Ordinary to Extraordinary

In His Majesty’s Secret Service

Mention of the British Secret Service brings to mind images of James Bond. Age probably determines exactly who Bond looks like… Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, etc. Regardless, Bond is always well-dressed, has cool cars, gets to use cool gadgets, and even has cool enemies.

In all likelihood, picturing a British Secret Service agent does not generate an image of C.S. Lewis. This is why fans of Lewis’ — whose most well-known works include The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity — are surprised to find out that Lewis actually was part of the British Secret Service during WWII.

WWII Turning Point

The details of Lewis’ recruitment to the British Secret Service remain a mystery. However, some interesting facts exist regarding the unique role he played.

  • Lewis’ public speaking prowess made him better-suited for his assignment than his contemporary J.R.R. Tolkien, who actually had a better knowledge base for the job than Lewis.
  • Lewis was tasked to “help win the hearts of the Icelandic people” and thus secure Britain’s presence in Iceland for the remainder of WWII.
  • With a speech to the Icelandic people, Lewis “provided a touchstone between the Norse people and the English” that essentially accomplished this goal.

Knowing a little background about Iceland’s role in WWII is helpful in realizing the significance of what Lewis did as a Secret Service agent.

  • April 1940 — Germans invaded Norway and Denmark. British troops counter the Germans in Norway but were too late to do so in Denmark.
  • May 1940 — Germans invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and France.
  • May 1940 (Same morning of above invasion) — British troops invaded Iceland, a strategic location for a naval and air base in the Atlantic region.

The British needed to remain in Iceland in order to help defeat the Germans, but they needed the cooperation of the Icelandic people to accomplish this.

“Though British control of Iceland was critical, Britain could not afford to deploy its troops to hold the island when greater battles loomed elsewhere, beginning with the struggle for North Africa. Holding Iceland depended on the goodwill of the people of Iceland who never had asked to be invaded by the British. If Britain retained Icelandic goodwill, then Churchill could occupy the island with reserve troops rather than his best fighting forces.” (C.S. Lewis Was a Secret Government Agent)

Lewis’ speech, “The Norse Spirit in English Literature,” to the Icelandic people helped turn the tide of war. Britain won their favor and were able to remain in Iceland. This presence was critical to winning the war.

Unexpected Service

Personally, I love the idea of this great literary scholar and lay theologian — and one of my favorite authors — also being an agent for the British Secret Service. Not only does it make for great conversation, it also provides a terrific illustration of Scripture.

“A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men.” (Proverbs 18:16)

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.” (1 Corinthians 12:4)

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” (Romans 12:6)

Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)

Lewis put his literary talents to work in an unexpected way and ended playing a major role in defeating the Germans in WWII. Yet, Lewis never touted this involvement that we know of. It appears he simply allowed himself to serve the greater good.

The work Lewis was given to do as a Secret Service agent, was directly in tune with his talents and abilities. In fact, his well-known voice is once of the reason he was likely chosen for the task since it would increase the likelihood of the Icelandic people listening to the message.

Uniquely Crafted

Learning that C.S. Lewis was a British Secret Service agent encourages me. It tells me that God can and does use the talents and abilities He gives us in obvious as well as unexpected ways. On the days when I wonder about my own usefulness, stories like these remind me to always be ready for any type of service.

Stories like this one also remind me that God uniquely crafts and genuinely calls every person. Like Lewis, I get to spend my days applying the gifts and abilities God gave me and at the same time staying ready for a call out of my ordinary and into the extraordinary.

Full Commitment

Cultural Commitment

Ask almost anyone over the age of 60 about commitment, and they’ll tell of a time when, “Your word was your bond.” If asked, they’ll explain that if a person said he would do something, he could be counted on to do it. Sure, there were those who did not follow through, but they were the exception.

Today’s culture looks very different. A person’s word is rarely fully trusted even when it is actually fully trustworthy.

In a culture where selfishness and greed seem to dominate, a fog of mistrust covers almost every relationship at least to some degree. Unfortunately, that’s because not keeping a commitment is almost acceptable, or at least not protested much.

Instead of accepting this cultural trend, let’s build trust in a way that can be a catalyst for change. Let’s be examples of trustworthy commitment with regard to work, family and faith.

Work Commitment

For children and teens, work means their effort in sports and school. For adults, commitment to work may involve a job, but it includes other areas like volunteering too.

Commitment to work, really, means fully giving the effort needed to accomplish a task to the best of one’s ability. It involves the following core principles:

  • Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.
  • Do what you know is right. You only control yourself and no one else.

Be someone others can depend upon regardless of whether or not others are reliable.

Family Commitment

Family commitment revolves more around connection than activity. In fact, over-commitment to activity actually works against connection.

Commitment to family involves letting go of self and entering into a habitual preferring of others not out of obligation but out of love. It also means bringing the best of yourself to every situation.

Commitment to family also involves placing a spouse above others (yes, even kids). Remember, this is the one earthly relationship that most closely relates to the relationship we are to have with Christ.

Faith Commitment

Commitment to faith in Christ surrounds and permeates all other areas of commitment. How a person commits to the call of Christ on their life determines how commitment exists in every other area, including family and work.

We also must remember that faith is not yet another commitment to be balanced. Instead, faith in Christ is the scale that balances all other areas.

Consider the following when evaluating your commitment to Christ. How do your answers reflect your commitment in all areas of life?

  • Are you willing and ready to arise and be His voice, whatever and wherever?
  • Has Christ won your heart? If He truly has, are you running after Him and following His lead?
  • Would you lay down your life for Christ? What are you willing to sacrifice for Him?
  • Have you committed fully to the Lord? Are you allowing Him to pour you out as He sees fit?
  • How has Christ’s love changed you? Will you go and be where He wants? Do what He wants?
  • Will you follow the path He chooses and leads you down?

Answering these questions not only determines how your commitment plays out in the areas of faith, work and family, but it also determines the character with which you live your whole life.

Complete Commitment

We live in a culture where keeping commitments seems optional more often than not. However, while we are in this culture, we don’t have to be of this culture.

“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

As we commit more fully to Christ and increasingly give our lives to Him, commitments in other areas of our lives become more complete too. While we may live in a culture where selfishness is rampant, we must continually remind ourselves that we do not belong to the world. We belong to a Savior who deserves our complete and total commitment.

 

Defeating Discouragement

Promise of Deliverance

After about 400 years of being in Egypt, God sends Moses to deliver the Israelites. The Egyptians respond to Moses’ announcement by increasing the work the Israelite slaves had to do each day.

After this, God tells Moses to remind the Israelites that He promised to deliver them. He tells Moses to remind them about His covenant with them (Exodus 6:2-4). Unfortunately, the Israelites do not respond positively to this reminder.

“So Moses told the people what the Lord had said, but they wouldn’t listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the increasing burden of their slavery.” (Exodus 6:9)

Their present circumstances so discouraged them, they could no longer hear God.

Defeated by Discouragement

We too can become so discouraged (beaten down in spirit) because of what we see as impossible burdens that we cannot hear from God anymore.

An unsaved loved one. A rebellious child. Bad luck. Lack of progress. Physical illness. Mental illness.

The circumstances of life can wear us down and often lead to us no longer hearing God. As the discouragement increases, we sometimes become convinced it will never end.

Or, we might still hear God speaking, but we let those who are discouraged impact our response to His voice.

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go back to Pharaoh, and tell him to let the people of Israel leave Egypt.’

‘But Lord!’ Moses objected. ‘My own people won’t listen to me anymore. How can I expect  Pharaoh to listen? I’m no orator!’ (Exodus 6:10-12)

To many, staying enslaved seems easier than going through the process leading to freedom. Getting out from under discouragement is hard work, and the unknown often feels more uncomfortable than the known even if the known is not good.

Defeating Discouragement

When we get too easily taken up by our troubles that we no longer believe God’s promises, discouragement has the upper hand. But Scripture offers several steps for getting out from under the blinding burden of discouragement.

  1. Admit dependence. Realize you can do nothing without God. (John 15:5 & Psalm 62:5)
  2. Focus on facts over feelings. Feelings are often blind guides. Refuse to indulge them and always remember that focus determines reality. (2 Corinthians 1:20 & 4:17-18)
  3. Receive comfort. Don’t deprive yourself of the comfort God makes available through His Word and His divine care and direction. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 & John 14:26)

The fact is that discouragement often grows before it dissipates. That’s life. It’s also why we cannot depend on ourselves or our feelings to relieve our discouragement.

“In the process of deliverance, things often get worse before they get better. ‘Anguish of spirit and cruel bondage’ (Exodus 5:9) often restricts us from hearing and receiving what would help us live.” (Dick Brogden, Live Dead Joy, January 19th)

Refuse to let circumstances steal your focus. Refuse to let feelings dictate activity. Choose to live based on the secure and enduring promises of God.

Learn To Single-Task Again

tolkein-bread-quoteIn 2010, I crashed and burned mentally. The official diagnosis involved adrenal fatigue, and many factors led to my state of exhaustion.

One of the biggest involved having too many commitments and going in too many directions. A constantly-divided focus led to a state of overwhelm and overload.

To recover and heal, I gave up a lot of poor habits and replaced them with healthier ones. That’s the only way to really heal from adrenal fatigue.

One area needing a major overhaul involved my belief in multitasking as an operating system. The Toxic Impact of Multitasking needed eliminated. Its replacement? Learning to single-task again.

The Brain’s Desire

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Our brains want to think deeply and creatively. As any multi-tasker knows, neither is possible with any consistency when your brain tries to focus on a multitude of different tasks at the same time. Instead, we end up reacting to life and living only a surface-level existence.

But, as Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., tells Forbes, with concerted effort…

Anyone can leave the “chaotic addiction of multitasking behind” and see “immediate and immense” benefits as well as an increase in creativity, energy and focus.

I’m living proof of this truth.

Single Tasking Habits

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In addition to recommending adequate rest and exercise, Chapman gives three steps to reestablish single-tasking as a habit.

  1. Give your brain down time. Build in breaks throughout your day, and be sure to take at least a yearly extended break (called a vacation in case it’s been so long you forgot). Like a muscle, our brains need time to rest and recuperate. Ever feel like you make poorer decisions as the day goes on? We must choose to combat Decision Fatigue if we have any hope of not falling prey to its talons of dumb… bad… stupid… decisions.
  2. Focus deeply & eliminate distractions. Just like a person can’t go from couch to 5k instantly, deep focus needs worked up to as well. I certainly recognize that distractions find us all too easily. But with practice, we can develop the ability to focus deeply and attract fewer distractions. The more you reduce multitasking, the more you’ll excel at focusing.
  3. Make a to-do list. A to-do list kept a crash and burn at bay for many years and keeps me from regressing more often still today. Not only a tool to promote focus, a to-do list is also a terrific way to track progress. Remember too that you’ll get better at making and using to-do lists as you perfect what works best for you.

Commit to Change

Make a choice to break your multitasking addiction and instead to work toward a singe-tasking life. Be stubbornly determined to do so. Once the benefits begin, your belief in what Chapman claims and what my own experiences show, will increase.

As with any change, commit to it to make it work. Alter daily habits and admit that the way you’re working now isn’t the best option and that maybe you can trust the example of those who have gone before you on this journey.

The Toxic Impact of Multitasking

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My Multitasking Mistake

On a recent work task, I completed what I thought fell precisely in line with my directives. Instead, what I thought I needed to do was completely wrong. Not even close, actually. The mistake devastated me and threatened to send me into a dark, self-deprecating pit.

After the emotions wore off and I quit trying to blame someone else, I thought about my mistake and what led to it. Essentially, I performed a mental root cause analysis. I first tried to credit the error to the general excuse of miscommunication but realized that just lets everyone involved off the hook and doesn’t help much. So, in all honesty, I admitted that the cause of the mistake fell solely on myself, more specifically, on my attempt to multitask.

Instead of putting my full attention into a planning meeting, I got distracted by other tasks. The worst part? Well, there are two worst parts, actually. First, I wrote down the correct task needing completed. I just didn’t look at my notes because I failed to even remember I took them. Second, I thought this type of mistake existed only as a habit broken long ago. Clearly not.

The mistake serves as a reminder about the importance of maintaining focus, which impacts reality in significant ways.

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Focus Determines Reality

Not only does what you focus on determine the direction you take, but how many tasks you focus on does too. Focusing on multiple tasks at once divides and weakens your attention and productivity. It diminishes the quality of your efforts and slows overall progress.

Multitasking — originally a computer term — is technically impossible for humans. Our brains actually task flip, but it happens so quickly we can’t tell the difference. Computers can process several tasks at once. Humans cannot. Instead, as Jon Hamilton on NPR Morning Addition explains:

“Even simple tasks can overwhelm the brain if we try to do them all at once.”

“We frequently overestimate our ability to handle multiple tasks.”

I thought I’d beaten this bad habit of multitasking that contributed to my overwhelm and overload so many years ago and created the mediocre quality that eventually crept into every area of my life. And while it’s not fully returned, this backslide served to remind me of habits I need to refresh and reestablish if I am to maintain a right focus that in turn establishes the reality I desire for my life.

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The Mental Impact of Multitasking

In Why Single-Tasking Makes You Smarter, Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., calls multitasking toxic because it drains the brain, zaps cognitive resources and promotes early mental decline. Multitasking also decreases sharpness and increases cortisol, which can damage the memory center of the brain.

And those are just the long-term consequences. In the short term, multitasking overloads the brain, makes you less efficient, keeps thoughts at surface level and causes mistakes to occur more frequently.

Honestly, before experiencing the difference between a life filled with multitasking and one more oriented toward single-tasking, I did not buy into what Chapman asserts. Now, I realize the truth in how multitasking consumes a person’s mental resources to the point of almost complete ineffectiveness.

What toxic evidence of multitasking do you see in your life?

Next week we’ll explore the benefits of single-tasking and look at some basic habits to help get there.

Tinsel – Not Just for Decoration!

tinselCreating Memories

One of my boys’ favorite Christmas movies is “The Santa Clause” starring Tim Allen. Toward the end of the movie, some of the elves help Santa escape from jail using tinsel to cut the hinges off the cell door, and one of them says,

“Tinsel. Not just for decoration.”

My boys love this part of the movie. In fact, we quote it often this time of year mainly because of the overwhelming presence of tinsel in our house.

Growing up, my family always put tinsel on our tree as the final touch. When I got married, my husband protested against the tinsel because it got everywhere. Though I couldn’t argue with him, I also just couldn’t part with the tinsel.

Reasons for Tinsel

First, my tree simply looks naked without tinsel. Beyond that, this tradition produces such good memories that Christmas seems incomplete without it.

Tinsel also provides a year-round reminder of Christmas. My husband finds tinsel annoying not just because it gets everywhere, but also because we still find remnants of it in August. Just another way to experience Christmas joy year-round.

Finally, tinsel hides the ornaments I dislike. My husband has this one ornament he insists on placing front and center on our tree. I can’t stand the thing (Sorry Dallas Cowboy fans!). So, I hide it with tinsel. This good-natured fun creates some of the best Christmas memories.

The point?

There are two, actually. First, have fun and enjoy Christmas not just during the Christmas season but year round too. Second, don’t miss out on those small opportunities to create those memories. After all, it’s usually the small events and moments that add up and combine to make a significant impact on your life.

What fun Christmas traditions help bond your family and provide small opportunities that add up to make a difference year round?

How to… Enjoy Family Vacation & Come Back Closer Than Ever

As soon, and often before, our family vacations are over, our boys usually are planning our next vacation. Even at 11 and 13, they prefer being with their parents on vacation than at home with their friends. Not sure if that’s normal or not, but I love it. We work very hard as a family to make sure our times away strengthen and bond us, and the following tips are the building blocks of how we structure our vacations for this purpose. These points also help make vacations relaxing, which for me, needs to happen in order for the bonding to happen too.

  1. Know everyone’s priority. Depending on how long you will be on vacation, have each person prioritize activities. Then, do your best to make sure at least one of the tope items on every person’s list gets done. (Keep in mind that having several options is important.) We often spend time prior to leaving on vacation researching options while we plan our vacation as well as most of the first day of vacation deciding activities.
  2. Look at free/ low cost options. We love to visit state parks, national monuments and other free/low cost activities when on vacation. This gets us outside more and allows us to learn about the area we are visiting. On our last vacation, we spent a day hiking in a state park, visiting the fish hatchery and touring the DNR facility. These were all free activities and a lot of fun. Don’t forget to check out the local coupons for tourists too to help keep costs down.
  3. Immerse in local culture. We enjoy reading about the culture of our destination and then visiting some of the places we read about. We learn a lot about history and have fun quizzing each other on it. Local culture activities not only are usually the least expensive but are also often free.
  4. Have a flexible budget. My husband sets a budget for us and then monitors it as we plan activities. Utilizing the coupons that most destinations offer for tourists helps a lot in sticking to our budget. We also can enjoy activities without feeling guilty and wondering how we’ll pay for the vacation after it’s over.
  5. Schedule down time. My ideal vacation involves lots of reading and coffee time. Down time for reading and relaxing is my top priority on vacation, and my family knows this. They’ve also come to enjoy these times for themselves as well. We schedule plenty of time to rest, so the times spent out and about can be more enjoyable (i.e. no sore feet for me). We take movies to watch and games to play as a family for our down time, which usually makes up half of our vacation time.
  6. Avoid time. While I don’t wear a watch as a general rule, my husband also ditches his on vacation. Our oldest son enjoys being our “time keeper,” so we always know we can ask him if needed. Most of the time, though, we avoid worrying about the time. Having a week where time doesn’t matter is very refreshing. We eat when we’re hungry and sleep when we’re tired.
  7. Consider a kitchen. We stay in a time-share condominium on most vacations. Having a kitchen is a huge money saver, and it helps avoid unwanted weight gain that often comes with vacation. Many hotels have rooms with kitchens or kitchenettes, and they are well worth the extra money.

I know I don’t have all the answers when it comes to vacations, and know everyone’s situation is unique. But, I do know that what I have suggested here as well as in the rest of the series has made family vacations into great bonding times as well as low stress times for my family. All I can do is offer what works for me, and I pray that it stimulates you to explore what works for you to have vacations that draws you closer together as a family. Being deliberate about the structure of your vacation really will you to grow closer together as a family and to truly relax at the same time.

DISCUSSION: What are your suggestions for enjoying vacation and growing closer as a family?

Resources:

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