Good to Give

Saturday afternoon the kids and I went through their playroom for the annual pre-Christmas purge. (It’s kind of a tradition, though some years it’s more of a post-Christmas purge.) We dump all of the toys on the floor and the kids go through them and pick out a handful they want to keep. It’s an exercise in shameless downsizing.

It’s also a good reminder to the kids (and myself) of just how blessed we are as a family.

While I was a little saddened by the purge of some of their stuffed animals (I’m sappy that way), I was mostly amazed at how effortlessly my kids gave things away. Granted, they know they’re going to get some Christmas gifts soon, but they were quite pleased to give away nice toys that they recognized weren’t being played with anymore.

In the end, we hauled away two large bags full of nice cars, dolls, action figures, accessories, games, and balls, all donated so they might find a new home by Christmas Eve. It felt good to give.

*****

Sunday morning, my church doubled down on the gift-giving idea. After a message on Intentional Living from John Maxwell, our Senior Pastor Kevin Myers revealed a twist on the church’s annual Christmas offering: instead of us giving the church money, the church was giving money to us — $100 per family. They called it a reverse offering.

Yeah. It kind of blew my mind too.

You can read about the church’s decision to take such a staggering leap of faith on Dan Reiland’s blog. Dan is 12Stone’s executive pastor, and the church basically put $800K into the hands of their people and said, “Spread a little Christmas!”

Tonight, my family is going to pray about how much we want to add to the pot and how we want to use it. There were some really cool ideas provided by the church, but Rachel and I want to see what our kids come up with, and share some of our ideas too. Personally, I want to buy someone’s meal AND leave the server a big tip. I’ve never been able to do that, and it seems like fun. But we’ll see what God says and the family decides.

Regardless, this Christmas is shaping up to be one filled with hope and joy. Instead of thinking about what we’re getting, we’ve started out thinking about giving, and it has me so excited for Christmas, I feel kind of stupid.

Overly-excited is probably a better phrase, but the anticipation is through the roof. I’m looking forward to knowing that we will make a difference to someone this year.

And isn’t that what Christmas is about?

 

 

 

 

Ashamed No More

I was ashamed of being small and skinny.

I was ashamed of being smart and creative, but not in conventional ways.

I was ashamed of being introverted.

I was ashamed when I couldn’t live up to other people’s expectations, especially those I loved.

I was ashamed because everyone else told me my life had a clear purpose, and even though I believed that, I couldn’t immediately define that purpose.

I was ashamed because I believed any tension in a relationship was a result of my failures, and thus required me to fix things.

I was ashamed.

Was.

I still struggle with shame, but I will no longer be its hostage. I have good qualities. I have bad qualities. I am defined by neither. I am who I choose to be, and I choose to be forgiven by God and made new. I have that option available to me because of my relationship with Jesus.

I needed to tell myself this today. I probably need to say even more, dive into some deeper waters and make peace with some things that still try to bring me low, but I’ll hold off on that for another time. For now, it is enough to acknowledge that shame has no power over me because I am a child of God. It’s not that I’m incapable of being corrected or that I’m “too big for my britches”; it’s that I’m discovering something greater, freer and more powerful in Christ than I’ve ever known before.

I wish the process were easier, but the process itself is what brings healing. It’s what brings growth.

And it’s available to anyone who would want it.

Defeating the Scarcity Mentality

A scarcity mentality is the perspective that there’s only so much good to be had.

Like a pie, or a pizza, there are only so many slices, and once they are gone, that’s it. There is no more.

This mindset comes out in people in different ways; for some, it creates a hyper-competitiveness, an insatiable need to win at all costs. For others, it creates a deep-seeded selfishness, manifested in a refusal to share or be generous.

For me, it resulted in fear. Of almost everything.

That fear–of failing, of letting others down, of not being good enough–took over my life at different points along the way, resulting in me accepting life instead of living it. When doors of opportunity opened to me, I passed them by because I was afraid. When people encouraged me, I shook them off because I was afraid. When I wanted something more, wanted to BE something more, I remained passive because I was afraid.

Of all the constants in my life, the most debilitating has been that scarcity mentality.

Because God is merciful (and persistent) with me, I’ve been tackling my scarcity mindset over the last two years.

I stepped away from a job and lifestyle that kept me comfortably helpless, and I’ve spent each day learning to be dependent on God and the talents and passion he gave me. As a result, I’ve done things I didn’t think possible: published my own books, started a community news website, even taken a job as a full-time writer with a nationally renowned company that focuses on an area about which I’m passionate.

I have learned that you defeat the scarcity mentality by choosing to see the world differently.

Leadership experts Steven Covey and John Maxwell talk about that perspective shift. They call it an Abundance Mentality. It’s the belief that the world is not finite in its goodness; that even if the pie runs out, all you have to do is bake another. And another. And another. It’s the choice to look for the good in life, instead of looking for the bad.

There is goodness, beauty, and wonder all around us–if we’ll choose to see it.

Photography has taught me that lesson. With a camera, I tend to look at the world differently; instead of seeing only what’s in front of me, I find myself looking for different perspectives, for beauty that would otherwise escape my notice. The practice of trying to document that beauty with my camera is exactly what trains me to look for it.

Being a writer helps too. Small moments with my kids become life-affirming gems (or, in some cases, massive growth experiences).

But nothing has helped me embrace abundance like surrounding myself with people who share that mindset. I had no idea how impactful my surroundings were until I changed them. I’m constantly around people who strive for excellence, see things from a positive perspective, and encourage others to live the same. As a result, I find I am defeating the scarcity mentality on a daily basis.

Being with people who see the world as a blessing instead of a curse is essential to living a life of abundance.

You can’t see what’s good in life if you’re surrounded by people who are afraid of that goodness going away. By nature, you end up focusing on the diminution of goodness instead of what is actually good. It’s a subtle thing, this mindset, but it’s powerful nonetheless.

If you find you’re surrounded by people who talk about what’s good only when they lament its gradual (or sudden) loss, then you are in a scarcity environment. You will find your growth either stunted or entirely halted, simply because you can’t grow when you’re stressed all the time.

You change your life by changing your mindset, and you can change your mindset by changing your environment. It’s hard, and you may be able to think of a million reasons not to do it, but I promise you it is worth it. The freedom you’ll feel by looking at the world as it is–full of promise and wonder–will heal you more than leaving your old world could ever hurt you.

Beauty, hope, and fulfillment are out there. You don’t have to live afraid.

Forget the Lingo, Get the Best

This week I’m participating in Seth Godin’s #YourTurnChallenge. My goal is to blog everyday this week (Mon-Sun) here on my site as well as on the challenge’s official Tumblr blog. Here’s my Day 2 submission.

I took this picture over the weekend. I was at a retreat for leaders, and I woke up early to snag some photos of the sunrise with my new camera. It’s not often I’m able to have the early morning to myself, so I was excited to capture some great shots.

I struggled for the first 15 minutes because I still don’t have a great grasp of photography – I have no idea what F-Stop should be used when, or what ISO really means, or even how white balance works. I normally just put the camera on “Automatic” and let it do the work for me.

Trouble is, that usually produces some flat, uninteresting pictures.

It certainly did on Saturday morning. I put the camera on autopilot and got crap in return. I wanted the contrast of the sunrise against the darkness of the morning and instead I got flashes and fuzzy images. Finally, I had to put the camera on a stripped down manual setting (“Creative Assistance”) and figured out how to get what I wanted without having to know all of the insider terminology. And I got some beautiful shots.

My friend, who’s a professional photographer, looked at some of them and said, “Those are fantastic. Now, go back, dig into the metadata, and figure out what the settings were when you took them. You’ll learn something to help you next time.”

The experience with my camera is similar to my experience with the business my wife and I have started. We don’t know all of the insider terminology, but we know what we want, and we’re willing to do what we can to get it. We’re also happy to learn from others on how to improve along the way.

Our goal is to double our business from last year this year. We offer writing services to help organizations and individuals sharpen their message, and while we don’t know a lot of marketing buzzwords or trends, we do know what makes a great story.

And we know great stories connect.

So that’s what we do: we make sure we tell our client’s great stories, and we get better every time. There might be others out there who do it faster or better, but we put our bones into everything we write and we let our words deliver our client’s soul. It’s less like work and more like art, and the end results are almost always amazing.

Overlooked, He Overcame

It hurts to be overlooked. This morning I received a very polite rejection email for a job to which I don’t remember applying. After racking my brain for a few minutes, I remembered the position – a writer for a non-profit organization – and re-read the email.

It read, in essence, like this:

“Dear Jason – thank you for applying to [company name] for the writing position. At this time, we are moving on in our search. Though your resume had many outstanding qualities, we felt at this time you were not a match for us.”

It went on a little more after that, but that was the gist. I looked up the job posting to see which of my qualifications fell short of their standards. Based on the posted description, none did.

So why was I overlooked? Why was it assumed I wouldn’t be a good fit?

I’m sure there are lots of reasons, and I’m not exactly beating myself up over this. (Obviously, if I really cared about the job, I would’ve remembered applying for it.) But it does sting a little bit when you’re exactly what someone says they need, only they don’t want you. To be overlooked, no matter the rationale, stings. So yeah, I was a bit bummed that yet another job had turned me down.

But then I remembered today is Christmas Eve. All over the world, in various churches, people will celebrate the arrival of a small Jewish child, born some 2,000 years ago in the backwoods of the Middle East. People will sing his name, declare his glory, and salute his birth in a stable, a birth witnessed by animals, shepherds and filth.

Overlooked in his birth, Jesus still changed the world. If we can take no other hope for Christmas, let us a least take this much: the same can be true of us.