Modern Day Holiness

Come apart so you don’t come apart. ~ Common Sense

Then Jesus went into a house to get away from the crowd… (Mark 7:17)

After saying these things, Jesus went away and was hidden from them. (John 12:36)

When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself. (John 6:15)

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We want to go with the flow.

We want to be in the know.

We want to be present not absent.

We want to be where the action is happening.

The next ping on your phone might be a signal that something big is going down and you can’t miss it.

Or can you?

Is there ever a point in your day when your ears are not filled by pings and dings? Or when your eyes are not enticed by a flashing box on your screen?

Just the thought of being away from our screens for any length of time causes some of us to feel anxious and fearful. A part of us is missing.

A clue that we are no longer controlling our devices but that they are controlling us are the tech leaders, the ones who invented the software and hardware that govern our behavior, who won’t allow their own children to have tablets and phones.

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I heard someone say recently, “I do not know if I get texts because my phone is not glued to my hip.”

A heretic of the digital age? Or, a holy sage of the digital age? I wonder.

Why do we feel the need to apologize for not having our phone or tablet with us at all times including the bed and shower?

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To be holy is to be set apart for sacred use.

Fanatical Christians love to talk about Jesus coming back. At times, Jesus was more interested it getting away from us than coming to us. Set apart. Holy.

Modern day holiness is about separating ourselves from the things that come between us and God and between us and the people we love.

Face to face rather than screen to face.

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It may well be that the holiest act we can do today is to put the phone, tablet and screens away so we can be with God and those we love.

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
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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

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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!

People Go, Their Impact Stays

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I remember that South Florida, Sunday afternoon as if it were yesterday. 

I met a husband-and-wife volunteer leader team at my church’s youth group. I was a junior in high school at the time. Jose, the husband, was from Portugal and spoke with a delightful accent. The kind that makes you pay close attention. His smile was contagious. He invited me and a friend to have lunch with him and his wife at the beachside home they were housesitting. 

After lunch, as we walked on the sand, Jose pulled me aside and handed me a cassette tape. On it was a motivational talk that would help establish my mindset and attitude for the rest of my life. Jose said, “You listen to this guy talk and take in what he says. His name is Zig Ziglar.” 

I had never heard of him, but when I put that cassette into my portable player, I was drawn in by Zig’s drawl and humor. He talked about having a positive attitude and goals that matter. After listening to him speak, I just wanted to BE better. I listened to that speech over and over and over. Positivity became ingrained in my mind.

Through the years, I’ve heard Zig speak via audio and video recordings and in his books. He became a “mentor from afar.” Several years ago, not far from the spot where I got that tape, I saw him speak in person. It was a thrill. 

After that day on the beach, Jose moved on and disappeared from my life as quickly as he came. His impact stayed. 

Zig Ziglar passed away in 2012. His impact remains.  

I believe people come into our lives for reasons and seasons. Like the popular song, “For Good,” from the musical, Wicked, says, “we are changed for good.” 

I thank God that Jose cared enough to give me a tape. A simple thing that continues to serve me well 40 years later. It was what I needed at that time in my journey. 

“When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” ~ Mabel Collins in Light on the Path

Our lives have impact. You don’t have to be a Zig Ziglar. You can be you. 

We’re all on this journey to help each other get further down the road. 

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

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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.

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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.

Make a Habit and a Habit Will Make You

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

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

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

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

Something had to change.

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

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

Here are the dailies I came up with:

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

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

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

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

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

What are your dailies and how have they helped you?

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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.

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So what is the alternative?

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

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

Your Two Words

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

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

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

What a fantastic list!

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

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

What do I think I was born to do?

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

Where do I add the most value in this word?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the journey!

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

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

Step Up and Face Your Fears

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“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.

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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.

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?

Choose Your Impact

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

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

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

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

Some people we impact:

Our Forgotten

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

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

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

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

Our Friends

We take delight in honoring our friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Family

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

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

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

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

What Do You Want on Your Tombstone?

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

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

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

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

Play Out Our Movie

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

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

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

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

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

May it be so for us too!

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.

1 Way to Get a Grip by Letting Go

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

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

Do we REALLY want to know the future?

How would knowledge of the future benefit us?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We make the most of today.

We enjoy the moment.

We don’t know if we have tomorrow.

We don’t know if we have next week.

We live one moment at a time.

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

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

That’s good advice for today… and tomorrow.

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

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.

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)

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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.

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.

Live Full to Die Empty

My Review of Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day by Todd Henry

A disclaimer is in order.  I have been a Todd Henry enthusiast since I read his first book, The Accidental Creative: How to be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice.  His regular podcast is on my weekly “must listen to” list.  I was thrilled when I heard the title and theme of his second book.    I’m what business guru, Ken Blanchard, calls a “raving fan” of Todd’s work.  Admittedly, I’m biased not just because we share the same first name.

Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day is about how we can unleash our best work each day and increase the odds that we won’t regret the work we’ve done when we come to the end of our life.  It’s about living full so we can die empty.

What I Like Most

What I like most about Todd’s writing is his courage.  He doesn’t hesitate to call out the fluffy platitudes that we are fed in too many business and career books.  He doesn’t shy away from saying that success and our best work will require effort and self-discipline.  Those two things go against the grain of our comfort driven culture.  I was practically cheering out loud when he said, “You cannot pursue comfort and greatness at the same time.”

One popular fallacy Todd takes on that resonated with me was, “The Passion Fallacy.”  We are told countless times to just “follow your passion” and the money will follow you.  Besides the obvious impracticality of this advice, (How many of us actually do get paid for playing video games all day?) Todd points out that it is a selfish approach to finding meaningful work.  Eventually the passion dies down and we are left searching for a different obsession.

A better approach is asking, “What value can I add?” instead of “What can I get?”  When we pose the question this way, it correctly reminds us that we are not the center of the world.  We know that when we are the center of our own world, it’s a very small world…after all.

Challenge Accepted!

Another example of Todd’s courage occurs in the chapter titled, “Finding Your Voice,” which tackles discovering our unique expression of value through our life’s journey.  He challenged me when he wrote, “Great work results when you stop doing only what you know you can do and instead begin pursuing what you believe you might be able to do with a little focused effort.”  In the infamous words of television character Barney Stinson (Played by Neil Patrick Harris on How I Met Your Mother), “Challenge accepted!”

Todd’s writing tone is one we would find from a buddy who is sitting across the table having coffee with us.  It’s friend to friend encouraging conversation rather than top down pronouncements.  In addition, his stories are nicely balanced with practical applications and probing questions at the end of every chapter.

This is the type of book I can see myself rereading on a yearly basis to keep myself on track in fulfilling my life’s mission.

The message of the book is simply stated: “Don’t go to your grave with your best work still inside of you. Choose to die empty.”

May that be true for us all.

Why Words Alone are Useless

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I’ve been thinking about what I say and wondering if people really believe it.

In the past couple months I’ve been on the receiving end of promises by potential employers saying, “We’ll call you either way within two weeks.”  It’s been four weeks and I’m still waiting.  A friend said, “We’ll get together soon for lunch!”  That was 3 years ago.

Do I do the same thing?

The cynical part of me asks, “Have we come to the point where we can’t really believe what people say?”

I’ve turned that question on myself.  Do I call when I say I am going to call?  Do I do what I say I’m going to do?

Can I count on others to be straight up with me? Does their yes mean yes or does it really mean maybe?  Does their maybe really mean no?

In my nonprofit work, where recruiting volunteers is part of the role, I’ve asked people to help with a project. Sometimes, I when I ask, I can sense they really don’t want to do it, but they say yes anyway.  And, I’ve had people say yes when I ask them initially but when it comes time to actually show up for the project, they are an intentional no show.  They said yes, but they really meant no.

Here’s another example.  Let’s say we have a bossy, controlling person in our life.  We all have them.  It could be a friend or a family member.  They want us to do something, but we really don’t want to do it so we say no.  But they persist.  They don’t take our no for an answer.  They ask again and again.  What do we do in that moment?  Do we cave in and finally say yes?  If we do give in, we have just taught them that our no really means maybe.  Soon they are back asking for something else, in the back of their mind thinking, “Their no doesn’t really mean no.”  If people in our relational world sense that we have weak boundaries, we allow them to take advantage of us.

There is truth to the saying, “You get what you tolerate.”

That doesn’t mean we can’t or don’t change our mind.  We know that a woman’s prerogative is to change her mind.  But, men do it too!  Our yes and no are genuine reflections of our intention at that moment.  What matters is backing up our words with actions.

I want to be a “put up or shut up” person.  I want my yes to mean yes and my no to mean no.

Our actions will back up our words.

Better yet, let our actions do the talking instead of our words.

I’d love to hear your comments below.