Before you make your New Year’s Resolutions

According to University of Scranton Professor John Norcross, who studies such things, by June 60% of us will have abandoned our New Year’s resolutions.

Cheery thought, isn’t it?

A lot of things contribute to our failures. We make goals that are too big and too broad. I will never eat sugar again for the rest of my life. (There’s a reason people in recovery talk about taking it one day at a time. Forever is a big bite to take on at once.) They are too much of a leap from where we are. I will start running and do a marathon in a month. They are too vague. I will get into shape.

Good goals are SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound.) If I make a resolution to give up brussels sprouts that’s not relevant because I never eat brussels sprouts anyway.  If you’re into such things, here’s a worksheet.

But there’s another reason we drop out before reaching our goals. We define what we’re going to do but we never address the mess inside our head. It’s like trying to drive with the brake on. It’s hard to succeed if there’s a voice in your head telling you that you’ve always been a failure. (Here’s more specific information on dealing with the critical voices in your head.)

fitness motivationAs a mentor with the No Boundaries program sponsored by Fleet Feet (as well as in my own journey) I’ve seen how much our heads can get in the way of our feet. That’s why I created MindRight/BodyFit, a weekly podcast or PDF addressing an issue that can get in the way of beginning or maintaining a fitness program. You can read more about it (and even sign up!) here.

 

The beginning of a new year is a great time to set goals for living in healthier ways. Just don’t forget to take care of the unhealthy stuff between your ears.

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Music Breaks – and Heals – the Heart

I’ve been thinking about the power of music a lot lately, perhaps not surprising considering we’ve been in the rehearsal laden lead-up to today’s Christmas music at my church. But in this morning’s Winston-Salem Journal a column by Anne Adkins gave voice to some of my half-formed thoughts, so I gladly share it with you.

http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/columnists/article_e29daebe-6414-11e3-8a0b-0019bb30f31a.html

Music Breaks – and Heals – the Heart

The King Moravian Church Choir was giving its annual Christmas concert for my Salemtowne community two years ago when its music broke, and then healed my heart.

I was sitting beside my friend when choir director Drake Flynt invited the audience to join the choir in singing the great “Hallelujah!” chorus from Handel’s majestic oratorio, Messiah. Alzheimer’s had tightened its grip on my friend who had enriched my life as my companion for over a decade. He no longer knew me or where he was or that the English language which his once-keen mind had commanded, was no longer his friend. But that night he stood beside me and, with his soul set free by music, sang every note and word of the bass part in perfect rhythm, diction and pitch.

Drake Flynt, who has his own landscaping business, has directed the King Choir for at least 30 years. His belief in God as Creator is the heart and soul of both his music and his work as a landscaper. Recently Drake and I talked about the overwhelming desire within the human spirit that makes us want to sing.

Drake offered this explanation. “I believe God’s Spirit is a thread that runs through all of His creation, the trees and the rocks and the animals, and that we need to own this. I believe that through art we can find that place that is beyond ourselves, that is deeper than we are, that puts us in touch with that thread of life. It is very exciting when we find that thread that makes us want for more. We’re being fed in a way we don’t know what it is but we get in touch with God through the arts or through meditation or whatever way.”

Drake’s thoughts on group singing made me want to rush out and join a choir. “When you are making music, you can’t think about the beans burning or the argument you had with your neighbor. You have to look at that page, you have to think about your breathing, you’ve got text, and you just can’t hold two thoughts like that at the same time. Music gets you out of yourself and puts you in the immediate moment of what’s right there in front of you and your expression of it. When you get to the point you feel that something is great, something is joyous about this, and I believe that’s the moment when we feel connected to God.

singing“So we do that on the individual level, and then it is multiplied and shared as we make music together. It’s the same with art and dance or watching a child at play. I think God is alive through what’s living, God wanting to express Himself and to learn about us and to be with us is through us, and it’s only through each other that He can do that. The more we can allow to go out, more comes in.”

Drake described this connection as “the joyful feeling we have when we tap into something deeper than our personas and is at the root of our lives.” He acknowledges that this connection to what he calls “the Life Force” is not the same for everyone. “Each of us has to find our super highway to what is, and for a lot of us, arts do that.”

I asked him about those times when it becomes difficult to establish this kind of connection. He replied, “There are moments when everything falls apart and we don’t have the answers and the world does not have the answers, and we have to rely on something besides our own resources.

“If you have already built this connection, you know immediately to go to church and sing or to call your friends or to sit down by yourself and listen to a certain piece of music or to do whatever brings you to that feeling of being connected to everything. There are situations like 9/11 that are so catastrophic, there is nothing to do but to sing.”

I have been thinking about Drake’s words this holiday month of music and how often music has built my bridge from darkness into light. My friend who sang with such assurance will not be beside me this Christmas. He died earlier this year. This December I will join others singing Handel’s “Hallelujah!” and feel the music take hold of my heart and open it to God.

Anne Adkins is a former newspaper reporter and columnist for the Elkin Tribune. She is a resident of Salemtowne.

Amazon versus Advent

So the world, or at least some people, were abuzz with the news that Amazon was working on plans to use drones to deliver orders, turning three day delivery into thirty minute delivery. My first thought was that this couldn’t possibly be a good thing for birds who have enough challenges. (Do you think those birds wrecking jet engines are accidental? I think they’ve volunteered for suicide missions in a bid to reclaim their skies.)

My second thought was, why? I don’t know of many things that truly demand that sense of urgency. Blood for transfusions. Organs for transplants. Maybe rings for a wedding service.

I feel fairly certain that Jeff Bezos wasn’t thinking of the contrast with Advent when he made his announcement on 60 Minutes but the contrast is there. Drone delivered orders are about instant gratification. You don’t have to wait.

AdventAdvent is all about waiting. Not yet. Not quite yet. In liturgical churches there’ll be no singing of “Joy to the World” for a while because the lord is not yet come.

We wait for the coming of the child who is yet the lord. We wait for the full serving of the kingdom we have but tasted. We wait for God to complete the work that God has begun in us, even when we cannot see a reason for God to be working in us.

We wait for a day in which earth is filled with peace and good will towards all people. We wait for the ringing sound of a blacksmith hammering swords into plowshares. We wait for the day when weeping shall be no more and the separation of loss is replaced by the joy of union and reunion.

The waiting of Advent isn’t a passive thing, however. It’s not sitting by the door waiting for UPS to ring the bell. Our active waiting demands of us that we act as if it’s already here. We see glimmers of light in the darkness even though the sun is not yet risen.

Sometimes with clients and with friends I will invite them to sit with something. They don’t have to do anything with the thought or the question or the feeling. Just pay attention to it. Does it grow stronger or get weaker? Does the question seem simpler or more complex? Not all questions have to be answered before the music stops. Sit. Pay attention. Wait.

Do justice. Love mercy. Wait.

Our books may be dropped from the sky into our laps but wisdom follows no such schedule. Pizza and toys may come to us  in the space of a sitcom but soulmaking stretches the length of a life.