The Power of Place

I love adventure, experiencing new places, trying new foods, meeting new people, etc., and I’m fortunate to have had many great ones. But as I write this post I’m sitting at a place I’ve been hundreds of times that for all intents and purposes really hasn’t changed much in my lifetime – my family’s beach house.

In a world where everything changes so rapidly and we’re always moving quickly from one thing next, there is something refreshing and reassuring about a place that hasn’t and doesn’t really change that much.

Beach Boys
My boys playing in the same waters I grew up playing in.

The house was built in the 1940’s by my great-grandfather as a place for his family to relax and get away from it all. It’s been passed down through the generations and my kids are the fifth generation to enjoy it. Both the house and the surrounding area hold a very special place in my heart. I have so many memories there of special times with friends and family, of adventures and times connecting with nature. Continue reading →

Why We Can’t Trust Our Feelings

I’m a fairly emotional person. Actually, if I’m being really honest, I’m very emotional. I can experience very intense feelings – both good and bad – all in the same day and sometimes even in the same hour. Sometimes that is a good thing because they help me experience positive situations intensely but the flip side is I also experience the negative ones very deeply.

For much of my life I’ve pretty much followed my feelings wherever they took me. Sometimes they have taken me to a good place but more often than not that hasn’t been the case.

My mom used to say that feelings are the caboose, meaning in most situations they are the last thing that should be considered or trusted. I always kind of brushed off that wisdom but in the last couple of years I’ve discovered, as in so many other situations, she was right. While I do believe our emotions are an important and valuable resource in helping us experience life (both the ups and downs), I’ve come to believe that in many situations we cannot trust them, especially the negative ones.

Climbing
“Putting the brakes” on our emotions is hard work – like climbing up a wall . But it is worth it and it gets easier with time.

Certainly there are circumstances where our “gut reaction” is right and we need to follow it. Those feelings tend be grounded in reality and can be trusted much more. For example, if you are walking down the street and see an angry dog growling, you will feel scared and be tempted to turn and walk (or run) the other way which is probably the right decision. Continue reading →

The One Thing That Rejuvenates More Than Anything Else

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to do a devotional for my office retreat. The theme for the retreat was “rejuvenation” and as I started to think about what to share I wondered, what is the one thing that we need most to refresh and restore ourselves? Almost instantly, the thought hit me, we need to hear from and connect with God.

In our society that is increasingly busy, distracted, stressed and anxious, what could fill us up and get us back on track better than connecting with the creator of the universe, the one who made us and knows exactly what we need?

Mt. Hood
Being in nature is a great way to connect with God – Mt. Hood, OR

I think even those who are not Christians would probably admit that a touch from the divine or something bigger than themselves (whether they call it God or not) changes them in a way that nothing else can. Continue reading →

The Benefits of Pushing Through Pain

Coming up on July 4th I’ll run my fourth half-marathon. The sense of accomplishment from running that far and accomplishing a challenging goal is incredibly rewarding. But to be honest the process of getting there – the training and large parts of the race itself – can be downright terrible at times.

Last weekend I was scheduled to do one of my longest training runs for this race – 10 miles to be exact. For some people jumping out of bed on a Saturday morning to spend almost two-hours pounding the pavement might sound great but that isn’t usually me. That was the case last week. I wasn’t motivated to run but I knew I needed to if I had any hope of completing the race. So, I dutifully set out telling myself if I just took it slow and focused on one mile at a time I’d eventually make it.

As expected, the first few the first few miles were really tough. My mind was wandering – often thinking about stresses and frustrations in my life – which drained my energy, my body was tired and achy and I felt like I was walking through quicksand.

vancouver half
Me finishing my second half-marathon

Then, at about mile five, something strange happened that has occurred several times before on long runs but I mostly forgot about it. After all that time of drudgery and feeling like I was pushing a boulder uphill, out of nowhere I suddenly felt incredible, like I was running on air. My body was comfortable, my mind was calm and I felt like I could keep running forever! Continue reading →

Why is it so Easy to Judge People?

A couple of months ago my son Calum decided he is a skater. This is a kid who would stay inside and play video games all day everyday if we let him so it’s been exciting to see him latch on to an outdoor activity.

We’re fortunate here in Newberg to have an awesome skate park and lately we’ve been heading down there once or twice a week so he can practice. While we were there the other day something strange happened that I won’t soon forget.

Skater Calum
Calum the Skater

As I sat at my usual spot at one of the picnic tables a couple of big pickup trucks tore into the gravel parking lot, rocks flying and music blaring. One of them was even flying a huge confederate flag from the truck bed.

Immediately my judgement and protective meters lit up.

In a semi-rural town like Newberg a scene like this isn’t all that unusual but definitely not expected at the skate park. Sure, skaters can be a rough bunch but these guys would have looked more at home driving their 4×4’s through the mud in the countryside or on a opossum hunt late at night. Continue reading →

Why is Being Selfless so Hard?

Sometimes I think the main journey of my life is learning to be less selfish. It started when I was very young with my siblings. I had to learn to share space, toys, etc. Then I went to college and had roommates. Living with people other than family members posed its own challenges of learning to adjust to different ways of doing things.

When I got married I thought; “Now I’m really learning how to be selfless. Not only do I have a new/permanent roommate, I’m also in love with this person and am learning to balance her needs and wants with my own and sometimes those don’t always line up.”

Seth Crying
Sometimes this is what trying to be selfless looks like.

A couple of years later we had our first child and I realized I had just been scratching the surface of my living selflessly journey all that time. Now we had someone who’s life and very survival depended on us! Being too selfish could literally put his life in jeopardy. Continue reading →

Does God Care About Our Happiness?

If you’ve read any of my past blog posts you probably know that I’m pretty interested in the subjects of happiness, well-being, and mental health. As I’ve researched these topics over the last few years and reflected on how they play out in my own life I’ve often wondered, “Does God care about this stuff?”

My early images of God were of someone who was rather distant and mostly concerned with me making good choices and not sinning. As a kid who just wanted to do the right thing, I initially accepted Christ because that was what I needed to do to get into heaven and avoid going to hell.

Waterfall through brush
Sometimes we have to push through the brush to get to something better on the other side.

I’m sure these images of God were largely informed by my young mind’s inability to comprehend a bigger reality, but I also think the culture I grew up in often reinforced these beliefs. Fortunately over the years my image of God has changed quite drastically and I really do believe he cares about our happiness, well-being, mental health and lots of other important issues. Continue reading →

The Power of Embracing Our Weaknesses

“I wish I wasn’t so……”

If you’re anything like me you have conversations with yourself like this on a weekly if not daily basis.

“I wish I wasn’t so……” Fill in the blanks for whatever it is about yourself that you wish were different. “I wish I wasn’t so stressed, out of shape, overweight, angry, tired, poor, etc.”

You probably have the opposite conversation as well. “I wish I was more…athletic, social, successful, thin, muscular, articulate, positive, etc.” Insert whatever you see in others that you wish you had or were more of.

Most of us spend a lot of time focusing on what we think is wrong with ourselves and not on what is right, on what we don’t have instead of what we do have.

I’m so guilty of this bad habit. The other day I found myself stuck in this negative thought whirlpool when a bible verse that I know well but hadn’t thought of in a while came out of nowhere and hit me right in the forehead.

Diamond Head East
God’s strength is so much bigger than our weaknesses.

2 Corinthians 12:9 (NLT) – …… “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

It reminded me that not only are our weaknesses OK but they are necessary for God to move in our lives. If we had everything together and could handle everything on our own we wouldn’t need him. Continue reading →

Is the American Dream Christian?

Follow your dreams and passion and everything will turn out great!

Work hard and you can have and achieve anything you want!

Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life!

These are the messages of the American Dream I grew up with. I believed if I could dream it up, someday it would come true and I would live happily ever after. Unfortunately, that isn’t how things have turned out.

In college my career goal was to work in the music business. Up until that point much of my life had revolved around music. It was one of my biggest passions and I figured it was the obvious place to pursue a profession and make my impact on the world. I planned my studies around that goal and even did my senior internship at a company in the music business.

Koko Head
Sometimes God’s path and timing for us is different than our own.

It’s wasn’t for lack of ambition or effort, but after some unexpected twists and turns, that dream quickly derailed and I found myself working at a hardware store just to pay the bills. I couldn’t have been further from where I imagined I would be at that point. As I struggled to come to grips with what to do next I decided I’d spend my nights and weekends applying for a “real job,” hoping to quickly get my life back on track.

After about nine months and tons of applications, I finally got an interview. It wasn’t at a record label, an artist management agency, or some other cool and hip company; it was at the college I graduated from. It was literally the only place that gave me a positive response to my application. Ironically, a year before, there was a similar position available but I didn’t apply for it because working at my Alma Mater didn’t fit into my life goals.

Luckily I got the job. It wasn’t my ideal occupation but it was better than the hardware store. At the time I thought I’d stay there for 3-5 years while I figured out what I was really going to do with my life. That was 14 years ago and I’m still there.

On the surface my story probably sounds pretty depressing. But the truth is most days I’m pretty content and believe I’m right where God wants me to be. Many others I know, whose initial dreams and plans have turned out different, have also found contentment.

Don’t get me wrong, there have definitely been seasons of frustration where I wondered where the heck my life was going and what in the world God was doing.  But over time I’ve come to believe that many of the messages I learned when I was young about success and what makes a good life, are not truth. God has a different set of ideals for us.

So, I offer my antidote to the American Dream – lessons and truths I’m learning that help me keep life in perspective and stay more aligned with God’s plans.

Our identity and calling are bigger than our job

The idea that our job is our identity is deeply embedded in American culture. From a very young age we are asked what we want to “be” when we grow up and it almost always refers to our vocation. The message is clear, “what you do for work is who you are.” This is such a limiting definition. It sets us up for serious frustration and disappointment when our job isn’t perfectly fulfilling.

Most of us spend a lot of time at work so, hopefully, we get to use our gifts and strengths and the majority of our time there is enjoyable. But if our job is less than ideal it certainly doesn’t mean that our entire existence is as well. I would argue that there is no perfect job where we’ll be 100% happy all of the time. Certainly there are situations where work is truly horrible and we need to look for something different, but often only a change of perspective is needed to improve our circumstances.

I’m fortunate that my job uses many of my strengths and passions, but I’ve stopped expecting it to be the only place where I experience fulfillment.  God can use me in outside of my work as well.  God has been redefining and expanding my vision. Calling into existence something much broader that encompasses all areas of life. That change in perspective has been very freeing and has helped me see new opportunities to serve him and to pursue life-giving interests beyond the workplace.

God’s economy is different than ours

In America is seems like success is almost exclusively defined by financial and material wealth, power and status. Not everyone can be at top of the ladder or be the wealthiest, so what does that mean for the rest of us?

Thankfully it is clear in scripture that God sees things very differently. Jesus says that people who are humble like little children are the greatest in his kingdom (Matt 18: 4), that the last will be first (Matt 20: 16) and that whoever wants to become a leader needs to be a servant (Matt 20:26).

There’s nothing wrong with having dreams and ambitions, but I’m learning to consider whether I’m ambitious about building God’s kingdom or my own; whether my dreams are about my own success and prestige or about making Him greater.

God’s time is different than ours

We live in a microwave society and expect immediate results in all areas of life. When our hopes and dreams are not fulfilled in our anticipated timing it can be really disheartening. When I get discouraged, and am tempted to believe that my best opportunities are behind me or that I should have achieved more by now, I’m comforted to remember that God’s time is very different than ours.

Many times in the Bible God’s timing is different than people would have hoped. Fox example, the nation of Israel wandered the desert for 40 years before entering the Promised Land. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born.

Although it can be frustrating to realize that God may not make things happen when we want, stories like these remind me that he doesn’t forget about us. He is always at work, even when we may not see it or believe it.

My job is a great example of this. Had I stuck to the original plan to leave after five years, and not responded to God’s call to stay, I would have missed out on so much. I can see now he has, and still is, using my time here in great ways. He has given me some exciting, fulfilling and unexpected opportunities that I would have missed otherwise.

While it has taken me quite some time to believe these truths, I’m convinced that living counter to the American Dream is better. It certainly isn’t always comfortable, but I believe it leads us to a more fulfilling existence.  An existence where we’re more in line with God’s plans and come out making a bigger impact on what matters.

Why Pushing Through Usually Doesn’t Work

Last week I was fortunate to go to Arizona for a few days to visit a long-time friend and his family. After a long, gray and rainy northwest winter and a tiring couple of months at work and home I was pretty exhausted and looking forward to soaking up some sun and relaxing with friends.

As expected in Arizona, the sun was out in full force and the temperature was in the mid-90’s, the perfect recipe to melt away my winter blues. Seeing my friend and his family was great as well. They were on spring break so I got to tag along on their adventures. We went hiking, swimming, cliff jumping and also saw a movie at a drive-in theater. We even ate at In-N-Out Burger which is a necessary and celebrated tradition for any Oregonian visiting the Southwest United States.

Unfortunately, even though the trip was so much fun, when I got home I was almost as drained as before I left. At first that was really frustrating. This was supposed to be my chance to recover so why was I still worn out? Then as I got to thinking, I realized it was pretty silly to expect a four-day trip, no matter how great, to unwind months of exhaustion. Even so, I was perplexed as to why I’d be feeling so tired still.

As usual, I did some research online and discovered that much of what I’d been experiencing prior to my quick vacation was consistent with something called Brain Fatigue.

Arizona
Slide Rock State Park – Sedona, AZ

For a long time I’ve known how prolonged stress and exhaustion can be harmful to our overall health, but I hadn’t thought much about how our brains can get fatigued just like any other part of our body. It turns out they can and as the control center of our bodies, that fatigue can have significant negative effects on our health and well-being. In reality when any of us have experienced all around exhaustion, brain fatigue probably played a role.

According to wellnessresources.com brain fatigue is “a symptom of your brain reaching a point of dysfunction. Brain fatigue happens on a large spectrum of dysfunction. The spectrum ranges from momentary blips on the radar of simply needing a break, or needing to eat lunch, to more severe, devastating, life-altering, neurodegenerative disorders. Brain fatigue, when it is not managed well, or goes on for too long, reflects wear and tear or neurological oxidative stress. In essence, brain fatigue is a symptom of neurodegeneration.”

It can be caused by anything that taxes the brain – intense studying, prolonged concentration, stress, poor nutrition, lack of sleep, emotional tension, mental over-stimulation, etc.

The symptoms of brain fatigue are quite broad and vary from person to person and with age, but in hindsight what should have tipped me off to look under the hood was when I was experiencing the following: trouble with cognition (I would often not be able to think of a word I was trying to say, sometimes I’d open a new tab on my web browser and forget what I was going to look up), trouble focusing, being extra tired, being irritable and emotional, etc.

I specifically remember one day at work when I was literally staring ahead blankly off and on for a couple of hours. Finally my co-workers suggested I go home and rest. That’s what I should have done but instead I pushed through. Not only that day but for many days to come, when I should have taken those symptoms as a warning sign to slow down and take care of myself, I kept going. That’s what I so often do and look where it led me.

I don’t think it’s just me. I think so many of us do the same thing. We expect ourselves to be superhuman and eventually it catches up to us. I don’t think our bodies were built to deal with many of the pressures or the pace of modern life and we have to develop habits that help us maintain both our physical and mental health.

I’ve written quite a bit on this blog about things I’ve been trying to do to improve my overall health and live a more balanced life – meditating, practicing gratitude, prioritizing fun, being gracious to myself, etc. I also try to exercise regularly, and eat right (at least most of the time) – two of the most important factors in overall health.

These things have had a positive impact but I’m realizing a pattern. I’ll try something out for a few days or weeks but then often, I’ll get busy or distracted and it’ll fall off the priority list and I’ll default to less than helpful routines as I “push through” only to end up overwhelmed again eventually.

I want to develop longer term habits of healthy activity so there are less extreme ups and downs. Obviously the seasons of busyness and stress ebb and flow in life but I believe there is a lot we can do to help ourselves better weather what is thrown at us. The pace of life and how much we’re “on” grows every day so if we don’t respond to take back some space for our overall well-being, including brain health, we could be in trouble in the long run.

I think the best way to do that is to figure out what habits or practices help us and then build them into our routine making sure we stick with them, whether or not we’re busy, stressed or whatever else might tempt us to get off track. Obviously I’m still figuring out how to do that. It’s also really important to allow ourselves time to rest and recover when we’ve had to push hard for a while. In the long run our bodies and minds will thank us and I can almost guarantee we’ll be happier and more productive too.

To learn more about brain fatigue and how to help prevent it I recommend this excellent article on wellnessresources.com.