The Wrong Side of the Bed

I would love to have a better day, but my feelings decided this morning that today would suck. It’s really my bed, you see. One side is pleasant, the other side is where I keep my pet vipers—and alas, it is on this side that I have risen.

Jon Acuff in soundtracks
Photo by Patryk Kamenczak from Pexels

Today is one of those days I “woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” It seems there is a solution to this situation. Just get back in bed and get out on the right side. If only it were that easy.

It doesn’t happen all that often, so sometimes it catches me off guard. I don’t realize it is happening until after I’ve snapped at someone or have gone down the rabbit hole of cascading negative thoughts. The land where a minor thing feels like a major catastrophe.

It wasn’t until after my morning walk that I became aware of my irritability and overall state of crankiness. I drew upon a powerful technique used by the best basketball coaches. I took a timeout to regroup. A strategic pause (Thank you, Juliet Funt).

After I got myself calmed down, I asked myself, “What is really going on here?”

What am I agitated about today?

Here’s what I came up with in random order:

  • I’m exhausted, not just tired. For me, being tired is relieved after I get a good night’s rest. Being exhausted, however, can go on for several days, weeks and months. I know many of you are not just tired, but exhausted from the daily demands of living during a pandemic. Exhaustion affects my spiritual life, emotional well-being, physical body and mental clarity.
  • My pet peeves are piling up. We all have pet peeves that annoy us. One or two at a time are easy to handle. But in a state of exhaustion, they can pile up and “get on our last good nerve.” My pet peeves set off a flashing red “annoyance button.”
  • My prayers are a litany of complaints rather than an expression of praises for what I am grateful for. Something subtle happens here. My list of “things I’m grateful for” becomes rote and all-too-familiar. It’s a sign that I may be missing some wonderful things to be grateful for that are right in front of me.
  • The voice of my critics shout instead of whisper. We all have critics and some days their harsh assessments seem louder than others.
  • My grief and anger at the senseless loss of life in Afghanistan yesterday. I hurt for the families of United States military members who lost their lives yesterday. It was the most service members we lost in a single day in over a decade. It was a terrible day for America. I also grieved for the families of the innocent Afghan civilians who were killed by inexplicable violence.  

Once I figured out what was happening, I was able to focus on a solution. I saw it as an opportunity to practice self-control.

“The fruit of the Spirit is…. self-control.”

galatians 5:23

I remembered my friend Leo. He was the custodian of the first church I served fresh out of seminary. He became one of my favorite friends. Every morning, without fail, he would knock on my office door and say, “Come on, kid, let’s take a coffee break.” We would go to the church kitchen, pull up a couple of stools and sit around the center island. There we would laugh, joke, talk about books, and solve the world’s problems. It was a chance to slow down, have a good cup of coffee and sit with our thoughts. I came to call this a “Leo Lifter,” because I always came away feeling better. Leo died several years ago, and I miss him dearly. But his impact on me remains. People Go, Their Impact Stays

Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels

Today, I slowed down, got a good cup of coffee, and sat with my thoughts. I let my pet peeves go. I thought about my upcoming time off and turned down the volume on my critics (Thank you, Jon Acuff). I prayed again for the grieving families.

Best of all, I had my daily morning FaceTime coffee date with my girlfriend who ALWAYS lifts me up.

I felt better.

And, I didn’t even have to get back in bed.

How do you handle it when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed?

Who are your “Leo Lifters?”

I’d love to hear your ideas in the comment section below!

When Others Throw Dirt

I have something in common with Taylor Swift. 

Yes, we were both born in Pennsylvania, but that’s not it. We both got a lot of mileage out of “shaking it off.” Long before her catchy tune rose to the top of the charts, I used the phrase to encourage others to keep moving forward.

I recently got word of a former church attendee’s death. His widow texted that he came back to church and heard me tell a story that changed how he lived his daily life. 

Here is the story.

Farmer Joe has an old dog. One day the old dog falls into farmer Joe’s well. After assessing the situation, Joe sympathizes with the dog but decides that neither the dog nor the well is worth the trouble of saving. A better idea hits him like a flash of lightning. He’s going to fill the well with dirt and bury the dog. Problem solved. Life will be easier without them around. He orders truckload of dirt to be dumped into the hole.

The dump truck backs up to the well. It lifts its back and dirt starts slowly pouring out, the old dog is hysterical. As the dirt is hitting his back, he does what comes naturally. Every time dirt lands on his back, he shakes it off and steps up. Blow after blow of dirt on his back. Shake it off and step up, shake it off and step up, shake it off and step up! 

The blows get less painful the higher up he goes. It is not long before the dog, battered and dust covered, steps triumphantly over the wall of the well.  He is out of well staring at Farmer Joe. 

The simple yet powerful lesson: When others throw dirt on us, we shake it off and step up. 

We use the junk they throw our way to our advantage. 

We don’t play the victim card, even if we have every reason to play it. 

We don’t ask why they are throwing dirt on us.

Instead, we choose to use it for our growth and self-improvement.

When life doesn’t go our way, we have a choice to let it bury us or let it bless us.

Shake it off, and step up.

Where is the Joy?

This has not been a particularly enjoyable week. We’ve had tense days seeing a worldwide rise in COVID cases and increasing tensions over the Presidential Election. I’ve been overwhelmed by all of the “breaking news” coming at us. But I awoke this morning with joy on my mind. I’ve been asking myself some questions:

  • Is there joy to be found as health departments across the United States issue further restrictions and more people lose their jobs while relief is months away?
  • Is there some perverse joy we get in seeing one candidate lose to another?
  • Do rioters find joy in screaming insults at the other side?
  • Do candidates on both sides find joy in criticizing their opponent, their followers, and the media? Is that why they do it so much?
  • In our “age of despair” why are so many people losing their sense of joy?
  • Is it calloused to feel joy when so many around us are hurting?

I was reminded again that joy is our superpower. It is the thing that is going to get us through this difficult time. Not enjoying another’s failures or boasting about our success, but a deep joy within that carries us through the day.

Years ago, a family member underwent a crucial surgery performed by a world-renowned surgeon. It was a delicate and lengthy procedure but one that could extend life if it was successful. The good news is that it went well. The better news is that a source of joy was found in the one performing the surgery. It was the presence of the surgeon and his God-given skills that gave us joy needed to see it through.

With joy comes trust. With anxiety comes distrust.

It is like having a person that you really love in your life. It could be a spouse, a partner, a child or a friend. The world outside of that relationship can be falling apart, but you know that as long as your BELOVED person is near, everything is going to be okay. You have joy, just because that person is near.

It’s the relationship with God and the people in our life that give us the joy needed to carry us through. One day, hopefully soon, the pandemic will end, and the president chosen. And what will remain, will be the experience of having been through it with the important people in our life.

Where is the joy? Look around, it might be sitting right next to you.

Photo by Jill Wellington from Pexels

5 Positive Practices to Keep Hope Alive

How is your hope these days?

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged us physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally and relationally. Our capacity to cope is being stretched to the limit. Some days are better than others. I try not to allow myself to get blasted by the news channels that spew bad news like an open hydrant. Our hearts break when we see people hurting and suffering. Our sadness motivates us to do something which begins by building a positive outlook.

Here are 5 specific practices that are helping me stay hopeful during this trying time:

  • Write it out

Some people use Julia Cameron’s morning pages tool, others use The Five Minute Journal, while others take a freestyle approach. Still others find value in writing out their prayers longhand. I have found that just a few lines a day helps me focus my runaway thoughts on gratitude and wins throughout the day.

  • Read positive books

Reading shapes our actions. Books by Jon Gordon, Shawn Achor, and Ryan Holiday help me see things from a realistic yet positive perspective. You probably have your favorite authors that are helping you keep the faith during this unique time.

  • Post positive verses and quotes

One side benefit of reading positive books is that you can take quotes that inspire you from your reading and display them on Post-it notes, where you see them regularly. Positive Bible verses that remind us of God’s presence and care remind us that we are not alone and serve as good reminders to stay positive in the moment.

  • Listen to uplifting music

The options are endless here with styles that run the gamut from classical to instrumental jazz, to ambient to piano to praise and worship. I have a few favorites in each category and I lean into them daily to hear the beauty in the world.

  • Watch

Our minds are fed through our eyes. Seeing positive things lifts our spirits. Encouraging stories can be found at SomeGoodNews and Inspire More. In addition, there are favorite old television comedies that can be streamed from the major providers that help lighten our mood and put us in touch with joy again.

The wonderful thing about being human is that we get to choose what we focus on. Hope is not a strategy, but it sure helps make our days more enjoyable.

I’d love to hear what you are doing to stay positive during these trying times. What are some of your favorite practices?

Failure IS an Option!

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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.

Planning is Worth Everything and Nothing

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“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

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.

What That Sinking Feeling Tells Us

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?

Things 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.

Why Settle for Walking?

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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:

Are You Running the Dash or Living the Dash?

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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.

http://www.theyearsareshort.com/

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

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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:

Relationships

Loved ones

Methods of doing things

Passions

Responsibilities

Practices

Activities

Technology

Debts

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.

1 Question That Always Moves Us Forward

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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.

How Wise People Handle Problems

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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.

Remember the Heroes Today

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Have you ever had the opportunity to meet one of your heroes in person?

I’ve been able to meet two of my leadership heroes, John Maxwell and Zig Ziglar.  For more years than I can remember, I have read their books, listened to their audio recordings and heard them speak in person. I’ve learned much from the teaching of these two encouraging giants. Here’s how the two meetings came about.

I went to a local church to hear John Maxwell speak about leadership principles from the life of a man in the Bible named Paul.  Following his excellent talk, he invited people to come forward to meet him and offered to sign books. I was the first in line!  John was gracious, warm and kind.  I asked him to sign his book Today Matters, one of my personal favorites. When John handed the book back to me, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Todd, this is the most life changing book I’ve ever written.”  I agreed that it is.  I thanked him and went on my way with renewed purpose to make today matter.

Meeting Zig Ziglar was more indirect, but no less uplifting. I was a monthly subscriber to Zig’s fantastic online learning and personal growth site, Success 2.0.  Due to a job change, I had to end my subscription so I contacted customer service to ask that it be cancelled right away.  I got a gracious note back from Cindy Oates saying that it would be done by the end of the day.  A couple weeks later, when I checked my credit card statement I saw that the monthly charge remained.  I contacted Cindy and asked again.  She removed the charge immediately.  In Cindy’s email reply, she said she’d like to make it up to me by getting “Dad” to sign one of his books of my choice.  I had no idea that Cindy was related to Zig, but thankful that she went the extra mile to make my week.  True to her word, about two days later, I got an autographed copy of the Zig Ziglar classic, See You at the Top.

Our personal heroes are heroes because they don’t disappoint. They come through for us in the clutch. They struggle with fears and doubts just like everyone else, but in the end, their actions match their message. Heroes seize daily opportunities to put someone else’s needs before their own.

We don’t need to be famous to be a hero. Heroes come in every shape and size and from every circumstance in life. Heroes act while others just talk.

We can all be a hero to someone. We may not know who is watching or waiting for us to respond. But when we do, we make someone’s journey a little bit easier and their burden a little bit lighter.

Today matters because are remembering the 9/11 attack on America.  A day that called out heroes like no other day in recent memory.  Thank God, that day in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania there were ordinary people who became heroes. First responders who said, “today matters to someone.”  Rescuers who entered the World Trade Center towers saying, “I will see you at the top.”  They came through for us in the clutch and we are forever in their debt.

Remember the heroes today.

Be a hero to someone today.

Getting Back Up When Life Knocks Us Down

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Life has a way of messing up our plans.  We can go through painstaking effort to figure out our mission, only to have life smack us around.

In those moments, the challenge is being able to get back up and stay on mission or figure out if there is a new mission that arises from the ashes of the tragedy.

One life challenge is being able to stay on mission.

I was inspired by Art Daily’s story of getting back up when life dealt him a horrible blow.

Art Daily and his wife of 12 years, Kathy and their two sons Tanner, age 10 and Shea age 6, were coming back from a youth hockey game, traveling west towards Aspen, Colorado on Interstate 70.  The road winds through Glenwood Canyon, one of the most spectacular roads in the United States.  Cliffs line both sides of the highway.

Suddenly, a boulder breaks loose and comes hurdling towards their Chevy Suburban. It smashes into the passenger side and rolls over the top of the SUV taking part of the roof with it.  Art, who is driving brings the car to a screeching halt.  He looks over at Kathy who was sleeping in the front seat.  He knows she is dead.  He turns back to check on his sons who were watching a movie on the car DVD system. They are motionless and their eyes are closed.

Other passersby stop to try to help. Two doctors from Oregon take charge of trying to save the boys while they wait for the ambulance to arrive.  Shea, the youngest is already gone. They rush both boys to the hospital but neither of them can be saved.

In an instant Art Daily loses his wife and two sons.  How does anyone deal with such a tragedy?  He wrote about his experience in Out of the Canyon: A True Story of Loss and Love.

A few years after the horrific event, he is having dinner with his firstborn daughter from his first marriage to celebrate her birthday.  It’s just the two of them.  She leans across the table and says, “Dad, there’s something I’ve always wanted to ask you.  How did you survive that awful time in your life?  What made you keep going?”

He tries his best to answer her question and reflects out loud on what he has learned. At one point he says,

“In any case, I understood early on that I had a choice.  I could stay the course and embrace life, or I could take some lesser path.  Ultimately, there are really only two directions that we can choose – toward life or toward death.  Since I felt like I had some sort of job to do, something not yet finished, the natural course was to keep going, to make the best of things.  The moment I started down that road, with my head up and love in my aching heart, I knew that I had chosen well, and the blessings of the passing years have surely confirmed it” (Page 216).

That’s the challenge we all face.

Staying on mission, no matter what life throws our way.

It’s getting back up when we are knocked down.

It’s getting our inner compass reoriented in the right direction and finding the strength and courage to keep moving.

How do you stay on mission when life knocks you down?

 

You’re Fired! Lessons I’m Learning from Being Let Go

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Let’s face it, getting fired hurts. From first-hand experience I can tell you that it is embarrassing, humiliating and makes you feel like a loser.

The day I was terminated, I was handed a box with my personal things already packed.  Since I was no longer an employee, I was forbidden from using the employee’s entrance in the back.  I had to walk out of the building through the front lobby where people were waiting for their appointments.  Talk about a walk of shame.

I related to Job in the Bible when he said, “What I have feared, has come upon me.”

I knew that my life was forever changed. A new potential landmine was buried for discovery by my next employer when asked, “Why did you leave your last job?”  As if getting a job isn’t hard enough.

Lessons from the school of hard knocks

As I think back on the experience, I’ve realized that I’ve been enrolled in a graduate level course in the school of hard knocks. It is an experience I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. But, it has been valuable.  Funny how the traumatic experiences of life can turn out to be blessings in disguise.  A mentor of mine calls these events “love letters in black envelopes.”

Here are a few lessons I’m learning as I deal with getting axed.

Yes, it IS me.

We try to prop ourselves up by saying, it is our employer’s fault. They didn’t like me or the boss had it in for me. I came to realize that it was me.  The fact is that if I had the talents necessary to add value to the company, I would still be employed there.  My skills, experiences, insights and abilities were not enough to make it in this job. It did me no good to whitewash it or sugarcoat it. I didn’t measure up, for THIS job. That doesn’t mean I don’t have skills and abilities for other jobs.

I am not alone.

I realized that people like underdogs and when you tell someone you were fired they find kindness within themselves to offer a word of encouragement or try to help you.  When I told my gym manager that I couldn’t afford the monthly membership fees because I’d been fired, he understood and offered words that helped me look at it positively.  I’ve found support from family and friends who have stepped up to provide.

When I joined the ranks of people who’d been fired my mother (as only a mother can) reminded me that even successful people get fired. She mentioned Lee Iacocca who was fired from the Ford Motor Company before turning around Chrysler in the 1980’s. There are other famous people who were fired. Hugh Jackman, once named The Sexiest Man Alive by People Magazine was let go from his job at 7-Eleven before becoming a movie star.

I gotta keep moving

Our natural tendency is to wallow in self-pity, but ultimately that does us no good. It drains our energy. As much as we’d like to sit around all day watching Oprah reruns and eating Cheetos, we realize that we have to keep active.

I discovered that the magical job fairy doesn’t exist and isn’t coming to my door to hand me my next job. Finding a new job is hard work.

As an introvert I don’t have a mile long list of contacts in my “network.”  The bills keep coming whether I’m working or not.  Like most people who are fired, I don’t have a huge savings account, so I gotta keep actively searching.

I’ve found fellow firee (I know, that’s not a real word.), Amy Shouse’s advice to “adopt a five actions each day rule” (See http://lifehacker.com/5983909/how-i-found-happiness-after-being-fired) to be very helpful in keeping me off of the sofa.  She suggests doing 5 things each day that feel momentum-creating as we move toward the future.  What matters is that these are “actions which keep new energy flowing.”

I’ve realized that my future is being built with the building blocks of today.

New opportunities will arise

I’ve written about this before (https://www.ignitinghopetoday.com/opportunities-come-in-threes), but as time has passed, I’ve become grateful for the opportunities that this season of my life brings.  I’ve been able to experience new things that I would not have been able to had I been at my previous job. I’ve had more opportunities to write, explore, spend time with people I love, and give to others in an unhurried way.

I’m confident that new opportunities will come.  I’ve grown through this experience.  I’m focused on the future and not hung up on the past.

So take note People Magazine, if World’s Sexiest Man is not taken this year, I’m available.

What tips would you give to those who’ve been let go?

How to Gain When You Lose

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Life is a succession of losses and gains.  The color and texture of our life is constantly changing because at any given moment, we may be experiencing loss of one kind or another.  We may have lost a partner, spouse or friend.  We may have lost a marriage through death or divorce.  We may have lost a job.  We may have lost a treasured possession.  We may have lost a dream we held dear.

Loss can trigger discouragement.

All of us experience loss, so it’s not a matter of if but when.  What we do with it when it happens, matters.  Loss brings us to an emotional crossroad.  The direction of our life is determined by the choices we make at the point of loss.  We can’t exempt ourselves from the pain of the loss, but we can use the loss to shape our future.

The pull when we lose something meaningful, is to become discouraged and just go through the motions of life.  The other option is to find the life lessons and make them a part of who we are.

What we thought was a loss can turn out to be a gain.

Here are some ways to G–A-I-N when you lose:

G – Get your day off to a good start.

What we do with the time after we awaken in the morning sets the tone for the day.  Some of us like to exercise first thing.  Others of us find prayer, journaling, meditation, or yoga helpful. Others of us listen to music as we get ready to face the day. Still others of us read stimulating books.

Whatever inspires you in the morning, make it a habit that you can use to draw strength from during the day ahead.  This is the time of day we reward ourselves with meaningful activities that lift our spirit.

When our mornings get off to a good start, our energy is renewed and the pull of discouragement is weakened.

A – Adjust your plan.

Loss messes up our best laid plans. Loss demands that we adjust our focus and figure out our next steps.

What does this loss mean for you now?

When loss happens, we can’t go through life pretending that it didn’t happen.  What are the adjustments that need to be made in your schedule, routine and lifestyle?

What will your new plan entail?

I – Identify your resources.

Once our new plan begins to take shape, we look to see what resources we have that will enable us to carry out the plan.

What people do we need to contact?

What sources of inspiration do we have?

What financial resources do we have?

Take a look around to see the skills, talents, and tools within yourself and others that can help you move in your new direction.

There are resources that are in our life at this very moment that can make a difference in our future. Find them and maximize them.

N – Never allow inactivity to win.

Inactivity wins when we quit taking steps to move ourselves forward. Discouragement is victorious when we give up trying.

Even if we take a step in the wrong direction, at least we are moving. As the well-worn saying says, “It is easier to steer a car that is moving than one that is standing still.”

We can figure out where we want to go and then plan our steps accordingly. We don’t just plan to take them, we take them.

What one step do you need to take today that will be a death blow to the discouragement that is trying to pull you away from your purpose?  Take it.

There is an ancient story about a guy who has been to a bar.  He’s slightly tipsy.  He loses his house key.  He gets down on his hands and knees and starts looking for it.  A friend of his comes along and sees him down there so he says, “Sam, what in the world are you doing down there?”

“I lost my house key.”

His friend says, “Show me where you lost it so I can help you.”

Sam points in the other direction and replies, “Oh, I lost it over there in the grass.”

“Then why in the world are you looking for it over here by the sidewalk?” his friend says.

“Because, this is where the light is.”

When we experience loss, discouragement masquerades as light.  We know better and even if it means we will be in darkness for a little while, in the end, we will find what we are looking for. We will gain from our loss.

How are you growing from your losses? I’d love to hear your comments below.

The Skill that Improves Our Emotional Health

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I was having lunch with a friend who was telling me how things were going in his life.  The last time I had talked to him, he was in the middle of a divorce.  I asked him if his divorce was final.  He answered, “Yes.”  Then shaking his head said, “It is tough for marriages to make it these days.  We carry so much baggage into relationships.”  I knew what he meant.  He was not talking about suitcases, but about the emotional hurts and hang ups we bring into our relationships.

We bring emotional bags with us into our workplaces, too.  A co-worker had been on the phone with upset clients all day. It was getting near the end of business hours when he fielded the last call of the week. From my desk, I heard his exasperated pleadings with the person on the other end of the line.  With each response, the volume increased. Soon, the call ended abruptly when he hung up on the client.  A line was crossed from which there was no recovery.  You can’t hang up on clients and keep your job. The following day, human resources removed his personal effects from his work space.

Our ability to understand and manage our feelings is one life skill that improves our emotional health. Without the ability to process our emotions, especially negative ones, our inner emotional world is cluttered with baggage.

Some bags are heavier than others.  Some bags are bigger than others.  Some require more strength to carry around than others. Some necessitate the help of an expert to unpack.

The benefits of managing our emotions

The less emotional baggage we carry around, the happier we are in life.

By dealing with our emotions, our relationships are more meaningful and our love grows deeper and stronger.  When we deal constructively with our emotions, we enjoy life more and are fully alive to experience all of the good things life has to offer.

Events happen to us every day spark an emotional response in us.  Our feelings are indicators of what is happening in our inner life.  They help us interpret the true state of affairs in our soul.  Our feelings affect every area of our life: our relationship with our Creator and with others, our words, our actions and even our physical health.

Because emotions play such a huge role in our life, it makes sense to monitor them.  We become aware of what we are feeling, because those feelings will determine our actions.  Sooner or later, our emotions make themselves known.

Many years ago I had the privilege of traveling to Greece and Israel. It is no surprise that security is a major concern in the Middle East.  In the days I was there, it was not uncommon for armed Israeli guards to board our tour bus on the spur of the moment.

For the return flight back to the United States, I got to the Tel Aviv airport three hours prior to departure.  I arrived to a jam packed outside terminal area with hundreds of people and lots of armed guards.  When I got inside the terminal I was sent to one of 5 stations where I stood in a long, slow moving line. This was done before getting to the ticket window to check in.  In this line they sent our bags through an initial scanner.  Certain bags were pulled off and their owners pulled out of line. The suitcase was opened and inspected in front of everyone standing there.

I happened to be chosen as one of the lucky participants in the unpack your suitcase in front of everybody game.  A high school age looking female agent says, “Who does this bag belong to?” I see her pointing at my bag.

I did what any self-respecting, God-fearing man would do, I point to another member of my group. (Not really.) I raise my hand.

The agent says, “Come with me.”  Because I have an amazing grasp of the obvious, I correctly guessed I had not won the lottery.  She wasn’t taking me to collect my winnings.

She says, “I need you to open the bag.”  I open my suitcase.

The agent rummages around with intention.  Clothes are spilling out onto the floor. She gets a look on her face as if she has found what she is seeking.  She takes a white paper bag out of my suitcase and opens it.  Inside are books I purchased about the history of Israel and Greece.  She opens them one by one.  The unique feature of these books is that they have heavy plastic page overlays on them.  The overlays show an artist’s rendering of what the ancient site looked like compared to what it looks like today.  I packed these books on top of one another in my suitcase, causing the scanner to think that I have a large supply of plastic explosives in my bag.  I had no idea when I stuffed those books that they would cause a disruption of my life.  But, in spite of the inconvenience, I was glad they checked.

Our emotions are like the books in my suitcase.  We can try to stuff them down inside, but they have a way of making themselves known.  There will come a day when we have to unpack our suitcase in order to deal with the emotions that demand our attention.

It takes a lot of energy to carry around our emotional baggage. Our emotional health is better if we process them rather than stuff them and carry them around with us.

When we learn the skill of working through our emotions, our load is lighter and our joy increases.

How do you process your emotions? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

How to Be Good and Mad at the Same Time

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The size of a person is measured by the size of the thing that makes him angry. ~Author Unknown

We express anger in different ways.  Sometimes it is constructive, sometimes destructive.  My focus in this post is how we can use it for good.  The key to handling anger constructively is to get perspective.  It’s to see the issue we are mad about in light of the big picture. Perspective is so important when we are angry.  It doesn’t come immediately, but when it does come, we can take positive steps to deal with what is upsetting us.

When we get angry, our emotions are persuading us to believe that the thing we are upset about is the most important thing in the world at that moment.  But in the grand scheme of things, it may not be that big a deal. On the other hand, it may be such a big deal that we feel  we have to take action.  Perspective helps us see what we need to do about it.  Life is too short to go around feeling angry all the time.  We’re here today and gone tomorrow, so why not make our life count today?

We all get angry.  It’s normal.  We have a choice as to what we do with it and how we use it.

Anger when used positively, is a powerful source of motivation to do good.

We can use our anger in positive ways.  We can harness its energy and do good.  Healthy anger drives us to do something to change what makes us angry; anger can energize us to make things better.” (Lewis B. Smedes, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve)

Anger can be a powerful source of motivation.  A group of brokenhearted mothers turned their hurt into anger and decided to do something about a major social problem.

In November 1979, five-month-old Laura Lamb and her mother, Cindi were on their way to the grocery store. Cindi noticed a car coming towards her that was going back and forth between the two lanes.  The Lambs were hit head on by a repeat drunk driving offender traveling at 125 mph.  He had no license, no insurance and was driving a borrowed car.  Laura became one of the world’s youngest quadriplegics.  As a result of the crash, Cindi and her friends waged a war against drunk driving in their home state of Maryland.

Less than a year later, on the other side of the country in Fair Oaks, California, 13-year-old Cari Lightner was walking to a school carnival when a drunk driver hit her from behind, killing her.  The driver had three prior drunk driving convictions. Two days prior, he was released on bail for a hit-and-run drunk driving crash.

Enraged, Cari’s mother, Candace Lightner, and friends gathered at a steakhouse in Sacramento. They discussed forming a group named “M.A.D.D. – Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.”  From that group and in partnership with Cindi Lamb, MADD was born. A new awareness of the social consequences of drunk driving swept the nation.  MADD changed its name in 1984 to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  By the end of 1981, MADD had 11 chapters in four states.  Today MADD has over 600 chapters and 50 Community Action Teams in all 50 states, Guam, Canada and Puerto Rico.  Two mothers got good and angry and decided to use their anger for good.

Anger is a normal, powerful human emotion.  Life is too short to carry around destructive anger. Go ahead and get good and mad. Make sure it is at the right time and for the right reason.

Use your anger for good to change your world.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you’ve seen anger used for good.

One Thing Happy People Always Lose

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During my airport people watching adventures, I constantly see people walking through the terminal with their suitcases and bags hanging open.  That is potentially embarrassing and dangerous.  What happens when the bag is jostled or shaken?  All kinds of stuff spills out.  It’s similar to what happens when an angry person gets shaken or jostled.  Their anger starts coming out in all directions, oftentimes with embarrassing consequences.

Leaving your bag open is potentially dangerous.  Anyone can come by and slip something into an open bag.  You are leaving yourself wide open for trouble.  Everything is allowed in.  When your bag is zipped, you choose what goes in and what doesn’t.  This is a parallel to an emotionally healthy person.  Happy people choose what they get angry about.  They don’t get angry about everything.  They get angry, but they choose things worthy of their emotional energy.

Anger builds and will be expressed

Chances are you have your “hot buttons.”  We all have things that set off an angry response in us.  Some things could be put in the category of minor irritations, sand in the shoe kinds of things.  Others could be called major frustrations that send us to another planet and trigger responses in us that are just plain ugly.

What are your minor irritations and your major frustrations?  What comes spilling out of your emotional bag when you are jostled?

We try to control it.  Sometimes we just can’t help it.  It just oozes out when we are jostled.

Emotions always come out in one way or another.  Buried emotions don’t stay buried.

We express anger in different ways.  Sam is a guy with a bad temper who goes to play a round of golf with his pastor.  They are out on the third hole when Sam misses an easy putt for the third time in a row.  When the ball rolls just an inch to the right of the hole, he loses all control.  “I missed!” he screams.  “How could I miss such an easy shot?”  He heaves the putter into a nearby lake and kicks the tire on the golf cart.  Good thing he carries a spare putter.

The pastor is thinking, “Wow, this is only the third hole, I’m in for a long day.”  He figures he better say something to Sam.  He says, “I have never seen such a terrible display of anger.  Don’t you know that God doesn’t like us when we are angry?  You better watch out.  I’ve heard that there are angels who seek out people who lose their temper.  The angels send a report back to God and God sends a lightning bolt to burn them to a crisp.  Please, be careful.”

The sermonette settles Sam down for a bit.  He is embarrassed by the way he acted in the presence of his pastor.  He behaves better on the next few holes.  But, on the 16th and 17th holes his putt fails him again.  The pastor ties the score.  They are dead even going into the 18th hole.  Sam has to make this last putt to win.  He hits the ball too fast and it veers slightly left of the hole.  This time Sam goes ballistic.  “I missed!  I can’t believe I missed!  How could I miss such an easy shot?”

He breaks the club in two across his knee, throws the two halves as far as he can.  Once again he kicks the cart.  Suddenly the sky turns black as dark clouds appear overhead.  There is a bright burst of lightning followed by a loud clap of thunder.  To Sam’s surprise the pastor is struck and burnt to a crisp.  A few seconds later, Sam hears a voice from heaven; “I missed!  I can’t believe I missed!”

This little tongue in cheek story is a reminder that the best of us get angry from time to time. A person who never gets angry is not in touch with their emotions. Even positive people get angry.

Holding on to anger is our choice

The difference between a happy person and one controlled by anger: the happy person has learned to lose the feelings associated with the upsetting event.  Anger sometimes comes on us in a flash. Holding onto that anger, however, is always our choice. We determine how long we’re going to stay angry.

Happy people have learned to let it go. They refuse to stew over things and get on with living their lives.  Like the wise traveler with the zipped bag, they’ve learned to take only what they need and control what’s inside.

Mistakes

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Mistakes are a part of life.  Even with our best intentions, they happen.  No pilot wants to miscalculate an approach to a runway that causes hundreds of passengers to lose their life.  No surgeon goes into the operating room thinking that they are going to leave an instrument in the body of the patient.  Making mistakes means we are human.

We’ve all made mistakes.  I remember a Don Williams song from many years ago called, “Mistakes.”  The line that rings in my head is, “I can make mistakes myself just fine.”  We don’t need any help making mistakes.  They seem to come naturally.  In my life, they come daily.  In spite of our best intentions, we miss the mark.

Seasons of our life we tend to make the most mistakes are when we start something new.  Taking a risk opens the door for mistakes.  When we are learning a new skill, beginning a new job, having our first child or housebreaking a new pet, the mistakes are plentiful.  It’s all part of growing up.

Some mistakes are more serious than others.  We might call them “minor mistakes.”  A  recent book order arrived one copy short of what I purchased.  A quick call to the company and the error was corrected immediately.  Not a big deal.  Easy to fix.

Other mistakes are more serious.  Relational misjudgments or careless damaging words said in the heat of a tense moment take more effort and finesse to mend. Recovery comes, but it takes a little longer.

There are mistakes that are permanent.  These are the hardest to deal with.  In his popular and fascinating TED Talk, Dr. Brian Goldman describes doctors who have a hard time admitting and recovering from mistakes they made that were fatal to their patients.  View the video here: http://www.ted.com/talks/brian_goldman_doctors_make_mistakes_can_we_talk_about_that.html. He begins the talk using the analogy of a baseball hitter who has a .300 or .400 batting average.  It means that a batter hit the ball 3 times out of ten when he came to the plate.  In baseball that’s a good average.  In the world of medicine, not so much.  The family, friends and fans of hospitalized country singer Randy Travis don’t want a surgeon with a .300 average of success caring for him right now.  The stakes are too high.  The cost of error too great.  We’d settle for a 100% success rate.

Here are my A-B-C’s for handling mistakes when I make them:

A –   Admit the mistake and apologize for it. Our mistakes are not intentional, but they can lead to hurt on the part of important people in our lives. To admit it is the first step towards a solution. Apologizing acknowledges that we are human and that we are sorry for the error.

B –   Be graceful with ourselves. We are not perfect and never will be, so we can cut ourselves some slack. Failures happen but that doesn’t mean that we are failures. Treat yourself with grace.

C –   Correct it as best we can. Correction is the birthing room for growth. Growth doesn’t occur if there are no errors. Thomas Edison didn’t become famous by getting it right the first time. He got it right after a series of many failures. But all it took was one success. We can learn from errors so we do better the next time.

It is much easier to talk about these than to actually put them into practice.  It has taken me a lifetime and I’m still learning.  Some mistakes are not easily corrected.

Thank God there is a divine gift called forgiveness.

Settling for Survival

Image courtesy of sritangphoto/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

If you get up one more time than you fall, you will make it through.” – Chinese Proverb

There are some days when we are not at our best. Some days the unplanned and unexpected happen, throwing us off pace.  There are days we get knocked off our feet. The struggle wears us down, draining our energy.  On those days, we’ll settle for survival.  We’ll settle for just having enough strength to make it through the day.  We’ll settle for just being able to live to fight another day.

Recently I flew into the Salt Lake City, Utah airport for the first time. As we approached the runway during our descent, I was struck by the ruggedness of the terrain. The airport was situated between mountains and part of the Great Salt Lake. I thought of the courageous Mormon pioneers who years before traveled to Salt Lake City in search of freedom from religious persecution. They didn’t have airplanes or air conditioned four wheel drive trucks to make their trek. They had horses and no shock absorbing wagons. It was difficult. It was a struggle. A good day meant they could get up and go a little bit farther in their journey the next day. They would settle for survival because it meant they got to continue. They were willing to endure the struggle for the sake of a greater purpose.

Some days, survival is all we have. And some days it is all we need. We get up tomorrow to make a few more steps of progress. When we know our purpose, the struggles we face are part of the process of growing into the people we are meant to be. Keep surviving because it  leads to thriving!