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Happiness Here

Sometimes I find myself thinking I’ve learned all of the important lessons in life..  Then life steps up and surprises me again.

One lesson I thought I knew was the key to working with what I have and where I am right now.  Even so, it is always easy to get caught up in “I’ll be happy once I reach this point or have this much” attitude. This year I have really been forced to slow down and take each day, week month one at a time. In the midst of it I really began to enjoy what I have and where I am in the world around me.

We can actually buck the current trend and be happy with less and guess what? It’s okay!

We all see others on social media and think, “Wow they live such a great life.” In reality, we are only seeing what they want us to see.  If we focus on being content in our own lives, there is no need to compare.

Instead of complaining to others or ourselves about how bad our day was, or our life is at this moment, I challenge you to end every day thinking of all the things you are thankful for. I thank God every night that I had another great day. I am thankful for everything in my life and for all that will come.

As you close out your day with gratitude, spend some time planning your next day.  Think about how you will wake up and put in the best work you can.  When you make that plan and follow through, there will be no excuses to be made or blame to be assigned at the end of the day.   

Galatians 6:9

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Proverbs 22:29

Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.

 

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Gratitude

Life is hard.  We all face periods when it feels like our world is collapsing in on us.  During those tough times, we can either face the hard times and deal with them, or let ourselves become prisoner to our circumstances.

The holiday season is here and it tends to bring many feelings to the forefront – many good, some bad.  One of the most important is gratitude.  

I am coming up on my third holiday season in the Midwest.  Being away from the hustle and bustle of the big city, I have truly learned to enjoy a slower pace of life.  I have learned to treasure the small things that come up on a daily basis and enjoy the beauty of the country around me.

I had it in my mind, for a very long time, that the only things I should be thankful for are cash money and freedom. The funny part about that, is that the money never made me happy and freedom is something I never really had.  I held on to that warped sense of “what life should be” for far longer than I should have.

It took me many years to reach a place where gratitude became an important part of my daily life.

It is easy to let life distract us with what we don’t have, but the reality is that here in the U.S. we live very blessed lives. No matter what our economic level is, we have clean water, electricity and there is always food available.  

It is time for me to not only be thankful for my many blessings, but to also step it up and do what I can for others because I have been so blessed.  I always talk about my “goals” and this is a big one:  I will pay it forward.  I will help others just as people along the way have helped me.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Matthew 6:21

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 

Making Time

Making better use of our time while enriching our lives sounds a little bit like a self help guru’s pie-in-the-sky sales pitch. In all honesty, it is possible to accomplish both of these goals by making a few small changes to our daily routines.

I love to wake up early before most of the world around me is awake.  The early morning is a quiet time when (after a cup of coffee) my mind is working like a well oiled machine.  I can get a lot finished in a short period of time.

I realize that most people will not want to wake up as early as I do.  We can all, however, plan our lives so we have a routine where we go to bed a little earlier, and get up a little bit earlier.

The extra morning time is time we can use to enrich our lives.  How?  Reading, for one.  I always read books at night before I go to sleep. Reading helps me unwind and relax before I go to sleep.  I also enjoy catching up on world news and reading my Bible first thing in the morning.

Books open up new worlds. They let us experience other lives, other periods of history and other places. Books can teach us or entertain us. Often, they do both.   I have read so many books that I thought I would have no interest in, yet once I started I was sucked into the story.

The year is winding down.  It’s time to think about the new year ahead and making some changes.  I encourage you to wake up earlier and enjoy the morning hours.  I also urge you to spend more time reading books.

Psalm 119:105

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

 

Stand Out

Each of us defines success in a different way.  My definition of success today is being content, loving those close to me with a full heart and enjoying life to the fullest.

One of the things I like to do is speak to people about life and what they can do to accomplish their dreams and goals.  I listen to their stories and try to find the commonalities with others who have become successful in life.

I was speaking with two people, in particular, this week with very different lives, yet their stories share common threads. One is an actor who started out for many years as a carpenter first. He studied acting on the side as he worked his woodworking craft.  He lived frugally and held himself to a high standard. He pushed himself and never lost sight of where he wanted to be.  There were no roles available for guys like him, yet he never gave up and today he is in a number of shows working as a full time actor.

The second is a professional athlete who has worked at his craft his whole life.  He reached the top of his game and still he kept at it.  Even when his career started to wind down, he stuck to his personal code.  He faced tough times and many changes, but with each move and shift he learned and grew. Those tough times helped shape him and equip him for his life today coaching and pushing other athletes to reach their potential.

We can all learn from their stories.  First, they each had a clear vision of where they wanted to be, and worked toward it.  They did not get caught up in the small things that drag us down in life and will do nothing for us.  Second, they demanded excellence from themselves.  They went to bed early, got plenty of sleep and woke up early on a schedule.  Each of them was willing to sacrifice immediate temporary pleasure for their long term goals. They were willing to put as much time as they could possibly find into mastering their craft.

In doing this they cracked the code of success that many others have followed. Hard work at every stage. They gave it their all no matter how small the work seemed at the time.  People took notice because of their hard work.  Good work never really goes unseen, even if you feel like it does not matter at the time.

After many years of toil, when they finally had their big opportunity, they were ready.

Another thing that stands out to me about these two, is that they both give thanks to him who made it possible. They will tell you that God will never give you more than you can handle.  Their advice is to stay focused, do everything to the best of your ability, demand excellence from yourself and make no excuses. By following these guidelines, we can all reach our full potential.

Titus 2:7

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity,

1 Corinthians 9:24-25

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

 

Live The Dream

What are your dreams and goals? A lot of us use the phrase someday when we talk about them.  We often put off taking that first step until it is too late.  I wonder how many works of art died before they were ever realized? How many great stories were never told?

Kids dream big.  Astronaut? President? Racecar driver?  Sure!

Could it be that we were never taught how to reach our goals?  When I had something I wanted to accomplish in the past I would often get caught up in my own thoughts, holding myself back. I would basically talk myself out of it.  I would think, “I can never actually do that,” or, “I don’t have the education or the training.”  Worse yet, “I don’t have the connections I would need to succeed with that.”  

Do you see how I never even took the first step?

Today when I think about my goals, I investigate them.  I learn everything I can about them and then I begin to chip away.  I put one foot in front of the other.  Each day I make progress in the direction I wish to go.  I keep that mental picture of myself doing or succeeding at what I am dreaming about.

This is when I have learned to be patient.  Let’s say I did arrive at the end without all the hard work in the middle.  If that happened, I would not be ready for the success.  Most likely I would fail.  I wouldn’t have all lessons that I would need to fall back on that I should have learned on the way to reaching my goals.  

God knows what I can handle – success and failure – and where I need to be. I have to trust in him on my journey to accomplish the dreams he has put inside me.

Ambitious dreams are great! Working towards them is part of life.  Letting them die is a waste. I am sure that any cemetery is full of wasted possibilities and unfulfilled potential.

I do not know what legacy I will leave behind when I die, but I do know that I do not want to be remembered as the “Someday I’ll accomplish that,” guy.

There is no better time than right now to take that first step towards your goals.

Philippians 4:13

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Expectations

What drives you? If you are driven by money, you are setting yourself up for a disappointing life. No matter how much money you bring in, the temporary happiness of success will wear off, and it will never bring lasting fulfillment.  I lived that way for many years.

Maybe you are driven by relationships.  If you are looking to another person to make you happy, you may find yourself jumping from one person to another as each one lets you down.  

So should we lower our expectations?  Never!  We just need to adjust our goals.  If we place all our hope on the people in our lives, or on material goods, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Life is not about raising or lowering our expectations, it is about making sure our expectations are in line with our God-given purpose.  Each of us has a purpose.  We have special skills that will enable us to make an impact on the people around us.  

Get to know who YOU are. What makes you tick? Dig deep, find that inner passion, because it will show.  When you find things you are passionate about, dive in.  Keep growing and strengthening your skills in those areas.  Become the best that you can at it.  Then use it to make a positive impact on the world.

I spent so much of my life searching for fulfillment and yet wherever I turned, for so many years I never found it.  I had a lot of high expectations of myself.  I was willing to work hard, put in the time needed to move up in the world.  I became successful in many areas, but it never brought me peace or joy. At one point I even spent a period of eighteen months all alone working on myself – focused solely on building my mind and body. Even then, I was left looking for something more.

Fast forward a decade.  I was living in Los Angeles, working in Hollywood.  For most of my life I had been a guy who thought people who needed “religion” were weak.  Yet over that decade, people kept coming into my life who I respected, and they would talk to me about their faith.  They would give me a Bible or tell me they were praying for me.  They would share their story with me.  They were not weak. They were not pushy.  They made an impact on me and they got me thinking.  Thinking about things I had learned when I was a very small kid in church but had not thought about since.

I decided I wanted to look into the matter a little deeper, and I started attending a local church.  Immediately, I realized I had it all wrong.  I became a believer and slowly started changing my life as I learned about what it meant to be a Christian.  Instead of living my life for myself, I needed to live it for my creator.

Soon after that big change, I was headed for another big change.  I was driving away from Los Angeles, leaving behind the life I knew and was comfortable in.  I had always been a city boy.  Now, I live in the Midwest.  I wake up in the country each morning. It is peaceful and beautiful here.  I have a new perspective on how I want to spend my days on earth.

Training Rock Steady Boxers with Parkinson’s disease has also changed my way of thinking.  I see first hand their struggles.  I also see how they respond to my encouragement, how they learn and push themselves to be stronger and sharper. I get to share in their triumphs. It is so rewarding as a trainer to see them fighting back, and winning, against something like Parkinson’s that will take over their lives if they let it.

The money-driven younger self I once knew would see my life at this point as a failure.  But the funny thing is, I am much more fulfilled using my strengths to help others and living my life in faith than I ever was when I was moving “up” in the world.  

Proverbs 19:21

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

2 Timothy 1:9

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.

Matthew 22:36-40

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

 

Delayed Gratification

I have learned a few important lessons in the last two years. I had been under the mistaken impression that I didn’t need to learn anymore, and boy was I wrong.

The road to success is paved with failures.  The important thing is to learn along the way.

When I train Jiu-Jitsu, I enjoy getting myself into really bad positions on the mat, and then patiently work my way out of those positions.  My habit is to then take the first submission that presents itself after I have worked my way out.  I recently realized that I have been cheating myself and those I train with by not letting the whole scenario play itself out before looking for that submission.

So where is the lesson in this?  Well, in the world we live in now we have become used to instant gratification. We get things fast, we save time etc.  It turns out, however, that the most successful people in life tend to be those who delay gratification.  I am not just talking about monetary success, but success in achieving goals and living a fulfilling life.

I did a little investigating into the theory of delayed gratification and I found the Stanford Marshmallow experiment. It was a simple test where they would give a preschool-aged child the option of being given one marshmallow or waiting for twenty minutes alone and being given two marshmallows instead. Years later they followed up with the now grown children, and found that the ones who had opted to wait for a larger reward had lower BMI (body mass index) and higher SAT scores in general.

Take that idea of twenty minutes, and expand it to the time it would take you to reach your goals.  A year or two is nothing in the big scheme of life. Take health for example.  If you lose weight over a few weeks or a month, and then go back to eating the same way, you will soon be back to your original weight or even higher.  If, instead, we change our priorities and reward system to get rid of the instant gratification, we will reap the benefits in the long term.  Isn’t that reward worth the wait?

We can also apply this lesson to living as a Christian.  We are all sinners, not one of us is perfect, but does that mean we can just go ahead and give in to temptation today?  I would hope not, because we have been promised a place in the kingdom. That promise can help us stand strong and strive to live the way we have been called to live during our time here on earth.

1 Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

 

James 1:14

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.