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!

Being Here

You love your phone. 

You hate your phone. 

I love and hate your phone too.

You love that you can call me anytime of the day and reach me wherever I am. I love that too. 

You hate that I can call you anytime of the day and reach you wherever you are. You love it too.

Our conversations sometimes start with, “Where are you?” 

I am here. 

Where are you?

We relate to a table scene author Rob Bell describes in his book, How to Be Here, “…if that phone rings and that screen lights up, she will be with you, but not be with you. Here but not here.”

We know we are important to the people sitting across the table from us when our phones are in hiding. They have their time and place, but this is not it.

Remember the days when phones, tablets and screens were not a part of our everyday existence?

The irony is not lost on me that I am writing this post on a computer that is a marvel of modern engineering. I’ll send it off on the information superhighway. It’s wonderful! 

We love technology. We hate it too. We struggle to find a balance between digital and analog.

We don’t want to lose sight of the joy of looking across the table or the sofa at a living person, created in God’s image, with nothing distracting us from each other. Attention is a gift we give to those that matter.

There is something special about picking up a pen to write on a real piece of paper rather than pixelated paper on a hard glass screen. 

There is old school magic in picking up an actual book, holding it in your hands and reading complete lines of sentences rather than pinballing across a screen at random. 

You are here. Present.

And we see you.

We love it when you are here.

Happy Father’s Day, Mom

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

Dear Mom,

Father’s Day is upon us. I am reminded again of how you stood in for my absent dad. This time of year, I see “World’s Best Dad” mugs and t-shirts. I see “My dad is a hero” on social media posts and merchandise. I think, “my dad is a zero.” Zero involvement. Zero contact. Zero courage. He came in and out of our lives like the wind. 

His choice to be out of our lives is not a reflection of my value as a person.

I know this is true because you stepped up when he stepped out. You drove me to sports practices after a long day of work in a car that had seen better days. You shopped for groceries and had dinner on the table for my brother and me. Then cleaned up and helped us with homework. You made sure we had what we needed when we needed it. When he left the final time, you took an extra job so I could stay in college. We would not be the sons we are today, without you. We are the sons we are today because of you. 

So Happy Father’s Day, Mom.

And to all the single moms reading this who are wondering if what you are doing matters, I can say that it mattered to me when my mom did it. I didn’t realize how much it meant to me at the time, and your kids probably don’t either…yet. But they will. 

I know you get tired. I know you get anxious. You may wish your kids had a greeting card dad, but they don’t. 

Author Donald Miller says it is time to rewrite the story of fatherlessness in America. But that won’t happen without your strength, courage, and perseverance.

You do your best and give your all to make up the difference daily. And sometimes you feel as if no one is watching. But your kids see you. Your friends see you. Your co-workers see you. God sees you. 

You do twice as much to care for your kids, so I think you deserve another day in your honor. 

So, Happy Father’s Day, Mom. 

You are making a difference. 

With love,

Your grateful child

Pay Attention to the Big Rocks

On my early morning walk, I was thinking about the “big rocks” in my life at the moment.

The “big rocks” is a term the late Stephen R. Covey uses to describe our most important values and goals. We don’t prioritize our schedule, but rather, schedule our priorities: the big rocks.

We can be distracted by the little pebbles that call for our attention daily: the social media ping, the robocall, checking sports scores, etc. Soon we find that the pebbles have filled our day and we have no energy left to tackle the big rocks.

So, we start with the big rocks first.

I’ve discovered that our big rocks can change depending on the season of our life. Right now, my big rocks are my calling in life and how I envision it unfolding in the future; nurturing my relationships that are blooming; my adventure plans for the next 6 months; and my continued growth and development as a writer. The rest are pebbles that I may or may not get to by the end of the day. If I don’t, it’s okay because I have paid attention to what is most important.

I’ve also discovered that some of the big rocks are more important than others. I value my relationship with myself, God, and others. My Christian faith guides me to love God with all of my being and to love my neighbor as I love myself. Those are the rocks that I spend the most time and energy polishing. The essence of any growing relationship is being one of the other person’s big rocks. Relationships die when they are no longer big rocks.  

Summer is a great time to evaluate where we are spending our time and energy.

What are your big rocks?

What are the pebbles that you are giving your one and only life to?

Getting clear on the big rocks results in a life well-lived and full of joy.

You can see Stephen Covey’s classic illustration of the big rocks concept here: https://resources.franklincovey.com/the-8th-habit/big-rocks-stephen-r-covey

Photo by Tina Nord from Pexels

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.

Failure IS an Option!

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.

Step Up and Face Your Fears

Image courtesy of Michael Elliott/
FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“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

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

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

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?

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

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?

3 VIPs to Be Thankful For

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

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

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.

Are You Running the Dash or Living the Dash?

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.

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.

Guard Your Heart

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

GUARD YOUR HEART!

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…

HUNGER FOR WISDOM

EXPECT THE BEST

ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY

RESPOND WITH COURAGE

THINK OTHERS FIRST

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…

ABOVE ALL ELSE, GUARD YOUR HEART. EVERYTHING YOU DO FLOWS FROM IT.

Mark 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

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)

The 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

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

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.

The Invisible Reward of Self-Control

Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Every day, for close to seven years, Walter “Buck” Swords cursed and stomped his feet in his favorite restaurant, Luby’s Cafeteria, demanding that he get his food exactly as he wanted it. Every day, for close to seven years, his preferred waitress, Melina Salazar, offered a patient smile and did whatever she could to help her most stubborn customer.  After years of thankless service, Salazar was rewarded.  When Swords died at 89 years old, just days before Christmas (2007), he left Salazar $50,000 and a 2000 Buick.

Ms. Salazar says, “I still can’t believe it.  He was always kind of mean.”  (Read about it here: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/offbeat/2007-12-30-waitress_N.htm).

There are rewards for demonstrating self-control.  Not just occasional tangible ones like $50,000 and a Buick.  There is an invisible reward too.

I read a fascinating article this week in Psychology Today about the asset that CEO’s need most. (Check it out here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201306/can-one-man-save-american-business)  As the article points out, external rewards only motivate us to a certain point.  We have a need to be inner directed rather than outwardly controlled by incentives and external rewards.

As I wrote in an earlier post: Self-control is the essence of true power.

Self-control is one of the fundamental character strengths that we need to successfully navigate through life.

We can’t control circumstances, but we can control ourselves.  We can’t always control what other people do to us.  We can’t control what they request of us.  We can control our response to them and to their requests.

Maturity is about our ability to be in control of ourselves.

We’re trying to gain control over the various fragments that we feel pulling at us in our lives. The solution to an out of control, fragmented life is building good boundaries or structures into our lives.

Demonstrating self-control means that we live our lives within certain invisible boundaries.

Boundaries are property lines.  They define where we end and someone else begins.  In the physical world, they are easy to see. If we own a piece of land we can go to the courthouse and see exactly where our property begins and ends.

There are also boundaries in the invisible world.  They influence our interpersonal relationships and our sense of wellbeing.  People with good personal and interpersonal boundaries feel as if their lives belong to them and no one else.  They have a central inner core from which they operate and function in this world.

For the spiritually inclined, we call it our spiritual center that allows us to take responsibility for our own feelings and behaviors.

The two most common invisible boundaries are our emotions and our relationships.  If we have emotional boundaries we are able to “own” our feelings.  We are aware when we are mad, glad, sad or anxious and not blame someone else for our emotions.

If we have good relational boundaries we are able to separate ourselves from other people’s problems and emotions.  Self-control allows us to help them without becoming too enmeshed in their issues.

Having good boundaries allows us to be healthy and to operate from our spiritual center.

The invisible reward of self-control is that we are more focused and less distracted. We are able to move through life with a sense of mission and purpose.

There are tools available to help us gain focus. It seems with mounting distractions in our lives there has been an increase in the popularity of yoga, meditation and prayer.  We can find the tools that work for us.

Use the tools available and you’ll find more power to live out your mission.

What tools have been helpful for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Who is Controlling You? ~ 5 Questions to Ask

Image courtesy of Michal Marcol/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We are all led by something.

I’d like to think I’m led by a higher calling or purpose.  I’d like to think that my character informs and forms my decisions.  But most of the time my desire for comfort or my fascination with technology leads my life.

For me, the issue is one of self-control.  Who or what am I allowing to control me?

Self-control is one key to living a well-functioning life.

Self-control is the ability to exercise control over feelings, desires, behaviors and impulses.

The reality: We feel fragmented and pulled in many different directions.

The boundaries that we once had in our lives are gone.  We used to “go to work.”  Today, technology allows work to come to us.

There used to be “work hours” and a “work week.”  Today, work can be 24/7.  The lines between work and home are blurred.

There are more things competing for our time and attention, making it more difficult to practice self-control.  It can get confusing to figure out whom or what is leading us.

Here are 5 questions I ask myself to figure out if I’m in control of me:

1. Can I turn off notifications (email, Facebook, Twitter, text) without feeling like I’m missing something?

Today’s technology and social media distract us and fragment our focus.  If I can’t turn it off, then it is in charge of me. The wonderful thing about today’s technology is that every single gadget comes with an On/Off switch.  Control of the device lies with the user.  Turning off the bells and whistles of my technology prevents my Pavlovian response to them.  I don’t like thinking of myself as a salivating dog drooling all over my BlackBerry. (Yes, there are still people who use BlackBerrys.)

2. Am I scheduling my day or is my day scheduling me?

Setting aside a designated time to do specific tasks increases my focus and commitment to the completion of the task.  I’ve learned to build margins in my schedule for the unexpected to occur, but I schedule time for my top two priorities I must get done that day, regardless.

3. Can I say “no” to new things that I don’t really need?

Not every new device or feature is a must have.  Feature creep is alive and well.  We add new features because we can, not because we really need them.

When I worked for General Electric, whose appliances are fantastic and cutting edge, I admired my consumers who said, “I don’t need vegetable drawers in my refrigerator that change colors.  I just want it to keep the vegetables fresh.”  They were in control of their technology and its features.  I try to critically consider what it offers and ask, “How does this new technology best serve me and do I really need (not just want) it?”

4. Do I have designated quiet hours?

This is a simple yet difficult to apply life skill I started learning in college when I lived in the “study dorm.”  There were certain times of the day we could blast the stereo, but there were also designated times for quiet.  No stereos, TV’s, or noise.  I’ve tried to maintain that practice.

Silence in today’s noisy world is a discipline.  If I can’t turn off my iPod or TV, then noise is controlling me.  Why do we feel it necessary to have constant noise in the background?  Is it to avoid thinking about what is really going on in our lives?

For me, there are certain times in my day when I have quiet so that I can focus on important matters that require my best thought and creativity.

5. Can I purge my gadgets and/or usage plans and email newsletters without missing them?

A new movement of Zero TV-ers is gaining momentum.  Read about them here: http://www.tesh.com/story/money-and-finance-category/why-so-many-people-are-giving-up-tv/cc/12/id/25500.

This summer, I’ve been on a self-enforced decrease in the amount of television I watch.  I’ve enjoyed having more time to read and write.  I’m not ready to become a Zero TV-er yet (it is football season, after all) but when the Fall TV season rolls around, I won’t be allowing TV to control my time the way it used to.

I have a periodic review of my minutes used and texts sent. Is paying for extra minutes or extra channels really worth it?  I have also found it helpful to review my social media feeds, email newsletters and magazine subscriptions to see if they still benefit me.  If not, I get rid of them to create space for more meaningful things.

The bottom line is: Self-control is the essence of true power.

We get to choose who leads us. Power up.

What tips have helped you to control your time and your life?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

How to be Remembered by Others

Image courtesy of stockimages/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s a basic human longing that we are remembered by other people.

We get to choose how we are remembered.

Some of the saddest experiences of life happen when we feel forgotten by those we love.  Even if we are not with another person for very long (in the grand scheme of things), we want them to remember us.  We want them to not forget the good times we’ve had and the things we’ve experienced together.

To be forgotten is to be devalued.  We want to know that our life mattered to someone.

Beyond photographs, the words we’ve heard and spoken, stick in our memories.

Ever heard some spoken words that have been preserved in your memory?

Can you point to a conversation that was a defining moment for you?

We’ve all had memorable exchanges that changed our life for the better.

Former President Jimmy Carter had one.  In his autobiography, Why Not the Best?, he tells of being in the United States Navy.  He graduated from the Naval Academy and applied for an assignment in the nuclear submarine program under Admiral Hyman Rickover.  One day he encounters Admiral Rickover himself.

Rickover says, “How did you stand in your class at the Naval Academy?”

Carter replies, “Sir, I stood 59th in my class of 820.”

Expecting to be congratulated, Carter was surprised to hear Rickover say, “Did you do your best?”

At first Carter was going to say yes, but then he remembers the times when he had not learned all he could have in a class.  So he answers, “No, sir, I didn’t always do my best.”

Rickover then hits him with a stinger that lodges in Carter’s memory and changes Carter’s life, “Why not?”

Carter walks out of the meeting that day with a new resolve to be the best he can possibly be.

It was a memorable conversation that brought life.  You’ve had them, haven’t you?

We can use our words to encourage others

A well-placed and well-timed word encourages, builds up and brings life to another person.  It helps us reach for our best.

We’ve are blessed if we’ve had conversations that have challenged us to be better and to do better.

When we use our words to build others it strengthens our relationships.  It brings us closer to those in our life.  It helps others reach their God given potential.

Are you a builder with your words?  If you are, you will be remembered for the good that you brought to another person’s life.

It is wonderful when someone tells us how much our words meant to them.  We are humbled to the point where we say to ourselves, “I can’t believe God used the words I said to help someone else.”

Build on.

You’ll always be remembered.

Who was an encourager in your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

I Can’t Believe I Said That!

Image courtesy of farconville/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

But I did.  Sometimes I say things without really thinking.  You probably do too.  We’ve all been there.

As soon as the words take flight from our lips we think, “I can’t believe I said that!”  We wish we could take it back but we can’t.  The toothpaste can’t be put back in the tube.  The egg can’t return to a broken shell.

We live in a world of words.  It’s the information age where we are drowning in a sea of sentences.

We are bombarded with so many words they lose their meaning unless they are directed at us.

Think of the fun games we play with words:  Words with Friends, Scrabble, Crosswords and Word Search.

We live in a world of words.  All kinds of words.  Good words.  Bad words.  Words that matter and words that don’t.  Helpful words and destructive words.  We remember words.

See if you can complete the sentence:

  • Our Father, who…
  • Four score….
  • Once upon…
  • We, the people…

How did you do? I’m sure you got all of them correct. such is the power of words.

We can hurt people and damage relationships with our words.

Words can become the poison that sours a relationship until it dies.  We can do irreparable damage to another person by accusations, innuendos, and gossip.

We were told as kids that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”  Then a sharp word flew our way and lodged in our soul and we realized that was a lie. Words can and do hurt.

Careless words tossed out in the direction of loved ones can result in permanent injury to our relationships.The ancient proverb writer was right when he said, “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21).

Our words make a difference in other’s lives.  Think about your own life. Think about how words have affected you:

  • When we were called ugly or stupid.
  • When someone said we were incompetent and could never do anything right.
  • When someone said that what we do doesn’t matter.
  • When we were falsely accused of something.
  • When we found out someone made fun of us behind our back.

It seems we don’t need any training or instruction on how to wound people with our words.  We realize how powerful words can be.

Two powerful words

It’s true that we can’t take it back.  But we can try to make it right.

We can offer two powerful words, that when said with sincerity, begin the process of building the relationship again.

“I’m sorry.”

Sometimes we need to wait a while to say them.  What matters is that we say them.

We can go from, “I can’t believe I said that” to “I’m sorry I said that.”  Try it.

Our words can build or break.

Let’s get building.

 

Comments always welcome! You can leave yours below.

A Lesson on Slowing Down for Impatient People (Like Me)

Image courtesy of stockimages/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This week I’ve been participating in Jeff Goins’ Slow Down Challenge in which he dared readers to be intentional about reducing the pace of our lives. Each day we received an email prompt that focused on an aspect of slowing down.  You can read them here: www.goinswriter.com.  I’ve also started reading Jeff’s new book, The In-Between, which digs deeper into the benefits of waiting in life.  It’s a message an impatient person like me needs to hear and liberally apply.

Forced to stop

Now that the week is over, my biggest takeaway is that waiting has given me more time to reflect. I find that I can become so focused on a task that I get blinders on that don’t allow me to see where I’m going.  Waiting forces me to stop, reflect and make course corrections if needed.

There is an old, well-traveled story about a husband and wife on a road trip across the country.  The wife was admonishing her husband about his driving.

“You are going too fast. You’re gonna get us killed, slow down!”

So he speeds up (unconsciously, of course).

They are flying down the road. She keeps reminding him, “Honey you are going too fast! It is dangerous.”

They are going down the road about 90 miles per hour, she is nagging him at about 80 when he is about to lose his self-control.

He gets so distracted with his wife yelling at him that he misses the right hand turn they were supposed to take.

She notices that he went past it which gets her started again, “Oh great, not only are you going too fast, you don’t know where you are going!  We’re lost!”

You know how men are, we’re not the type to stop and ask directions.  He keeps driving.

She persists, “Come on, you are wasting gas, get off at this exit and ask for directions.”

Finally, he has all he can take. His face is turning various shades of red, veins are popping out of his neck, and his knuckles are white from gripping the steering wheel so tight. He slams on the brakes. They screech to a halt on the side of the road.

He says, “Okay, okay, you are right, we are lost. But you gotta admit, we are making great time!”

Slowing down allows us impatient people to reflect on our lives so that we make sure we are going in the right direction.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about ways you have benefited from slowing down.

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

Image courtesy of winnond/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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?

Why Faster is Not Always Better

Image courtesy of m_bartosch/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For the past week my local radio station has issued the daily reminder to “slow down and watch for bikers.”  I live in near Sturgis, South Dakota, home to the exceedingly popular Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (http://www.sturgismotorcyclerally.com/). This year crowds have swelled to more than a half-million bikers.  Yesterday, while running errands, we came upon a “just happened” accident involving an SUV and a biker. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

Besides being a good reminder for when I get behind the wheel, the radio station reminders have been a positive “life reminder.”

Think about it. Has the pace of our daily life gotten faster or slower over the past 10 years?  Most of us would say faster.  We live by the belief that faster is better.

Is faster always better?

Over the last 15 years we have gone from having no computers in our homes to having one or more computers.  When we first got a computer it took forever to boot up.  We couldn’t stand to wait so we made better chips to make them faster.  Today they turn on and boot up almost instantly.  We came up with high speed internet.  I have to admit, in that case, faster is definitely better!

In our day, snail mail is bad, instant messaging is good.  Life is getting faster.

Is faster always better?

We want things turbocharged.  So we go through life at warp speed.  We try to live our lives at a speed of light pace.

We can’t keep up the pace for very long.  We can’t keep constant motion going for very long.  Here’s the catch: Warp speed warps the soul.  We can’t grow our souls when we are traveling at the speed of light.

Slowing down benefits us in two soul saving ways.

Slowing down allows us to be aware of sacred moments.

By moments I mean experiencing the wonder of everyday events.  We get moving so fast we miss the beauty found in the ordinary.

This gets played out most often with the people we love.  We miss the moments because we’re focused on the next thing we have to do.  We are in the room but we are not really in the room.  We are sitting there physically, but in our mind we are a million miles away.

Slowing down gives the opportunity to be present and attentive to the people who matter to us.  We are able to give our loved ones the gift of our genuine attention.  We are empowered to appreciate the moment.

Iris Krasnow in her book, Surrendering to Motherhood, says it beautifully when she writes, “It’s about being where you are, when you are….   It’s about crouching on the floor and getting delirious over the praying mantis your son just caught instead of perusing a fax while he is yelling for your attention.  And you distractedly say over your shoulder, ‘Oh, honey, isn’t that a pretty bug.’  It’s about being attuned enough to notice when your kid’s eyes shine, so you can make your eyes shine back.”

Slowing down helps us tune in to the moment enough to notice a smile or a wink or a hug. There is a sense of the sacred that comes in these moments.

Slowing down gives us time to dream about the future.

Have you ever found yourself saying things like, “The future?  I have to work in the present!  I have no time to think about the future.”  The irony is that in our fast paced world, the future arrives before we are ready for it.

When we slow down long enough, our mind takes us to the days ahead.  We see the meaning in a well-travelled poem from an unknown writer of many years ago:

I wasted an hour one morning beside a mountain stream.

I seized a cloud from the sky above and fashioned myself a dream,

In the hush of the early twilight, far from the haunts of men,

I wasted a summer evening, and fashioned my dream again.

Wasted? Perhaps.

Folks say so who never have walked with God…

When lanes are purple with lilacs or yellow with goldenrod.

But I have found strength for my labors

in that one short evening hour.

I have found joy and contentment,

I have found peace and power.

My dreaming has left me a treasure,

a hope that is strong and true.

From wasted hours I have built my life and found my faith anew.

Waste some time today and watch out for fast paced things that will warp your soul.

Faster is not always better.

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