Take the risk and find out…

June 28, 2022

I’m not hung up on this theme, but this quote just inspired me this morning. I got this quote from one of the daily inspirational quotes emails that I get every day and it seemed worthwhile saving and writing about.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” (T.S. Eliot)

Elliot isn’t about taking stupid risks, like those depicted in the show Jackass; but, rather, about pushing yourself to get to the next level, to achieve a new personal best, to go as far as you can and then go farther. It is about overcoming personal fears that stop you short of achieving your goals in life. The sad truth is that too many people convince themselves that they cannot achieve those goals – they stop themselves short.

I have written here in the past about how athletes use visualization when preparing to make their next attempt at something – they “see” the success that they want to achieve. In terms of achieving  your personal best you could say, “If you can see it you can be it”.  The process of visualization of success unconsciously involves the visualization of overcoming any roadblocks to achieving that success. It allows the mind to tackle the thoughts about how to overcome those obstacles within the positive frame of mind of “seeing” the successful outcome.

Taking the risk to go too far is not the same as buying a lotto ticket and starting to dream about how you will spend the money if you win. You know that the odds of winning the lotto are just about impossible, so you really know that you are just daydreaming to amuse yourself. Taking the risk to push beyond where you are and get to the next level is a commitment. Even if you don’t achieve the end goal in the initial effort; once you try, you will be further along that path than you have ever been before, and you should celebrate that – you have achieved a new personal best.

More important than things like monetary goals or job position goals, one should always push the personal boundaries than constrain you from achieving the goals that the U.S. Army used as a tag line in their commercials – “Be the best that you can be.”

What is the best that you can be? Take the risk to find out. Take time at the end of each day to reflect on how you could have been a better person that day. Could you have reacted better to someone in need? Could you have spent more time with family? Could you have been more encouraging and supportive of a spouse or of your children? Could you have shown more love towards a neighbor or others. Don’t beat yourself up over those missed opportunities, just resolve to push beyond those mistakes and do better tomorrow. As a side benefit, you will find that you achieve many of your other goals in life, just by being the best person that you can be.

How far can you go towards being the best person that you can be?

Take the risk today and find out.

Be the best “you” that you can be…

June 27, 2022

As you start a new week, take a moment to reflect on these words of wisdom from Judy Garland – “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.”

Young people often go through a phase of identity crisis in which they try to emulate someone else, usually someone famous, in the mistaken hope that they will somehow have the life that they see that person living. They may dress like that person or change their physical appearance to more closely resemble that person. The result is just a second-rate version of the person that they are trying to imitate, and the results are always disappointing.

It is certainly Ok to draw inspiration from one’s heroes and perhaps to try to “be like them” in displaying certain characteristics, like honesty or humility or empathy. The key is to internalize those characteristics and then make them your own by putting your spin on them and not trying to do exactly what that other person would do.

In the late 1990’w there was a world-wide phenomenon of WWJD bracelets which stood for What Would Jesus Do. A youth group leader at Calvary Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan, named Janie Tinklenberg, began a grassroots movement to help the teenagers in her group remember the phrase; it spread worldwide in the 1990s among Christian youth, who wore bracelets bearing the initials WWJD.

For some the challenge of thinking about what Jesus might do in any situation was overwhelming because they thought of it too literally and quickly became discouraged when they couldn’t live up to that standard. Others who understood the challenge better used the inspiration of WWJD to stop and consider what the “right thing to do” in any situation might be. They focused upon being a first-rate version of themselves, rather than lamenting that could never be more than a second-rate version of Jesus.

As you face the week ahead, do so with the resolve to be the best “you” that you can be. You don’t need to wear a WWJD bracelet to remind yourself to stop and think about what the right thing to do is in any situation. Put yourself in the right frame of mind by pausing before you head out the door and ask God with a little prayer, “Help me make good decisions today.” That way you will spend the day being the best “you” that you can be and not waste time being a second-rate version of someone else. You may find that there are other people trying to be more like you.

Imagine that.

Who are you?

June 24, 2022

A post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog this week posed the question that is today’s topic. Pastor Freed  posed this question in the quote that he used – “Imagine that you have lost your occupational role and your family relationships.  Who are you now?”  (Brian Thorne) 

I have posted here before that; men in particular seem to find their identities more in their jobs than even their homes. Certainly, their roles as husbands and fathers make up some part of how they identify themselves. I recently read part of an article on depression in older men that is supposedly caused by the changes that they encounter when they have retired. Perhaps the root cause of the depression in older, retired men is the loss of the “role” that they played in their work life. Their parental roles may have also become greatly reduced by that time.

The study that resulted in the article that I read looked at depression in homeless people who have no job, no family ties and even no home with which to identify. Those homeless who were diagnosed with depression struggled to answer the question, “Who am I?” Many retired men in particular struggle with the same feelings of depression, once their job identities are removed.

I have written here several times about loving yourself. Often that starts with forgiving yourself for past mistakes; however, it always comes down to accepting yourself as you are before moving on to the roles that you might be playing in your interactions with others. A big part of accepting yourself is acknowledging your relationship with God and His role in your life. The little prayer that I use a lot here – “Not my will, but thy will be done” – serve to free you from the time-wasting need to try to control everything in your life and lets you focus instead of using your time to be the best person that you can be in whatever roles you are playing.

Maybe you don’t have the identity of your old work role anymore, but there are plenty of volunteer opportunities begging for your help in every community across this nation. Shifting the use of your time to volunteer work allows you to use many of the skills that you might have developed in your old work life to the betterment of others in you r community. The rewards in terms of your feeling of self-worth can be much greater than those that you received at work.

You may also find that your can increase your spousal role now that you have more time to give to the person who has been by your side for a long time. It’s not so much that you were ignoring that person as it is that you just didn’t have the time or maybe didn’t give it the priority that it deserved. You may find that you fall in love all over again with the one person that has been there all along.

One trap that is all to easy to fall into is living in the past. Avoid the tendency to say, “I used to be…” and instead focus upon what you are doing now, the who you are now. Whether it involves volunteer work or maybe a part-time job, share that instead of past accomplishments. Be more conscious of the time that you are spending with your life-mate and celebrate the joy that you can bring to their life by doing so. Take the time that you have now to continue educating yourself, either formally through classes or just through reading and exploring the answers to questions that you have.

If you start each day with a little prayer thanking God for giving you another day and vowing to make the best use of the time that you have been given, you will find that you don’t have time to be depressed because you are busy all day long working at making the lives of others better.

So, who are you? You’re the person that others are thankful is around to lend a hand or get things done. You’re the person whose life-mate is thankful is there for them. You’re the person with whom God is happy at the end of the day. Another quote from today’s installment to Jack’s Winning Word seems to fit here – “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it.”  (Max Lucado)

Be that guy/gal and you’ll know who you are because you’ve got your picture on God’s refrigerator.

Are we there yet? Heaven help us if we are.

June 20, 2022

I saw a quote that seems to sum up where we are headed as a nation if we are not already there.

“People have moved beyond apathy, beyond skepticism into deep cynicism.” – Elliot Richardson

Much of my early life and some of the middle of it was lived in years of apathy in America, punctuated by periods of “woke” unrest caused by resistance to the Viet Nam War and in rise of the Civil Rights Movement. More recent awareness of issues and wrongs, such as the “Me, too” movement, the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the issue of LBGTQ rights has pulled the scabs off things in our society that we cannot and should not allow apathy to gloss over. The power of social media and modern communications channels have quickly moved us passed the phase of skepticism and towards cynicism.

That movement has been exacerbated by the wide political divide that has developed in our nation. We no longer enjoy the stability of an intelligent and thinking moderate political majority in our government. The old bell-shaped curve in which the majority of our politicians were in the middle on issues, with outliers at the extremes on both sides has been replaced by an inverted bell-shaped curve where the majority of politicians have aligned themselves with the extreme positions and only a few, moderate voices remain to try to find compromises.

As we approach yet another election season and the attack ads start to pop up on TV and social media, I can’t help but ask myself, “Is these really the best people that we have to offer?” Are these politicians from the extreme on either side really our brightest and best; or are they just the only ones willing to put up with life in the gutter that politics has become? As a nation are we ready to follow these sleazy politicians in their crusade AGAINST others and various causes; or would we rather follow true leaders towards higher, positive goals for America? Do we vote for the guy (or gal) who can yell, “The other guy is a bum” the loudest or do we look at what they really stand for and vote for people with a vision of what good can yet be done in America?

We cannot afford to be apathetic, but we need not become cynics. We need to look with skepticism at the messages being aimed at us on social media and in the news. We need to look at what the current elected people have actually done while in office, verses what they initially promised to do (it is seldom the same). And we may need to compromise a bit ourselves, putting some of our own priorities or issues aside for the moment to vote for the best people for the jobs.

So, let us not become cynics; but, rather let us become better informed and more thoughtful voters this year. One cannot just sit on the couch watching the nightly news and saying, “What an idiot” when current elected officials pass yet another dumb or vindictive law. It is our task as good citizens not to let the voices of reason and moderation get drowned out by the yelling and misinformation from the extremes on either side. It is no small task to search for the best people amidst the noise of the calliope that modern politics has become, but they and the truth are out there. We see signs on beer and liquor trucks saying, “Drink responsibly”; maybe we need signs on polling places saying “Vote responsibly.”

I’ll see you at the polls.

Awaken and live for today…

June 17, 2022

Father’s Day and Mother’s Day always seems to bring out the messages about regrets for not having said more to parents or spent more time with them while they where here. In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote from Gene Autry – “If God would but grant me the power to turn back the pages of time.” He wrote about his own father’s death at a relatively early age and how he missed having his dad there for many milestones in his life.

But, that’s not how life works. God doesn’t grant us either the power to turn back time or to look into the future. The past cannot be changed and worrying about the future seems to be a waste of time; and, time is all that we really have. So, perhaps, instead of asking God to intervene in either the past or the future we should instead ask for his help with the here and now. Maybe a simple prayer like, “God, help me make good decisions today” would make today better. At least you would be praying for something reasonable.

As a precursor to that request for God’s help you might put yourself in the right frame of mind by using the little prayer that I post here quite often – “not my will but thy will be done”. That simple line relieves you of feeling responsible for the past and the future and puts you back in charge of just being responsible for how you act and react in the here and now. Then you can ask for God’s help in making good decisions as the day unfolds. Maybe, as Pastor Freed related, one of those decisions will be to call your mom or dad and just tell them that you love them.

Recently the slang word “woke” has been used in politics and other settings to describe what Webster’s Dictionary says is a state of being “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues”. It has been especially attached to the Black Lives Matter movement to indicate an awareness of pervasive racism in our society; however, the term maybe applied to life in general.

Living for today isn’t about forgetting what has happened in the past or not thinking and planning for the future. It is about being more mindful and focused upon what is happening now – being woke. Once you become more focused upon the here and now you soon realize all that you have been missing going on all around you. You may even gain an understanding or that old phrase, “stop and smell the flowers”, once you realize that there are flowers, opportunities, and interesting people all around you. Wake up!

Try it. You might like it.

Live for today.

Do you have a wish or a goal?

June 13, 2022

This graphic showed up in my in-box this morning just as I was starting to give some serious thought to the week ahead. It is easy to confuse wishes and goals, since both focus on some unrealized future event or accomplishment. The key is the existence of a plan to achieve that thing. If you don’t have a plan it is sort of like buying a Lotto ticket to secure your future – total happenstance, with terrible odds of success. A journey without any commitment to a final destination (the goal) is called “wandering”, and wandering aimlessly through life is not very satisfying.

If you have a goal, you should be able to identify where you are on the journey to achieving that goal and have a good idea what your next steps need to be. The reason that you are able to identify those things is that you have spent time breaking down the journey into logical, achievable steps or tasks that you know need to be accomplished – you have a plan. That is the difference between saying, “I wish I could find a new job” and “I’m going to find a new job”.

As you sit at the Monday morning breakfast table, take stock of the wishes and goals that might be swimming around in your head. Separate them out and focus upon the goals. Spend a little time on each goal to assess where you are on the journey to reach that goal and think about what steps you might be able to take this week to further that journey along. You rarely will have the time to multi-task at several goals at once (and still do your job at work), so prioritize which to work on as you find the time.

Look at the next step in your plan and break it down to smaller, more achievable steps if necessary. Take the time to congratulate yourself for getting this far on the journey and rededicate yourself to achieving some progress this week, no matter how small it may seem. I like this quote by Ernie J Zelinski –

 “Imagination allows you to think of the journey worth making. Motivation gets you started. But, it’s patience and perseverance that get you there.”

A lack of patience and perseverance are the greatest separators between success and failure to achieve one’s goals.

Sometimes it helps to also pause and remember that you ae not alone on this journey to your goal. God is always there with you. So, as you plan for this week’s steps towards those goals, make sure that you touch base with God and ask for his help. Don’t ask him to make things happen for you; that’s not how it works. Instead, pray for God to give you the strength and resolve to persevere and the patience to see things through.

Armed with a renewed commitment to your goals and with strengthened patience and perseverance you are ready for the week ahead.

Go for it!

Be brave; learn to overcome your fears…

June 11, 2022

Several of the little quotes that I collect seemed to coalesce onto a more complete thought today.

Nelson Mandela

“You fear what you don’t know.”  (Chad Druetzler) 

“The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”  (Nelson Mandela)

Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. (Marie Curie)

I was a little unsure how to position the last two quotes, but I think the order is correct.

It seems to me that fear of things that we don’t know or understand is what underlies most of the hate, prejudices and conspiracy theories that we see and experience in the world.  Most, if not all, of that fear is caused by a lack of knowledge and understanding. We encounter someone who is different from ourselves and immediately become fearful because we don’t understand them – they are outside of our normal frame of reference and thus represent some sort of unknown danger. Fear takes over.

Unfounded prejudices are based on this fear reaction when the fear is generalized and applied to a group of people who share some characteristic or trait – perhaps the color of their skin, or the way they dress or speak (language, or even the color of their hair or the fact that they have a tattoo or piercing of some sort. It is easy to recognize within yourself, if your reaction to encountering someone different is immediate fear, disgust or defensive, without any additional reason.

It is much harder to take Mandela’s or Marie Curie’s advice and overcome those fears. The key is probably to be found in Curie’s quote and that is to shift your thought process from fearful reaction onto trying to understand what is causing your reaction. Just stop yourself to ask, “What am I really afraid of and why?” That pause alone will allow you to regain control over what might have been a thoughtless, “knee-jerk” reaction, which is often called prejudice.

Curie’s answer to Druetzler’s observation is to take Mandela’s advice and conquer your fears by making the effort to understand what is driving them. So, as you hit new challenges or meet new people; rather than approach those events in trepidation, embrace them in wonder and with a resolve to understand them, not fear them.

Be brave. Learn to overcome your fears. As a side-benefit, you will live a rich and more satisfying life.

Protecting yourself from this thief…

June 7, 2022

When I saw today’s quote recently, I couldn’t help but think – we can’t help ourselves. But we really can.

“Comparison is the thief of joy”. (Theodore Roosevelt)

Roosevelt added – “It literally steals us away from satisfaction with our own life.”

It is almost impossible for us to not compare ourselves to others – we compare our jobs and pay, our possessions, our families, our positions in the community or at work. Yet those comparisons do not serve us well. Instead of inspiring us to do better; more often than not, they depress us and steal away the joy of what we have already achieved.

In Galatians 6:4-5 we are told – “Each of you must examine your own actions. Then you can be proud of your own accomplishments without comparing yourself to others.  Assume your own responsibility.”

I think that last sentence is the key – assume your own responsibility. In other words, worry about being responsible for your own actions and do not waste your time comparing them to the actions of, and achievements of, others.

If you must compare something that you just accomplished to something else, don’t look at the accomplishments of others; use the sports term “personal best” and compare it to your prior performances or to your own goals for your performance. In individual sports, like track and field events, you will often hear that a runner has just achieved a personal best. You can see that they are happy, even if they didn’t win the race, because they were true to themselves and did their best.

Life can be like that on a day-to-day basis. If one sets out each day to achieve their personal best, one can then reflect at the end of the day, not on what others accomplished around you; but, on where you achieved your personal best and upon what areas upon which you still need to improve, to be your best.

Focusing upon the joy of your own accomplishments also frees you to join into and share the joy of others who may have just also achieved their personal best; maybe they even won the race. Good for them. Be happy for them with them and be happy for yourself, too.

Protect yourself from the thief of comparison and it’s traveling companion – envy. Be proud of your own accomplishments – assume responsibility for yourself.

The best way out…

June 6, 2022

It sometimes seems like we are always looking for a way out of whatever unexpected circumstances we may find ourselves in. Usually this involves avoiding the obvious way forward – straight through. We expend a great deal of mental energy trying to find a way that will void any real or imagined pain or to shorten the duration of that pain.

Life can feel like this sometimes

The reality in most instances is that we are just wasting time and, in fact, lengthening the time that it will take to get through the situation. That is the message in the graphic. There is, really, only one way forward and that is to go through whatever we are facing. It might be an uncomfortable personal situation, such as breaking up with someone or maybe leaving a steady, if unsatisfying job to pursue other ways to achieve your dreams. Whatever is facing you today, don’t waste your time looking for a way out – just get through it.

Some people pray for God to take away the situation at hand, but the more realistic prayer should be for God’s help to get through it. Pastor Freed, in his blog Jack’s Winning Words, today used this quote from Malcolm Boyd – “Are you running with me, Jesus?”  That was also the title of a 1960’s book of informal prayers by Boyd. Freed made the point that we don’t need long, flowery “church prayers” in order to ask for God’s help. I’ve opined here in the past that I find comfort in the little prayer, “Not my will, but thy will be done” quite often. I also wrote that something as simple as the sports saying, “A little help here God”, is just as effective if you have paused to earnestly address it to God.

The best way out is through and the best way through any situation is with God’s help. So, start your day and the week by being sure that you know the answer to Boyd’s question – Are you running with me Jesus?

“Ask and you shall receive”, – Matthew 7:7. Ask for God’s help to get through…it is the best way out.

Take a moment to reflect and appreciate, and then move on…

June 3, 2022

A quote that I kept from the Jack’s Winning Words blog seemed to resonate this morning – “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy, for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves.”  (Anatole France)

Anyone who has ever changed jobs, had a friend move away or lost a loved one understands the feeling of melancholy that France refers to. It is the loss of relationships, in lobs or other areas of life that are changing that usually causes those feelings. We don’t necessarily miss the actual job so much as the people with whom we have worked. There is a comfort in seeing the same people day after day and sharing the good and bad of the situation with them. One doesn’t commiserate or celebrate by themselves.

The feelings of melancholy can be especially strong if the thing coming to an end or changing is something that we are heavily invested in emotionally. The failure of a company (and thus the job) that we might have fought valiantly to make successful is an example. Another is the closing of a play or theater production in which we had a role. When one has been pouring their heart and soul into an activity for a while (no matter how short the time) and it ends, one cannot help but be melancholy.

But life is fully of these moments. One might even say that life is made up of a series of these moments. It is critical to one’s mental health that they be able to accept these events, find a place for them in their memories and move on. Being able to reflect on the time and emotional intensity that you committed to the events or people involved is important.  One needs to sort out the proper place in their memories for those events and people and then accept that those moments and relationships are in the past. You might maintain contact with your old co-workers, but the relationships will never be the same as it was and that’s OK; that’s life.

walking man

If there are lessons to be learned from the time that you spent, tuck those away for future use, too. For, while we leave behind a part of ourselves in those memories, they also helped us grow and become the person who now faces the future. There will be new friends to make, new job and life challenges to meet and new things to which to devote yourself. Perhaps you will stop and fondly remember someone from the past who taught you a life lesson that you are now applying in your new situation. That will not be a melancholy moment so much as a moment of joyful recollection and appreciation. Savor those moments and move on.

The only constant in life is change. The better we can accept change, deal with change, and use change to grow, the better our lives will be. Yes, the play is over, the old job is gone, an old relationship has ended; but you are still here. There will be new plays. There will be new jobs. There will always be new people to meet and new relationships to form. Take a moment to reflect and appreciate what was and then move on with the here and now.

Don’t get stuck in the melancholy of the past, there are too many exciting things and people ahead today.