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This week I am celebrating a tradition in our house.  Our family Thanksgiving tradition includes tracing our hand prints onto a white tablecloth.  In each of our fingers, we write down something for which we are thankful.  This week, I’m taking time to share something I’ll be writing on the tablecloth this year.  I’m hoping you’ll contribute to the conversation by leaving something for which you are thankful for each day.

Here is the third thing I’ll be writing down this year:

My Job

In January 2014, I celebrated 18 years with my company.  I work for the leading building automation company in the Philadelphia area.  I came in as a project engineer back in 1996.  I moved through the project management ranks, and I have been an operations manager with the company for the past seven plus years.

I’ll confess that I don’t enjoy every single aspect of my job, but for the most part, I do like my job.  I really appreciate the people who I get to work with day after day.  I like the unique aspect of our projects and the demand for excellence from our valued customer base.  I especially love the fact that I get to help people succeed.

My job has given me the opportunity to see things, go places, and meet people I would have missed out on without this job.  And I’m grateful for the support I and my family have received from my workplace.

I am off from work this week (another reason to be thankful), but I am certainly looking forward to returning back on Monday to conquer the challenges that wait for me.

What is one thing you would put on your thankful list this year?  Why?

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As I mentioned yesterday, our family Thanksgiving tradition includes tracing our hand prints onto a white tablecloth.  In each of our fingers, we write down something for which we are thankful.  This week, I’m taking time to share something I’ll be writing on the tablecloth this year.  I’m hoping you’ll contribute to the conversation by leaving something for which you are thankful for each day.

Here is the second thing I’ll be writing down this year:

On Track

On Track: Life Lessons from the Track & Field is the name of the book I self-published in April this year.  The book was a project in that it helped me learn more about the writing and self-publishing process, but it was more than just a project or experiment.  It truly became something for which I am very proud.

I’m thankful for the many people who contributed to my project.  There are too many to list here, but there are a few that deserve special mention.  I’m thankful for John Noonan who graciously lent his design talent to create a book cover that captures the essence of my book.  I’m thankful for Anita Comfort who utilized her English experience to edit my book.  I’m thankful for Matt McWilliams, Rob Shepherd, Diane KarchnerDan Erickson, and Mark Sieverkropp who read my book ahead of time and offered generous endorsements.  I’m thankful for the people who reviewed the book on Amazon.  These people (and many others) contributed to making the book release process as enjoyable as possible.

I’m thankful for the many people who have purchased the book or given it away for others to read.  I wrote this book for me, but I also wrote it for other people.  And I’m honored that people would take time to read my book.

I’m thankful for writing in general.  As I indicated in the introduction to the book, I haven’t always enjoyed writing, but it has become a part of me through the book, through my blog, and through the writing community I have joined in the past several years.  I’m thankful for the opportunity to stretch and express myself in ways I would not typically explore.

I’m thankful for the hope this book project represents for future personal writing dreams.

What is one thing you would put on your thankful list this year?  Why?

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Our family Thanksgiving tradition includes tracing our hand prints onto a white tablecloth.  In each of our fingers, we write down something for which we are thankful.  This week, I’ll take time to share something I’ll be writing on the tablecloth this year.  I’m hoping you’ll contribute to the conversation by leaving something for which you are thankful for each day.

Here is the first thing I’ll be writing down this year:

Guatemala

This one word captures a lot of my focus this year (again).  I am so thankful for the opportunity to serve in the village of Xenacoj for the third summer in a row.  It’s not just about building houses or traveling to someplace far away.  It’s about building relationships.  It’s about transforming lives in Guatemala, in the United States, and in our own home.  And it’s definitely about having a mission mindset.

This year, I’m thankful for Betty, Marcos, Wendy, Fernando, Jose, Rosita, and El Abuelo.  We may have helped their family by building a house for them, but they deeply impacted our family.  This is the same for Angela and her family.  These two families touched us in ways that words cannot fully describe.

This year, I’m thankful for German, Suzie, and their family.  They hosted us in Xenacoj, and they made sure we felt welcome.  Because of German’s family, we know we will always have a home in Xenacoj.

This year, I’m thankful for Dave Sgro of Go! Ministries.  Dave demonstrated a man after God’s heart.  He is a man whose heart breaks for the things that break the heart of God.  Our family came home inspired thanks to Dave’s honest sharing throughout our time in Xenacoj.

This year, I’m thankful for the generosity of those here in the United States who helped to make this trip possible.  It’s takes a team to pull of this kind of trip, and many of you were part of this trip through your donations and prayers.

This year, I’m thankful for the folks from Liberty University Medical School.  They were part of our experience at the end of our trip this year.  They came scouting possible locations for medical students to serve and learn.  They showed our family the power of vision.  In the coming year, they will have the opportunity to provide medical support to communities in Guatemala who will benefit in a major way.  On top of this, we met some great lifetime friends through a couple of days together.

I could go on and on.  Guatemala once again left a huge impression on me this year!

What is one thing you would put on your thankful list this year?  Why?

Each week on The Stretched Blog, I ask an ice breaker question. The questions are designed to help us get to know each other here in The Stretched Community. I’ll provide my answer to the question here in the post, and then you can leave your response in the comments. While you’re in the comments section, see how others answered the ice breaker question.

(I’m always looking for Ice Breaker question ideas.  If you have an idea, send me an email at jon@jonstolpe.com.  If I use your question, I’ll give you credit and share your links.)

As I was driving earlier this week, I observed the cars around me.  Bumper stickers used to be glued to many cars.  Now, people use magnets.  In my Toastmasters meeting this week, someone asked a question about bumper stickers, and it seemed like the perfect question to use for this week’s Stretched Ice Breaker.  (Thanks, Becky!)

Question:  If you were going to put a bumper sticker on your car, what would it say?

My Answer:  Here you go…

Xenacoj Bumper Sticker

If you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you know the village of Xenacoj in Guatemala holds a special place in my heart.  My bumper sticker design would make people think twice about my favorite Guatemalan village, and it would remind me of the special people who touched my heart.  I don’t know when I’m going back yet, but it has to be sometime, because that is where my heart is.

Answer this week’s ice breaker question by leaving a comment. I look forward to reading your response! (As always, feel free to share links.) And keep Stretching!

But if you are going to wear blinders then you do not know the world.
Miriam Makeba

Yesterday, I learned something new about someone.  I never would have known this fact if I wasn’t listening and observing.

So often, I go through my days with blinders over my eyes.  I have tunnel vision as I pursue my own targets and objectives.  Sure I hear what you are saying, but I’m not always listening.

It’s time to take off the blinders.  It’s time to be present when we’re with other people.

We need to be in the room, but this is not all.  We need to be in the relationship.

This happens by closing our mouths and by opening our ears and eyes.

Take time today to get to know someone a little better.

Take time today to really listen to those around you.

Be part of the conversation, and you will be surprised by what you learn.

What have you learned recently by closing your mouth and opening your ears and eyes?

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Do you want to make this Thanksgiving special?

November is the month for thanksgiving thanks to the holiday happening next week.  While I’d love to see thanksgiving be better represented the rest of the year, I confess that our family probably concentrates more on giving thanks during this month than the other months in the year.

If you want to make kick up your Thanksgiving celebration an extra notch this year, I have a few ideas for you.  Here is a list of several ways to enhance your Thanksgiving experience.

  1. Run or walk at a Turkey Trot.  A few years ago, I did the Thanksgiving Marathon in NYC which might be considered a little overboard by many.  Why not get out and run or walk a community 5K?  Many towns across the country have started their own Turkey Trot.  My wife and kids have run one in Latrobe, PA several times.  The races are always fun, and it makes the turkey taste so much better later that day.  This year, we’re planning something a little different.  If the weather works out, we are planning to meet at the bicycle shop in our town for a community bike ride on our nearby trail.  It’s more like a Turkey Trail Ride as opposed to a Turkey Trot, but I think it will be just the way to get us ready for the Thanksgiving festivities.
  2. Invite someone over for dinner.  My guess is that you live near someone who is missing out on family.  They are lonely, and they may not have to means to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving meal.  Why not invite them over to your house?  Usually, there are more than enough leftovers to go around after the Thanksgiving feast, and we can always put an extra chair around the table.  This year, we are looking forward to hosting another family for Thanksgiving.  It will be fun to spend time together over the Thanksgiving meal.
  3. Go out and serve.  There are hundreds of opportunities around your community.  The church in my hometown of Mt. Holly, NJ used to hold a Community Thanksgiving Day meal where our family served a couple of times.  This was a great way for my parents to demonstrate that Thanksgiving was so much more than turkey and football.  We had the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need.  Why not find a place to serve with your family this Thanksgiving season?  (If you’re in the Perkiomen Valley area, consider joining our H.O.P.E. group.  We gather together twice a month to serve others in our community.  You can find out more about the group by going to our Facebook page (HOPEontheway).
  4. Start a Thanksgiving tradition.  For nearly fifteen ten years, our family has been using the same tablecloth for our Thanksgiving dinner.  The tablecloth is white.  Each year, those in attendance trace their hand onto the tablecloth using different colored fabric markers.  Then in each of the five fingers, we write down something for which we’re thankful along with our name and the year.  The tablecloth is now filled with names of grandparents who are no longer with us and with years of thanksgiving.  As we look at the table each year, we have opportunity to reflect on how God has blessed us even through years of challenge.  Why not start a new tradition this year in your home?  Go buy a tablecloth and some fabric markers today!
  5. Make it Thank You Thursday every week.  Matt McWilliams is a friend of mine from the blogging community.  A couple of years ago, Matt wrote about starting a Thank You Thursday Revolution.  In his post, he encouraged readers to write a handwritten Thank You note each Thursday.  Since his post, I’ve been writing a note every week to put into the mailbox of a co-worker.  It’s been remarkable to see the reaction.  We don’t need to be thankful one Thursday of the year.  Why not join the Thank You Thursday Revolution today?  It will change your world and the world of those around you!

This is a start!

What other ideas can you add to the list?  How do you celebrate Thanksgiving?  How can do you plan to transform your holiday?

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By default, most of us have taken the dare to simply survive. Exist. Get through. For the most part, we live numb to life – we’ve grown weary and apathetic and jaded… and wounded.

Ann Voskamp

A recent entry in my journal reads:

We must find time (margin) in our lives for reflection, refreshment, and recovery.

Life can be challenging.

I listen to so many podcasts and I read so many blog posts that tell listeners and readers to hustle – to work harder and longer than anyone else, so you can rise to the top.

I’m all about hard work, but I’m starting to see that it could be good to quiet ourselves – to be still – to take time for rest.

The battle rages on!

We are in a busy season of the year and a busy season of life with two very active teenagers.  I feel the pressure to keep going – to push harder – to be as active as possible – and to be at every activity and event.

You are supposed to finish the weekend feeling refreshed, but I’m exhausted as I type this on Monday night.

Working hard is an important discipline.  I will continue to press on.  But taking time to rest is also an important discipline.

I can’t get away from a busy week and a busy weekend ahead.  It’s on the calendar, and we are committed.  But I can look forward to next week.  I’ll be off for an entire week celebrating Thanksgiving and taking time to be around home with family.  It’s so important to have these breaks.  I pray this will be time to rediscover some margin in my busy life.

In order to truly conquer the tendency we all have to be weary, we must put into practice a few essential steps.

7 Essentials For Overcoming Weariness

  1. Get more sleep.  This seems a bit too obvious, but four to five hours of sleep is not healthy over the long hall.  I must get to bed earlier – especially if I want to get up at 4:10 AM everyday.  Sleep is key to overcoming weariness.
  2. Exercise.  When I miss my morning workout, I feel sluggish the rest of the day.  Get out and do something that raises your heart rate for at least twenty minutes a day.
  3. Eat healthy.  Garbage in, garbage out.  When we eat terribly, we will feel terrible.  If you want to overcome weariness and have more energy, eat foods that fuel you.
  4. Get outside in nature. Robert Louis Stevenson writes:
    “It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”

    I think he points to something quite obvious that we often miss especially during this time of year.  I arrive at my office as the sun is just coming up, and I leave my office when it is dark.  All work without seeing the light of day will leave us depleted.  Find time on the weekends and even at lunch time to get out of the office and into the “forest”.

  5. Practice the art of saying no.  We live in a yes culture.  Yes, I’ll join this club.  Yes, I’ll help out with this activity.  Yes, I can dedicate this amount of time every week to this cause.  Before we know it, our schedules are packed.  We must learn to say no if we have a chance at conquering our weariness.
  6. Spend time with God.  Charles Stanley writes:
    “We can be tired, weary and emotionally distraught, but after spending time alone with God, we find that He injects into our bodies energy, power and strength.
    Isn’t it interesting that the first thing to go when things get busy is our time with God?  The Bible promises us in Isaiah 40:29 and Matthew 11:28-30 that God will provide rest to the weary.  If you want to be refreshed, go to the source of true refreshment.
  7. Practice regular hourly, daily, weekly, and yearly Sabbaths.  My Dad has told me repeatedly to take a minute of Sabbath every hour, an hour of Sabbath every day, a day of Sabbath every week, and an extended period of Sabbath every year.  I fail at this more times that I care to admit.  And yet, I know it works when it comes to dealing with weariness.  God designed the Sabbath for us – to enjoy, to recharge, and to rest.

I’m feeling better already!

On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 totally rested, 10 absolutely worn out), where are you on the weariness scale?  How do you overcome weariness?

When A Team Member Retires…

November 17, 2014 — 2 Comments

You can retire from a job, but don’t ever retire from making extremely meaningful contributions in life.

Stephen Covey

On Friday, one of my team members retired.

The day was spent cleaning up a few loose ends related to the projects he had been supporting, cleaning his office, having lunch with a few co-workers, and filling out the final pieces of paperwork required to make his retirement official.  In the afternoon, we gathered in the lunch room with my other co-workers to honor my team member with cake, a gift, and a couple of cards.

My boss and I had the opportunity to share some thoughts our employee before we cut the cake.  And he followed it up with a few words.  For someone who is normally pretty tough, our office had the opportunity to see cracks in the armor as he held back tears while reflecting on his career and his departure.

Throughout the day, stories were shared about my team member and the impact he has had on our organization.  We laughed.  We smiled.  And we were even a little sad.

As he walked out the door at the end of the day, I watched him climb into his truck and head out of the parking lot.  It was bittersweet.  Despite many challenges, this team member had become a friend.  He sat next to me for the first year of my employment with the company, and he often provided input on how I should proceed with my own project challenges and opportunities.  I was sad to see him go, but I was so happy that he will have the opportunity to enter retirement with new horizons ahead.

Our employees spend a significant amount of time every day, every week, and every year at work.  This is part of life.  We need our customers to keep purchasing our products and services.  Without our customers, we would go out of business.  We rely on our stockholders who demonstrate their confidence in our ability to take their investment and turn it into something bigger.  These two – customers and stockholders – are critical to our businesses, but there is one more key ingredient that is absolutely essential for success.  We need our employees to make the wheels spin.  Our employees make it all happen.

And this is why it is so important to honor our employees and to treat them well.  I want my team members to feel respected.  I want them to feel good about their investment of time.  I want them to have solid relationships with their co-workers.

I believe there is a golden rule managers must follow:  Treat your employees the way you want to be treated.

In fact, treat your employees better than you’ve been treated.  Treat them even better than you expect to be treated.

I don’t know the details of your employment.  Maybe you have a tough boss or a tough team working for you.  Decide today to make a difference right where you are.  Be intentional as you relate to your teammates.  And make sure you celebrate their accomplishments and milestones.

How do you want to be remembered by your co-workers when you retire?  How does your company celebrate the accomplishments and milestones of their employees?  What is one thing you can do to make a difference for your co-workers?

Each week on The Stretched Blog, I ask an ice breaker question. The questions are designed to help us get to know each other here in The Stretched Community. I’ll provide my answer to the question here in the post, and then you can leave your response in the comments. While you’re in the comments section, see how others answered the ice breaker question.

(I’m always looking for Ice Breaker question ideas.  If you have an idea, send me an email at jon@jonstolpe.com.  If I use your question, I’ll give you credit and share your links.)

I was talking to a friend the other day about the Pilgrims on the Mayflower.  Apparently, the Pilgrims were permitted to bring a footlocker-sized box aboard the ship to store their possessions as they made the move from Europe to America.  They were on the boat for quite a while, so I’m guessing the possessions in their box became pretty precious.  Today’s question is all about your box.

Question:  If you were going on a long journey and could only take a footlocker-sized box, what would you put in the box?

My Answer:  Assuming my clothing and toiletries were all taken care of, I’d probably include the following:

  • My Bible
  • Several journals
  • Several pens
  • A photo of my family
  • A collection of my favorite books
  • My iPad and charger (you never know, they could have WiFi and power where I’m going)
  • A handful of my favorite CDs and a CD player (or some type of mp player with the songs already loaded)

Answer this week’s ice breaker question by leaving a comment. I look forward to reading your response! (As always, feel free to share links.) And keep Stretching!

Have you ever dared to chase after one of your crazy ideas?

Buy This Land is a memoir that tells the story of a Spanish-speaking Chinese lawyer from Seattle, and his pursuit to provide dignity and hope to the rural poor in Guatemala and other Central American countries.  It’s the story of a man dared to chase after a crazy idea.

My shared connection to Guatemala made this book especially interesting to me as I could envision the places and people the author shares throughout the pages of this real-life story.  Chi-Dooh (Skip) Li provides a vivid and detail description of his own childhood and early career which lead him to establish Agros International, an organization recognized for combating the root causes of poverty.

In America, we take for granted our ability to purchase our own land.  This is a privilege often unreachable for the poor in countries like Guatemala.  Li’s passion to provide hope and a stepping stone for those in need propels him to create Agros as a way to help the poor purchase their own land.

Buy This Land recounts the many early struggles encountered in setting up the organization, and it goes on to explain the early challenges and successes that went into setting up the first few Agros communities.

Buy This Land is a worthwhile read, and it will give you a different perspective on the challenges faced by the poor in Central America.  I think this book will also give you a deeper look into Guatemala, the place and people who captured my heart.

Do you own or rent your place of living?  Why do you think land ownership is such a big deal?

(Please note:  I received a copy of Buy This Land for free from the author.  I was not required to provide a favorable review.  I truly believe this book will open your eyes and challenge you to chase after your own crazy ideas.

Also to note:  There are affiliate links in this post.  Should you purchase Buy This Land by clicking one of these links, I receive a small percentage of the purchase.  These funds are used to support The Stretched Blog and to extend ministry and missions to Guatemala.  Thank you!)