Are you making progress?

September 21, 2021

I’ve had this quote hanging around for some time while I thought about what to say about it – “Progress is not created by contented people.”  (Frank Tyger)

I don’t think Tyger was referring to malcontents who cause trouble for others, but rather about those people who cannot be content until the get the answer to the question “Why” or maybe “Why not”. These are people whose curiosity and drive will not let them rest until they find out the answers to those types of questions. They are the inventors and scientists, the explorers and adventurers, the investigators and questioners who are not content to leave stones unturned or avenues unexplored. They cannot be content until they find the answer to the question of why something happens or doesn’t happen or see what is over the next horizon. It is through their insatiable pursuit of answers that mankind’s progress is made.

For many the desire to explore may lie in books that are devoured with a zest. For some it may be the pursuit of athletic excellence and not being content with the thought that this is as fast as a person can run or as high as they can jump. Why? Why can I not run faster or jump higher? What is the limit of my personal best?

Some businesspeople never seem to be satisfied with the amount of success they have achieved or the amount of money that they have made. They are always striving to expand into more products or services or to become even more dominant in their field. For them the money is a secondary benefit. It is the pursuit of the answer to the question “Why not” that drives them.

Most “normal” people may not be as focused upon specific goals like athletes or business leaders but all of us have things that we may not be content about, be it our jobs and what we earn or maybe our personal relationships. We may not yet be focused upon that discontent enough to do something about it, so it just sits there festering and causing us unhappiness. It is only when we can focus upon it enough to identify what we are unhappy about that we can begin to formulate a plan of actions to make progress.

At first the “problem” or roadblock that we are facing can seem overwhelming. That is usually because we are trying to think of a way to overcome it in one big leap. That just doesn’t happen with most roadblocks or challenges. Problems must be broken down into smaller steps which can be accomplished one at a time. Sometimes even getting started on solving the problem requires preliminary steps that may not seem like they are leading to progress but are required none the less – like pursuing a college degree or certification as a pre-requisite to getting a new job. There are tons of lifestyle changes that world-class athletes make in pursuit of their goals and there may be some required of you to achieve your goals, too.

Patience and persistence are required, too. Winning athletes will often recount the endless training sessions that they went through get to their moment of success. You too will have to be persistent in your efforts to achieve your goals or overcome your roadblocks. You must also remember to reward yourself each day for whatever small progress you made that day towards you goal. Maybe add to your nightly prayers, “Thank you God for helping me get another day closer to achieving my dream.”

If nothing else in your life is leaving you a bit discontented, perhaps just the pursuit of being the best person that you can be should become your goal. At the end of each day, you can reflect on the actions that you took (or didn’t take) and resolve to do better tomorrow. It may not be possible to achieve perfection, but that is no reason to accept imperfection. Don’t be content with your imperfections, resolve to make progress. Like the U.S. Army tag line –“Be the best that you can be”.

Don’t be content. Make progress.

Listen for the clicking…look for the twinkle…

September 20, 2021

In his Jack’s Winning Word blog today, Pastor Freed commented on a recent finding in a  BBC study that plants apparently “talk” by clicking when they are being talked to. Reportedly, they click faster and louder if being talked to nicely. That led Freed to use this quote from an unknow source –

“If speaking kindly to plants helps them to grow, imagine what speaking kindly to humans can do.” 

I’m pretty sure that I haven’t heard anyone that I was talking to clicking away, but I also know that you can see a certain twinkle in people’s eyes if you are saying nice things, especially about them. I think children in particular need positive reinforcement to grow. Speaking kindly to children and find ways to praise them for the good things that they do helps them build confidence in themselves and keeps them headed in the right direction. Even in times when less friendly words must be used to correct a misbehavior, parents should find a way to add some encouraging words of love and forgiveness to reassure the child of their love for them. Speak kindly to them and look for the twinkle in their eye.

In our day-to-day lives there ae many instances when the easy thing to do would be to criticize someone for their actions; but, what good would that really do? Finding a way to correct a mistake or change someone’s behavior without using harsh or belittling words is tougher than just blurting out an admonishment; however, it is worth the extra effort. “Putting someone in their place” may seem to be the thing to do, but it just puts them outside of your reach. You lose the ability to help them see the correct behavior when you alienate them by placing yourself in the roles of judge and jury. It is better to suggest that a different behavior might bring a different result – one that is more beneficial to them. Speak kindly to them and look for the twinkle in their eye.

Every so often we encounter bad behavior from someone who is angry at the moment. In those situations, acting and talking kindly is the thing to do One can commiserate without agreeing with the position of the angry person and try to calm them down enough to let reason take over again. I have noticed over time that remaining calm and collected while those around you may be in a frenzy has a calming effect on everyone else. Sometimes that is called “the calm voice of reason.” So, when you encounter that person who is being driven by anger, speak kindly to them and look for the twinkle in their eye.

I’ve tried to imagine sitting in a field of flowers and listening to them clicking away as I speak kindly to them. I haven’t been able to hear that yet, even in my mind; however, I have experienced the positive impact of choosing to speak kindly to people and I have seen the twinkle in their eyes. Have you? Try it today. Choose to speak kindly to people and look for the twinkle in their eyes. And if you happen to hear some faint clicking in the background that is probably just some happy nearby plants that overheard your kind words.

Have a great and kind week ahead. Look for the twinkles and listen for the clicking.

What do you stand for?

September 17, 2021

Pastor Freed used this quote today – “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well, I have others,” (Groucho Marx)

Freed when on to write about having principles – things that you stand for and which drive your behavior in life. Principles are things that matter. Just this morning I again placed on my front lawn a sign with a quote from Martin Luther King – “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Interestingly when I looked that quote up there is some controversy about whether he actually ever said those exact words. It is credited as coming from his I Have A Dream speech, but it actually a paraphrasing of a sermon in Selma, Alabama, on 8 March 1965, the day after “Bloody Sunday,” on which civil rights protesters were attacked and beaten by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge:

A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.

King was talking about principles and what we stand for. He was saying that it is not OK to look away when we see injustice or to accept unacceptable behavior towards others. One cannot selectively choose which principles we will apply that day or in that instance. We cannot say, as Groucho said, if you don’t like my principles, I have others. If you do not stand on your principles, you step onto a slippery slope and fall. There is no half-way with principles. It’s like what Bob Dylan said about religion, “You either got it or you ain’t.” So, you either got principles or you ain’t.

A scary aspect of modern life is that too many people are taking a stand for things that just aren’t true. That is what drove the invasion of the Capitol…people actually believed the big lie that was being circulated about the election. Now, misinformation and conspiracy theories are driving the resistance to what should be a “no-brainer” decision to get vaccinated against a deadly pandemic. How many death-bed regrets must we see on TV from non-vaccers before people change their minds and do the right thing?

So maybe we should be saying to ourselves and others, “These are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well, sorry but that’s how I’m going to live my life.” However, even that is not enough. We must continue to try to convince others to do the right things, too. Standing passively by and watching others commit injustices or doing the wrong things makes us accessories to their actions. In that inaction we die a little because we have not stood up for our principles.

Take time to think about that for a moment…what principles are you willing to stand for? What ae you doing about that?

Be careful with your words…

September 14, 2021

Pastor Freed used this quote today in his blog, Jack’s Winning Words – “Lord, keep your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth.”  (Unknown)

Also today’s quote of the day from a site that I get a daily feed from had this quote –  “To be careful with people and with words was a rare and beautiful thing.” (Benjamin Alire Sáenz)

Both contain great advice about watching what you say, or at least being more aware and careful about it.

Freed went on to write about his Swedish Uncle John admonishing a then sassy child to  “Tyst med du!” which meant, “Be quiet!”, in Swedish.

Sáenz related a story that he had written about a child named Ari who’s father came back from the View Nam war a changed man, seemingly uncommunicative and very careful with his words. Ari came to appreciate his father’s careful choice of words when he did speak.

We should all be more careful about what we say, instead of just blurting out the first things that comes to mind. Maybe that is why we need the Lord to keep his hand over our mouths. Invariably, when I stifle the urge to blurt something out in reaction to an event or person, I quickly realize how inappropriate, or maybe even hurtful, it would have been to let that thought fly out of my mouth. Does that ever happen to you?

I have noticed the trait in some people to give thoughtful consideration to what they are about to say and the words that they will use. President Barack Obama was one of those people. If you watched him closely, you could actually see that he was considering the words to use when answering a question or making a statement. I suspect that some of that was his legal background.

Being careful about what you say, and about the words that you chose to say it, requires the discipline to stop and think before using your mouth. People may think of you as being deliberate and that is a good thing. Spontaneity is a good thing if you are cheering for a great play in sports; however, it can be a dangerous thing if you engage your mouth before engaging your brain in response to someone’s question or statement.

The book of Proverbs in the Bible is a rich source for advice about our words –

Proverbs 15: 1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but hard words stir up anger.”

Proverbs 15:4 “Gentle words bring life and health; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”

Proverbs 18:20 “Words satisfy the soul as food satisfies the stomach; the right words on a person’s lips bring satisfaction.”

Start your day by adding the line from Jack’s Winning Words to your prayer and imagine throughout the day that the Lord has his hand on your mouth. Take time to think before you speak, and the Lord will remove his hand. Bring satisfaction from the words that you let slip during the day.

Keep looking for the rainbows in life…

September 13, 2021

We tend to associate rainbows with the beautiful and positive things in life. Here are two quotes that I had in my collection of quotes about rainbows –

“If you want to see the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”  (Dolly Parton) Parton

“You’ll never find a rainbow if you are looking down” – Charlie Chaplin

Dolly reminds us that there will be hard times in life, but that there is often a rainbow at the end of each hardship. We must persist through the tough times to get to the good times. Having the attitude that you will get through whatever you are facing and continuing to look for the rainbow at the end is made easier if you recall the words “…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

It is in that peace, just as in the calm after the storm, that you will often find the rainbow.

Chaplin’s quote reminds us to keep our heads up and not get down, during difficult times. If you walk through life with your head down, you will miss seeing the rainbows in your life. Always be looking for the good things in life (the rainbows) and you will find them. Ziggy Marley put it this way, “There’s a rainbow in the sky, all the time, don’t be blind.”

An even better approach to life was suggested by poet Maya Angelou – “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” Imagine how good it would feel to be the rainbow in someone else’s life. Keeping your head up will allow you to see those opportunities, too.

Yes, there will be rain in your life – failures or disappointments, setbacks and even the deaths of loved ones. However, if you keep the faith and keep your head up, there will be rainbows, too. Keep looking for those rainbows and keep being a rainbow to others.

Who are you pretending to be?

September 6, 2021

Psychologist Carl Rogers said – “What I am is good enough if I would only be it openly.” Rogers specializes in helping people be themselves unashamedly and confidently. That begs the question that forms today’s headline – who am I (or you) pretending to be?

It is not unusual to see young people – girls and boys – dressing like their heroes and maybe trying to talk and act like them. After all, youth is a time when we are still trying to decide who we are and what we want to become. Hopefully one can come to grips with the who we are part and accept themselves, so that they can move on the who we want to become part. Some never do and spend their lives trying to live as someone else. They are pretending.

I’ve posted here several times about loving yourself, accepting who you are and moving on with life. That is an important first step to take before you can truly love others. An important precursor to loving yourself is accepting God’s love for you. If God can love you, who are you to question his judgement? So, get in touch with God and accept His love and then you can get in touch with yourself and love who you are. You don’t have to pretend with God or with yourself.

I think it is OK to have heroes, so long as what we try to emulate about them are the good characteristics of who they are – their moral character – and not just pretend to be them by dressing and talking like they do. There is no benefit that accrues to you by looking like your heroes, but there could be great benefit from emulating their focus and resolve, their willingness to work hard to achieve their goals, or their kindness and generosity.  

That makes it all the more important to choose the right heroes to begin with. Choosing to model yourself after a villain, whether a movie villain or a real-life bad guy, is a receipt for disaster in life. Sometimes that choice is subtle, like going along with something that you know is wrong, just to get along with someone that you idolize. Many got into drugs that way, by following their rock and roll heroes down that path. That always ends badly.

So, ask yourself if what you are doing is the real you or are you pretending to be someone else? Try being the real you, making your own decisions about what to wear and how to act. You might be surprised to learn that, if you portray the real you, you could become someone else’s hero? Imagine someone trying to be like you. Would you be happy about how they are acting?  

Who are you pretending to be? Try openly being you – that’s good enough for God and it will be good enough for everyone else, too. Try it, you’ll like it.

Don’t overthink it…just do it.

August 30, 2021

How many times at the end of a day have you ended up with a bad case of the “coulda, woulda, shoulda’s” over things that you didn’t do during the day? It happens to us all. There are things that we hesitate doing out of some fear of the unknown. Perhaps we avoid meeting or greeting someone because they look different from us. Or maybe we don’t go someplace because of some totally unfounded fear. Maybe we do not even attempt to do something new because we fear that we will fail.

A couple of quotes that I’ve had laying around for a while seem appropriate –

“A small act is worth a million thoughts.” (Ai Weiwei)

“The willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time.” – Brené Brown

In the weekly prayer for forgiveness that we use at my church we ask God for forgiveness for “the things that we have done and for those things left undone.” It is in those things left undone that most us need to seek forgiveness, especially those things eft undone when it come to helping others. We spend too much time thinking, or worrying, about reasons not to do something and the moment quickly passes. Maybe we spend too much time thinking about how we might do something and again the moment passes. That is where the words of Al Weiwei really apply. We can have a million thoughts of doing wonderful things, but if we do not act they are worthless. One of my Mom’s favorite sayings was,” the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” You can easily substitute “thoughts” for the word intentions.

Brown’s words, too, speak to overcoming our initial fears and actually trying (showing up) new things. Each time we get through that barrier of fears we become a bit braver for the next time. Even if we show up and one of our fears proves to be true, the fact that we survived it or overcame it makes us a little braver for the next time. Hopefully we learn from the experience.

So, you have to act; you have to show up. Ending the day with the thoughts that, “I wish it had gone differently, but here’s what I learned”, is so much more satisfying than ending it with a case of the “coulda, woulda, shoulda’s” because you didn’t even try.

Don’t overthink life…just live it.

Be somebody’s and be your own

August 27, 2021

Every now and then, I notice that a couple of the little quotes that I collect just seem to go together or maybe have more meaning when used together.

“To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.”  (Oscar Wilde)

“I can be somebody’s and still be my own.” – Shel Silverstein

I have written a few times about the importance of loving yourself, before you can really love others and Wilde’s quote seems to sum it up nicely. A component of that self-love that I have also written about is the ability to forgive yourself for mistakes or failures. One key to both is accepting the forgiveness and love of God in your life.

Being yourself and loving yourself means being able to be content when alone and not being dependent on another for your sense of well-being or fulfilment. It means having your own independent interests and opinions. It means finding wholeness within yourself and not as a part of someone else. You may share a great deal of who you are with someone else, but at the end of the day (or the relationship) that part comes back to you.

Silverstein’s quote speaks to the commitments that we make as we become someone else’s husband, wife, father, mother, lover, friend or relative. We give a part of ourselves to them and share our love with them; however, we remain ourselves and must still love ourselves. I suspect that it would be very hard to have a serious relationship with someone who did not love themselves. You may be there for them, but that s not the same as giving yourself to them.

When you don’t love yourself it very difficult to share yourself to someone else because you feel that it would be like sharing a flawed gift. Your inability to forgive and love yourself may embarrass you or make you feel ashamed of yourself. It certainly doesn’t put you in the mood to openly share of yourself.

So takes Wilde’s advice and start that lifelong love affair with yourself. It may help to first accept God’s forgiveness and love for you. It is a small step from there to being able to love yourself. Only then will you truly be ready to be somebody’s, because you will already be your own.

Don’t you just love it?

Outgrow yourself…

August 25, 2021

I saw this quote on another blog – “You are allowed to outgrow people. This includes past versions of yourself.” – Mandy Hale from the blog theenlightenedmind622

We may not think immediately of the term “outgrow” when we reflect on old friends that we no longer associate with and we seldom have enough self-awareness to recognize the old habits that we have abandoned; but both reflect “growth” in our lives. The growth is in wisdom. We outgrew them (or the old us) in large part because we acquired new knowledge and used that knowledge to make changes in our lives.

In some cases, people tumble into “toxic relationships” with others, perhaps a “friend” with some bad habits or prejudiced feelings about others. When you become aware of those bad habit or traits you have a choice to make about remaining friends with them. You may conclude from a thoughtful analysis of the situation that there is little upside to remaining in contact with them and lots of potential downside. If the relationship is a marriage, it is all the more important to be honest with yourself about the good and bad of staying in the relationship. All too many abusive marriages end after too much pain and suffering, sometimes even with the death of one of the partners. Live is too short to stay in toxic relationships.

Outgrowing yourself means that you have taken the time to examine the decisions that you make about things and about people. You have thought about what pre-conceived notions or even prejudices you have allowed to creep into your life which now dictate your actions and reactions. The beginning of the growth that you might be experiencing is the recognition of factors that are controlling our thinking that have no valid basis in fact or proof. Once you begin to examine and question why you think a certain way, you are ready to outgrow the old you.

It is important that you allow yourself that growth as Mandy Hale said. You must give yourself permission. A part of that permission is forgiving yourself for your earlier behavior. You need to own it and then forgive it and move on to the new you. You’ve outgrown the old you.  

In order to grow, many things need to be nurtured. The way one nurtures growth in their thinking is to think about it. One needs to take time for reflection on the events of the day and the decisions that were made. It might also be good to question why you are driven in certain directions, maybe towards or away from certain people. Asking your self as you go through the day, “Am I making this decision based upon facts or feelings and what is driving those feelings.” If you find that fear is a common feeling, you need to question what you fear and why. You need to outgrow those fears.

It’s probably a good thing to take time at the start of each day to ask God for the presence of mind during the day to think before acting or reacting. Most people have some set of goals in mind for the day. Perhaps you could add a goal of personal growth by resolving to outgrow old fears or pre-conceived notions. Then you would have something else to be proud of at the end of the day.

Outgrow yourself.

Ouch! Oh, now I understand…

August 23, 2021

I spotted this quote somewhere recently and it struck a chord with me –“The trouble with using experience as a guide is that the final exam often comes first and then the lesson.” (Anonymous)

How true is that! Much of what we learn in life comes to us right after a failure or a mistake. One might say that much of wisdom is built on the bumps and bruises of life. Some things we can learn out of books or be taught about in classes, but it is through experiences that we truly build wisdom.

The whole trial and error process is a key component of the Scientific Method that we hear about so often. Scientists come up with a hypothesis or theory and then design tests of trials to either prove or disprove those theories. Even medicine works that way, with clinical trials conducted to test the efficacy of drugs that “in theory” should work against a particular disease or condition. It is through those clinical trials that the drugs side effects are uncovered and they are evaluated as risks or downsides against the positive effects of the drug.

The learning process doesn’t always have to be painful; however, it almost always results from failures. So, taking steps to reduce the pain of a failure and at least trying to learn from them is a valuable use of your time. The Scientific Method tries to make it easier to learn from a trial or experiment by reducing the number of variables that could impact the outcome. That is a factor in why drug trials can be so hard to get into. Your medical history or even your genetic makeup may place you outside of the factors that the scientists are trying to control.

In normal day-to-day life we may “test the waters” for things like asking for a raise or maybe asking someone out on a date. We may also try to do things, perhaps without thinking them through, and fail at it. If we use that experience to learn we are building our wisdom. If we just keep making the same attempt over and over, without change; well, that’s just crazy.

So, live your life with an awareness that every day is an experience that we can learn from, every interaction with another person is an opportunity to learn, and every decision that you make is a trial that could result in an error or an unexpected outcome. Learn from the results of those decisions. Maybe, instead of using experience as a guide for life you should use experience as the goal of life – get out there and experience it – the wisdom will come later.

And don’t worry about life’s final exam – you have already been given the answer to that test by Jesus. Everybody who believes passes that test.