Are you looking for it?

June 21, 2021

A quote that I found recently and saved seemed like a good topic for today –

“Children see magic because they look for it.” – Christopher Moore

I also saw a poignant little line in the Sunday Comics yesterday, in the comic strip Macanudo. [ Ed. – Macanudo is an Argentine daily comic strip by the cartoonist Liniers.] In this Sunday’s single frame cartoon, a little girl is sitting in her swing and asks her cat, “Fellini, do you think I will remember me when I grow up?”

The sad thing is that most of us don’t remember that age of innocence, wonder and belief in magic when we grow up. We stop looking for the magic and goodness in things and people. Instead, we start seeing only the bad or the ugly or the ordinary. We let fears and prejudices replace the wonder and excitement of our youth.

There is certainly no stopping the physical process of “growing up”; however, there is also no real requirement to let completely go of that sense of wonder and enjoyment of life that we experienced as children. We need not stop looking for the magic in life.

There is a certain point in the life of a child when the transition from the safe, warm feeling of “us”, of always being close to their mother’s protective arms is replaced by the somewhat lonesome and scary feeling of “me”, of being an individual without that protective shield of mom always at hand. Most of that transition is a learned response, based upon what we see others (mainly adults) doing around us.

For people of faith, the good news is that we never grow out of the warm, protective arms of the love of God. God stays with us all of our lives and gives us the sense of calm and peace that we so often need in life. Our Pastor used the story of the footprints in the sand in his sermon this weekend to illustrate that God never leaves us and, in fact, carries us through times of hardship or trouble.

Perhaps, as you pause to say a little prayer this morning, you can ask God to allow you to remember the me that you used to be, the me that was so trusting in Him, the me who did not question his/her beliefs, the me that looked for and saw the magic in life. You can go home again, back to your innocent and powerful belief in God. Then you will once again see the magic in life.

Are you looking for it?

Admit it, learn from it, change…

June 19, 2021

I recently stumbled upon an inspirational site that has meaningful messages found in song lyrics from Disney movies, or maybe it stumbled upon me…I forget. Anyway, I must admit that I saw only a couple of the many Disney movies that were referenced at the site. I chose one of the posts to that site for my musings this morning.

Bittersweet and strange
Finding you can change
Learning you were wrong
— “Tale As Old As Time,” “Beauty and the Beast”

Setting aside for a moment that this is an animated movie and that the song was sung by a teapot, there is wisdom to be found in the lyrics.

The key insight in this message is “learning you were wrong”. How many of us fight long and hard not to have to admit that we were wrong? Wrong about a person or a place or thing; or, perhaps, wrong about in a long-held belief.

There is a series of commercials running right now about The General Insurance Company. The commercials feature Shaquille O’Neal and contain messages about people being wrong about the insurance company because of their past commercials. The message that it is trying to get across is that The General really is a serious and good insurance company, despite their past, silly commercials.

How often do we judge things and people by their appearance or through association with other people or events? THEY become stigmatized by being part of the group “THEM”, and we are happy to lump them all together and dismiss them because of that association in our minds. How lazy and wrong of us.

Each person that we meet deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt and we should use that old justice phrase “Innocent until proven guilty” in our minds before rushing to a judgement of association. About the only thing that one can tell, just by looking at them is that they are a human being. Anything else at that point is a guess and likely a bad one at that.

One might say, well I can see what color their skin is; to which I would answer, “and that means what?” Or, you might say I can tell what sex they are, which I might challenge in the case of androgynous looking people and would further question whether just looking at them how you can determine if they identify with what you think you see. These are the types of judgements that we rush to in our everyday lives and perhaps the most important to try to overcome – to change.

Learning you were wrong only comes after admitting that you were wrong, and that is the hard part for most. For most of us, our preconceived notions and prejudices become part of our defensive shields – the things that we keep up to protect us from harm (real or imagined). It is just safer and easier to avoid having to interact with “those kinds of people”, than to put our shields down take the time and make the effort to really see what kind of person they are.

Yet taking that time and making that effort is what leads to the “bittersweet and strange” part of the lyric, when you find a new friend in that person that you at first avoided.  You will find that you can change. Finding that you can change is the first step to admitting that you were wrong; and admitting that is the first step to learning, which eventually leads to wisdom. Perhaps that is why we associate wisdom with age – it takes us way too long to admit we were wrong and learn from it.

Take another step on your journey to wisdom today. Think about the conclusions or judgements that you make based solely upon how someone looks and challenge yourself make the effort to really get to know the people that you meet today before you make any judgement about them at all. Even them, take the advice of Pope Francis and ask yourself the question, “Who am I to judge?” Once you put down the gavel of judgement, you may find that you meet a lot more interesting and friendly people and maybe make a few new friends.

Find that you can change today!

You decide…

June 18, 2021

“One day, or Day One?  You decide!”  (Paulo Coelho) 

That was Pastor Freed’s quote of the day in his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, today. He used it to discuss pursuing one’s goals and dreams for tomorrow. To me it seemed to pair well with another quote that I found and saved recently –

“No matter what troubles have befallen you or what difficulties you have caused yourself or others, with love for yourself you can change, grow, make amends, and learn… Real love does not encourage you to ignore your problems or deny your mistakes and imperfections. You see them clearly and still opt to love.” — Sharon Salzberg

I have posted here a few times about love for oneself being critical in life. I have also opined that love for oneself begins by accepting the forgiveness and love of God.

Most of us spend way too much time beating ourselves up for mistakes that we make. We second guess and agonize about what might have been. We find it hard to let go of the past and accept its influence on the present and our future.

We are told in the Bible that if we accept Christ into our lives – “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” – (2 Corinthians 5:17)

None of us is perfect. We all make mistakes, some more serious than others; however, all of us are given another chance to repent and return to God. If we turn to God, ask for His forgiveness and then ACCEPT that forgiveness, we can once again love ourselves and make this Day One of our new lives, instead of just another day of regret and sadness.

When that happens in your life, it is Day One of the new you, that is a you that God loves and a new you that you can love. If you can get there, you can begin loving others, too.

So, is this just another day in a life that is not what you hoped it would be or not something that you are proud of or is this Day One of a new life that you can feel good about. Ask God to make this your Day One.

You decide.

Live up to your potential…

June 17, 2021

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote – “Man’s main task in life is to give birth to himself to become what he potentially is.”  (Erich Fromm)

Ironically, in today’s paper the cartoon Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis the cartoon character Pig is shone having a discussion with the character Goat. In the cartoon, Pig tells Goat, “I’ve decided to no longer let fear rule my life”; to which Goat replies, ”Good for you”. Then Pig says, “Instead I’ll choose regret.” In the last frame Goat just says, “Never Mind”, to which Pig relies, “Still bad, but so much less scary.”

It is unfortunate that so many, when faced with the challenges of living up to their potential choose to let fear rule their lives or make the choice that Pig did and live a life of regrets.

Most children are asked the ageless question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  For the very young the answer often entails doing what their heroes do – maybe being a fireman or policemen or perhaps whatever it is that their dads or moms do. At those young ages they do not understand enough about life to let fear rule their lives.

As they get older the child is exposed to the realities of life, the educational or abilities requirements to become what they had dreamed about. For many, the hard work that they come to understand is required is the scary thing that puts them off-track.

There are no free passes to success in any chosen endeavor in life. One must work at it and work hard in many instances. Successful athletes are not just born to success – they work at it harder than others. Look at successful people in any field and you will find someone who was willing to overcome their fears and work hard at being successful.  The most basic fear that they had to overcome was the fear of failure. Instead, they used failures as learning experiences and made the necessary changes to succeed the next time.

Living up to the potential of our lives is a full-time job and one with more than a few things that we could fear. Those who give up on that potential have chosen regret as a comfort zone. Get out of that comfort zone by recognizing it as the lie that it is. No matter what stage of life one is in there is still the potential to be your best and that potential should always serve as the guiding star for the direction in which you are headed.

While the profession or job that you have chosen provides a backdrop for being your best, the challenge is always to realize your potential as a human being – to be the best you that you can be. If you can look back on the things that you do at work or the decision that you made and are satisfied that you did th4e best that you could or made the best decisions that you could have, then you achieved your potential in that aspect of your life.

More importantly, look at your life in terms of your interactions with others. Are you the best husband/wife, father/mother, son or daughter or friend that you can be? Are there things that you can do differently in the future in those aspects of life to reach your potential? You need not let fear of failure dictate your interactions with others and you surely don’t want regrets to rule the day. Rather, work hard to overcome your fears of interpersonal relationships. Feed off the adrenalin that fear may release in you and use it to spur you on to success. Fear will turn to exhilaration, once it is overcome.

Pastor Freed wrote in his blog about being thankful for various people in his life who mentored him and helped him see and reach his potential. You may also have those types of people in your life or you may have to rely on yourself for the motivation to reach you potential. Remember that you also have God close at hand and you have but to call on him to receive that boost of confidence that you may need. If you believe that the path that you see as your potential is God’s will for you, how can you not succeed? Now, that is a formula for success.

Reaching your potential in life does not mean making the most money or having the most things. Reaching your potential in life means having people that you love and receiving their love back. It means having no regrets that you didn’t do the best that you could. It means ending up where God wanted you to be. Live up to your potential.

Just say it…

June 16, 2021

In yesterday’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed reminds us not to hesitate to say nice things to people with this quote – “Why do we have to wait for special moments to say nice things or tell people we care about them?”  (Randy Milholland)

I suspect that we are embarrassed, or think we would be, if we just blurted out a complement to someone that we met during the day (t least men might be). Telling someone that they look nice or that they are wearing a nice outfit shouldn’t be embarrassing to you or to them. Nike uses the tag line, “Just do it”; perhaps, if a compliment comes to mind when we are with someone, we should all use the tag line, “Just say it”.

We don’t seem to be embarrassed asking them the largely rhetorical question, “How are you?” or maybe “How’s it going?” Those are certainly more intrusive questions into the person’s personal life than just saying, “You look great today.” Just say it…

Of course, men have to be careful with complements that could be taken the wrong way by a woman. She may think that he is fliting with her or hitting on her. It is even more difficult to express that we care about a woman friend or acquaintance in a way that cannot be mistaken for an inappropriate remark. Things have gotten much more difficult of late, with all the revelations in the news about inappropriate behaviors, but we cannot let that stop us. Just say it…

Parents shouldn’t wait for special moments, like a graduation ceremony to tell their children that they are proud of them. We toss off air kisses and “I love you” without putting a lot of meaning behind either. We should take every opportunity that we can to let our kids and grandkids know that we recognize their accomplishments and that we are proud of them. Just say it…

Husbands and wives also need to be more cognizant of and appreciative of their mates and let them know it through compliments. Everyone loves to be appreciated, especially for the little things that they do that usually go unnoticed or at least not verbally recognized.  Rather than just sit there at the dinner table wolfing down the meal, take a moment to thank your mate for making it and maybe mention how nice it is to come home from work to them each day (now that we actually get to go to work again). Just say it…

Make it a habit to find something each day to compliment your significant other about. That will force you to stop, think and take notice of them and your home environment. It may even cause you to think about how you can help them with some of the things that they (and wouldn’t that be a good thing?). Just say it…

If you make it a practice to find something nice to say to or about each person that you meet during the day, I suspect that you will find life to be a much brighter and happier experience. Just say it…

It’s all in how you see it…

June 12, 2021

Pastor Freed recently used this quote in his blog, Jack’s Winning Words“Be thankful for closed doors, detours and roadblocks.  They protect you from paths and places not meant for you.”  (Sent by Kathy M)

Kathy’s view of things that might be in your way is one way to look at those things. Many people choose to see them merely as challenges to be overcome.  For them, Kathy’s view would need to be changed to read at the end, “not meant for you right now (or yet)”

Both views reach the same conclusion about what just may have occurred – it happened, let it go, move on. In Kathy’s view one just accepts what happened and moves on without worrying about it further. In the other view one accepts it, tries to learn something from it and then formulates a new plan to get to the goal that was just shut out by what happened.

Neither view is necessarily right or wrong. So long as the second view does not turn from persistence into an obsession, there is nothing wrong with trying again in the face of an initial failure.

When you think about it, we pray thanking God for preventing something from happening maybe as often as we pray to Him asking for help to make something happen. In those prayers of thankfulness, we are often thanking him for putting some roadblock in our way to prevent us from a making some horrible mistake.

Whichever view you take, in the end it comes down to accepting, “Thy will be done” when praying to God. If you can get to that mental state, you can remove fear and self-depreciation from your life.

So, stop beating yourself up or living in fear or doubt of your every move. Let God take control of things. For every door that he has closed, He opens another; perhaps to a much better choice for you.

You will never know the answer to the question “What if?”, so stop wasting time on it and start looking for “What’s next”. Trust in God’s plan for you, accept it and enjoy life.

Oh, look; there’s a roadblock ahead. I wonder what I’ll find on the detour that God has planned for me.

Maybe surprised, maybe shocked, always saddened…

June 11, 2021

The front page headlines this morning screamed “Bo knew”. The story, which had already broken on the TV news shows was about testimony given by one of Bo’s sons – Matt – and several former U of M football players. In their testimony they recounted being sexually assaulted by former team doctor Robert Anderson. The most damning of course was that of Matt Schembechler, who recounted that he was only 10 yeas old when first assaulted by Anderson. When he told his dad what had happened, fully expecting that BO would go after the doctor and get hi fired, he was instead reprimanded and told to “toughen up” by Bo.

There was no satisfactory answer in the stories to the question of why Schembechler reacted this way and continued to fail to do anything about Anderson in the face of other accusations of sexual assaults made by other player on his teams. We will never know the answer to those questions.

I have posted here before about the baseless esteem in which we hold famous people, whether they are in athletics, entertainment, or politics. Whatever their fame or position is based upon we somehow give them a pass on things that we would otherwise be more apt to hold them accountable for. We believe that their fame somehow also makes them good people who make good life decisions. We are all to often proven wrong in those thoughts.

One has only to look back over the past few years to find case after case of fallen hero’s that we once held in great esteem, The sexual assault cases of Anderson and Larry Nassar leap immediately to mind; however, joining Bo in sex-oriented scandal there is also Joe Paterno at Penn State, Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby from the entertainment world and financier Jeffery Epstein. The list goes on and on.

The breach of trust that we place in people who have achieved great fame, wealth or power was also proven in the recent convictions of UAW Presidents – Gary Jones and Dennis Williams.  Of course, the unions have a storied history of corruption that took some of the surprise off those revelations.

So, what are we to make of all of this? Should we become hardened cynics who assume that anyone that appears to be successful must have somehow cheated or gamed the system? Are we to look askance at all in the professions of these mis-doers? Must we become always on guard and mistrusting of people?  I think not. For the most part I really believe that people are not all out to somehow do me harm or trick me into some mistake. I will make the exception that the lady who keeps calling me about extending the warranty on a car that I no longer own may not be working in my best interest and hanging up is an OK response to her calls.

There is nothing wrong with being cautious, but it would be wrong to start every interaction with someone else with the assumption that they are somehow bad or out to put something over on me. One can miss the opportunity to get to know a person who may turn out to be a good friend if they start with the assumption that the other person is a crook or a bad actor. That is also the roadblock that prejudices put in the way of interpersonal relationships. Starting out in fear or loathing is not the way to begin a relationship.

So, it’s OK to be surprised or shocked when we learn about the misdeeds of a person that you had admired. Better that you should be saddened, not for yourself, but for them. It is also OK to find forgiveness in your heart for them. Maybe you will not forget the disappointment that they have caused you, but you must find room for forgiveness and move on.

Recall the words of Pope Francis and ask yourself the question that he posed when asked about his position on gays seeking the Lord – “Who am I to judge?” The disgrace of the revelations that may have already come out about these famous people who have breached our trust is enough. There is nothing to be gained by piling on. Yes, be surprised and saddened, but then forgive and move on.

Imagine that…

June 10, 2021

The quote in the Jack’s Winning Words blog today is one that cannot be read without a mental image flashing to mind – “Don’t let people discourage you.  Just fluff out your tutu and prance away.”  (Sent by Virginia P)

If any readers have ever been to a dance recital and watched the youngest age group doing their ballet number in their little tutu’s, you know how cute and, at the same time, funny that performance can be. Jack’s advice that we fluff our tutus and prance away from unpleasant people and events is good advice. Rather than engaging in a no-win conflict situation, especially in the arenas of religion or politics, just fluff your tutu and prance away.

I would advise that you keep whatever mental image it is that comes to mind for you when you read that quote in the back of your mind and call it up as needed. It may be a confrontation at work or perhaps in a social setting where someone is obviously trying to provoke you or start and argument. Recall that mental image and just fluff your tutu and prance away.

Sometimes it may be easier (and funnier) to imagine the other person taking that action. It will bring a smile to your face that will probably perplex them, given their state of mind if you imagine that, instead of representing a threat to you or accepting their invitation to argue you, you imagine that they are about to just fluff your tutu and prance away.

Life throws many opportunities to use this advice at us, from disappointments at work, to conflicts in marriages, to the deaths of friends or family. While the gravity of some of these events might be huge, it is important that we find a way to put them behind us and move on with life. Don’t let life get you down. Perhaps you should say to yourself just fluff your tutu and prance away.

As Jack pointed out, life is too short to waste time on confrontation and arguments with others. Use the time that you have wisely to enjoy life. When things get dark or stormy in your life, just imagine that God has turned the spotlight on you and introduced you in a solo performance of your faith. Show the world that faith in action – just fluff your tutu and prance away.

Have a great day. Nice tutu, by the way.

Don’t lost sight of what is important…

June 9, 2021

In his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed today used this quote – “I started concentrating so hard on my vision that I lost sight.”  (Robin Green) 

Free reported that the Robin Green who is credited with this quote is at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, and helps the blind. Jack opined that the quote is about sight and insight, which I agree with. The quote also points to a problem often experienced by middle-aged men who have focused upon their careers.

It is all too easy to become so focused and intense on the pursuit of career goals that all else drops “out of sight”, including family. Some men become so focused and intense in their pursuit of career success that they develop a kind of tunnel-vision, seeing only what is directly ahead of them in their next career goal. They sacrifice family time by tell themselves that they are doing this for the family; when it is all about themselves and the intense focus that they have on success at work.

Most men do define themselves largely by their careers and the work that they do, more so than the things that they do with family. The answer to the question, “What do you do?” is seldom answered, “Well, I’m a husband and a father”, as the initial response.

It is certainly important to find a career or work that provides sufficient income to support the family; however, the work itself should always remain a means to an end and not the end in itself. Those who get too intensely focused upon work success lose sight of the importance of why they are working.

If you find yourself “working late” every night or working when you get home, instead of sharing time with family, you are probably too intensely focus upon work success. If you miss most of the games and plays and recitals of your children, you are probably too intensely focused upon work success. If you can’t remember that last time that you went somewhere with just your wife or perhaps with the whole family and had fun, you are probably too intensely focused upon work success. If you can’t remember how old your children are or the last time that you went to one of their birthday parties, you are probably too intensely focused upon work success.

Working harder and harder to try to earn more and more money is meaningless if you don’t spend time with family. Time spent with them is more important than the shiny new things that the money might buy. In the end, the kids will be grown and gone, and the luster will have faded from the shiny things and you will be left with stuff instead of memories. If you are lucky, your long-suffering wife may still be there; although, overly intense work focus is the root cause of many divorces.

So, pause every now and then and ask yourself if what you are doing, what you are so intensely focused upon at work, is really what you want out of life. Question the decision to work late rather than go to your son’s ball game. Recall when the last time you told your wife that you love her was and wonder why you don’t take time to do that more often. Challenge the thought that that next promotion at work will be the thing that makes you happier, rather than that next trip to the zoo or going on a picnic with family.

Try to imagine yourself in the end game of life, when you and your spouse are rattling around in your McMansion, surrounded by stuff that now longer matters, and ask that person if it was all worth it?  Imagine what happened to the wife and kids while you were so intensely focused. They when on in life. The kids grew up and moved away. Maybe the wife developed other interests to fill her time or made new friends to fill in for her missing spouse. You’ll find that you can’t imagine much about that, because have no memories of those things happening – you weren’t there to see them.

The good news is that you may still have time to change your focus back to what is important in life. Go to your daughter’s dance recital rather than staying late to work on the next deal. Hire a sitter if needed and take your wife out to dinner (and don’t spent the evening looking at your phone). Reset your definition of success to be measured in happy family time, rather than a raise or promotion. You may, in fact, not advance as quickly at work or make quite and much money; however, I know that you will feel more fulfilled and be happier because you have refocused upon what is important in life.

Pay attention to show respect…

June 8, 2021

“It’s hard for me to answer a question from someone who really doesn’t care about the answer.”  (Charles Grodin)

That was today’s quote in the Jack’s Winning Words blog. Jack when on to relate a story about a remembering seeing a woman in his congregation elbowing her husband to keep him awake during the sermon.

I’ve written here a few times about being a good listener. It is a mark of respect for the speaker that you pay attention to what they are saying and not spend that time thinking about how you will be replying. Grodin’s quote points out a second benefit from paying attention – you can figure out from how the speaker is talking where they are coming from and whether or not they really care about what your opinion is on the topic.

Showing respect for the speaker doesn’t mean that you are agreeing with their position. It merely means that you respect their right to have an opinion and to express it. Too many people these days don’t show even that level of respect; rather they shout over the speaker, hoping to drown out the expression of the opinion that they disagree with.

With so much misinformation and disinformation circulating in our society it is sometimes hard to have a civil discourse on controversial topics. When one bases their point of view on things upon the base of bad information or untruths it is hard to discuss it with them and the conversation quickly turns into arguments about the source of their “facts” upon which they base their beliefs. The old hack, “I saw it on the Internet, so it must be true” is the only base that many have to stand upon.

An even more disturbing trend of late is the rather fluid definition of the term “facts”. Over the past year or two we have seen many TV interviews in which it was asserted that facts aren’t facts or that there are “alternative facts”.  The term “facts” has morphed from describing an accepted absolute into describing a belief, subject to change. I guess the relative term there is the word accepted. If one doesn’t accept a “fact”, there is a tendency to make up an alternative and call it a fact, when really it is a belief or point of view.

That leads me back to a variation on Grodin’s quote – It’s hard to argue the truth of a statement with someone who doesn’t care about the truth.

If one is not paying attention to what is being said in a conversation it is relatively easy to be drawn into an argument about the wrong thing. Instead of arguing against a belief one could inquire about the basis for that belief – the facts upon which it is based. It is not enough to just say, “That’s not true.” Remember that the person speaking believes it is true, but that they may have never taken the time to question the source of that belief. A discussion about the basis for that belief may be more productive than just a direct challenge to it. Of nothing else, maybe you can plant a seed of doubt in their mind about the basis of their opinion.

So, show respect for the right of others to have and to express an opinion. You may not agree with it and perhaps your knee-jerk reaction is to talk over it or to quickly move from conversation mode into an argument about it. Don’t go there. If you are paying attention, you will realize the futility of arguing the point with that person.   Better that you should add a note to your mental file about that person on their position on this topic – a topic perhaps to be avoided in the future.  If that file gets too big, this may be a person to avoid in the future.

In the end, showing enough respect for the other person to understand where they are coming from also shows respect for yourself by stifling the knee-jerk reaction to argue with them. You just saved yourself a frustrating waste of time. Respect yourself.