Finding balance in life

Yesterday’s blog entry presented the wisdom of what author Stephen Covey calls, “sharpening the saw.” If you didn’t read it, this entry probably won’t make a lot of sense to you.

On January 11, I landed in Sanford, Florida, tired and hoping for some sunshine. A few of my closest friends and I have wondered what my mental and emotional problem is in light of the fact that everything in my life is going so well. Do I have Seasonal Affective Disorder? Do I need a “happy light” near my chair in my house where the sun beams in so brightly that we can’t see the television? Should I plug it in on my office desk which is literally surrounded by big windows on three walls?

It is January 21 today and I fly back to the frozen tundra of Maine tomorrow just in time for what could be our first old-fashioned “nor’easter” snowstorm of 2016. We’ve had only 1 day that has climbed into the 70 degree range and a number of rainy, gray days that stayed in the fifties. If all I needed to change my attitude and motivation level was some sunshine, this mission failed!

Thankfully, I am fairly certain that my mental and emotional funk is not tied too tightly to Maine’s seasonal reduction in ultraviolet rays. This time of rest, prayer and study has helped me see that my “saw” is about as sharp as a roll of toilet tissue right now and is in need of some serious sharpening attention.

I need to make some adjustments to my approach to life and how I spend my time. Here’s my plan of attack to returning balance to my life.  All of these areas have been seriously lacking of late.

  1. Quality time with my partner. Looking back over the past year I see that Robin and I have lost track of our date night and allowed task-focused errands to replace it. In our more than 32 years of marriage, we’ve learned that times when we don’t like each other much come from not spending enough time together. We know we like each other and have fun together when we spend time together outside the hectic pace of life. It’s time to put date night back on the schedule before the weeks fill in with other demands.
  2. Purposeful alone time. I started last year committed to shutting off all electronics at 8:30 PM and being in bed by 9:00 for a good night’s sleep. Then, knowing that my internal clock normally wakes me at 5:00 am, I determined to start my day with quiet time of prayer, reflection, reading and writing. It went pretty well until about August when I lost it, went back to my electronic addiction and lost my morning routine. It’s time to start again with daily discipline and put social media aside once again.
  3. Physical exercise & healthy eating. Yes, this one is the same as everyone else. 2015 was solid on the exercise front until October when I let cold mornings and appointments push me off my bike. The holidays and my “take a break” attitude has added the stubborn on-again-off-again 6-8 pounds back to my waistline. Three months “off” has left me with less energy and poor eating habits. That changes again with my return to Maine.
  4. Relationships. I like to say, “people, not program” but that has dropped quite a bit over the last several months. I need to find a new activity or social circle where I can be Scott and not Scott, the pastor. I need to get out of my bubble.
  5. Creativity. Creativity, for no particular purpose and with no deadline, refreshes me. What I mean is that my camera can either represent more pressures and deadlines as a tool to help us pay the bills or it can be something that helps me decompress. When I can create art for art’s sake, it energizes me. When I have to create art as part of my task list, it changes its effect entirely. It’s time to block off some time to create. That can also support #2 when alone or #4 when I create with friends.
  6. Sabbath rest. God created everything in six days and then rested. Why would an omnipotent God who never sleeps rest? I think he did it as an example for us so that we would regularly take a significant block of time to set everything aside to refresh. In addition, the Israelites also had regular festivals and distractions from the routines of life when they took time to celebrate. For me, that means I need to take out my calendar and block out times to rest, vacation and celebrate. If I don’t, my calendar, like most everyone else’s, fills in with appointments and tasks, leaving me to try to squeeze Sabbath rest into the leftovers.
  7. Learning. My last time of concentrated learning and listening to other speakers was in May of 2014. Each week I put together material and “teach” at least two times. Though I try to listen to podcasts online, they just can’t compare to sitting with others who do what I do every week, while others pour into me. I have to commit to making a yearly conference a priority on my schedule. I can’t keep pouring out without taking time to be refilled.

My first goal for this morning before I head back to regular life tomorrow, is to spend some time with my calendar and proactively bring it more into line with the person I want to be. I plan to take a careful look at all the self-imposed demands and expectations I’ve been putting on myself to realign some and let others go.

This time away has been a good time of sharpening for me. Hopefully, I can implement change when I get home. If I don’t, I know it’s only a matter of time before I’ll find myself sitting on my impressive pile of cut logs unable to continue.

How will you sharpen your saw? What changes do you need to make? Will you make them? Where will you start?

What is ahead if you make no changes?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Phil 4:6-8

 

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Stopping burnout by making life changes

Sharpen the saw.

It’s a story I first came across maybe 20 years ago reading Stephen Covey’s, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

A man walking through a forest came across a frustrated lumberjack.

The lumberjack was trying to cut down a tree and was sweating and swearing.

“What’s the problem?”  The man asked.

“My saw’s blunt and won’t cut the tree properly.”  The lumberjack responded.

“Why don’t you just sharpen it?”

“Because then I would have to stop sawing,” replied the lumberjack.

“But if you sharpened your saw, you could cut more efficiently and effectively than before.”

“But I don’t have time to stop!”

I read a similar story somewhere else but it was of a lumberjacks’ sawing contest. One lumberjack, an older man, stopped to sharpen his saw after every fourth cut while the other, a strong, young man, pushed on. At the end of the first hour, the older man was far behind in production and the younger man was smiling at the impressed crowd gathered round. By the end of the second hour the young man’s pace began slowing considerably while the old lumberjack stayed about the same.

At the end of the third hour, the production piles were the same. By noon the young man had to quit for the day, physically exhausted, now behind in production and able to do no more. The old lumberjack, however, was able to continue his pace throughout the full day, after taking a break for lunch, whistling through each sharpening session. At the end of the day, the old lumberjack had at least twice the output of the younger, stronger man.

The younger man drew a lot of attention at first. Everyone was pretty impressed with his skill, his speed and his strength while the older man attracted very little attention. He wasn’t very impressive. No one was wowed by the older man at all. In fact, some commented on how slow he was and that the younger man was a much better worker.

Who do you identify with in the story? Me? I am always sucked in by my desire to be like the younger man and get everything done fast and earn the accolades from others. Even though my pattern over my almost 53 years is like the young man’s. I eventually end up in a burned out heap.  I repeat the same mistakes over and over again. I’ve have had periods, even a year or two here and there, when I’ve been a disciplined saw sharpener. After almost losing my life to liver disease (largely the result of my obesity and decades of unhealthy living) I vowed never to return to my pre-transplant patterns. Yet, here I am, staring at some of the same habits again just 3 and a half years later.

The strangest thing is that I’ve got it good right now. No one is pushing me for more production. No one is pressing me with new goals, new projects and new programs. Most of us have external forces pushing us to produce more, faster and better. I’ve been in some of those situations but that is simply not my life right now. Right now, all the blame for my unsharpened saw sits squarely on my own shoulders. I know that’s the case for a lot of the self-employed and salaried population as well.

For the past eight days I’ve been staring at the saw that is me. Spurred on by a pretty good fight with my wife the week before my trip (yes, we have those too), I’ve been taking a hard look in the mirror.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. James 1:22-24 (MSG)

What sharpens your saw? What refuels you?

My sharpening tools will look different from yours. The key is not the particular tools but more in finding what things keep each of us balanced and then making changes to make them a regular priority.

Most of us fail to sharpen the saw regularly. We escape for a vacation once a year or maybe get a long weekend every few months but then we pack them tight with yard work and activity. More problems come when we squeeze those times so full of other tasks and goals that we head back to work more exhausted than when we left. Like the old lumberjack, the discipline of long-term results and a relaxed whistle can only be found in stopping to sharpen regularly before our saw is rendered useless.

I think dull saws are usually to blame for burnout and depression. They make weaker families, more stress at work and less energy at home. They pull our focus from what is important and leave us wondering how we got where we are. Dull saws leave failed marriages, broken relationships and are to blame for so many illnesses. Dull saws leave us falling short of our life goals and cause collapse. We work harder but the yield is less.

The question is, will we stop and make changes before it is too late? Change is terrifying. But, is eventual collapse any less terrifying just because we refuse to admit that it is clearly coming?

What changes will you make? I’ve known some courageous people who have seen collapse coming and made major changes. I’ve seen toxic boyfriends dumped, social circles changed and new careers born in people willing to change their patterns. I’ve seen marriages rebuilt, families repaired and stitched back together by people willing to face reality and make life changes. I’ve known people who have beaten addiction by deciding to ask for help. I’ve witnessed people who have put their rage to rest and have seen people who have found peace. I’ve watched people make moves, downsize houses and change jobs.

I’ve seen others change nothing. They list of excuses for why change is impossible for them. They need the money, counseling is too expensive, it hurts to exercise, they married the wrong person, change is too embarrassing, etc… I’ve seen too many reach the young lumberjack’s noon, exhausted, broken and full of regret. I refuse to be in that camp again.

What sharpens you? What needs to change in life for you to finish strong with good fruit to show like our old lumberjack friend? I’m dull but, I do have the power to change. You do too.

In tomorrow’s blog I will share some of the changes I will make to keep from collapse and burnout. Maybe some of them will be ones that you can make too.

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Wasting my bonus days

Regaining control of my time.

Regaining control of my time.

I think I’m wasting my bonus days. Or, at least, I think I’m wasting too much of them.

Imagine you have a giant bowl of mashed potatoes and are a huge spud fan. If you have a gallon of mashed potatoes, you carelessly scoop them onto your plate and don’t sweat it if some falls to the floor. But, if you have just a cup of mashed potatoes you are more protective of them, right? You savor every bite and maybe even plan out how you are going to eat them and make them last.

What if time is like mashed potatoes?

Before my liver transplant, I think I looked at my days like I had so many of them that it didn’t really matter if some of them were wasted. Really, I don’t think I even thought of how I spent them at all. When we have lots of something, most of us don’t think about waste at all.

As far as time was concerned, I thought I had a whole bowl full of “later” and more on the stove.. That was my attitude without even realizing it. I could read any book I wanted to later, take that trip later, work on getting into better shape and losing weight later, pray later, make life changes later, date my wife later …

Later.

And then a doctor told me that later was on the endangered list. She said I didn’t have much later left.

That changed me. It changed the way I wanted to spend my time. It changed my priorities and even changed my approach to life. When you lose later you look at now in a totally different light.

For the first year or two after transplant I continued to live and think like a man who had only a cup or two of later left, but during year three, I’ve seen changes in my attitude and decisions that I don’t much like.

Gradually my attitude is shifting from limited later back to the lie of an unlimited supply of time.

The primary ingredient in later is time – minutes, hours, days, weeks …

We create the recipe of our lives with those ingredients and then see how it tastes. Too many minutes in conflict added to that bowl, too many hours of stress and worry, too many weeks of postponing relationship makes the recipe bitter. Too few minutes in prayer, too few hours spent sharing life with others and too few weeks of discipline makes the mix watery and tasteless.

The first year after transplant I lived every day as a bonus day. Time served me, I did not serve time. I wrote “bonus day” hashtags, celebrated relationships and laughed a lot. I knew time was a limited and precious resource and chose where I would spend it carefully. I think Robin did too.

In year two it continued fairly strong but my time investments started shifting more toward things that were demanding my attention even though they were not worth the time I would give them.

And now, looking back at year three? My “bonus days” approach to life no longer sets my course. Now I recognize bonus days when they happen but I shape them less and less. My calendar is full of good goals. My days are normally set with hurrying from appointment to appointment and my task list is focused on tasks more than people.

It’s life just like most everybody lives. It’s life that we all have been convinced is unavoidable.

But is it? Is it really unavoidable or has it just become such the norm that we believe we are powerless to affect change? We shrug and say, “it is what it is.”

I don’t know if I have a cup of time or a gallon of time.  The truth is, none of us know how much of it we have. Still we waste it, we splash it away, we spend it on so many things that don’t deserve it and relegate the truly important to later.

I want to make the changes needed in my life to regain living each day like it is truly a bonus day and gift. I need to go back to understanding that sitting by the ocean thinking and praying is vital and not a waste of time. I want to take time to walk my dog every day while listening to the Michael Buble station on Pandora instead of believing I don’t have time. I want to be a person who takes time to go to 8th grade basketball games, spends time meeting people in coffee shops, reads real books instead of Facebook articles and learns new things. I want to change back to the person who plans his meals instead of grabbing something at the nearest drive thru hurrying here or there. I want to return to recognizing exercise as a privilege instead of an intrusion on my hectic life. I want to go back to valuing people more than programs.

I liked that me a lot more than I like this me. Now to see if I can find him again.

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15

 

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No big thang … just more miracle stuff

2011 – “Without a transplant, you will die.”

2012 – May 7 – My son saves my life giving me half his liver

2014 – January – God says, here’s your life back, restored and better than before when a little church asked me to be its shepherd.

2016 – April – I have been given the green light to take a team of 18 to Guatemala City to bring Hope and Healing to children being rescued from the extreme poverty of living in the city dumps!

Me. Mr. suppressed immune system. Mr. kicked off the transplant list too sick to survive transplant. Mr. probably won’t ever be able to do stuff like this again.

It’s a huge deal to me. It’s a miracle and testimony to God’s healing hand on my life.

Take a look at what we will be doing by clicking on this link: Guatemala Team Video

And, get this, we need you to be part of the team. No, not go with us, although that would be cool, but participate with us by being a financial and prayer supporter. We need to raise about $1200 each to cover the expenses and we need your help.

Hopefully, you can look at this like we do whenever we support someone doing a short-term humanitarian project. We always see it as an opportunity to be involved even when we can’t go ourselves.

So, what do you say? How about clicking this link and supporting us online by selecting “Guatemala – The Linscott’s” or mailing a check to “FBC Westbrook” with “Guatemala team” on the memo line at 733 Main St., Westbrook, ME 04092.

I will be using my photography skills to help AMG tell the story of the tremendous needs in Guatemala and, of course, Robin’s teaching skills will be put to good use.

Yes, I will need to be careful and yes, I will need to get an extra shot or two, but I am so thankful that I am having the opportunity to again do what I love so much. Not only will the people we serve in Guatemala be impacted but the 18 people on our team will return forever changed to the face of global poverty.

Thanks so much for your help! I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

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Living on the edge of “uh oh” after transplant

CJ and I got matching outfits for Christmas

CJ and I got matching outfits for Christmas

It’s quiet.

The smells of blueberry muffins baking in the oven and fresh chocolate-raspberry coffee are pulling me awake. My twelve pound, white miniature schnauzer is sleeping soundly on the back of the couch.

I know all this will change within a matter of minutes. My 5-day old grandson, a clone of his daddy, will soon set off the nurture alarms in the three women in the house; mommy and two nanas will start their day. Mommy is tired and thankful for her mom’s presence, knowing that even more than 1600 miles could not keep her from being at her side to help her adjust to her new role. Just five days into motherhood she has no idea how quickly time will pass. If she could see into her mother’s heart and mind she would feel the emotion and see all the precious memories replayed with each swaddling session. She will know that all soon enough but for now, she aches for just a couple hours of uninterrupted sleep.

The other nana will rock her son’s son and wrap his tiny fingers around one of hers. Her grandson is nearly a carbon copy of her son she rocked this way just over 28 years ago. Her son has no idea what his mother sees when she looks at that little face.

I am Grampa now. They take pictures of me awkwardly holding my new little buddy. They laugh at how quickly I give him up when he starts to cry. They have no idea all the emotion I am holding back.

Yesterday, as I held him, we had a chat about football and Florida Gators. His little eyes stayed on me while I told him the difference between alligators and crocodiles. I told him that the difference is simply that alligators  will “see you later” and crocodiles will “see you in awhile.” My family smiled because I am already joking with my little guy. My daughter said one of his first lessons will be to learn not to listen to Grampa.

My youngest son Jake and his wife Laura came by and I could not get past the huge smile that stayed on her face while she held little Calvin. My daughter and her husband Jake stopped in later and Shara cuddled him on top of her own baby bump that is my granddaughter, Emma. Watching her hold Calvin took me back to my beautiful wife holding Josh when he was a newborn. I moved off that scene pretty quickly.

I am living on the edge of an emotional “uh oh” right now. Smells, sounds, scenes push me to “uh oh, I’m going to cry and look like an idiot” in an instant. Is it this bad for everyone?

I think it’s because I know I am in overtime. I know that these days are bonus days and the result of the gift of the transplant that saved my life. I know that, apart from the Grace and love of my God, I would not be here to hold this little Batboy and tell him I am Batman. I know that I would not be here to meet little Emma in just a couple of months.

I’m at the edge of “uh oh” a lot in my life but it is understandably intensified now. Just about the time I get used to holding it together, Emma will show up and trigger it again. My transplant survivor friends with more survivor status years than me tell me that it will never change. I will be on the verge of “uh oh” at each birth, each milestone, each singing of happy birthday and every holiday for the rest of my life.

Other than the risk of embarrassment, I guess living at the edge of “uh oh” thankfulness is a good place to live.

Every day is a bonus day.

Uh oh … Calvin just woke up.

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17


On May 7, 2012 Scott’s son, Josh, gave him nearly 60% of his liver in the transplant surgery that saved his life. To register as an organ donor, visit www.donatelife.net

 

 

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Life: have you tried turning it off and on?

URGENTReboot.

It’s the first word used by technology nerds in answer to a multitude of questions:

“Why is my phone doing …?”
“Why is my TV not …?”
“Why is my computer so …?”
“Why is my toaster …?”

Have you tried turning it off and on? And then next comes, have you tried unplugging it? And then, have you tried unplugging it, taking out the batteries and letting it sit for a minute?

Slow computers, laggy smart phones, televisions that won’t let me change the channel. Reboot? Unplug? Rest and restart?

You probably have an idea where I’m going with this, right? It’s New Years Day and every blog, Facebook status and tweet is about resolutions and good wishes for 2016. Since my blog is mostly just my personal processing, therapy place, I’ll add to the throng and hope that my readers who like the view into my messy mind, might find something useful.

My life is kinda laggy and glitchy at the moment. My operating system is buggy and my core is overheating. It’s frustrating me. But, even though my issues have been building for several months, I haven’t taken the time to reboot. Sure, I’ve thought about it but, like most everyone else, I’ve decided to shrug, sigh, roll my eyes and whine about things. Rebooting is annoying and who has time to unplug?

I’m wondering if I was perhaps the healthiest when I was the sickest. I know, right? That makes no sense.

When I was waiting for transplant and in the months just after transplant, I couldn’t do much for myself. In most every sense, it was absolutely maddening and frustrated me. I couldn’t walk the length of the mall and I had to refuse just about every social invitation. I felt like I had no purpose and was a drain on the people I love.

But, my soul? Though I struggled with depression and self-worth, the intimacy level of my prayers was greater than I had ever experienced before or have found since.  The words of Haratio Spafford in 1863 describe it best.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Now I am better. But now, I am worse.

I am better physically. I am strong, independent and capable. I am a provider again and have purpose. But I am also worse, allowing busyness, stress and activity to strangle my peace and feed anxiety.

Thankfully, experience has taught me that I can reboot. Like with my electronics, I am the one who can choose to unplug. I have to refuse to allow the tyranny of the urgent to displace the important.

The tyranny of the urgent has once again convinced me that I have time later to take care of the important. I will read that book, later. I will write and reflect, later. I will pray, later. I will give my wife the attention she deserves, later. I will connect with that old friend, later. I will exercise and take care of my body, later. I will eat better, sleep more, walk my dog and clean the clutter in my life, later. I have fallen for that lie so many times before.

During my transplant journey it became evident that “later” is never guaranteed. In fact, it wasn’t until later became unlikely that I recognized all that the tyranny of the urgent had stolen.

In January of 2014, when opportunities to resume the pace of life I lived before transplant came back around and my recovery was about complete, Robin made me promise that I would not return to my old patterns of stress, over commitment and the tyranny of the urgent. She said, “you did not get a liver transplant to kill yourself.”

It’s January 2016 and the tyranny of the urgent is again in the driver’s seat. I’ve been sick more this Fall than at any other time since transplant. I’ve self-medicated with social media and mindless television. My energy level has dropped, my motivation has become scarce and my normally-positive attitude is showing signs of distress. It is not well with my soul.

This month I will set aside the first part of each day for quiet reflection, prayer and searching. I will reread The Seven Habits hoping it again helps me realign. I will unplug, re-evaluate and make whatever changes need to be made. I will reboot. I have to.

Will you? If we change nothing, nothing will ever change.

 

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My son went from son to father yesterday

My son understands “the love of the Father” quite a bit more today than he did yesterday.

Calvin born-18I remember when it happened to me on August 10, 1987. I held him in my arms and looked at his perfect, little face and felt emotions I had never felt before. I studied the creases in his chubby lips, felt his soft skin against my cheek and smelled new life. It was the beautiful infant smell that I now know but had never considered before.

I felt like an intruder on this moment watching my son hold his son. I knew what he was feeling as I watched him study that perfect, little face. I wanted to put my camera down and just experience the love I saw in his eyes. His smile was so pure, so genuine, filled with hope, nerves, questions  but confidence. I saw the dreams of the Father.

I stood to the side and watched him bring his newborn son to the wife he adores. I watched him delicately place his child into her arms. His face flushed with color, his hands soft on her hands as she held their child.

Calvin born-25I backed away wanting them to have this moment all to themselves but not being able to make myself leave. The powerful intimacy of his tender kiss that lingered on her forehead, the satisfied smile that came across her mouth, and the overwhelming sense of joy that filled the room.

I watched my son become a father yesterday. I knew the transformation that was reshaping his heart while I watched. I knew that his life goals had instantly shifted and his priorities realigned. I recognized the love of the Father in his eyes.

The love of the Father who would give everything for his child without a thought.

My emotions were just a single look, touch or word below the surface held precariously in check. My emotions went beyond the beauty of watching my son’s love for his son come to life. My spot as a quiet observer of this beautiful scene was a gift only made possible by the love of this new daddy who risked his life to give me life in a living donor liver transplant three and a half years ago.

Such love.

And now he knows a love beyond what he has ever known. The love of the Father.

 

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