Monday, March 24, 2014

Perspective from 40,000 Feet

Was that coffee and breakfast pastry really worth $16.42?

Yes. Yes it was.

With a 5:29 a.m. flight, I needed it. Nevermind the captive-audience airport prices. I’m caffeinated and my blood-sugar is normalized. It was worth every penny.

The roaring hum of the jet engine outside my window creates a soothing ambiance for reflection. The in-flight Wi-Fi doesn’t seem to have enough bandwidth for the planeful of passengers using it, so I’m closing the reports and turning to my creative outlet – writing.

It’s funny how a little altitude can give you such perspective. It’s refreshing to get a birds-eye view of things as you fly over. Cities, rivers, mountains – even the Grand Canyon – seem so small from this height.

Isn’t that just like our lives? Our mountains can seem so big when we’re on the ground – in the midst of our troubles – looking up at the enormous tasks that lie ahead. But when we’re above the clouds, over the mist and the fog, a clear perspective can change everything.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all faced mountains that seem insurmountable. The invoice from the collections agency. The call from the principal’s office. The bad news from the doctor. Troubles that would almost crush us from the pressure.

I would submit that this concept of retreating to the skies should play a major role in our daily living. Our problems take on new meaning when we look at them from 40,000 feet.

Take yourself out of the situation for a moment. Put yourself in another person’s shoes. Think about the big picture. What does it look like from a high level? Where are you really headed?

It’s so easy to get bogged down in the details – or even just the day-to-day monotony. Get up. Get the kids ready for school. Get to work. Perform. Excel. Achieve. Get the kids from school. Get the kids to soccer. Be everything. To everyone. Repeat.

What does it mean in the long run?

You must understand that the little choices you make in your relationships and your daily interactions make a huge impact in the grand scheme of things. You’re touching people’s lives. Every moment. And that’s of eternal significance. Don’t waste it.

Success is determined by your character and relationships. Be faithful in the little things.

Taking time to refocus on your priorities gives a renewed sense of direction and purpose. Step aside for a moment. Pray. Realize that the circumstances in which you find yourself today will not always be the same.

You’ll get through this. 

When all else fails, look up. Because it’s in those moments that you’ll find the strength you need to look forward.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Next Step

January 29, 2014

Dear Rachel,

Tonight you fell asleep on my shoulder. You're a strong, inquisitive, independent 2-year-old, and it's been too long since I felt the soft sighs of your restful breathing on my neck. I didn't want to disturb your slumber. I just wanted to treasure the moment and feel the warmth of my baby's trusting embrace.

We had a fun-filled day, celebrating Aunt Hope's birthday at Walt Disney World. We ate dinner together at the Liberty Tea Tavern in the Magic Kingdom. You asked to go to the bathroom about 5 times during dinner, maybe because the bathrooms in this particular restaurant were upstairs, and it was quite entertaining to go up and down the stairs.

As we descended the staircase after one such trip to the bathroom, you insisted on walking down the steps all by yourself. You said, "No, I'm big girl" as you pushed away my hand. I kept my hand close to yours so I could offer assistance if you needed it.

You beamed with pride as you grabbed the handrail (which was almost out of your reach) and slowly stretched your white Velcro-top sneaker down to the next step. Just before your toe touched the next step, you became uncertain and began to lose your balance so you quickly reached for my hand. The moment you touched my hand and realized I would catch you if you fell, you pushed me away and again said confidently, "I'm big girl. I do it by myself."

This process repeated itself about 12 times, on every step down the entire flight of stairs. It took us a while, but with patience and persistence, we made it downstairs safely.

As I observed our interactions on the staircase, I had a moment of clarity:

Isn't that just like our walk with God?

  • We want to do things our own way.
  • We want to rely on our own strength.
  • We want to do it by ourselves.

Then we lose our balance. We can't see the next step. We become afraid and reach out for a hand to hold.

That's when God reassures us with His presence and His guidance. He's always there for you, walking beside you, ready to catch you if you fall.

In my life, I've made so many decisions relying on my own strength. And I've experienced moments of deep discouragement, when I've questioned everything. In those times, God has strengthened me with His presence, and restored my confidence as His child.

You know the funny thing? Even as independent as you are (typical for a 2-year-old little girl learning to do things for herself), you still fell asleep on my shoulder tonight. There couldn't be a more trusting, dependent posture than the one you assumed by sleeping on me. And in those times - those precious times - you admit that you still need me.

Throughout your life, you may find yourself feeling alone or struggling to find the next step. Always remember that God is with you, holding your hand, and even carrying you when you're too weak to walk.

Trust Him.

He will never leave you. And He will give you strength for the journey.

I love you so very much!!


Saturday, January 25, 2014

No one cares about Justin Bieber's arrest

No one cares about Justin Bieber's arrest. Or Jennifer Lawrence's wardrobe. Or Miley Cyrus's hair.

At least, not in a deeply personal, life-altering way. 

Ok, maybe some people do care that much. 

But for most of us, while tabloids exploit the personal lives of these celebrities for sheer entertainment value, we move on with our lives as usual, because - quite frankly - the headlines just don't matter. 


What difference does it make in my life? None. 

Will pop culture impact my life for the better? Not likely. 

Am I a better person for having kept up with celebrity gossip? Nope. 

Let's be honest.

The people who make the greatest impact on your life aren't famous. They're not drawing attention from the media. They're not delivering a political speech, playing in the Super Bowl, or posing for cameras on the red carpet.

The people who make the greatest impact on your life are those who are closest to you. 

The teacher who invests in you. 

The boss who welcomes your ideas.

The coach who believes in you. 

The friend who listens to you. 

The spouse who loves you. 

The children who make you laugh. 

It's the people we spend our everyday lives with who truly make a difference. They share their hearts. They encourage us. They lift us up when we fall down. And they commit themselves to deeply loving the people around them. 

My piano teacher was one such individual. I studied with him from middle school through college. He never gave up on me. He continuously encouraged me. He saw the best in me when I was ready to throw in the towel. And he pushed me to achieve more than I ever dreamed. 

With his persistence - and the loving support of my parents - I chose to major in music. I wrote and recorded 4 albums before graduating summa cum laude from a highly competitive music program. He believed in me. And he was the kind of guy that wouldn't let me falter - even if it meant he had to hold my hand every step of the way.

He passed away unexpectedly eight years ago, well before his time. The very last time we talked, he spoke with the usual direct enthusiasm that I had come to know and love. These were his last words to me: "Don't you EVER quit singing and playing. You're too talented! Use those gifts, girl!"

Yes, sir. 

THAT is the kind of power and impact we should all strive to have in the lives around us. 

Contagious joy.

Loving honesty.

Undiminished enthusiasm. 

Faithful commitment. 

Be the encourager. Be the believer. Be the best friend.

Because someday when your friends and family look back and recall the relationships that have meant the most to them throughout life, they probably won't think of Justin Bieber. They'll think of you. 

Dedicated to Scottt E. Sward
Aug. 24, 1962 - Jan. 25, 2006


Friday, October 25, 2013

Letters to Julia: The Necessary Process of Transition

I write a lot of letters to my baby girls. If you're a parent and you haven't already adopted this practice, I highly recommend it.  Tell them stories. Tell them about their character.  Tell them what you've learned.  Tell them how much you love them.  Tell them.

Hand write it, type it and print it, or just write an email to yourself and save it in a special folder. Someday, when they're graduating high school, getting married, or applying to graduate school, you'll be glad you did. I hope to make a little book for each of my kids with the letters I wrote them. Here is one such letter, written for Julia on the day she lost her first tooth:

October 24, 2013

Dear Julia,

Today you lost your first tooth. You're only 3 and a half. It was a shock to me, and something I wasn't expecting, but you handled it like a champ.

You were climbing up the slide at the playground (in your usual ambitious spirit) and slipped over the side, landing face down, and effectively displacing your top right front tooth, root and all.

You cried for a minute from the surprise, then laughed it off, with your ever joyful attitude.

We rushed you off to the pediatric emergency dentist (with the tooth in a bottle of milk to preserve it). You played happily in the waiting room, not fully aware of the situation, but totally willing to go along with it. Your laid back, unassuming, relaxed demeanor was totally opposite of mine: frantic, worried, and scared.

I asked if the dentist could please put your tooth back. He explained that it couldn't be done and cited concerns that it could graft to the bone and cause complications for your permanent teeth later. After all, it was "just a baby tooth."

But it wasn't just a baby tooth. That little tooth was one of the first you ever teethed on. One of the first you ever brushed. And it was a perfect little piece of my firstborn baby girl. I wasn't ready to let go of it. It would be 2-3 years before your permanent tooth would replace it, and I guess I just didn't want you to have a gap in your smile for that long.

You sat in the dentist's chair so patiently as they examined your teeth and took some x-rays, obliging them of every little request with polite obedience. You asked me to hold your hand. I think it was more for my comfort than yours.

They told you that you could pick 2 prizes for being so good. You chose a bouncy ball for your first prize. When I asked you what you'd like for your second prize, you looked at all the stickers, balloons, cars, rings, and said, "I want to bring home a bouncy ball for Rachel, too." What a kind, selfless act! You had just experienced one of the most traumatic experiences of your life, and you were still thinking about others. You wanted to surprise your sister.

When we left the dentist's office, we got you a strawberry smoothie. You sat in your Graco car seat (at 27 lbs.) and drank the whole thing.

As we drove home, you began sensing the emptiness in your mouth, feeling the void in your top gum line with your tongue. You said, "Mommy, I want my tooth back now."

Later, you asked again, "Can I please have a new tooth?"

My eyes welled up with tears as I tried to explain the process: "Well, you'll get a new tooth there, but it has to grow first. You need to wait for it."

Oh, if only I could ease your pain! I'd do anything to go through this instead of you. But, my sweet Julia, there's a reason.

With every phase of life, we have to go through transition. We have to let go of the old to welcome the new. We have to experience loss to appreciate gain. And we have to endure pain for growth.

It's easy to want to go back. You're used to that old tooth. It felt normal to have it. And now in the early stages of life without it, you're unsure and you might feel apprehensive.

Know this, Julia: better things are coming. Pain doesn't last forever. Although change is inevitable, God's guidance and loving presence are always with you. He will never leave you or forsake you.

Life will be full of moments like today. You may lose things. You may be taken off guard by an unexpected turn of events. You may be left in a holding pattern, wondering when the next thing will show up.

But be sure of this - God loves you. I love you. Daddy loves you. Your whole family loves you. And there's a reason for everything you experience, even if it's just to prepare you for what's next.

You are a beautiful girl, Julia. Inside and out.



Monday, September 30, 2013

Make your words sweet – someday you’ll be eating them

We’ve all been there. That awkward moment when you find yourself doing exactly the thing you said you’d never do. Maybe it involved:
  •  Eating something you said you’d never eat
  • Visiting a place you said you’d never go
  • Trying something you said you’d never do

And you actually enjoyed it.

Or maybe it was sad realizing that you broke your promise to yourself – or that you’d promised something so odd in the first place.

Whether it’s big or small, we all make claims about our lives before we understand the long-term repercussions:
  • “I’ll never go there again.”
  • “I promise I’ll never do that.”
  • “When I have kids, I’ll never let them behave like that. 

We make pseudo-commitments to ourselves that preclude us from experiencing real life. What we don’t realize is that the way we live now is not the way we will always live. Life changes day to day, and the circumstances we find ourselves in will not always be exactly the same.

I’ve eaten many of my own words. Some were good, some were bad, and some were downright bitter. The worst ones were those I said when I had no insight into a particular way of life. For example, before I had kids, I told myself I wouldn’t allow my children to watch TV.


That was a tough one to swallow.

Although optimistic, it was completely unrealistic for me to make that promise in a world where society is so infiltrated with media and technology. I don’t know why I thought it was possible!

Now, I’m not saying you should compromise your convictions. If you believe in something very strongly, please stand your ground. But before you exclude other options, think about the basis for your claim. What are the benefits? What are the drawbacks?

Some of the most damaging claims we can make are those regarding our relationships:
  • “She’s not trustworthy. I can’t trust her with anything.”
  • “I refuse to talk to him. He’s so selfish.”
  • “I never want to see her again.”
  • “I can’t forgive him.”

When you think or say things like that, it becomes solidified in your mind and you behave differently around those people. It will eventually become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because you said it, you’ll believe it. Even though you’ve been hurt, you’ll back yourself into a corner and you might not be able to escape.  And you’ll also limit the offending party from being able to repair a right relationship with you.

Life is too short to ever burn a bridge. The lives you touch are the most important thing you will ever know. Handle with care.

So make your words sweet. Sprinkle them with grace and truth. That way, when you end up eating them someday, you won’t mind the taste.  

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The more I learn, the less I know

Today marks 7 years that I’ve been working in my position, doing marketing for higher education.  I am so blessed.  I love my job.  I love the people I work with.  And I love the mission to which I contribute every day I go to work.

Over the past 7 years, I’ve been a part of many projects and processes, and through it all I’ve learned one very important thing:

I have no idea what I’m doing.

Don’t get me wrong – I sure do try, but so many days I’m left wondering what in the world my employer sees in me.

·     I am outpaced and outperformed by so many of my talented colleagues on a daily basis; but they keep me striving to achieve higher goals.

·         I am continually stumped by new problems that arise; but they give me an opportunity to expand my troubleshooting abilities.

·         I am dumbfounded by new systems and technologies that enter the market; but learning about new capabilities enables me to adapt to an ever-changing world.

The cool thing about life is that we never quite learn everything. As long as I live, I’ll never know it all. There will always be something more to discover.

And isn’t that the beauty of it all?

·         We are stretched to find new information so we can acquire insight and teach others.
·         We are challenged by change so we can benefit from learning new processes.
·         We are confronted with hurdles that seem insurmountable so we can learn to overcome.

To be honest, the more I learn, the less I know. Gaining insight into how the world works makes me realize that I know very little. And what little I do know is constantly being reshaped and transformed for different purposes.

I’m humbled by the opportunities I’ve been given over the past 7 years. It’s amazing to see how I’ve changed and how experience has prepared me to face what’s next.  I’ll probably never be able to say I’ve mastered one job or another, but I sure will give it the best I’ve got. 

In the meantime, my heart overflows with gratitude as I continually learn more - so I can begin to understand just how little I really know.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Top 100 Under 100: Pacing Yourself for Long-Term Success

This morning as I opened my email and sorted through the various industry e-publications to which I subscribe, a headline caught my eye:

"Top 40 Under 40 in Direct Marketing"

As I read through the list of 20- and 30-somethings who have achieved great accolades in their various roles, I wondered how many countless others worked tirelessly to earn a position on this list, only to fall short - or to have their efforts go unnoticed.

I'll be honest, I think it would be cool to be on this list someday. But let me take a step back for a moment.

Don't these kind of lists set unrealistic expectations? Don't they highlight the early bloomers and ignore those who have labored their entire careers for such success?

Why try to achieve so much so early?

My entire life I've been labeled as a fast-burner, or a bit of an over-achiever. I finished high school at 16, consolidated a 4-year Bachelor's degree into 3 years, landed my dream job, bought a house, and married the man of my dreams all by the time I was 21.

Over the next several years, I was privileged to have received a few promotions, earned an MBA, sat on the board of directors for a nonprofit, founded a community outreach organization, volunteered locally, and gave birth to two beautiful daughters. And I'm still in my mid-twenties.

So what?

I don't say any of that to brag. I'm just one of the billions who has worked hard to fulfill a purpose, using God-given abilities. What I want to highlight is a cultural problem - an underlying theme that has crept into our thinking, and is beginning to saturate our motives.

Our culture is infatuated with youth and glorifying the young.

We pay more attention to appearance than the aged.

We honor winning above wisdom.

We value entertainment over experience.

And we show preference to those who are stylish rather than those who are seasoned.

We've got it all backwards.

Winning in the short term is not the same as winning in the long term. We've all heard stories of people who start out strong then falter after a short time. In work, in marriage, in friendship, and in other life commitments, it's all about long-term success.

You have to begin with the end in mind, and you have to pace yourself for success. Here's how:

  • Don't expend all your energy in the first leg of the race. Learn your pace and stick with it. 
  • Do what you're good at. Don't worry about the inevitable distractions along the way.
  • Understand your limits. Pushing yourself too hard will lead to injury and setbacks.
  • Find encouragement. Surround yourself with people who believe in you.
  • Focus on what's important. Leave the rest aside.
  • Don't quit. Keep at it. You're going to make it.

Ultimately, be consistent. Practice the art of persistence. Don't give up before you cross the finish line.

And don't worry about making it onto the list of the top 40 under 40. When it comes to the things that matter most in life, just aim to be in the top 100 under 100.

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