Posts Tagged ‘Reflection’

Jeff's parents Jack & Virginia Ross, sister Stephania, and Jeff (around 1960)

Jeff’s parents Jack & Virginia Ross, sister Stephania, and Jeff (around 1960)

Today is my birthday.  Since coming into the world in Lexington, Kentucky on January 28, 1957, I have been blessed in many ways these past 56 years, from a wonderful family to great education, work that I love, creature comforts, friends, opportunities, travel, families of faith, chances to make a difference in the lives of others, and more than I have any right to expect or deserve.  I am genuinely thankful.

Birthdays, anniversaries and New Years seem to have built-in mechanisms for reflection.  What have the last 56 years brought?  What was the past year like?  What will the next year bring?  What hopes and dreams do I have for the future?  Allow me a few minutes of reflective indulgence.

It is impossible to begin to name all the people who have been significant in my life, so I dare not try beyond the obvious influence of parents, grandparents, sister, extended family, my wife of almost 34 years, and our sons.  There are others, of course–many others who have helped shape my life and experiences into more than they would ever be without the presence and influence of significant others.

Even though I look a lot older than I feel, and an occasional car full of teenagers yells insults out their car window as they pass by me while I walk my dog, I am thankful to enjoy pretty good health.  A few unwelcome creaks and issues arise from time to time, some of which are permanent, but not serious.  I could do without the tinnitus which guarantees a constant high-pitched ringing in my ears every hour I’m awake.  I’d rather my eye doctor not have me in as often as he does as a glaucoma suspect.  All in all, though, I don’t have much to complain about in the health arena.

As I’ve recently written about, I love my work, so I have no complaints in that area, either.  I’m coming up on my 10-year anniversary with my company in August, and as long as the company is still here and will have me, I don’t intend to go anywhere else until retirement.  And speaking of retirement, I know a handful of people from my high school class of ’75 who have already retired.  Congrats to them for being able to do so if that was their desire.  Personally, I don’t expect that to happen until I’m much closer to 70–not because it wouldn’t be possible financially, but because I can’t imagine not working if I’m physically able to do so.  I’ve said many times that I intend to live to be 100, so I may as well be productive for as much of that as possible.

Ultimately, I am most thankful to my God who brings meaning and hope, not just to this life, but for the one to come.

Could I find a few reasons to have a little pity party on my birthday?  Perhaps.  The day is booked to the gills with meetings.  My to-do list is much longer than I’d like.  Other things are taking place I’d like to be present for but can’t due to scheduling conflicts.  I don’t know if there will be any time to just stop and enjoy any part of the day for the fun of it.  However, there isn’t much point in echoing the old song of Leslie Gore, It’s My Party (and I’ll Cry If I Want To).  No, I have too many reasons to be thankful, grateful, and to smile every day.

So a better refrain for me today will be “It’s my party, and I’ll smile if I want to.”  Thanks again to all who enrich my life with friendship and meaning every day.  You know who you are.

SevensI knew that accomplishing the goal of writing a brief lesson learned blog post for all 366 days of 2012 would be a challenge.  I had never attempted anything remotely close to that before, so the process itself was as much a learning experience as the subjects of individual daily lessons posted.  Having had a week to reflect on the completion of that 130,000+ word venture, here are seven lessons I take away from the experience:

1. It is more difficult to write few words than to write many words.  Each of my daily lessons was to be no more than 366 words, and for most of those I admit to having to rid them of too much written on my first draft.  Deciding what entire lines of thought had to be sacrificed and how to better phrase something in fewer words is difficult, but a very valuable lesson.  A well-known quote comes to mind: “I have made this letter longer than usual, because I lack the time to make it short.” – Blaise Pascal, Lettres Provinciales (1656-1657), no. 16. (also attributed to Mark Twain and others – take your pick).  It also helped as I wrote to remember the words of Elmore Leonard: “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”

2. Reflecting on each day’s events is a constant source of learning.  No day comes and goes without the opportunity to learn something from what transpires.  Intentionally taking time near the end of the day to reflect on events, conversations, feelings, successes, failures, etc. makes that learning far more likely.

3. If you write it, they won’t necessarily come.  My writing was primarily for me and not for others.  Still, I am grateful for the more than 10,000 views the blog received during 2012.  That’s actually a very small number given the quantity of posts, so one of the lessons is that if a blogger really wants readers, he has to do more than just write.  I knew that, of course, before writing last year, but the experience confirmed that there is other promotional work to be done (one of my goals for 2013).

4. Writing is addictive.  Gloria Steinam (probably the only time you will ever see me quote her) said, “I do not like to write – I like to have written.”  While I understand her point, I confess that I really do like to write as well – to sit at the keyboard, think things through, write, revise, repeat.  If I could fill my days (and pay my bills) doing nothing but this, I would gladly do so.  After just one week of changing my pattern to blogging every other day instead of every day, I feel like I’ve slacked off tremendously.  The current pattern, though, allows me more time to write and reflect on particular posts than last year’s daily process, so this year’s emphasis is more on quality than quantity.  While I don’t expect to ever be a “professional” writer, I understand the sentiment of Leo Rosten: “The only reason for being a professional writer is that you can’t help it.”

5. Ambitious goals can be met one day at a time.  Setting out to write 366 posts is daunting to say the least, but I didn’t have to write all 366 at once.  I needed to write one at a time.  That, I could do.  The same is true for any ambitious goal – break it down into bite-sized pieces and then take one bite.

6. If you get behind, don’t panic or quit.  There were a number of times throughout the year when I was one or more days behind in posting.  That’s OK.  I just needed to post two per day now and then (usually weekends) to eventually get caught up.

7. Engagement with readers is encouraging.  The periodic affirmation that comes from the occasional “like” of a post or reader comment is wonderfully encouraging.  It would be nice to help or touch many thousands with what I write, but connecting positively with one other person rejuvenates me and keeps me going.  So my thanks go to everyone who ever engages with me here or elsewhere in response to what I write.  You are a hefty part of my inspiration to continue.

Of course, the 366 daily lessons learned from last year were additional lessons already shared here about a host of subjects.  I wanted to reflect on the overall experience, though, and see what blogging itself every day for a year yielded.  The above seven lessons are that result for me.

Body Mind SpiritTo start 2013, I want to share with you my goals.  In an attempt to be fairly well-rounded in them, I have made sure to include some in the categories of body, mind and spirit.  I make them public to invite you to hold me accountable.

Goals for my body:

1. Keep my weight at or below 150 pounds.  After reaching my top weight of 167 last March, I decided in June 2012 to get back to 150 where I hovered for many years until the 2011 Thanksgiving-Christmas holidays.  I reached that goal on July 26, 2012 and am glad to say I’ve not had a day since then above 150, including the most recent holiday stretch.  I know many advise you not to weigh yourself daily, but I do it, anyway.  What I weigh each morning determines how many meals I eat that day.  It works for me.

2. Walk/jog/run a total of 10,000 steps per day three days per week.  My company, Humana, supplies pedometers to employees and encourages activity for our health with periodic campaigns, competitions and ongoing ways to earn rewards for healthy behaviors.  A reasonable goal of about five miles per day three days per week helps me do that.  So does having a dog that needs a lot of exercise.

3. Average at least six hours of sleep per night.  I know this doesn’t sound like enough, but I assure you it is more than I have averaged in many years.  Of all that I do to my body, lack of sleep is probably the worst, so I need to do much better in this regard.

Goals for my mind:

1. Read a book every other week.  In a normal year, I read many thousands of pages of information, but it’s mostly online – articles, reports, surveys, studies, blogs, etc.  I don’t read that many books in a typical year.  For 2013, I want to finish one every other week and then write a book review or blog about it in some way.

2. Blog every other day (at least).  Having achieved the every day blog goal for 2012, I’m cutting that in half for 2013, although I’m sure I’ll still have back-to-back days occasionally now that I’m in the habit (such as this week).  2013’s blog posts will be a variety of reflections on life and work like most of 2012’s, plus book reviews and other things that strike my fancy along the way.  The subheading change for the blog reflects this as now it reads “like a blog of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get” (obviously a take-off on the line from the movie Forrest Gump).  I won’t impose the 366-word limit per post this year, but I’ve learned the value of brevity both in forcing me as writer to be clear and in attracting readers, so I promise not to get too long-winded.

3. Continue to follow My 3 Words: Ground, Stretch, Reflect.  This is the framework with which I approached each day in 2012:  ground myself daily in that which is most important and foundational to me, stretch myself to excel and do more than others expect, then take time to reflect on the day to be sure I learn from it.  I’ll capture many of those reflections in the every-other-day posts.  The framework worked so well in 2012 that I see no need to change it for 2013.

4. Double the blog’s readership from 10,000 views in 2012 to 20,000.  While this isn’t entirely up to me, there are things I can do to be more intentional about promoting readership.  This means I’ll have to learn about the subject and do more than just post on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn when I publish a new post.

5. Continue to write hand-written letters to my sons.  It may be only once or twice for the year, but it is important to capture in black and white significant memories and thoughts to pass on to the next generation.  This goal might cross the “mind” and “spirit” categories.

Goals for my spirit:

1. Finish reading the ESV Study Bible and read half of The Apologetics Study Bible.  I’ve read the Bible cover to cover 20+ times in my life (and need to continue until it sinks in this thick skull), but the last several times have been focused on also reading all of the study notes that are part of certain study Bibles.  I’ve read the MacArthur Study Bible and The Evidence Bible in recent years, and about half of the ESV Study Bible, so I want to finish the ESV (English Standard Version) this year and get at least halfway through The Apologetics Study Bible.  Reading about 3-4 chapters per day plus the accompanying notes will do the trick, so I’ll start with five chapters per day to make sure it gets done.  If you’d like a handy half-sheet chart of all the chapters of the Bible to mark off on your own pursuit of reading it through, you’ll find one I created here.

2. Review 100 Bible memory verses weekly.  For the last several years I have worked on remembering the same 100 Bible verses that I chose years ago as my top 100 should I be stranded on some deserted island without a Bible.  You’ll find them here.  (And I’ll keep hoping for that “stranded on a deserted island” thing!)

3. Come to some resolution to an unsettled situation where I worship.  I’ll spare you the details, but tension, dissension and unhappiness don’t exactly lead to spiritual health in any body of believers.  I don’t know what the answer is, but I know the situation can’t continue as is without much damage to many.  I have many beloved friends there, and I only want what is best for all in the end.  I’ll pray for wisdom along the way.

So there you have my goals for 2013 for body, mind and spirit.  Putting them out there for the world to see helps hold me accountable.  I’ll let you know how I do along the way.

What about you?  What do you want to happen in 2013?

Sip WineI’ve been reading through the biblical book of Proverbs recently.  It’s the kind of book that one can (and should) read over and over again because of the wisdom it contains.  In fact, it’s one of the few biblical books included in the genre called wisdom literature.

Parts of the book are written in a style where multiple verses go together to form a thought.  The bulk of the book, however, consists of shorter sayings usually captured in one or two verses, although they are grouped logically so as not to be a purely random series of unrelated sayings.

As I read this book for perhaps the 25th time in my life, I am struck by the need to do so slowly.  The content does not consist of long stories where reading large quantities is necessary to understand the context, therefore one can easily fly by great wisdom too quickly if not careful.

For example, look at just a small sample of verses on the subject of wisdom and knowledge (from the English Standard Version):

1:7 – “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction”;
2:6 – “For the Lord gives wisdom; and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding”;
3:13-14 – “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold”;
4:13 – “Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life”;
8:10-11 – “Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.”

There are many subjects addressed in Proverbs beyond wisdom, but it is one of the major topics scattered throughout its 31 chapters.

When wisdom is captured in short, pithy sayings, it doesn’t work to drink them through a fire hose quickly.  You need time to reflect, think, ponder, learn and apply.  You need to revisit them time and again as your life experiences and readiness equip you to understand them.

Whether you find wisdom in what you read or in conversation with others, leap year lesson #364 is Sip wisdom slowly.

At the beginning of 2012 I committed to writing a daily blog post of no more than 366 words regarding some lesson learned.  It was a new venture for me to blog with that kind of regularity, so making the goal public was important to help with accountability.  I wanted to discipline myself to write consistently, to spend intentional time reflecting on the events of the day, and to learn to be fairly concise in what I write.  It seems appropriate at this midpoint of the year to have a quick checkup on where I am with the journey and what I’ve learned.

Halfway through this leap year I should have 182 posts behind me as of June 30, so my actual total of 178 through yesterday means I’m four behind.  That’s not too bad in the grand scheme of things and I will make up that difference with a few days of two posts each scattered here and there until I’m on schedule.  Quantitatively, I’m OK with where I am.

The more important measurement for me is whether any good has come from the effort, either for others or for me.  I confess that I would be doing this even if nobody read them because the main purposes are personal discipline, reflection and writing.  It’s hard to measure the value others place on the effort, but in terms of my own benefit, I believe it has been extremely valuable, both in intended and unintended ways.  For example:

  • I have developed the habit of writing, and no day feels quite complete now without it.
  • I am much better at condensing and editing what I want to say to fit within a limited space.
  • Living life reflectively, attempting to see meaning and lessons in what happens, is a wonderful way to make sure I’m not just going through motions, but instead that I understand more of the purpose behind them.
  • I have established connections with a few people who I would never otherwise have a connection with except through this blog.

Along the way I’ve learned leap year lesson #179 that in spite of the time and effort involved, Living reflectively is worth the cost.