Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Bracing for Holiday Challenges

A few days ago, I called the father of my two twenty-something children. For the past couple of years, the kids and I have been celebrating Thanksgiving at his condo in Philadelphia, while Christmas is at my house. I had gotten word through the "grapevine" (a.k.a. my son) that his dad was upset about the possibility that after dinner everyone would leave for their separate dwellings, and then he'd be stuck with the dishes.

"I'll stay overnight and help you clean up," I offered on the phone. (Staying over would not be terribly unusual, since we have continued to celebrate holidays with the kids for the last 13 years.) Although I can't say he accepted effusively, he did seem pleased that someone would be around to help pack up the stuffing and refrigerate the cranberry sauce.

The holidays bring different challenges for everyone. Perhaps you are at the stage of life when you go home for every holiday. Maybe you oversee the three-ring circus that involves taking young children to your parent's house. Possibly you are many miles away from your nuclear family and are spending the holiday with friends. You might even be estranged from your family and looking to spend the holiday in a restaurant or out at the movies.

Though many of us have idealized the way the holiday should be, the fact is that as we get older, our circumstances change. Mine certainly have. There is also a lot that we can't control. Our Thanksgiving holiday has recently included just our nuclear family. But the more people there are around the table, the greater the possibility for volatility.

People who have known you for most of your life may have lost track of how you have evolved over the years. But that can also be one of the best parts of the holiday: bringing them up to date.

In my little tribe, we all happen to share approximately the same political perspectives. But if your family or friends don't, Thanksgiving probably isn't the time to convince them. (Besides, Election Day is over for the year, so there's no point.)

Knowing that one of my kids often brings the drama, I try to mentally strap myself in and prepare for the ride. Maybe you have a sibling or a parent or an in-law like that. A little mental preparation may help you anticipate turbulence ahead.

Overall, I try to be as much in the moment as I can be, and to find reasons to be grateful (okay... later) for those moments when things don't go as planned. After all, those moments make the best stories -- for next Thanksgiving!

What Thanksgiving memories stand out in your mind? Have the family dynamics of your holidays changed over the years? Feel free to share your comments below.

Written by Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans

You can let us know what you think by clicking here and leaving a comment.

You can let the folks at THRED know what you think by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

How to Mentor: Lessons from Eboo Patel

Over the past several years, I have had the privilege of grabbing coffee with Eboo Patel. A social entrepreneur based out of Chicago, Eboo is the founder and executive director of one of the fastest growing and most influential non-profits in the world, the Interfaith Youth Core. From time to time, Eboo and I get together to catch up and talk about what is going on in our lives.

As we've met over the years, I've noticed a pattern in our discussions. Every time we meet, he asks me, "What are your reading?" And usually there is a series of follow-up questions: "What are you learning? How are you applying those lessons?" and so on. During these conversations he always listens intently, offers his own insights, recommends other resources, and encourages self-reflection and growth.

Eboo is a visionary and an entrepreneur, but more than this, he is an excellent mentor for young leaders. As I've observed his interactions with other young leaders, I've noticed that he always asks the questions "What are you reading?" and "What are you learning?" In doing so, I see him modeling three principles I think anyone who mentors leaders should emulate.

First, Eboo encourages people to think deeply. He has a passion for helping people grow as independent and sophisticated thinkers. In a world of tabloid media, Twitter, and blogging, people are bombarded by a lot of junk. Eboo knows that intake is just as important as output-that our minds are shaped by what we read, listen to, and watch. So he takes time to encourage the thoughtful development of those he mentors by encouraging them to read deeply and critically.

Second, Eboo knows that breadth is as important as depth. He is always encouraging people to read from writers who represent a variety of perspectives on various subjects. He believes that in order to be well-rounded and thoughtful, we need to be willing to learn from those who challenge our assumptions. This helps us to appreciate different perspectives and not take our own positions for granted.

Finally, Eboo knows that integration is key. Beyond simply reading widely and deeply, he encourages life application. He challenges people to think about how to apply the lessons they're learning to their own lives and leadership. Leaders are those who learn to apply the knowledge they've gained in a way that shapes not only their own behaviors and practices, but in ways that serve and benefit the communities they lead. Eboo understands this and mentors others with this vital lesson in mind.

So, the next time you are mentoring someone, it might just be worth asking the question, "What are you reading?"

And, is what you're reading changing you?

Written by Nick Price

You can let us know what you think by clicking here and leaving a comment.

You can let the folks at THRED know what you think by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Courage in the Wilderness

My feet were dragging across a rocky single-track trail in the Superstition Wilderness east of Phoenix. It was nearly 90 degrees outside, and I was 43 miles into a 52.4-mile run -- a double marathon. The entire right side of my body was cramping, my legs were sapped of energy, and I could feel my heart rate climbing like a mountain goat up a scree field.

I hurt. I hurt bad. I was in what ultrarunners call the "pain cave," and I was trying to claw my way out.

As deep as I was in that abyss of agony, it was about to get worse. Tired from the accumulated miles and stress of the heat, my legs faltered, and my toe caught a rock. I tripped, face-planting into the dirt, crags, and cacti below.

It was then that I faced a choice: to pick up my sorry, spasming body and continue on -- or, to slither into the scant shade provided by a lonely piñon pine and hope that a hiker or runner would find me before I shriveled up into dust, disappointment, and despair.

That moment called for courage, and I didn't know if I had any to summon.

When most people think of courage, they think of bravery, fearlessness, or feats of super-heroic valor. And yet, despite what we think or imagine, courage is not about being impervious to fear, pain, or struggle. Instead, courage is something that emerges out of fear, pain, and struggle.

In fact, courage cannot exist without adversity.

We have seen it before. The runner that crumbles meters from the finish line and crawls across it to claim the win. The team that fights its way back to victory after a deep deficit. The amputee who not only learns to walk again, but also goes on to conquer mountains. The shy, awkward, nerdy guy who works up the pluck to ask out his secret crush despite being turned down so many times before.

What we see in these moments is courage. True courage. Courage forged in fear, built after burnout, and worked out in the wilderness of anxiety, pain, and loss.

This life is one that is full of struggle and pain, death and decay. Things go wrong. We hurt. We fumble, we falter, and we fall.

All of these difficult life experiences and tragedies threaten the very integrity of ourselves, our beings, our souls. At critical crossroads in our lives, we feel the weight of the world crushing in on us, and we face a choice: to pick ourselves up and carry on in courage or turn in on ourselves and shrivel up into the dust, disappointment, and despair.

Instead of trying to avoid anxiety or sidestep struggle, we should embrace these moments in our lives as opportunities for courage to be developed, practiced, and put to use.

Reflecting on the idea of courage, Paul Tillich wrote that true courage is not something that removes or rejects anxiety, but engages it and takes it into itself. Basically, Tillich argued, courage is embracing fear -- not avoiding it, ignoring it, or pretending it doesn't exist.

In fact, we could go so far as to say that courage is something forged in, through, and by our "wilderness experiences." The Hebrew Scriptures' book of Numbers tells the tale of the Hebrew people as they wandered in the desert between Egypt and Canaan after being freed from slavery. It was a place of terror and tension, of complaint and consequences, of danger and death. Thinking on Tillich and reflecting on the Hebrews' wilderness experience, Rabbi Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg wrote that this was the place -- not the land of their enslavement or the promised land ahead -- that served as "the stark theater in which human courage" was to be formed and practiced. Before they were to enter into the land promised to them, the Hebrew people had to learn what courage is by facing annihilation and anxiety.

So it is with us as well. When faced with the great challenges of life, we will need to pull on reservoirs of courage, miracles of audacity that emerge from our past experiences where fear has been transformed into faith, loathing into love, and hardship into hope.

What this requires is stepping out into the world. Going for it. Climbing that mountain, loving the unloved, asking that someone out on a date, standing against injustice, or finishing that run in the wilderness when your cramped legs and bloodied and blistered feet don't want to carry you any farther.

So try. Go for it. Even in the doing of the thing that fills you with dread, you are courageous. And if you don't feel courageous quite yet, your journey into the unknown wilds of this life will reveal it soon enough.

Written by Ken Chitwood

What strategies do you employ when your back is up against the wall? Does resolute determination or victory at all costs sound like you? Have you gleaned some helpful approaches learning from the lives or writings of others?

If so, we'd like to hear about it.

You can let us know what you think by clicking here and leaving a comment.

You can let the folks at THRED know what you think by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Sufficient, But Not Saving

I often notice that a lot of commercials and ads have one big message in common: if you're not buying or doing or subscribing to or wearing such and such, your life is not as good as it could be. There seems to be almost a moral pressure to consume the advertised thing. It's easy to wonder if I'm good enough, doing the right thing, living life the right way, or consuming the "right" things. These ads seem to advise that if I follow their suggestions, perhaps I'd be able to get control over a small corner of life-and in so doing, to live a little more abundantly, be a little more in the moment, and overall, enjoy life more.

One of the things that I feel pressure to be better at is saving financially, especially for the sake of retirement. My family situation, as of this writing, is such that I'm the only full-time worker. That means we're living off of my income alone. It's sufficient to live, to be sure. But it's not quite sufficient to save for the long term.

I consider this cost against the fact that my wife gets to be a stay-at-home mom. My wife and I believe that her regular and reliable presence at home will be invaluable for our children as they grow.

But as a father and the one who is responsible (for now) for providing financially for everything my family needs, I inevitably have those days when I wish I could do more. When those feelings creep in, I get a little anxious about the future. Saving for retirement is supposed to be a form of control, at least somewhat, over a little corner of life that isn't here yet, but is coming nevertheless.

When I was growing up, I saw a lot of people who seemed to work all the time, taking little time off. For a while, this became a model to me, causing me to assume that this is what I was supposed to do with my own life.

Of course, one can be driven to approach work in this way for a variety of reasons. Perhaps one started with nothing, and never wants to let that happen again. Perhaps there was a time when one was out of work, and there's always that lurking fear that it could happen again; so, (over-) working becomes a way to protect oneself from future unemployment that may or may not come. Or perhaps they felt the same pressure that I often feel when I think about saving for retirement.

As I consider the various kinds of pressure that are always before us, calling us to improve our lot in life, I find myself wondering if there's something deeper at play. Perhaps there's a spiritual anxiety that gets hooked into everything that promises to make our lives better. I wonder if, in some unwitting way, we're all trying a little bit to save ourselves, to secure a future that is free from certain kinds of anxiety, pain, suffering, or lack of meaning.

For me, while I am undoubtedly haunted by a similar kind of pressure to do something about my own future by saving for retirement, I also feel a reticence to invest too much of my own emotional energy into it all. It may seem careless, but I'm fairly confident that there will come a day when I'll be better able to put some money away toward retirement, rather than only live off of my current income. (I hope I'm not wrong.) So, when the anxiety comes that makes me wonder if I'm doing the right thing for my future (or doing enough), I find it easier to shake it off than others might.

But this has nothing to do with carelessness. For me, it has everything to do with where I place my hope. As a Christian, I take seriously Jesus' call to worry less about the things of this life and more about the age to come. But I also admit that I don't always know how that's supposed to look or feel. And furthermore, my take on how to live it out might be rather different than someone else's.

Where are you struggling with these things? Are you anxious about having some kind of control over the future, perhaps in terms of financial security? What effect does that anxiety have on your daily life?

Or are you trying to live more in the moment, and worry less about the future (but not live carelessly so as to put it in jeopardy)?

Or is there some other approach we should all know about?

Written by Chad Lakies

You can let us know what you think by clicking here and leaving a comment.

You can let the folks at THRED know what you think by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Binging, Self-Control, and the "Great Life-Waster"

I'd like to take a moment and consider the word binge. According to Webster's dictionary, a binge is "an unrestrained and often excessive indulgence." Another definition is "an act of excessive or compulsive consumption." Of those definitions, I find the word "compulsive" to be the most significant and the most frightening. The implication is that if I'm binging, I literally cannot stop myself.

When I was a kid, the word had an inherently negative connotation, and was typically associated with food or alcohol. Modern technology has changed all of that. Netflix, and other streaming mediums, have very much changed how we consume entertainment, and how we discuss it. We laugh about how we may binge a new TV show, or YouTube channel, or video game.

At our house, after the kids have been put to bed and the long hours of two full-time working parents start to fizzle out, we often use Netflix, et al., for detoxing our day. The problem I find is that when I intend to take a short break, maybe an hour (or an episode), suddenly I've watched four and it's well past when I should have gone to bed. And those papers I needed to grade now need to be squished into tomorrow's responsibilities. I almost always regret my choices and wonder what kind of example I am setting for my kids. (Do as I say, but not as I do.)

We've all heard about the literature for what technology does to the brain, specifically children's brains. It has been studied and documented to negatively affect their growth and development...but I didn't need that empirical evidence because I have watched it firsthand.

After two separate week-long stays in our local children's hospital, my eldest daughter was early-diagnosed with asthma at 18 months old. Prior to this, TV wasn't really a part of her life. She never seemed interested in it, and since we basically have strong emotions of disdain for most kid-themed music and cartoons, we never really pushed the issue. But post-diagnosis, she was required to sit still for 45 minutes of breathing through a nebulizer, sometimes more than once in a day. If you have ever attempted to get an 18-month-old to sit still for 5 minutes, you'll understand the dilemma we faced.

TV quickly became integral to this process, and initially we were watching educational shows (hello, Baby Einstein). By the time she was two, she could contentedly sit through the first half of The Sound of Music, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, or Mary Poppins in its entirety.

Fast forward a few years and television is now engrained into our family function. We routinely would all sit in front of the TV first thing in the morning (especially weekends), while eating, or as the final slow-down from our day (like my frequent nighttime Netflix binges). Some days, all of the above.

We also had a very temperamental and strong-willed 3-year-old with, it seemed, anger issues.

One day her behavior went too far too many times and she was "grounded" from TV for an entire weekend. I won't lie to you and say that it was easy to hold our ground. Her initial tantrum was of epic proportions. That Friday night was awful, and eventually she cried herself to sleep. The following day, when we would normally have watched some cartoons in the morning, we saw another monster tantrum. By that evening, we could tell she was starting to lose some steam. Sunday was a glorious day that was not only tantrum-free, but also was generally a good day. After this, she didn't even ask to watch anything for several weeks.

The change in her behavior was palpable. We could see immediate reactions to any exposure to television or electronics. When we used a movie or short TV show as a reward, it almost always backfired into bad choices and tantrums. Even now, the same behavior vortex has proved true with phones and tablets as well.

We see that when Grandma comes over and hands her an iPad (which we don't do), in less than 30 seconds she becomes so zoned into what she is doing that I often have to physically remove the device from her grip to bring her back to the real world. This is true even if her screen time is educational or artistic in nature.

Removing technology from both of our daughter's lives has been a change for the better. We do watch TV together sometimes, as special treats...and of course when they are sick it can help to stave off the boredom. But we have never once regretted adding a layer of separation from what my childhood friend calls, "The Great Life-Waster."

I'm not naysaying the value or opportunity that is possible when technology is correctly utilized. I'm not saying we should never let our kids near a screen. But my observation has been that it can easily control us more than the other way around.

At our elder daughter's recent 6-year checkup, the doctor wanted to confirm that she was getting "less than two hours of screen time a day." We were surprised. That seems like a lot for a six-year-old. But when I sit back and think about my own methods of daily detox, or exposure to "screen time" in general...I almost always exceed the two-hour mark.

Does my marriage benefit from those three hours watching Game of Thrones, or could we have used that time to sit outside and actually talk? How present was I while "playing" with my kids? That probably depends on whether or not I had my phone out the entire time. Did I sleep better or worse as a result of falling asleep while scrolling Facebook or Twitter? The list goes on.

Perhaps I should start holding myself accountable to the same restrictions that I have for my kids. I think the mere act of asking myself these kinds of questions (however uncomfortable I may find them) is a good place to start.

Written by Aaron Roose

You can let us know what you think by clicking here and leaving a comment.

You can let the folks at THRED know what you think by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

What's So Big About Church?

For many of us as kids, church was the place we found ourselves Sunday mornings, week after week. It was a habit many of our parents brought forward into their lives, having gone to church regularly when they were children.

When it comes to church, there are a number of terms used to indicate one's association with a local congregation. We have the "churched" (regular attenders), the "unchurched" (non-attenders), and the "dechurched" (former attenders). If somebody hasn't already, it seems we could also include the "pre-churched" (as the name implies) and the "re-churched" (returnees to the fold).

When I talk to non-church-going buddies, it seems one of the reasons they don't go (besides not feeling a particular need to, not having any denominational tie in particular, not interested in the whole singing and preaching and praying routine, and not being a big fan of that "crowd" in general) is that the times when they actually attended a church service were often awkward, uncomfortable or, very likely, both.

I've felt that way, too.

And I try to remember that when I'm there now. When I see someone as an island of one in the middle of a sea of people, I try to reach out to that person with a quick hello and handshake. When I'm asked by a well-meaning preacher to introduce myself and greet the person next to me, I try to do it (though I must admit there are times when I still squirm). When I'm walking through the church hall between groups of people chatting and mixing, I hold my head high, smile, and put forth a pleasant demeanor.

And often when I do this ("putting it into manual" is what I call it), there are results. People lighten up, and connections begin to form. This acting like a loving, caring person can actually start an interior change. You see that people are not your opponents but, rather, they are potential friends and allies. And, oddly enough, it all begins with a few proactive moves in the right direction.

Surely, Jesus must have experienced something like this. Surrounded by people from various walks of life, He acted in love, drawing others close with a willingness to discover more about them. He'd drill down a little, ask questions, get to know them better -- always eager to talk about the things that really mattered.

I don't always -- or even mostly -- do it, but that's what I'd like to be doing at church: honing my people skills, finding ways to care, being more like Jesus.

That's kind of what church seems like it should be.

How about it? What do you get out of church? Is it a place where we can become more like Jesus? You can let us know by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Labors of Love

Another Labor Day come and gone.

For most of us, the hardest work we ever faced was something unpleasant, usually during our teen years, as we entered the workforce. For some of us, it was toiling in the blinding heat of summer, carrying stacks of roofing shingles up a ladder to a carpenter. Maybe it was cleaning the grease pit at a convenience store "kitchen," which specialized in chicken wings, high-fat burgers, and crinkle-cut French fries. Or it might have been enduring the mind-numbing repetition of assembly-line work, trying hard not to lag behind the experienced workers, as you plotted your way into a new career.
For me one of the hardest jobs I ever had involved scraping and shoveling asbestos insulation from ovens used to cure sewer pipes. That was a very long summer.

Each of us keeps a memory tucked into some corner of our mind of the hardest jobs we ever had to do. It's good to pull out that memory once in a while, so we can put our current job in perspective.

For example, a veteran sitting all day long in an air-conditioned office, attending boring meetings can seem a grind at the time, but it's absolutely delightful next to being yelled at by drill sergeants and endless hours of physical training.

When it comes down to it, hard jobs aren't always defined by soaring temperatures, blitzed muscles, or intolerable bosses; they can also be measured by the amount of stress produced, anxiety raised, or nightmares generated.

I can do great doing most anything physical or mental, but the hardest work for me involves relationships.

One of the toughest jobs I ever signed up for is being a husband. Even today, after years of married life, I struggle to define my role and responsibilities in this mighty endeavor. And, of course, the transition from husband to father creates vast opportunities for other hard jobs to surface: changing diapers, giving baths, helping with homework, encouraging broken hearts, and teaching one to drive.

In retrospect, my job as husband and father may be one of the most difficult in terms of stress and anxiety, but it's one I would not trade for all the air-conditioned corner offices and six-figure salaries in the world. That being said, there are fringe benefits, too. Like yesterday afternoon, when my son bolted across the backyard, threw a couple of well executed head dekes, and caught my screen pass just before going "out of bounds" at the side of the house. Yep, the hours we spent playing catch in the backyard are paying off. And with the NFL season kicking off this week, his timing couldn't have been better.

When have you found a tough job turn into something rewarding?

You can let us know by clicking here.