Awesome lessons learned in 2012

Well, well. 2012. What a year. As I reflect on it, I almost feel manic. Sometimes I was doing just fine and other times I was on the brink of ripping my hair out. In all, it was a tough year, but I learned some lessons that will make 2013 a lot better. I’ve heard that one definition of insanity is doing the same things over again and expecting a different result.

So here’s to growth.

What I learned in 2012

The wheel of life

I first heard about the Wheel of Life from Dan Miller, but it appears that it was popularized by Zig Ziglar, a business and sales guru (you can read a good summary of the wheel here). It sounds a little weird, but the basic idea is that you can envision your life as a wheel with six components forming the spokes of the wheel: financial, career, family, social, physical and intellectual. When one or more of these areas is lacking, you’ll have a flat tire.

However, my big takeaway is that it’s easy to devote all your attention to a major problem area and neglect all the others. In my case, I focused almost entirely on my career and financial areas and I definitely let the other areas go. It didn’t work out so well for me and I plan on never making that mistake again.

Be generous

This is one of the biggest lesson I learned this year. As I mentioned above, our finances have been one of our issues and, for a variety of reasons, it’s been an issue for years (yes, plural). We have amazing friends and families that have helped us along the way and we’d be in a far worse position if it weren’t for their generosity. What I realized, though, is that I was so used to being financially strapped that I forgot to think about being generous toward others. Houston, we have a problem.

Being generous is a major part of the Christian life and includes gifts, quality time, and service. What have I been? A sponge. A leech. And I hate it. It’s time to change.

Input = Output

What we put into our minds directly correlates with what we get in terms of our mood, creativity and outlook. This is actually something I did well this year and will continue to do for the rest of my life. Since I drive a lot to get to and from work, I listened to hours upon hours of podcasts, sermons and lectures (from universities and seminaries). I believe this redeemed a lot of the time that would have been otherwise spent listening to the negative news or even to music (which isn’t bad in itself!).

What I choose to listen to is intended to help my personal development. I first made this change in 2008 when I realized that my mindset was almost entirely negative and it was due to the lack of positive messages to which I was exposing myself. I listened to the news way too much (they’re almost entirely negative and overreactive), and the music I loved had really depressing lyrics. So I turned off the radio and downloaded a bunch of great podcasts. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!

It’s all about grace

Each year that passes further confirms to me that we have nothing without the grace of God. The good things we have are a gift of God and it ultimately means that we can relax and be comfortable with who we really are. There is so much I could write here, but I want to keep this one simple. I believe a verse that sums up how I feel is from Psalm 16.

Keep me safe, my God,
for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”

Thank you, God, for your goodness and grace.

F.I.D.O.: Forget it, drive on

I believe I first heard of FIDO on the Michael Hyatt podcast, but I’m honestly not sure of it. However, whoever I was listening to said that this is a Marine Corps saying and that makes it cool, period. The saying means that we need to leave the past behind us and keep moving forward. The last four years have been a desert experience for us and, after each of those four years, I let the experience drag me down. Nay, I let those experiences define me, and that’s not cool.

This brought to mind something my pastor said once: don’t think the middle of your story is the end of your story (paraphrase). Do not give up hope. God is not done with you until you take your last breath. So this lesson is a summary of all other lessons for 2012. It was a tough year. It beat me up. But it doesn’t define me and I need to forget 2012 and drive on. Life carries on. Figure out what needs to change and change it.

What big lessons did you learn in 2012?

You can read my wife’s lessons learned here.

Disneyland, mass killings and the unquenchable thirst in us all

My family and I went to Disneyland last week as a Christmas/birthday celebration courtesy of my (extremely generous) mom. We drove there on Monday; stayed at a hotel within walking distance; visited both parks (including California Adventure Park) on Tuesday and Wednesday; and then drove home on Thursday. I must admit that I love Disneyland for their rides and atmosphere. However, I felt some sadness as we left the hotel to return home. The trip was over and we were driving back to reality.

Then we awoke Friday to the horrible news of what happened in Connecticut. What a change from the “happiest place on earth.” Every detail that emerged was worse than the last and, as they started to tell us about who the victims were, it was hard not to get teared up. It’s especially tough to stomach because of my experiences as a father with a daughter only a few years younger than most of the victims. I am convinced there isn’t much worse than losing your small child to a sudden, violent death during the holidays.

So many lives were destroyed. The lives of their families will have a gaping hole that will probably never be filled no matter the healing or comfort brought by their friends, family, community or the passage of time. And those still alive–the other children and their families; the remaining school staff; the first responders–will not be the same either. Those kids’ innocence is gone. Evil won the battle. Questions, anger and grief remain.

The contrast between Disneyland and the killings is so vast that it made two things very obvious to me.

There is a longing within that everyone strives for, yet no one can achieve.

At Disneyland they try their best to create the happiest place on earth. The park is kept very clean and the atmosphere aims to transport us out of our normal life and into something different and exciting. On the day it opened in 1955, Walt Disney gave a short speech.

To all who come to this happy place; welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past…and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America…with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.

And though I really do enjoy my trips to Disneyland, I always leave the “magic” behind. It’s a temporary fix that doesn’t last. We long for something to bring us wholeness but it’s elusive. The fulfillment offered by so many things aroundus ultimately leave us wanting more. No theme park, piece of technology, job, living situation, etc. will satisfy us fully.

We can’t fix the problem.

It’s obvious to say this now after what happened on Friday, but the world is broken and evil permeates it. We can make changes that will improve our situation but in the end the problem is so deep that we must admit that we cannot ultimately fix it. This doesn’t mean that we don’t try to make changes, but I do think it means we need to approach the issues before us with humility knowing that we are very limited in our wisdom and power.

In the Christian view, neither of these things are a surprise. Scripture teaches that we are a desperately broken people living in a desperately broken world without a hope of fixing the problem. But it also teaches that God’s plan was to redeem the world and make right all that’s been wrong. And, honestly, that’s what Christmas is about (in fact, children were massacred shortly after Jesus was born). The lights and trees and presents and egg nog is all fluff that we enjoy, but I hope we Christians keep in mind that our hope is ultimately in Jesus. My we take the gospel and be a comfort to those who ache with grief, and pray that the hope of Christ and his restoration is brought into our world.