Category Archives for "growth"

Growing is Unending

Today, it’s my honor to share guest blogger and fellow Phillies fan, Thomas Mark Zuniga (TMZ).  TMZ is an aspiring author with a story worth sharing.  He has just finished his first book, Struggle Central, which will be available on Amazon shortly.  Until then, you can get a copy of his book for free for a limited time by signing up for his newsletter (click here).  You can also follow TMZ on Twitter and Facebook.

Growing is Unending

Over the last couple years, I’ve endured some especially stretching moments: one vulnerable summer camp position in Milwaukee, another more exposing camp in North Carolina, and not one but two cross-country moves from Georgia to California on either side of those stretching summer camp romps.

That second cross-country trek stretched me even more than the first.

After completing the most impossible summer of my life in North Carolina, I returned to my parents’ home in Georgia. The previous year in California, I’d experienced my greatest year of growth: finding an amazing church, plugging into my first life group, and even getting baptized by said life group.

Stuck in the South, I knew I had to drive back West.

But how? My old roommates were gone. My savings were scant, at best. How could I drive 2,500 miles with nowhere to live, nowhere to work, and nothing saved up?

No plan?

I put off the inevitable for weeks. Two, four, six weeks passed as I grew increasingly sickened by my “backslide” into the way things used to be: living under my parents’ roof with no job, no church, no community, no sense of purpose whatsoever.

Eventually, I couldn’t take it.

I had to leave.

Leave again.

Leaving for California two years earlier was so much easier. After graduating college, I was beyond ready for the open waters of a new existence. Had a housing situation with friends already secured across the country with much saved from a lucrative summer job.

But this time was harder. The unknowns weightier, the waves far more perilous. I drove off my parents’ driveway the second time with saltier tears and a heavier heart from the first.

With so much stretching and growth in the two years separating these momentous drives, why was this second move so much more difficult than the first? Had I even grown at all?

After completing my drive across the country, I was inundated with struggle: an isolating living situation in the boondocks of an old married couple’s house, no work, and a car that died from thousands of wearied miles.

Additionally, I struggled to reconnect with my life group filled with old and new faces alike. It was the same amazing group who’d baptized me six months prior, and yet it wasn’t. I had changed, just as they had. And now we needed to start over and change together again.

The changing process would take months.

I’ve since learned that despite two momentous years of growth, capped by a summer camp that could have very well ended a triumphant feel-good movie, the process has really only just begun – my stretching and growing, still in its infantile stages.

Because growing is unending. And though struggles remain, redemption awaits.

I’ve recently broken ground on a project four years in the making: my first book. Since college, I’ve felt called to write, and this book in particular has long filled me with thrilling fear: a book of “messy memoirs” charting my struggles and the ensuing redemption of the last quarter-century.

Looking back on my quarter-life, I see the growth. See it so clearly. But I often wonder when the stretching will end. When will I be fully grown? A fully developed Mr. Miyagi or Gandalf with every arduous lesson learned, now able to impact any and all passersby?

At 26, I’m still very much learning the breadth and depth of this journey. Learning that this pursuit in stretching and growing is never done. That nobody this side of the grave has truly “arrived,” and the ones who impact most are the ones who realize this best. Truly, deeply know it.

I hope I come to know it, too. Know that despite the certain growth from a quarter-century on this planet, there’s more to the mountain than this.

When have you had to leap into the unknown? How was it difficult, and how did it affirm your growth? Have you ever felt like you’ve stretched or grown “enough” only to be shown otherwise?

How Can I Do Better? – Reflections From A Parent/Teacher Conference

Last night, we attended a parent/teacher conference for our son.  As a middle school student, Isaac also had the opportunity to participate in the conference as well.  Isaac had just finished up his first marking period of seventh grade.  He did remarkably well (proud Dad moment) achieving straight A’s.

The conferences were optional yet we decided to scheduled a meeting with his core teachers.  For Leanne and I, it was an opportunity to listen to additional feedback – to hear where Isaac is excelling and to her where Isaac could grow or improve.  Naturally, the feedback from his teachers was all great to hear.  And at the end of the conference, they provided an opportunity for us to ask questions.

Isaac asked his teachers this question, “How can I do better?

This is a pretty powerful question if you’re serious about getting a true response.  Just because we did “well” doesn’t mean we can’t get better.  I like this philosophy.  When I was in an active design engineering role at my company, I used to ask the installers and the start-up technicians these types of questions.  “How can I improve my design next time to make your installation easier or to make your start-up activities go more efficiently?”  I learned so much by asking questions like this.  As a manager now, I need to keep asking these questions.  I want to be the best manager possible to help my team succeed and to help my team members achieve their personal career targets.

Isaac’s teachers gave him some great feedback in response to his question.  They told him to speak up and to take a more active leadership role in group activities.  They encouraged him to be more creative in some of his assignments.  And they reaffirmed that he was already doing a great job.  Then the teachers turned the tables on Isaac by asking their own follow-up question, “How can we do a better job helping you?”  Isaac had to think about this question.  What a great conference to attend!  It was so neat to see students and teachers discussing ways to get better.  What an example for all of us!

And so, I’d like to ask a couple of questions.  I hope you’ll give me honest and constructive feedback.  It’s part of the STRETCHING process.  I value your feedback!

How can I better serve you – The Stretched Community?  What thoughts can you share to help me improve my writing and The Stretched Blog?  What topics would you like me to cover more often?  Less often?  What’s working well?  What’s not working so well? 

Solitude Reflections

Yesterday, I shared that I was taking some time for solitude – some time away from my normal routine to listen for God.  I’d like to share my reflections on this time.

As I sat on my front porch yesterday morning, the skies were still fairly dark and the water was still dripping down the gutter drain pipes after a night of rain.  It’s a challenging this to clear ones mind of all the distractions and thoughts.  For some reason, I kept repeating the phrase “Seek first the kingdom of God” as I tried to center my thoughts away from me and onto God.  Over and over again, “Seek first the kingdom of God.  Seek first the kingdom of God.  Seek first the kingdom of God.”  And that’s when it happened.

God sends his messengers of nature to speak into my life.  As I was sitting on my porch trying to quiet my mind, I first heard the loud droning of bull fogs in the pond across our front lawn.  I heard the garbage trucks in the distance as the morning sky began to brighten.  I tried to block out the distractions of life – what will I blog about next, what do I need to do at work today, what will I eat for breakfast.  And then it appeared – a simple sign from God.  A buck walks slowly across my front lawn.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon —from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”
My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

Psalm 42

These are the words I needed to hear this day.  God is the only “stream” that can satisfy the longings, cravings, and desires of my heart.  I strive after so many earthly things, but God alone brings refreshment and contentment.

I’m not sure that I’ve been depressed, but I’ve certainly been discouraged by the onslaught of headaches and lack of energy over the past few months.  I have sought all kinds of human remedies to alleviate these symptoms, but I wonder if I’ve failed to truly give these things to God.  Do I get it that God loves me and that God wants what is best for me?  It seems so easy to depend on things that I can control.  In reality, I need to give these things to God.

My time of solitude was refreshing.  It refocused me on God – where my life should be centered.  “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.”  Thank you for the reminder.  May I always seek the only Water that satisfies.

Any thoughts to add?  How has God been speaking to you?

What’s your favorite drink?


Webster’s Online Dictionary defines solitude as “the quality or state of being alone or remote from society.”

Why would anyone want to “practice” solitude?

Limited amounts of solitude can give us a chance to get away from the distractions of regular life and routine.  We live in a day and age when we are bombarded with noise, activity, and motion.  These things can crowd out the voice of God.

So for today, I’m going to keep my post short.  I’m going to get away in solitude even if it’s for a short time this morning.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

When was the last time you practiced solitude?  How has God been speaking to you lately?

Foundations Class Week 2: Growth

Yesterday morning, I led week two of a Foundations Class at my church. If you remember from my post last week, we talked about grace during the first class.  This week, we continued along with the five Gs outlined in Fully Devoted, a study guide by John Ortberg, with the topic of growth.

Growth is an interesting topic.  When I think of growth these days, I think about growth in my running, in my writing, and in my engineering management career path.  In each of these areas, growth doesn’t just happens.  It takes work.  If I want to run a marathon, I have to go into strict training.  If I want to become a better writer and maybe someday write a book, I have to keep practicing and learning.  If I want to keep up with the ever-changing engineering and leadership fields, I have to stay in training so I can learn about new technologies and about new leadership techniques.

Spiritual growth is somewhat similar.  It doesn’t just happen.  It takes time, experience, and some effort on our parts if we’re serious about growing spiritually.  Sure, God could just zap us with spiritual maturity, but we would then miss out on all the experience and training.

So, what does this kind of training look like?

That’s a good question.

I think it includes an attitude of learning – we need to learn God’s Word.  We need to develop a heart for prayer.  And we need to listen for God.  Listening to God can happen in a corporate setting of worship and small groups, but it also happens in solitude where the distractions of this world are put aside for a brief period of time. Honestly, this is the area where I struggle with now.  I feel so often that I’m running from one thing to the next.  I even wrote about this last week.  How can I hear God’s calling when I’m typically too busy even to hear myself think?

As we walked through our discussion, we talked about a few verses that encourage us to be intentional in our spiritual training.  I would encourage you to read these verses and see how they relate to the topic of growth and spiritual transformation.

I Corinthians 9:24-27, I Timothy 4:7-8, Galatians 5:22-23, Ephesians 4:22-24

It’s funny how God hits you on the head with a message when you’re in the spotlight leading.  This is a message that I need to hear over and over again.  It should be a fun week.  Leanne and I are leading a discussion on discipline at the week’s MOPS meeting at our church. Sounds like another blog post and some more challenging lessons.

What does your spiritual training look like right now? What steps do you need to take to grow spiritually?

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