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A life of freedom and endurance

Editor’s Note: Kathryn Jackson is a wife, mother of three, Christ-follower, teacher and writer. When she is not dreaming of frolicking in dandelion fields, she blogs about life and such on her blog.

My name is Kathryn and I’m addicted to freedom. However, I’ve recently discovered a paradox. Living a life free of constraint is not satisfying—it leads to emptiness. [tweet this]

I experience the most freedom in the context of order and sacrifice.

Trey Ratcliff (Creative Commons)

Trey Ratcliff (Creative Commons)

Before I explain, you should know something about me.

I’m one of those free-spirited, creative types. I like flowy skirts and frolicking in fields. I struggled through nap schedules and potty training always looking forward to when all my kids were old enough to buckle themselves in their booster seats and join me on my adventures. I thought four would be the magic age. When my youngest was finally four, we could go on spontaneous trips to the beach and if I saw a field on the way, they would all be old enough to frolic with me.

Back then, I would have thought goals were confining. Freedom was a life free of constraint and goals represented the epitome of constraint.

But my life drastically changed.

One month before my youngest turned four, my kids and I were in a car accident that left my middle daughter forever disabled. Now, instead of frolicking, I stick to carefully constructed care-taking schedules that provide a stable environment for my daughter’s recovery.

I love my daughter. She is one of my life’s greatest joys. But sometimes my free-spirit feels strangled by the routine and I find myself longing for freedom.

There are times when I rebel against life-circumstances and take a much-needed break. But what starts as a healthy escape inevitably turns into weeks of self-gratification. I become addicted to Roku and chocolate (well I’m always addicted to chocolate, but you get the idea).

Where is the balance? How can I enjoy a break without becoming a bleary-eyed slob who sneaks chocolate from her kids’ Halloween stash? What I’ve learned is that I need to live a life of ENDURANCE. Endurance is the ability to do something difficult for a LONG time. Taking care of my disabled daughter for the rest of my life qualifies as doing something difficult for a LONG time. So how do I do it without losing my mind?

I have found an answer in God’s creation of the world. He established the world with a natural cycle of work and rest; consequently, our lives are made up of work/rest rhythms.

  • God ordered the rotation of our planet to provide regular, physical rest. There is morning (typically the time when we begin our work) and there is evening (typically the time when we begin our rest).
  • God ordered the moon and earth’s orbit to divide our lives into weeks, months and years. God instructs us to seek spiritual rest each week in worship, prayer and communion with others.
  • God also instituted the idea of yearly festivals, either to commemorate the past or to celebrate a season of hard work.

Work, rest, celebration. This is the heart of a life of endurance. It is a balance between working hard, resting hard and celebrating hard.

We can endure work because we look forward to the rest. We can rest in peace, because we are satisfied with our work. And we can celebrate joyfully, because of the fruit that comes from working and resting well.

Another way to think of this is to say that God wants us to structure our lives as a series of short-term goals which are dictated by a long-term purpose. Endurance is hard because you have to do the difficult thing for a LONG time. Well, shorten the time!

Knowing the evening brings rest gives us the determination to persevere through the difficulty of the work.
Setting aside one day a week to rest and worship keeps us working toward the best long-term goals.
Having a joyful time of celebration on the horizon, keeps our eyes lifted just enough to persevere through the relentlessness of our daily routine.

I also make it a priority to pursue a few short-term goals that fuel my personal passions. For me, it’s writing and running. Someone else might pursue gardening and reading. These pursuits are best suited for the “work” category of life. Rest must be guarded—it is the key to good work.

What about you? What are your short-term passions and pursuits? How do you live a life of endurance?

Kathryn’s post fits in with the current series on the blog—Plan2Change. If you want to read more, check out the first two posts in the series: A life with no regrets and A focused life.

 

 

A focused life (writing a personal mission statement)

What is the difference between a traveler and wanderer? Both carry baggage. Both visit new locations. Both sleep away from home. Both collect stories and photos.

There is one key difference: a traveler has a destination. She is going somewhere on purpose. Which are you?

Kelly Hunter (Creative Commons)

Kelly Hunter (Creative Commons)

In the world of marine biology, the jelly fish is a wanderer. It floats along with the waves, susceptible to changes in tide and current. Life is not necessarily bad. The sea often carries it to the right spot at the right time. However, a high tide can leave it washed up on the shore, stranded and helpless.

The dolphin, however, is a traveler. It goes wherever it wishes with a flip of it’s powerful fin. Neither current nor tide can stop it from reaching a determined destination. It cuts purposefully through the waves, soars through the air, and enjoys the freedom of its strength.

While we all like to think of ourselves as a dolphin, too often we act like jelly fish. Life’s circumstances push us here and there. We begin to feel helpless—like a victim in our own story. We dream of swimming free, but find ourselves washed up on the shore.

It doesn’t have to be this way. But to change, we need a clear destination. We need a purpose compelling enough for us to fight the waves. We need a mission.

Perhaps the idea of a mission statement is overwhelming for you. Perhaps it sounds corporate and cold. It doesn’t have to be. In fact, I think you can come up with a compelling mission statement by asking yourself the following two key questions.

1) Who are you?

Take out a piece of paper (or open a Word document) and write out everything you know about yourself. What are your talents? What is your personality type? What activities energize you? What drains you? What are your key values? What are your strengths? weaknesses?

[If you aren’t sure, check out these resources . . .
http://www.tonyrobbins.com/ue/disc-profile.php
http://www.16personalities.com/ ]

Once you make your list, sit back and look over it. What do you learn about yourself?

Are you a leader?
Are you a creator?
Are you someone who loves a challenge?
Do you love working behind the scenes?
Are you consistent? spontaneous?
What are your weaknesses? strengths?

It is important you understand yourself before determining a mission for your life. There is not one correct mission statement for everyone. The more it reflects who you are, the more it will awaken a passion in you for change.

Have you ever tried to change for someone else? Perhaps your mother had a plan for your life she wanted you to implement. Perhaps a leader/teacher had a plan for your life he wanted to you to adopt. How did that feel? You may have tried in order to please them, but the motivation just wasn’t there.

When we tap into the uniqueness of how we were created, we find power to become who we were created to be. [tweet this]

Your mission starts with a deep understand of who you are. Then ask a second question . . .

2) Where do you want to go?

What if you used your specific gifts to live out your values? What if you maximized your strengths and minimized your weaknesses? What if your personality blossomed and you lived out your true self?

What would happen? Where would you go?

Let yourself dream. Then write out what you see.

A number of years ago I went through this process in a leadership course. I learned a lot about myself that summer. Most of it confirmed what I already suspected:

I love ideas.
I lead.
I have a lot of energy but need to manage it.
I can ignore relationships in pursuit of goals.

None of this was surprising, but the confirmation was powerful. This is how I was created.

As I dreamed about the future, a picture came into view: a great oak tree growing beside a river in a beautiful field. The roots gripping the earth were my character. The solid trunk was my relationships. The leaves lifted to the sun were the strengths given me by God. And the extended branches were my influence.

I really wanted to see that tree grow. But I knew it wouldn’t develop if I didn’t focus my efforts on the right things. What is the use of having influence if I didn’t have the character to uphold it? What is the value of my gifts if relationships are weak?  The tree would topple.

So I wrote out this mission statement—

Every year I am alive, I want to:
Grow in Character
Deepen in Relationships
Focus on Strengths
      (and as I do these three things I will . . .)
Increase in Influence
For the good of others and the honor of God.

These words have focused me through the past decade. They help me assess my current situation and adjust the balance of my time and effort. They remind me of the priority of character and relationships over success. They help me make choices.

Now it’s your turn. What do you see in your future? Where do you want to go?

Take my advice, bury your regret

We all have regret. We said the wrong thing at the wrong time. We hurt a friend. We missed an opportunity. There are things in our past we would erase, if we could.

There is only one thing you can do with that regret—bury it.

Photo Credit Bhowmik Shah (Creative Commons)

Photo Credit Bhowmik Shah (Creative Commons)

This week I wrote about living a life without regret. Truth is, we can’t make it from birth to death without doing, saying, choosing something regrettable. So what do we do with our collection of regret? Bury it. But where?

You can bury it deep inside

Many of us choose to bury our regret deep down inside of ourselves. We dig a hole and hide the padlocked box somewhere in the recesses of our heart and try to move on. Sometimes we medicate. Sometimes we distract ourselves. Sometimes we hope time will heal all wounds.

This works for a while.

Our minds are capable of operating in some seriously stressful situations. Our memory is selective. We suppress and move on. Then, one day, regret creeps up from the crypt like a putrid smell from the sewer. We stagger from the odor. We say, “I thought I’d dealt with that!” And then, we often make other regrettable choices in an attempt to re-bury our past.

You can’t bury your regrets deep enough inside of yourself to avoid them forever. [tweet this]They poison our soul-soil like salt sown into a field. They prevent life from taking root. They don’t weaken with time, they grow bolder. And eventually, they make their way to the surface.

You can bury it in others

Some of us, afraid to bury regret inside of ourselves, find a way to bury it in others. This is called blame. We anchor our regret in the faulty choice, action, attitude of another. We place the burden on them so we won’t have to carry it ourselves.

But we can’t escape regret so easily.

Regret blamed on others becomes anger. And angry people are not free.

In our attempt to free ourselves of regret we poison our relationships and strengthen regret’s power. We nurture regret through anger. It takes root in our hearts. It becomes our master. It blinds us to reality.

Blame spreads like a virus. Anger multiplies when nurtured. Regret gives birth to more regret. Repeat cycle.

So if we cannot bury our regret in ourselves or in others, how can we get rid of it?

You can bury it forever

I’ve found a place to bury my regret where it won’t poison the soil of my soul. I can bury it without blame or anger. I can bury it and move on.

I bury my regret in a 2,000 year old tomb in Palestine.

Tombs hold death. But this grave erupted with life.
Tombs represent the end. But this grave was a new beginning.
Tombs project sadness. But this grave brought joy to people around the world.

I have my share of regret. But I know what to do with it.

I give my regret to the One who died on that Good Friday hill, who was buried behind the stone, and who came back to life on Easter morning. I bury my regret with him. He exchanges it for life.

This is the miracle of Easter morning—life in exchange for death. [tweet this] And not just any kind of life. A life with no regrets.

How I Met Your Mother and the Possibility of Real Change

Even though I’ve never seen an episode of How I Met Your Mother, it’s Facebook-overwhelming final episode affected me. A friend and co-worker, Matt, was upset the day after watching the series finale. After a brief summary of the show and explanation of its conclusion, I was upset too.

Because HIMYM sticks its finger into one of our deepest wounds—this lingering question “Is real change possible?”

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The following is from my friend Matt Henning. [SPOILER ALERT]

It’s been a few weeks now and if you’re like me, you went on with life by just forgetting that HIMYM ever existed. Even if you liked the ending, you’ve already forgotten the show. That is the one thing all people agree upon with the ending of HIMYM.

It was forgettable.

 Yes—the Slap Bet, Robin Sparkles, Billy Zabka, The Goat, The Locket, Dopplegangers, all forgettable.

It’s amazing.

HIMYM isn’t Seinfeld where something simple taken too far becomes funny.
HIMYM isn’t Reality TV where boundaries are pushed to cover our boredom.
HIMYM is about one thing: whatever is witty, whatever is clever, whatever you never knew you wanted, they write about those things!  Oh, that was cheesy 10 years ago?  We’ll make that awesome. Challenge… Accepted!

Yet, it is forgotten now. Some people probably don’t even know why.  Here’s why it was forgettable for me.

What do people remember?

Robin Sparkles? That was an amazing episode allowed us to experience Ted’s pain, laugh with Barney, and feel confused about how they were supposed to feel for Robin. But it was also a tale of Robin’s past and present. That’s why we love hearing stories (both the good and the bad) from our friend’s past. We love hearing about change.

We remember change.

Here is what I wish the writers would have considered:  People really do change.

The shock and awe of clever writing showed us the progression of peoples’ lives and we loved HIMYM for it. However, the last episode ended with a different kind of shock and awe.  Much like Lady Gaga and her eccentric outfits , the writers of HIMYM took the story outside the lines. It was a train-wreck. They spent nine seasons on character development, then erased it all in one episode.  We discovered the characters had not actually developed at all.  They revert back to their maturity level in the first episode. And the ending is just a life-restart at age 40 for Ted?

Denying that people change leads to fatalism, fatalism leads to lack of hope, and if we lack hope we become depressed.

In life, it’s true that people get divorced, people die, people move on, people don’t keep the same friendships… but people do change.

Everything changed in the show except the people. Ted didn’t change.  Robin was still a self-focused reporter just older and more distant, looking for the next thing that will make her happy. Ted tried once, twice, no three times at a relationship with her. But this time she will be happy? Lily and Marshall still care about friends and will try to throw reunions in the midst of mid-life crises, and “just take me back to college” moments for the rest of their lives.  Barney isn’t just a womanizer, he is even more careless about friends than before. You think he will honor this commitment to a kid whose Mother he labels, “woman 31”?

In the end, the message of HIMYM is fatalistic. Change doesn’t last.

We all know people who go through life buying this message.

They believe they will be jobless forever.
They believe they can’t change their intelligence, their maturity, their situation, or their behavior.
They believe they can’t stop spending money, giving in to addiction, or returning to life-deadening vices.
They believe they will never find what is true or what is right.

This is hopelessness defined. How will they change if they believe true change is not possible?

I am not buying the message. People can change. It is rooted in my belief and my experience. This steers what I believe and how I live my life.

With one episode, HIMYM went from epic to forgettable. But a life of change is a story that will never be forgotten. [tweet this]

What about you? Do you believe change is possible? Then check out my new series Plan2Change.

A life with no regrets

[This is the first post in a new series, Plan2Change, about the possibility and process of personal growth.]

Regret is one of the most powerful human emotions—it tightens your gut, drops your shoulders, darkens your eyes, and fogs your mind. As poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been.’ “

Photo credit Cesar Astudillo (Creative Commons)

Photo credit Cesar Astudillo (Creative Commons)

Men in their 40s often experience the power of regret. Looking back over the previous 20 years, they regret choices made in the name of business success—relationships lost, character compromised, paths chosen. We call it a mid-life crisis. Sports car dealers call it a business opportunity. The world is full of middle-age men trying to cover regret with new clothes and fast cars.

At least these men can make changes to their lives. There is another group for whom it is too late.

I sometimes think about the end of my life.

I am lying in the hospital connected to machines. The doctor tells my family there is nothing more he can do. My children and grandchildren gather around to comfort me. Their presence warms my soul.

I think back through my life, frames flickering before my mind’s eye. I should have . . . I wish I would have . . . I feel regret.

When I end the thought experiment, I take note. What regrets did I have? What should I have done? What should I have avoided? Then I celebrate the fact I am still alive. I jump and sing like Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Story. Then I make changes to ensure I won’t have those regrets one day.

Because one day my life will be over. Friends and family will travel from around the country to attend my funeral. Some people will cry. Some will laugh (hopefully while sharing funny stories from my life). Some will stand up and share about me.

What will they say about me at my funeral?

I know they won’t mention the things that occupy much of my time day to day.
“Josh could really fill out a form well.”
“Josh was so good at checking his email and staying up to date on Facebook.”

I hope they will speak about meaningful conversations, shared experiences, and life-changing interactions.

What do you want people to say about you at your funeral? Take 2 minutes and write out what comes to mind. [Then, if you're willing, share it in the comments below]

When I’m dead, it’s too late to determine the words spoken at my funeral. Those decisions take place today.

I want to live such a life that one day people will say, “He loved his family. He lived for God. He gave his life for the good of those around him.” That would make me happy.

And this statement can work as a North Star keeping me focused on where I want to go. Your statement can do the same for you. Until we know who we want to be, we can’t become who we should be. [tweet this]

In a few years, when I turn 40, I won’t buy a fast car or start dressing like a teenager. Hopefully, I will avoid a mid-life crisis altogether. Not because life is going exactly how I planned, but because I am heading in the right direction. Instead of a mid-life crisis, I will have a mid-life check-in.

Am I living a life that leads to regret or rejoicing?
Am I becoming who I want to be?
Will the path I am walking take me where I want to go?

I choose to live a focused life today, so I won’t have regrets on my last day. [tweet this] How about you?

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