The Best Time to Change

I have an old friend that needs to make some changes in the way he lives. He doesn’t exercise and his diet consists mostly of fast food (LOTS of it). As a consequence, he’s obese, his energy is low, he gets sick a lot, and his marriage isn’t exactly on fire.

We’ve had many conversations (and even times of prayer) about his health, the way he eats, and small changes he could make to lose weight and improve his quality of life.

Over the years, he has made zero changes.

The tragedy of the situation doesn’t end with simply being overweight. It doesn’t take super powers to be able to see into his future. He’s headed for a mobility scooter, a heart attack, family members having to take care of him, or maybe worse.

Maybe a close encounter with death will inspire him to change. Maybe it will motivate him to eat a salad and go for a walk. Unfortunately, for many people, it takes a major crisis to get them to discipline themselves and start adjusting their lives to reflect what they SAY they value (health, family, finances, etc.)

Change is hard. We spend a long time developing unhealthy habits and they’re super tough to break. We usually don’t change until the pain of staying the way we are is greater than the pain we’ll endure changing the way we live.

The best time to make a change is before you need to.

Don’t wait until you’re $10,000 in credit card debt to change your spending habits, don’t wait until your wife leaves you to change the way you relate to her, and don’t wait until you have a heart attack before you change the way you eat.

If you saw a steamroller headed down the road toward you, you wouldn’t wait until your shoelaces were under it to get out of the way. That would be foolish! Yet, we pretty much do the same thing with our health, relationships, etc. We live in denial about the cause and effect of our decisions and then beg God for help when the self-imposed bomb drops.

Proverbs 22:3 says, “A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.

I think it’s important to do some self-evaluation on a regular basis. Ask yourself, “If I keep doing what I’m doing, where will I be in five years?” Or more specifically, “If I keep eating/entertainment binging/spending/parenting/leading/working the way that I do, where will I be in five years?”

Once you’ve figured out where you need to change, start moving in that direction. You don’t have to train for a triathlon, but you can start taking the stairs and maybe cutting out that second dessert. Set small goals you can keep and get back in the saddle when you fall off your horse.

The best time time to make a change is before you need to. Start making them now. It’s prudent, It’s wise, and it will save you massive amounts of unnecessary heartache in the inevitable future.

12 Things To Do That are Better Than Looking at a Screen

Everywhere I go I see people looking at screens. Families at restaurants ignoring each other for Facebook, small children watching shows on a tablet while waiting for the dentist, even people watching TV while engaged with their iPad (two-fisted screen consumption!)

Despite all the research that’s proven the negative effects of all of our screen usage, we still do it. On average, Americans spend over 10 hours a day consuming media.

There’s something incredible that happens when we turn off our phones, take a break from our tablets, and power down our TV sets. It helps us to focus, gives us time for more meaningful activities, improves our relationships, and improves sleep.

To that end, I thought I’d provide you with a short list of activities you can do without a screen. Challenge yourself to add theses screen-less activities to your life and see what happens!

1. Read a book. Reading a book stimulates the brain, reduces stress, and improves concentration. Not only that, but the right books will help you to grow and equip you to do some cool stuff.

2. Take a nap. When was the last time you took a nap? A 15 to 90 minute nap can improve brain function and creativity. Not only that, they’re awesome!

3. Go for a walk. Walking prevents heart disease and diabetes. It also improves your mood. I frequently get great writing ideas while I’m walking. Walking’s one of my favorite activities!

4. Journal. Journaling promotes mindfulness, helps you reach your goals, and can even boost your IQ! I’ve been journaling for over 30 years and I love reading through old journals to see how far I’ve come.

5. Have more sex. Ever since we decided to keep the TV off on Monday nights, my wife and I have experienced an increase in lovin’. Put away the screens, turn on some Adele and see what happens ; )

6. Have a pleasant conversation with a family member. Let’s face it, much of our interactions with family members center around taking care of business, dealing with urgent issues, and reminding the kids to get their chores done. Intentionally sitting down to talk about life is such a joy so do it often!

7. Learn to play an instrument. Learning to play an instrument increases your memory capacity, enhances coordination, sharpens concentration, and relieves stress. It’s also super rewarding. I decided to learn guitar a few years ago and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!

8. Make a bucket list. All those things you want to do before you kick the bucket are much more likely to happen if you simply write them down. In fact, research shows that people who write their goals down are 50% more likely to accomplish them than those who don’t!

9. Play some board games. Board games bring the family together, improve your response time, and reduces stress. Take one off the shelf, put out some snacks, and make a night of it.

10. Do something artistic. Drawing improves creativity, memory, and problem solving skills. It’s also fun to share our artwork with others and display it around the house.

11. Do a nice surprise for someone. Doing nice things for others reduces stress, promotes mental health, and can even help you live longer. Make someone’s day and it could change your life!

12. De-clutter the house.  De-cluttering promotes clarity and focus, and (you guessed it) reduces stress. Go through the garage and get rid of what you don’t need, give away those clothes you haven’t worn and notice how much lighter you feel.

That’s just 12 things you can do without a screen but there are many more. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments section below.


Why You Should Spend More Time Thinking About Vacation

Vacation season is rapidly winding down for the summer. Facebook is flush with back-to-school pictures of every variety and, to my disapproval, the drive-in theater is now only open on the weekends. Not that it matters. I’m lucky if I manage to get myself out to the drive-in once a year. I just like to know it’s available to me should the stars align and I’m able to go.

Every summer I take three weeks of vacation to rest, have fun, and catch up on assorted home projects that I tend to neglect during the rest of the year. I like to take all of my vacation time for the year at once because I have the tendency to think about work for the first few days, and the last few days, of my break. The hope is that I’ll spend a few days, in the middle of my three weeks, not thinking about work. I’m not always successful.

The problem with working in ministry is that you never really clock out, at least not mentally. Sometimes you lay awake at night wondering how your going to fill the nursery volunteer holes, pay the rent, and get that darn coffee counter fixed. Imagine working a job where you’re never really off-duty, you don’t get paid much, and your nearest family is 150 miles away. Welcome to ministry! The irony is that I love it, which probably means I have a defect in my DNA, but that’s another story.

The point is, since I’ve been in ministry, I’ve discovered that I’m horrible at taking a vacation. Rest does not come naturally to me. I touched on this a bit two years ago when I burned out bad. The good news is that I’m learning (sometimes the hard way).

A funny thing happened during this year’s vacation. OK, not really funny, but excruciatingly painful, but it might seem funny to me one day. One of my biggest pet peeves, and a problem I suffer terribly from, is being stuck in-between. Let me explain. I’m supposed to be resting, but I have a sick need to always be productive, so I do some needless busy work. I end up stuck in-between. I’m neither resting, nor accomplishing anything worthwhile. It’s a sickness that ends up robbing me of truly enjoying my time off. In this instance, I was cleaning some things around my home office. (Not really working, right?) I had some DVDs that I wanted to put in storage so I went into the crawlspace to put them in a box. When I bent down to put them away, my back revolted in the most painful, relentless spasm that I’d ever experienced.

I dropped to my knees and couldn’t stand up. I had to crawl backwards out of the crawlspace, each leg movement shooting more pain through my back. When my wife found me, I was paralyzed, on all fours, trying to move, but in too much pain to do so. She practically carried me to the bed where I laid for the next several days.

I finally had no choice. Resting was my only option since I was in too much pain to do anything else. You know what? Not including the pain, it was one of my favorite parts of my vacation. I took naps, I read books (FICTION), and I watched movies, all with no feelings of guilt or the sense that there were more productive things I should have been doing. It was great!

Anyway, I’m learning a couple things as I recover from this injury and enjoy the last few days of vacation.

Rest is a discipline. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I need to remind myself. If I’m not disciplined about scheduling, and committing, to rest, then someone else, or an unplanned circumstance, will lead me to some form of draining activity. Find something that’s restorative for you, put it on the calendar, and stick to it so that you’re not sucked into the in-between.

Diligently plan out your vacation time months in advance. This is where I get into trouble. I mention the need to sit down and plan our vacation, with my wife, but I never really pull the trigger, put the planning session on our calendar, and do it, leaving us to scramble for something fun to do with the kids, and ending up playing it by ear. Playing a vacation by ear stinks.

Practice resting regularly throughout the year. Unless you’re a lazy slob, rest is an acquired skill. Practice at it, at least weekly. There’s a reason why my Instagram feed isn’t filled with holiday and fun-time photos. I’m not good at that sort of thing. Get good at resting throughout the year and you won’t need a back injury to to motivate you to stop moving!

Well, August will be over in a week. I pray you make the best of it. Now that the kids are back in school, maybe you can get some rest 😉

21 Days at the Crack

One of my friends calls it the “butt-crack of dawn”. I laugh each time she says it. Now I know why she calls it that.

Last month, I was watching a TED talk where a presenter talked about how getting up at 4:30 every morning changed his life dramatically. He talked about how he was more productive, had more time, was able to improve his health, and enjoyed socializing with his friends more. It was entitled, “How Waking Up at 4:30am Can Change Your Life”.

So, I decided to give it a go. I’d get up at 4:30 for 21 days and rake in the benefits of productivity, rich friendship, ridiculous amounts of time, and tighter buns and thighs.

The following is the good, the bad, and the ugly of 21 days of getting up at 4:30am.

The Good

The main benefit of getting up at 4:30 was that I was able to spend time in prayer and Bible reading, uninterrupted every day. Sitting in the overstuffed chair in our living room, praying and reading while the sun rose was really nice. I never missed a day the entire 21 days either. Big bonus!

Most days, I was able to get my work done early. On average, I was able to call it a day around 3:00pm. That’s three hours earlier than usual. That left me with time to do things I enjoy before working on family responsibilities. I did some writing, some drawing, and a little napping.

The Bad

I was fine for the first 5 to 7 days. Sure, I had to go to bed earlier because I was tired earlier, but that’s to be expected. After about a week, though, I was tired all the time. Morning, noon, and night, I was exhausted! It felt like someone had drugged me and I just couldn’t seem to seem to get my energy level up, no matter what time I went to bed or how much caffeine or sugar I consumed.

My writing tapered off, my desire to work around the house was gone, sex required too much energy, and I zoned out when it was time to work. It got worse and worse until I felt like a zombie all day, every day.

The Ugly

It hit me hard on the second Sunday of the challenge. While I was speaking at our church, I realized that I couldn’t “read” the audience. Normally, I can get a sense of what’s sinking in and what’s not and I can adjust my pacing and emphasis accordingly. That morning, I was flying blind. It was a scary feeling, and I just wanted to hand the microphone to someone else.

I had a hard time reading other non-verbal communication as well. I felt paranoid, like I was offending everyone. You know those dreams where you show at school in your underwear? That was the feeling. Really weird!

Eventually, those beautiful early morning devotions turned into quick devotions, then morning nap. The whole challenge just didn’t work out for me. Maybe if I didn’t have kids, or a wife, or a life outside of my job. For now, I’m getting up at 6:00. I may have lost my mid-afternoon fun times, but I can feel my sanity returning.

I’ve added the TED talk below. If you decide to take the challenge, let me know how it goes for you!

45 Days Without Facebook

This year I gave Facebook up for Lent.  I had never given up something for Lent before, and I wanted to give it a try.

A few weeks before Lent, I used a device called Circle to limit my Facebook time to 30 minutes a day, and I noticed that it was having a positive effect on me.  I figured, “If a 30-minute limit is having a positive effect, then cutting it out altogether must be like a dream!

I wasn’t that far off!  Here are a few ways I benefitted by taking six weeks off from Facebook:

I was more focused on my work.

This is a no-brainer for sure.  When you’re not distracted by the biggest time-suck off all, you can burn through your task list without stopping every few minutes to see if anyone commented on your picture of a latte’.  I got more done in less time and was actually able to knock off early on a few occasions.

I was more mindful.

If you’re anything like me, it’s wicked hard just to be present in the moment.  My brain is usually mulling over the past, anxious about the future, or trying to solve some problem that I really don’t have any control over.  When you add to that, the over-consumption of information that occurs trolling the Facebook feed, your family begins to wonder if you’re ever truly with them.  Fasting Facebook made it much easier to be present.

I had time for things I actually enjoy.

This goes along with the first benefit.  Since I was more productive with work, I had more time to play.  I have a creative side that I’ve been neglecting for some time now.  I drew pictures, I practiced my guitar, I even finished writing a novel that I’ve been working on for three years!

I got some margin back.

This is huge!  Before Lent, I felt like I had lost all mental and emotional margin.  Little occurrences felt big, my creative problem-solving capacity was low, and I had a nagging sense that I was burning out.  I was overloaded with information, opinions, invitations, and aggrandizements.  Getting off Facebook gave me some much needed mental breathing space!

What about now?  Well, Lent may be over, but I’m still adhering to a 30-minute limit.  I’ve also removed the app from my phone.  There were too many times that I would take out my phone just to check the time or weather, and found myself looking at Facebook without even realizing what I was doing!

I feel lighter, and I think I’d like to hold on to this feeling for a while.