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Blur

January 12, 2017 — 4 Comments

“My life has been such a blur since I was 18, 19 years old. I haven’t even had time to contemplate my own life. By forcing yourself to write your life story you learn a great deal about yourself.”

Grant Achatz

Is it just me, or does life seem to be a blur for you at times?

Life goes by so quickly.  And technology isn’t helping things.  Within a fraction of a second, I can be virtually anywhere via the internet.  News spreads quickly across the screens of our cell phones, tablets, laptops, and televisions.  Within seconds of a major world catastrophe, terrorist event, or celebrity death, the whole world knows about it.

And people expect instant replies to their emails, text messages, and social media attempts to reach out.

We are growing up in a world where people are developing additions to their cell phones.  They can’t go more than a few minutes or even a few seconds without looking at their “smart” phones.

As a parent, it seems like life has passed me by in the matter of a few moments.  Yesterday, my daughter was born, and today she’s a freshman in college.  My son was born yesterday, and now he is driving his own car.

And the day before yesterday, I married the woman of my dreams, and now we’ve been married for over twenty years.  (She looks the same, but I’m sure I’ve added some gray hairs, some wrinkles, and some pounds around my waistline.

It all can become depressing is we let these thoughts consume us.

For that reason, we must fight against the blur.

  • We must learn to stop and smell the roses.
  • We must learn to slow down and enjoy the beautiful moments of life.
  • We must learn to give thanks for the blessings of each moment, each day, and each relationship.
  • We must learn to prune our schedules, so we can spend our time on the things and with the people who matter most.
  • We must learn that in the frailty and brevity of life that we must be intentional in all things – in the words we share with others, in the actions we take, in the thoughts that run through our heads, and in the moments between the milestones of life.

Are you going to let life be a blur?  Or are you going to do something about it?

Make the most of every opportunity.

Let your words be seasoned with salt.

Embrace the ups, the downs, and the in-betweens of life.

In fact, suck the very marrow out of life with each breath you breathe, each step you take, and each move you make.

Don’t let your life be a blur.

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.  Isaiah 40:8 ESV

What’s the speedometer of your life say right now?  Are you going 100+ miles per hour?  Or are you going slowly these days?  Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.


“Life is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Forest Gump

Life has been full of twists, turns, and surprises lately.

I’m grateful for what I’ve been experiencing (for the most part), but I’m also a bit overwhelmed.  I think life has a way of doing this to us sometimes.  We have all kinds of brilliant ideas.  We somehow think we can do it all.  We make plans, and God laughs.

I’ve been going 100 mph (miles per hour), and it feels as thought I need to find time to take a breath.  

Not just a quick breath, but a deep breath.  One of those breaths you take when you walk outside on a crisp, sunny morning and you just want to take it all into your lungs and into your very being.  That’s the kind of breath I need.

We’re eleven days into the new year.  I refuse to give up on my goals for 2017, but I must remember to pace myself.  I must remember to stop and smell the roses – to stop and enjoy the moment – to pause and breathe.

I don’t know what you are experiencing right now, but I want to encourage you to take a few moments in your day to join me.

My word for 2017 is PRESENT.

In order for me to be truly present, I must learn to be still – to listen – to breathe.

“Be still and know that I am God…”

Psalm 46:10

By the way, I can’t eat chocolate.  Oh well.

How is life treating you these days?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

3-ways-to-find-the-validation-you-need

Everybody is looking for validation, no matter who you are, and I think that’s a need of the human condition – to look for affection or recognition or validation.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Over the weekend, my wife and I went to see The Wizard of Oz at the Walnut Street Theater.

I’ve seen the movie dozens of time, and the musical held true to the movie with a few additions.

In the story, Dorothy is looking for a way back home.  The Scarecrow is looking for a brain.  The Tin Man is looking for a heart.  And the Lion is looking for courage.

At the end of the story, the Wizard provides a diploma for the Scarecrow, a heart clock for the Tin Man, a medal of bravery for the Lion, and an offer of a balloon ride home for Dorothy.

With these gifts, the Scarecrow begins to think, the Tin Man begins to love, and the Lion begins to believe in himself.  (And Dorothy begins to realize the blessing of her home and family in Kansas.)

The Wizard didn’t really give the Scarecrow a brain, the Tin Man a heart, and the Lion valor.  He simply spoke into their lives and expressed belief in them.  He validated them as creatures who bring value to the Land of Oz.

Do you believe in yourself?  Or do you struggle with confidence, fear, and acceptance?

We all need to be validated.  We all need someone to speak into our lives – someone to believe in us.  We need someone who can tell us we can do it.

Who is that person for you?

My parents have validated me since I was a little boy telling me I was smart, caring, and capable.

My boss at work has validated me since I started working at Siemens over 20 years ago encouraging me to pursue my dreams and challenging me to step into new opportunities.

My wife has validated me since we met reminding me that I am loved.

And honestly, you have validated me letting me know that my words matter and that they are worth reading.  (Thank you!)

We all need to be validated.

What happens when this kind of validation is missing from our lives?

We lose our way.  We find ourselves wandering and lost.  We don’t live our lives to the fullest.  We become voices of doubt and negativity for those around us.

I don’t want to live this way.  I want to live with intention.  I want to live a life that matters.  And I want to be a voice of positivity for others in this world.

Finding validation is critical to our lives.  Here are a few suggestions for find the validation you need:

3 Ways To Find The Validation You Really Need

  1. Look to the ultimate “Validator.”  Look to God.  Remember, He created you, and He created you for a purpose.  He loves you.  He sent His Son to die for you.  You matter to God.  This isn’t meant to be cliché.
  2. Surround yourself with encouragers.  Look for people who lift each other up, and find ways to hang out with these people.  Jim Rohn says “You are the average of the five people you hang out with the most.”  Hang out with people who will encourage you.
  3. Avoid the naysayers.  You may need to separate yourself from people who consistently tell you “You can’t.”  Negative people will suck you into their negativity, and they will prevent you from feeling good about who you are and why you are here.

Finally, I’m guessing there are people in your life who struggle with feelings of inadequacy, feelings of doubt, and feelings of despair.  Take time to be a voice of validation in their lives.

Find the good in others, and help them see it for themselves.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  Psalm 139:14

Do you struggle with self-doubt and self-worth?  How have you overcome these feelings?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

It’s Friday night, and our whole family is home.

(Hannah is home from Messiah College for a short break.)

While Leanne and Isaac were at piano and Hannah was out for a run, I cut the grass ahead of the rainy weather coming tomorrow.  My wife reminded me that working outside is one of the things that refreshes me, so I decided to cut the grass when I arrived home from work.  There something therapeutic about riding the tractor back and forth across my lawn.  I love creating straight lines and cool patterns in my grass, and I always appreciate the way the yard looks after a good mowing.  Tonight, I had to finish cutting the grass with the tractor headlights on so I could see where I was going.  Fall is here and the days are getting shorter.  I don’t exactly like the shorter days, but I do appreciate the different seasons we get to experience here in Pennsylvania.

For dinner tonight, Isaac made crepes.  We first enjoyed dinner crepes with ham and cheese.  Then we pigged out on dessert crepes.  Mine were filled with strawberries, bananas, and whipped cream.  Everyone else in the family put Nutella in their crepes.  This was our first meal together at home in two months since Hannah departed for college.

After a busy day and busy week, it is nice to be home.

If you read my post from yesterday, you’ll know I’m struggling with exhaustion and overcommitment.  In my post, I started to ponder this question:  “What refreshes me?”

After I road the post, Leanne came and sat down on the couch next to me, and she said I looked more relaxed.

One of the things that refreshes me is writing.

I think I forgot this.  Or maybe I have simply allowed other things to crowd out my time for writing.  It’s crazy how we let this happen.  We find something we’re passionate about (like writing).  We go after it for a while, but then other things wedge themselves into our schedules and we forget to keep doing the thing that brings us the most joy and fulfillment.

For me, I haven’t been very consistent lately when it comes to writing.  I’ve been too busy doing other things.  I’ve been too tired to carve out the time to focus on writing.  And I think it’s had an impact on me.

Writing is cathartic.  It restores my soul.  It fills me up.  It helps me process the challenges of life.  And it simultaneously gives me the opportunity to encourage others.

And I’m back at it again tonight – two nights in a row.  Hannah is cleaning up after dinner.  Leanne is working on breakfast for tomorrow morning.  Isaac is practicing the piano for church on Sunday.  And I’m sitting here in my easy chair – writing, listening, and slowly filling up my tank.

This is the day the Lord has made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it.  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.  His mercies never come to an end.  They are new every morning.  I’m thankful for an evening to sit, to reflect, and to relax.

It’s Friday night, and I’m thankful for the weekend.

How do you unwind after a busy week?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

ten-keys-to-achieving-excellence

Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.

Pat Riley

Are you content with mediocre?  Or do you want to live a life that matters?

I chose the second option.

Living a life that matters requires intentional striving for excellence.

Yesterday, we talked about the nine things holding you back from excellence.  Today, let’s look at the keys to making excellence a reality in our lives.

10 Keys to Achieving Excellence

  1. Determine your priorities.  Take time to figure out your priorities.  List them in order from one to ten (or twenty).  For example, here’s an example of what your priorities might look like:  1) God, 2) Me, 3) Spouse, 4) Kids, 5) Health, 6) Job, 7) Family, 8) Friends, 9) Side Hustle, 10) Neighbors.  It’s important to know our priorities to help refine our focus.  If God is really my number one priority, my calendar should reflect this importance.  Making the first things first is part of becoming excellent.
  2. Get sleep.  Exercise.  Take a break.  Excellence requires the best of us.  We prevent ourselves from achieving greatness when we are worn out, exhausted, and out of shape.  Sleep, exercise, and rest will give you the energy to make excellence a reality in your life.
  3. Just say “No.”  Saying no to things that distract us from our ultimate goal is crucial to achieving excellence.  We must create margin in our schedules to pursue the things that really matter most to us.
  4. Get a coach.  A coach will help bring clarity to your life and will push you to excellence.  The wisdom and encouragement of a coach can take you to a whole new level.
  5. Find accountability.  Plug into someone who will ask you the hard questions and will keep you on track to achieve the goals you are pursuing.  Make sure you find someone who is dependable.  Accountability only works when you find someone who will be consistent in asking the tough questions.
  6. Plug into experts.  Who is already doing excellent things in the area(s) you are pursuing.  Talk to them.  Read their material.  Watch their videos.  Find out how they made it to the top of their fields.
  7. Practice.  Practice.  Practice.  If you want to be excellent, you have to put in the practice time.  If you want to be an excellent piano player, practice the piano every day.  If you want to be an excellent writer, write every day.
  8. Create a road map to success.  “If you fail to plan, you should plan to fail.”  I don’t know who said this, but it’s true.  If you want to achieve excellence, you have to put in the time, energy, and effort up front to map out your journey.
  9. Get off the couch and get moving.  Excellence will not come to you.  You have to go get it.  Stop being lazy.  Make your excellent dreams a reality by taking action TODAY!
  10. Keep going.  Don’t get discouraged.  Don’t lose momentum.  Get rid of the obstacles in your life, and press on to the goal for which you are aiming.

Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.

Steve Jobs

If you want to live a life of excellence, it’s time to get going – NOW!

What advice do you have for someone who wants to achieve excellence?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

the-nine-things-holding-you-back-from-excellence

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.

Aristotle

One of my favorite movies as a teenager was Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  It’s a teenage boy movie full of teenage boy humor.  I think that’s why I liked it so much.  I remember seeing the movie with a few of my friends, and the rest of the year we repeated lines from the movie to each other as we went about our activities.

In the movie, “excellent” was a word thrown around by Bill and Ted to describe anything they thought was cool, interesting, or fun.  If the movie had been made a few years ago, it might be called Bill & Ted’s Phat Adventure or Bill & Ted’s YOLO Adventure or something similar.

I like the word excellent or excellence.  Here’s how Wikipedia defines excellence:

Excellence is a talent or quality which is unusually good and so surpasses ordinary standards. It is also used as a standard of performance as measured e.g. through economic indicators.

Excellence is a continuously moving target that can be pursued through actions of integrity, being front-runner in terms of products / services provided that are reliable and safe for the intended users, meeting all obligations and continually learning and improving in all spheres to pursue the moving target.

Excellence doesn’t happen by accident.  It takes planning.  It requires repeated action.  And excellence means constant analysis and adjustment along the way.

I want to be known for going about life with excellence.  Despite this desire, there are several things preventing me from achieving excellence.

9 Things Holding You Back from Excellence

  1. Lack of focus – Excellence is impossible when our mind is concentrating on too many things at the same time.  I want to be an excellent husband, an excellent father, an excellent son, an excellent brother, an excellent grandson, an excellent friend, an excellent employee, an excellent boss, an excellent writer, an excellent speaker, an excellent coach, an excellent runner, an excellent driver, an excellent brewer, an excellent landscaper, an excellent reader, an excellent conference attendee, an excellent mastermind member, an excellent mastermind facilitator, an excellent Toastmaster, an excellent Toastmaster Area Director, an excellent missionary to Guatemala, an excellent leader, an excellent saxophonist, an excellent small group leader, an excellent youth volunteer, an excellent community volunteer, an excellent Eagles and Bears fan, an excellent Phillies and Cubs fan, an excellent Survivor fan, an excellent Amazing Race fan, and the list goes on and on and on.  Things things are great, but it’s hard to be excellent when I’m not focused.
  2. Lack of energy – Excellence is challenging when we lack energy.  I mistakenly believe excellence can be achieved by getting up at 4AM and going to bed at 11PM every day.  I mistakenly believe excellence can be achieved by working every day without rest.  In reality, my ability to successfully pursue excellence declines as I fail to recharge my battery by getting enough sleep and taking a break from time to time.
  3. Lack of time – Excellence won’t happen if we don’t have time for it.  I fill my calendar with activities, meetings, and “commitments” leaving little time for actions which will lead to excellence.
  4. Lack of clarity – Many fail to achieve true excellence in their lives, because they lack purpose, passion, direction, and overall clarity.  If you don’t know where you’re going, you will get their every time.  Too many of us go through life doing what others tell us to do instead of figuring out what we were meant to do.  We chase after things that don’t matter, because we don’t know the difference between “doing good things” and “doing the right things.”
  5. Lack of appropriate input – Excellence may never happen if we don’t get the right input in our lives.  If I want to become an excellent saxophone player, it won’t happen without the right instruction.  I won’t become excellent at playing the saxophone by taking lessons from a beginner drummer who has never even seen a saxophone.  And listening to podcasts about leadership will do little to help me improve when it comes to playing the saxophone.
  6. Lack of appropriate skill development – Excellence doesn’t happen with practice and intentional skill development.  Chances of becoming an excellent public speaker can be improved by listening to polished, professional public speakers, but I won’t become excellent at public speaking unless I work on my speaking skills by practicing, getting feedback, correcting my mistakes, and doing it again and again.
  7. Lack of planning – Excellence doesn’t happen by accident.  I will fail to become an excellent marathon runner without a plan.  I’ll fail to write an excellent book without an idea, an outline, and a plan to get to the final product.  It’s nearly impossible to achieve excellence without intention.
  8. Lack of action – Excellence won’t happen by sitting on the couch.  If I want to run a 5K, I have to get off the couch and run.  If I want to write a book, I have to open my laptop and write.  If I want to dunk a basketball, I have to jump.  Excellence won’t come to us.  We have to go get it!
  9. Lack of repetition – Excellence isn’t a one time event.  Excellence requires repetition.  If I want to write a book, I have to write every day.  If I want to become an excellent husband, I have to work on it every year, every week, and every day.  Too many people miss out on excellence, because they give up after the first attempt.

Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.

Vince Lombardi

Come back tomorrow for thoughts on how you and I can make excellence a reality in our lives.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Philippians 4:8

What’s holding you back from achieving excellence?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

the-influence-you-have-on-others

Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.

Napoleon Hill

You may never know the influence you have on others.

Our words and actions matter, and they have an impact on others even when we don’t know it.

Let me show you what I mean.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a complete stranger.  I want to share the email with you with names removed.

Hi Jon,

I was cleaning out my desk at work yesterday and came across a highlighted note on my bible study notes pages from last year. It had a note out to the side that said “contact this person and tell them that they have made a difference.”  I made this note after walking out of a lunchtime bible study with a man [from another country].  He mentioned that this blog (Jon Stolpe Stretched) was introduced to him by a friend in Philadelphia and was one of the reasons he was interested in learning more about Christianity. He also mentioned the kindness his friend in Philadelphia showed to him was an influence. Our conversation never went into details, I just asked him what influenced him to come to the bible study. He left the company that I work for in San Antonio, Texas shortly after this encounter so I was not able to follow-up more with him. This man is now back in [in his home country] and I have lost track of him but I will always wonder if he ever turned his life over to Christ or influenced others to do the same.
I had no idea what your blog was about but I did know that it positively influenced someone that I met and caused them to want to know Christ.  Thank you for that influence and sorry for not telling you sooner.
After work yesterday, I pulled up your blog and really enjoyed reading the content. If you lived in Texas, I think you would fit in really well. When I clicked the “parenting” section, I saw a nice article about sending your child off to college and this hit home with me because I just sent two of them off myself. I have a daughter that is a senior at Texas A&M University and she wants to be a full-time missionary when she graduates.  My son is a freshman this year at Messiah College in PA.  When I saw that  your daughter was also going to Messiah, I could not believe it.  I promise that my original intent was only to write and encourage a brother in Christ to keep up the good work but I also thought it was neat that our kids go to the same school.  Maybe we can meet sometime at a parent event in Grantham.
God Bless,

Xxxxxx Xxxxxxx

When I read this email, my heart warmed inside.  I’ve been writing my blog for over 9 years.  While I write the blog in part for me, I also hope my words will encourage others.  Admittedly, there are times when I wonder if anyone reads my words and if my words are really stretching anyone.  This email reminded me to keep writing – to keep sharing my reflections here for others and for me.

My words matter.  And so do yours!

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.  Psalm 19:14

What words are you holding inside of you?  What’s stopping you from sharing them with others?  How have you been impacted by the words and actions of others?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

Rediscover The Wonder

September 8, 2016 — 2 Comments

rediscover-the-wonder

Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.

Stephen Hawking

Yesterday morning, I woke up at 4 A.M. (when my alarm went off) with the E.T. movie theme song swirling around in my head.

Why the E.T. soundtrack?

I have no idea.

As I rolled out of bed, I remember thinking about the feeling I first had when I heard that music while Elliot flew his bicycle in front of the moon with E.T. safely tucked in the basket on the front handlebars.  As I watched E.T. for the first time, I experienced a feeling of wonder.

I wonder what it is like to fly.

I wonder how the moon was so full.

I wonder about the possibility of rescuing an extraterrestrial.

Recently, I had this feeling again as I dropped our oldest off at Messiah College for her freshman year.

I wondered again at the feelings of freedom and excitement that clearly shown on my daughter’s face as she prepared to embark on this new journey away from home.

I wondered again at the thought of meeting so many new people and learning so many new things.

And I wondered again at the opportunity to plug into the community offered at a Christian college.

I think we sometimes forget to look through the lens of wonder as we move into adulthood.  We allow our sense of responsibility and our tendency for routine take over.  We forget to look at the world with enthusiasm and zest for life.  This trickles into our relationships and even into our faith.

I like routine, but I don’t want to become complacent as I experience life around me.  I want to approach the world with energy.  I want to take on each relationship and each conversation with a sense of purpose.  And I want to live like me faith is fresh and God’s mercies for me are new every single morning.

I want to live with wonder!

What causes you to wonder?  What part of the world are you seeing with fresh, new eyes?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

 

Labor Day

September 5, 2016 — Leave a comment

LABOR DAY

Labor Day is an American holiday setup to honor the labor movement.  Oregon was the first state to have a Labor Day.  In 1894, Congress passed legislation establishing the first Monday in September as an official national holiday.

Today, most Americans celebrate Labor Day as the end of summer and the beginning o the school year.

Our family will be cleaning out our basement, enjoying a barbecue, and getting ready for the start of school tomorrow.

It’s been a fantastic summer.  Leanne and I traveled to Vermont to celebrate our 20th anniversary.  Hannah and Isaac traveled to Michigan to attend the CIY Move Conference.  Our family journeyed to Guatemala for two weeks to spend time in Santo Domingo Xenacoj.  Hannah started her college experience at Messiah College in Grantham, PA.  Isaac logged many hours of driving as he prepares to take his driver test later this fall.  We enjoyed the visit of many family members and friends as we celebrated Hannah’s high school graduation.

And now, we look forward to the fall.  Leanne starts back to teaching as a substitute teacher in area schools.  Isaac starts his junior year, and he takes the next steps in completing his Eagle Scout project.  Hannah competes in her first year of collegiate cross-country.  And I’m launching the Stretch Man Mastermind.  It should be a wonderful season for our family.

As we take the day off from our normal Monday routine today, we celebrate the summer, we look forward to the fall, and we appreciate the hard work of those who have contributed to making our lives better.

Happy Labor Day!

How are you celebrating the day?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

I Needed That

June 2, 2016 — Leave a comment

I NEEDED THAT

This weekend I did something I needed to do.

I traveled to the Poconos for four days to go camping for the 24th year with my “camping buddies.”  It was so great to spend time with good friends.  We ate.  We fished.  We relaxed.

I did something this weekend that I needed to do.

I left my phone in the car.  I didn’t check email.  I didn’t check Facebook.  I didn’t check Snapchat or any other social media platform.  This is what I needed to do.

I needed to unplug.  I needed to disconnect from the rest of the world.  I needed to let go of the tendency to check my phone every time I had a quiet moment.

Instead, I used the time to read.  I read most of Essentialism by Greg McKeown.  I used the time to reflect.  I used the time to pray.  And I used the time to rest.

I survived.  Four days away from my phone (except to call home once a day) didn’t kill me.  In fact, I came home charged up.  I came home refreshed.  And I came home with a renewed resolve not to let the pressures of trying to keep up with everyone get to me.

I needed that!

Do you have a problem with your phone?  Is your phone (or computer) controlling your life?  What are you going to do about it?