Igniting Hope Today

Encouragement to energize your day

Failure IS an Option!

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you want to teach a kid a life skill, teach him reality. Give him a picture of what the world will throw his way. Even the rich and famous have their share of heartache and loss. People go broke. People get sick. Loved ones die. There are setbacks, cutbacks, rollbacks, buyouts, layoffs, bankruptcies. Is it fair to reward a kid for everything he does until he’s eighteen, filling his room with trophies regardless of how he performs, and then find him shocked the first time he fails a course or loses a girlfriend or gets fired from a job? – Mike Matheny, Manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, in The Matheny Manifesto

The scene from the movie Apollo 13 drips with drama as leaders at NASA try to figure out how to get the ill-fated crew safely back to earth. One of the team leaders says emphatically, “Failure is not an option!” That is very true when it comes to dealing with human lives and their safety. I’m not sure that it is a good motto for life though.

Why do we want to raise our kids as if they are cocooned in a giant layer of bubble wrap?

Why do we employers want to protect our employees from their inexperience?

Why do we attempt to skirt reality?

We NEED struggles

We learn things in the down times that we could not learn any other way. Whether it is darkness or drought there comes a point when life is no longer easy. Every person struggles with problems. It is in those times our character is revealed.

Someone asked President John F. Kennedy how he became a war hero.  His response: “It was quite easy. Somebody sunk my boat!”

As much as we’d like to avoid them and wish them away, we need the struggles and problems in our lives. We need times of wrestling in the darkness.

We have all kinds of struggles that we wrestle with:

  • Financial struggles, when we wonder how we are going to make ends meet.
  • Emotional struggles with anger, depression, discouragement or self-doubt.
  • Relational struggles where we just can’t get the important people in our life to see things our way and we realize that we cannot control them and their behavior.
  • Job struggles where we wrestle with whether we should stay or go.

The times of struggle and failure can develop a quality that is as rare as an 80-degree winter day in South Dakota. It is the character trait of TENACITY.

Tenacity is built through failure. Tenacity says, “I won’t let go until I grow.”

Failure? Bring it on.

Failure IS an option.

Lean into it.

Grow from it.

And you’ll be a better person because of it.

Thanks for reading my blog! Feel free to leave a comment below.

Memories of Daytona, Darrell and Dale

Panoramic View of the Daytona International Speedway by piresdennis is licensed under CCBY-ND 4.0

Panoramic View of the Daytona International Speedway by piresdennis is licensed under CCBY-ND 4.0

“…here’s to turning up, slowing down and cars that go real fast…We were laughing and living, drinking and wishing, and thinking as that checkered flag was waving, sure would like to stay…” — Talladega by Eric Church and Luke Laird

Life is all about the experiences that shape us. Life moves on quickly and we hold dear  the memories of the times we were happiest and saddest.

Every February, around this time, I am flooded with memories I’ve made over the years at Daytona International Speedway. I take a 200 mph trip down memory lane and relive the times I wished would never end.

Here are a few memories, some fun and some tragic, of stock car racing at Daytona:

  • As a 10-year-old kid I stood wide-eyed at the back Richard Petty’s pit stall when he came in for a pit stop. I was so close I could smell the burning rubber. It would be almost impossible today, but back then, we had pit passes for adults and when the guard was looking the other way, I snuck in a fenced in a restricted area.
  • Being in the infield in RV’s and campers with the Rossmeyer family and gang from Rossmeyer Dodge. Free sodas and all the hot dogs and hamburgers you could eat. It was eerily similar to what Eric Church describes in his song, “Talladega.”
  • My brother and I seeing Hollywood camera crews film scenes from the movie Days of Thunder where Tom Cruise is carried off in a helicopter.
  • Being freezing cold for a Daytona 500 race that I attended with my mom and good friends, Tom and Betty Thacher. There was a run on sweatshirts that day and they sold out in a hurry. I purchased long sleeved t-shirt in an unsuccessful attempt to stay warm.
  • Seeing one of my racing heroes, Darrell Waltrip FINALLY win the Daytona 500 in his bright orange Tide car. It was his 17th attempt to win and that day he was driving car number 17.1989Daytona
  • Going to the Twin 125’s with my good friend, Roy Collins. Roy was an extreme car buff and could answer just about any question regarding the cars in the races. Roy died of leukemia 5 years ago. I miss him.
  • A torrential downpour during the Twin 125 qualifying races that left me soaked and looking like a drowned rat. It took days to dry out my wallet.
  • Sitting in the stands with my mom as Dale Earnhardt slammed into the fourth turn wall on the last lap of the Daytona 500. It was his last race. As I write, today is the 14th anniversary of his death. NASCAR racing has never been the same since.dale-sr-jpg

I’m thankful for the memories made and the new ones I will create. None of us is guaranteed our tomorrows, so we make the best of each day we are given.

Every morning, life screams at us to start our engines. It’s good to remember a place where the roar of the engines drowns out the pressures of daily life and where the fast pace of life is slowed by the addictive speed that is racing at Daytona International Speedway.

What do you live to relive?


Make a Habit and a Habit Will Make You

What I do every day matters more than what I do once in a while. – Gretchen Rubin

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. – Aristotle

I was tired of being frustrated at the end of the day. I am one of those goal driven people who enjoy having a sense of accomplishment when the day is done. Too often, my day has been spent on trivial things. In a book of days, it goes up in the “wasted day” column. I don’t like feeling that I neglected the gift that was this day.

Things out of my control like interruptions, unexpected and unforeseen events put me further astray during the day.

Something had to change.

Help came in the form of a podcast by author and speaker, Todd Henry. (Todd has written two excellent books, The Accidental Creative, and Die Empty.) In “The Dailies”  episode, he talks about the importance of a set of practices we can do on a daily basis that propel us forward toward our goals. (The podcast is found here.) Each person’s dailies are unique to that person.

I began intentionally managing my time and set up my own daily routines that help me stay on track. I began to focus on what I could control. I wanted to build my inner resources, so that when my day started to get away from me, I had a well to draw from to complete the day with excellence.

Here are the dailies I came up with:

  • Bible reading – I use the free YouVersion app (https://www.youversion.com/) that allows me to select a plan or read on my own. This connects me to a higher purpose that is bigger than my agenda.
  • Exercise – treadmill, bicycle, or walk for at least 20 minutes. This helps me feel better physically throughout the day.
  • Write in a gratitude journal – I write three things I am grateful for that day. This helps remind me of what I already have.
  • 45-60 minutes reading good books – I am a voracious reader, so this one is easy to me. I try to read widely: biography, fiction, business, self-improvement, writing, leadership and current events.
  • Writing – I need the daily discipline of “morning pages” as Julia Cameron teaches so that I can get better in my writing.

I began these dailies on January 1, 2015. Six weeks in, I have enjoyed less frustration and more of a feeling of being on track in the pursuit of my goals.

Two key resources have helped me with executing my dailies. The first is Charles Duhigg’s great book, The Power of Habit. This book helped me set up the triggers and rewards I use to be consistent. Duhigg talks about the importance of willpower and how it becomes a habit by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time and then following that routine when the pressure is on.

The other key resource has been my Passion Planner (www.passionplanner.com). The planner, developed by Angelia Trinidad, is “an all-in-one weekly appointment calendar, journal, goal setting guide, to-do list, and gratitude log integrated in one planner.” As I think about each coming day, week, and month I write down my dailies in my schedule before anything else. They become the rocks around which the water of the rest of my week must flow.

Since I’ve been practicing these new habits, I have felt less frustration and more peaceful about my life’s purpose. I have found inner strength to roll with the punches that come my way during the day. And on occasion, when the situation calls for it, I am ready and able to punch back.

What are your dailies and how have they helped you?

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Planning is Worth Everything and Nothing

Image courtesy of ddpavumba at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ddpavumba at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”― Benjamin Franklin

As a former architectural student, I know the value of a good plan.  Blueprints are a way of life.  Nothing of any significance gets built without a plan. That’s a good life principle too, as Benjamin Franklin pointed out centuries ago. I lean heavily towards the Planner side of the spectrum as opposed to the F.B.T.S.O.Y.P. (Fly by the seat of your pants) frame. How about you? What side are you on? Are you in the middle?

Our planner tendencies drive us towards wanting a blueprint for life.  We want to know what is going to happen, where it is going to happen and when it is going to happen. Unfortunately for us planners, life can get frustrating because things never go perfectly according to plan.

Life offers a scroll instead of a blueprint. Remember scrolls? Scrolls were things the Ancients used to write their words on. We don’t know how the scroll ends until we unravel it all the way.  Such is life.

Planning is a good and necessary skill. We have a picture in our head of where we want to go and how we want to get there. Then life happens. How we fulfil the picture in our head changes.

Phil Hansen shares his fascinating story in a 2013 TED talk, Embrace the Shake. As an art student he developed a shake in his hand. Not a good thing for an artist who needs to be able to draw a straight line. He said that at the time he first discovered the shake, it was the destruction of his dream of becoming an artist. Years later he decides to go to a neurologist only to learn he has permanent nerve damage. The shake is here to stay. The wise doctor said to him. “Why don’t you embrace the shake?” So he did. He realized that he could still make art, but would have to find a different approach to it. The end result was beautiful, unique art pieces. He needed “to become limited in order to become limitless.” (You can check out Phil’s TED talk here.)

Benjamin Franklin was right; we will fail if we don’t plan. However, more often than not, the plan goes awry. So we incorporate the detour as part of the journey. We have all had unexpected things happen to us.  I didn’t expect to be laid off or fired from two different jobs. Those unforeseen events become a part of our journey. They help get us to where we are today.

Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So what is the alternative?

  • Expect the unexpected. Allow enough margin in the plan to change course as necessary. The successful N.F.L. team can adjust to unexpected formations by the opposing team. Even if they have not seen a particular formation, they can figure it out and adjust accordingly.
  • Roll with it by focusing on solutions. We don’t waste a lot of unnecessary energy on asking “why” in the heat of the moment. There will be time for answering the “why” question later. Now is the time to focus on solutions. Make the necessary adjustments to the sails to get back on course.

We don’t know what we will face tomorrow. We planners have an image of our tomorrows. But at the same time, we know that life doesn’t go according to plan. Nevertheless, the miracle of life is that the unplanned things can become our very source of joy.

Your Two Words

SecretNote: This is a Guest Post by author and leadership expert, Mark Miller. Enjoy!!

I recently wrote a post entitled, Just Two Words. At that time, I encouraged you think deeply about what you do – and to articulate your answer in just two words. The feedback on that activity has been extremely positive. The following are some of your responses…

  • Share stories
  • Encourage leaders
  • Serve public
  • Love people
  • Multiply disciples
  • Trust God
  • Grow giants
  • Be authentic
  • Teach Christ
  • Pursue excellence
  • Encourage diversity
  • Mentor leaders
  • Fathering leadership
  • Convene conversations
  • Serve others

What a fantastic list!

What if you don’t know the answer; or just can’t narrow it down to just two words? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Ask yourself the following questions (each answer should only be two words)

What do I think I was born to do?

What would I do if I could do anything I wanted?

Where do I add the most value in this word?

What is the highest and best use of your time and talent?

What do you currently do that brings you the most energy?

  1. Ask close friends and family members what their two words would be for you. You may be surprised what they’ll say.
  2. One other tip to consider – it may be helpful to start your two words with a verb. Remember, you’re trying to articulate what you DO.

The truth is, leaders do many things and we must do them all well. However, there’s power in clarity.  So, my suggestion is for you to get really clear on your two words and then organize your life so you can live in alignment with your stated ambition.

If you’ve not already accepted the challenge, give it a try. If you can say what you do succinctly – in just two words, you’ll have a better chance of living it out on a daily basis.

My answer to the two-word challenge was: Serve Leaders. I hope this post has served you well.

Enjoy the journey!

MarkMiller_About_179x240_050813Mark Miller, Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness for Chick-fil-A, believes that leadership is not something that’s exclusive; within the grasp of an elite few, but beyond the reach of everyone else.  In the tenth anniversary edition of The Secret, Miller reminds readers of a seemingly contradictory concept: to lead is to serve. With more than 600,000 books in print, Mark has been surprised by the response and delighted to serve leaders through his writing.

The 10th anniversary edition of The Secret was released September 2, 2014.

Step Up and Face Your Fears

Image courtesy of Michael Elliott/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Michael Elliott/

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” — Franklin Delano Roosevelt

We all have them.  

Our fears come in all shapes and sizes.  From the fear of driving on the highway at high speeds to wondering if a loved one is going to survive a health scare.  We face things daily that disrupt our comfort level.

Fear is an asset in some situations but a liability in others. There is a difference between a healthy dose of fear and an unhealthy dose of fear.   

A healthy dose of fear is a gift that protects us from danger.
Image courtesy of chanpipat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of chanpipat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A healthy dose of fear causes us to seek out the best possible treatment for an ailing loved one.  Author and security expert, Gavin de Becker is a one who understands a healthy dose of fear.  He owns a large firm that provides consultation and support on issues of personal safety.  He helps people manage their fear.  He wrote a best-selling book entitled, The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence.  It is fascinating reading.

In the book he talks about intuitive fear that helps predict human behavior with regard to violence.  It is intuitive fear that protects us from harm.  This kind of fear is central to our safety and the safety of those we love. It is necessary for our survival.

A healthy dose of fear leads us to take precautions like buying a safer car or installing a security system or changing our passwords frequently.  Fathers of daughters want a healthy dose of fear to be present in their daughter’s potential partner.

On the other hand, there is unhealthy fear.

Unhealthy fear can lead to life stagnation.

Ever get the feeling your life is going nowhere?  Ever ask yourself why?  Maybe it is because our fears are keeping us tied down.  We know it is time to step up and face them. 

Life is best lived when there is a sense of novel adventure.  An adventurous life means we push the limits of our fears.  It means that we take calculated risks that get us off the couch and into the game of life.

Healthy fear calls us out to attack the inner struggle between anxiety and faith.

Faith is inspiring you to take a risk.  What is it?

Ÿ  > To get involved in a volunteer project?

Ÿ  > To reach out to a friend who is hurting?

Ÿ  > To initiate a new program?

Ÿ  > To give more of your resources to help someone?

Ÿ  > To be open to new perspectives and ways of thinking?

Ÿ  > To make a new friend?

Ÿ  > To stand up for a value you believe in?

Ÿ  > To express gratitude or affection even if it is hard for you?

“Fear never wrote a symphony or poem, negotiated a peace treaty, or cured a disease.  Fear never pulled a family out of poverty or a country out of bigotry.  Fear never saved a marriage or a business.  Courage did that. Faith did that.” — Max Lucado in Fearless

Faith means taking a step of courage.  All it takes is one step.

In the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford) has to pass three tests to reach the Holy Grail and save his dying father.  The first test is, “The Breath of God,” which involves walking down a corridor where he must bow down at the precise moment to keep from having his head cut off by large revolving metal blades.

The second test is “The Word of God” where Indiana must walk on the right stones — the ones that spell God’s name in Latin — to keep from falling through the floor to his death.

The third test, “The Path of God” is the most difficult.  Indiana comes to the edge of a large chasm, about a hundred feet across and a thousand feet down.  On the other side of the abyss is the doorway to the Holy Grail.  He has to jump the gulf.

He says to himself, “That’s impossible.  Nobody can jump this.”  Then he realizes this test requires a leap of faith.  His father says, “You must believe, boy.  You must believe!”  Even though everything within him is screaming that he must not do it, Indiana walks to the edge of the cliff, lifts his foot and then steps out into thin air.  But he doesn’t fall to his death, instead he is held up by an invisible force.

Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What counts is that he takes that first step. 

One step is all we need to get started. 

What one step is faith daring you to take today?

What That Sinking Feeling Tells Us

2009 ZR1 Blue Devil taken September 2013

2009 ZR1 Blue Devil taken September 2013

I had that sinking feeling recently.  As a Corvette lover, I was stunned last week when I saw photos from the National Corvette Museum where a sinkhole swallowed 8 prized cars. I stood on the very spot that is no longer there in September 2014 when I visited the museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  As a former resident of the Bluegrass State, I was accustomed to minor earthquakes, but not sinkholes.

I found several lessons in the incident of the sinking Vettes.

See things when you can.

I am glad that I took time to visit the museum when I had the chance.  You never know when something unexpected will happen that will prevent you from travelling or seeing things you want to see before you die.  This is an item I was able to check off my bucket list.

As I write this, a high school friend sits by her dying husband’s bedside as he lives his last days under Hospice care.  She is no longer able to travel with him to see the sites.

What sites do you want to see before you die?  See them when you get the chance.

Take care of your inner life.

I was reminded of a fellow Asbury University graduate, the late Methodist missionary, E. Stanley Jones who was quoted as saying about a church bishop, “He has much in the showroom but very little in the storeroom.”  In other words, he looks put together on the outside, but is hollow on the inside.

I had a happy accident last week when I came across, The Thinking Life: How to Thrive in the Age of Distraction, by P.M. Forni.  It came along just when I needed it. In the chapter on adversity, Forni points out that adversity “becomes an opportunity to show that we know how to live wisely, which means deploying our best internal resources…to face the challenges of the external world” (Page 140).

When the weight of the Corvettes pressed down upon the floor of the museum, there was nothing underneath to sustain the weight.  And so it is with us. That sinking feeling comes when trouble starts pressing down on us and we realize we don’t have the inner resources to cope.

Trouble is coming, so we mentally prepare for it.

Are you prepared for your next crisis?

corvettes-sinkholeThings are just things.

A Corvette is a magnificently built, beautiful machine.  So are Ferrari, BMW, Porsche, and Lamborghini.  But to put it in perspective, these cars are made up of wires, plastic, glass, shaped metal and rubber.  At the end of the day (there’s an overused phrase if I’ve ever heard one), it’s a material thing susceptible to rust and decay.

There are things more meaningful and valuable.  People and experiences, for instance.

The relationships with the people we love are what matters most.  The unencumbered  wealthiest I’ve had the pleasure of meeting are those who can say without blinking, “Yes having money is nice, but it means nothing compared to having people in my life.”  Given a choice, they would take the living, breathing people in their life over dead material stuff.

Who are the people that mean the most to you?

The sunk Corvettes will have a happy ending.  General Motors has agreed to restore the cars when they are removed from the bottom of the sinkhole.  (Read about it here) The National Corvette Museum will rebuild so we can enjoy the beauty of these fast cars once again. It will be a great day when all is restored.

In the meantime, I’ll be on the lookout for areas of my life that need some shoring up so that that sinking feeling is a stranger instead of a friend.

Another Measure of Our Success

Image courtesy of hin255/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of hin255/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Baseball is back!  This week players are returning to spring training.  Soon there will be discussions about umpires who are “blind as a bat.”  One notorious line umpires use is, “I call them like I see them.”  Seeing leads to a response: calling a ball or strike.

There is a life principle here.

We treat others the way we see them

Our most meaningful relationships are those in which we see the best in others, accept the worst and love them anyway.  This is the path to relational joy.  Successful people see beyond their own needs and use their resources to help others.  Bank account size doesn’t matter, they use what they have.

Their attitude is, “I will use what I have to serve and help.”

There is an old, well-travelled story about Grandpa Joe.  He and his wife lived in a neighborhood where there were a lot of school aged children.  Every day after school as they walk by his house he stands outside in the driveway waving hello and asking them about their day.  He is a gentle grandfather figure to the neighborhood kids.  He makes the kids day by giving out candy and smiles.  It is his daily dose of joy.  On days he can’t be there, the kids miss him.

One day Grandpa Joe has a new concrete driveway poured. Joe has another appointment that day so he is not there while the work is being done. The workers are just leaving as the kids are coming down the street.  The concrete is not quite dry.  Wet concrete and neighborhood kids are a creative combination.  The kids can’t resist drawing pictures and their names in Grandpa Joe’s driveway.

When Grandpa Joe gets home and sees it, he is furious.  He says to his wife, “I can’t believe those kids did this to my nice new driveway.  That’s it, no more candy and smiles for them.”

Joe’s wife tries calming him by saying, “Joe, I thought you loved those kids.  Those kids love you.”

Joe replies, “You are right, I do love those kids.  But I love them in the abstract, not in the concrete.”  (Insert groans here)

Demonstrate love

Love is demonstrated in concrete actions.  When we have an attitude that sees others as valuable and important, our actions express it.

Image courtesy of tungphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of tungphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There is power in lending a hand to help people.  When we help someone, it is a win/win deal.  Their needs are met and we get joy.

I’ve discovered that my joy is greater when I have at least one other person in my life who is in my life for no other reason than to receive my help.  They can’t give me anything in return, nor do I expect it.

In return, there is joy.

And that is enough.

One Measure of Our Success

Image courtesy of Ambro/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Ambro/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How important do we think we are?  Importance is difficult to define.  What or who is important to you may not be so to me.

There are several social measuring rods we use to gauge another person’s importance.  Outward signs like homes, cars and material goods.  Relational signs like what names are dropped in conversations with others. Social signs like who is invited to what party or fundraiser and where we sit at those gatherings. 

What if there was another way to tell?

I’ve discovered an attitude in myself that has the potential to trip me up in relationships.  It’s the attitude that I am better than or above others because of what I do or have or who I know.  When I cop that attitude, I miss out on the joy of learning from others who are different from me. 

It’s ironic that the more we focus on ourselves, the less joy we have. 

Help others get ahead

A universal principle for relational success is that each of us is equally valuable and important.  A healthy approach to life considers our needs and at the same time considers how to meets the needs of others. 

I believe that each one of us is a unique creation of God, fashioned in God’s image and by God’s hand. 

We demonstrate necessary self-concern and self-respect when we feed, rest and care for our bodies and souls.  Because of our healthy self-respect we don’t allow others to manipulate us, violate us, or abuse us. 

On the other hand, self-concern can quickly become self-absorption. We can live as if the world revolves around us.  That’s a death blow for our relationships. 

When we serve others, we both win.  You get your needs met while I get joy from meeting them. 

Show common courtesy to others

There is a practical way to live this out in our daily lives.  It is by showing common courtesy to others. It seems so simple and yet it is so difficult to do!  We get busy and stressed and common courtesy goes out the window.

We are driving around the parking lot when another person wants the same parking space that we spot first.  Why not let them have it?  It is just a parking space.

In a line of traffic, why not let another person merge in front of us? 

In the checkout line at the grocery store when we see someone coming with their arms full of stuff, why not allow them to go ahead of us? 

After dinner, why not take the other people’s plates to the table?  Family members included.

If you want to go “all in” on this courtesy thing, here’s a challenge.  The most powerful  appliance in our home is the remote control.  It‘s a fact that, “The person who controls the remote, rules the home.”  Why not let another family member have it?

We have plenty of opportunities every day to demonstrate common courtesies that express the attitude that considers others needs ahead of our own. 

One measure of success is how we treat the people we encounter daily in our relational world.

How do you others that you value and respect them? I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

Why Settle for Walking?

Image courtesy of Tanatat/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Tanatat/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I’ve been listening to Mary Chapin Carpenter songs.  She has a remarkable gift for crafting lyrics that paint a vivid picture and the haunting melodies to go with them. Her songs never grow old.  A song celebrating 20 years since its release is “Why Walk When You Can Fly.” The last verse says:

In this world there’s a whole lot of cold
In this world there’s a whole lot of blame
In this world you’ve a soul for a compass
And a heart for a pair of wings
There’s a star on the far horizon, rising bright in an azure sky
For the rest of the time that you’re given, why walk when you can fly

As I listened again, I was reminded of the importance of a hopeful, positive attitude that helps us get off the ground in our daily life.  There are many things that tempt us to stay on the ground and live mediocre lives.

But there is another way of living.  Each day is a new opportunity to rise up to pursue excellence.

We don’t have a choice about facing hurts and hard times. They are going to come to all of us in one way or another.  We do have a choice of how we deal with them.  We can nurse and rehearse our hurts until we become bitter, cynical people.  We can surrender the control of our life over to our pain.  We can choose to become discouraged and disillusioned, filling our mind with self-pity.

Some of us have tremendous hurts.  We have had family members, loved ones or we ourselves have faced:

  • Ÿ  Accidents
  • Ÿ  Arrests
  • Ÿ  Abuse
  • Ÿ  Bankruptcy
  • Ÿ  Career disasters
  • Ÿ  Death of a loved one
  • Ÿ  Divorce
  • Ÿ  Financial collapse
  • Ÿ  Injustice
  • Ÿ  Insults
  • Ÿ  Loss of our business
  • Ÿ  Loss of our reputation
  • Ÿ  Rejection
  • Ÿ  Sickness
  • Ÿ  Suicide of a loved one

Some of these horrendous experiences were not of our own choosing.  Some of our hurts are not fair and are beyond our control.  What is not out of our control is our response.  For some of us life will never be “normal” again. 

But hope remains.

Our attitude can turn a negative into a positive.

Every difficulty has an opportunity.

We don’t grow when everything is going great and there are no problems. Instead, we grow and learn by making mistakes and dealing with problems.

Today we look up to the star on the far horizon and we rise to meet it.

You can listen to the song in its entirety here:

In Sync Isn’t Just a Boy Band

Image courtesy of phanlop88/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of phanlop88/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Can you imagine life without a GPS?  If it had never been invented, we would still be relying on the old fashioned method of asking someone else for directions.  Or be left to figure it out ourselves.  Then again, as a guy, I would rather figure it out myself than to stop and ask for directions.

Recently, I found my GPS out of sync with the satellites guiding it.  The road I was looking for was the intersection 10 feet in front of me but the GPS said it was a half a mile ahead.  Out of sync.

Sometimes it is me who is out of sync with the GPS.  I usually have the volume turned off so I don’t hear an audio reminder to turn.  The screen is warning me to turn but I’m not paying attention.  Maybe I need a stronger warning.  Most of the time I realize my mistake after the fact and my GPS graciously tips me off in bold letters, “RECALCULATING.”  In other words, “You missed the turn, idiot!”

Early warnings are beneficial.  Being out of sync with our guiding system has dire consequences.

Warnings come in all shapes and sizes in our life: 

  • The little orange light on the dashboard of our car that proclaims “Check Engine.”
  • A caring friend who asks, “Are you sure you know what you are doing?”
  • A parent who says, “I’ve been down that road before, don’t even go there.”
  • A health issue that needs our attention.
  • A strained relationship that left unrepaired will lead to heartache.
  • A job in jeopardy that strains our financial future.

Here are some areas of our life that can get out of sync with our higher purpose. 

Our relationships with God, family and friends

A sign that our relationships are healthy is that we are growing in love and compassion for people. To be in sync with others is to have relationships where we feel connected and where trust is growing deeper.

Surely this past year we have been wronged or slighted.  We’ve been hurt by another person.  We have a choice at that point.  We can gunnysack our hurts if we want.  Gunny sackers are people who carry around their hurts and slights in an imaginary bag.  As they go through the year they collect hurts and the bag gets heavier and requires too much energy to lug around.  Eventually, it interferes with the growth of the relationship.  We get out of sync.  To stay in sync we have to let go of the bag altogether.  

Sometimes, it is not hurt that has hindered our relationships, it is the pace of our life.  We’re too busy doing other things.  We’re going too fast.  Getting in sync for us this year may mean slowing down and refocusing on the people God has given us who share the journey with us.

How we manage our emotions

I sat with a friend over lunch one day.  I asked how his wife was doing.  He said, “Well it didn’t work out between us.  We’re getting a divorce.”  This was a second marriage for both of them.  He said, “I had no idea it would be this tough.  We each brought so much baggage into the marriage.”  He wasn’t talking about suitcases and backpacks.  He was talking about emotional baggage that we carry around.  He was talking about emotional unfinished business.

This past year we’ve all experienced a kaleidoscope of emotions: grief, anger, sadness, hurt, discouragement, joy, fear, anxiety, and stress.  How have we managed those emotions?  Have we come to terms with them?  Are we at peace with our emotions? 

It can take some time to sort through those emotions so we can get back in sync with the present moment.  Time that is well worth the investment.

The ways we practice self-care

The number one New Year’s resolution people make every year at this time is to lose weight.  We have great intentions and we get off to a good start.  Other practices of good self-care are exercise, sleep and living within boundaries. 

Regular over eating and over sleeping can quickly get us out of sync with the rhythm of our day.   

The ways we think

For some of us, getting in sync this year may mean changing the way that we think. Our patterns of thinking can become so ingrained that we feel stuck in mental ruts.

Counselors and psychologists talk about reframing the events of our life in order to gain greater understanding and to see things in new ways.  A bit of creative thinking can be the spark lighting a fire that burns off the mental clutter and leads to greater insights.

What are some other areas you feel out of sync? What are some ways you get back in sync with your calling?

Choose Your Impact

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A new year looms on the horizon like the rising sun.  With it comes a new set of choices.  One choice we have is how we will impact others in the coming year.

Life has a way of forcing us to choose how we will impact others.  We will find ourselves in unpredictable and uncontrollable circumstances in the coming year.  We can control our reaction and try to impact others positively.

I was reminded of that once again this holiday season when I watched the classic movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey.

In the movie, Angel Second Class, Clarence (Henry Travers) finally convinces George that he does indeed have an impact on people.  Our lives matter.  We really do influence the people in our life, whether it is obvious to us or not.   So why not be positively intentional about it?

Some people we impact:

Our Forgotten

Who are the people on the edges of our relational world?

They are the people we pass by every day without noticing.  They are the ones among us we might not ordinarily think about in the course of our day.  They are easily forgotten.  They are the people who can’t repay us for our efforts to help them.  They have nothing to offer us except the opportunity to impact them for good.

Cal Thomas, a newspaper and television commentator asks, “Ever give a gift to someone you know can’t afford to reciprocate and suddenly realize that you have already received a greater gift that can never become obsolete, worn out or devalued?” (Read the article here)

It holds true for non-material gifts as well.  The gift of our time and attention can do wonders for the forgotten people in our relational sphere.

Our Friends

We take delight in honoring our friends.

The late Chicago columnist Mike Royko writes about a conversation he had with Slats Grobnik, a man who sold Christmas trees.  Slats remembered one couple looking for a Christmas tree.  The guy was skinny with a big Adam’s apple and small chin, and she was kind of pretty.  Both wore clothes from the bottom of the bin of the Salvation Army store.

They searched through trees that were too expensive, but then they found a Scotch pine that was okay on one side, but pretty bare on the other.  Then they picked up another tree that was not much better—full on one side, scraggly on the other.  The woman whispered something to her partner, and he asked if $3 would be okay.  Slats figured the trees would not be sold, so he agreed to sell both of them for $3.

A few days later Slats is walking down the street when he sees a beautiful tree in the couple’s apartment window.  It is thick and well rounded.  He knocks on their door and they tell him how they worked the two trees close together where the branches were thin.  Then they tied the trunks together.  The branches overlapped and formed a tree so thick you couldn’t see the wire.  Slats said, “It looked like a tiny forest of its own.”

“So that’s the secret.  You take two trees that aren’t perfect, that have flaws that might even be homely, that maybe nobody else would want.  If you put them together just right, you can come up with something really beautiful.” (From: Mike Royko, One More Time, Pages 85-87)

That’s what friendship looks like.  Two imperfect people who are perfect for each other and make each other stronger.

How will we impact our friends this year by letting them know how valuable and special they are?

Our Family

Family is closest to us, know us best and love us most.  Our impact is felt most on them.

In our hustle and bustle life, time with family can be the first thing to be skipped. The start of a new year is the perfect time to regroup.  Quality family time doesn’t just happen.  It is best planned out ahead of time.  We plan things that are most important to us.

We never know where our impact is going to come from or where it is going to lead us. The opportunities to impact the people in our relational world come every day.

What we do matters more than we can see or imagine.

What Do You Want on Your Tombstone?

tombstoneHave you ever walked through a cemetery and noticed what people have on their tombstones?  As a pastor in Key West, I spent a lot of time in the Key West cemetery.  I found several odd tombstone inscriptions there.  One says, “Devoted fan of Julio Iglesias.”  Two of the most popular inscriptions are on the front of the same mausoleum.  They are, “I’m just resting my eyes!” and “I told you I was sick!”

This time of year we include a few classic holiday movies as part of our preparations.  One that has been re-told many times is “A Christmas Carol.”  The main character, Scrooge, is taken by the Ghost of Christmas Future to the cemetery where he sees his own grave.  Scrooge realizes that he has changed into a mean, selfish man.  He doesn’t want to be greedy anymore.  He cries out to the ghost, “I am not the man I was.  I will not be the man I must have been but for this visitation.  Why show me this if I am past hope?”  He continues, “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which if persevered in, they must lead.  But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”

Scrooge is an extreme.  We’re not as selfish and greedy as he was but there are probably some areas in our life we wish would be different.  The lesson for us is that there is still time to change.

If we change our lives now, the future will change.  We have the chance to write how our life will end.  We can make course corrections before it is too late.

Play Out Our Movie

Psychologist and author Henry Cloud calls this “playing out the movie.”  (See: 9 Things You Simply Must Do to Succeed in Life.)   Each of us is living out the  movie of our lives.  We get to determine each scene.  We get to shape to a large degree how it will end.  Wise people think about their ending all the time.  We’re  moving toward the final climactic scene.

When we play out the movie, we see that every scene is a link in the context of the entire story.  Every scene is a step in a direction that has a destination.  We can’t stop the movie, but we can determine what our life looks like at the end.

Playing the movie enables us to see the good things that can happen.

We have a choice in the direction of our lives and our beliefs and actions determine the outcomes.John Wayne Marker

The late actor, John Wayne’s grave marker inscription reads, “Tomorrow is the most  important thing in life.  Comes into us at midnight very clean.  It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands.  It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”

May it be so for us too!

How to Live Thanks Giving Every Day

Ian Britton/www.freefoto.com

Ian Britton/www.freefoto.com

Emotionally healthy people are thanks givers. Thanks living is a way of life for them.  They focus on gratitude and the positive things in life.  Study after study has shown the benefits of blessing seeing.

As with much of life, it comes down to our choices.  We have a choice of what we want to focus on.

Here are a couple choices we can make to live thanks giving daily:

Choose to live rejoicing.

When the proverbial rug is pulled out from under us or we suffer unimaginable horrific pain, we still have a choice of how to attack the situation to get the most benefit from it.

A positive focus puts us in the frame of mind to see the opportunities that exist in the midst of the pain.

Critics will say that this exercise is just a mental trick.  Yes!  It is a mental habit that prevents us from going down a dark mental staircase that leads us to despair.  When we are in that dark place, clear thinking goes out the window.  Positive solutions are nowhere to be found.

Reframing to see the positives helps us get on the solution side of the tragic event.

Secretariat, the now famous race horse, was featured in an inspirational movie a few years ago.  It told the story of the Tweedy family who owned the horse.  Mr. Tweedy, the patriarch of the family passes away, so his daughter, Penny Chenery, (played by Diane Lane) takes on the oversight of the farm and horse.  Her husband and close family members urge her to sell it and move on.  She decides against that option and instead trains the horse to run.  But finding funding is difficult. She tries to sell breeding shares to the horse.  No one wants to take the risk.

In one scene, after many rejections, Penny is alone in the barn reflecting on what is going to happen next.  She is joined by a couple employees and she says to them, “I don’t care how many times they say it can’t be done.  I will not live the rest of my life in regret and no matter what happens we are going to live rejoicing every day!”

I admire her grit and determination to live rejoicing.

Focus on the positive because it opens the flow of joy in our life.

Don’t let anxiety pull you apart

This is easy to say but not easy to do.  We have legitimate worries.  We want to protect ourselves, our family, our cars and our homes.  That’s a good thing.  But it can be carried to an extreme.

You have probably heard the well-traveled story about the wife who always thought burglars were prowling around their home.  At least once a week, she’d wake up her husband in the middle of the night to investigate a noise in the house.  One night she heard it again.  She woke him up. “Get up! Get up! Someone is downstairs.”

He is overly familiar with the routine. This time when he got to the bottom of the steps he comes face to face with a real life burglar.  The burglar had a sack of valuables in his hand and was heading toward the door.  “Wait,” the husband said.  “Before you leave, I’d love for you to come upstairs and meet my wife.  She’s been waiting for you for 20 years!”

Anxiety can easily get out of hand and quickly turn into extreme worry.

Worry gets in the way of thanks giving because it causes us to focus on the things we lack.  We feel pulled apart internally.  Our emotions become like the salt water taffy machines we’ve seen on vacation.  Whatever is worrying us is turned over and over in our mind.taffy

Focusing on what we have to help us deal with what is troubling us gives us the courage to face what life throws at us.

What are some tips that help you reduce the pull of worry? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

3 VIPs to Be Thankful For

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Who wants to be a millionaire?” is more than a catchy game show title.  It’s a question that reminds us of a benchmark of financial success in our society.  We’d love to be millionaires.  But we know that money is not the only thing that constitutes real wealth.  We can also be rich in terms of our relationships.  The people in our life make us rich in love.  We are already relational millionaires because we have people to be thankful for.

Here are some VIPs in our life.

The Very Irritating People who help us learn patience.

It seems counterintuitive to be thankful for these people.  We just want to be rid of them.  We don’t want to be around them.

These people bug us.  They get on our nerves.  They whine, criticize, and complain.  They are the not so nice people in our relational world.

They have an uncanny ability to get under our skin. They are the burrs under the saddle.  We have our own type of person that irritates us.  A silly one for me is the person who gets 15 items on a 10 item express lane at the grocery store.  Were they absent the day the teacher taught counting in kindergarten?

These are the sand in the shoe people.  Being people who have a knack for rubbing us the wrong way, these folks are like the sand in the oyster that gradually turns into a pearl.

We need these people in our life because they help us learn patience.  Patience is a character quality that helps us succeed in our relationships.

Building loving relationships that bring us joy requires a healthy dose of patience.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Very Inspiring People who help strengthen our faith in ourselves.

Who are your inspiring people?   These are people, who by their words and example motivate us to live at a higher level.  They are able to help us see our potential so we can develop it.

These people can inspire us from afar.  People like Walt Disney, who broke new ground in family entertainment.  Chocolate king Milton Hershey sweetened the lives of kids by pouring some of his wealth into building an orphanage.  Former president Jimmy Carter inspires us through his work at The Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity.  The late actor, Christopher Reeve, showed us what commitment looks like when he made determined progress from a devastating fall.  NFL Super Bowl winning coach and NASCAR champion owner Joe Gibbs stirs us by not hiding his deep faith.

There are others that we know personally who poured themselves into our lives.  We are better people because they did.

A boss, a co-worker, a friend, or a parent could be our very inspiring person.  They gave us the gift of themselves to help us grow. They took us under their wing and showed us the way. They believed in us. They provided direction and approval.  We gained energy from their courage and maturity.  Our lives are different because of them.

Who are the people that played a unique role in shaping you?

The Very Important People who help us enjoy life.

The most important people in our relational world are our family and friends.  Our close friends and family bring enjoyment to our lives.  They are gifts to us.

We are thankful every day for them because we understand that they are here only temporarily.  We have each other for a season.  We enjoy the people in our relational while we can.

Our irritating person, inspiring person, and important person could be one and the same!  If that’s the case, we have three times the gratitude!

We can translate our thankfulness into action:  write a note, make a phone call, or send a small gift.

We are thankful for the VIPs in our life who fill our lives with love.

Restoring Our Soul

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I survived a technological crisis last week.  My new iPhone died. When I powered it on, I got the dreaded “No sim card installed” message, rendering my phone basically useless.  I used it less than a month.

I reluctantly bit into the Apple orchard of owners when my dinosaur Blackberry gave up the ghost.  With the advent of the iPhone 5, my local ATT store was giving away the older iPhone 4s for new subscribers.  Free is free.

I contacted Apple tech support via chat and walked through troubleshooting steps with a very friendly, helpful agent.  When the steps failed to raise my phone from the dead, I was turned over to another “more knowledgeable” (their term) agent.  He walked me through a couple steps and suggested a few fixes, one of which was to totally wipe out and restore the iPhone.  I followed the steps to a tee and the phone was exorcised of its demons.  It has worked fine ever since.

That got me thinking about the human side of things.  We’re like our gadgets in that we have a tendency to crash from time to time.  We get our insides all in a wad and need an internal eraser to come wipe out the crud.

Smart people I’ve met know how to build margin into their lives so when the internal wad weakens them they take time to take a step back to regroup.

Let our soul catch up with our body

I’ve heard several renditions of a well spread story about travelers or missionaries going to Africa in the 1800s. The message is still relevant in spite of its lack of factual proof.

The story goes that an American traveler was on safari in Kenya loaded down with gear.  Porters from a local tribe were carrying his cumbersome supplies and luggage.

On the first morning, the group awoke early, traveled fast and went far into the bush.

On the second morning, they repeated the first day.

On the third morning, they repeated days one and two.

By the end of the third day they are very deep into the bush.

The American seemed pleased.

But on the fourth morning, the porters refused to move.  They simply sat by a tree.

Their behavior incensed the American. “This is a waste of valuable time.  Can someone tell me what is going on here?”

The translator answered, “They are waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”

We could all use some time for our soul to catch up with our body.

I call it breathing room.

Apple calls it “restoring your iPhone.”

Reflection leads to restoration

Physical rest rejuvenates our body.  Emotional rest helps us process the ups and downs of life.  Spiritual rest reminds us that we don’t have to strive to prove our worth to a loving God. We rely on grace.

Clarity and energy are ours when we take time to restore our soul.  It’s as easy and as difficult as pushing our internal restore button.

What are some practices that help you restore your soul? I’d love to hear what works for you.

1 Way to Get a Grip by Letting Go

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I love the Back to the Future trilogy. There is something fascinating about being able to travel into the future.  It’s captivating because of its unreality.  We know life doesn’t work that way.

The unpredictability and brevity of our lives has its benefits. There was higher wisdom at work when God designed life this way.

Do we REALLY want to know the future?

How would knowledge of the future benefit us?

Gerald Sittser in his book, The Will of God as a Way of Life says,

How would it (knowing the future) help any of us?  On the one hand, if we foresaw that our future was going to be hard and painful, full of suffering, we would recoil, fretfully awaiting its awful reality and wishing we could change it.  But at the same time we would miss the wisdom and character that suffering engenders.  And if, on the other hand, we learned that our future was going to be easy and pleasant, we would become dull and complacent, which would only diminish our capacity to enjoy the pleasant future that was going to be ours (Page 29).

The irony is that we get a grip on life by letting go of our desire to know exactly what is going to happen in the future.

The uncertainty of our future allows us to value and celebrate the present moment.


The only measure of time we have is the present moment.  The past is gone and can’t be changed.  The future is not here yet and can’t be controlled.  All we are assured of is now.

We can become so preoccupied with the yesterdays and the tomorrows of our life that we neglect the here and now.  We can get distracted by the “if onlys” of yesterday or the “what ifs” of tomorrow that we miss the good things of today.

Our life consists of precious unplanned moments.  Spontaneous encounters with God and the world.  So we learn to embrace the moment.

  • Ÿ  We pause to watch the lightning in the distance.
  • Ÿ  We listen to the rain as it gently patters on our roof.
  • Ÿ  We linger over the dinner table with friends, lost in conversation.
  • Ÿ  We gaze lovingly at a sleeping child.
  • Ÿ  We read a good book over a cup of coffee on a lazy morning.
  • Ÿ  We stroll unhurriedly through a park on an autumn day.

Music, books, conversations with people we love, good movies, and quiet times of reflection open the door for being present in the moment.

Finding these moments varies from person to person and from one season of life to another.  But no matter where we are we can cultivate an appreciation of where we are at the time.

Watching children at play reminds me to enjoy the moments.  Their life is all about fun.  One of the best things kids have going for them is they don’t know how to tell time.  Parental commands to, “Hurry up,” fall on deaf ears.  Adult concepts of time don’t compute to a child.  They are completely in the present.

Today is the “good old days” we will be talking about in 10 years. Today IS “back in the day.”

We make the most of today.

We enjoy the moment.

We don’t know if we have tomorrow.

We don’t know if we have next week.

We live one moment at a time.

That doesn’t mean we don’t plan for tomorrow.  As Annie said, “tomorrow is only a day away.”  We plan for the future and leave it in God’s hands.

Writer Corrie Ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

That’s good advice for today… and tomorrow.

How will you enjoy the “moments” that come your way today?

Are You Running the Dash or Living the Dash?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m sure you have figured out that we don’t have control over many things in life.

The price of gasoline, who loves us and the winner of next year’s Super Bowl, for example.

Where and when we were born and who are parents are was not a decision we made.

We are born then we die.  We don’t get to decide the dates on our gravestone.  We don’t know when our time on this earth will be up.  It could be tonight, next week, next year or decades away.

But there is one thing we can control.

We get to decide how we’re going to use the dash between our birth and death.  Our date of birth and date of death are just markers.  What matters is what happens in between our birth and our death.

What are we spending our life on? Are we living the dash, knowing fully who we are and why we’re here?  Are we treating life like a dash that we are mindlessly sprinting through?

2 facts of life:

1.     Our life is unpredictable. 

We don’t know how tomorrow is going to go.  We have no guarantees.  We have no assurance.

The other day I was in an electronics store and there was a guy in front of me at the register buying a Nintendo DS for his grandson.  The clerk behind the counter was saying, “Sir, we offer an extended warranty on this product.  If you buy the warranty, and the DS breaks, we will replace it for free, no questions asked.”  The guy doesn’t want an upset grandson on his hands, so he says, “OK, I’ll take it.”

Maybe we buy extended warranties because we want some guarantees in life. We want assurance.  If something breaks we want a guaranteed replacement.

But life itself does not come with an extended warranty.  There are no guarantees.  There is no assurance.  Life doesn’t play by our rules.  It doesn’t follow our plan.

  • You had great investments, but a recession kicked in and kicked you out.
  • You were in the middle of college–but your first child came along.
  • You were never going to be in debt–but who knew there would be so many bills.
  • You have always taken care of yourself physically–but suddenly a tumor shows up.
  • You always drive so carefully–but that drunk driver came out of nowhere.

Our lives will never move along in measured, managed steps without a hitch.  Our life is unpredictable.

2.     Our life is short, no matter how long we live.

There is a fascinating website called http://www.death-clock.org/.  If you’ve ever asked yourself, “How long am I going to live?” this is the site for you.  There is a form to enter your birth date, gender, etc. and it will spit out the date when you will kick the bucket. It also includes a running clock that is counting down by the second.

According to the site, I have 8700 days left to live.  Seems like a lot but when I compare it to the number of days I’ve already lived, I realize that time is running out.

Our life is slipping away by the second.

Life is too short no matter how long we live.  My great-grandmother lived to be 99.  She was 6 weeks away from her 100th birthday.  She didn’t live long enough. I wanted to see her one more time before she died.

Life is too short, no matter how long we live.

Here’s a video from The Happiness Project’s Gretchen Rubin that puts it all in perspective.


Live your dash!

What are some ways you have found helpful to live your life with joy? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Fall is for Dying

Autumn gold

Image courtesy of Simon Howden/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die. ~ Ecclesiates 3:1, 2

While listening to Amy Grant’s new recording, How Mercy Looks From Here, I came to the  song, “Better Not to Know.” The lyrics, written by Amy and Cindy Morgan, caused me to stop and think.

We sowed our seeds
Watered with tears
Waiting for signs of growth
Took months of days
And then took years.

We took our steps
We took our falls
Somewhere along the way
We just got lost
And we lost it all.

But nothing ventured, nothing gained
The risk of living is the pain
And what will be will be anyway

Oh, it’s better not to know
The way it’s gonna go
What will die and what will grow.
Goodbye more than hello
It’s better not to know

Those tiny stems became these trees
With dirt and storm
And sun and air to breathe
Like you and me.

And some fell down
And some grew tall
And those surviving twenty winter thaws
Have the sweetest fruit of all.

But innocence and planting day
Are both long gone
So much has changed
And if we had to do it all again

Oh, it’s better not to know
The way it’s gonna go
What will die and what will grow.
Oh, nothing stays the same
Life flickers like a flame,
As the seasons come and go
Goodbye more than hello
It’s better not to know

Is it better, better not to know?
Is it better, (is it better), is it better?

The song’s backstory features 75 fruit trees that Amy had planted years ago on her previous farm in memory of her grandmother.  Many years later, some of the fruit trees are bearing sweet fruit that Amy finally got to pick from the trees.

The line “as seasons come and go” reminded me of the season of fall here in North America.  Autumn is associated with the leaves changing color and falling off the tree in order to prepare for future growth.

Nature has its own process of pruning and dying to make way for new growth.

I remember a graduate class where the professor had us write journal entries as part of our ongoing assignments.  One entry had us answer the question: What is dying in your life right now?

Up to that point, I had never thought of my life in those terms.  As I’ve grown older and lost loved ones who were dear to me, jobs, opportunities and time, I’ve seen the relevance of the question.

Here are some things that may be dying in our life right now:


Loved ones

Methods of doing things







Unhealthy habits

Unhelpful attitudes

What is dying in your life?

Let them go.  Relinquish.  Get out of our own way.

What has to die before you can experience new growth?

Now is the time.

Guard Your Heart

heart_of_L_12_1_This is a guest post from Mark Miller.  Mark’s latest book is, The Heart of Leadership: Becoming a Leader People Want to Follow.

Originally Posted on greatleadersserve.org on Wednesday, September 4, 2013


The Heart of Leadership is built upon a simple premise: unless your heart is right, no one cares about your skills. This may sound harsh, but it’s true. If people don’t trust our heart, they don’t trust us. If they don’t trust us – they won’t follow our leadership.

That’s the idea the book is built upon, and when we demonstrate leadership character, others see it. They see it as leadership character in action. They see it when we…






But why does this matter? Aren’t we just supposed to get results? If you’ve been leading long, you know you can get results without creating follow-ship. Results can be the byproduct of a very toxic workplace and poor relationships with those you lead. The irony of this approach is two-fold. It is not the way to maximize results. And, it is not sustainable over the long haul.

There is a vast reservoir of untapped potential in most people and in turn, most organizations — potential that goes unused and wasted. It resides in the discretionary efforts of our people. The day of the hired hands is dead. Leaders operating from that perspective are the dinosaurs of our day. As Peter Drucker said, “We are all knowledge workers.” The implications for leaders…

For every pair of hands you hire, you get a free brain.

Our challenge is to create the context and the work environment to mine that potential, to capitalize on that FREE brain. It starts with us. People don’t leave organizations, they leave their supervisor. Are we becoming leaders people want to follow? Or, are we driving talent away from our team?

Yes, we need the skills of leadership. I’ve devoted decades of my life to helping leaders acquire the requisite skills to lead well, but skills alone are not the answer. I’ll go back to where I started this post and to the premise of the book. If your heart is not right, no one cares about your skills. You and I will be dismissed as a leader if all we bring to the table are skills.

Leaders rarely fail for lack of skills. Certainly you can find examples of this, but in my experience, for every leader who fails because she can’t build a team or cast vision, countless others disqualify themselves for issues of the heart. The good news, we can change the condition of our heart. If we couldn’t, I wouldn’t have written the book.

So, what’s my point? I want to encourage you to be vigilant and diligent – give adequate attention to matters of the heart. It is much more important than most leaders think – it is critical. These are not soft issues; these are issues that ultimately determine our impact on the world!

There is an ancient proverb that summarizes why the matters of the heart matter so much – it captures my thoughts as well as I could ever hope to…


MarkMiller_About_179x240_050813Mark Miller, well known business leader, best-selling author, and communicator, is excited about sharing The Heart of Leadership: Becoming a Leader People Want to Follow with those who are ready to take the next step. You can find it on Amazon and in bookstores everywhere.

Who Are Your S.A.F.E. People? (Part 2)

Image courtesy of adamr/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of adamr/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In Part 1 of this post (http://wp.me/p3E32E-8z), I offered two qualities that our safe people demonstrate.  This post presents two more qualities.

We celebrate the people in our life that we can trust and with whom we can drop our guard.  We will probably have only 2 or 3 of these people present in our life at any given time.  As the song, Doubly Good to You, made popular by Amy Grant says, “If you find someone who’s true, thank the Lord, He’s been doubly good to you.

We need these safe people to help us cope with the realities of life.

S. A. F. E. People:

F = are Free to treat us as an equal.

Henry Cloud and John Townsend in their book, Safe People, say the unsafe people in our life stay in their parent/child roles instead of relating to us as equals.  Our safe people don’t act like our parent.  Nor do they want or expect us to be their parent.  They don’t try to control us or tell us what to do.

Safe people respect our right to make decisions and adult choices.  They treat us as an equal, not their personal reformation project.  They don’t talk down to us.

When unsafe people try to parent us they act as if we can’t make any decisions for ourselves about values, money, etc.  They give us advice when we don’t ask for it.  They are critical and disapproving.  They withdraw when we make a decision that they disagree with.  The relationship feels like there is this power struggle going on.

By contrast, safe people are not threatened by our differences.  They have their own standards, values and convictions.

Most important, they want us to grow in love and fulfill our destiny.

At its core, a safe relationship is about love.  When love controls our relationships we are set free to be ourselves.

E = Engage their empathy in action.

Empathy for its own sake doesn’t accomplish much.  We can feel empathetic towards another’s situation, but do nothing to help them.  Safe people shine when they combine feelings with positive actions.

They know that love is something you do.  It’s taking friendship to the highest level.  We see and feel the pain in our friend’s life and want to do something to mend it.

Author and psychologist, Alan Loy McGinnis says, “The best relationships are built up, like a fine lacquer finish, with the accumulated layers of many acts of kindness” (The Friendship Factor).

Gestures of love and acts of kindness bond us to another person.  They confirm that we have not taken the other person for granted.  Rather, we took time to think about what would bring them a moment of happiness.  And we acted on it.

Who are the safe people in your life?

Are you a safe person for someone else?

I’d love to hear your experiences with safe people.  You can leave a comment below.

Who Are Your S.A.F.E. People? (Part 1)

Group hugThe way we meet friends has changed in the last 15 to 20 years.  We used to build our relational circles of friends from those we encountered at work or school.  These days we can just as easily discover a friend online.  We form virtual communities that may consist of people we know from school or work, but also people we met online.  Increasingly, we are calling on our cyber friends for emotional support.

Video games are a big entry point for finding new friends. NBC’s Today Show aired a story about the “Big Fish Babes.” (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/36033819)  These ladies formed a “safe community” using the connection of online gaming.

Who is your safe person?

In our relationships, we are continually sizing up people to see who is safe and who is not.  We learn this through trial and error.  We’ve all been emotionally hurt in a relationship at some point in our life.  We’ve all been burned by being in an emotionally unsafe relationship.

On the positive side, we have some safe people in our lives.  We’ve learned that we can trust them with our thoughts and feelings.  We share our thoughts and opinions with them.  Then we risk a little more and share our feelings.  Over time, the relationship deepens.  We find the freedom to be ourselves in their presence.  We don’t have to pretend to be something that we are not.  We’re accepted as we are.  The genuine sharing of ourselves happens between us and our hearts are joined in friendship.  They are God’s gifts to us.

These kinds of people are very rare.  We may only have one or two during any given season or time in our life.

Here are two qualities of the safe people in our life.  In my next post, I’ll describe two more.

S. A. F. E. People:

S = Speak with their ears and eyes first.

One quality that sets the safe person apart for us is their willingness and ability to listen to us.  Really listen to us.  They give us the gift of their attention.

This is where communicating with friends only by text or email has its limitations.  We can’t always interpret the tone of the words correctly and it can lead to miscommunication.

It is difficult to become close friends with someone who talks too much and listens too little.

We’re not looking for world-class talkers as friends.  Someone who can talk a lot but who can’t shut up long enough to listen is a person we’ll have a hard time being close friends with.

Most of us are looking for a world-class listener.  We are hungry to be listened to.

People spend huge sums of money every week to have someone listen to them.  Why?  Because being listened to feels great.

World class listeners speak with their eyes and ears.  You can always tell a good listener.  They look at you when you are talking to them.  They are not staring off into space.  They are not looking over your shoulder, scanning the room.  Their focus is on you and you alone. Their listening sends a message that you are important and that you have something worth saying.

Eye contact and ear contact are two of the most important ways we connect with people.

A = are Attuned to our feelings before they speak.

Safe people are able to connect with us in such a way that they know what we are thinking and feeling.  They don’t judge us. They don’t advise us yet. They tune in to our world.

It’s all about empathy.  It’s the ability to sense how another feels.  Daniel Goleman in his book, Emotional Intelligence, says, “People’s emotions are rarely put into words; far more often they are expressed through other cues.  The key to intuiting another’s feelings is in the ability to read nonverbal channels: tone of voice, gesture, facial expression and the like.” (Page 96)  Our safe people are able to tune in to our channels.

Acceptance.  Understanding. Empathy. These are rare and valuable qualities of the safe people in our life. We are blessed if we have friends like this.

As with most relational situations, the Golden Rule applies: Treat others the way you would like to be treated.

What have safe people meant to you?

1 Question That Always Moves Us Forward

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One question we naturally ask when we experience heartache or tragedy is, “Why me?”  I’ve discovered that question can drain our energy and cause us to lose focus from the most important matter at hand which is to resolve the issue.

A better, more productive question to ask is, “What can I learn from this?”

Another way of saying it is, “How can I gain wisdom from this experience?”

Asking “what” instead of “why” offers a few benefits:

  • We won’t waste the opportunity to grow.
  • We will know where to focus our limited energy.
  • We exercise creativity to solve our problems.
  • We will not become bitter in the midst of the problem.

Late Hall of Fame baseball coach Sparky Anderson is one of only two managers in history to win World Series titles in both the National and American Leagues.  (Tony La Russa is the other.)  Anderson led the Cincinnati Reds to the top in 1975 and 1976 and the Detroit Tigers in 1984.

But even Sparky couldn’t win them all.  In 1989, the Tigers finished a miserable 59-103.  Sparky said, “I never dreamed I could be part of a team that couldn’t at least play .500 ball.  I was embarrassed and ashamed.”

Sparky suffered mental and physical exhaustion early in the season and had to leave the team for 17 days.

Looking back on it he said, “For my first 19 years as a manager I was blessed by so much good fortune I thought maybe the devil had forgotten where I lived.  In 1989, I found out that Sparky Anderson has to pay his dues, too….  I never got over the point of bleeding a little bit after every loss, but I finally learned to let go.  I can’t say I’m happy with the pain I went through in 1989.  But I’m grateful for what it taught me.”  (Sparky Anderson and Dan Ewald; They Call Me Sparky; Sleeping Bear Press, 1998, pages 194-197)

Here is someone who learned to ask the “what” question.

There is a difference between experience and maturity.

Experience is the ability to recognize a mistake when we make it again.

Maturity is the ability to recognize a mistake before we make it again.

Asking, “What can I learn from this?” helps us make mature decisions in the midst of problems.

All of us have problems and trials in our life.  As writer and speaker Andy Andrews says, “We are either in a crisis, coming out of a crisis or headed for a crisis.”

Think of your greatest problem facing you today.

What are you learning from it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the space below.

When Problems Come, Step Up!

Image courtesy of Maggie Smith/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Maggie Smith/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We sometimes think of tests as negative things.  In college I didn’t like exam week because it was stressful and I felt it affirmed what I didn’t know.

As I’ve matured, I’ve come to see tests as positive things.  Trials can serve a positive purpose.  Like getting a driver’s license, for example.  The intent is to affirm what we know so we can be granted the privilege of driving.

When viewed with this perspective, we become stronger through testing.  Problems, difficulties, and challenges that come our way in life are reminders that we’ve still got some growing to do.

The character quality of endurance is developed through our response to tests in our life.

Our troubles are opportunities to build endurance.

Hardships become steps to strengthening our character.  We know the truth of the old adage, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”  The problems our life are the tools that shape our character.

Farmer Joe has an old dog.  One day the old dog falls into the well.  After assessing the situation, Farmer Joe sympathizes with the dog but decides that neither the dog nor the well are worth the trouble of saving.  He decides to bury the dog by filling in the well, putting them both out of their misery.

Joe brings in a dump truck load of dirt and backs it up to the well.  The truck bed lifts and dirt starts slowly pouring out.  The old dog is hysterical.  As dirt is pelting him, he shakes it off. Then he steps up. Blow after blow, shake it off and step up, shake it off and step up, shake it off and step up.

No matter how painful the strikes or how distressing the situation seems, the old dog fights panic and continues shaking it off and stepping up.  The blows get less painful the higher he goes.  Before long the dog, battered and exhausted steps triumphantly over the wall of the well.

What seemed as though it would bury him actually benefited him.

We face our problems and respond to them positively, refusing to give in to panic, bitterness, or self-pity.  The adversities that come along to bury us can be useful in building the quality of endurance in us.

Fact of life:  We are going to get dumped on, so when it happens, shake it off and step up!

What are you shaking off today?

How Wise People Handle Problems

Image courtesy of artur84/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of artur84/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It is the smartest of times and the dumbest of times.

We live in a time when a lot of smart people are making astounding advances in medicine, business, science and technology.  A Newsweek article from several years ago said IQ scores rose steadily in the 20th Century, 24 points in the US.  “The rise is so sharp that the average child today is as bright as the near genius of yesteryear.”  (Read the full article here.)

It is also the dumbest of times.

Books with dummies in the title have become best sellers.  There is a book for every kind of dummy under the sun.

Have you heard of the Darwin Awards?  The Darwin Awards have their own website where they celebrate the theory of evolution by commemorating the remains of those who improved our gene pool by removing themselves from it in really stupid ways.

We know people who have done some really dumb stuff.

I look in the mirror and I see a person who has done some really stupid things.  All of us have done some boneheaded things.

We’re all in need of some wisdom for living, especially when we encounter problems and struggles.  I have lost count of how many times I’ve made a problem worse because I took an unwise course of action.  We can be our own worst enemy at times.

Problems are our ever present companions.  They are here to stay.  The issue is how we treat them when we meet them.

How do we treat our troubles, as intruders or friends?

We may try to treat them the way we treat an intruder in our home.  We build homes with the maximum amount of protection possible.  We have locks on the doors and windows, security systems, surveillance cameras and hurricane shutters.  We have protection systems that arm us against intruders to give us peace of mind.  We have 911 and emergency panic buttons so that we can respond to trouble fast.

This approach transfers to the way we try to deal with problems in our life.  Deal with them as you would an intruder.  Protect yourself, maintain your level of comfort, and deal with them quickly.  Intruders are not there for our good, right?

We can try to live as if problems are not there, but one day they come knocking on our door.  So what do we do when they come knocking?   How do we handle it when the doorbell rings and problems are standing there, refusing to leave?

One response is to slam the door quickly, hoping they will go away.  They hardly ever just go away.

There is a better approach.

Wise people learn to see the benefits in problems.  It may take them awhile.  They learn to throw open the door and say, “Come on in!”  They thrust out their arms and embrace the problem.

Wise people welcome problems as their friends.  This is so hard to do!  Yet, it is an essential part of wise living.

Troubles are opportunities for joy.

Struggles give us an opportunity to see what we are made of.

Much of our success in life depends on our attitude. I need to be reminded that I have a choice when problems come.  I strive for an attitude that says, “What can I learn from this?  What opportunities for growth can come from this trouble?”

When we seek wisdom in the midst of our struggles, we are not a dummy.

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