Focus and Change

Kim is part of an online Bible study group, and one of the questions asked in her group was to summarize 2013 in one word and then come up with one word to describe your hopes or expectations for the coming year. What a cool idea! So I thought about it and decided that ‘focus’ is my word for 2013 and ‘change’ is my word for this year.

I chose ‘focus’ as my word to summarize 2013 because it really has been a year of focus. For a long time it seems I’ve been without focus. When you move overseas many of the lines and boundaries you’re used to get blurred. You’re thrown into a new environment and it takes a long time before you get your feet underneath you. Your focus gets blurred as your world is turned upside down. This takes a while to overcome.

Our focus has been further affected by a lack of input and direction from our leaders and supervisors. We’re pioneering a new work and very few people have been here. As a result we’ve had to become very self-motivated and self-directed. It’s been a struggle to find purpose at times.

All of this came to a head last year when we changed course a little and gave ourselves something new to focus on. We’ve started working on website projects and design work and this has given us something very tangible to set our sights on. The objectives are clearer, the day-to-day tasks are doable, and I can see real progress and work getting done. It’s been fun to learn new things and I am glad to have something more specific to focus on. So that’s my summary of 2013.

‘Change’ is definitely my word for 2014. I foresee a lot of changes coming up, the biggest being that we’re moving from Indonesia back to the United States. I can’t think of a bigger change than that! And this isn’t just one change- it’s a hundred tiny changes too, like getting used to driving on the right side of road, having water I can drink out of the tap, becoming anonymous again. . . I can’t begin to list all the million tiny ways this move will impact and change our life on a day-to-day basis.

But I think we’re ready for change. We’ve been overseas for five years and have been through the gamut of emotions, trials, hardships, awkward and confusing situations, only to come away with a deep appreciation and love for these people and way of life. It’s been hard and uncomfortable but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But there does come a point when you need to step back, step away, and get your bearings again. That’s where we’re at. And so I look forward to many new changes in the coming year. Change is not always easy, but at least it will be a return to something more familiar, closer to family, and in a more comfortable environment.

2013 Website Stats

2013 was a great year for blogging! I gathered together some data from Google Analytics and thought it might be fun to post some of it here for review. WordPress.com also sent me this colorful End of Year Report. Cool!

In 2013 I added 53 new posts making it by far my most active year of blogging. My blog now has a total of 117 posts, 49 comments, and 8 pages. According to Google Analytics my blog was visited 842 different times by about 282 different people (this is just for 2013). My most popular posts during 2013 were Walt Disney and Steve Jobs- a comparative look which got 47 views, A Million Scary Things in my Bathroom which got 45 views, and I have perceived balmy with aura on you!- Indonesian t-shirts which got 32 views. My most popular page continues to be the Audio Downloads section- 628 podcasts downloaded and 1,289 Bible stories. Wow!

My photography site was visited 304 different times by 123 people. My most popular photos this year were Chow Time (36 views), Man in the Mirror (33 views), and Getting Him to Laugh (30 views). Not surprised that Eli is the subject of all three. He’s such cutie! The two most popular albums were Baby and 2013.

Here’s to 2014!

Margin

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I’m making a more concentrated effort this week to turn off my devices an hour or two before I go to bed at night. By devices here I’m specifically talking about things with a screen, including but not limited to- laptop, iPod touch, games, etc. Instead I want to spend that time reading and reflecting. I’ve been convicted a little that I don’t get enough time to wind down at night, clear my thoughts, or give my thoughts some room to breathe. It’s hard to take stock of the day or make meaningful connections in my brain if that space is filled up with other things.

Reflective thinking makes me more grounded while letting me take off all at the same time.

John Maxwell says “reflective thinking has three main values- it gives me perspective within context; it allows me to continually connect with my journey; and it provides counsel and direction concerning my future.” Being able to continually connect with my journey is something I want to do more of and be better at. I confess that I don’t spend as much time as I’d like meditating on where I’ve been, where I am, and how it all fits together to the larger story, the larger journey. As a single college student I used to be quite good at this. But now with a family the time and space that used to be so abundant and taken for granted is filled in with other good things. And so you have to work at it. You have to set it aside. Margin doesn’t come freely anymore. But it’s important for me to set time aside to wonder, to imagine, to let my thoughts wander. Reflective thinking makes me more grounded while letting me take off all at the same time. It accomplishes both. And a good way to start is by making concrete steps to remove the margin munchers, the things that eat up that time. It might sound a little boring at first, but I know it will be worth it.

Recapturing Photography. Making Each Picture Count.

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I’ve been trying something new with my photography lately. You know on digital cameras how right after you take a picture it shows you a preview of what you just shot? Well, I went into my camera settings and turned off that feature. I don’t want to see a preview anymore. You might think that’s not such a big deal, but I have a suspicion it’ll make a profound impact on how I go about taking photos, and help me be the kind of photographer I want to be. Let me explain.

Back in the film photography days each picture you took cost money. Those that have never used a film camera before can’t really appreciate this, but each click of the frame, each shutter press used up film, which had an inherent value to it.  A roll of film cost $4 and if you had 24 exposures per roll thats about $0.16 a shot! It might not be much, but even just $0.16 makes a difference to your technique. It forced you to stop and think, to use your brain a little. Imagine that!

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
-Henry David Thoreau

All too often with digital cameras these days the tendency is to shoot first, see later. It’s so easy to pull out your camera, take a picture, look (or don’t), try again, put camera away. Or even worse- hold the shutter button down machine gun style as you take 20 pictures in rapid fire. The thought (if there is one) is that surely ONE of the twenty will be good. But really let’s be honest- all you get out of that is 20 bad pictures. Digital cameras and smart phones make it so easy to remove all thought from the process. But this isn’t the kind of photographer I want to be! I want to be creative. And with high end equipment you’re really doing yourself a disservice by not thinking a picture through. Photos are capable of being so much more!

Reversing the order will train myself to see the picture in my head before I see it on a screen and inject value again into each and every picture I take.

That’s why I’m trying to change the way I take pictures. Instead of shoot first, see later I want to SEE first, shoot later. Reversing the order will train myself to see the picture in my head before I see it on a screen and inject value again into each and every picture I take. This is how you used to have to do it in the film days. You didn’t have a choice. And maybe we took fewer photos back then. No doubt! (look at Flickr- 60 billion new photos every month) But the photos we took back then were better- more thoughtful. And it can be that way today too if we try. I want to recapture the creative aspect of photography. And I’m hoping that by making some slight changes to the settings on my DSLR I can get more value out of my pictures.

The Bible is about to threaten your smartphone focus.

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I really appreciate this blog post and reminder from Pastor John Piper about how smartphones and the internet can threaten our focus on God. I think this is a message that needs to be repeated again and again as it is an increasingly relevant struggle in our high tech, busy society. This is one of the reasons why I’m starting to prefer what I call ‘dumb devices’ laying around instead of smart ones. I find that the less complicated a device is, the less connected, the more I’ll be able to enjoy it. See my blog post: The KISS principle. Why dumb devices are the smart choice.

I’ll try to take Piper’s advice. I don’t want to be distracted by technology. Instead of firing up some app on my iPod I’ll resolve today to fire up my Bible app, or better yet, grab my good ole fashioned Bible. The Bible is still the best.

Evolution vs. God Video

I saw this YouTube video the other day called Evolution vs. God and wanted to pass it along. It was really well done and if you have a half hour it’s definitely worth watching, especially if you’re interested in the topic. I’m amazed at how many views it’s gotten already. It’s been up for a little over a month and already has almost a million views. Whoa! I guess evolution/intelligent design is one of those hot button issues that everybody seems to have an opinion about. I’m glad. I think a lot of people don’t question evolution. Like they say in the video, people trust what they’re taught in school and don’t question it much. Either that or they’re too afraid. But videos like this really put the intelligent design vs. evolution arguments on equal ground. It’s not that one is science and the other is not- ultimately they both require faith. And when you look at it that way, when you’re comparing two belief systems, it’s pretty clear to me at least which one makes the most sense.

“Those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still.”

One other thing to keep in mind. Videos about the existence of God, intelligent design, creationism, etc. are all very interesting and even convincing. But trying to save someone through intelligent arguments and reasoning can only get you so far. If someone doesn’t WANT to believe something, they won’t. “Those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still.” Videos like this can nudge a person closer to faith, but ultimately faith is a gift from God, a miracle- not something you can get from a video. So what’s the point then? I think a lot of people don’t really know what they believe, especially when it comes to evolution. They need to be reminded, or told. This video does a good job of exposing evolution for what it is. And in the process of poking holes in that belief system it makes faith in God look like a pretty appealing alternative.

Anyway, check out the video above. It pretty much says it all.

Trumpet and Guitar. Music is Who You Are, Not What you Play.

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I’ve been playing guitar quite a bit lately and it’s been fun. It’s funny how living overseas strips you of some things, but gives you opportunities in other areas in return. I feel like guitar is one of those things for me.

I picked up guitar quite a few years ago by chance when a friend of mine showed me how to play a praise and worship song with just three chords. She showed me how to hold the guitar, form the chords, and do a basic strum. I was surprised and encouraged that I could learn to play the song so quickly- in just ten minutes. It was motivating to see a song come together that fast! I was also amazed by how easy it is to produce sound from a guitar. With just the slightest flick of your finger you can generate a note. This is quite different from trumpet where you have to pucker your lips and blow your brains out to get a note- and even then it might not be the right pitch. Guitar seemed so much more accessible. I was intrigued.

When we came overseas a few years ago I debated whether I wanted to bring a trumpet with me. See, I’ve been playing trumpet since the 6th grade. I played all the way through high school and college, in jazz bands, symphonic band, marching band, orchestra, combo and small groups, etc. I’m a trumpet player gosh darn it! However, I decided taking a trumpet to Indonesia might not be very practical. After all, trumpets are heavy. They take up space. Trumpets are loud and attract attention. . . and the last thing I need in this country is more attention! I also don’t have access to a band or group to play with which is where a trumpet really shines. So I decided to leave my trumpet in the closet.

However I still wanted to play music. I still wanted that creative outlet. Our first year overseas, seeing an opportunity to expand my guitar abilities, I picked one up at a Yamaha store in town. I’m so glad I did. It’s been a real blessing to play music again. And there’s even a need on our team to lead praise and worship music. So although it’s challenging, and my singing voice isn’t the best, I’ve really done my best to learn and play as much as I can. My sheet music binder now has 67 songs in it!

Art is in the head. It doesn’t really matter what tool you use.

I remember my photography professor once said, “Art is in the head. It doesn’t really matter what tool you use.” That statement has stayed with me all these years. I think it applies to music too, not just art. If music is in your head than it doesn’t really matter what instrument you play. It’s who you are. It’s in you. And it’ll express itself in one way or another. I’m thankful for this time I’ve had overseas to pick up a new instrument, to force me to learn some new things. I think it’s important no matter where you go to take your passions and interests with you. If you can’t do exactly what you want than you need a replacement. Guitar has been that for me and I’m grateful for it.

Give My Best Today.

I really like that old REM song ‘Diminished’ off the album Up. It’s a mellow song off an equally mellow album. I don’t care much for the lyrics as a whole, but the refrain always seems to get stuck in my head:

I will give my best today
I will give myself away
I have never hurt anything
Is the jury wavering?
Do they know I sing?

The  line ‘I will give my best today. . . I will give myself away’ is the part that always gets stuck in my head- like a haunting reminder to make each day count, to not waste any opportunity. And how do we make each day count? The next line is equally as powerful. By giving ourselves away. By being selfless. By giving. By sharing. By making it not about me, but other people. In the end, that’s the important part. When it’s less about ME and more about others the day seems so much more purposeful and meaningful. The day gets a healthy injection of purpose when you give to others.

That’s why I don’t mind when old songs like this still have a way of getting stuck in my head. They contain little nuggets of wisdom. And when that wisdom is wrapped in a catchy tune, well, I’m singing good reminders to myself all day long.

Risk Homeostasis- Why People Can Drive in Chaos

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I learned a new term recently- “risk homeostasis”, or risk compensation. It’s the basic idea that the more risk we perceive in our life, the more cautious we are, and the the less risk we perceive the more lazy we are. This seems like a pretty simple idea but it effects our behavior in interesting ways. Every person has a risk equilibrium, or a threshold of how much risk we will tolerate in our life. If we perceive danger, our risk threshold rises and we act more carefully. If we don’t perceive danger, the opposite is true and we act more careless. It’s all about what we perceive.

I read about this in a book recently and it gave the example of a study that was done with new anti-lock brake systems in a car. The theory was that anti-lock brakes would make drivers safer, naturally. However they found that the test drivers without the brake system had fewer crashes than those with the brakes. The reason was that those with the anti-lock brakes overcompensated, drove too close to other vehicles, drove faster, and therefore had more accidents. The drivers without the anti-brakes drove safer.

This phenomenon works in reverse too. In the 1960’s Sweden changed from driving on the left-side of the road to the right-side. You would think that this would case all kinds of car accidents from drivers not used to driving on that side of the road. However, surprisingly, the number of car accidents dropped by 17% before gradually returning to their previous level. Drivers compensated for the change and drove more safely.

This idea kind of got my thinking about Indonesia. When I first came to Asia I noticed right away that everyone drove on the left side of the road. Furthermore, traffic seemed so chaotic and random. I couldn’t get my head around it. Most of the vehicles are motorbikes and they have no regard for lanes, road lines, or divisions. They swerve, cut and fill any space on the road, oftentimes moving into the other lane to get by. But now I see that there’s some sense to the chaos. Traffic flow is like water, finding the path of least resistance. And because it’s crazy and un-ordered you have to keep alert constantly. I’ve had a few minor car accidents in the States, but not one since I’ve been in Indonesia and I think it’s because of this idea. When we perceive danger we’re more careful. Maybe that’s another reason why we’re always so exhausted here. Our brains are always on alert!

Lost in the Info. The Difference Between Puzzles and Mysteries.

I read an article recently that talked about the difference between a ‘mystery’ and a ‘puzzle’. Here’s an excerpt:

There’s a reason millions of people try to solve crossword puzzles each day. Amid the well-ordered combat between a puzzler’s mind and the blank boxes waiting to be filled, there is satisfaction along with frustration. Even when you can’t find the right answer, you know it exists. Puzzles can be solved; they have answers.

But a mystery offers no such comfort. It poses a question that has no definitive answer because the answer is contingent; it depends on a future interaction of many factors, known and unknown. A mystery cannot be answered; it can only be framed, by identifying the critical factors and applying some sense of how they have interacted in the past and might interact in the future. A mystery is an attempt to define ambiguities.

Puzzles may be more satisfying, but the world increasingly offers us mysteries. Treating them as puzzles is like trying to solve the unsolvable—an impossible challenge. But approaching them as mysteries may make us more comfortable with the uncertainties of our age.

In the article the author gave a perfect example of a mystery- the Enron trial. If you remember, Enron was an energy company that had unethical business practices and was not forthcoming in their business and financial dealings. When their practices were exposed it was discovered they weren’t actually making any money, their stock value plummeted, and they went bankrupt.

Enron is a great example of the difference between a mystery and a puzzle. The prosecutors were treating the trial as a puzzle, as if all the info and facts would piece together a clear picture. However, Enron executives never withheld any information. All the facts were there in their financial filings. The problem was that there was TOO MUCH information- thousands and thousands of pages of fine print. It took a specialist with lots of time on his hands to wade through the data and interpret it so that the rest of us could understand what it said.

The problem it seems these days is not a lack of information, but an over-abundance of it.

I think it’s really helpful to distinguish between a puzzle and a mystery, especially in our day. I think of Google and the internet and the vast amounts of information at our disposal. The problem it seems these days is not a lack of information, but an over-abundance of it. We get lost in the information. You have to have a fine eye to pick out the good info from the bad. It takes special skills to be good at this. As the author said a mystery cannot be solved, it can only be framed.

Oftentimes when I’m researching or looking something up on the internet I tend to think of my pursuit as a puzzle. I think the more webpages I look at, the more forums I peruse, etc. the closer I will be to getting my answer. And sometimes that works. Sometimes you stumble upon the right piece of data that solves the puzzle. But sometimes it might be helpful too to approach things as a mystery, that is, something that is not going to fit together nicely, something that you won’t get an answer to. The answer must be framed, not answered. It will save me a lot of energy and stress if I stop trying to solve mysteries and treat them for what they really are.