Personal Disciplines and COVID-19

Advance confidently in the direction of your dreams…even when it hurts.

Let me begin by stating, unequivocally, that the COVID-19 pandemic is a serious health risk that will take all of us to stem its spread while medical health professionals frantically work for a vaccination. Nothing that follows is intended to diminish the plight of those that are suffering from this dangerous virus.

Still, the shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders that so many of us are currently dealing with present an interesting opportunity for those of us that remain healthy. Our daily routines have been interrupted. We’re no longer commuting into our office. We’re no longer eating lunch at our desks. Many of us are not even able to perform our normal job functions while others are working remotely.

The silver lining is that our daily routines have been interrupted. For many of us, our daily routines aren’t purposeful, they aren’t disciplined, and they aren’t helping us get where we want to be. We move through our days without intention, drinking the same things, eating the same things, moving in the same way, consuming the same media, all without ever evaluating why we do the things we do. Since our worlds have been disrupted, we have a chance to form new habits and routines in a scale that would otherwise be challenging.

To speak plainly, we will all exit this COVID-19 event differently than we entered it. You have a choice. Do you want to be stronger than when you began or weaker? More or less healthy? Smarter or dumber? These seem like very judgmental statements and maybe I intend them to be. Our bodies, our minds, our relationships, our parishes, our businesses…none of it stays static. Either you’re moving closer to where you want to be or further away. There is no staying in place.

In the normal course of our lives, stopping an old habit or beginning a new one is difficult. Our daily routines are hard to change because our habits are so deeply ingrained. Everything about our days conspires to keep us in the well trodden track in which we live our lives. But today? Today we’re not in our old track, we’re quietly creating a new one because we’re at home, with our kids, trying to figure out how to “work from home.” So, let’s take advantage of this time and build some new personal disciplines that allow us to advance confidently in the direction our of dreams.

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal law will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings – Henry David Thoreau

Now, please understand, I am not suggesting that you should expect to be transformed overnight. You won’t. Instead I am suggesting the adoption of small, daily disciplines that help you move forward. I’ve written elsewhere about success being about the process and not the destination. That couldn’t be more true with personal disciplines.

The following is a list of areas that I think are important areas to be pursuing, but you might have something in addition to these in mind.


Too many of us live sedentary, inactive lives. You’re heavier than is healthy and you’re stacking up risk factors. You’ve convinced yourself that you don’t look that bad and, look at everyone else… I’ll give it to you straight. Americans on average are fat and your reference point is skewed. According to the CDC the average weight of Americans has increased by 15 lbs in the last 20 years. Does that seem like a healthy statistic? Maybe you’re thinking I’m talking about someone else. Can you climb a flight of stairs without becoming winded? Two flights?

So, what can you do? Start small but start. Again, your daily routines have been interrupted and are ripe for change. Add a 30 minute walk everyday. Everyday. Just start there. If you’re feeling ambitious and want to do more, there are great body weight workout programs being offered online right now. Check out Ben Bergeron’s Instagram feed or Spartan’s Unbreakable page. These are programs designed to get you off the couch and moving without the need for gym equipment.


I’ll raise my hand and admit it. I don’t drink enough water and I’m willing to bet neither do you. Take this time of disruption, when no one is watching, to make sure you’re drinking at least a gallon of water each day. That sounds like a lot, especially when you aren’t used to it, but it really isn’t. Water is important for healthy functioning of your brain, your kidneys, your liver, basically everything and you probably aren’t getting enough. What you probably are getting is other beverages that contain sugar and calories. So, start small but start drinking more water instead of the other stuff.


Like water, nutrition is vitally important to our overall health and well being. If your diet comes from the center isles of the grocery store, you’re primarily consuming what I call “factory foods.” These are highly processed food like substances and aren’t what your body needs to perform at its best. Ditch that stuff for real food. Yes, I know grocery stores aren’t well stocked right now. Do the best you can but focus on fresh produce and fresh meat. What’s that? You don’t like vegetables? This isn’t about what you do and don’t like. It isn’t. This is about providing your body with the fuel it needs so you can perform at your highest level possible for as long as possible so get over yourself.

What I will admit though, is that its far easier to have factory foods on hand than it is to have fresh things. You will have to plan just a little bit into the future. Plan a day or two or seven in advance and ensure you know ahead of time what you’ll eat and have made preparations for it. Standing in the pantry searching for something that appeals to you is a recipe (pardon the pun) for disaster. In fact, many of us are spending more time snacking while we’re working from home than we would working from the office. That needs to stop too. A solution for boredom isn’t cruising the kitchen for Pringles. The solution is a walk, a glass of water, and an apple.


Just like exercise, water, and good nutrition, sleep is something incredibly important for our health and well being and most of us aren’t getting enough of it because we don’t prioritize it. Sleep is vital to our physical recovery and mental well being but most of us tend to treat it like a nuisance. Binge watching Netflix until 2 AM and dragging all the next day isn’t moving you in the direction of your dreams. Instead, make a plan that gets you in bed at a reasonable hour so you get 7 – 9 hours of sleep. You’ll also find that if you go to bed on time, you’re likely to get up on time too.


Many people don’t think of relationships in terms of personal discipline but they should because healthy relationships are an important part of overall health and well being. During this time of disruption we run the risk of weakening relationships, particularly with those we don’t live with, simply because of lack of proximity. I challenge you to be proactive about strengthening your relationships during this time. Set aside a little time everyday, maybe just 5 minutes a day, to write an email or an actual letter to someone who’s relationship is important to you. Better yet, call them. Set aside time each day to spend with your significant other to listen to what they have to say. At some point our lives will resume the cadence they had before the pandemic began. Make sure you’re relationships are stronger when they do.


What are you reading right now? Use this time to cultivate a habit of daily reading that makes you smarter, better informed, better educated. I am not talking about reading news articles about the Republicans and Democrats latest squabbles. I’m talking about books that teach you something you always wanted to know. Books that deepen your understanding of your chosen career field. Articles that allow you to dip your toe into subjects you’ve always been curious about but never stopped exploring.

This is the time to rekindle the life long learner inside you.


Mindset is important but in someways difficult to describe. I’m referring to the lens through which we view the world but also the way in which we talk to ourselves. Sometimes we go through periods where we see the world through a lens of lack, rather than a lens of abundance. All we can see is what we don’t have rather than what we do; what we cannot accomplish rather than what we can. We talk to ourselves in such a way that if a stranger on the street used the same words with us, we’d be in a fight in no time. We compare ourselves to others…sometimes to people we don’t even know, like, or respect…rather than looking at how far we’ve come.

We’re made for more than that though. Even in our darkest moments there is always something for which to be grateful. We were made by a God who is incredibly generous and wants more for us than we can ask our imagine.

Spend time working on your mindset everyday. Meditate using a guided app like Headspace. Journal. Spend time in gratitude. Read scripture. Pray.

Want to read more about these ideas? Check out these books:

What I want during this time of global disruption and uncertainty is for all of us to come out of the other side healthier, stronger, smarter, and happier. I want us to use this time to become a better version of who God has created each of us to be. I encourage you to be purposeful and be creative and move in the direction of your dreams. You can do this.

Churches and COVID-19

St. Helena’s Episcopal Church, Boerne, TX

Much ink has been spilled in recent weeks as Americans come to grips with what much of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East have been dealing with for months. Coronavirus or COVID-19 is a global pandemic and, in all probability, is something that we will be dealing with, both socially and economically, for the next several months, at least.

This presents a series of interesting challenges and opportunities for faith communities*. To begin with, how do you maintain and even deepen your community if you cannot physically gather? If this event is over in a matter of weeks, then maybe it isn’t a big deal. But think about what you’ll have to do if it lasts for months or quarters.

You should be thinking about regular contact with your congregation through phone calls, emails, and post cards. In my experience everyone is simply hungry for information right now so over communicate. Under communication leaves people to wonder and worry. Also, don’t rely on one channel like Facebook. As effective as that, or any other medium is, you will have people in your congregation who don’t use it. If your parish uses small groups, enlist them as communication tools as well. Alternatively, if everyone in your congregation is responsible for communicating with and checking on two or three other families, you’ll be that much more ahead of the game. The point is you cannot take your normal means and cadence of communication for granted.

Your worship will need to change too. I know of congregations that sent out a Morning Prayer PDF to their members. I know of others that did Morning Prayer on YouTube. If you’re in a particularly small church maybe a worship conference call would work. There really is no wrong response other than no response at all. I would also encourage you to be thinking more broadly than just Sunday morning worship. How do you maintain mid-week Bible studies or youth groups? What about Mornings for Moms or the men’s fellowship? It is not only possible, but I would argue imperative, that you figure out how to keep these things going albeit in a different form than before. I know of several wineries that are doing virtual tastings. If they can figure this out…so can you. If you have no idea where to begin, start with ideas and resources the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas has provided HERE.

Another area where you will need to be creative and think like a risk manager is your parish’s finances. To begin with, people are used to putting their pledge in the offering plate and, as surprising as this may seem, may not automatically be looking for a way to make their gift if they’re not physically present at the church. Ideally you already have a way for members to make donations electronically. If not, that probably isn’t the first thing I would try to solve, but I would try to solve it. Explore Paypal or other online payment sources. You’ll also need to enlist whoever manages your website.

More importantly though, you need to remind your members of the importance of the offerings, not once but over and over again. Even when we can’t gather in person, your church budget is mostly fixed expenses that still have to be met. Insurance, utility bills, clergy salaries, and other expenses don’t just stop. So, remind your members of the importance of their gift and suggest ways they can make the offering like electronic payments, mailed checks, or checks dropped by the church office. This is an opportunity for you to teach about stewardship in a different way. Take advantage of it.

If the pandemic persists for an extended period you and your church leadership will also need to take a hard look at planned expenditures. I expect the economic fallout from COVID-19 to be deep and lasting. In all probability some of your congregation simply will not be able to fulfill their annual pledges. They want to and would if they could, but now they’re unemployed. Now their business is suffering. Now their retirement portfolio has lost a third (or more) of its value. Your parish needs to take a proactive approach to these risks and determine which parts of the budget, if any, can be postponed. Maybe an improvement project needs to be delayed. Maybe you can make that old copier that jams on every fourth page last a little longer. The point is this is an event which requires flexibility and adaptation across all facets of our lives, including the stewardship of your church.

I would encourage you also, to think about what your parish life will be like when we’ve passed through COVID-19 and things return to “normal”, whatever that means in the future. What do you want your church to be? What do you want your parish to have experienced? What do you want them to have known? Can you look back and know that you found a new way to live out your mission statement? At the risk of overstating this event, I think we could be in this phase of self-isolation or social distancing for many months. If we are not intentional about the outcomes we could find ourselves somewhere we never wanted to be. On the other hand, if we ARE intentional, we could find ourselves somewhere we never dreamed. Christ is in our midst, as He always is. Never despair, never fear, and never lose hope.

You and your parish are not alone. Reach out to other clergy and churches in your area. We’re all going through the same event and we don’t have to solve these challenges in isolation. Additionally, if I can be of assistance to you in any way, don’t hesitate to ask.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, sooth the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen – from the service of Compline, The Book of Common Prayer

*This post is written towards churches but the same principals apply for small businesses. You’re going to have to get creative to maintain and deepen your customer base. Feel free to use the contact form if you’d like to discuss a specific challenge with which you’re dealing.

The Future Path of Interest Rates

Someone I work with recently asked me if it was a good time to refinance their mortgage or if they were better off waiting for a bit. This is really two questions the first of which is, are interest rates likely to move lower, stay the same, or move higher than they are now? The second question is, do I have an economic incentive to refinance? These really are two distinct questions so I’ll address them in two different blog posts.

The first question is indeed a loaded one, packed with economic and political information and biases. The most recent rising interest rate cycle that began in December 2015 was brought to a screeching halt when the Federal Open Market Committee lowered the Fed Funds Target Rate on August 3, 2019.

Fed Funds Target Rate – Last 5 Years

That’s not totally accurate though. When the “Fed lowers interest rates” they really only directly control the Fed Funds Target Rate which isn’t even a real rate. It’s the rate at which the FOMC thinks major money center banks should lend to one another on an overnight basis, but when those banks do lend to one another, they do so at the Fed Funds Effective Rate…not the Target Rate. It’s slightly more nuanced than that, but not much.

The reality is there are lots of interest rates out there, virtually all of which are market driven. For purposes of our discussion, that is refinancing a residential mortgage, the most important rates are Treasuries and, of those, we’re really interested in the long end of the yield curve or Treasury rates with maturities from 10 years to 30 years since those are the base rates for most fixed rate mortgages. Here’s a graph of the 10 Year US Treasury over the last 5 years, the same period as the graph above.

10Y US Treasury – Last 5 Years

Is that weird? This graph shows the 10Y Treasury peaked on November 8, 2018, almost nine months before the FOMC started lowering interest rates?

It turns out that interest rates move around based on lots of things and, despite what the financial news media and President Trump seem to think, the Fed and Jay Powell only have a relatively small part to play.

Interest rates are really the yield on fixed income securities. They generally pay a rate of interest that’s contractual, but the price paid for the security determines what the yield is. One of the quirks of fixed income is that the higher the price, the lower the yield and vice versa, and just because a fixed income security was issued to pay a 5.00% rate of interest doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what the investor will receive. If investors are willing to pay more for a bond than it was worth when it was issued, the yield on the bond will drop, from 5.00% to 4.00%, perhaps. Said differently, if a bond was issued at a higher rate of interest than that available in the market today, investors will pay more for it and the yield will drop to the current market level. In this way, fixed income investors are always earning and simultaneously determining what the market rate of interest is for holding a security of a given term.

So, what would drive an investor to pay more or less for a fixed income security at one point in time versus another? Lots of factors including the current and expected health of the economy in the investor’s home country and abroad, fears or optimism about the stock market, fears or optimism about trade wars, and expectations about what the FOMC will or won’t do, just to name a few. But didn’t we already say that the Fed only has so much power? Again, it’s nuanced.

Without getting too wonky, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee has a “dual mandate” to 1) maintain stable prices (i.e. keep inflation low and stable), and 2) to maintain full employment. Managing the direction of interest rates through the Fed Funds Target Rate is one of, if not the, primary tool used by the FOMC to effect this dual mandate. Lower rates are viewed as more “accommodative” and tend to be used to stimulate the economy. Higher rates are “tighter” or less accommodative and tend to be used to cool an overheating economy. The FOMC also buys bonds. Sometimes a lot of bonds and over the last many years they’ve bought a lot of bonds with fairly long maturities. As I noted before, if you’re willing to continue buying bonds at any price, you’ll eventually push long term interest rates lower and this is exactly what the FOMC has been doing since they first kicked off Quantitative Easing in late 2008. Yet another and, in my opinion underappreciated, tool of the FOMC is their language, both formal and informal. Don’t ever assume that anything said by a member of the Federal Open Market Committee, in a speech, in a press conference, or being interviewed anywhere at any time, is an accident.

So, after what seems like a digression, we come back to the initial question about the future path of interest rates. Normally when the FOMC raises interest rates they do so because inflation is beginning to increase in measurable and concerning ways. The higher interest rates make credit more expensive and theoretically slows capital investments, ultimately bringing inflation back in line.

That isn’t why the FOMC began raising rates in 2015 though. They began raising rates because they believed the US economy was strong enough to not be derailed by slightly higher rates and the FOMC’s ability to lower rates is their primary weapon against a slowing economy. Rates were so low in 2015 that the FOMC felt the need to raise rates in case they needed to lower them again. It seems crazy but post Great Recession was and is crazy times for monetary policy. That first rate increase in December 2015, followed by a handful of others over the following 3 and a half years or so was simply the FOMC stock piling a little dry powder.

What the FOMC did not anticipate was the stock market’s growing negative sentiment and a US President who can’t stay off Twitter and is perfectly willing to enact a full scale verbal assault on the man who arguably has the most impact on the US economy and, by design, is in an apolitical role.

S&P 500 – Last 5 Years

After peaking in September 2018 at a little over 2900, the S&P 500 cratered over the following weeks to a low of around 2350 on Christmas Eve for no real reason other than a temper tantrum. Yes, the stock market has steadily recovered since that time but President Trump has relentlessly pounded the FOMC in general and Jay Powell in particular with such quips as,

July 5, 2019 – “Our most difficult problem is not our competitors, it is the Federal Reserve.”

July 26, 2019 – 2.1% GDP is “not too bad considering we have the very heavy weight of the Federal Reserve anchor wrapped around our neck.”

Aug. 14, 2019 – “China is not our problem, though Hong Kong is not helping. Our problem is with the Fed. Raised too much & too fast. Now too slow to cut.”

I love the capital markets. I really do. But these comments from the President are just fuel for the frat boy fire and so now the FOMC finds itself in the position of lowering rates, “to sustain the expansion.” Instead of lowering rates because the economy is slowing down, they’re lowering rates to keep the party going. Most US economic indicators, including the stock market, remain pretty good and most of the news coverage about a pending recession seems way overblown if not downright absurd to me. On the other hand, if you talk about it long enough the markets will begin to believe it and add the ever-present risk of a trade war and a Twitter happy President and you have the makings of several really interesting quarters.

So, are interest rates going lower? My guess is that the FOMC cuts tomorrow (Sept. 18) and maybe one more time but will be really reluctant to do more without clear evidence that the economy is slowing down. I also think that the long end of the yield curve is way overbought, even with the pull back of the last week to 10 days, and yields may have bottomed. All of this assumes that we do not in fact have a geopolitical event like a full-blown trade war.

 Thinking of refinancing your mortgage? Now may be the best time to do so. I can’t guarantee they won’t go lower but I do think we’ll be at these levels for awhile.

In the next post I’ll take on whether or not you should refinance or how to think about the economic incentives.

Please feel free to post your comments, either in support or contradictory to what I’ve written. I’d love the feedback.

What is Your Vision?

When we begin working together, the first question I am likely to ask is, “What is your vision?” Whether you’re a church or a small business, I want to understand what it is you are trying to do and, just as importantly, why you’re trying to do it. Before we ever begin to discuss your financial situation you must be crystal clear about your vision going forward.

If you are a church, clarity of vision is required so your congregation understands how they are to engage; how they can give sacrificially of their lives in support of your vision for serving God’s people wherever you are. It will also be the litmus test for your programs and your budget. The question must always be asked, “Does this align with the vision?” If you cannot answer in the affirmative, that may be an indication that things have wandered off track.

Similarly, business owners must be absolutely clear about their vision so as to avoid trying anything and everything to make a buck. Yes, sometimes “pivots” are necessary but most of the time you will need to focus your efforts to make any real progress and as you grow, your team will need to understand the vision. Money is nice but at a certain point it stops being a motivator and your people will need to understand and share your passion for the vision just to come into work in the morning.

So, what is your vision? Think you have it? I hate to break it to you but your vision probably sounds like your mission statement and, if so, it’s too general. Take that vision and ask your self again, what is my vision? Answer it this time without using any of the same words. Got it? Describe your vision a third time, again without using any of the same words. Tired of me yet? Do it a fourth and final time. Describe your vision without using any of the phrases you used the first, second, or third time.

It’s too easy to say, “We are striving to be the best in XXX industry through technology and industry leading innovation.” That’s meaningless. “We are a place for all God’s people to come and worship.” Got it. So are the seven other churches in town. Why has God called you to minister in this place and how has He called you to do it?

I am 100% convinced God has called you to minister in that place, to build a business, to lead a church. The real question is why and how?

Not crystal clear on your vision? I’d love to talk about it with you. Contact me here.

Can We Talk About the Airlines?

I’ve had occasion to travel quite a bit recently, much of it on major commercial air carriers. These are large, multi-billion dollar companies that have mastered the logistical challenges of maintaining and flying huge fleets of aircraft, moving tens of thousands of people around the world everyday. And yet…they don’t seem to understand incentives.

I am, of course, talking about the luggage problem. With the exception of Southwest (an airline with its own problems), these carriers charge somewhere between $25 to $30 per bag for checked luggage while allowing passengers to bring one “carry on” and one “personal item” at no charge. This incents cost cautious travelers to try and carry on all of their belongings in the hope of avoiding the fees. This also means that people will try to cram more ridiculously over stuffed bags into the overhead compartments than the engineers ever intended. The result of this is people in the later boarding groups missing out on overhead compartment space, being forced to check their bags (at no cost), and the entire boarding process expanding into 40 minutes of Purgatory for everyone on board. How can this be a desirable outcome for the airlines, their staff, or the passengers?

Adding insult to injury many airlines, aware of the problems they’ve created with bags will offer a “friendly” announcement at the gate, “this is a very full flight and overhead bin space will be limited. If you’d like to check your bag all the way to your final destination, come see me at the podium and we will be happy to do so at no charge.”

Wait…what?!? You charged me $30 to check my bag before I went through security and now it’s free? Can I get a refund?

See? These people know nothing about incentives.

So what would be a better approach? One that incentivizes passengers to do what the airlines (should) want. Make it so you can check every bag you want for free and you can bring one personal item with you on the plane. Want to bring a second carry on item with you into the cabin? Perfect…it’s $50.

This would serve to make passengers really think about what and why they bring something into the cabin. You’re two piece 9′ fly rod in the Orvis case? Check it. Your bag that was too big to fit int the overhead before you overstuffed it like a Thanksgiving turkey? Checked. All of which should speed up the boarding process and make things better for everyone.

Repeat after me….align….incentives. This goes for your business or church too. If there’s something you’re trying to get people to do, just ensure the incentives are aligned. It’s much easier on everyone.