The Death of Christmas (Why I’m Putting The Tree Up Early This Year)

Do you know that person who gets a little too into Christmas? Someone who watches Elf in April, the Christmas tree shows up in October, and Christmas lights are outside the house by early November (at the latest). You’re talking about me. At least you were. I even remember in September of 2012 when I was in Namibia, I would listen to the Justin Bieber Christmas album all the time. (One of my friends in California texted me late last night to tell me the Justin Bieber Christmas album was being played within my friend’s home in California last night, and wanted me to know because I dig the album that much. If that ends your time of reading this post, I’m sorry because it’s about to be good. And by the way, it’s a good album. Especially JB’s collaboration with Boyz II Men.) I have always loved Christmas, so it was stunning for me to hit a point in my life when I didn’t want Christmas to come anymore.

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Last year for the first time in my life I didn’t want to celebrate Christmas. I didn’t listen to Christmas music very much. I kept trying to get myself into the Christmas spirit, but the more I tried, the less I wanted Christmas and all of its lights, snowflakes, and songs to come. When you don’t want to celebrate Christmas, there isn’t a magic “Hide From Christmas” button that you can push and it all goes away. You can’t outrun Christmas. Every time I thought of Santa, Frosty, or Rudolph, I thought of my mom again. I knew that no matter how loud I sang Christmas carols or how many gifts I might give, I couldn’t get Mom back. She was gone, and I felt her loss in the cold sting of winter. It wasn’t just that she had died; for me the sweetness of Christmas died with her.

The spirit of Christmas in my heart had been laid to rest. Instead of the warmth of holiday memories, I heard Churches making sure their members knew to say, “Merry Christmas” in response to every clerk who said, “Happy Holidays.” (Yeah, that’ll teach them.) I remembered the posts people shared about how Starbucks had chosen a simple two-toned cup without reindeer and ornaments thus waging a war on Christmas. (Because the birth of Christ was about reindeer and ornaments.) I had flashbacks to a co-worker showing me a website that tallied the deaths on Black Friday from people literally trampling over others so that they could hide a gift under the Christmas tree for their child. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing that Christmas had died in my heart. We had made it into something other than what it was meant to be.

A few weeks ago, I realized Christmas was right around the corner. I was having dinner with a close friend who lost his father a few years ago. We talked about how traditions like Christmas just don’t feel the same anymore when you lose a parent. As I thought about the Christmas season ahead, I realized this was going to be something to be endured. What I once looked forward to, I now began to dread. I would hear those songs that made me think of setting up the tree as a family, the road trips to West Virginia to celebrate Christmas with grandparents as we did growing up, or the fun little traditions we had in our family. These were the days on the not so far off horizon. Nat King Cole would play in the background, and my mom’s smile would appear before my eyes, and then the memory would slowly fade to black like the final scene of old movies just before the credits roll.

It was just a few days ago, I was reading the second chapter of Luke. This is the moment when Luke talks about an angel appearing to shepherds in a field telling them that Christ was born. The story began to play out in my mind, how the Christ was laid in a manger as a newborn. I remembered how Jesus lived a life of love and grace offering mercy to every person who wanted to receive forgiveness for the wrongs they had done God, themselves, and others. Then, I remembered how Jesus was nailed to a cross, laid in a tomb, only to rise from the dead three days later.

This made me think Jesus was first laid in a wooden box as a baby, and was stretched out on a wooden cross 33 years later. Christ began his life being laid down in a manger made from a tree, and ended his life being raised up on a cross made from a tree. The manger led to a life, a life led to a cross, the cross to a grave, and the grave to a resurrection. Christmas is about birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection.

This is why I’m not waiting until after Thanksgiving to put the Christmas tree up this year. (All of you holiday purists calm down. I am being thankful, and will celebrate this holiday as well.) I’m listening to Christmas music already. The songs of Christmas mean more to me now than they have in years past. In just over a month, the lights will reflect off the snow, and we’ll share gifts with the people we love. When I look at the Christmas tree this year, I will remember that a manger and a cross were made from trees. The Christmas tree is going up early because it is a symbol for any heart feeling the cold sting of winter. The Christmas tree reminds me the story is not over yet because of resurrection. The Christmas tree whispers through ornaments, lights, angels, and stars, “There is hope.”

 

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Getting UnStuck and Creating The Change You Want

Have you ever noticed how some leaders are unhappy with their lives? People who lead consistently see the way things are, and they point the way to how things could be and should be. If you lead well, it means that you see problems. It also means that you see the opportunities for change to happen from those problems. As my friend Nathan said, “I want to encourage you to be a problem solver, not just someone who finds the problems in society.” We already have plenty of problem identifiers in our culture. Why not create solutions for problems?

When we are looking at the problems around us, we often become consumed with the problems to the point of obsession. Our brains are wired to see problems. If you’re not careful, you might move to a point in life where you really only have “problem brain.” This is what happens when your brain only identifies problems, but you don’t provide space for solutions to occur. It is easy to see how you can become unhappy very quickly.

In the book Boundaries for Leaders, Henry Cloud teaches a practical principle for how to move past only seeing problems, only focusing on the negative, and feeling like things can never really change. Here is the principle:

As a leader, you always get what you create and what you allow.

You have ownership over your life. Now, your life very well may be filled with problems, but only focusing on the problems is most likely not going to create the results you want (unless your goal is to be negative and cynical in which case you might stop reading this as we’re talking about creating a positive, happier life in this post.)

In August of 2016, I opened my business. The first year of business is hard. Don’t let anybody tell you differently. I would often obsess over things that were out of my control, and in so doing, sometimes become paralyzed by all the things that I determined “wouldn’t happen.” Then, I would be reminded that I could focus on the inputs that lead towards outcomes. When I focused on the inputs, I saw more positive results. It seems simple enough, but my brain like your brain is drawn towards problems and the things out of my control. It is easier to focus on the outcomes, and the daily things out of your control rather than your inputs. Your inputs are what lead towards your success.

Over the past month, I’ve had the honor of walking with 2 groups I am coaching – one in Downtown OKC, and one in Edmond. It is a 6 week course called Lion Leader, and the endeavor is about creating the results you want in life. We don’t play blame games, make excuses, or allow toxic thinking to limit us from what could be possible in our lives. I have loved seeing how the principles of ownership are making shifts that lead towards quick results in their lives.

Here is a big idea that drives the Lion Leader process. If my brain is drawn towards what is wrong, then how I approach life, work, and friendships needs to be strong enough to create the results I want. Part of that has to do with creating boundaries on my thinking, my actions, and my decisions. When people hear boundaries, they often think only of restriction. These boundaries restrict the negative, and unleash the positive. The boundaries are a reminder to me of the kind of life I want to create, and the person I am choosing to be. Here are the four areas we want to see every Lion Leader experience in their own life.

1. Love Hard. I believe you and I were made to love and to be loved. You can problem solve all day long, but don’t forget to bring your heart along in the journey. Don’t become so disconnected from the people you lead, that you don’t actively love them. Sometimes loving hard is listening well. Sometimes loving hard is encouraging and inviting, or it could look like vulnerability. Sometimes loving hard is challenging. When you love hard, it unlocks you to give and receive in ways you would never otherwise experience.

2. Live Full. This is a commitment I have to make, because my brain can easily run towards what can’t be done. Some people tell me I am encouraging all the time. Well, my brain is drawn towards problems just like anyone else’s brains, but I do try to focus on the positive. Living full to me is bringing all of myself to what I am doing. It is amazing what is possible when a room with just a few “can-do” people set their minds and hearts towards what is in front of them.

3. Lead Strong. For some people, this is the image of someone with the corner office on the top floor. To me, a person who leads strong is someone who commits to facing the demands of reality, and will do what needs to be done to get things done. This is a person who believes humility, courage, and kindness still have a place. Strong leaders are people leaders who remind the people around them how important they are. Sometimes leading strong looks like a smile and a non-anxious presence in the room, and sometimes leading strong is a person in tears about an injustice or hurt they or someone on their team is facing.

4. Laugh Often. Have some fun. We commit every week to do things that are fun, because I’ve found a lot of people won’t have fun unless they commit to doing something fun. It is easier to identify problems, focus on the negatives, or just work themselves to death. I get it. There are a lot of problems in the world. If you open your eyes to it, there are a lot of great things happening. Enjoy life, and laugh often. It is a short journey.

Creating change is possible, and the path of change can be enjoyable if you choose how you will face what you face. I hope when you see the problems in front of you, that you find solutions to them.

 

The Problem With Impressing People

Something I heard someone say a long time ago is, “Love your readers.” When I write, this is what I have done. Somewhere along the way, I lost a bit of the magic though. “Love your readers became impress your readers.” When I started viewing life from that perspective, I didn’t have much to share. For whatever reason, everything I wanted to share didn’t feel like it was good enough to share. I met someone recently who told me he had read something I posted quite a while ago, and he told me it meant a lot to him. Then, he pulled out a sheet of paper, and showed me notes he had written down from that post.

Maybe you’re like me and feel like what you want to share isn’t quite good enough, or what you want to share isn’t quite ________ enough. (You fill in the blank.) A lot of us are too hard on ourselves in the wrong areas. We determine in advance whether something is good enough for others. You know what the danger in that can become? Eventually, you might make a switch from “what you make” not being good enough for others to “who you are” not being good enough for others.

Do you know what happens when you start thinking what you are isn’t good enough, and who you are isn’t good enough? It is quite simple. You stop sharing. You think and think and think, but you keep it to yourself. You avoid saying anything that might be a bit risky, because you don’t want to have people tell you that you’re wrong and what you share isn’t good enough.

The other day was really hard. I ended up trying out something like five movies on Netflix, and they were all pretty lame. Finally, I try out this movie with a bad script, and bad soundtrack. I’m not going to say it was a chick flick, but I’m also not going to say it wasn’t. At the end of the movie, I’m sitting there tearing up, and then I think to myself, “Man, this is pretty lame.” (In an attempt to redeem this portion of the post, I watched The Manchurian Candidate the night before, and it was awesome. That’s got to balance  out the tearing up at the end of a lame movie part.)

Here’s the thing. I’d rather not share that part with you, because it’s not really a part of my life that is cool. It doesn’t feel good. It feels like something I would never lead with sitting around a fire with a bunch of guys. Then again, I’ve sat around plenty of fires where we all tried to impress each other with how smart, strong, and funny we are. Even if this is a small risk telling you about some lame movie I cried at, I think I’ll take a little risk. I think I’ll start sharing again. Why? Mainly because I’ve got to move past this idea of whatever I share being brilliant, unique, or cool enough. The problem with impressing people is that you might never get around to sharing what’s most important, real or true. If you’re like me in that you’ve been spending too much time trying to impress people, here is something.

Who you are is good enough, and what you share is good enough.

The Secret Power of Ordinary

I spent much of my life thus far avoiding routine. Growing up, I viewed routine as the opposite of enjoyment. The house I grew up in was a place of routine, and I tried to imagine my way out of it. Well, except for the daily times that held routine Breakfast of cereal, routine lunch of sandwiches and leftovers, and routine dinner of routine choices. I never willingly missed a meal growing up. My parents had a rule when I was little that we were allowed thirty minutes of TV per day. Eventually, that evolved to a whole hour. If my sisters and I were inside, we were reading (well they were reading and I was trying to get them come and play outside with me), or were doing chores, or we were outside. 

One time during college, Mom, Jessica and Tricia invited me to go to Panera with them on a Saturday morning. Within 5 minutes, I wondered why I was there. They weren’t talking about anything that was overly funny, world changing, or philosophical. They were talking about the details of what they were doing each day, and I distinctly remember feeling confused. How could anyone remember this much detail of what they had done and where they had been while doing those things. After that, I didn’t go to Panera with them anymore. 
Which takes me back to the part I was sharing before. When I say I resisted routine, I have another way of saying this:

I didn’t like the idea of being ordinary. 

To me, ordinary was a waste of time. I wanted a story that was bigger than that. I wanted to feel like my life was taking on more effect than just being “ordinary” as I did “routine” things. 

In February of 2016, I moved up to Boise. I went to spend time with my Mom. She was still in good enough health that she walked 2-3 miles a day a year into stage 4 cancer. Within three weeks of being there, Mom was in a wheelchair. 

Every day, I would cook breakfast, and then I would transfer her from her wheelchair to a new seat in the room, back to her wheelchair, and then to another seat. A few years before this, I had traveled to 7 countries in Africa, and climbed Kilimanjaro. Now, I was in the house helping take care of a sick parent. 
Something happened while I was there I never expected. I began to love routine. There wasn’t a rush to do many things, and in the lack of rush, things slowed down. 

Sometimes it felt like we were in a continuum, and I didn’t know when this world would change. It was maddening to see my Mom grow weaker and weaker with time. I could talk about the other challenges that happened while there, but sometime during it I came to understand the power of ordinary. 

As much as I may like to talk and feel deep, stand on mountains, and attempt to swim oceans, I found that there is nothing to begrudge about the ordinary. That’s where we live most of our lives. 
This is for every person who sees the incredible life someone else is living on social media, and says, “I wish that was me.” This is for every man turning a wrench, and for every woman changing a diaper. Or maybe it’s a woman turning a wrench, and a man changing a diaper. There is nothing glorious about the ordinary, routine moments of life except for everything about this ordinary, routine life. 

The past week, life has been slowing down around me, like the end of an episode of LOST when the music starts and the camera pans slowly across each character’s face. It is like life has slowed down, and I’ve started seeing people again. I stopped rushing through every moment, and I’m enjoying the opportunity to linger in the present moment. Where are we rushing off to anyway? 

When I’m eating with friends, I see the expressions of concern, joy, outrage, and confusion on their faces, and I love them more than I did before. I love them because I’m learning to look, and it’s not from the top of a mountain I’m seeing these views. The love is in these everyday, ordinary moments of life. This is where the power is, because this is where the love is, if we can only stop to see, experience, and accept that maybe the powerful didn’t only happen while we were on top of a mountain. It happened while we were washing dishes, writing letters, sipping a cup of coffee, crying in our loss, and laughing with our friends. The secret power of ordinary is that your life is not ordinary. The routine, ordinary moments are this life we have. There is nothing ordinary about being alive. 

What Do You Have When You’re Down To Nothing?

What do you have when you’re down to nothing? This is a question I’ve thought about over the past few years. You can be down to nothing in relationships, or in money, education, or in work. What is interesting is that we often refer to these things as if they are what make us something. If you run out of these things, then what do you have? Once again I ask, what do you have when you’re down to nothing?

I think this is a secret Jesus understood about life. Philippians 2:6-7 says Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing…”

The one person in the universe who is as big as it gets, “being in very nature God”, made himself nothing. Jesus path took him from having control over everything to making himself nothing. Yet, the one who made himself nothing has had greater impact than all the many people who have tried to make themselves something.

There is a great power to becoming nothing.

Paul says, In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…” Philippians 2:5. In other words, we don’t have to spend our lives trying to act like we’re something. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with relationships, money, education, and work. In fact, they are great things. However, they won’t make you something, and as long as you’re trying to find yourself in those things, you wind up empty.

I’m really amazed that Jesus would make himself nothing. It isn’t logical to me that God would choose to become a human, and humble himself even to dying on a cross for our sins. I love this lyric by Hillsong United, “Faith makes a fool of what makes sense, but grace found my heart where logic ends.”

Here is something I believe to be true. Jesus was able to make himself nothing because he knew who he was. It wasn’t that Jesus was nobody, or just anybody. He understood he was somebody who was here for a purpose, a greater purpose than any other human has ever known. Because Jesus knew he was somebody loved by God, even that he was the Son of God, Jesus was able to make himself nothing. What’s the secret?

When you know the God of the universe loves you and is with you every step of the way, you don’t have to prove anything to anybody. You can let God love you. You can walk away from defining yourself by the relationships, money, education, or job that you have. You don’t have to try to become something to impress anybody. Instead, you can rest in being who God made you to be. You can enjoy the great power of making yourself nothing.

A lot of people chase after becoming something, but all the things they chased after slip through their fingers. They thought they would have everything, but now they’re down to nothing. The chase to become something never ends. That’s why I like the choice Jesus made. He didn’t randomly end up down to nothing. It was a choice as to how he would define himself, and how he would go through life. When you make yourself nothing, you realize all you have is all you need. What is it that you have when you make yourself nothing? You have the one thing God gave you that no one can take from you, but you can give to everyone. Love.

Moving From Confusion to Clarity

Are you experiencing more clarity or more confusion as you venture further into 2017? A lot of people start the year with a bang, but then certain levels of resistance show up, and they slowly shrink back from their objectives for the year. The clarity they had gives way to confusion. That’s a big reason why I decided to launch The Convergence with David Skidmore, a podcast designed to help you live with clarity and connection. Life can become overwhelming and confusing, and this podcast will help you live and lead with clarity and connection. In each conversation, you have the opportunity to learn from focused leaders who are making an impact in their environment. You can listen to the podcasts on iTunes (Mobile or Computer) or on SoundCloud.

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The format of The Convergence with David Skidmore is a conversation with high impact leaders who give practical advice to help you live and lead with clarity and connection. Here are the episodes we have made for you so far in 2017:

#1. How To Set Goals and Stay Focused with Bryan Clifton. In this conversation, Bryan and I  talk about some practical ways so that you can stay on track in reaching your goals. Bryan shares three specific types of goals to help you succeed over the long haul. This episode will help you clarify your goals and stay focused on what you want.

#2. Rhinoceros Success: How To Build with Endurance with Dale Bresee. In this conversation, we talk about how cows plod through life (slow pace of life). On the other hand, rhinos charge hard, and then go jump in a mud bath (vacation/rest.) We talk about how to plan your year by using three specific types of days, and how to set yourself up to charge hard so that you can build a great business.

#3. How To Pull Off A Large Creative Project with Brianna Gaither. If you want to learn about the process of pulling off a large creative project, you are going to love this conversation. Brianna is an expert in this area, as she just finished writing and recording a new album called “Vanity”, and simultaneously filming and directing Resonate: A film to help you identify and unlock your creative potential. You will hear us talk about how God created us to create, and an idea of what it looks like behind the scenes on a creative project. You also will get to hear a sample of two of Brianna’s new songs.

#4. How To Overcome The Fear of Rejection with Catherine Brown. Has the fear of rejection been holding you back from realizing your dreams? If so, you’re going to love this conversation with Catherine Brown, the founder and president of Initial Call. In today’s conversation, Catherine and I talk about what happens in your mind when you’re afraid, how we interpret and internalize rejection, and some excellent tools to help you kick the fear of rejection in the face.

After you check out the podcasts, would you do me a favor, and rate/review The Convergence with David Skidmore in the app if you have found it helps you live and lead with clarity and connection. That would mean a lot. Thanks for all the love, support, and feedback.

Listen to The Convergence with David Skidmore now on iTunes (Mobile or Computer) or on SoundCloud.

 

Saying Goodbye

Awhile back, I was working for an organization, and I noticed around the holidays that a lot of us in the organization seemed to start checking out. We were showing up to work, but we weren’t getting much work done. Looking back on it, I think the calendar was controlling us, more than we were controlling the calendar. What do I mean by this? There was a sense for many of us that we were done with that year. We were ready for the new year.

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Have you ever had those moments when you showed up, but you weren’t really all there? I think it’s easy to do in these final days of a year. You may be thinking about what new thing you want to start in a new year. You may just be feeling exhausted from this year, and want to be done with it. I understand that feeling. Before you finish 2016, I want to encourage you to do something.

Take time to say goodbye. There are probably some habits, transitions, or moments in this year that you need to which you need to say goodbye. When we don’t end things well, they continue on into our future. Those bad habits, moments, or changes that don’t have an ending to them often grow around our future like a weed, and choke the life out of it. Yes, it is easy to look into the future, and hope for a better year. However, simply hoping or wishing for something better does not mean it will happen. When we are able to articulate what we want, and what we don’t want, then we are able to take steps towards becoming the kind of person we want to be.

When I took inventory over this past year, I noticed that in the transitions I experienced, I was often searching for solid ground to stand on. Rather than live on the foundation of Jesus Christ, I often lived for the approval of what others would say about me. I know what it is like to be co-dependent in my approach to life. If we’re not careful, those old habits will choke out the good things growing in our lives like a garden weed. I needed to say goodbye, so I did. And I will keep this, and other things I said goodbye to in front of me in this new year. For me, the statement looked like this.

“I am saying goodbye to letting my life be guided by a fear of what other people think of me. I choose to live in my Father’s love, and under His approval and affirmation.”

Do you have some things you need to say goodbye to in 2016? Are there some things that you need to end, so that you can start well in a new year?  I hope you take some time to say goodbye to what you need to so that you can gain some momentum as you head into this new year.

Question: What do you need to say goodbye to in 2016?