Life is Weird. (Leadership Lessons from Ecclesiastes)

Every once in a while, I need a good dose of Ecclesiastes.

I like to remind myself that the purported wisest man in the world, the one about whom the Queen of Sheba said, “you have far exceeded the report I heard,” and the one about whom God himself said “I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be” (1Kings 3:12), this man, Solomon, is also the writer of Ecclesiastes.

I like to picture him walking on the royal grounds or pacing the parapets and wringing his hands, “Meaningless! Meaningless!”

It makes me feel like I’m in good company. Because although my grounds aren’t royal, I do sometimes pace them in wonderment at just how weird life can be.

So with that as my foundation, I set out to see what this wisest of the wise had to say. Rather than draw from the wisdom literature known for its pithy sayings and quotable insights, I bypassed Proverbs and dove straight for Ecclesiastes. I wanted to know what this wisest of leaders had to share, not in the enlightened moments known for their wisdom, but in the shadows that are not.

I invite you to come along. Whether you’re leading your family through dynamics, your company to the next level, or yourself out of a bad day, I bet you’ll find something here for you too.

My top 3 Ecclesiastes picks:

What has been will be again (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

You’ve got to read the verse in context to appreciate the sense of futility that Solomon captures so poetically. The sea that’s never full, the sun that rises and falls, the wind that blows round and round… But amidst this long lament, the thing that captured me about this verse was the click of a “snap out of it!” realization.

If what has been will be again, then that includes good things too. It’s so easy to dwell on the negative, to wring our hands at the meaningless futility, but for every revolution of the cycle, good things are coming back around. Things we want to see and experience and hold again. If the drudgery of the mundane are the spokes that drive the wheel forward, then so be it. We can embrace it knowing that good things are coming if we don’t give up.

Go near to listen (Ecclesiastes 5:1).

Solomon offers this advice when we go to church or to commune with God. I’d argue it’s good advice regardless of where we’re going. Too often I approach others – God, family, friends, coworkers – with what I have to say. We should actually draw near first to listen.

Whatever you hand finds to do, do it with all your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

I’ve always liked this verse. For those times in life where I feel lost and don’t know which way to turn, I remind myself to start with what I have, wherever I am. There is something to be done, right now. Do that. Then see about the next thing, and the next. Before you know it, that wheel has rolled another rotation and you are in another time and place.

Work is a gift from God. We often define work as something that we don’t want to do, but that isn’t God’s definition. Work was first given as part of the perfect creation in the garden, and it is still given to us today. How much would our perspective change if we looked at work not as something we have to do, but as something we receive?  

“What do you have that you have not received?” Paul wrote many centuries later to the Corinthians. That includes the work along with the play, the tears along with the joy, the spokes along with the turning wheel. It is all gift. We cannot add to it or subtract from it. We cannot of our own accord make something of it. We oftentimes cannot even understand it. The only thing we can do is receive it.

Life, my friends, is weird.

I’m grateful anyway.

This post was first written for inspireafire.com. Enjoy this rerun, and have a meaningful day.

Time Wasted. (Learning Peace When Plans Derail.)

Pond

I bet you’ve had a day like this too:

I woke up extra early with my list of errands in hand. My first stop was unexpectedly closed. Then the bridge was out, and the detour was backed up for miles. An hour and a half later, I finally made it to my main destination only to find they had closed for the season, yesterday. When I had called earlier in the week to check their hours, that detail had somehow been neglected.

As I put my car in reverse, all the ways I could’ve, would’ve, should’ve spent my morning ran through my head. All that time, wasted.

The incident reminded me of a time in college when I had walked the entire length of campus to an office that was closed.

Highway sign

“What a waste,” I grumbled to myself as I started the trek back to my dorm.

In the next moment, a cardinal flashed across the sidewalk in front of me, paused long enough on a branch tip to serenade me with his trilling crescendo, and then disappeared.

The scene was so surprisingly beautiful, I stopped dead in my tracks to the whispered thought: nothing is ever a waste.

It’s a lesson I need to learn repeatedly, because this was not the first time, nor the last, when I will have days like this. As I’ve contemplated why some days go according to plan and others spin like a hamster wheel going nowhere, I have a few ideas that I think are worth considering.

We may be going in the wrong direction.

Sometimes our days don’t go according to plan precisely because they are our plans. We need to pause long enough to hear whether God is prompting us in a different direction. I don’t think every Road Closed is a message from God – sometimes life is just messy – but if we’re repeatedly hitting the proverbial wall, we better at least ask God why. Did He put the wall there to send us in a different direction?

We may need time for personal development.

God may leave a wall in front of us not because it’s the wrong direction, but because it’s the wrong time. When it’s a big wall we’re hitting – relationships, careers, life directions – it could be that we’re not ready for what’s on the other side. We may need time to grow. Alternatively, when the wall we’re facing is built with life’s little frustrations, it may be less about what’s on the other side and more about us. It could simply be an opportunity to practice patience.

We may not be seeing the whole picture.

I’ve seen some remarkably tiny details in my life play out in ways that I know are touches from God. While every detail of our day is not orchestrated like a stage set for a stringed marionette, God can and does interject. Maybe what I considered wasted time was exactly how I was supposed to spend my day. Only God knows how the events that unfolded impact both my life and countless unseen intersections with others. God can turn even wasted time into a blessing.

There may not be a reason.

Sometimes there is no need to hyper-spiritualize every moment of every day. Sometimes life is messy, and that is the full extent of the story. What matters is not the why. What matters is how we respond.

What matters most…

Whether our “wasted time” was an orchestrated lesson from God or an impromptu opportunity gifted to us from the messiness of life, the key is our response to it. God wants us to seek his guidance, trust him, and maintain a good attitude.

Even if our day is not going according to plan, we can be polite to those we meet. We can choose to not get frustrated. We can look for opportunities to make the most of every situation. After all, the lessons learned along the way may be more important that whatever filled our to-do list.

Learning to be at peace in whatever comes our way is never time wasted.

This post was first written for inspireafire.com. I hope you enjoyed!

The Price and Cost of the Ultimate Freedom

The cost of freedom and free will

Unless you’re an accountant, you’ve probably never thought about the difference between price and cost.

I didn’t until today.

But while we may use the words interchangeably, there is a notable difference. Cost is what it takes to produce something; price is what someone pays for it.

This is straight forward when we’re talking about gadgets and gizmos. It becomes more interesting when we start talking about less tangible things.

The 4th of July is a celebration of independence for the United States. It’s a time when we reflect on all the costs that have gone into the freedoms we enjoy. It is also a time to reflect on what price we are willing to pay to maintain it. Freedom, as the saying goes, is not free.

It has a cost. And a price.

This is true for the freedom of political sovereignty, and it is true for the most foundational freedom we possess.

The cost of a country’s freedom is high. So is the cost of divine freedom: free will.

Free will, it seems to me, has messed up a lot of things. It has unleashed war, poverty, cruelty, and confusion. It has allowed evil to run rampant in our world. It has allowed people to make terrible decisions that led to terrible consequences on personal and global scales.

It seems like we have unwillingly paid an awful price for our free will.

Yet, there must be something more. When God created us, He could have created automatons that would always do his good, perfect and pleasing will. But He didn’t. He gave us free will.

Even now the question remains: why does God allow so much evil to run rampant? Why doesn’t He step in and stop it?

The first answer is: He did.

“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus said. “But take heart. I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

God paid the price of sin so that we can enter a peaceful eternity with Him. He did stop the evil. But we don’t get to see the full manifestation until we get to heaven.

Perhaps that should be enough of an answer, but if you wrestle with questions like this as much as I do, then you might also wonder why we have to wait. Why doesn’t He step in and just stop the evil here and now?

The second answer I see is: free will.

In order for evil to be removed, God would have to prevent humans from acting on the evil impulses we have. The loss of free will is the price that would have to be paid for God to erase the suffering from this world. We might say, “Fine! It’s worth it. Do it!”

God says, “Not like that.”

This makes me look differently at free will. What could possibly be more important than world peace? What could possibly be more important than the elimination of cruelty and suffering and insert your list of world horrors here __________________.

The answer I hear is: free will.

God values free will so much that he will not remove it for a quick fix of the world’s woes. He knew the costs before creation began. He knew the price that he himself would pay on our behalf.

God gave us free will anyway.

God continues to give us free will today.

If God values free will that much, then I’m beginning to think that I should too. And I probably ought to learn more about it. What exactly is free will? How do we glimpse its value amidst the darkness of its price? And most importantly, how do we use it for good and not for evil?

I hope this post stirs up your desire to wrestle with these questions, too.

This post was first written for inspireafire.com. I hope you enjoyed this reprint!

Thinking Sad. And How Not To.

Sometimes there are sad thoughts I have to think. Life, it turns out, is not always happy.

But sometimes there are sad thoughts I don’t have to think… and I think them anyway. I bet this has happened to you, too: I could be going about my day seemingly fine and the next thing I know I have brought myself nearly to tears from a conversation that happened no place except in my head.

Why on earth would I do this to myself? And more importantly, how do I stop it?

Let me share what I learned recently.

Just the other day I caught myself ready to launch off the cliff of sad thoughts. The fact that I even recognized where my thoughts were headed is a miracle in and of itself. But I stopped just long enough for an SOS prayer: Dear God, I’m headed no place good. What should I think about instead? Tell me what to focus on.

Cliff of sad thoughts.

It has been said that the answer to every problem we face is in the Bible. I have not applied this theory enough to vouch for its complete validity, but I can say in this case the answer was surprisingly black and white. Because in response to my plea, the Bible records Paul’s letter to the Philippians where he explicitly states: think about these things.

It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

Unfortunately, I can never remember exactly how the verse goes, so I stood there for quite some time trying to remember it. It’s like I was handed the answer to my prayer in a package and I needed to unwrap it piece by piece. I know there are things that are true and lovely, something about noble and praiseworthy.

Perhaps it’s good that I can never completely remember this verse, because the longer I spent trying to recall the verse, the more my mind began thinking about the thinking that I should be thinking and less about the thinking that I shouldn’t be thinking.

(It’s okay, read it again.)

In other words, the process of recalling to mind what I should be thinking helped pull me from the wrong path my thoughts were headed down. There is likely a neuro-cognitive explanation for this. I’m no brain scientist, but I know our emotions can run rampant when certain parts of our brain get triggered. When this is starting to happen, the process of trying to recall a verse can help by firing up a different part of our brain – the part involved in language, reasoning, and metacognition. These are the things that let us step back and perceive what is happening to ourselves rather than being swept away in the emotional response. Once certain parts of our brain are activated, we have a greater ability to redirect our thoughts.

I find this fascinating. We know, when we are discussing it rationally over a cup of tea, that we should think about things that are lovely, noble, praiseworthy and all the rest. We may even be able to quote Philippians 4:8 verbatim. But when that verse has fled our consciousness and our thoughts are about to jump off the cliff-of-the-not-so-noble, there is still a path back.

“Think about these things,” Paul wrote. And if you can’t actually think about them, think about thinking about them. Try to call that verse to mind. Try to remember what it is you are supposed to be thinking about. Get new parts of your brain engaged. You might be surprised at the power you have to take your thoughts captive. You are, in fact, able to pull yourself back from the brink and start down a new path, but you do it bit by bit, one thought at a time.

God answered my plea with a verse that worked even when I couldn’t remember it. You might be surprised how the simple act of trying to remember can help you move in a new direction, too.

This post was first written for and shared at inspireafire.com.

For Want of a Spreadsheet

It was a Friday evening and I was staring between two spreadsheets.

It was like one of those children’s picture challenges where you’re supposed to find what’s different, only in this case the spreadsheets were supposed to match. Trying to find the difference was anything but fun.

“Is this really all I have to show for a week of late nights and back-to-back meetings? Another week gone, all those moments I can never get back, and two mismatched spreadsheets is all I have to show for it!”

I took a break, donned my raincoat, and headed out the door. My dog sniffed happily among the weeds while I listened to the rain pounding out my question, God what am I doing here?

Perhaps you’ve asked that question, too. Maybe for you it wasn’t spreadsheets. Maybe it was dirty diapers. Or a double shift on your feet. Or five commitments you had to turn down because five other ones were clamoring for your attention.  You blinked and the time was gone and now you’re wondering: Am I really doing the right thing? Is this the best use of my time? God, am I supposed to be here?

Every fall when the geese fly over my feet get a little itchy. As though they want to migrate, too. It’s my time of year to pause and ask God if I have my priorities rights if I’m leaning in close enough to hear Him, if I’m in the right place or if, just maybe, he might be calling me to something new.

But migration isn’t the only flavor of fall. For every being winging south there is another staying put, digging in with careful preparations for the long winter ahead.

Sometimes fall is about fleeing. And sometimes it’s about painstakingly detailed preparations.

As I pounded out my questions with the rain and my dog and my God, the answer that came to me was not one I expected. What came to mind was this ancient ditty, which appears in various forms through several centuries. Perhaps you have heard it:

For want of a nail a shoe was lost.

For want of a shoe the horse was lost.

For want of a horse the rider was lost.

For want of a rider the message was lost.

For want of a message the battle was lost.

For want of a battle the war was lost.

All for want of a horseshoe nail.

Details do matter. The insignificant is, in fact, significant. We may not see the war, but the nail that we drive in just might be the linchpin that wins it.

The Bible urges us that whatever we do, we should work at it with our whole heart, as though we are working for the Lord (Colossians 3:23). It also says that whatever our hand finds to do, we are to do it with all our might (Ecclesiastes 9:10). I think that includes spreadsheets, and dirty diapers, and whatever you’re facing right now.

There are indeed times where we need to re-prioritize, where God may be telling us to migrate to a new place. But many times we are called to do our best right where we are.

The spreadsheets I work on today will lead to impacts down the road. In my case, this information is needed to help manage an event where many peoples could receive information that is helpful to them. I may see some of the results of these mundane details. But many results I hope and pray will be so far beyond my limited scope that I will never see them.

I don’t see the whole battle plan, but God does. And He put me right here and you right there for a reason.

God is looking for excellence in His followers. He is looking for us to do the best we can, where we are, with whatever we have.

If I have anything to say about it, we aren’t losing this war just for want of a spreadsheet.

I first wrote this post for inspireafire.com. I hope you enjoyed it!

An Act in Due Season

Black lab puppy in leaves
Black lab puppy running

I’d like to introduce you to Izzie.

Yes, that fuzzy little black canine amongst all the leaves is Izzie. And so is this cute little blur. This is back in the day when your typical point and shoot camera had a hard time keeping up with something as rambunctious as a black lab puppy.

 But before you start thinking this is just another cute puppy story, let me stop you right there.

You see, Izzie was born in a special kennel outside New York City for a very special purpose. When I was a senior in high school he came to live with me. And then he left for something even greater.

I had always wanted a dog, but my parents did not. They let me run wild with smaller critters –  five breeds of rabbits and two breeds of ducks filled my expanding hobby yard – but they firmly declined my plea for a dog.

Until I hatched the perfect plan.

My answers were standard: He’s not actually my dog; I’m just caring for him right now. There is someone out there who needs him even more than me. Of course it will break my heart, but it’s for such a good cause.

I would raise a puppy for a year. When I left for college, the puppy would also leave for school. To become a guide dog for the blind. It was a service project with an outcome they couldn’t refuse.

Over my year of puppy raising, I heard variations of the same question: How could I possibly give up a puppy after loving it for a year?

Today, I know the answer is a little deeper. Today, I feel exactly how those people with the wide-eyed wonder looked. I couldn’t be a puppy raiser now. But then, I was given the grace to do the right thing at the right time.

This makes me even gladder that I did it when I could.

Izzie and trainer with his “in for training” class.

Proverbs 15:23 tells us that a word in due season is a good thing. I think the same is true for actions. There is a season for every activity under heaven. A time to raise puppies, and a time to do something else. (See Ecclesiastes 3)

During this valentine’s season when so much attention is placed on the emotion of love, let me suggest we place some attention on the practicality of love. There is something we can do right now, in this season, that we may not be in a position to do again.

Let’s do it.

Whatever our hand finds to do right now, we should do it with all our might. Chances are it won’t seem like a big thing. It will simply be something that we can do, wherever we are, with what we have. It may even be something we always wanted that ends up being a unique gift to someone else… and to us.

Izzie’s graduation photo.

That was certainly the case with Izzie. A year after we both left for separate schooling, Izzie went on to serve as a faithful guide alongside his partner in Tennessee. His graduation picture remains one of my most prized possessions.

It was an opportunity I could have missed. That realization encourages me to look around me now. In a different time and a different place, there is something here for me to do.

Take an action in due season.

Memories. And a Net of Thanksgiving.

This post first appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/casting-a-net-of-thanksgiving/

Memories can turn bittersweet in a second.

I can be happily following the rabbit trail of my thoughts, hopping between afternoon plans and pleasant reminiscing when WHAM!

Thoughts in a rabbit candy dishIt’s like a hole suddenly opened up beneath my feet, or a rock slammed me back twenty yards. Use whatever analogy you want – perhaps you’ve experienced it too? – but a wave of sadness, or anger, or fear (or all three) has me pinned and wriggling beneath its weight. My happy little thought trail just turned deadly.

Maybe it’s the loss of a loved one, or a struggling relationship, or a transition you’re trying to navigate. There will be a time when memories bring you joy and comfort, but not right away. First, they hurt. They hurt like a red hot poker you can’t get near enough to touch. And so you stay away. But eventually those memories start to sneak in. A familiar location, a familiar scent, a familiar sound. Between the red hot poker phase and the happy memory phase there is this in-between time. A memory starts out so innocently that you glance its way. And then it pummels you.

I’m navigating that in-between time right now. Trying to learn when it’s okay to look, and when it’s not. When it’s safe to let my mind wander, and when my mind is about to turn against me. It is a journey by trial and error. But it’s a journey I have to take. If I never touch the thoughts, I never progress. I would simply harden my heart, withdraw, turn cold. But on the other hand, if I move too quickly, I will drown in the floodgates of emotion.

I am learning to walk my thought trails with a weapon at the ready, and the weapon I have found most effective may surprise you. There is a fraction of second, a space barely the size of the gap between two thoughts, when I feel my thoughts turning against me, swinging me over a pit of grief.

TrailAnd in that thought gap, that fraction between thought and emotion, I throw a net.

A net of thanksgiving.

“I am thankful for this memory,” I say. And then I transition immediately to the present. “I am thankful that God is continuing to take care of me and preparing new moments for me to enjoy. I am thankful God is restoring old relationships and bringing new relationships. Thank you…”

The secret to success with this weapon is three-fold. First, I have to throw the net the milli-second I feel myself being swung over that pit. I can’t test the thought to see if it’s really turning on me; I can’t think a little further to see if it’s really all that sad. I lose that battle every time, and once I’m on the way down, it’s much harder to grab a handhold.

Second, I have to move away from the memory that threw me over the pit to begin with. Too many times I’ve tried to weave a net of thanksgiving by stringing together everything I’m thankful for in that old memory. The problem is that while my brain is saying thank you, my heart is feeling the loss of every one of those old memories. Before I know it, I’ve used my net to climb down into the very pit I was trying to avoid.

View from hammock.Third, this is a safety net, not a hammock. This strategy disrupts the spiraling thoughts just enough for me to get back to safer ground. Whatever train of thought brought me to the edge, now is not the time to hop on board again. Too many times I’ve swung myself out of the pit just to ride my thoughts right back down into it. If I can’t lead my thoughts elsewhere on my own, I need to turn on music, a podcast, or call a friend. Anything to move to a new location in my mind. I can go visit that train of thought some other day.

Memories are finicky things. They don’t always announce whether they are friend or foe, whether they carry joy or sadness. Often they carry both. Memories allow us to learn, to grow, and to relive moments. But their power should propel us toward our future, not hold us mired in the past. There are times we need to thank them for their service, and walk away.

Delayed. A story of fun things.

This post originally appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/delayed-a-story-of-fun-things/.

I hope you enjoy!

Plane

It wasn’t the dinner-with-family I had envisioned.

I should have been there by early afternoon, but after a series of delays, cancellations, and rebookings, I found myself with an extra seven hours at the Charlotte airport.

Seven hours is a long layover.

Fortunately, there were two pieces of good news. First, I could still get out that night, so my long-weekend was still intact. Second, I’m a writer. Writers know exactly what to do in situations like this.

We go looking for something interesting to write.

My first stop was a model airplane mobile circulating above a sushi bar. I had already walked by this spot several times, but I never noticed it until I started looking. The slowly moving aircraft were mesmerizing, and all different. People rushed by me en route to their gates, but I stood so long staring over the heads of the diners that one lady finally got agitated and left. I took her seat.

Plane mobile

After this I strolled through a line of fake trees. It wasn’t exactly Sherwood Forest, but with a bit of imagination and the cute little directional signs I could almost pretend I was in a quaint English village. Almost.

Inside Trees

One entire terminal was open during construction. They weren’t kidding about the construction. Exposed wires, cardboard floors… I didn’t stay down there very long for fear that I might plummet onto the tarmac. But I did stay long enough to snap a picture of this exposed ductwork that I thought looked a bit like a silver saguaro cactus. Don’t you agree?

Exposed duct work

Throughout the Charlotte Airport are these fantastic seating areas filled not with the traditional bolted down airport seats, but with sparkling white rocking chairs. (You’ve got to love southern hospitality.) No matter which terminal I went to, these special rocking chairs were almost always filled to capacity, but one advantage of a 7-hour layover is you can outwait almost every other passenger. I did eventually get my turn to rock. Twice. And it was quite nice.

Rocking Chairs

Down what I dubbed the digital terminal, there was a fascinating display screen that constantly morphed into different colors and shapes. I stood amongst shrieking children pointing and exclaiming at the wall. I’m pretty sure more of the nearby adults would have joined in our jubilant awe, but they must not have had a long enough layover to shake off their layers of self-consciousness.

The nearby sign explained that this wall was a visual representation of all the data flowing through Charlotte International Airport at that very moment. Something in my brain does not allow me to understand how data punched into a computer morphs into something visually cool, but that’s okay. I decided to spend my time enjoying it rather than figuring it out.

Digital display

From there I wandered down countless more corridors, jumped on and off moving sidewalks, and ran up and down some stairs just for fun. I danced to oldies music outside a burger place and mariachi outside a Mexican cantina. I enjoyed some Carolina Pit BBQ with collard greens because it seemed like the thing to do. And then just like that, it was time to head to my gate and fly away.

Perhaps you’re also finding yourself someplace other than your intended destination. Maybe family vacation plans got rerouted, or maybe life threw you a curveball. Let me encourage you to take the time to explore where you are. Don’t compare it to where you’d rather be – of course it won’t measure up – but you might be surprised how God shows you some interesting things right here until He is ready to move you on to the next leg or your journey.

The Joy of Yoga

I recently started a yoga class that should be described in the brochure as “death by planks.” The instructor initiates each class session with the statement:

“My goal is to make you all sore tomorrow. And I love planks.” Followed by a long, cackling laugh.

A plank, if you’re not familiar, is essentially the “up” position of a push-up – arms and toes extended against the floor, back straight, pain searing through the abs. Most instructors consider the plank to be a strenuous pose to hold for 30 seconds and then release. This instructor considers it a resting pose.

“Now come back to plank for a few resting breaths,” she’ll say. Or, “Rest in plank position for a moment while I change the music…. Hmmm. Where is that song?” (Long, cackling laugh.)

I did well for the first set of plank exercises. I was “pressing strong against the floor.” I was “feeling the heat rise within my center.” I was “toe tapping” and “stretching my intercostals” and “maintaining my shoulder position.”

By the second set I lost all will to continue and collapsed into face plant position.

“Remember to do what is comfortable for your body,” the instructor continued. “You can drop down one arm and thread the needle if you’d like a deeper pose…”

A deeper pose?

By the time we got to side planks, I had modified my pose to the twitching log. Across the room I saw another participant curled in the fetal position. This gave me hope. I was pretty sure the class would end only when we were all collapsed on our mats. I tried not to look at the lady across from me who was still soaring like a carnivorous bird on a magical updraft of hot yoga wind.

That is not normal.

Speaking of carnivorous birds, as a break from planks we entered into the eagle pose, which the instructor described like this:

“Stand on your right leg and wrap your left leg around your right leg about three times. Now slide your right arm under your left elbow and intertwine—“

At which point I went into the toppling tree pose. I also learned yelling “Timber!” in the middle of yoga class is not appropriate.

The peace and the light within me greets joyfully the peace and the light in you. It does not topple with a death crash onto the floor. Ever.

We continued with the chair pose, which makes me understand why chairs were invented. And the hoverboard position, which requires you to somehow scrunch up your abs enough to levitate your entire body off the mat. I can tell you there was lots of scrunching but very little levitating on my mat.

“Notice how your breathing may have changed,” the instructor said.

Yes, my breathing had changed. I think it had stopped altogether.

“Try to return to the same gentle flow you had at the beginning of class…”

Right. I returned to a modification of the twitching, gasping log pose.

“There is so much more we could do, but I’m sorry our hour has come to a close,” the instructor finally said.

There were general sighs of relief and one chirpy voice that suggested a two hour class sometime. “Wouldn’t that be fun?”

I hope my grimace looked like a smile.

I slowly rolled my mat and hobbled toward the door. I am so into this yoga thing.

What’s your new thing for 2017?

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:19).

On the Road to Success

We were on the road to Success.

Literally, I mean. We were driving along route 62 East across Arkansas when we crossed a junction with a township sign pointing to Success. This prompted the conjecture you might expect: How many people do you suppose live in Success? How long does it take to get there, and is Success hard to find?

Before long, we had pulled a U-turn (legally, of course) and were on the road to Success.

Road Sign to Success
Turn here for Success! (Photo by Janet Beagle)

This prompted a great deal of conversation on – you guessed it – success.

“What’s your definition of success?” my friend asked.

“Well, my interview answer is to be in a position where I can constantly learn new things.”

“And your non-interview answer?”

“Probably the same thing,” I admitted.

“I don’t think we can ever really be successful. Success is like this perfect ideal we strive for but never really achieve,” my friend commented.

We talked about work and whether work-in-progress could be deemed successful or whether an event needed to be completed before it could be labelled. We talked about relationships and successful people. We talked about the difference between success and contentment or success and happiness. We concluded that success was not an easy word to define. Apart from being a very small town in Arkansas.

Despite our meandering conversation, it turned out Success was only a few minutes from where we had started. (And to think we almost missed it!) Very few people live in Success – only 180 according to the population sign. It seemed like a nice enough place, but for us, Success was fleeting. We had miles to go before we slept, so we captured a few photos on the edge of town, and then continued on our way. I wonder how often the Successians look out their windows to see crazy tourists snapping pictures of their population sign?

In the weeks since I’ve returned from our detour, I’ve often pondered the term. So often “success” is associated with fame, monetary wealth, prestige, or power. In today’s culture, it seems to be obtained in a winner-take-all rush for the top with little regard to the methods used to get there. Yet the Bible gives us a very different definition. “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8) In God’s design, we become successful when we follow His commandments, not the whims of the world. Again and again the history of Israel shows us how generations who were obedient to God thrived, and how those who turned away from God were overthrown. In God’s design, success is not a location to drive through and snap pictures; it is a way of life walking in obedience with Him. It is a journey we take with Him securely at our side.

Town of Success Sign
You never know when God might take you on a detour through Success. (Photo by Janet Beagle)

I encountered my favorite definition of success just the other day embedded in one of those email forwards I usually delete. In it, a little girl asked her grandmother for her definition.

“Success,” she replied, “is when you look back at your life and the memories make you smile.”

What kind of memories are you building? Are they the kind that will bring a smile to both your and God’s face? It is a new day and a new opportunity to start your journey. Take the time to reach out to others, to work hard, to spend time with those you love. Listen to God’s guiding voice. He may just send you on a little detour through Success.

This blog was originally posted May 10, 2016 at http://www.inspireafire.com/on-the-road-to-success/.