Friday, March 30, 2012

The Power of Focus

Ever had one of those “Balaam’s Ass” moments? You know, where God speaks to you through some of the most unlikely and unexpected ways?

I definitely had one of those moments when I started reading The Power of Focus. The glistening irony is that the book was a gift from the managers of the Real Estate Brokerage that I was just about to quit working for.

Yes, I said “Real Estate Brokerage.” As in, I was working as a REALTOR®. Except that I was about to quit.

Perhaps I should start from the beginning.

Shortly after returning from Mexico last year, I enrolled in the Real Estate Licensing course through the University of British Columbia. The idea was to start a new career that would actually put money IN the bank for us, so that we could address a short-fall in our monthly missionary support that was slowly but surely eroding our house equity.

It was a risk, a gamble for our future, to re-invent myself as a REALTOR®. (It also required a new wardrobe.) We understood that, right from the beginning. And we knew that the current market conditions were, to quote Les Nessman of WKRP, “sucking canal water.” We knew that I needed to be focused.

And so, after nine years of blogging, I decided to create an exit strategy, and wrote two months’ worth of posts to bring robbymac.org to the kind of conclusion that I could be satisfied with.
Nothing would interfere with the demands of my new career.
Not even blogging.
All of the background reading and research that I had been doing for writing on The Kingdom of God (a sort of follow-up to Post-Charismatic?) was consigned to several thick binders and shelved in a remote storage closet.
Nothing would interfere with the demands of my new career.
Not even writing.
My guitars languished in their cases, lonely and abandoned, as the tubes in my amplifiers clouded over in the dust of neglect.
Nothing would interfere with the demands of my new career.
Not even music.
I was focused. I had ruthlessly cut out all the most likely distractions to my new career. Everyone “in the business” knew how tough things were. Weekly sales meetings reinforced the seriousness of the current economic situation in Canada. That’s why our managers gave each of us, at the beginning of 2012, a copy of The Power of Focus.

Ironically, this book functioned as a sort of “Balaams Ass” that would lead to my decision to quit being a REALTOR®.

To be sure, there were outside factors involved:
  1. My (glaring) lack of experience in sales
  2. In our city, I am virtually unknown, which means no connections
  3. The kicker: we simply ran out of money to invest in my being in the business, and therefore
  4. Instead of reducing our debt, I had only managed to dig the hole deeper (oops)
But as I read the first few chapters of this book, I was faced with this question: “What are you naturally brilliant at?” And by “brilliant,” the authors simply meant:
  1. What are you naturally good at, where even with just a minimum of effort, people take notice of your gifts, and
  2. If you invest the additional effort to hone these natural abilities, you can fairly easily become quite proficient—even professional —in these areas
And, in language reminiscent of Strength Finders 2.0, the authors strongly recommend being focused on your areas of giftedness and natural ability, versus the common strategy of working your patookus off, trying to improve your areas of weakness. (Resulting in that you suck a little less in those areas of weakness, while your strengths go undeveloped.)


Forthwith, this sorely vexed me, and lo, I was indeed greatly wroth.

I had just put away all the things that I was most passionate about, and naturally gifted at. This was perplexing and frustrating, because so far in my life, neither had been very rewarding vocationally (meaning: getting out of debt or at least making ends meet). It felt like I was cursed by being gifted at hobbies, not real work skills. (Except that my new career seemed to be even more of a sucking financial vortex than my “hobbies”.)

Then, of course, there were all those biscuits that God seemed to be tossing my way.

So, in what is either an act of faith in God’s provision and being true to myself, or the most outstandingly stupid decision I have made in a journey of nomadic proportions that would make Abraham the Patriarch’s blood run cold, I quit being a REALTOR®.

I am focused. On developing the gifts that God gave me. On using my gifts and abilities for the Kingdom. On seeking to excel at the things that I am actually gifted at.

Wendy says the real test will come when somebody asks me what I do for a living, and I can look them in the eye, and say with all seriousness and self-confidence:

“I... am a writer.”

Saturday, March 24, 2012

God's Biscuits

One of the great things about having children, is that they grow up. And suddenly, you find yourself sitting across the table from them in a coffee-shop, and you are having a deep, meaningful, spiritually encouraging conversation.

After telling my daughter Jo the story of why I was ending my attempted career-shift into being a REALTOR®, I made a joking comment about how the things I was gifted at qualified me to be a starving artist. When Jo saw this saying on a magnet a few days later, she just had to get it for me. It now occupies a place of honour on our refrigerator door.

(Our family does have a certain fondness for tongue-in-cheek, slightly-dark humour.)

I also found myself sharing with my daughter the various unexpected bits of encouragement that I’d been getting over the past couple of weeks. As Wendy and I had begun to notice these seemingly random tidbits of life-giving words, Wendy observed, “It’s almost like God is tossing you some biscuits.”
  • After playing bass at a different church recently, a well-respected musician from the congregation stood up to make an announcement, but prefaced it with words of appreciation for the musicians, pointing out my bass playing in particular.
  • A friend who had been in a worship band with me 15 years ago emailed me out of the blue to say, “I’m not one for ‘titles,’ but you were a real worship pastor, and I wanted to say thanks.”
  • Another former youth group member from twenty years ago found me on BookFace and sent me a message to say thanks for being a youth pastor, and for the impact I’d had on their lives.
  • Yet another former youth group member, from our time as volunteers with George Mercado in the 80’s, emailed to say, God’s been putting you on my heart a lot recently—what can I be praying for you about?”
  • A local couple with whom we’ve enjoyed friendship since the mid-90’s, and who had just finished reading Post-Charismatic, mentioned in passing during a St. Arbucks gathering, “You should be writing more. That’s your gift.”
“Hmm,” mused my daughter Jo, giving me her widest and most innocent blue-eyed stare, “People whose lives youve had an impact on. Music. Writing. What do you think God is trying to tell you, Dad?”
Gee, I dunno... Maybe that having coffee with a wise young woman—clearly her mother’s daughter—might point out obvious things that her old man hadn’t dared consider?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Re: Destination

Travelling is a great way of expanding your horizons, mentally as well as geographically. Destinations outside of your normal life and routine can be exciting and provocative times of seeing things from a different perspective.

But still, there’s something special about that moment when you step back on to home turf, with all of its welcome sights, sounds, smells, bustle, and familiarity.

You can see it in the expressions of those in the waiting area, their gaze searching the incoming stream of humanity for familiar faces approaching. The barely-but-not-quite-contained excitement of young children, eagerly anticipating the sight of grandparents turning the corner and coming down the ramp towards them.

The embraces, the cheerful welcomes, as everyone begins to wander towards the baggage claim area, where even the tedium of the grudgingly slow carousels cannot dampen the delight of happy reunions.

Even the serious expressions of the unaccompanied travelers, briefcases and laptops clutched determinedly as they likewise await the return of their checked overnight bags, speaks of a sense of purpose. They have reached their destination, and they are eager to dive into the purpose for their travel.

In the middle of this sea of humanity, baggage, happy reunions, tearful farewells, connecting flights, arrivals, departures, and buzz of multiple conversations, sits the solitary figure of a writer. With the traditional cup of Tim Horton’s coffee slowly cooling beside him, he contemplates a creative way of announcing his return to blogging.

But in the end, he realizes that a picture is still worth a thousand words: