How Long is it Appropriate to Leave Up Your Christmas Tree?

This is a question I’ve seen circulating on social media, and something I wonder about every year.

Some type A folks take down their tree on December 26th without fail. To me, that is too soon. It actually stings a little to think about it.

Others leave it up for New Year’s, then promptly remove it on January 2nd. Good on them for being so efficient.

I always aim to take mine down the weekend after New Year’s. It rarely happens.

To provide excruciating sentimentality to the mix, I wrestle with this dilemma…

… taking down our tree is like giving up on the joy, cheer, and delight of the Christmas season.

… We wait all year for Christmas. Having the tree up for only 2-3 weeks just isn’t enough!

… In the Pacific Northwest, November – March is pretty dreary weather. Breaking that up is the “holiday season.” After January 1st, we have nothing but cold and rain to look forward to … for MONTHS. Taking down the tree is an acknowledgment that you accept the fact that WINTER IS HERE. It feels like admitting defeat.

I understand the mindset of the December 26th crowd, but I just can’t get on board with it.

As of January 11, 2020, our tree is still up, and I am enjoying its beauty as I write this.

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The answer to the question, “How Long is it Appropriate to Leave Up Your Christmas Tree?” comes down to this: as long as you want.

Since I didn’t get around to taking it down last weekend as I intended, I am now engaging in the “peel the band-aid off slowly or tear it off?” debate, Christmas tree style.

Judge me if you want. I’ll just scoff while I sit down on the couch with a tasty beverage and watch some Netflix … with my lovely tree as the backdrop.

When do you take your Christmas tree down?

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Posted in Christmas, Holidays, Opinion | Tagged , | 2 Comments

A “New and Improved” Way to Tackle the New Year

Is that title presumptuous enough for you? I sure hope so, because I worked hard to make it that way.

OK, maybe I didn’t. But it is still bordering on presumptuous.

In all honesty, “A ‘New and Improved’ Way to Tackle the New Year” is just my seemingly self-important way of saying, “Hey — I discovered something that I like better than the old way of doing things.”

And that new way is simply this:

Rather than put pressure on myself to be fully prepared for the new year on January 1 —

— the previous year’s activities and progress analyzed

— the new year’s goals fully written out, with a rock-solid action plan included

— stirring up dust from a flurry of productivity, off to the races

… I decided that New Year’s Day is just another day. My new outlook is treating all of January as “New Year’s Month.”

That is to say, use the whole month as a springboard to start fresh. Take time to thoughtfully evaluate each aspect of life — personal, spiritual, health, relationships, business — and methodically determine what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to change.

With New Year’s Day coming as the third and final holiday in the “season” we in western culture are all pretty overloaded with activities and to-dos during the fourth quarter. All year, actually.

As I get older and more in sync with how I work best, I’ve realized that as a laid-back introvert, I move at a slower pace mentally than your classic type-A extrovert. I need more time to process and evaluate things.

In order to even begin processing things, I need to decompress from the busyness. That is a step that I can’t skip if I want to continue being effective. I need peace and quiet to be alone with my thoughts. That helps me unclutter my mind. Only then can I begin to work towards my strategic planning.

There is a whole lot of noise and fuss that goes on in the media space about the hubbub of starting fresh on January 1. That’s great, and there is no problem with that.

I’ve come to realize that a lot of that stuff is propagated by type-A extroverts who have programming to fill, or media content to create. That doesn’t mean that I need to blindly follow their lead.

Neither do you.

If you are one of those types, more power to you. I used to think I was. If you’re already moving 100 miles per hour, go you.

I’m just simply introducing the realization I had that we are all free to do things the way that works best for us as individuals. It was kind of a big deal for me to come to that conclusion.

How do you do your New Year planning?

 

Posted in Advice, Opinion, Productivity, Professional Development, Self-Improvement | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

2019: Year in Review

I’ve come to appreciate that each year is unique in its own way. Though many things remain the same year over year, different themes and challenges emerge each lap the earth takes around the sun.

As such, I thought it fitting to document an overview of 2019. It did not disappoint in terms of uniqueness among the years. I recognize that this type of post is most relevant to a small group of readers: those who care about the minutiae of my activities. This is written for them, and for me. Lord willing, if I am still around in 15 or 20 years, this post will serve as a memorial to the year and all its happenings. So without further delay, I’ll jump in.

On a personal note, 2019 started out in dramatic fashion with the stuff my dreams are made of, with a trip to the magnificently beautiful south island of New Zealand. You can see pics and stories at this post. It was difficult to put into words the beauty we beheld there, but that post is my attempt to capture it.

Upon our return, we welcomed into our home two adorable sister-kittens (from the same litter) which were up for adoption from a family in our church. Marge and Velma added double trouble fuzzy delightfulness and filled the hole in our hearts left by Toonces, our 16-year-old cat who we’d put down last fall.

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Marge (left) and Velma chillaxin, like cats do. They sure grow up fast!

On the business front, a significant happening in 2019 was the realization of my long-held dream of starting my own business. For a bit of background info, check here. SummerTime Communications is my freelance writing/social media management/marketing consultant company. It has been a wild adventure forming and learning how to run, a solopreneur enterprise. I’ve tackled many challenges and will continue to do so as I move forward in my business endeavors.

I’m grateful to my friend and boss Larry White, who has provided me a flexible part-time job these last two years as I work towards my business providing a full-time income for me.

Just as I wrote about in my 2018 year-end summary, 2019 was full of foreign-to-me freedom; the freedom of time. I love it every bit as much as I thought I would.

The reality of entrepreneurship

Though my time was not under the control of a 40+ hour office job, as in my entire previous career, I found that owning my own business meant a new kind of freedom — the freedom to work seven days per week, with unlimited hours. Tee hee hee. Other business owners will know what I am talking about.

Replacing the stress of working 9-6 and occasional evenings and weekends was the responsibility of completing client projects, figuring out price structures and contract details, overcoming technical difficulties, and delivering work on time and in a manner about which I can be proud. Regardless of how long it takes.

I spent the majority of my weekends either doing client work or necessary administrative tasks for my company. I’ve always tried not to work on Sundays, but I found that work crept its way even to the Lord’s day during deadline-intensive periods.

No more hiding behind a company, delegating to other employees, or blaming a boss for anything. As a one-woman shop, it is all on me to get it done and do it right. Every new project meant building a template (both in the document and in the process) from the ground up. This is where, in retrospect, I’m glad I spent so many years working for small bootstrapping companies. My years of experience inventing processes and creating corresponding documents have come in quite handy.

My husband Mike has long held a side business as a watercolor painter in addition to full-time work, so he was understanding about his workaholic wife.

Different, but not worse

As I opined in my summer 2019 summary post, our normal recreation-packed third quarter saw less outdoor adventure and more, you guessed it — working. Yet, we still had plenty of fun. We also recognize that this is the stage of life we are in now. We’re both hustling to build our small businesses, to make them more profitable for the future.

Somehow it feels a lot less like work when we’re doing it for ourselves instead of a corporation, and endeavoring to make our passions pay more of the bills.

So in a crude summary, 2019 can be largely boiled down to New Zealand, kittens, and working.

When I put it that way, it sounds pretty good actually. I have no complaints about the year. I am extremely grateful that we have had the opportunity to travel, pursue our business dreams, and have a couple cute cats at home to boot. God has truly been kind and merciful to us, and we give Him the praise and glory for His generous provisions.

What word or sentence would you use to describe YOUR 2019?

 

 

Posted in Blogging, Opinion, Professional Development, Random, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Maybe Things Aren’t as Bad as We Think: An Optimist’s Take on Political Incivility

In the United States of America, we are more divided as a nation than at any time in recent history. While I wasn’t personally alive during the Civil War (despite what small children might think regarding my ancient status), my knowledge of it makes me conclude that the deep divisions in ideology were also largely geographical. That is the north vs the south. So people were living in areas that were removed from political opponents.

Not so today.

We now get to rub elbows with those who hold opposite views from us on all matters political and cultural. We aren’t separated geographically.

So what are we to do, and how are we to behave in light of this?

First of all, I would like to point to what I consider three of many culprits in the rapid destruction of civil discourse in America:

  1. 24-hour cable news
  2. Social media
  3. Shrinking critical thinking

Like it or not, both of these items play a major role not only in the sheer volume of information we take in but in how that information is presented to us.

In the case of cable news, the networks have to fill air time around the clock. No easy task. Somewhere since CNN first launched in 1980 as the first cable news network, to today, the options have multiplied and slowly but surely shaken off the veneer of objectivity for which journalists used to strive.

As observant people will readily tell you, each cable news network has a distinct political leaning. CNN, which started out as more objective, has now positioned itself firmly to the left. MSNBC also leans left, and Fox News is where you go to get conservative takes on the news.

With cable news, we can tune into the network that shares our ideology, and get a never-ending stream of news coverage and commentary that is presented in a way that advances a particular agenda while ignoring, belittling or even demonizing opposing viewpoints.

With social media, we customize our feeds to follow people, news sources and organizations who give us the content we want. We digest the viewpoints of thought leaders we champion, cheer on their hot takes, and disparage those they do.

We can fine-tune our media consumption to take in only that which supports our pre-conceived ideas about how the world works or should work. To put it bluntly, it is far too easy for us to passively take in an overflow of information – much of which is biased – and not stop to think about what we are taking in or critically analyze anything.

That is not a healthy or productive way to exist, in my opinion.

Just as children that are over-parented and protected from every germ, injury or trauma they might experience in their formative years can be subject to crippled coping skills in the real world, young adults and beyond that are shielded from opposing viewpoints are left with a dangerously incomplete understanding of life and the human experience.

The result? At best, stunted interpersonal and potentially damaged relationships. Complicating this is when we only receive caricatures of the other side’s view, which can be slanted or inaccurate.

Compounding the problem further is what seems to be a rapid disappearance of critical thinking skills and an increased absence of fact-based reasoning, in favor of emoting or “thinking with feelings” at the expense of logical evaluation. That is the subject of another post or series of posts.

This is the set up to the situation at hand. With that, I’ll introduce …

My thesis

Here is my thesis, stated as a question: What if the state of the national discourse is not as bad as we think? That is, what if it is not as divisive as the news media would like us to believe it is? What is the possibility that we are all getting played?

My answers are: it might not be, and it is quite likely.

I don’t spend much brain power ruminating on conspiracy theories, but I do have a reasonable belief that the individuals who run media companies have an agenda. Most people do, so why would a media CEO and his or her board of directors be any different? Furthermore, I find it reasonable to conclude that those who own platforms have a real and vested interest in using them to further their agenda, whatever that may be.

Playing into the equation is the fact that humans are easily influenced by what they see, read and hear. That is neither good nor bad, it just is. The observation has been made that we are like sheep (which are not particularly bright animals), looking for a shepherd. We are looking for a voice to guide us; a source of inspiration and leadership. When we find one that resonates with us, we are likely to follow it.

Then things can get complicated. Well, either over-complicated or under-complicated depending on your perspective. Once we’ve found an influence we admire, we have a tendency to cling to it loyally and put aside objective reasoning. I think often we do so without even realizing it. I know I do sometimes. We eat up the words of our favorite pundit, retweet and share without stopping to critically analyze the truth factor in what they say.

All those aforementioned things in play, in my observation, work together to drive a divide between us that may be artificial; certainly not as deep as we may think it is.

For example

To demonstrate my theory, let’s take a real-life scenario. Pretend with me that you wake up late one day. Running behind, you don’t take the time to check your phone, fire up your home computer, or turn on the TV. In other words, you don’t let media intrude into your world.

As you stop at the coffee shop and chat with the barista, or step into a store or restaurant to grab something for breakfast, do you randomly pick a political fight with those you encounter? If you answered yes, I’m sorry.

I’m hoping and assuming the answer is no for the majority of readers.

The point? We are not naturally prone to argue with strangers over our differences. Apart from the influence of media, we are apt to engage with one another as humans, not as political enemies.

That person I enchanged friendly banter with as I walked past them on the street, could very well be someone whose ideology diminishes my hope for the world. They might think the same about me if they saw what I tweet about.

My plea

My eternal optimism sees that each of us, beyond our ideologies, is someone who needs to be loved, wants to belong, and craves acceptance and community. To get spiritual (because that is what I do), we are all made in God’s image. As we read in James 3, it is contrary to God’s intent for us to tear one another down, while at the same time giving lip service to honoring our Creator.

Here is my plea: let us act like humans toward one another, not like caricatures of what we believe our political enemies are.

How can we do that?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Identify someone who has opposite viewpoints from you, and ask them questions honestly. No ax to grind, no judgment. Find out what they believe and why. Perhaps you’ll find that their motives are better than you thought.
  • Make an active practice of looking people in the eyes and smiling at them – especially people you wouldn’t normally talk to.
  • Assume that you can learn something from everyone. You can’t truly know what the other side believes until you talk to enough people and understand where they are coming from well enough to articulate their viewpoint fairly to someone else, without putting a biased spin on it.
  • What would you add to this list?

I personally know many people I have a lot of respect for who have radically different political leanings than I do. I can sense that we aren’t as close in an era when political grievances get aired publicly on social media. Or maybe it is a perception on my part only. Regardless, I still value them as people and should take my own advice above.

Call me an optimist, or an idealist. I simply insist on believing that our common humanity, when we emphasize that, can lead to greater unity,  in the real world and out from behind screens.

Posted in Advice, Opinion, Political Musings, Self-Improvement, Social | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Giving Thanks for Those Who Paved the Way for My Entrepreneurship (SummerTime Communications)

The end of 2019 looms near, and once again, it is November, the traditional American month of giving thanks. Not only that, in the social media era, it has become popular to post items of gratitude regularly throughout the month.

My perhaps vain refusal to jump on the bandwagon for social media trends often precludes me from participating in things like “30 Days of Thanksgiving” or similar initiatives. For the record, I actively think about gratitude all year, thank you very much. (Was that a pun?) I try to regularly dwell on my many blessings and thank those who are responsible for them when appropriate.

However, I wanted to do something in the spirit of gratitude but with a different twist. Different twists are my thing. As I reflect on the wild ride that 2019 has been so far, I have much for which to be thankful. As usual.

This year I activated my long-held dream of starting my own business as a freelance writer and marketing consultant. For several years, being my own boss has been a burning desire for me. Using all the skills I have acquired in my career to help other businesses but on my own terms and schedule.

I’ll admit, I love it so far. I spent 2018 doing the background work and planning and finished it off the first part of 2019, which an official launch in early April. It has been and will continue to be a tremendous amount of work. Even more than I anticipated. I work more than I ever have (and I have long had perfectionist, workaholic tendencies), and yet I enjoy it so much because I get to call the shots.

It occurred to me, not only that I am in an enviable place, but that there are so many folks that played big roles in my life along the way that helped guide me to where I am today. I wouldn’t be where or who I am without their influence; many of them may not even realize their significant role.

So the different take I am making with this post is to acknowledge some key players in my professional journey that deserve recognition. This is my written act of gratitude for this pivotal year.

The Radio Years

First, I’d thank the management at Kicker 106 radio in Beeville, Texas. They took a chance on hiring an evening DJ fresh out of college that blindly mailed them a terrible demo tape pieced together from the campus radio station. The first radio station to offer a job to this aspiring radio star, I accepted their offer and cut my teeth in the radio industry while spinning the country tunes, taking late-night requests and dedications, and navigating life as a young adult 2200 miles from home.

Living that far away was never going to be a long-term situation, so I moved home after a little over a year. Which brings me to my next person to thank.

I will always be grateful for Leslie, who saw my potential in the radio promotion field and offered me an entry-level position. Getting my start in a tiny town is one thing, but transitioning to a large market raised the stakes considerably. I wanted to work my way up the ranks in my home market, in an industry with no job security, and I felt out of my league. I probably was.

Leslie, a seasoned radio veteran in the Portland market, took me under her wings and showed me the finer points of radio promotions, events, and contests. My massive lack of confidence from my rookie status resulted in heaps of awkwardness of my part, but she put up with it and continued to show me the ropes. She even encouraged me to pursue my dream of hosting a talk show and allowed me time to produce and host it when, much to my shock, my idea got approved by management.

Furthermore, Leslie gave me the freedom to start a monthly newsletter for our station email list and pursue certification as a commercial copywriter for the Radio Advertising Bureau. She generously allowed me to expand my skill set, even though the benefit to her department wasn’t always there.

At the same company, props go to Dave, the program director, who gave me a shot as part of the on-air staff as a voice-tracked overnight DJ.

After a great deal of soul-searching, I realized that my dreams of being a radio star had changed. My love for performing had been overshadowed by my love for writing and an unexpected passion for marketing. The transition that followed lead to my next pivotal influence.

Into Marketing, Copywriting, and More

Andrew, a visionary leader and company founder, was looking for someone to join his team at a tech startup courting the radio industry. My ideal experience and a mutual friend led to our meeting, and him offering me a job. His drive, work ethic, and insistence on excellence pushed me harder than I’d ever thought possible. I regularly questioned my ability to live up to his high standards, but his compassionate yet firm style drove me to find within myself that which I didn’t know was there.

I’ll even include in the list, an employer who will remain nameless. This individual falls squarely into the category of the most undesirable work environment imaginable. Slave driving, condescending, disrespectful, trampler of every kind of boundary for work-life balance, and unpleasable perfectionist.

During my tenure at that place of employment, my stomach was perpetually in knots from anxiety, and I learned well how to handle getting chewed out on a regular basis. I also became quite adept at working exceedingly long hours to keep from drowning in an unmanageable workload. I didn’t see my husband much during that time, and often our times together were tainted by my stress and nervous email-checking on my phone.

Nevertheless, I can look back and see the good that came from my employment there. Not only did I develop a much thicker skin, but the regular criticism of my work also helped me establish a more thorough and refined approach to each project. I learned valuable skills and realized I was capable of so much more than I ever dreamed. Part of that was due to the work itself, part of it was due to the demanding management.

Though I’m glad those days are behind me, I’m always one to take the good with the bad.

Kris, an all-star co-worker, also deserves a shout out. He is one of those indispensable types that makes work more bearable. Not only was he a stellar problem solver, he constantly encouraged me when I was overwhelmed and helped me to believe in myself when I was full of doubt. He also showed me a number of ways to be more organized at work; tricks for which I am very grateful, and some of which I still use.

Ready, Set, Open a Business!

I also must give props to Amanda. We worked together at a job 10 years ago, and have remained friends and on-again, off-again workout partners during that time. She preceded me in entrepreneurship by a few years and has been a tremendous source of information and encouragement over the last 22 months as I have gotten my company off the ground. Not only that, but she has passed me business referrals and gotten me involved in projects of hers that have given me a solid start on my client work.

To finish off the list, there’s Larry. Larry has been a bud for 14 years. He hired me on faith in 2009 when I was between jobs, to help manage his office and do a large volume of monotonous work to build up his client list, with which I was successful.

Fast forward to late 2017, and employment with Larry re-entered the picture. Upon learning I was between jobs once again, he offered me my old position back on a part-time basis. I was honest with him that I was leaning towards starting my own company, and he was not only OK with that, but was and still is, incredibly generous and flexible with my schedule so that my business demands can be worked around that job when necessary.

The job at Larry’s office has been the perfect transition to allow me to earn income while I make the slow, steady climb to a full-time client load with SummerTime Communications.

Even though it was my own vision, grit, and work ethic that has gotten me to where I am, I know that I have not done it on my own. It was also due to those people I mentioned above who gave me opportunities, taught, corrected, pushed, and encouraged me. Not to mention my parents, who relentlessly instilled in me during my formative years that I could do whatever I set my mind to accomplish. They said it often enough that I believed them. 🙂

The future is indeed bright. I anticipate continuing to grow my business and having the opportunity to give a hand to others down the road, as so many have done for me.

Thank you for reading! Who is someone who has helped you in your career? Have you thanked them?

 

 

 

 

Posted in Blogging, Opinion, Professional Development, Thanksgiving | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer 2019 Highlights & Reflection

With the entrance of fall, I thought it worthwhile to compile a list of the highlights of fun things we did this summer. Not only so I can show them to the people who look at this post, but so I also have a reference with stories and pictures all in one place.

This won’t be a very long post, because this summer was short on outdoor adventure as compared to others.

I make no secret of the fact that summer is my favorite season. No, not because of my name.  As a solar-powered individual, I long for the warmth of the sun. I eagerly wait through the dreary nine months of the other three seasons for the time when jeans, boots, and sweaters begin to gather dust as tank tops, shorts and sandals move to the front of the closet.

Furthermore, as an avid outdoorswoman, I long to hike, camp, swim, kayak, cycle, and all the other things that are best enjoyed in warm weather. Summertime is the time I feel most alive and invigorated.

I stated above that this post will make clear the fact that outdoor adventure was a little shy in 2019. That is for a good reason. After several years of dreaming, and a solid year of planning and pre-work, with 2019 came the birth of my freelance writing and marketing company, SummerTime Communications. As it turns out, starting a company is a lot of work. It takes an enormous amount of time.

Like a small child learning to ride a bike, teetering and wobbling as they peddle, building a company requires one’s utmost attention, holding on to keep things steady, lest the small child tumble and fall. I am delighted to have the opportunity to build a business; it just means more work and less play than I am accustomed to. That is an exchange I am happy to make for the great joy that comes from the freedom of self-employment.

With that long introduction, I now present to you, the fun stuff we actually did over the summer! Some stories and pictures to follow.

I had blogged previously about the insanity of June 2019, which included equal parts fun and work (a little too much of both). You can read about that here.

July 2019

Like most months, July came and went quicker than free donuts in the break room at work. We were pleased to have the opportunity for several get-togethers with both Mike’s family and mine. A Fourth of July BBQ, pool party, birthday parties and more broke up the grind with frivolity and quality time.

August 2019

Somehow August always tends to get jam-packed with activity. This year was no different, but we made sure to block out some time for fun stuff on the calendar, lest we waste away the best weather month of the year doing all work and no play.

If you haven't packed floaties for a hike into a remote mountain lake, you really haven't lived.

If you haven’t packed floaties in on a hike to a remote mountain lake, you really haven’t lived.

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Hiking & swimming with our fun-loving cousins, Dean & Rylee. This was the same trip pictured above.

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Why hello there, Mt. Rainier, you sexy thing. The memories are of higher quality than the picture. We spent an enjoyable afternoon cruising around Puget Sound in Mike’s Aunt & Uncle’s boat while camping at Penrose Point State Park.

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The crew of friends that only gets together 3-4 times per year made a weekend trek down to Roseburg to hang out with the Armstrongs, who are usually the ones making the drive to Vancouver.

September 2019

September usually yields the last splash of summer weather, and we try to capitalize on it by squeezing in one more camping trip, often with our friends the Worthingtons. Well, the weather wasn’t very summery, but we still made our trip, and had a blast as usual, taking in the sights of the beautiful Deception Pass State Park.

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Group shot from the start of our hike in Deception Pass.

The color of the water that runs through the pass is quite magnificent. You’ve got to see it for yourself.

Miscellaneous

Throughout the summer, I made sure to focus on the fact that even in the midst of both of us working two jobs that together tend to eat up a lot of our free time, we still could enjoy the simple pleasures in life. We regularly enjoyed home-cooked dinners outside in our backyard oasis, listening to the sound of birds, watching the trees sway and soaking in the warmth of the evening.

Team cooking became a semi-regular thing, where we each contributed something to make a delicious meal. I have to brag on Mike: with the produce from his garden, he made some killer bruschetta, pesto, marinara sauce and more that turned into some succulent cuisine. We had fun making food to meet or exceed what we might find in a restaurant.

In conclusion

As I look and think back on what we did do, I see that the exercise served its purpose. I’m smiling thinking about the fun and enjoyment we had. Yes, we worked a lot of weekends. Yet, we managed to enjoy ourselves along the way. Taking each moment as a chance to be grateful for what we have, and the opportunities we’ve been given seems to me to be the path to contentment and a fulfilled life.

Thanks for reading! What did you do over the summer? Feel free to one-up me if you did something cool or went on an excellent vacation. I’d love to hear it.

Posted in Blogging, Family, Social | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Picking Blackberries as a Life Analogy

Recently, my husband and I were on a hunt for wild blackberries in a natural area close to our home. If you’ve ever picked blackberries, you know that flesh wounds are nearly inevitable as the juicy berries are nestled among sharp thorn bushes.

I was reminded of that afresh as I incurred scratches all over my arms and legs reaching for the sweet, fruity reward. All the memories of picking blackberries as a child came rushing back. Suddenly I was upset with myself for wearing a tank top and shorts, rather than at least jeans to help shield my skin from the unforgiving thorns that seem to pierce it regardless of how careful I am to avoid them.

It occurred to me that the pursuit of a bounty of delicious, sweet blackberries is a fabulous analogy for the struggles of life.

Fruit, of course, refers literally to the harvest of antioxidant-rich blackberries. Fruit can also be defined as “the result or reward of work or activity.” E.g. “The fruit of her labor is increased profits.”

When we view fruit as the figurative term in the second definition, the analogies flow freely. Just as the physical work of picking blackberries yields real fruit, comparing the potentially painful labor to the figurative fruit demonstrates noteworthy comparisons. Allow me to enumerate a few.

Little blood, little fruit

It can be frustrating to be the latecomer to a blackberry bush. You arrive with a bucket in hand, hoping to collect a bountiful harvest with little effort. Instead, you find that all the easy pickings upfront are gone, and you have to reach into the thistles to get the fruit that remains.

Was the fruit that was easy to grab plump and delicious? Maybe, maybe not. But it is gone, so you’ll never know. All that remains is to start your first of many long reaches, hoping to grab the ripe fruit that is nestled among the thorns that tear your clothes and skin.

Getting to the best fruit can incur injury or risk

So it is with the best figurative fruit that life has to offer. Most of the easy stuff is picked over before you arrive on the scene, so you must decide. Will you keep looking for easy pickings: the job that doesn’t challenge you, the romantic relationship with the first person who shows interest, the friends that are quick to take and slow to give, or the college that is eager for students, but may not be the best choice for your career path?

Those opportunities are bountiful, but they get snapped up by average and underachievers. You can keep walking to the next bush to find more of the same, or …

Will you risk reaching into the unforgiving, sharp brambles for the juicy berries at which the lazy people can’t be bothered to grasp? As you reach for them, no matter how careful your moves, branches will unexpectedly snap back at you and draw blood with startling rapidity.  As you begin to load your bucket with delicious fruit (life experience), the wounds will add up.

That job for which you are qualified, but seems like a reach from your current position, for which you stay up all night customizing your resume … you might never get the courtesy of even a callback.

That person you’d love to have as a friend, that you think would make your social life complete, might show disinterest at your invitation to get to know them.

The person you’ve been crushing on, for whom you research all their interests so you have something to talk to them about, could reject your request for a date.

The promotion at work that is a no-brainer: given to someone else because they have the right connection to the decision-maker.

These scenarios and countless more are the sharp bushes that wound us as we reach for the better things in life.

The risk, payoff and learning process

My contention, as I survey the bloody scratches on my arms and legs, and see an unsatisfactory amount of blackberries in my bucket, is that I want more fruit. That means reaching back into the danger zone with more cuts a probability, if not a certainty.

As soon as I get home, however, the pain of the cuts fades into the background as I begin to enjoy the harvest of delicious blackberries.

So it is with striving for higher goals. Temporary setbacks and discouragements abound. It’s wildly intimidating to switch careers knowing that you are back at the bottom of the learning curve. I imagine it takes a tremendous amount of courage to ask someone out for a date that you think is out of your league. (I’m so glad my now-husband did that, because if he hadn’t taken that first step, we’d never have even started dating. And as it turned out, I was dying to get to know him, but willing to wait for him to make the first move.)

The point

I am confident you’re catching the drift of the analogy. The point is, the best things in life require effort that costs us something. It may leave a scar or three in the process. But what we eventually get in return is a sweet bounty of that which we’ve pursued. Whether it is meaningful relationships, a satisfying career, working through our own psychological baggage to be healthy, or any number of challenges that seem insurmountable before we start.

The work is worth it. Would you agree?

If you have comments or want to share a story about your triumph over a figurative sticker bush, I would be honored to hear it.

 

 

 

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Mass Shootings, The Human Heart, and God

With the recent news of not one mass shooting, but TWO in 24 hours in the United States, it can be challenging to know what to say, do, or how to pray. In the last quarter-century, shootings have gone from virtually unheard of to, tragically, painfully frequent.

Make no mistake: each and every shooting is a terrible tragedy; each victim lost is a beloved image-bearer of God who is to be mourned; each perpetrator should receive the most severe justice possible.

What is so unpalatable to accept is the increased frequency with which the shootings have happened in the last decade or so. They happen so often anymore that it is difficult to process and grieve each one with the level they deserve. That alone is a tragedy.

As an internally-processing introvert, I reel with news at yet another act of wicked, senseless violence, but my personality prevents me from saying anything if I don’t know what to say. With two deadly shootings on the same day, I got to thinking about the “why”? No one can fully answer that, but this post is my attempt to do some analysis that will hopefully lead to some introspection for you, my dear reader.

An unprecedented level of gun violence

When the school shooting took place in Columbine, Colorado in 1999, it took the entire country by surprise and left us in shock. This was the first massacre in the United States that I remember. It was practically unheard of in this country, at that time twenty years ago.

Without going through all the mass shootings, I will say in general terms that as the last twenty years have unfolded, such horrific events have tragically become more common. It is gut-wrenching to note that there have been so many, even in the last several years, that it is tricky to keep track of all of them.

How did we get here?

The staggering levels of evil represented in each event, and in every single shot fired is hard to fathom. In just two short decades, mass shootings have gone from an anomaly to an event that happens with such regularity that we must fight against desensitization. How did we get to such a dark place as a nation, and so quickly? This post will pose some ideas.

I am convinced that there are several factors at work in the demise of the moral fabric of our society. Whether they are independent or intertwined, they all work to undermine the America that those from Generation X and older recognize as the country we love. There are multiple things at play, depending on who you talk to. The factors, as I see them, are postmodernism, the human condition, and our nation’s collective rejection of God. I’ll expand on each briefly.

Postmodernism

Postmodernism, at its core, rejects the notion of absolute truth. It instead replaces it with “your truth,” “my truth,” and the permissiveness to do and be whatever is desired by the individual. In the late twentieth century, it quickly moved from a fringe to having a hold on the mindsets of a great deal of Americans.

It has been noted by many great thinkers that this worldview is self-contradictory. For example, how can you be absolutely certain that there is no absolute truth? None, that is, except for the one absolute that forms the basis of that viewpoint? I see.

Delving deeper into postmodernism, we see that if there is no absolute truth, there cannot be a creator. Therefore, the evolutionary viewpoint reigns and everything that is and has come to be is not the result of Divine design and intention, but all a cosmic accident. If that is the case, life has no purpose or meaning. As depressing as that is, it follows that adherents to postmodernism would be prone to depression and hopelessness.

If life has no purpose, then what we do doesn’t matter, and human life ultimately has no intrinsic value. You can begin to imagine how such a mindset could be a breeding ground of entirely different behavior than a mindset that believes they are an image-bearer of a creator and made for a distinct purpose.

The human condition (unregenerate heart)

The Christian worldview plainly teaches that each and every human being was not only created by God but separated from Him through the original commission of sin by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The result is what is known as “the fall”; the stain of sin on a world that God created to be perfect.

Thus the reasoning goes that all pain, suffering, disease, and even the existence of natural disasters are all ugly repercussions of mankind’s rejection of God’s commands. We are born under the curse, as sinners in rejection of God and under His wrath. By His great mercy, He chooses to save those who repent of their sins and place their faith in Him through Jesus Christ. (For more information on how that works, check out this post.)

Christ teaches us in Matthew 7:13-14 that we should Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Knowing that most will reject God’s offer of redemption, they remain in a state of hard-heartedness toward Him and continue as slaves to sin (Romans 6). Thus, the wicked behavior and brokenness we see all around us – including when we look in the mirror if we are honest.

God Bless America?

Prior to the popularization of postmodernism in the late twentieth century, Judeo-Christian morals were understood as the basis for right and wrong in this country. That is not to say that the United States was “God’s people” and that great evils weren’t committed here until recently. Obviously, that is not the case. We were a nation full of sinners that, collectively, were willing to admit that we were beholden to the Almighty.

That has changed.

As moral relativism has begun to reign as the new cultural ideal, “In God We Trust” as a common sentiment is now more like, “In Me I Trust.” We have replaced the wisdom of God and His word as our source of truth with our own thoughts and feelings. As noted above, those sentiments are mired by the sin and selfishness to which we are enslaved as a result of the fall.

So great is the depravity of the human heart that we see things like murder, rape, the slaughter of innocent unborn children, domestic violence, rejection of obvious biological and anatomical categories, and the list goes on and on. As it pertains specifically to the United States of America, the last fifty years or so have seen a systematic removal of God from the public square to even numerous laws being written seeking to punish churches that choose to teach God’s word as authoritative, and businesses owned by Christians who wish to operate according to their convictions.

All that to say, America is undoubtedly a secular nation with a religious history firmly in the past. That is why I wince when I see “God Bless America” emblazoned on bumper stickers, t-shirts, etc. America has unequivocally rejected God. How can He possibly continue to bless it?

In light of that, what can we expect?

Romans 1:18-32 lays out the case that God places the knowledge of Him within each of us. It goes on to say that those who reject the knowledge of God will ultimately be allowed to continue in that rejection, to their own destruction.

As God sees the wickedness of our hearts (Jeremiah 17:9-10), Romans 1 goes on to describe a giving over to our own lusts. Thus, the restraint He has graciously given us in the form of conscience gradually gets eroded until we self-destruct. This is the path I see the United States on, as a society.

Concluding thoughts

As we contemplate the devastation of a mass shooting, it rightly grieves and angers us. We inherently know that it is evil. We hunger for justice for the perpetrators and mourn the loss suffered by the victims and their loved ones.

Let us consider our desire for justice and our anger towards evil not only gifts from God but a reflection of His image upon us. Let us allow that to shape the realization that there is an ultimate Source of right and wrong. Let us NOT dodge the sobering reality that our sinful hearts are capable of as of great of evil as we condemn in others (see again Jeremiah 17:9).

As post-modernism has steadily eroded our morality, our sinful hearts have been left to feast on our own depravity, while our nation continually moves farther away from God. The destruction we see in things like mass shootings is one of the consequences of this chain of events.

The most important thing is for each of us to examine our hearts to see where we stand before the God to Whom we will all give account (Romans 14:12, 1 Peter 4:5).

This is one of the most sobering posts I’ve written. I welcome questions, respectful comments (even from those who disagree), and other thoughts on the “why” of mass shootings. Thank you for reading!

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Variety: The Spice of Life … and Writing

I am a fan of good advice.  I delight to hear it (especially when I ask for it), ponder it, and if it makes practical sense for me, to act on it. Not all advice can or should be adhered to, however. Below is one such piece that I choose to ignore.

Many well-respected bloggers and other thought leaders suggest unwaveringly that as a writer/blogger, the path to success is to find a niche topic and stick to it. If you are not already an expert on it, research, learn, and write until you become an expert. Then, the reasoning goes, you will begin to be heralded as a thought leader on that topic. People will seek you out for your advice in that area. Your readership could swell. Potentially book deals and speaking gigs could emerge from your sharply-focused area of knowledge.

That all seems well and good. I can point to numerous examples of folks who have made that formula work for them. I recognize the truth and the wisdom of such advice. But I Just. Can’t. (For the Millenials.) I’ve thought long and hard about it, and have decided that I am unwilling to focus in on a particular area. At least for now.

Yes, I would love to be acclaimed as a blogger, and make a living from writing blog posts. That would be a dream come true for me. But my rebellious side refuses to pick a niche and go with it. My problem is that I love variety too much. My interests and passions spread too far and wide to narrow my focus down.

The about page of this site goes into some detail about the scope of topics I typically write about. The following is a bit more detail about my approach to writing and life.

The categories of my passion

1. Christianity

First and foremost, I am a gratitude-filled Christian, enamored by God and His generous gift of reconciliation to Himself through Christ. This love for the triune God is at the core of my soul, and it colors every aspect of my life, for better or for worse. The most frequent topics on this blog are issues about living out biblical Christianity faithfully.

2. Self-Improvement

As one who is always seeking to do life more effectively, efficiently and in a way that maximizes joy and fulfillment, I am regularly reading and trying new things to that end. I get a thrill out of not only learning but sharing what I have learned with others. Thus I write blog posts on productivity, #lifehacks, etc.

3. Health, Fitness, and Recreation

Similar to #2, the pursuit of maximizing the quality of life through healthy eating, exercise, and recreation is a recurrent theme of my reading, writing, and doing. A good portion of my hobbies are movement-related. Preferably outdoors. I’d just as soon leave the dishes in the sink and jump on my bicycle, head out for a hike, or splash around a swimming hole whenever possible.

Likewise, I get great enjoyment out of running, lifting weights, and finding ways to increase the healthiness of what I eat. Since all these things are such a big part of my life, I’m bound to write about what I’m up to and what I’ve been learning.

4. Travel

Wanderlust consumes what is probably an inordinate amount of space in my brain. Thanks for nothing, Instagram. My burning desire to see new places cannot be quenched. I’ve had the good fortune of visiting numerous amazing locations, both domestic and abroad, and I have no plans to stop any time soon. Thus, a new trip means at least one blog post with pictures and stories. Perhaps multiple. The travel blogosphere is rather crowded, so I doubt I’ll ever pay the bills in that space. But that won’t stop me from documenting my adventures in a way that others might enjoy.

5. Humor/Random

Life is full of delightful ridiculum. I love to laugh, make others laugh, and enjoy the humor and absurdity that gets dished up regularly in the course of  day-to-day living. In that vein, sometimes I’ll write something that has no point other than being silly.

Then there are random posts that don’t fit easily into any of those categories.

As you can see, my tastes are pretty far flung, covering multiple topics. As much as I acknowledge the value in narrowing it down, I’m not going to at this point. That could change down the road, but for now, I’ll keep writing about whatever I want. That being said, I’m always open to ideas to write about. What are your favorite subjects to read about?

Thanks for reading!

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June 2019: A Clown Car of Activity

June 2019 was a month that I can best describe as biting off more than I could chew. Or as the subject of this blog suggests, existing in a clown car – a month so jam-packed that all I could do was survive in bemusement as the overloaded contents of the month spilled out. This is not to complain in the slightest. It is merely a descriptor of what I subjected myself to before I realized the implications.

I’ll briefly list the things that filled my month, then get on to the fun part: pictures and stories. Because evidently, I need to remind myself that, yes, I do like to sleep sometimes, my June contained:

  • My part-time job of 15-20 hours per week
  • Regular activity for growing my newly launched writing/marketing consulting business
  • Prep and execution for a substantial client project for said business (about 18 hours total)
  • Taking an online class that had to be completed by July 5
  • Attending a two-day professional development conference
  • Keeping up on an inordinate amount of homework and training for my business networking group (BNI)
  • Getting both of our cats spayed, a week apart, and dealing with the drama of having to separate them because one cat didn’t recognize the other and wouldn’t stop hissing at her
  • Three delightful nights at the coast with my in-laws, and all the prep that goes into taking turns cooking meals
  • Three and a half days visiting a friend in Southern California
  • Family BBQ with visiting out-of-state relatives
  • Attending a fundraiser for a business associate
  • Mother-daughter night out for my mom’s birthday
  • Classic movie night with my folks (a monthly occasion)
  • A church youth group event
  • Whatever time was leftover after that is what I had available to do life in survival mode (grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.)

You might look at that list and notice that a lot of those things are fun. I agree. I’ll admit that June was bursting with fun as well as frantic with work and education. When all taken together, it was overwhelming. I usually like to plan my schedule carefully and spread out activities evenly, because I prefer to build margins into my weeks. It just wasn’t to be in June, and that is quite OK.

As much as I like to maintain tight control over my schedule, I also recognize that it isn’t always possible. Sometimes things pile up all at once, and people are available to visit at times that aren’t ideal. In the final analysis, I’d prefer to run myself into the ground taking advantage of enticing opportunities than pass them up for the sake of margin. Even though I put pressure and stress on myself in doing so. As a wise guy once said, “YOLO!”

Now, onto the fun part: pictures!

Movie night

“Easy Rider” was the film for June’s edition of our monthly Classic Movie Night with my folks.

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We decided to splurge a little for a home with an ocean view for our annual Sorensen family beach weekend. Totally worth it.

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Getting a picture with seven adults and two kids not only present, but looking at the camera, and mostly smiling, is more of a production than one would think.

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It’s always delightful to spend time with my mom. Our Panda & Pedicures outing was no exception.

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Marge (left) and Velma, our cone-headed cats after they were spayed.

The next series of pictures is from my trip to San Diego to visit my friend Kim.

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Biker babes, cruising the boardwalk at Pacific Beach with our motorized bikes. It was a total blast, after some initial hiccups getting going.

Coronado Bridge

The Coronado Bridge, an engineering marvel, seen from the water aboard our cruise of the San Diego Harbor.

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The famous Hotel Del Coronado.

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Enjoying perfect weather on our harbor cruise.

In-N-Out Burger

A visit to In-n-Out Burger is mandatory for any trip to California.

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Grateful that I got to squeeze in a quick lunch visit with my dear college friend, Megan, while down south.

A quick video compilation of goofing off at Pacific Beach (original video shot by Kim Sharp):

I’d much rather be overloaded with work and fun than the alternative. So even though June was filled to the brim, I am incredibly grateful that I have abundant opportunities to live life to the fullest. My philosophy is, whenever possible, to frolic instead of walk; say yes instead of no; be silly instead of serious; and focus on the positive rather than the negative.

Everyone has their own flavor of busy, this happened to be mine last month. Thanks for reading!

Posted in Blogging, For Entertainment Only, Travel | Tagged , , | 1 Comment