We steer where we stare

Do you remember learning this in driving school? You were taught that you should always keep your eyes fixed on where you want to go – whether it’s straight ahead or where you plan on turning. And if you’re driving and become too fixed on the car next to you or something off the road, that’s exactly where you’re going to go. If we teach and follow this rule so adamantly for driving, why not think about it in terms of our everyday lives?

Think about it – how often have you fixed your focus on something that you probably shouldn’t be focused on? You took your eyes off the prize, and what happened? Well, you probably didn’t get the prize. I don’t know about you, but there are a lot of things I want to accomplish in my life. I have some pretty big dreams, and I know that being intentional with my decisions and making sure that I keep my focus on the right path is the only way that I’ll make these dreams come true. But I also understand that life can get in the way, and sometimes that deer in the field next to you or that really cool car driving by can quickly take your focus off of the road right in front of you.

But we can bring our focus back just as quickly as it falters. We can avert our eyes from the distractions that surround us and stare steadfastly at where we want to go. Maybe you don’t know where you want to go, but as long as you’re moving forward and focused on moving forward, you’re going the right direction.

If we steer where we stare, are you staring at something that will help you move forward towards a life you want, or are you staring at something that will move you further from the life you want?

Perspective

As spring break is in full gear for students everywhere, social media seems to be overtaken by pictures of the beach or videos of friends in exotic places. I remember clicking through photos of sandy beaches and palm trees as I sat outside… in a lawn chair… with five inches of snow at my feet and a fire as the only thing keeping me warm(ish). Needless to say, my spring break was a little different than some of my friends back home. I mean, who could turn down camping in southern Indiana in the middle of a snowstorm? It was obviously a well thought-out plan. My friends and I spent the entire trip joking and laughing about every little situation we got ourselves into (like pushing a van out of the mud at 10 a.m. or forgetting to pack lunch for a 6+ mile hike), which made the memories even greater. But at the beginning of the trip, my friend said something to me that really stuck. She mentioned how some things seem a lot bigger when you’re up close, but as soon as you step away, suddenly they’re not so large.

Maybe you think that’s profound or maybe you think it’s ridiculous, but either way, I loved it (shout out to you, Riley!). We went camping at Clifty Falls, which is right on the border of Indiana and Kentucky and very close to some smoke stacks that were part of an energy plant. From our campsite, you could see the stacks peeking through the tops of the trees, but they seemed so small and distant. But once we started our hike and were standing right next to the stacks, we realized just how large they really were. It was like being in a big city for the first time and realizing that pictures will never do justice for the enormous skyscrapers towering over you. Whether I was standing next to these smoke stacks or passing a waterfall or sitting at the top of the trail as I looked at the land beneath me, I couldn’t help but to think about perspective. I started to think about times where I was faced with a problem that felt as if it was towering over me in the same way those smoke stacks were. A problem that, when looking at it, made me feel uneasily small and insignificant. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has felt like that – who has felt helpless in the shadow of a problem looming over them. But then, like Riley said, as soon as you put things into perspective and take a few steps back, that thing is no longer as big and scary as it was up close.

I think the reason I like this so much is because we seem to quickly put things into a perspective that enhances what we see, rather than diminishes it (or maybe that’s just me?) We put our problems under a magnified glass expecting to solve them that way, rather than taking a step back and changing our perspective. Maybe that mountain you’re facing isn’t really a mountain at all, but you’re standing too close to see how to get around it.

I could have easily examined everything that happened on that trip through a lens that made the bad seem worse and the great seem not so good, but I didn’t. I changed my perspective, and even though I could barely feel my toes and I constantly smelled like fire, I saw the trip as something wonderful.

Take a step back.

Change your perspective.

What’s on your scale?

This year has been a wild ride, and it’s only March. Can anybody else relate to that? I’ve had some incredibly high moments where I felt as if life couldn’t get any better, but there have also been a handful of times where I’ve felt so knocked down that I couldn’t even see the potential for a positive outcome. It’s as if 2018 has been this weird roller coaster where all of the insane lifts and thrilling drops have happened in the first five seconds and I’m left wondering what more the architects could have possibly designed for the rest of the ride.

Earlier this week, I went camping for four days with some friends from college in Clifty Falls in southern Indiana. It was cold, snowy, and crazy beautiful – an adventure I wouldn’t trade for the world. On Thursday morning we all packed our bags, cleaned up the site, and went our separate ways to enjoy our last few days of break at home before going back to school. Normally, the drive would only be a little over two hours for me to get home. However, feeling confident in knowing where I was and how to get home, I turned my GPS off after about an hour. Bad idea. That “easy two hour drive” turned into a tedious four hour drive on back-roads and weird highways and me not knowing where I was until I was twenty minutes away from home. But, on the brightside, those four hours turned into prime thinking time.

Once I figured out I was lost, I turned on some worship music in hopes that it would help me to not stress over something so small. I started talking to God (because what better time to pray than when driving and lost hours away from home?) and I said something that I didn’t expect to say, and even though I was the one who said it, it had a pretty decent effect on me. I said, “God, please help me to understand that the weight of this boulder is nothing compared to the weight of life’s pebbles.” Okay, reading this I can see how it doesn’t make a lot of sense out of context. What I was talking to God about was how the two weeks leading up to break I was kind of struggling. I may have mentioned in previous posts how they were pretty rough weeks and even though I was doing what I could to stay positive, it was a challenge. However, I’ve always been one to talk about life’s little blessings – the things that make life worth it but we so often look over because they seem so small compared to the big things. But think of these little, happy things as pebbles – small and seemingly insignificant. Think of the big things, the things that feel like constant weight on your shoulders and seem incredibly large and important at the moment, as boulders. Now, place each of these on a scale. On one side, you have this boulder that’s representing your struggle, whatever it may be, outweighing the other side by mass proportions. Now, one by one, start throwing on the pebbles. A pebble for each of life’s blessings – for each good thing in life. Random acts of kindness, each of your friends and family, beautiful weather, the smell of fresh coffee, cheesecake, etc. Anything you can think of that brings you even the slightest bit of joy.

As I started to think about this, I quickly realized that the combined weight of the pebbles was much, much greater than that of the boulder. I think we get so caught up in looking at the scale and seeing the boulder as something big and scary that we forget the amount of control we have over that scale. Sure, the boulder is heavy and it will take a lot to outweigh it, but there’s a reason people write books like Happiness is… or 14,000 Things to be Happy About. It’s because there are so many beautiful things in life that are easily overlooked. But as soon as you look at them and add them to your scale, you’ll quickly realize that the good really does outweigh the bad.

Epidemic

There’s a lot of commotion going on in the world right now. With opinions that differ in more ways than one and people butting heads over the desire to be right, I feel as if there’s been a dwindling of hope spreading across the nation – an epidemic of moral losses as everyone searches for a political gain. But the problem doesn’t lie outside of us – it’s not something we can put limitations on or negotiate – the problem lies within us.

I have a thing for encouraging shirts. No matter where I’m at, if I see a shirt with an encouraging or optimistic phrase on it, I have to buy it. It all started when I bought a shirt that says, “peace starts with empathy.” This shirt is my favorite, because it reminds me to be empathetic (understanding or compassionate towards experiences or people without having firsthand experience) no matter what the situation is. I think this world could use a lot of empathy right now. We seem to have collectively looked at the world, pinpointed a problem, and settled on the quickest and “easiest” solution possible, but the only reason this “solution” seems easy is because it doesn’t require any real change within us – it leaves all of us free of guilt while also leaving us free of change. But we can’t have both.

We need to change. Not laws or legislation, us. We need to be more responsible with our actions, more careful with our words, and more generous with our hearts. We need to make a point to reach our hand out every chance we get instead of stepping over all the people who have fallen and expect them to be okay. We need to get rid of this, “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” mindset and start helping others – the change may start within ourselves, but an individualistic mindset will lead to individualistic actions, and this world is in desperate need of collective actions.

Stop giving people reasons to feel alone. Stop giving people reasons to believe nobody cares. Stop giving this world reasons to lose hope. Let’s start a new epidemic – start filling yourself up with empathy and spreading light and love everywhere you go. The world is too dark of a place to keep it all inside.

Scattered

Have you ever seen a movie or t.v. show or even real life where a person is running through a hallway, rushing to get to a class or a meeting with stacks of paper, a cup of coffee, and other miscellaneous items in their hands, when all of a sudden something happens and they trip, sending the paper and everything they were holding flying, only to scatter everywhere? I feel like life can be like that sometimes… or a lot of times. Just when you think you’ve got things under control enough to get to where you need to be, something sends you flying. Maybe things weren’t exactly “under control,” but they were being handled.

Something about this semester has me feeling like that person who just tripped. Last week, I got caught with a terrible cold and had to cancel an important interview because I just couldn’t leave my dorm. Then, I drop my phone as I’m walking back from class, breaking it and leaving me phoneless until I go home next week. On top of that, I have two very important interviews on the same day, it’s midterms, I accidentally scheduled two presentations for the same day… the same Friday, and then a personal issue comes up that leaves me at a complete loss for how to respond to the situation. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like God looks down at me and thinks that I can handle more, when in reality, I’m still trying to pick up the papers from the last time I tripped.

But then I remember a conversation I had with a few of my friends a while back. We were talking about a similar topic – about whether or not God gives people more than they can handle. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot, because there have been plenty of times where I have been overwhelmed and wondered why or how I got into such a situation. But during the conversation with my friends, I was reminded that life never gives you more than you can handle. God never gives you more than you can handle. Sometimes you’re just given what feels like too much to help you realize just how strong you actually are – just how much you can actually handle. If you’ve ever worked out or trained for something, you know what it’s like to have a goal in mind that at the start feels impossible to reach. Runners start out with a mile a day, but strive to run a marathon. Weight lifters start with just the bar, but aim to lift hundreds of pounds. Musicians start with scales, but dream of playing sonatas. We start out small all the time and work our way to become something so much greater. The only difference between those examples and the everyday growing that happens in life, is in life we don’t always set such explicit goals – we just grow stronger.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the chaos of our lives that we don’t realize the strength that we’re gaining from lifting the weight of life. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking some time to wallow in self-pity and complain about all that life is throwing your way – sometimes we just need to get that negativity off our chest. But at some point, we need to look at the wreckage of our lives and realize that the best thing to do is build from it. When you’ve tripped and the papers you’re holding scatter every which way, take a deep breath, pick up the papers, and walk it off. You’ll be okay.