Our Worn And Broken Threads

Photo Mar 30, 10 49 52 PM

In the summer of 2008, I sat outside a coffee shop and listened to a friend describe an idea for a short film. I was fresh out film school and quickly said, “Let’s make it!” That simple sentence started a journey that lasted four years, resulting in the short film Flower.

The thing is, it could have been made a lot faster. The co-creator was great to work with and final script was only fifteen pages, but I dragged my feet for three years on the project. It wasn’t until recently that I finally realized why: from the characters to the story to the message, I wanted everything to perfect.

I do this a lot in life. I once prayed a year and a half about whether to ask a girl out or not; I made another short film two years ago that no one has seen because I haven’t found the best way to release it; a short story I’m writing is on its seventh rewrite; and I just debated two weeks on which camera bag to buy. I analyze, critique, rethink, question, and stress over what is the best decision. Because if there’s anything I don’t want to be, it’s flawed.

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There is a place for excellence, but I think the question is, what’s driving it? Is it to present the best thing I can, or to keep others from laughing? Too often I think my motivations fall under the latter. That is not perfectionism, but fear.

And when you think about it, what is more central to the human experience than mistakes? From our first breath we do things imperfectly—yet our parents don’t trade us in for a better model. We all fall, we all come up short, we all make mistakes, and what I’m learning to accept is that it’s okay.

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Three years after starting the script, the co-creator and I decided to finally just make the film. We held auditions for the cast and ended up with two phenomenal lead actors, ages 16 and 18. The film went on to be accepted to two festivals, win second place in one, and be offered a small distribution deal. More importantly, we still hear stories to this day about people who have been impacted by it.

All of this is due in no small part to our cast, and if we had made the film earlier they would have been too young.

It’s to the glory of our Storyteller that he not only allows us to make mistakes and learn, but he then weaves something beautiful from our worn and broken threads. As I toil over a project or anxiously debate about a decision, I hear him say over and over:

“It’ll be okay. I won’t trade you in. Just do your best, and I’ll take it from there.”

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The Power of Aiming Low

Climb to Froze to Death

The rock slide stretched a thousand feet into the air before us, a waterfall of jagged granite boulders silhouetted at the top by the rising sun. The map showed that it lead up to a long, flat plateau called Froze-to-Death. From there we could follow it south until it stood opposite Granite Peak, the tallest summit in Montana. It was either that or keep going at our current elevation and have a near vertical climb from Granite’s base.

Our small group of seven had already been up since 4am. We’d skirted Princess Lake in the dark, hanging onto pine limbs as we climbed through the rocks, and had come to a small rise just below Cold Lake. An apt name, this high in the mountains. Its water was straight from Granite’s glaciers. Once the sun came up it would be emerald and clear all the way to its silt lakebed.

Josh, the group’s leader, peered over the map with a few of the others. He moved between it and a compass, talking in his typical calm tone. I didn’t know how to read maps, but with them at the lead I wasn’t worried. So I stayed back, chewing a granola bar and craning my neck to look up the rock slide.

“Ok,” Josh said finally and folded up the map. “Let’s climb.”

I set off with vigor. There’s nothing like bouncing from boulder to boulder while behind you the sun draws a horizontal line across the distance mountains. The higher we got up the rock slide, though, the harder it became to breath. We were nearing 11,000 feet and oxygen was growing thin. Despite the earlier snack, my legs were burning—and it was only 8am. We still had a peak to crest.

That’s when I learned a powerful tool that I have been using ever since. I used it while working as a server at the Cracker Barrel, while painting walls in my dad’s office, and now while writing my latest book.

It’s the power of aiming low.

SHOULDN’T WE SHOOT FOR THE STARS?

The typical encouragement is to shoot high, go big or go home, that sort of thing. That definitely is good for overall goals, like someday wanting to run a corporation or have a PhD. Definitely dream big in those areas. But when it comes to the daily act of achieving those dreams, I’ve found that setting small goals is noticeably more effective than giant ones.

Over the years I have wanted to write novels, which is a pretty big task. To do it in just a few months I would need to write close to 1000 words a day. The problem is that it’s hard to find time to write that much, what with full-time work, friends, grocery shopping, et cetera. It also takes a lot of stamina to be creative for that length of time, and so I’ll get a few paragraphs in and give up. When that happens a few days in a row, it’s easy to think I’ll never make and just give up.

But starting a few weeks I changed the 1000 words-a-day goal to just 250. A measly couple hundred words. That’s just a little more than the first three paragraphs of this article. It’s so small that it feels like any “real” author would scoff at it and say anyone could do that.

And that’s exactly the point. When the goal seems easily achievable, I would feel silly if I didn’t try to do it. So I sit down and write.

In the 26 days since I started doing this, I’ve only missed one day and have written 9,909 words. The beauty of it is, once I’m in the seat I usually end up writing more than my goal. My average word count over those 26 days is just under 400.

I have always struggled to write frequently, much less daily. By setting my goal almost ridiculously low, I’ve been able to reach a productivity and gain a momentum I’ve never experienced.

ZIGZAGGING UP THE MOUNTAIN

When I was climbing that rock slide, it was a good thing I didn’t aim straight for the horizon line far above. It turned out to be a false summit; once you reached it you found a whole other stretch of ground yet to climb.

Instead, I picked a rock about 10 feet away and told myself to get to it. Once I reached it, I picked another spot, telling myself I could rest after I got there. I zigzagged my way up the mountain, one short span at a time.

Now that I’ve realized this works for my writing as well, I’ve started to apply it in other areas. Do just 5 push-ups and pull-ups a day, or go to the prayer room once a week. It’s a small start, but I’m actually moving forward instead of only thinking about it.

The next step for me is to increase my goals. Writing 250 words a day turned out to be an easy one, so in February I’m going to increase it 350. As my capacity and strength grows, I’ll keep moving the finish line just a little farther away.

You might be someone who needs a big goal. Either you go big or you don’t take yourself seriously. If so, go for it. We all work differently.

I would bet, though, that most people just need to start off with baby steps. If you’re one of those, I encourage you to think about areas you want to grow in and set a goal so small it seems foolishly easy to reach. Do that for a few weeks, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if you look back and see how high up the mountain you’ve come.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go write for the 18th day in a row.

Any areas you can think of right now that could use a small goal? I’d love to hear about it!

Growing in 2014

2014

A Different Approach to the New Year

Being January, most people are probably making resolutions for the new year. But in a few weeks most will admit with a laugh that the resolutions have fallen by the wayside. I think that happens, in part, because we set very high expectations for ourselves. When we can’t meet those expectations, we give up. However, if we can think differently about starting a new year, there is a better chance of achieving the change we’re hoping for.

At the beginning of 2013 I listened a book by John Maxwell called 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. “If you focus on reaching goals,” he writes, “you won’t necessarily grow. But if you focus on growth, you will always reach your goals.” Goals are only about the end result. Growth, on the other hand, is about gaining ground slowly but surely over time.

With that in mind, last year I had five areas in which I wanted to grow: spiritual, creative, financial, health, and leadership. I then wrote down specific ways I wanted to make that happen. Out of my list of 15 ways, I did about six. I could get mad at myself for not doing the other nine, but hey—hose are six things I wouldn’t have done otherwise! And again, I’m not after just reaching goals; I’m after growing in those areas, and over the course of 2013 I did grow.

This approach really works for me, and I hope you take some time to consider it for yourself.

Areas I want to grow in 2014

Four of the five areas I focused on last year are still applicable for 2014. I’m no longer in a leadership role (at least not an official one), so that won’t be on my list. This year I want to replace that category with Others. I want to help those around me grow, in addition to myself growing spiritually, creatively, financially, and physically.

After thinking about it for a couple weeks, here are the ways I’m going to grow in these areas:

  1. Develop a set time to hang out with Jesus daily
  2. Read the Bible daily and chronologically
  3. Write 250 words a day
  4. Finish the first draft of a novel
  5. Publish a side project
  6. Sell a short story
  7. Write and direct a short film
  8. Build my own website
  9. Learn Avid
  10. Read a screenplay a month
  11. Help one person finish a project
  12. Run 3 miles two times a week
  13. Pay off all debt
  14. Learn about investment

I happen to turn 29 this year, so this will be my last year in the 20s! A few years ago I made a list of things I wanted to do by the time I was 30, and a few of them I have accomplished. But one of them, finishing a novel, still remains elusive, so I definitely want to focus on reaching that goal.

Things to help the process

Set goals that seem too low. It’s only a couple weeks into 2014, but this is the biggest thing I have learned so far. When I set my daily word count goal at 250, it felt ridiculous. Surely I could write more than that each day! What I’ve found is that is exactly the emotion you want to have with a goal. I have written 9 days out of the last 10, because even when I get home late at night and I’m tired, I think to myself, “It’s only 250 words. You can definitely do that.” The best part is, I usually end up writing a bit more than 250, so I think I’m going to increase the word count to maybe 350 at the end of the month. 

So instead of setting a goal astronomically high and then getting depressed because you never do it, try starting small. Once you can routinely meet that small goal, like running just twice a week, try increasing it.

Find an app that fits your goals. We nearly all have smartphones these days, and they have uses far beyond just games or Instagram. There are quite a few apps that can be really helpful in reaching daily goals. Here are a few I have found helpful:

  • YouVersion Bible. Reading the Bible daily, or the whole thing in a year has been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. On top of that, I have really wanted to read the Bible chronologically. YouVersion has been around for a long time, but I suddenly realized they probably had that exact plan. Turns out they do! The daily reading plan function works really well, and I’ve discovered that the audio version is perfect for me. The day’s chapters fit just about perfectly into my morning drive to work. It’s been 15 days and I’ve made it through as many chapters in Genesis and all of Job (which was always a laborious chapter for me to get through). I’m excited to get into the other history books of the Bible and hear/read them all together. 
  • Habit List. Sometimes all you need to reach a goal is a friendly reminder. Habit List has a great look and makes it simple to set up reminders at whatever interval you might want. It also keeps track of how many times in a row you’ve successfully done something, which can be a good motivation to keep going. If you want to set more specific goals and keep track of things like daily numbers or averages, check out the iOS app Strides.
  • Audible. I started running last year for the first time and audio books really helped me. Audible is subscription-based and the app works really well. Another app that helps with running is RunKeeper, which tracks your running. Nike+ is also a good option, but I liked RunKeeper’s Pause button was easier to get to—which is a big deal when you’re exhausted after a run.

If a plant isn’t watered, it won’t grow. We are no different. I encourage you to pick at least one area in your life this year and decide to grow in it. Start small, don’t stress yourself out, be patient. Remember that growth is a process.

How do you want to grow this year?

Escaping Comfort’s Grasp

Faintly through dim shadows came the alarm’s first sound and pulled me from sleep. I stirred and turned, blinking at its bright face. The digital numbers stared back at me; there was no denying it was time to get up.

My bed begged to differ, however. “No, no, no,” it whispered. “ Ssssleep…. Just a few more minutes of blessed darkness.” I turned from the alarm and settled back into my bed’s soft comfort.

—and then my eyes sprang open.

It’s all about comfort.

The western world lives for comfort. A warm bed, a hot shower, a rich cup of coffee. The moments are different for everyone, and for some perhaps few and far, but we spend a lot of time and money trying to get comfortable. We want to feel at peace, safe, secure, and we want nothing more than to stay there.

And that turns out to be the problem: we don’t want to leave comfort. It feels so good that it surely should never end, so we watch the same movie a hundred times, or live with our parents till we turn 30. We cling to comforts and stay in them as long as possible.

But I don’t think it was meant to be like that.

There are moments of joy, and then there are moments between joy. That is the rhythm of life. Like it says in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything. There is a time for comfort, and then there is a time for work. Such is the way of things.

Thinking about comfort in this way suddenly removes the pressure to hold onto it. Sure, the bed feels wonderful; sure, I would love nothing better to take a 30-minute hot shower. But moments of comfort aren’t meant to be stayed in forever. They are meant to fuel me for the work ahead.

It will probably take a while for me to actually approach comfort like this. My habit now is to find it and cling to it as long as possible. But hopefully, if I stay mindful of this, I will be able to enjoy moments of comfort when they come and then step out when it’s time.

What Governs My Actions?

Friday Fish FryThe salty tang of lemon pepper and oil laced the air as I stepped from my car. The parking lot was mostly full. A cluster of tan uniforms milled around the open doors of a minivan to the left, and a young man with headphones sat in front of a cream-and-blue sign that read Our Lady of Peace.

I headed toward a set of white double-doors. An older black man joined me. “Must be in the gym,” he said.

“Must be,” I replied and held the door open for him. “Just follow the smell.”

It was Friday, and it was fish fry night at the Catholic church.

Recently I’ve been thinking about what governs my actions. The fish fry I attended, it turns out, was part of the Catholic tradition of Lent, where they fast something for 40 days. (I need to attend the next fish fry and ask how fish is tied in.) Jews have similar practices, with feasts, times of remembrance, things they can or cannot eat, etc. It can easily slip into empty tradition, of course, but I started to think about my own Protestant, legalism-free life. What governs my actions?

I think I can boil it down to this: I make decisions based on if it will make me sin. Eat this cookie? Sure, why not. Read that book? It probably won’t make me sin, so sure. Watch that movie? Eh, it has a few bad scenes that might make me lust, so I’ll skip it. But what about how I interact with my roommates? Or whether or not I give to the homeless man on the street corner? Or how I speak about my government officials?

Then there are things like drinking or chewing. I used to say that I didn’t have any biblical problems with drinking (Paul suggested a glass of wine with dinner, after all)—I just didn’t drink because I didn’t like the taste. But when I recently learned that one of my family members drinks an occasional beer… it suddenly just felt wrong.

But can I biblically say it’s wrong? How do I biblically decide yes or no? Do Jesus’ actions have any bearing on how I act?

Essentially, I think thus far my Christian walk has been an intellectual one. I study the Bible to see how Jesus feels about me, or to get a better spiritual understanding of the cross. But I’m beginning to wonder, does it have an impact on my daily actions? Yes, we should study the Bible; I definitely need a greater revelation of Jesus’ love for me. But am I making a conscious choice to apply that revelation to my actions?

My relationship with Jesus is changing my thoughts, but is it changing what I do? Am I keeping the intellectual learning at an arm’s distance? Changed thoughts should lead to changed actions—are they? I try to be joyful, inviting, and serve others—but that’s just a moral code. Am I acting more like Jesus, the Son of God? Am I being transformed into his image? Am I putting off the old man of sin and becoming a new creation?

Ha. Basically I’m asking myself, is my relationship with Jesus bearing fruit?

My current Bible study is in the gospel of Mark. The goal when I first started was to look at Jesus and ask four simple questions: what does he do, what does he say, what does this show me about him, and what does this show me about God the Father?

The unexpected side effect is I’m getting an understanding of Jesus as a real man. He felt dirt beneath his feet, he breathed oxygen, he talked with people, he slept and ate. I mostly ask questions as I read, but I feel like I’m connecting with the real man Jesus.

After the fish fry, I added a fifth question: how can I apply what Jesus did and said to my actions?

If he is a real man and if the way of the Lord, the way he desires me to live, is real, then there can be—there must be—real actions to apply to my life.