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)

Goldfish by chiharu nagatomi is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

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.

Photo by Gabriel Freytez on Pexels.com

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
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!

People Go, Their Impact Stays

Photo by Julia Kuzenkov from Pexels

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. 

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

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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

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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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Memories of Daytona, Darrell and Dale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you live to relive?

 

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.

Another Measure of Our Success

Image courtesy of hin255/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

There is a life principle here.

We treat others the way we see them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demonstrate love

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

Image courtesy of tungphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

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

In return, there is joy.

And that is enough.

One Measure of Our Success

Image courtesy of Ambro/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

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

What if there was another way to tell?

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

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

Help others get ahead

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

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

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

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

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

Show common courtesy to others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

3 VIPs to Be Thankful For

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“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.

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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.

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.

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?

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.

Getting Back Up When Life Knocks Us Down

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

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

One life challenge is being able to stay on mission.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the challenge we all face.

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

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

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

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

 

How to be Remembered by Others

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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!

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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.

Why Faster is Not Always Better

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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.

 

3 Tips for Mastering Our Emotions

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Our emotions influence everything we do. We know the right thing to do in our head, but our feelings may tell us something else. We may feel all alone in the midst of a crowd of people or sad at a party.

Feelings are a part of who we are as human beings.  They help us experience life in living color.

Sometimes, however, our emotions can control us. When they do, they become obstacles to our personal and professional growth.

We can become stuck in an unhealthy emotional state only to miss out on the best that life has to offer.  Growing, emotionally healthy people have learned how to balance their emotions with the realities of life.

There is no one right way to process our feelings.  Each of us is different.  We experience life in our unique context.  For example, everyone grieves or handles anger differently.  With that in mind, here are a few ideas I’ve found helpful when trying to master my emotions.

1. Acknowledge and allow yourself to feel the feeling.

Dr. Phil is right when he says, “you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.”

The first step to mastery is acknowledging that you have the feeling so that you can feel it.  This seems obvious, yet it is the toughest part and takes the most courage to complete. We’d rather just stuff it, deny it, try to forget it and move on. But emotions have a way of making themselves known. (See The Skill that Improves Our Emotional Health) So, we need to “sit with” our emotions for a while.

Self-awareness of what is going on in our inner life is a critical life skill.

I’m horrified when well-meaning people say to us, “You shouldn’t feel that way.”  The reality is that we do feel that way. Our feelings are ours and it’s a sign of health to acknowledge the emotions we are feeling.

When we’re grieving over a loss we allow ourselves time and space to grieve.  When we are afraid for our safety, we take steps to protect ourselves. We don’t pretend that the fear isn’t there.

We allow ourselves to experience the emotion because when we do it can become a catalyst for change.

Emotionally healthy people acknowledge their emotions, allowing themselves to experience the feeling.  They don’t deny or stuff or tell themselves they shouldn’t feel that way.  They understand that left unchecked and unexamined, emotions can be explosive.

2. Express your feelings to your Higher Power.

For some of us this means telling God our struggles. For others, it means talking to our Higher Power or the Universe.  God can handle our feelings.  God is not threatened or afraid of our feelings.

Whoever it is for you, there is a spiritual component to our emotions that helps us gain perspective.

Perspective is critically important when we’re overwhelmed by our feelings. Perspective allows us to seek and find a wise response. Taking time to express our feelings to our Higher Power won’t necessarily make the feeling go away, but it does give us strength to face reality.

3. Connect with your safe person.

It can be a challenge to find an emotional safe person, but well worth the risk.  This is a person we can trust when we share our deepest emotions.  Our safe people are necessary to our emotional health.  Our safe person may come in the form of a partner, spouse, friend, advisor or counselor.

Our safe people hear our feelings then offer us what we need.  Sometimes we need a listening ear.  Sometimes, we need them to cry with us.  Other times we need a good kick in the rear.  When the situation calls for it, they give us the straight up truth about ourselves.  Treasure your safe people.

“We live in the shelter of each other.”  – Celtic saying

No doubt about it, life is tough. It takes effort to master our emotions, but when we do, we can face whatever comes our way with a resilient strength that moves us forward in fulfilling our mission in this world.

The Skill that Improves Our Emotional Health

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

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

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

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

The benefits of managing our emotions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Be Good and Mad at the Same Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use your anger for good to change your world.

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

4 Angry People We’d Like to Avoid

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Much of our success in life is related to how well we get along with others.  Our training started in daycare where we were taught to “play nice.”  Like death and taxes, encountering angry people that we don’t like is inevitable.  But, for any number of reasons, we have to get along with them.  I’ve discovered 4 types of angry people I’d rather avoid. (As a memory aid, I’ve given them gender specific names, but in real life they can be male or female.)

♦ Eva Exploder

Eva, like Sam the golfer from a previous post, (https://www.ignitinghopetoday.com/one-thing-happy-people-always-lose/), has a short fuse.  She is a walking time bomb.  Something sets her off causing all hell to break loose. Her fuse gets lit, emotional carnage is the result.

Ten years ago, we were not familiar with the term “bridezilla” but because of the popularity of the television show, Bridezillas, we know what that label means.  We’ve been served a steady diet of women losing control of their emotions in living color.

We know people, male and female, who just let it fly.  I once worked for a male manager who was an exploder.  It is hard to live with and relate to these people because we never know what is going to set them off.  It can be the smallest comment or word that sparks their explosion.  It takes a seemingly tiny spark to set them off.  They usually get what they want, in the short term.  In the long term, they destroy themselves and their relationships because no one wants to get relationally close to an exploder due to the emotional risks being too high.

♦ William Withdrawer

William Withdrawer gets mad and removes himself from other people.  A classic biblical story involves a withdrawer.  It tells of a father who has two sons.  One of the sons gets his inheritance early, goes out and squanders it on wild living.  When he runs out of money, he comes back home and his father spares no expense on a huge party to celebrate his son’s return.

Meanwhile, the older brother hears the commotion and music from the party and it ticks him off.  So does he storm the party and make a scene?  No, he says, “I’m not going to the party.  I’d rather sit out here in the field by myself than show my face in there.”  His statement is made by his absence.  He withdraws.

We recognize the lines of a Withdrawer.  “If I can’t have my way, I’ll go home.”  “You don’t do what I want you to do so, I’m not coming.”  “The board made a decision I didn’t agree with, so I’m staying home.”  Withdrawers take themselves out to stew all alone.  They attend a pity party with only one guest.  And they pay a price in lost friendships.

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♦  Danny Denier

Danny Denier gets angry but pretends he isn’t mad.  Inside, he is fuming, but he won’t admit it to others.  For example, in Danny’s marriage, his wife does something that upsets him.  Instead of talking to her about it, he stays silent.  They get in the car to go somewhere and she notices that he slams the car door when he gets in.  He jams the car into gear harder than normal.  He speeds up to intersections and smashes on the brakes.  He takes turns on two wheels. He’s not talking as much as he usually does.  Finally, his wife turns to him and says, “Is something wrong?”

He says, “Who me?  No, nothing is wrong.  Where did you get that idea?”  Inside he’s thinking, “She doesn’t even know what she did!  Well, if she doesn’t know, I’m certainly not going to tell her.”  That’s how Danny Denier operates.  Deniers create distance between them and others, but we never know what we did that upset them.  It’s up to us to figure that out.

♦  Rosa Revenger

Rosa Revenger doesn’t get mad, she gets even!  Sometimes revengers are up front about it and let you know that they will get you back.  Other times, they are sly.  They express their anger behind your back or in other ways.

Revenge is a vicious cycle.  Two revengers will destroy each other.  Remember the War of the Roses?  The movie portrays what happens when two people get caught in the revenge cycle.  With every return, the nastiness increases, until someone is destroyed.

The Solution

Our initial response is to take an angry person’s behavior personally. We look inward to see if we are the problem.  We forget that we are not responsible for other people’s feelings. Their feelings are their own. David Pollay in his fantastic book, The Law of the Garbage Truck, reminds us when faced with the wrath of an angry person, we need to learn to let their negativity pass us by. We don’t have to accept their garbage. “This is the key to happiness and success: Don’t take personally what you cannot control” (Page 14).

We focus on what we can control, our own emotions and behaviors. We can’t avoid the angry people in our life, but we don’t have to let their anger ruin our day.

I’d love to hear your tips for dealing positively with the angry people in your life. You can leave a comment below.