What Planning for a Family Vacation can Teach You About a Family Vocation

Last day of school. Clocking out at work. Locking up the store. The only thing on your plate is summer vacation and you’re ready to devour it. The big question is: “Where are we going?”

Because until you answer that question, you can’t answer the rest:

  • What clothes should I pack? A jacket for the Rockies or board shorts for the Bahamas?
  • What sights should I see? The Golden Gate Bridge or the Eiffel Tower?
  • How much money do I need? A few bucks for a nearby beach or a “break the bank” budget for a lifetime adventure?

The way you answer those questions depends on how you answer the first.

The same is true for your family. The destination you plot for your family will determine the answers to the smaller questions along your life journey.

Just as every family’s vacation plans are unique, so is your family unique. And for the best journey possible, you must begin by answering the question, “Where are we going?”

Joshua did. He uttered these famous words as his family settled in the Promised Land: “… choose this day whom you will serve … But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua was not only a leader of a nation: He was the leader of a family. “Serving the Lord” would be his family direction that would guide them in everything they did.

Can you say the same? Or are you just winging it the best you can? Interestingly enough, we often put more planning into the family vacation than we do into the family vocation.

A vacation is the time you take a break from something, namely work. A vocation is the special function of an individual or group. It’s who you are, no matter where you are.

How do you discover your “family unique”? Here are three suggestions from Joshua.

  1. Gather your family together.
    If you’re single … less scheduling. If you’re married, plan a date night. If the kids are old enough, include them.
  1. Discuss the options.
    Joshua mentioned other “gods” that could be followed. You may want to discuss different things that are important to your family. Just like deciding vacation destinations, laying out the life options will help in this decision too.
  1. Declare your decision.
    Finish the statement, “As for me and my house, we will …” However you finish it, declare it. Say it. Write it down. Frame it.

You may be thinking, “It’s too late for me.” “My kids are grown” or “We are too far off course.” It’s never too late. Did you hear what Joshua said? “… choose this day …” Now is the time to decide. “Choose this day.”

When you do, you can begin packing your bags.

How to Help the Hurting

Do you know someone who is hurting right now? My guess is you do. Just in my small world I know of one who is short on groceries. Another who has been in the hospital. A friend has lost his father. Another had a cancer scare in their family. Still another has a child that has caused some concern.

I could go on. But you get the gist of the list. And more than likely you could make your own of people in your world who are hurting. If you’re at a loss of what to do or say here’s a few tips from a few years of helping others.

Listen. Sometimes what we need most when we are hurting the most is someone that will just listen to us.

Don’t be afraid of silence. We often are and so we begin to talk to fill the verbal void. When we do we run the risk of saying something that is not helpful and may add another hurt to the already hurting.

Let them know they are not alone. God is with them. And sometimes he wants you to be a tangible presence of his presence.

When the burden is great find some way to help. Pick up their kids. Arrange for meals. Mow the lawn. Some hurts are so big we need others to help us carry them (Galatians 6:2). You can’t do everything but you can do something.

Some hurts are self-inflicted. Don’t run to the rescue. There are some situations in which we have to carry our own load (Galatians 6:5). When this is the case help the person think through a plan for their next steps: Do they need to forgive someone? Then encourage them to forgive. Do they need to ask forgiveness? Walk with them through the steps of reconciliation. There are things that others have to do themselves. And there are times we help the most by doing less.

Empathize without changing the focus to yourself. In our desire to connect we often begin sharing our own hurts. But chances are if they came to you with their hurt they need to unload . . . not be unloaded on.

Ask if you can pray for them. I’ve never been turned down for a prayer. In troubled times people sense that they are in over their heads. They need power that is greater than what they have. Keep it simple. Here’s a short sample of what I often say:

  • Father, you know _____________ is hurting because ______________.
  • We know you are a good God and you love _________________.
  • Would you help them? Would you heal their hurt?
  • Let them know they are not alone. Today, in a tangible way, let them know you are close to them.
  • In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The biggest part of helping is just being there.

Question: What have you found helpful in helping heal hurts?

The Art of Neighboring (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012)

Remember when people knew their neighbors? That’s what I thought. There was a time when neighbors knew each other. They ate together. Kids played together. They helped each other and shared life with each other.

Our modern day mobility and increasing isolationism has created a world where we drive home, hop out of the car and disappear into the house. Our friends are online. Our connection is electronic.

But what if that changed? The authors of The Art of Neighboring have taken the Great Commandment seriously: “love your neighbor as yourself.” In a meeting of pastors in the Denver area, their local mayor was asked to attend.  They invited his input on how to serve their community better.  He said,

The majority of the issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.

They pursued fulfilling the second part of the Great Commandment and their discoveries are found in this book and on their website. Some of the advice:

  • Give what you have
  • Just do something
  • Don’t give up.

Love your neighbor as yourself. It isn’t a suggestion. 

This book will help you live it out.



One Big Secret to Help You When You’re Overwhelmed

It’s Monday. You slowly drag your body out of bed. You get weary just thinking about the mountain of work ahead of you this week: projects, deadlines, meetings, family events. You’re overwhelmed before you’ve even started.  So what do you do?

Start small.

I’ve coached many people over the years who have been worn down by a feeling of being overwhelmed. And often when I ask them to schedule out how they plan to accomplish what’s on their “To Do” list they have not written anything down. They have no real game plan for their week. That’s when I pull out my “start small” speech.

I think Naval Adm. William H. McRaven would agree. He spoke at Commencement for the University of Texas on May 17, 2014.You can watch the video here. He challenged the graduates to change their world. And the first thing he told them to do was something small.  He said, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” (That’s from someone who has been a Navy SEAL for 36 years. You want to argue with him?)

He went on to say that “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day.  It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.”

It’s small. But it is an important start to your day. It can become your statement each morning that you are going to get up out of your bed and straighten out the wrinkles and the wads that await you. Just by accomplishing something small you will gather a sense of victory that will lead you to the next small thing.

It can even begin the night before. Get your coffee ready. Lay out your clothes. Pack your lunch. All small things that add up and when they aren’t prepared ahead of time can eat into your morning “get ready” time and make you feel defeated before you even begin. And while you’re at it take a look at your calendar before you go to bed.

That’s another small thing you can do. Take your calendar and block out when you will work on each task ahead. I find this is difficult for some. It forces you to think about your week and picture yourself getting the work done and when you will get it done. But it is important visualization and organizational work that is done before the actual work is done.

“But these are big assignments I have this week!” you say? Break them down. Effective people take each task and break it down into smaller tasks.

  • Need information? Make that phone call first or send an e-mail. You may not be able to go further without that.
  • Take your information and then share it with your team.
  • Or write the draft.
  • Or research possible solutions to the problem.

Whatever the task break it down into bite size pieces and begin devouring it one section at a time.

Sounds too simple, right? You’d be surprised how many people have not developed the discipline of starting small. You can drown in your sense of being overwhelmed. Or you can choose to gain control of your days, your week . . . your life.

W. Clement Stone said, “Big doors swing on little hinges.”  

You can open some big doors for your life today.

Instead of being overwhelmed, start. Start small.

Question: What do you do when you are overwhelmed?

How to Have a Happy Hour Every Day

There’s a company called The Kronos Project.  They tell the story of a man who, on a Saturday, was listening to the radio.  He heard an older man talking to a younger man named Tom.  Tom traveled a lot with his job, worked over sixty hours a week, and had missed his daughter’s dance recital.

So the man told Tom about “1000 marbles.”  He said that he had started thinking how most people live an average of eighty years.  He multiplied that by 52 weeks per year and realized that the average person has about 4,160 Saturdays.  At 60 years old he figured he had about 1,000 Saturdays left.

He went to several stores and rounded up 1,000 marbles, put them in a clear container, and started removing one every Saturday he lived.  It helped him prioritize his life on the truly important things.  Then he said that after the radio broadcast he was going to take his wife out for breakfast.  That morning before the show he had taken out his last marble.

The Greeks had two words for “time.”  One was kronos.  It’s the word for sequential time or chronological time.  It is time in minutes and seconds.  The second word for “time” is kairos.  It’s a word used for a window of time, an opportune time, or the right time.  It has to do with a period of time that opens itself up and one needs to make the most of it when it does.

That’s why Paul writes: “. . . make the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”  “Make the best use” comes from the Greek word “exagarazo” which is made up of “agora” (the marketplace) and “ek” (out of).  If you went to the marketplace and found a special deal you’d need to snatch it up right then while you had a chance.

That’s what we need to do with our time.  “Kairos” is the time we are to snatch up.  And, especially when the “days are evil” it is using your time well instead of wasting it away.

Some try to forget the evil away.  One cocktail expert wrote: “Happy hour has to remind us that whatever came before or whatever might come afterward, right here and right now, for these few hours, all is well—and well shaken—with the world.”[1]

Instead of intoxication, why not be filled with better things? You can have a Happy Hour every day. Here are three suggestions that you can shake together to make better use of your time.

  • Be present wherever you are. Don’t just show up. Be there. Put down the cell phone. Take off the headphones. Put down the tablet. Wherever you are, be.
  • Be thankful. That last breath you took? It was a gift. That friend that’s sitting across the booth from you? At least you have one. The car you drove to get wherever you are? It may not be the latest and greatest, but it was better than walking, right? Develop a heart full of thankful. Paul adds in his writing “…giving thanks always and for everything…”
  • Become aware of your moments. You may be in a conversation so that you can influence. You may be in a particular place so you can learn. You may be given an opportunity that, if you miss it, you’ll later regret.

You and I only have so many marbles left.  Our kronos moments are disappearing with each second.  Our kairos moments are too.  Let’s make the best use of them. You have just enough time to make the most of your time.

[1] http://www.seattlemag.com/article/true-meaning-happy-hour

Question: Look at your calendar for the day. It is scheduled with kronos time. Now look back over it and ask, “Where are the kairos moments in my day to day?” 


The Leader’s Journey (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003)

Most of us think that to lead well we need to manage those we lead first.  This book moves the focus to learning to manage self first before we will be able to lead others well.

Written by my friend Jim Herrington with Trisha Taylor and Robert Creech, this book and the personal coaching I’ve had along the way has transformed the way I view leadership.  It has also helped transform me.  (To any who say, “That’s the extent of the effect on you?” I say, “You should have seen me before!”)

One of the great concepts in the book comes from a quote from Ronald Richardson’s Creating a Healthier Church:

The leader’s main job, through his or her way of being in the congregation, is to create an emotional atmosphere in which greater calmness exists–to be a less anxious presence.

As the writers say,

The life of Jesus is examined to illustrate his ability to know and do the right thing despite incredible pressure to do otherwise. A model of Radical Obedience, Personal Reflection, and participating in a Community of Grace and Truth are three key ingredients in the personal transformation needed to lead calmly.

Whether you are a leader in your business, at church, at home or in your neighborhood, the principles in this book can give you a blueprint towards more effective leadership.  But be forewarned.  If you don’t want to work first toward personal transformation you will continue seeing the same results you’ve always been getting.

But, if you want see different and better results, this book needs to be a part of your library. Read it and practice it until it becomes you.


See What it is You Want and See What Drives Your Life

My first car was shared with my older brother.  The car?  A’64 Rambler Classic.  At the time all we wanted was four tires, a steering wheel, and gas in the tank.

The Rambler was a functional car.  It got us to school.  It even survived a parking lot wreck.  My brother backed into a parked Ford Pinto.  The Rambler pummeled the Pinto’s posterior.  Not one dent in the Rambler.  We nicknamed it “The Tank” after that little incident.

It wasn’t long before we wanted something else, something a little more cool.  Our Dad found us a ’69 Cougar.  The Cougar had pop up headlights.  New upholstery.  A new paint job.  We wrapped a leather cover around the steering wheel and were ready to go.

One night we took the Cougar on a prowl down the drag.  At one point a carload of girls started smiling at us and screaming at us.  They were pointing at our car.  I looked at my brother and asked, “What do you think they want?”  My brother, never one to lack in confidence, quickly replied, “I think they want us to follow them.”  When I looked back they were laughing real hard and then they took off and disappeared.  We pulled over to stop, got out and realized they had been pointing at the front of our car.  One of the headlight covers was stuck.  Our Cougar was cock-eyed.  And not cool.

The Cougar was fine until my senior year in High School.  One of my best friends started parking by me.  His Dad owned a business.  Lincoln-Mercury.  My friend drove a ’77 Cougar.  Now I wanted something newer.

In college came a Camaro.  In adulthood a sporty Nissan.  Know what I wish I could have now?  The ’64 Rambler Classic.

Have I driven home the point yet?  We have a hard time knowing what we want.  But it is an important question to answer.  So important that it is one Jesus asked.  “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked James, John, and blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:36, 51).  Their answers?  James and John wanted power.  Bartimaeus just wanted to see.

Experience teaches us that we will see our “wants” continually change until we see what we most want. When you see what you most want you’ll see what is driving your life.

Make sure it’s something that will last.


When Your World Falls Apart

The day changed in one moment.  A phone call from my wife interrupted my agenda.  “We’re under attack,” she said in a panicked voice.

Thinking it might be time to call our pest control service I asked her what she meant.  “The World Trade Center has been attacked,” she answered.  I scrambled to the internet and saw vividly what she was talking about.

Both of her sisters lived in the Washington, D.C. area at the time.  One brother-in-law worked at the Pentagon.  You can imagine the anxious moments we were feeling not only for our country but also for our family.

We spent the large portion of the day together watching the scenes unfold.  Another Tower crumbled.  The Pentagon was penetrated.  Flight 93 crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania.

It was one of those life moments etched into your mind’s memory like the engraving on a monument.  You know exactly where you were.  You know precisely what you were doing when you heard.

You knew where you were.  But moments like these can cause us to wonder where God was.  David, the shepherd king of Israel, knew the same question.  Listen to his words in Psalm 11:3-4:  “‘When all that is good falls apart, what can good people do?’ The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord sits on his throne in heaven.”

Like towers tumbling down, David had seen his world fall apart.  He had battled for his king and brought down giants, only to find his king issuing orders for his death.  He had known war and felt the sting of attacks.  He too had seen goodness pierced by evil.  Structures of strength broken by enemies.  Innocent people brought crashing down by the wicked.

And so he asked what we ask.  “When all that is good falls apart, what can good people do?”  Strangely, David does not answer his own question.  Instead, he makes a statement.  “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord sits on his throne in heaven.”

In the midst of troubled times David sends a steady reminder.  When our world falls apart, God does not.  He is still in his temple.  Still on his throne.  Still in control.

Life can change in a moment.  So take some time this week to hold the ones you love a little more closely.  And hold onto the One who can hold you steady in unsteady times.

Question: How do you find steadiness in unsteady times?

Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014)

In his book Soul Keeping John Ortberg gives us an inside look into his time with Dallas Willard learning about the soul. He gives us some gems from Willard such as:

“The most important thing in your life is not what you do; it’s who you become. That’s what you will take into eternity. You are an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.” p. 23.

“You are not just a self; you are a soul.” p. 39

“When you are connected with God and other people in life, you have a healthy soul.” p. 43

Ortberg guides us into a better understanding of our souls through his wisdom and humor. If you’ve ever felt as if things in your outside world were going well but your inside world was falling apart this book will help you. If you’ve ever had your outside world falling apart but inside you were calm and peaceful and focused on God … well, you might want to read it anyway so you can share it with someone else.

The truth is you are a soul. And the question is, “how is your soul?” If you need a doctor this book can guide you to health.

Find Grace to Stay in the Game

The date was September 23, 1908.  The New York Giants were playing the Chicago Cubs. Bottom of the ninth.  Scored tied 1-1.  Two outs.  Left fielder Moose McCormick was on first.

Fred Merkle stepped up to bat.  Merkle was 19 and making his first major league start.   Merkle singled down the right-field line, placing him on first and McCormick on third.  When shortstop Al Bridwell hit a line drive into right center-field, McCormick came home for the winning run.  Fans poured onto the Polo Grounds as the Giants won.

Or so they thought.  Here’s what happened.  When Merkle saw the ball fly into the outfield he took off from first base.  When he saw his teammate cross home plate, he stopped, reasoning that the game was over.  He headed for the clubhouse to call it a day.

It was a decision he’d regret the rest of his life.  The Cubs second baseman—Johnny Evers—studied The Official Baseball Rules in his spare time.  Evers had read, “If a runner is forced out at any base for the third out in an inning, a run that scores on the play does not count, even if it scored before the force was made.”  Evers had been in a situation exactly like this one three weeks earlier.  The umpire Hank O’Day had ruled against him that day but learned afterwards what the rules clearly stated.

Guess who umpired on Merkle’s fateful day?  O’Day.  In the pandemonium that ensued Evers got the baseball and stepped on second for the force out.  Merkle was ruled out, the run didn’t count, and the game ended due to darkness in a tie.  The commissioner backed the decision and said that if the Giants and Cubs ended the season tied there would be a one-game playoff.

You guessed it.  The season ended in a tie and the Cubs won the playoff.  Merkle was pulled from the line-up and the New York Evening Mail wrote, “A one-legged man with a noodle is better than a bonehead.”  The name “Bonehead Merkle” stuck and so did his mistake.  It followed him the rest of his life.

Got any mistakes that have followed you through life?  If so, find grace to stay in the game.  We tend to be harder on ourselves than our friends are.  Merkle’s teammates never blamed him for the loss.  One mistake may be descriptive of a day in your life. But one mistake is not prescriptive for the rest of your life.

Merkle’s blunder did not end his career.  He played 16 seasons and hit .273 for a lifetime batting average.  He had a coach who believed in him.

And you have a Creator who believes in you. He’ll forgive you of your blunders. He wants you to keep playing in the game of life. You only have one to love so keep stepping up to the plate.

Question: How have you learned to move on past mistakes?