to be a leader, but harder to actually practice it. I can definitely attest to this. Normally I’m fine with being a leader until things don’t go exactly how I want them to. Then I start to turn to the practices of a ruler so I can get things done the way I want them. It’s not always easy to be a leader! But it’s the right thing.

I encourage you to analyze your actions in light of leaders versus rulers. Strive to be a leader, no matter how hard it might be. When you find yourself tending toward the habits of a ruler instead of a leader, identify the circumstances encouraging this behavior so that you can best adjust your perspective, attitude, and actions.

If we all have influence in some way, then we must choose to be either a leader or a ruler. Choose to be a leader. Yes, let’s be leaders.