Pushing Thirty

and shedding pretentions

Getting Motivated: the Mission

I want to sing the praises of the “motivated life.”

I have come to believe that feeling motivated about my life is the make-or-break sensation that I cannot live without. Feeling a sense of motivation gives me the energy to do things that I don’t feel like getting done in the name of my goals.

I’m going to write a series of small posts on what I’ve found works for me, to get me motivated. I’ve had my fair share of failed attempts at spending time wisely, but I have found a few things that work. Whether you’re pursuing a career in freelancing, or working nine-to-five and trying to maximize your weekend hours, I think you’ll find this helpful in leveraging your free time.

Before I go any further though, I want to lay the ground work by the most powerful principle I have touched about feeling motivated:

Motivation is not a Mood, it is a Mission.

Proverbs 4:23 tells us to guard our hearts with all diligence, for out of the heart springs the issues of life. If my heart is not motivated, that means it is not stirred or roused to action. And that is not okay. For so long, though, I thought that feeling of being moved to action was arbitrary. Some days I’d wake feeling ready to leap from my bed, but most days not. I was rarely excited to face the day.

But then I started paying attention to what was causing that, and I found it was far from arbitrary. Now, I have fully embraced that my emotions are 98% a function of a number of elements in my life that are under my control. It was empowering to find that my life is MY LIFE and that I don’t need to be held hostage by feelings of lethargy. Guarding my heart, guarding my passion, guarding my motivation is a critical part of pursuing a life that lives up to my goals and values.

My friends don’t think of me as one of those people who is a driven go!go!go! always positive kind of guy, a person who more resembles a terrier than a human being. Most people think of me as a rather sedate introvert. I’m not talking about a personality type. I’m talking about how I finally got a grip on my heart and my life, and how I’m continuing to go about that. I want to feel a connect with how I spend my waking hours, a sort of soul-traction, the opposite of living in the daily grind. Its the substance of Motivation.

Motivation isn’t a Mood; It’s my Mission. It is the part of me that I need to keep alive, or else find myself dramatically off course years down the road.

May 6, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Favorite iPhone Apps.

Well, I should be doing some writing right now. I’ve hit a stall. But rather than leave the computer, I thought I’d write a post to help me with the writing I should be writing. Follow?

Anyhow, I’m on day five with my new iPhone and already can’t live without it. I thought I’d run through a few of my favorite applications.

Let’s begin with the beginning: Twitter. Twitter– and if you haven’t at least heard of twitter, then you’re probably not even reading this– did not make an ounce of sense to me before the iPhone. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to report what they were doing at all times, let alone get updates. I downloaded Twitterfon (after a brief stint with Twitteriffic; what was I thinking) and everything came into focus (the exact same thing happened to me for Pandora, but we’ll save that for another post). I’ll say this: Twitter isn’t about reporting mundane facts of life like eating lunch and doing laundry. It is about what all good writing is about: reporting about mundane facts of life in a way that makes people want to read it. Do it in 140 characters or less, an boom! you’re tweeting.

Next, I want to hit on the task management app, OmniFocus. This app changed my iPhone from a toy into a bonefied work tool. Not only does it have all the contact cross referencing abilities and project groupings you’d expect from this kind of program, but it has one more critical feature: it has a feature called “context” that links up with your GPS. To illustrate, yesterday I was in the grocery store and I checked Omnifocus. It told me that there was a post office in the grocery store where I could drop off the three items on my list that needed to be run to the grocery store. That is, if I had brought them with me. OmniFocus already one step ahead and breathing down my neck. It’s exactly what I need.

Let’s talk about the weather channel app. There’s a lot to love, but I love the video button. What’s the worst part about watching the WC on tv? Right, trying to catch the individual weather for your city as they broadcast for the entire region. With the weather channel app, you can watch the updated video segment for your city any time of day.

Not long into my iPhone experience, I had a great idea for an app. I thought I was going to make a million dollors on an application that helped you find where you parked your car using the gps locator. I was excited. Until I found three different versions in the app store. The one I bought only cost me a dollar and was the exact same thing I was envisioning. And then some. This app not only uses a satellite to help you find your car, but has a timer that you can set so you never over stay your parking meter. Since I’m notorious for forgetting where I parked within ten paces of leaving my car, there will be a worn smudge on my iPhone screen from selecting this app over and over and over.

I’ll give you one more. While I’m thoroughly stoked about how work-oriented my iPhone is, I do have one guilty pleasure. I wouldn’t call myself a gamer at all, but I couldn’t resist one. Its called Glyde. Back when Nintendo made the leap to Super Nintendo (this predates xBox by a good decade), there was a game that intrigued me. It was called PilotWings, and it featured a dude on a jet pack flying through a 3D world. Glyde is way cooler than PilotWings, but in the same vein. You steer a little flyer all over God’s green earth and into his blue heavens and through canyons, and water, and up around mountains, collecting floating crystals. You can dive bomb the ground at breakneck speeds or gently soar over menacing stallagmites. I’m blown away by the grapics, the game play, and the fact that it only cost me a dollar.

All things considered, I’m thrilled with the iPhone.

May 2, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Puns and other Foolishness

I got into a little Twitter back and forth with a real blog-czar Randy Bohlender today.  With the hype of the swine flu dying down, I guess it was only a matter of time before the flu-jokes started creeping into the twitosphere.  After all, even the title– swine flu– sounds ridiculous.

So Randy, good for a steady stream of chuckles throughout the day, threw out a few tweets all tagged #othertypesofflu.  They went a little something like this:

Flu from bad rappers: Flu Live Crew

Flu only dangerous to male members of the 6th grade choir: Little Boy Flu/ go blow your horn.

This proved irresistible.  So for the next two hours, all I could think of, no matter what I was doing, was Flu puns.  Here are some of mine:

Summer-long flu strain with a cut-rate sound track?  Lollapa-FLU-za

Flu served family style with creepy decor?  FLU-co de Beppo

Walrus flu? FLU-coo-ka-choo

A tenacious Irish flu strain that attacks global poverty? FLU-2

(and my personal favorite)

A strain with impressive pedigree but debatable journalistic merit?  Anderson FLUper
Finally, Randy came back with a response:

@jbmavWRITER, the commitee just got out of their meeting. It’s unanimous: you need to stop.

So it was over.  But its never over!  Can you think of any to add to the list?  The best thing about them is that they easily turn into great “what-do-you-call-a” jokes, or crossword puzzle clues. You get the idea.

May 1, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The New Frugality = The (Really) Old Frugality

Thrifty is Hip. Haven’t you heard? Its no longer cool to live outside your means. Living in a state of blissful ignorance and having no idea where your money is coming from or where it is going is no longer a status symbol. In fact, living in a post-bubble world, we can now call that what its always been called:

Foolishness.

The last part of Proverbs Chapter 27, hits this thing dead on:

Proverbs 27: 23-27
Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations? When the grass is gone and the new growth appears and the vegetation of the mountains is gathered, the lambs will provide your clothing, and the goats the price of a field. There will be enough goats’ milk for your food, for the food of your household and maintenance for your girls.

I know what you’re thinking: that’s a lot of grass and goats– but just think petty cash and 9to5 job. I can’t count how many articles I’ve read recently about the “new” realization we’re having as Americans that what has been supplying us with our money this whole time is not our stock options, nor our rental properties, nor even our 401Ks. What has been putting food on the table all this time has been the bringing home of the bacon. (How’s that for a mixed metaphor that yet works on so many different levels?)

But King Solomon could have told us that a few millenia ago. Riches don’t last, so keep your attention on the pieces of your life that are generating the real cash flow, he says. Thanks, Sol. But is this just piece of Bible Wisdom just a little too late?

It turns out, no: So many people are convinced– by layoffs, and ravaged savings plans, and penny-poor mutual funds– that things have reached the point of no return. But you know what? This thing goes in cycles. The grass grows again. And when it does, the goats get fed. And when they get fed, there’s resource again for food on the table and shirts on our backs. But that doesn’t mean that we’ll be able to go back to our Latte-guzzling, Panera-frequenting, who-knows-where-the-money-went consumerism. It feels good to be so financially inflated that we’re just carried effortlessly along by a happening economy, happy as a buoy. It feels like we’re living large, like easy money. But that’s not real.

Sweat, determination, and diligence to what matters is still–as it always has been–the way to financial stability.

April 27, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Diligents Rule! Sluggards Drool!

No, that’s not a typo.

(How else would you personify it?)

One of the things I’ve gained a vision to grown as I approached 30 is diligence. The book of Proverbs has much to say about it, you might even suffer me to wax proverbial: DILIGENCE IS NEXT TO GODLINESS.

If you don’t have a firm grasp of your life vision and what it will take to get there, you will waste time. You will waste your life.

I thought I’d take today and highlight the four or five components of diligence from the Proverbs that I’ve come to love. Here’s how to kick start your self-government faculties (i.e. get your rear in gear).

1. Don’t love sleep. Can’t over emphasize this one, really. A sin sign of laziness is hitting the snooze, getting to bed too late, and getting up over the course of an hour and a half. Here is the first battle cry of the diligent.

Proverbs 20:13 (New King James Version)

13 Do not love sleep, lest you come to poverty;
Open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with bread.

2. Follow Through This one is tricky. If you’re not used to governing your time, any step towards productivity will be rewarding in its own right. But a common pitfall is to mistake any work for complete work. Consider this:

Proverbs 19:24 (English Standard Version)

24 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish
and will not even bring it back to his mouth.

Pretty straight forward, right?

Step one: Reach in bowl.

Step two: lift hand to mouth and eat.
It doesnt’ matter what phase one is, it’s only phase one. If you don’t follow it with phase two, you’ll still starve.

3. A Habit of Action. You may think you’re problem is not enough time, or not enough money, and if so, you might be diligence-indigent. Look at this;

Proverbs 12:27 (New King James Version)

27 The lazy man does not roast what he took in hunting,
But diligence is man’s precious possession.

This idea is a corollary to the last. But the reality is that you need to think in terms of getting motion, and regiment, and routine. The obvious point to hunting food is to then roast it. But this guy doesn’t know the drill. He thinks he can relax or get distracted and yet not waste the meat. But he needs a focused initiative that runs all the way to his full stomach. Action plans and vision casting are good starting points, but at the end, you’ll only be as productive as your habits. Value diligent habits as a lifestyle, and many things will naturally fall into place.

4. Do Anything This is one of my favorites. If you’re not naturally diligent (which means your parents didn’t drive foolishness from your members with a stick), you probably have felt the paralysis of wondering what to do. Good news: just do something. Compare:

Proverbs 14:23 (New King James Version)

23 In all labor there is profit,
But idle chatter leads only to poverty.

In all, A-L-L, labor there is profit. But letting the engine idle just drains the gas tank. If you’re not sure where to start, don’t let that stop you from starting.

Four critical elements:

Don’t Love Sleep
Follow Through
Habit of Action
Do Something!

Let these become our battle cry! The hand of the Diligent will Rule!

April 25, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 2 Comments

#Diligence

So, I’m loving todays chapter in the proverbs. One of my favorite themes in Proverbs is diligence. Its a real simple concept: it pays to work. But chapter 24 is the sermon on diligence par excellence because of the last five verses.

I call it the parable of the Sluggard and his Nettles. Feel that? That was Aesop twitching in his proverbial grave. Sing it if you know it:

Proverbs 24:30-34 (English Standard Version)

I passed by the field of a sluggard,
by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,
and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns;
the ground was covered with nettles,
and its stone wall was broken down.
Then I saw and considered it;
I looked and received instruction.
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.

Now, I’m going to stick with this topic for awhile, but at this moment I’m considering Twitter, an whether or not social networking can help me be more or less diligent.

This is probably a good time to mention that I initially joined Twitter because I was spending too much time on FaceBook. I found out that I could remotely (thru Twitter thru my phone) update my FB status. That sounded like a good excuse to not open FB when I should be doing work. Right? Right.

The problem is, that didn’t solve the problem. Now I’m just linked in through a different source, and I’m spending too much time deciding between Twitterriffic and Twitbin. I’m all geeked out and wondering if I should be following all my friends from FB, or celebrities from a different sphere, or possible business contacts– or all of the above. When I’m not on twitter I’m thinking about how to update my status with something witty in the hash marks (e.g., #iputthewitintwitter).

Today read this article on the differences between how you use FB and Twitter. It was really helpful, especially since I’m leaning towards using Twitter for business contacts. Which would be a plus to the pro-column on the diligence report. That is, if I could wrap my mind around the abstruse way that Twitter actually works for you if you let it by visceral networking. Like yesterday, I was psyched to show my wife (avid FB’er, non-Tweeter) how I was following Dave Ramsey’s tweet’s, and how my logo was a typewriter. But after a minute or two, she said, “I don’t really get Twitter.” And to that I replied, “I don’t really get it either.”

I’m hoping there’s more to Twitter than thorns and nettles, but I’m not yet sure that it qualifies for actual work. I’ve found in the past that there is a false sense of productivity locked up in digital networking, mainly because I’m physically typing. It’s heavily reminiscent of the sensation I get while blogging. But I can say at this point that there is a potential for work here.

Right?

April 24, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Soundtrack for Exile

I love the capacity that music has to take you back to a time and place.  It might be rivaled only by scents and smells.  I’ve often pontificated  on the nature of memory and how our clearest, deepest memories are tied to these two mysterious senses.

But that’s not the point of this post, except to say that Kerri Lee Smith’s new album TAKES ME BACK!

Here’s the story:  In January 2001, Brandie and I were only friends (not dating), I was planning on going to Law School when I finished my undergrad in May, and I had only heard of “Harp and Bowl.”  Then came the call of God.  I met Stephen Venable at a local prophetic worship conference hosted by a church in State College, Pa.  He invited me to join a Harp and Bowl Prayer team that he was assembling:  I was the drummer, Kevin Sliman was the bassist,  Alison played keys, Brandie and her friend Cara were the singers, Stephen prayer led and (wait for it)–

Kerri was the worship leader.

The spring of 2001 was a massive transitional season to say the least.  I interceded with this team every Friday night from 11pm to 1am (my first inklings towards the NightWatch) and the Lord unveiled his purpose for my life.  That season, full of the whispers of destiny and the pains that come along with it, will always have as a sound track the sweet laments of Kerri Smith.  The combination of Kerri’s voice and her guitar strum will pull on something deep in your heart, the ache of eternity that God has placed in all of us.  Mourning– for the Bridegroom’s return, and the sure joy’s of his coming Kingdom– will stop you dead in your tracks, and the only response will be to sigh a long sigh and whisper the  prayer, “Jesus, come quickly.”  To me, her music always embodied themes of exile and pilgrimage, and has helped me understand Psalm 137, one of the sweetest longing’s for God’s kingdom found in scripture.

Her song Unfailing Love in an attitude of nonchalance the world collapsing all around, and in the midst of overwhelming disaster, the only sure hope: God’s Love.   And for all of the songs you’ve heard about God’s love, you might  find that the backdrop of apocalypse– raging seas, and shaking mountains– will leave you with a deeper confidence in what really cannot be shaken.  My personal favorite, One Thing, was written during that dear season of worship and prayer.  But all of the songs on Kerri’s CD Songs to God comprise the set list she drew from (plus or minus) back then, and so this CD will become the jewel of my iTunes.  It holds the mystery of memory of a life-defining season of mine, and I when I play this music, I can feel the fresh yearning that I felt as a younger man.

By the summer of 2001, our little team had disbanded, and by late 2002 Brandie and I had fallen in love, gotten married, and moved to Utah.  And it wasn’t until the spring of 2005 that the Lord would meet the desire he placed in our hearts with that initial team by setting us on the wall in Kansas City, day and night, night and day. As Brandie and I celebrate our 4 year anniversary (April 20, 2005) of standing on the Wall, it was a wonderful kiss from the Lord that Kerri sent us her CD.  It is a wonderful gift, those moments in life, when you can gaze from a height back upon the road you’ve traveled, and from the vista take in the mile markers of steps trodden on the journey.  And, when you can share that kind of gift with others, well, where do I begin?

April 23, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

You’ll Never Guess My Middle Name.

I made a friend in college who had the second most interesting middle name I’ve ever heard. His middle name was Dorman. For the life of me, I wish I could remember his brother Paul’s middle name because it was the single most interesting middle name I’d ever heard. His middle name was something like “Erstwhile,” though, that wasn’t it. For years, these brothers would use that famous line, “you’ll never guess my middle name.”

My friend Cassie just used that line the other night. And boy, was she right. Her middle name used to be someone else’s last name, and she probably knew that those where the toughest kind to figure out. She gave me the first letter and I scrambled to offer all of the most outrageous and exotic names that began with that letter. And when she finally told me, I realized I’d never have guessed it in a million years.

But I can’t tell you her name middle here on this blog. You and I both know that publishing that kind of insider information is a strict violation of middle-name code. You just don’t do that. Middle names are secrets.

But a middle name is a regenerative secret, because not only do few people know our middle name, but sometimes people who once knew forget again. A Middle Name is a personal mystery that we release at our discretion that can even stand at the threshhold of our relationships. How many of your close friends don’t know your middle name? Or, how many of your acquaintances do? And while intimacy with one another uncovers many secrets about us, the Middle Name is the good kind, of the precious order that we reserve and savor; the kind we don’t mind people knowing, just so long as we get to tell them.

I think maybe this is because our First Name carries a paradox: it is first the title that most clearly and deeply identifies me. The sum total of my actions, values, successes and failures, loves and losses, can be encapsulated in a single word. And yet, for something so precious and private, it out of necessity must be used so profusely that it falls into the mundane.

I once heard a joke that a mother searching for what to name her child ought to pick a name, and then shout it 100 times from the back porch; if it still does not sound tired to her, then she has found it. But honestly, what name could not sound tired after millions of uses? Our First Name is meant to bear the brunt of the effacing forces of use– whether bourne on the soft whisper of a beloved, or the acrimonious tirade of a nemesis. It needs to be made of some tough stuff

Is that why we so carefully protect our Middle Names? After all, for all of the wear and tear, we know that our First Name is not our Full Name. Within a Middle Name is preserved the regal dignity that a name should preserve, something that ought not to fall into common use. And so with hyphens or coy games we guard our Middle Names.

And when I learn someone’s middle name, I always feel like I know something deeper about them, but by intuition– something I definitely cannot put into words. Maybe its the fact that when someone discloses their Middle Name they are almost always beaming. They’re proud, and they’re happy to share something something of themselves that they have only privately considered and come to terms with in order to present themselves.  It is a secret that they’ve obviously been hiding, but not in a bad way.

Mine is a particularly clever ruse. I actually go by my Middle Name. When I say, “you’ll never guess my middle name,” it comes with the Rumplestiltskin-irony that you’ve been using it for years and that what you really don’t know is my first name. People usually say something like, “You mean Bret isn’t your REAL name?” And that always makes me smile. Of course Bret is my real name; but it is not my full name, not the full story. My full name carries a regal dignity that is preserved even after my common title is fatigued by saying it thousands of time. My first name is a secret that I don’t mind telling, so long as there aren’t too many people around. And if you knew my full name, you would understand a bit more about me, even if you only understood it intuitively.

But I go by Bret.

April 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Dispatch: 5 PM Sunday Morning

There’s an old saying: One man’s sunset is another man’s sunrise.

Never heard that one? Well I won’t hold it against you. After living a reversed sleep schedule for almost four years, I’m finally getting into a rhythm. I jump in bed promptly between 6:30 AM and 7:00 AM. I sleep with a bandanna over my eyes because black-out curtains are too dark, and sunlight wrecks my world. I eat breakfast when you do, and leftovers when you do– evidently my appetite doesn’t switch as easily as my sleeping–which means my meals generally get smaller and smaller as my “day” goes on.

Beyond that, a 24/7 missions base kind of messes with the 5-day-work-week concept. I guess that’s an American thing after all, because I take my day off on Tuesday. There’s no day less “weekendy” than Tuesday. This does not yet feel normal. But it does feel right, like I’m maxed, and pressed, but in a good way. I’m working for the Kingdom, after all. But, despite my 6 days of work, and my upside down sleeping schedule, vestiges of an American life have I still. Take Sunday morning, for example.

My Sunday has the same cast as everyone else’s Sunday, day or night. I wake up to my sunrise in reverse, pull the bandanna from my eyes, and brew some coffee. Maybe I’ll blog a little. Maybe I’ll read the paper. I’ve got work to get to, but no one will be expecting it until Monday. I’ve got a pile of emails, but they’re all about the meetings I had last week. Sunday is still a blissful Sabbath.

Even now the evening chill is setting in (you probably thought that it was the chill of Monday, didn’t you?), and I have to get moving; remember, my day is still ahead of me. But it was nice to be slow for a few hours. It was nice to enjoy one of the more pleasant elements of our culture. We’re a conflicted people, my fellow Americans, pressured to be productive in the wrong ways, and pressured to entertain ourselves in other wrong ways. But we haven’t got it all bad. Sundays are still working for us, even us American Missionaries.

February 22, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Khristmas in Kansas City. (a poem)

where in the world?!
a white holiday, but cold!
the killing kind, and we whimper and whine,
and we can’t get indoors fast enough.
If this were Minnesota or Vermont, I
could understand, but as it stands,
this is harsh weather. The wind blows
and I wince and squint,
and turn the world to Christmas lights.

December 24, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment