Kotter-posting to start off 2020.

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Welcome back!

After a [checks] month-long break [seriously?], I’m back in the saddle and ready to re-engage.

December was…full. Good–but full. Work demands were high, church demands were a bit high, and honestly, I really wanted to reconnect with my family more. That was my “theme” of the month that I wrote down in my snazzy “Monk Manual” journal (I’ll have an update post on that sometime this month): the theme of “Connection.” So I focused on connecting with my family and friends.

This month’s theme? “Restart.” So here I am, readers!

I passed the 1-year boundary on the #52Stories project, but I do want to finish that, so I’ll try to round that out in the coming weeks. I may or may not continue the Minor Prophets series. Let me know if you want to see more of those.

Coming Up: Later on today, I’ll toss up my 2019 Reading List because, by golly, some traditions must not be abandoned. On Friday, I’ll post a Friday Five with some podcast recommendations, so keep your eyes peeled. That’s all the blog planning I have in me at the moment. (Have you subscribed to email updates? That makes things much simpler. Check out the widget to the right or below the posts, depending upon the device you’re using to read this.)

Happy New Year! Take a walk, drink some water, do something nice for yourself, and we’ll see you in a bit.

Five(ish)-minute Update (11/11/2019)

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Setting the timer…ready…GO.

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So I wasn’t planning on November being a “No-Post November” but it’s sure starting out that way! So what’s the story, morning-glory?

Well, it comes down to this: margin.

I don’t have much margin in my life right now. Like so many of you, I have lots of demands, and to be honest, I’m struggling to meet all those demands. And no, I’m not going to cue up the sad violins and run through the litany of what’s on my plate, because that doesn’t help you, and it doesn’t help me.

So instead, I want to talk about stress.

This past weekend, a loved one was briefly hospitalized because he pushed himself so hard that his nervous system decided a hard reboot was in order. This person, in prime physical health in his middle age, gave himself a seizure, due in part to a combination of unaddressed stress, inconsistent diet, dehydration, and high levels of caffeine usage. No matter how otherwise healthy he was, he still hit his limit.

…And I just hit mine, so to speak–there goes my timer. So, I’ll summarize this way:

What this experience reminded me of is that I am not omnipotent. I can’t burn the candle at both ends for long, before I get scorched and the light goes out, as it were.

We human beings are designed to be limited, because this reminds us that we have a Creator God who is not.

So what does that mean for you, practically? It means get some sleep. Be smart about how you fuel yourself. Accept that you can’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Maybe try decaf once in a while.

Come face to face with the fact that you can’t do it all, or run the risk of ending up face-down on your bedroom carpet.

A stark reminder, but a necessary one.

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More posts this week, if possible. Maybe sign up for notifications in the sidebar to the right (or below, if you’re reading on mobile)? Just in case I don’t get back here soon.

–d.

[*merp*]

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Gonna take a zero on this week, readers.

Work, church, life, the usual reasons. You know how it goes.

As recompense, next week, I will aim to deliver 2 #SmundaySchool posts and at least 1 #52Stories post, to make up for my absence and keep those projects on-track.

Until next time, be excellent to each other, and Go Astros!

Five-minute update.

Hey readers!

I’ve missed checking in, so I wanted to give you a five-minute update (5 minutes to write, not to read!).

  • Things are busy. Just…really, just busy. Work is busy (yay, computer system overhauls!), church life is very busy (yay, church mergers!), home life with a wife and two littles is very busy (so many tantrums!).
  • I haven’t been reading much (got 75 pages into a 600-pager and stopped because I knew I couldn’t finish in time!), and I have a stack of short-story books on my shelf that I need to work through before they’re all due back at the library. What that means is you will get more #52Stories posts very soon. I’m going to finish that project, even if it’s just for me, folks. So I hope you don’t hate it. 🙂
  • I’m also thinking about starting a series of posts on Mondays where I work through what I’ve been teaching in Sunday School lately: a fly-over summary of the Minor Prophets. Basically, it’s just an overview that gives you the historical context, major themes, and some application points. If you’d be interested in something like that, let me know in the comments!
  • Coming up later this week: my thoughts on using the Monk Manual personal planner for 2 weeks. It’s been a different kind of daily-journal / productivity experience, and I look forward to sharing that with you.

That’s it, time’s up, see you later this week!

“I ain’t gonna work on Susan’s Farm no more…”

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So…how much is your time worth?

Last night, while looking at a freelancing site, I was shocked how many people underestimated the time and effort required to complete the jobs they posted. In one instance, a poster offered $5 per 4000 words proofread, and flatly stated that if the price wasn’t right for you, then you weren’t the right person for the job. (This comes out to a fraction of the average burger-flipper’s hourly wage.)

I was both amused and offended. “You need to value my time better!” I smirked.

Then the irony dawned on me: I don’t value my own time even that much.

I had just spent 2 hours watching Youtube videos as I finished the dishes and sat down to unwind at the end of the day (not an uncommon occurrence).

Youtube sells its users’ attention/eyeballs to advertisers. Essentially, we’re the product being sold. And I gave Youtube a few hours of my time to sell for…what? Fractions of pennies?

I enjoy content creators on the platform who cover geek culture or video games. But after giving away hours and hours of my attention for a trifling bit of amusement (“a-muse”=”not-thinking”), I start to wonder if $5 per 4000 words might be, comparatively, a princely sum.

I use Youtube for lots of things: music, information, but mostly distraction. It’s often background noise while I work or do chores–a sometimes distracting video-podcast. To be honest, I was afraid to look up how many hours of partial or full attention I’ve given away to a platform that seems to be more interested in reshaping my worldview than supplying my entertainment needs. But I went ahead and did it just now.

26+ hours in the last 7 days.

More than an entire day in the last week. Almost 4 hours a day of this ubiquitous screen demanding my partial or full attention. I’m…mortified.

It’s time for me to step back from Susan’s Farm, find another source for my daily music listening, and (crazy thought) go without a daily distractor for a few weeks. I don’t like being a product. Beyond that, I don’t like that I’ve consumed all this media without producing much of anything. This feels really out of balance.

If Youtube is the way you unwind, I get it. It’s cheap, and there’s lots of options. I hope it benefits you.

But looking at those numbers, I have to wonder if, for me personally, there may be a better way to spend these fleeting moments, even in leisure. (Perhaps I need to re-read Digital Minimalism or Competing Spectacles for inspiration.)

Policy shift.

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I was in the middle of writing a different blog post when I realized it was probably a waste of your time, so I deleted the whole thing.

It was an anecdote about how a passing acquaintance whose writing and ministry I appreciate didn’t recognize me in the airport, and how that disappointed me until I realized it had been 5+ years since our paths last crossed. I had planned on stretching that weak premise into a 500-word post about the illusion of relationship that social media fosters and how we undervalue being known by God, until I realized that I’ve probably written that post 3 or 4 times over and even I’m bored of it.

As a matter of principle, I don’t want to create content just to chase your clicks, but I also don’t want to waste your time. Moving forward, if I realize I’m basically writing a filler post, I’ll toss it rather than cluttering your reader or email box. Scout’s honor.

My hope is that some of the regular features I’ve been posting lately (book reviews, #52Stories, #FridayFive, and the Friday feed) are actually beneficial to you, or at least entertaining. Aside from your likes and occasional comments, I can’t really be sure. I could put in the work to find out, but during this season of my life, that time is better spent elsewhere. (We’re having a baby in 2 weeks and a few days. That puts things in perspective.)

Here’s my bottom line, and then I’ll shut up and leave you to go about your evening: This blog isn’t just for me. It’s for you, too. And I’ll keep that front-of-mind as I create content for you to enjoy.

And if you have suggestions for new posts, I’m all ears. (Yes, I’m still percolating a few of your past suggestions, just you wait!) Even if I don’t take your advice, I will appreciate the fact that you cared enough to send me feedback. That’s a really cool thing.

Happy Monday to ya. I’ll have a #52Stories post up on Wednesday, and either a personal #FridayFive or an entertaining #FridayFeed at the end of the week.

Giving and Taking.

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In my experience, the interactions with people that frustrate me the most tend to reveal or reflect my own sinful habits.

I was given a few opportunities in recent months for this kind of hypocrisy to be revealed. In one case, a friend who needed help moving made a few decisions during the course of the move that I thought were pretty inconsiderate of those who were volunteering to help. In another case, people who were invited over for a potluck dinner brought little and ate much. (This happens a lot, actually.)

In both instances, I felt slighted. Taken advantage of. Wronged.

James writes that the anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God. As one preacher put it, our sinful anger is sometimes motivated by a desire for justice or setting-things-right. But we are not God, and our wrath is just as often corrupted by self-interest.

My frustration in these events wasn’t simply that the people involved made these decisions, but that I felt personally slighted by them. I felt like I was being used or disregarded.

Yet, to paraphrase Nathan the prophet, “I am that man.” 

I can think of instances when my own self-interest has motivated me to contribute little and take much more (sometimes specifically when it comes to food, an area of personal struggle for me). My own pursuit of preference and convenience has inconvenienced others.

The greatest example of this is, of course, the Cross. I had nothing to offer except guilt and just condemnation, and Jesus took these things from me and gave me His righteousness and inheritance. And yet, even now, I still treat this great exchange as an after-thought, something to be taken for granted.  Sure, I appreciate the promise of resurrection and of abundant life and a source of joy and peace that cannot be quenched by the worst of life’s tragedies–but what have you done for me lately?

So after I left my friend’s new home, and after my guests made their exit and left my wife and I to sweep up and wash the dishes, once my grumbling had come to an end, I was forced to consider the fact that I’m no better than anyone else in this regard. Truth be told, I’m often tempted to take more than I give, to consider myself more highly than others, to pursue my own agenda.

I’m in danger of becoming the ungrateful and unforgiving servant, forgiven a fortune yet demanding a pittance to be repaid–the result of not spending enough time contemplating how great a debt I owed in the first place.

Do you also struggle with this tendency toward double-standards? If so, let me encourage you, as one sometimes-hypocrite to another: remember that there’s nothing we have that we have not been given by God, nothing we build or create that we aren’t graciously enabled to do so by the gifts and kindnesses that God bestows.

And whenever we are “blessed” with the opportunity to bear with what we see as the failings of others, may we both remember to take a breath, release the frustration, and thank our Savior that He is infinitely more patient and gracious than we are.

 

5/24/19 — Still Alive.

This week has been challenging. I am doing my best to take care of my various obligations. Blog writing got bumped again. Look for some content next week.

In the meantime, if you’re the praying sort, pray that our air conditioning gets fixed (temps in the 90s around here this week). Thanks.

“We’re in the endgame, now…”

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If you’re not into movie/comics geekery, bail out now. It’s cool. See you later this week.

I know the Russo Brothers have “officially” lifted the spoiler embargo on Avengers: Endgame (and goodness, the Spiderman: Far From Home trailer is interesting, innit?), but I know what it’s like to have to wait weeks to see blockbuster movies these days (#ParentLife), so rather than dive right in on my reactions/comments about the final chapter of the “Infinity Saga,” I’m going to post them in the comments below.

Feel free to respond, share your thoughts on the movie, your quibbles, your favorite moments, all that jazz.

And if you haven’t yet seen the film and have any inkling about seeing it, please do yourself the favor to click away now. I want you to be as un-spoiled as possible.

Excelsior!

Placing the Big Rocks.

20190311_084109My wife made this picture for me when we were dating. (One of her many gorgeous papercraft creations.) It’s based on the analogy of the rocks, gravel, and jar. In short: a teacher challenged his students to put several sizes of rocks, along with sand and water, in a jar, but they could only do it by putting the big rocks in first. The lesson is this: if we don’t prioritize the things that matter most, they will get crowded out by the lesser things that take up all the space.

Early on in our relationship, H. knew that one of my greatest challenges in our marriage would be trying to manage the big rocks, so she made me this as a reminder.

Lately, I’ve been focused on three big rocks in particular.

My Household: Thing have been going well at home. My wife and I will be married 5 years this summer, and married life is a blessing. We’re looking forward to a family beach vacation in a few months and making plans for the near future. The kiddo is now a year and a half old, and just brilliant; her mind is a sponge, and she’s got a goofy and playful personality.

But the biggest news on the family front is this:

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Baby girl #2 is set to arrive this summer, and we couldn’t be more excited. We have been duly warned that going from 1 to 2 kids is a game-changer, but nevertheless we’re eager to meet this little sweetheart.

My Church: Being an elder at my church is already rewarding and stressful. There are new and more challenging questions I’m asked to consider, more conversations to be had, more responsibilities to shoulder–but I love it, y’all. The biggest challenge for me currently is working through the vast amount of material and training for child safety and abuse prevention materials. As I’ve noted before, this is becoming a big ministry focus for me lately, as I work to make sure all of our policies and procedures are consistent and up-to-date. I’ve been filling up a legal pad with ideas and questions, and what I really need is a day or so to sit and synthesize all the information I’m learning. (Anybody got a spare day laying around that they could loan me? Because I’m time-poor at the moment.) Unfortunately, this isn’t an issue that can or should be put on the back-burner. The time to address these issues is now, and I want to make sure I’m moving forward with the intentionality the issue deserves.

My In-Person Relationships: One of the ideas kicking around in my head as a result of reading Cal Newport’s latest book (review forthcoming) is that in-person communication and relationship-building is more powerful and more meaningful that digital, mediated communication. What this means is that being in the same physical space as the people you care about and want to connect with is worth the time and effort to do so. Sometimes that looks like driving across town through the evening rush to visit a family member in the hospital, or meeting a long-time friend for breakfast whom you haven’t seen in a few months. Maintaining these connections takes effort and grates against the easy-everywhere connection of likes and comments. But I’m finding that it’s worth it.

That said, there are a few big rocks that I’ve neglected lately, like exercise and writing and prayer, that I need to work back into my life. The fun distractions like social media and movies are sand and water in my jar. They work fine as fillers, but if I don’t get ALL these big rocks in place first, they’re just not going to fit.

I’m chewing on some ideas about how to do this better. I’ll share those when I come to conclusions worth reading.

So there’s the update. Hopefully, you’ll see me back here sooner than 2 weeks from now, which appears to be my average time between posts lately. I bet we can do better than that, though, right? Let’s try.

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Your Turn: What are the “big rocks” in your life right now–the most important things you actively make time to pursue? Feel free to share below. See you next time!