Quick Thought: Miracles

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I was recently challenged to read through the four gospels and pick out every one of the miracles that Christ performed. After I made it through Matthew, I began to notice quite an amazing trend:

Matthew 9: 20 “… a woman , which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him…”

Matthew 12: 15 “…great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all.”

Matthew 15: 22 “…a woman of Canaan came out and cried unto him.”

Matthew 15: 30 “And great multitudes came unto him…”

Matthew 17: 14-18 “…there came to him a certain man… and Jesus rebuked the devil and he departed out of him.”

Matthew 20: 30-34 “…two blind men, when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out saying, have mercy on us… So Jesus had compassion on them.”

Matthew 21: 14 “And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.” 

This is only a few of the many instances I found. If you didn’t get it, notice how all of these miracles were a direct result of the actions of people. These were people who knew the power of God and sought out Christ in need of a miracle. They came unto Him.

We know that faith is a principle of action. Within these stories is reminder after reminder that we must seek out Christ if we want miracles to happen in our life. We cannot be idle and wait for great things to come to us.

In Matthew 11: 28, Christ has taught us we must come unto Him: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Now when I read this scripture, I read it like this “Come unto me, everyone with even the smallest amount of faith that suffers with the pain of disease or affliction, sorrow for sin, and/or the heartache of loss, and I will comfort you because I have overcome it all. If you do, I will help you find comfort and peace in knowing there is purpose in everything.”

When we come unto Christ, He will in turn render miracles in our favor.

Just my $.02.

What are your thoughts? What did I miss?

Where Do You Stand On Humanity Right Now?

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Can you remember the last thing that restored your faith in humanity? Was it when a stranger went out of their way to help you? Maybe it was watching how quickly people run to the aid of those in disaster areas? Batkid?

Ok, now what about the last thing that made you lose faith in humanity? Was it when your wallet got stolen? Maybe when you heard about the Boston Marathon bombing? School shootings?

Where do you stand on humanity right now?

If you’re currently wallowing in a “no faith in humanity” state, tell me how you feel after you watch this video. If that didn’t change your mind what about THIS ONE? Or THIS ONE?

If you’re currently enveloped in the warm fuzzy “faith in humanity restored” feeling, let me know how you feel after you read THIS. Anyone with two thumbs and a heartbeat knows there are plenty of other horrifying things happening every day. I don’t think I need to link to any more.

Ok, let me ask the question again, where do you stand on humanity? If your stance on humanity is swayed by whichever story you heard most recently, you’re doing it wrong.

What Is Faith?

A lot of people confuse faith with hope. It’s close, but hope is the precursor to faith. Hope is merely a thought or a feeling. You can choose to leave it at that and hope for a better world while you sit on your couch watching the news – OR – you can turn that key of hope in the ignition of the car of faith and do something about it. (cheesy dumb metaphor I know but it works and I’m sticking with it) Faith is a principle of action. Without action, there is no faith. We need to have continued faith in humanity. Without it we’re pretty much screwed.

I like to think about it in a religious sense. If we were only required to have faith in Christ when good things are happening to us, what is the point of faith? Faith is something that must be constant, no matter how small. Faith is found in people who are strong. People who understand there will be struggle but don’t stop pushing forward. Maybe you get a little down. Maybe your faith wavers a little. That’s fine!  That is good and natural. That means you’re human. Just don’t lose that faith. You don’t get strong, unwavering faith overnight. It’s a process. And that’s exactly why many people don’t have it. They want it now, with no effort, and if they can’t have it now, they look for easier alternatives. Hate to break it to you but nothing easy is ever worth pursuing.

Keeping The Faith

First off let me just say: stop losing faith in humanity!

The only way humanity will stay strong is if everyone works on this faith AKA the hope for a better world coupled with the individual action of each person to make that hope a reality. You might think little ol’ you doing something good will never change a world of seven billion full of evil. Maybe you’re right. But if you even hoped, the teeny tiniest hope that it could be possible, why wouldn’t you at least try? Not doing anything about it sure isn’t helping, what do you have to lose? Have you forgotten that acts of good are inspiring? Remember those inspiring stories and videos of people doing good that gave you warm fuzzies? Did they not make you want to be a better person? Those are people like you and I who have faith in humanity and did something about it. You have the ability to have that same affect on people.

Believe In Good

There will always be good in the world as long as you are putting it there. Amidst all the good and bad out there, you always have a choice on which to put your focus. If you’re not sure which one to focus on, I’ll give you a hint: It starts with “g” and rhymes with Robin Hood.

Try it. Watch what happens. I bet you’ll be thoroughly surprised at how much more good you notice is in the world. It’s like when you’re car shopping and all of a sudden every drive to the store you see the two cars you’re deciding between. That’s not some crazy coincidence. It’s all about where your focus is.

This doesn’t mean you ignore the bad things that are happening in the world. This means you acknowledge that evil exists but as a result of focusing on the good, your thoughts become centered on what you can do to help alleviate the suffering of others, instead of allowing hatred for humanity to fill your heart while you sit in front of the TV pointing your finger at the world.

It’s your choice. Choose good.

 

Image via rgbstock.com

The Good Samaritan Principle – A Case For Spontaneity In Life

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Most people know the parable of The Good Samaritan as told by Christ Himself in Luke 10. It’s one of those stories that has transcended the pages of the Bible and is used by many to teach kindness. After months of pondering and application of this idea, I want to dig a little deeper into a key principle I believe is often overlooked.

First off, let’s throw aside the normal focus of the story – the speculation that the ‘traveler’ was Jewish, meaning the Samaritan was the least likely of the three (Priest, Levite, Samaritan) to stop (Samaritans had no dealings with Jews at that time see John 4:9) and that Christ choosing to depict a Samaritan as the hero to a bunch of Jews completely rocked their world. Forgetting all that, think of the story as merely four people traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. The first, for some reason drawing the short straw in life, ended up beaten, robbed, and left for dead by thieves, and the rest following behind.

I’m somewhere around 100 days into my project of talking to a stranger every day for a year in an effort to be more aware of those around me. Being aware of all the people and situations unfolding around me is actually far more difficult than I had ever anticipated. Difficult because no two situations are ever the same and every minute of my life new things are happening. Being aware is about paying attention to even the smallest details of a constant changing atmosphere and it has taken me months to get only slightly good at. Even though I’m better than when I started, I still find myself learning from small and large instances where I lacked awareness. On top of that I know there are still plenty of instances where I had no idea I was unaware at all. But everyday is a new day to be a little bit better and I try to take that for all it’s worth.

Running late to a church activity and pondering deeply on what I needed to do to be more aware, I was jolted out of my deep thought when I heard a loud honk and noticed a car coming the opposite way turned weird in the median. I thought the guy just did something stupid and so I kept driving. I turned at an intersection that was just right there and for some reason looked in my rearview mirror in time to see that the hazards were blinking and that car was now sitting perpendicular to oncoming traffic. Having been pondering how I could be more aware, I immediately recognized this as an opportunity to do something for someone around me who needed help. I turned the car around before I could finish my thought process, parked it, and ran into the street to help him push. It was just me and the one guy in the car who ended up pushing it up the street and through a busy intersection to a (luckily) nearby gas station. Our exchange was short and I left once he was pulled up to the pump, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how I would have missed that opportunity if I hadn’t been thinking about how to be more aware. It wasn’t the easiest or most convenient way for me to help someone, but that was the opportunity I was given. I was still slightly late to the activity but in the big picture, did it really matter? No. I learned more about God and his love for all his children from being a part of that experience than I did at the activity anyway.

On my way to an appointment one night, I noticed a man on the side of the road obviously struggling to carry quite a few bags of groceries. I was cold in my car so I knew he was probably freezing outside. I thought about stopping to offer him a ride but even after having numerous other instances like this, and always being grateful I stopped, I kept driving. But like all those other experiences, I found myself turning around about a half mile up the road and backtracking to find him. (Not sure how long the learning curve is on this but one of these days hopefully I’ll learn to stop right away) When I pulled up, he was barely making any progress. He didn’t even hesitate to take me up on my offer. His house was still another mile or so up the road. He thanked me numerous times and kept telling me I’d have blessings return to me. Honestly, I was just grateful that I was able to be aware enough to recognize a man who needed help and blessed to be a tool in The Lord’s hand to make his burdens lighter. At the end of the day, yes, I was a few minutes later to my appointment. But in the big picture, did it really matter? Nope. If anything it brightened my mood and made a positive impact on the person I went to see.

So a Priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan are all on their way to officiate in a sabbath sermon or to a very important business meeting or to take care of a debt or to see family… Whatever the circumstance we can pretty much agree that all three, no doubt, had some purpose for their travels. Only one of those three, recognized the urgency of the situation and placed his own agenda and destination aside for a moment to focused on the needs of a man who needed his attention. In addition to the lesson of care we can learn from The Good Samaritan, I love the principle of spontaneous kindness we are taught. Whatever agenda he had was put on hold to help a man who could not afford to be left alone any longer.

I recognize in our daily travels that sometimes we cannot stop. But I think more often than not, if we take a second and think about things in the big picture, being a few minutes late in exchange for a few minutes of practicing Christlike love, is an opportunity we all have time for.

If you have the desire to help and you keep your eyes open, opportunities will come. They may not be what you had in mind, but that’s exactly when people need it the most. We cannot choose the people who need our help. We can only choose to be willing to help those who need it and keep our eyes open to find them.

I only share so many personal stories because I know that oftentimes people recognize opportunities to be better when they hear a story and realize they had never thought to do that. I am influenced by your stories regularly. Don’t hesitate to share your stories with me on here or via text or Twitter or Facebook or whatever. I really won’t think it’s weird even if you don’t know me.

Stay Swank.

 

**Image via sermons4kids.com

The Room Theory

The Room Theory

Ever since I started watching The Big Bang Theory, I’ve always wanted to come up with some theorem or hypothesis or something scientifically relevant. I mean, I think about things enough, why shouldn’t one of those things one day be something groundbreaking? I think I have arrived at such a destination but in order for it to sound truly groundbreaking, I need to set your expectations right. Think about the expectations you would have for a cat to fetch a ball and then bring the ball back to you. Got it? Now drop that down like 5 notches (I’ll leave how far a notch is to your discretion) and that’s where I need you to be. Ready? Great.

The idea for this theory admittedly spawned from my recent Project #365Aware and it grew inside me as more and more examples from my own personal life proved this theory over and over. I realized that, too often, not only do we as humans either assume that we know other people and their situation but we are also considerably apathetic to those around us because of how we imagine them. This is all based on exteriors such as dress, actions, or words. In reality those preconceptions are misconceptions. They are ideas made up in our mind based only off the things we know from the past. No two people are the same nor do they do what they do for the same reasons. I wanted to challenge this idea and prove that we actually know very little, if anything at all, of other people’s circumstances and why they do what they do and say what they say. I refuse to accept that I know someone merely by being an outside observer. It has been only through getting out of my ‘room’ and talking to strangers, that I have come to learn that most of what I assumed about those around me, is wrong darn near 100% of the time. I hope after reading this you take a minute and think about the ‘rooms’ you have currently locked yourself into. What do you have to lose by getting out of them? My guess is, not a whole lot. But in the end its only up to you. No one can get you out of your ‘room’. You have to do that yourself.

So, without further ado, I give you: The Room Theory

The Theory

Let’s imagine for a minute that you are in a room. This room can be pretty much whatever you want it to be. It can be big or small. Lots of decorations and amenities or empty and boring. Maybe there is only one small chair in the middle or maybe the floor is covered in bean bags. Maybe there are walls covered completely with ivy and a hammock stretched out somewhere. Whatever it is you imagine this room to be like, the only thing every room must have have is a door. And that door needs to be closed. Got it?

Ok, now I want you to imagine that you were born in this room. All you know are the things and people inside that room. Sometimes people come in and stay. Sometimes they come in only briefly and leave. But no matter how many people come through that door, you have never left. Not because you can’t but because you just don’t want to. You know pretty much everything about that room but you next to nothing about what’s outside of it. There are things out there you could never have dreamed of.

You may disagree with me to an extent that you know very little about what is outside that room. Sure, people may come in and bring books or tell stories, but what we come up with in our mind is almost never how things really are. Before I served an LDS mission to Korea, I went through 11 long weeks confined to a training center. I learned things about the language, the culture, the city, and the people. I saw pictures and videos and heard stories from people who had been there. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what Korea was like, but only because I thought I was capable of knowing anything and had never actually been there to confirm the world I had created in my mind. Once I arrived in Korea, I realized how wrong my ideas were. Some of the things I learned rang true but the majority of things I never would have come to understand if I had stayed in that training center forever.

What’s interesting about this is that I assumed I knew a lot about Korea but only because I had never been there. I had no real experiences to tell my imagination the world it was creating inside my head was wrong. There was so much more to learn through experience that I could never have learned through reading or stories. Once I got there, I realized how little I had really known and wondered how I could have been so stupid as to assume I knew it all.

This is the very essence The Room Theory.

Opening The Door

In our lives, we lock ourselves into all kinds of rooms. Being in these rooms we don’t ever experience what is outside of them. We make up ideas in our minds and convince ourselves we know everything there is to know about what is outside of that room because we know the inside so well. We can go on forever like that, blinded by our own imaginations, or we can step outside of that room and experience what it is really like. Only then do we realize how little we knew. There is more to knowing something than just imagining the idea. It’s like when someone tells a joke that they think is hilarious and you stare at them like they’re an idiot and they say, “you had to have been there”. Even with that little phrase, you can’t figure out why that would have made a difference, it’s not funny. There are feelings and experiences we can only know from stepping outside of our ‘rooms’.

To further illustrate this idea I go to my homie Clive Staples. I was reading in C.S. Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity, the other day and I happened upon an interesting point he makes that goes directly in line with this notion. If you don’t see the parallels right off, I’ve bolded key words to help. I’m not saying I believe in ‘Evolution’ how the world defines it, but I’m not ruling out the possibility that God worked through some kind of natural ‘Evolutional process’  to create humans. I don’t want to assume I know how God did everything, I just know that it was through his power we are here. Having laid that out, this is what Clive says:

“Everyone has been told that man has evolved from lower types of life. Consequently, people often wonder ‘What is the Next Step? When is the thing beyond man going to appear?’ Imaginative writers try sometimes to picture this Next Step – the ‘Superman’ as they call him …and end up sticking extra legs or arms on him. Most of the popular guesses at the Next Step are making just the same sort of mistake. People see (or at any rate they think they see) men developing great brains and getting greater mastery over nature. Because the stream is flowing in that direction they imagine it will go on flowing in that direction. But I cannot help thinking that the Next Step will be really new; it will go off in a direction you could never have dreamed of. It would hardly be worth calling a New Step unless it did. I should expect the next stage in Evolution not to be a stage in Evolution at all: I should not be surprised if, when the thing happened, very few people noticed that it was happening. Now if you care to talk in these terms, the Christian view is precisely that the Next Step has already appeared. And it is really new. It is a change from being creatures of God to being sons of God. We arrived at our idea of Evolution from studying the past. If there are real novelties in store then of course our idea, based on the past, will not really cover them.”

Clive’s reasoning behind this is that Christ is the ‘Only Begotten’ and so it is our purpose in living on this earth to come unto Christ and be spiritually born of him, thus becoming literal sons and daughters of God. If we don’t do that, we stay creatures created by God instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to become literal sons and daughters of God. The only way this happens is from the inside out. We can be physically baptized and ‘born again’ but if our hearts are not transformed, or ‘Evolved’ if you will, we will not reach that Next Step which is literally becoming ‘like Christ’. Now how in the world would you come to that conclusion from studying only what you know inside your room of human existence? You have to step out of that ‘room’ and look to God for that answer. We have to take actions that give us those experiences to learn from so we can know of its truth. No wonder all the people who discount the existence of a Supreme Being will not even notice that transformation taking place. How could they? They won’t open that door to see what else is out there.

Do not assume you know the future because you know the past. Do not assume you know what’s outside because you know the room. Do not assume you know a person because you know a common misconception.

I have a Part 2 to this theory that digs in deeper about what we even really know about the rooms we are inside, but I’ll save that for another time. Baby steps. Do not take as fact the false realities you create in your mind at the expense of knowing the truth of the world you live in. You deserve better than that and so do the people around you.

Get out there and meet the people around you. What the world needs is love.

Let me know if you have any thoughts about my theory. I haven’t sent it to be peer reviewed and published yet but I’m close. If you see anything askew let me know now so I can fix it before I do.

Quick Thought: Grace

“..we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”

2 Nephi 25:23

One night, about a year ago, I went with a group of friends to explore one of our favorite spots in the mountains. As we were walking around we came upon a small stream with a large tree branching over it. The tree had a smooth dead branch hanging down above the stream that looked just low enough to grab, but only if I ran and jumped. The problem was, if I missed, or couldn’t hold on tight enough, I would land in the stream. There were also no guarantees I would land in the stream on my feet… I decided to go for it because what is life if you never try things to find out what you’re capable of? The first attempt I slipped in the mud and got my shoe a little wet. Big deal. That just meant my adrenaline was now pumping full bore and I was either grabbing that branch or going home wet. The next attempt I forgot all about the possibility of falling in the water, focused only on the branch, and committed 100%. Honestly, I was a little surprised when I looked up and saw I was gripping the branch.

None of us can jump high enough to get into heaven, figuratively and literally. There is no way to make it there on our own. Christ has given us each a branch to grab so that we can climb back up to heaven. That branch is grace. It is by grace that we are saved after ALL we can do.

Merely believing is not enough. We have to have faith that we can do it. If we are afraid of missing and let fear take over, we’ll never be able to grab it. But if we replace our fear with faith and focus only on God, we will find that focus we need to jump and grab on to that branch.

I believe also that each person’s branch is a different hight above the ground. Some people can jump higher than others. That’s just how it is. Christ is aware of that and has put our own individual branches at the highest point we can jump. It isn’t going to be easy for us to grab, but it’s possible if we push ourselves to do our best.

-Braden

#365Aware Unexpected Kindness Blitz

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October 7 2013 was the first ever Project #365Aware Unexpected Kindness Blitz. Hundreds of people committed to doing random acts of kindness for those around them!!! Please take this as an invitation to join in and do the same.

To learn more about what the blitz is and possible future dates, skip down to “The Blitz“. To learn more about Project #365Aware, click HERE or keep reading for the Reader’s Digest version.

The goal of Project #365Aware is to make doing good things the norm. Being nice should not be dependent upon how easy or comfortable it is.

There are 6 billion+ other people on the earth besides you or I. Out of all of those people in the world, you will never know most of them, their stories, joys, struggles, or even their name for that matter. So why even try to learn those details about anyone?

I love the story of the little boy walking on a beach with miles of beached starfish. The starfish are destined to dry out and die because they cannot get back into the ocean by their own power. One at a time the boy proceeded to throw starfish back into the ocean. It was obvious he would never be able to throw them all back in, and a bystander approached the boy and asked why he cared? Why even try? There was no way he could save them all. The boy’s response, as he picked up a starfish and threw it back into the water, was simple but meaningful: “I made a difference to that one.”

Maybe going out of your way to say hi to someone you don’t know and genuinely wishing them a good day won’t change anything in their life. But why is that any reason not to do it? Why care about someone you’ll most likely never see or come in contact with again? Why not care? What if a friendly action is just what someone needs that day and that is exactly the reason you were by them at that specific time? It may not be likely, but it’s also not impossible. We are on this earth with so many other people. It would be selfish to not be so aware as to acknowledge that they exist.

Many people have been talking to strangers around them for the past month. Those stories are shared daily on Facebook and Twitter. People have also begun sharing the kindnesses others have done for them. I hope to gather many many more stories in order to have undeniable proof that there is still good in the world.

The Blitz

I’ve realized that being aware of those around us doesn’t always need to be a verbal exchange. This is why I started the Unexpected Kindness Blitz.

“Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change. Kindness that catches us by surprise brings out the best in our natures.”

-Bob Kerrey

As my favorite brand in high school, Volcom, always had on their tags “The only constant is change.” When people change, the world changes. If that change is bad, the world becomes worse. If that change is good, the world becomes better. The world will continue to change no matter what. The goal here is to make sure those changes are good. That means we, as the human race, need to continually change for the better. While there are many ways to change for the better, this new initiative will focus on being unexpectedly kind to those around you.

The Butterfly Effect

Ever since I read The Traveler’s Gift, I have given a lot of thought to the concept of the “butterfly effect.”  Basically it is a concept that small events can have large, widespread consequences. For example a massive hurricane could have been caused by a tiny butterfly flapping its wings far away. This is similar to the metaphor of a small snowball rolling down a hill getting larger and larger as it rolls. However, the butterfly effect is different than the snowball metaphor in one way: the real meaning of the butterfly effect is not that we can readily track such connections, but that we can’t. To claim a butterfly’s wings can cause a storm, after all, is to raise the question: How can we definitively say what caused any storm, if it could be something as slight as a butterfly? (Excerpt from a boston.com article)

Boom.

Being nice to someone is great for all involved but the coolest thing about unexpected kindness is that those who receive it often feel inclined to pass it on. Changing one person for the better could easily become changing many people. most of the time you’ll never know what one small act of kindness could end up doing or how many people it will touch. It can’t be tracked and that is why it is so cool.

The Initiative

It’s one thing if we make looking for ways to give unexpected kindness a daily thing, it’s another when a group of people unite in the cause, and it’s something entirely different when all those people do it at the same time. The effects of today’s kindnesses will never be known, but we can be sure they will be great.

Multiple acts of kindness close together don’t go unnoticed. Who cares if you’re nervous. If you never do what you’re nervous about doing, you’ll never do anything worthwhile. The things we’re most nervous about doing often lead to the best things in life. Find that feeling and feed it. Feed it often.

If one tiny butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane, imagine what could happen if hundreds of butterflies flap at the same time. We’ll never know everything that happens as a result of this, and that’s why it’s so exciting!

Project #365Aware

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For the past few months it has occurred to me that sometimes in life we assume we know more about things than we really do only because we have never taken the time to actually try and learn. If that’s not the most generally vague statement you’ve ever heard, I apologize. That’s what I was going for.

Allow me to clarify: How often have you thought you knew who someone was only to be thrown for a loop when you really got to know them? I’m no neurologist (I hope that’s the correct term for someone who studies the brain) but from what I’ve experienced, the less we know about something or someone, the more our minds make up false realities to convince ourselves we’re smart and still know it all. We’re all guilty of this and it diminishes our awareness. I’ll touch more on awareness in a minute. On the other hand, when we try to learn and dive into a subject, our minds are jolted out of compensating for the lack of knowledge and we realize how little we actually know. To a five year old, the food just appears on the table, toys are magically put away, and there are no worries in life except being put on timeout if you color on the walls. Adults are more learned and know there are a few more details to life than that.

We Are Not Alone

There are 6 billion+ other people on the earth besides you or I. I doubt anyone can even comprehend that number. That’s a LOT of people. Like too many for my rich uncle’s massive place in The Hamptons a lot… If he had one… or I had a rich uncle. The crazy thing about it is all these people have a story. They all go to sleep, wake up, and have a life to live on the exact same earth you and I live on. Some are poor, homeless, malnourished, or suffering. Some are rich, live lavish lifestyles, and have fancy beds with maids that clean up after them. Some are just somewhere in between. But out of all of those people in the world, you will never know most of them, their stories, joys, struggles, or even their name for that matter.

I love the story of the little boy walking on a beach with miles of beached starfish. The starfish are destined to dry out and die because they cannot get back into the ocean by their own power. One at a time the boy proceeded to throw starfish back into the ocean. It was obvious he would never be able to throw them all back in, and a bystander approached the boy and asked why he cared? Why even try? There was no way he could save them all. The boy’s response, as he picked up a starfish and threw it back into the water, was simple but meaningful: “I made a difference to that one.”

-We can’t be content just living our own lives without caring about those around us.-

This Is Water

Now to the part I promised I would get to about being aware. Since I first heard these words by David Foster Wallace, I haven’t been able to get them out of my daily thought process… not that I want to:

“If you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at [ people you encounter. For example, a ] fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.” (Excerpt from his This Is Water speech)

Maybe going out of your way to say hi to someone you don’t know and genuinely wishing them a good day won’t change anything in their life. But why is that any reason not to do it? Why care about someone you’ll most likely never see or come in contact with again? Why not care? What if a friendly action is just what someone needs that day and that is exactly the reason you were by them at that specific time? It may not be likely, but it’s also not impossible. We are on this earth with so many other people. It would be selfish to not be so aware as to acknowledge that they exist.

The Project

For two weeks I made it a goal to talk to at least one stranger every day. Sometimes it was an employee at Panda Express or the super market, other times it was someone I went out of my way to say hi to at church or on the street. I have never been so outgoing. I had to make a conscious effort to be more aware of my surroundings. I have never been afraid to talk to new people, I just never really cared or knew what to say. I realized that was wrong and decided to change. In those two weeks I became more grateful for my life and the blessings I enjoy. I found opportunities and made new friends. I was able to brighten a few people’s days and give them a break from the dull, monotonous work grind. I took many people by surprise with my genuine caring conversation and watched their spirits brighten. But the thing I enjoyed the most was how easy being aware of other people became for me. I no longer worried about what to say. I just started up conversations without even thinking. It opened the door to a whole new world I never realized existed all around me. I realized how little I had previously known about the world I’ve lived in for 25 years. I was no longer a five year old.

If all that happened in two weeks, I’m beyond curious what can happen in more time. I’ve decided to make this a permanent focus in my life and shoot for a solid year. 365 days. 365 new people I never would have known existed if I was content just doing me.

If you want to join in and give it a try even for just a day or two, I welcome anyone along and would love to hear about it. You can find my progress on the Lift App and Twitter #365Aware.  

Always Be Moving

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It is only through pain that we truly understand and appreciate how blessed we are. Of course, we can be grateful for what we have without going through hard times, but we are infinitely more grateful after we have endured hard times. A cancer survivor has a deeper appreciation for his/her health and life in general than someone who hasn’t gone through that. The depth of our suffering determines the depth of our gratitude and happiness.

I had an interesting experience last night. It was a normal night at my bachelor pad; I fell asleep with the light on watching the King of Queens in bed… It gets cray cray at my place, let me tell you! After sometime I woke up and realized that I had fallen asleep. I went to get up to go turn off the light but nothing happened. I could see the ceiling and some things around me but I was completely paralyzed. Immediately hundreds of thoughts ran through my mind. ” Ok Braden, breathe. WHAT IS WRONG?! Why can’t I move? If this is permanent, someone is bound to think I’m missing and come help me. There’s no way this is for real… BUT IT IS!! Just breathe and relax. Maybe if you rest for a second and then try again you can move. Don’t panic.”

All these thoughts raced through my head in the span of only a few seconds. I closed my eyes to try and relax and gather all my energy to try again. After 30 seconds or so I opened my eyes again and tried with all my strength to lift my head. The harder I tried the louder a deafening ring consumed my hearing. No movement. I was still completely unable to move any part of my body. A horrible fear came over me. I was legitimately scared. All I could do was try and calm myself because I had no other choice. Someone at work would notice I was gone. Someone would have to come looking. It was then that I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep again.

Again I awoke in the same position. This time I lifted my head and moved every part of my body to make sure it was real. I got up to turn the light off, knelt to give a silent prayer of gratitude, and went back to sleep. I had never known what it was like to be physically paralyzed. You always kinda imagine things like that and how it would be, but experiencing it was a humbling experience.

Thinking back on it now, it was probably just a dream. I say probably because it felt so real. I still feel nervous about falling asleep, afraid that it might happen again. All day I have been trying to make sense of it and if there was some meaning behind it. The following is what I believe I needed to learn from this experience:

Always be moving.

In life, we have to keep moving. We cannot stop. We cannot coast. We cannot lull ourselves into spiritual paralysis. Life is to be lived and enjoyed and the only way that happens is if we progress. A man who never tries, will never know joy. We have this time where we are alive to become our best self. What is more, we have a Savior who has given us the ability to reach that mark. I have a deeper gratitude for Him and His sacrifice. What a tragedy it would be to never even try, to let fear and doubt paralyze us from progressing, learning, and growing. This experience has opened my eyes a bit more. I have a renewed motivation to keep pushing, to find the good in everything, and live up to my full potential. I also feel a deeper respect for those people who are actually physically paralyzed and still live a full life. They may be physically paralyzed but they don’t let fear and doubt paralyze their spirits. That’s what life is all about and they have it figured out.

Life is good, guys. It’s just one experience after another. Good or bad, there is something to be learned from each one.

Finding the Drops of Good in a Sea of Bad

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As a lot of you are aware, I’m not a big advocate of the public education system. In fact, recently I had pondered whether or not I even wanted to send my own kids to public schools. After watching this video and agreeing with her pain, I wondered, if it’s this bad now, how much worse will it be when my kids go through the system? Will college even be relevant in 20 years? I’m not so sure it will be. The world moves fast and specific technical knowledge is becoming more valuable than a general degree.

But this post isn’t about how cheated I felt by a system that focused more on teacher credentials than teaching ability and covering curriculum straight from a textbook and PowerPoint slides instead of real world scenarios and applications. This is a post about learning to focus on the good. I’m trying to be a better person and finding the drops of good in a sea of bad is one way I’m doing that. This is a post about recognizing the rare instances where a teacher was a positive impact in my life.

I recently read a story about a guy who was at some kind of motivational seminar. They instructed the attendees to take a moment and think about someone who influenced their life. Once they had thought of the person, they were asked if they had ever actually told that person how they felt. The man in the story had thought about one of his grade school teachers. Everyone loved this teacher and she really made a difference in the lives of those she taught. The man said it took him two months but he eventually tracked her down and was able to send her a note thanking her for what she had done. By this time, she was just an old lady with no family and no friends. She lived alone and didn’t have much going on in her life anymore. Apparently that letter the man sent was the only letter she had ever got from a student. It’s hard to even imagine how special that must have been for her. So many people felt that way, but only one had felt the need to tell her.

That story put an idea into my mind to do the same. I’m all about doing things out of the ordinary to make someone feel good even though I’m not the best at it. I decided to do something about it and think about which teachers have made a positive impact on my life. I came up with a list of nine teachers from Kindergarten to College. Out of all those teachers, I haven’t told a single one of them thank you. Ya, I’m a big inconsiderate jerk…. So I’ve made it a goal to write sincere letters of gratitude to these teachers. So far I’ve only tracked down one of their addresses but I will find all nine and send them a handwritten thank you. I do not want to be guilty of ingratitude.

Even though I still feel very strongly that the education system is failing, flawed, and often times a waste of time and money, I can’t deny that a certain few teachers did go out of their way to make a difference. Those teachers made it all worth it. I’m glad I had the opportunity to learn from their example and I commend them for continuing to stick it out to make a difference. I had the privilege of  sitting down and talking with a professor about my concerns regarding public education. He agreed that it is a flawed system but said even as a member of a teacher advising board, there really isn’t much that can be done. It’s up to individual teachers to take the initiative and figure out how to be helpful and caring while the whole system could care less what they do as long as they test on the expected curriculum. It made me appreciate the ones who did that even more.

I will keep you updated on my search and any responses or stories that come about that I feel are worth sharing. I also invite you to take time to think about your own education and the teachers that stand out to you. If nothing more than a simple thank you, at very minimum you could really make someone’s day. I’d like to hear your take on this and if you end up sending any letters. Comment below, tweet, or email me (bradensthompson@gmail.com).

P.S. Live Your Life.

Everyone Wants To Be A Writer

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**Funny story, I looked at everything I had written for the book and I hated it all. So that’s my life right now… I refuse to try and publish something I hate**

In an attempt similar to my #0toMarathon endeavor where I continually outlined what it took to go from 0 to marathon for those who wanted to do so themselves, I want to do the same with my current goal of writing a book. This is the beginning of many blog posts over the next few months to give a first-hand experience of what it’s like writing a book in order to hopefully help those who want to write one themselves. I’ll try to be as honest and open as I can.

When I bring up the fact that I’m writing a book, half the people I talk to are surprised but enthusiastic – as it’s not the most common thing to do – and the other half tell me they want to write a book someday, too. Over the past year as I have been gathering info and organizing my thoughts for a book to be titled, Live Your Life. I always knew it would be a challenge to write a book, that’s why I decided to do it, but I have realized the task of writing a book is much harder than I had ever imagined.

Conquering The Mind

It’s hard to actually focus and write. Sometimes I sit and stare at the computer screen wondering why my mind is not working. When I think about the incredible task of writing a book, I often freeze up and find any and every other thing I could possibly be doing and do that. I do a lot of dishes. I clean my room. I stare at Twitter for extended periods of time and wait for the “1 new tweet” bar to appear so I can click it and read whatever passive aggressive tweet someone is tweeting now. When that doesn’t fit my fancy I switch between Google+, Facebook, and Gmail. I do this all mindlessly because I don’t have the mental power to focus and write. It is incredibly frustrating.

Lots of people believe they have a book in them and it seems everyone wants to be a writer. I honestly don’t doubt it. I think everyone has things they have learned or imagined that would make great books. However, the problem is not coming up with the ideas; that’s the easy part. When you come up with an awesome idea it makes you think you could just “decide” to write a book and spit it out. I have hundreds of notes in my phone of ideas for Live Your Life but once I sit down and actually try to elaborate, expound, and back up my ideas with facts, I run into problems. That’s the hard part, actually putting the rubber to the road and finding your rhythm. Finding that state of mind where you are free to really write and express yourself the same way you feel like you can in your head. I find myself forcing words a lot and getting frustrated because I know that what I’ve just written is crap in comparison to other things I wrote when I was “feeling it”. It’s times like that that make me wonder if I really have anything worth writing at all.

I recently stumbled upon this article by James Rhodes. He talks about what it takes to actually do something great. He talks about how people find all sorts of lazy excuses to not do what they say they’ve “always wanted to do”. He is a concert pianist but also relates the idea to writing a book. The funny thing is, I know exactly what I’m doing wrong, but actually having the mental power to overcome it is the real challenge. We cannot do anything our mind has not already decided we’re capable of. Continually convincing ourselves that we can do it, that we do have good ideas and talents, is the hurdle most people never get over. It’s the one thing in life I have found isn’t necessarily about quality, it’s about quantity.

So How Does The Book Get Written?

I’ve found it’s about persistence. This is where that quantity comes in. It’s about not giving up and constantly telling yourself you can do it. Even though I waste a lot of time frustrated that I can’t bring myself to write, if I persist, eventually I do find times when my thoughts just spill out perfectly on the page. Sometimes I stare at the whiteboard and wonder how I’m going to actually finish a book. Other times I can’t stop writing. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, I cherish those times where I find myself able to write the things I feel. I’m learning to be patient for those times. The creative mind gets tired and needs to be nurtured. It is when we understand the concept of personal persistence that we find the motivation to finish what we start.

Honestly, this has been a bigger obstacle to overcome than running the marathon ever was. This book has been on my mind literally every day since last September. I can’t wait til it’s off my mind and finished but I’m pretty sure when it’s done, it will feel as anti-climatic as finishing the marathon did. Why? I’ve learned that it’s not the goal that’s important; it’s the journey along the way. Goals give us the end destination to shoot for but the journey is what you make it. The journey is where you learn and progress. The goal is merely the ending you choose to guide your path. That’s why so many people get depressed after the initial excitement of finishing something big. They worked so hard to get there and when it’s finally finished, they have nothing to work for anymore. It’s important to always have a ‘next goal’ in mind before you finish anything. You cannot let yourself be content with a few achievements. You have a long life to live and if you let yourself be content now, you’ll never become the person you’re supposed to become. Every day on this earth counts. We’re not alive to get to the top of a couple mountains and just relax. As nice as that sounds, Christ is not interested in our comfort. He is interested in our growth and progression. We’re alive to climb as many mountains as we can before we die while helping other people climb their own mountains. That is how we find true lasting happiness.