Determination as a Key to Learning New Things

The other day our eight-month-old grandson, Crosby, came over to our house. We’re with him enough to know how active he is. But when he came over to our place it became even more evident. The boy never stops moving. He explores. He’s curious. Crosby can’t help himself from discovering new things. He climbs. His little legs crawl from one place to another. The magnets on the refrigerator and the steps that go upstairs are far too tempting for a little boy. Watching him is a glorious display of determination.

Our son-in-law posted a picture of Crosby online with this quote:

Determined. The one word [Ashlyn] and I keep going back to when describing Crosby lately. To him, everything is possible. Especially when he always has a toy by his side…or mouth.

Watching Crosby reminds me, on the one hand, that as I grow older I sometimes lose my curiosity. My determination sometimes wanes. Energy that I once had degrades.

But on the other hand I am also reminded to look at the world through Crosby’s eyes. I want to think, like Crosby, that everything is possible. I want to see everything as though it were new. I want to discover the way things work. I desire new energy for old things.

So here’s a challenge for today: Look at everything like an eight-month-old.

  • Find new determination
  • Consider anything possible
  • Look at something like you’ve never seen it before
  • Discover the way something works
  • Summon the energy for creativity
  • Move your eyes left, right, up, and down
  • Climb up or dig down

There’s creative power in thinking, acting, and being determined like an infant.

What does determination look like to you?

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It Doesn’t Have to Take a Birthday to Do Something Special

Sometimes those human interest stories at the end of newscasts really get to me. It happened tonight. The story told about a teacher who asked one of her students about her birthday party. The little girl told her she had never had a birthday party, or even a slice of her own birthday cake. The teacher said when she heard those words her breath was taken away. It moved her so much that she quit her job and started her own non-profit organization. Now she raises money so that low income, underprivileged, and homeless children can have their very own birthday party, gifts and all.

Now this woman buys the gifts, dresses up in costumes, and brings the cakes to the parties. Professional baseball teams have gotten involved. Volunteers help out. And the smiles on the children’s faces beam like the sun. The story brought a lump to my throat.

You don’t have to start a non-profit or even throw a birthday party to bring joy or uplift. The same can be done even in the most mundane situations. Walter Wangerin, Jr. reminds us of this when he writes:

Every time you meet another human being you have the opportunity. It’s a chance at holiness. For you will do one of two things. Either you will build him up or you will tear him down. There are no useless, minor meetings. There are no dead-end jobs. There are no pointless lives. Swallow your sorrows; forget your grievances and all the hurt your poor life has sustained. Turn your face truly to the human before you and let her, for one pure moment, shine. Think her important, and then she will suspect that she is fashioned of God.

So do something special today. Go with your compassionate idea. Throw a birthday party. Sit face to face with someone. Make the visit you promised you would. You might even come up with an idea that leads to a non-profit organization.

What will you do to make someone smile today?

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When a Little Wave Makes a Big Difference

It’s the end of the first quarter at the Iowa Hawkeyes’ football game. Suddenly the entire crowd turns in one direction. Smiles cover the faces. The fans look up beyond the wall of the stadium. And they begin to wave.

It’s a tradition that just began this year. A new children’s hospital was built with windows overlooking the field. A fan floated the idea of waving to the kids in those windows. People thought it was a great idea so the word spread. The next thing you know every time there’s a football game a little bit of joy is injected into the lives of kids who are sick enough to be hospitalized. And all it takes is a wave multiplied thousands of times.

Isn’t it amazing what a little gesture can do? I love it when I take my morning bike ride and a motorist is friendly enough to gesture me across the street and follow it with a friendly wave. Our grandson is on the verge of learning how to wave. Don’t you love it when little babies do that? Waves can be emotional, too. I vividly remember waving to both of our kids when we dropped them off at their respective colleges and made our way home. If I’m being honest, more than a few tears accompanied those waves.

Sometimes a wave is not so much physical as it is emotional. Here in Florida we have felt the nation “waving” to us by sending financial support, their linemen and women, and their prayers. It’s almost as though the rest of the nation is turning their collective faces toward us like the fans at an Iowa football game. And we feel the warmth and love. It brings a smile to our faces.

Why not make it your goal to wave to someone today? Even if it may feel a little uncomfortable, give it a try. Especially if you don’t normally do it, wave to a fellow motorist, neighbor, or pedestrian today. You might just make their day. And your day will be better as well.

To whom will you wave today?

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What It’s Like to Live Through a Hurricane

It was the most massive hurricane to ever power through the Atlantic Ocean. And for days we knew it was more than likely coming our way. I wrote here about the uncertainty of all that. Living through a hurricane is a unique experience. The closest thing to which I can compare it is a snow storm that dumps two feet of snow…but with much more force and destruction.

Going through a hurricane is a process. There are things you experience before the storm, during it, and then as it breaks up into a tropical storm and goes away.

Before:

  • Hype: If you live anywhere in the country you certainly heard about Hurricane Irma. But If you live in Florida it was on TV, the radio, newspapers, social media, and overheard in every conversation out and about. Yes, this was a strong storm. Yes, it was important to prepare. But the hype was more than over the top.
  • Uncertainty: First Irma was supposed to come straight up the east side of the state. Then she was supposed to come straight up the middle. Next she was supposed to come up the east side of the state. Then straight up the middle. The famous “cone of uncertainty” that they show on every broadcast was so big it was maddening. Finally, Irma came up the east coast then straight up the middle of the state. So I suppose they were sort of right.
  • Purchases: You should have seen the stores. You’re supposed to get your hurricane preparedness supplies well in advance of the season. But of course people don’t. So there was a run on bread, water, batteries, and canned goods. Now that the storm is over we have two cases of bottled water we never touched and a whole bunch of canned goods that will probably end up at our local food pantry. We also have a battery powered transistor radio that we didn’t even use, and probably won’t use again until the next hurricane (God forbid).
  • Preparation: You have to prepare your house. Some people boarded up their windows. We didn’t…and were a little nervous about that. All of our porch furniture and plants came into our house. There were towels in every window. Everything got unplugged. I turned off the air conditioning breaker. The garage doors were locked and we backed our cars into the garage doors so that they wouldn’t flex and blow off the house. We even put our pictures in garbage bags and important papers in the trunk of my car. Our really important papers came with us. In addition, we also have photos of just about every item in our house in case we needed to make an insurance claim.
  • (Lack of) Sleep: It’s very difficult to sleep in the days leading up to a hurricane. All the things you have to do to prepare are running through your mind. Worst case scenarios are running through your mind. All the uncertainties are running through your mind. No sleep.

During:

  • TV: During a hurricane the TV, as long as you can have it, is your lifeline. You watch the cone of uncertainty narrow down to become nearly certain. Then you watch the bands of the storm get closer. It keeps you awake while every last little bit of wind and rain squall is analyzed. (Why is it that the worst part of a hurricane always seems to hit in the middle of the night?)
  • Snacks: Now’s the time to break out the snacks you bought. Most of them can be eaten right out of the bag or box since you’ve been anticipating a power outage for weeks. Everyone sits around nervously eating stuff they usually wouldn’t be.
  • Fear: See TV above. The media will do whatever they can to scare you to death so that you keep watching their station and they can sell more advertising. Yes, a hurricane is very serious and shouldn’t be messed with. But let’s have a little bit of balanced reporting.
  • Family: In the midst of a potentially life-altering storm, along with your faith, this becomes the most important thing. We were thankful to be able to ride the storm out with our daughter, son-in-law, and grandson. It was very real, very good, quality time. The bonus was the meals our son-in-law cooked us while we waited for “the worst.”
  • (Lack of) Sleep: How can you sleep when a hurricane is blowing through your town?

After:

  • Water: Now, let’s see. What do we do with all the water the media told us to buy before the hurricane? I’m sure we’ll eventually use it.
  • Restaurants: If you own a restaurant, and have willing employees, open your restaurant as soon as humanly possible after the storm blows through. Since we were downtown we were able to walk to a pizza joint that opened at 4 in the evening the day after the hurricane. We got there before 4:00 and it was already packed. The entire time we were there a line of people was waiting outside the door. And as we walked home with leftover pizza in the box no less than three cars stopped in the middle of the road to ask us where we got it.
  • Assessing (damage): Since we were not in our own home for the storm, we were worried about what we would find when we got home. All in all, we were fortunate to have only some interior damage to our window sills from seeping water. Others fared far worse. Insurance companies, power companies, home improvement stores, gas stations, and grocery stores are working overtime to help people with all the issues that have arisen from Irma.
  • Waiting (for power): I’m here to tell you that having no power is no fun. Especially when you live in hot and humid Florida. My heart goes out to those who are still (four days later) living without power. We were without electricity for about a day-and-a-half, and that was bad enough. Linemen who bring our power back are true heroes.
  • Sleep: One of the best nights of sleep I have ever had was the night after our power was restored and the storm was all over. I can’t remember the time I slept that well. Must have needed it.

What have you learned from living through some kind of natural disaster?

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The Pathway Out of Uncertainty

We’ve been living with uncertainty for over a week now. Throughout hurricane season our local meteorologists keep an “eye on the tropics.” Already at the end of August they said we’d better watch Invest 93L because it could form into a major storm. Sure enough. Here we are making preparations for Hurricane Irma to hit the state of Florida. The projections have been going back and forth for days. The uncertainty is maddening.

Leading up to a hurricane uncertainty is all around. When you’re at the store buying the mandatory bread, water, and wine you hear people talking about how they’re going to evacuate if it comes this way. On social media you see reminder after reminder and myth after myth about what’s going to happen (or not going to). The weather channel incessantly shows the path’s track and the “cone of uncertainty.”

This is all really just a metaphor for life. As the old saying goes: “Nothing in life is certain but death and taxes.” Everything else is uncertain. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. It could be good or bad. There might be failures or successes.

So how do we deal with uncertainty about a hurricane…or anything else? What is a pathway out of it? Here are three things I learned in the uncertainty of a potential hurricane:

  1. Don’t believe the best or the worst. In any kind of conjecture there will be those looking at it with rose colored glasses and those who always default to the worst case scenario. As far as the hurricane goes we are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. Seems like a good philosophy for any uncertain time.
  2. Seek advice from experienced people. We are relatively new Floridians who have only experienced one other hurricane. So we look to those who have had much more experience with this kind of thing. We ask them questions, seek their advice, and listen to them.
  3. Place faith in the One who never changes. In an email to our congregation this week I wrote: “Please join me in praying to the God of creation for safety and protection. In His sovereignty, which is high above ours, He has allowed this storm to form and He has His purposes for it. But He is also the one who with only His words calms the wind and the waves. Let’s pray that if it would be His will He would do just that.”

What is your pathway out of uncertainty?

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5 Things Guaranteed to Encourage Someone

The more I watch network news the more I think this world needs more encouragement. Recent events have shown that we are at each others throats both literally and figuratively. Everything from Berkeley to Charlottesville have revealed our country at its worst. I guess I should probably stop watching the network news. But then I saw the demonstrations of compassion and humanity after Hurricane Harvey. It was a joy to see people encourage Houston from all over the country.

But it all starts with one person taking the initiative to encourage another. Here are five ideas to help you do just that:

  1. Send a handwritten note. A couple of weeks ago in our Bible class at church we decided that we were each going to send a handwritten note to someone. The idea was to provide some encouragement. Though it wasn’t my intention, I received a couple of those notes. They made my day. I truly felt encouraged.
  2. Say something. If you’re thinking something nice about someone, say it. It does no good if you keep it to yourself. A few kind words go a long, long way. In fact, it just might completely improve someone’s day.
  3. Pay a public compliment. In this day and age it’s so easy to do. Use your social media channels to tout a friend or family member’s gifts or talents. Create a post about their work, business, or artistic ability and draw attention to it.
  4. Pick up the phone and make a call. I know, I know. A telephone call is such a throwback, such an inconvenient thing to do in this day and age of texts and emails. But a real phone call for “no reason” is just special enough to provide a proper amount of encouragement on any given day.
  5. Pay attention. When someone in your office or home mentions something they like or use, make note of it. When you have the opportunity, purchase it as a gift and give it on a day other than a birthday or holiday.

Do you agree that we could all use a little more encouragement? 

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What is the Essence of True Bravery?

Lately there’s been a great deal of bravery reported in the media. Over the course of Hurricane Harvey we saw photo after photo, video after video, and post after post of people risking life and limb to help and save others. A mother lost her life saving her infant child. People with boats came from hundreds of miles away to search and rescue. Even Chick-fil-a got in on the action sending workers to rescue an elderly pair of regular customers. But there’s been another kind of bravery that’s a little more subtle.

You have to look for it, but it’s there. You’ll find it in the middle of a culture that caters to the least common denominator. In our day it seems as though anything goes as long is you enjoy it, “love” is involved, and you don’t hurt anyone else.

You can easily find pastors and religious leaders who are called “brave.” They’re described with that adjective because they support the continuing decline of culture. People will praise them on social media, stand up and applaud, and heap accolades upon them. This all happens even though what they support is contrary to the clear word of Scripture.

But they’re not the brave ones. It’s really the easy path to follow right along with overarching culture.

Instead, bravery is the title that ought to be bestowed on another group of people. The truly brave ones are those who stand up against the moral decline in our society. They hold fast to God’s clear Word even though it’s not popular. It puts them in the path of name-calling, they are criticized, and they seemingly stand alone when it feels like the whole world is calling them out and condemning them.

They are the brave ones. The essence of true bravery is standing on the clear Word of God when it’s not popular, when it’s not easy, and when it seems as though one is standing in the minority. True bravery sometimes has to go in a direction very few others will dare to go.

Where have you seen bravery exhibited?

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Are you Paying Attention to Your Senses?

I wish you could have seen his face. For years now one of the older members of our congregation has sporadically shown up for church. It’s just been too frustrating for him to be there. His lack of good hearing, one of our most crucial senses, makes it extremely difficult for him to participate. He wants to be in church. But when you can’t hear well you may as well stay home. But then something happened.

He brought a simple device to church. I wore it around my neck. It fed directly into his hearing aid. And for the first time in a long, long time he heard every word I said. When he walked out of church he was nearly in tears. He gave me a hug and said: “I heard every word.”

It’s like those videos you see online of a little baby putting on glasses and seeing her parents for the first time. Our senses are a God-given gift. When they’re not working properly we are at a definite disadvantage. We’re not able to experience the world the way God originally meant it to be experienced. It’s so great that we live in a day and age where there is technology to help those who have hearing or sight disadvantages.

And it’s also a reminder to those who have fully functional senses. We dare not take them for granted. In fact, we ought to take every opportunity to heighten them and pay attention to them.

I once heard someone speak about this at a pastors’ conference. He encouraged us pastors to walk into our churches and pay attention to all of our senses:

  • What do you see? Is there clutter?
  • What do you smell? It should be pleasant (not moldy, musty, or bad).
  • What do you taste? When your congregation shares meals is the food good and fresh?
  • What do you touch? Do people welcome you with a handshake or a hug?
  • What do you hear? Is the music too loud or too soft? Is there appropriate help for those who are hard of hearing?

How can you apply all this to your own home or workplace? Pay attention to your senses. How can you enhance the sensory experience for your family or co-workers. One of the things my wife and I like to do in our home is burn Ranger Station Candles. The scents are amongst the best I’ve ever experienced from a candle.

Don’t take your senses for granted. Pay attention to them today. You may just experience something new.

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Finding a Coping Strategy When Life Puts You on Edge

Have you ever had one of those weeks? It’s filled with stress, disappointment, and hard work. The moments of rest are few and far between. A family member treats you unfairly. People are relying on you to get things done when your “to do” list is a mile long. You want it to be Friday but it’s only Tuesday. What you need right now is a coping strategy.

I’m in the middle of a week like that. These kinds of weeks don’t happen all that often, but when they do they put me off kilter. I feel burdened for some of the people who have revealed their heartaches and problems to me. My “to do” list is longer than usual because my fall is filled with commitments and speaking engagements. Some of my regular work has been put off, but it needs to be accomplished by Friday. It’s not really all that bad. It’s just that when things like this add up I can’t seem to relax.

Right in the middle of it all I was reminded that we all sometimes need coping strategies to make it through. I’m blessed to be part of a clergy council for our local Christian counseling center. We get together every quarter to learn and to talk. It’s always well worth making the time to be there.

Today we learned about coping strategies. Some strategies distract you, some ground you, and some calm you and relax you. Not all coping strategies are healthy. They might mask your stress, or even make it worse.

But a healthy coping strategy is beneficial and helpful. As we discussed this at our meeting today I realized that one of my coping mechanisms is doing what I’m doing right now: writing. It’s why I try to be consistent by posting right here two to three times a week, and writing other things on most other days.

Here are some other strategies:

  • Exercise
  • Take a nap
  • Talk about it
  • Listen to music or a favorite song
  • Thirty seconds of deep breathing
  • Change what you’re doing for a short time
  • Help someone else
  • Eat a healthy snack
  • Read something enjoyable
  • Write or journal

What coping strategies have been helpful for you?

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Why the Solar Eclipse Should Make Us Look Down (And It’s Not What You Think)

I hope you’re going to look down today. As you know, a wide swath of our nation is experiencing a total eclipse of the sun. People are buying “eclipse glasses,” traveling across state lines, and even having viewing parties. I’m certain you’ve received more than sufficient warning not to look at the sun. People have gone blind doing so during previous eclipses. So make sure you’re looking down today. But not just to protect your eyes…

A solar eclipse reminds us of the miraculous wonders of the creation that surrounds us. Our God created the universe for our benefit. He gave it to us as a gift to live in, and love, and celebrate, and steward, and manage. Instead of looking up, maybe we should be looking down, and around. I suppose that being able to witness a solar eclipse is like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, watching the aurora borealis, or studying a hummingbird in flight.

But if we look around us there are all kinds of miracles and wonders every day. Flowers bloom, babies take their first breath, and the tide at the beach comes in and goes out like clockwork. Cars hurtle us down the highway at seventy miles per hour, computers with massive memory fit in the palms of our hands, and TV screens are larger and clearer than they’ve ever been. Some even let us see the picture in 3D.

Martin Luther once said:

[Most people] are so accustomed to [the works of God in nature]; they are as permeated with them as an old house is with smoke; they use them and wallow around in them like a sow in an oats sack. Oh, they say, is it so marvelous that the sun shines? That fire heats? That water contains fish? That hens lay eggs? That the earth yields grain? That a cow bears calves? That a woman gives birth to children? Why, this happens every day! You dear dolt Hans, must it be insignificant because it happens daily? … If God created all other women and children of bone, as He did Eve, and but one woman were able to bear children, I maintain that the whole world, kings and lords, would worship her as a divinity. But now that every woman is fruitful, it passes for nothing. … Is it not vexing to see the accursed ingratitude and blindness of mankind?

So as you appreciate today’s nearly once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon, let it serve as a reminder. The miracles of a loving God surround us. Though we may take them for granted, they bring benefit to us. These miracles comfort us, make life more convenient, and deliver health or healing. Sometimes they even amaze us.

Look up today for a moment or two (with the proper eye protection). But then take a look around and notice the miracles that happen everyday.

What regular miracles do you often take for granted?

*Special thanks to Charles P. Arand for the ideas behind this post and for bringing to my attention the above Luther quote.

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