When Life Turns Upside Down

What do you do when your life upends on itself? How do you handle a major shift (or even multiple ones), for which you likely hadn’t planned?

Much as my life is open on Twitter, Facebook and the like, there are certain things about which I am deeply private. Upheavals in my life, stresses I am enduring and tough things I am going through are things I do not share as I go through them, except with those closest to me. These are not for public consumption. If I do share them, I do so after, as a testimony.

However, Dear Readers, I’ve been grappling a lot with the questions I started this post with lately. I cannot say I have every definite answer on them. So why share such stuff now? Because as is my usual way on this blog, all I can do is share my journey and where I am in it, and hope it helps you in yours.

It all started on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the end of April. The weather was cool and the sky was cloudless. It was the kind of day that, when you woke up and looked outside and saw how gorgeous an early spring day it was, it made you happy to be alive in it. To make things better, we were attending a gathering that day with a group of our Life Leadership partners in Syracuse, NY, about a 3-hour drive from our home. It was a fun event, a reward for hard work and a time to spend relaxing with some of our favorite people.

On the interstate on the trip home, I was dozing in the front passenger seat of our minivan. I was tired from an exhausting week at work, and grateful I didn’t have to drive. My husband Bob was driving. Daughter Beth was in the middle seat, playing a game on her phone. Son-in-law Tom was in the back seat, sprawled asleep.

I woke to the rumble strip under us and saw the van speeding into the median strip on the left side of the road, heading toward scraping the guardrail. In a moment of panic, Bob yanked the wheel right, abruptly swerving us back onto the highway. Temporarily. The force of his yank caused the van to continue to careen to the right, swerving and tipping the van to the right, toward my side. I covered my face with my hands, and began to breathe the only prayer I could think of in such a moment, “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!

I stopped praying when the noise and movement stopped. I moved my hands from my face, shocked to be alive, and not in the Eternal presence of the One on Whom I’d called in my moments of greatest danger and need. I was upside down, pinned in place between the remains of the van’s roof, dashboard, and my seat, held firmly in place by my seatbelt, but I was alive!

I heard Bob asking everyone else if they were okay as he helped them out. I heard another voice, who I later learned was a woman who lived nearby, asking the same questions. I saw blood all over me, but quickly realized not much of it was mine. As far as I could see or feel, I just wasn’t cut that badly. I was, however, still pinned, and having a panic attack over it. The woman (who I learned was a nurse practitioner in her professional life) told everyone to let the paramedics and firefighters get me out. But I moved my arms and legs, hands and feet, and determined my spine was not damaged. I was just stuck!

Overriding her protests, Tom crawled in and released my seat belt’s buckle, freeing me and assisting me out. The woman insisted I go to one side away from the van and sit down on the grass there while we waited for the police and paramedics. Happy at being freed from my prison, I was grateful to comply.

I looked around and realized the van, which we’d just paid off a few short months before, was a total wreck. But we were all walking, talking and none of us appeared to be seriously injured! The paramedics looked at the scene, checked the cuts and road rash on Bob’s arm, and told him it was a miracle it hadn’t been torn off as we skidded upside down across the pavement and grass. My hands were cut where the smashing glass from my window and the windshield on my side cut them, but because I had put them up to pray, they took the damage, and my face did not. Beth’s shoulder was sprained where Tom had grabbed her by it and her hair as we started to flip and she was about to fly out the shattered windows and be crushed by the skidding van, saving her life. Tom’s bad back and Beth’s and my bad knees were made worse by the crash, but we walked away.

God protected us all that afternoon in so very many ways that are miraculous. In that 20-mile stretch of road, there was only one place where such an accident could have happened, and we could have skidded across 2 lanes into the grass on the roof. Everywhere else, there are guardrails, embankments, steep slopes ending in ravines and/or trees, hillsides and all the other things traveling on an interstate through hilly country involves. There was no traffic around us to hit us. The road behind us was empty when we skidded across it.

When Bob and I went to where they’d towed the van the next day to gather the remains of our belongings that hadn’t been lost or destroyed, we realized the back 1/3 of the vehicle was completely undamaged. The roof above my seat, my door and the passenger door on my side had taken the worst of the damage and had held just enough in place to save our lives, particularly mine.

God protected us even to our clothes and belongings. The only items of permanently damaged clothing were Bob’s shirt and Beth’s jacket, his with its asphalt stains and small rips, showing the force of the scraping along the pavement, and God’s protection of his left arm, and hers with its multiple rips from broken glass. And the shirt was easy to replace! Even the blood stains came out of all our clothes, including to my white turtleneck. The only items (aside from the van) lost forever were a plastic cup I’d been using and a small stuffed Tiger Beenie Baby named Stripes on the dashboard.

God protected our grandchildren. We could have brought them with us that day. Other people had, and the option was open to us. But we’d decided to leave them home with a sitter. So other than some emotional trauma because the sitter had the phone on speaker when Tom called to say we’d be late arriving and why our oldest granddaughter heard it. It took almost a week to reassure her that we’d be okay every time one of the adults walked out the door! (We now have a rule that no one answers the phone on speaker anymore!)

The paramedics and police arrived, and things moved rather quickly after that. They bandaged Bob and mopped up the rest of us. Tom initially objected to being transported to the hospital, but relented when our friends (who were following some miles after and would bring us home later) informed him they were not stopping to pick him up! (It was a good thing they did. His concussion needed further treatment the next day.) They brought us to the hospital, and we went through an evening of the usual Emergency Room “hurry up and wait” that non-life-threatening injuries have to endure. We didn’t mind. After rounds of tests, multiple bandages both large (Bob’s arm) and small (my hands), volumes of paperwork and what seemed like a million questions from marveling hospital employees, we were finally allowed to leave. We went to the nearest fast food drive-through, got food for all of us and our dear friends who’d waited so patiently for us and who we’d scared so badly (and who were bringing us home!), and went home.

We had minor concussions (everyone), several large cuts (Bob), multiple smaller cuts (mostly mine), 1 strained knee (Beth), 2 bruised knees (mine), 1 road rash (Bob), 2 bad backs made worse by the crash (mine and Tom’s, his being the worst) and multiple bruises (everyone, but mostly me because of hanging in the seat belt). In the hours and days to come, we also discovered a bit of post-traumatic stress as well among all of us. And we are alive.

Yes, I know, I keep repeating that. It’s the first lesson I learned from this. When your whole world turns (literally, in my case) upside down, find something or some things large or small to be grateful about. In a near-death episode, alive is a good place to start! We are also grateful for the other miracles, saving Bob’s arm and my face, the preservation of our belongings, the timing and location of the crash. We are grateful for our friends who came to us at the hospital, and who called our Life Leadership leaders and let them know, so they could pray. We are grateful for the prayers of our church family when they found out. We are grateful so little was injured, and that most are already healed and restored. We are even grateful for our insurance company, who was so quick with settlements and whose paperwork processes were so simple to navigate.

I took the next day off from work, to deal with the remnants of my concussion, get the stuff from the van and recover somewhat. We spent a lot of time over the next week with one another and our grandchildren, reassuring the children we were okay, and that we return home again whenever we left the house. Family time was more important to us than it ever had been over those days. When your whole world turns upside down, you get a chance to assess and perhaps even reassess your priorities. The traditional North American priorities of money and stuff can seem rather pointless when your paradigms get shifted so radically. We got a chance to affirm our faith and our family, from our immediate to our extended members, are some of the highest priorities in our lives.

Our lives have changed since the accident. Because Bob’s inattention (which caused us to go off the road to the left in the first place) was likely caused by a medical issue that had been previously unknown, Bob went the following week to his cardiologist, who is now doing tests and may send him to a neurologist for more tests. Until he gets a firm diagnosis and treatment, Bob is not allowed to drive. That leaves all the driving to Tom, Beth and me, and we’re now down one car. It makes life more inconvenient for everyone. In the inconvenience is the second lesson I’ve learned from this. When your whole world turns upside down, tolerance, patience and striving for excellence is required of those of us who live a life in service to others. You don’t have to fall into the trap of perfectionism when more weight falls on your shoulders than you are used to carrying. Perfect isn’t demanded. Your best is required.

There’s another lesson in Bob’s medical tests and current inability to drive.  These add uncertainty we didn’t have along with their inconvenience, creating a “new normal.” I grieved for our old “normal,” expressing my fears to my best friend (the same one who came for us that night). She reminded me fear is not from God, Who promises differently:

You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.

Isaiah 26:3

When your whole world turns upside down, living with uncertainty is almost always a sure thing. Being uncertain is normal. Having a transition to a “new normal” and understanding grieving for what used to be “normal” is acceptable. Dwelling in it is fruitless. I tried that for a few days. It got me nowhere. It was only when I accepted the uncertainty as being part of the “new normal” and accepted it as “normal now” that I began to find peace in my situation.

We also grieved. When Bob and I went to get our stuff from the van the next day, as we left, I looked at it and silently said, “You were good to us. You did not deserve the death we gave you, but I thank you for it, that in your death our lives were saved.” Yes, it was just a thing. But saying goodbye to a vehicle in a culture that depends on and almost worships transportation can be emotional in such circumstances.   We remembered what was, and thought a lot about what could have been. In the end, with counsel from friends, we chose to set the event as a time of what did happen, instead of what didn’t. In Joshua 4:6 – 7, God commanded the people crossing the Jordan River to take up stones from the bottom and set them as a memorial to His power for stopping the river in flood so they could cross it on the far side. This was counsel I got from our friends: When your whole world turns upside down, the hardships of yesterday and today become the memorial stones of tomorrow. We pass that site going back and forth at least a couple of times monthly in our travels for Life Leadership. The first time was incredibly difficult for me, and I had a panic attack. On the way home, I decided to ignore it. It was on that trip we got the counsel, though I did not receive it well at the time. The second time, I took that counsel from our friends and made a memorial stone in my mind there of God’s grace and protection. On the way home, the memorial stone was there. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. The memorial stones of our lives are proof to us of it.

So, where are things now? We still face the uncertainty of Bob’s tests. The insurance settlement sits in savings, awaiting the day he will (hopefully) be allowed to drive again, so we can replace the van. If the tests never allow him to drive again, we’ll eventually replace my car with it. We are living a life of uncertainty, and just grateful to God to be living it. Because when your whole world turns upside down, remembering Who is in ultimately in charge is essential. As we are learning now, He Who saved us is also He Who continues to sustain us. And when the One who sustains you has saved you from something like what we went through, trusting Him to sustains you becomes a whole lot easier to do . . . 

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Fighting Terrorism

Who fights terrorism in our world today? Is it the military? Is it undercover operatives and spies, gathering information to prevent attacks? Is it police and other organizations on the home front? Or does the battle belong to all of us??

I recently was thinking about this after listening to a CD by LIFE Leadership founder Claude Hamilton. He said the attitude he takes when dealing with challenges he faces in his life is, “Well, at least we’re not fighting terrorism here!” It’s his way of reducing the size of his challenges, and putting them into proper perspective. It’s a good attitude for dealing with the things life throws at us on a daily basis.

As I thought deeper on Claude’s words, I remembered something I learned in school. I studied World War II, and how the ordinary citizens of the free world responded to the war efforts. Let’s investigate that a bit.

The men went off to fight. Some men who tried to go to fight were denied because of age (either too young or too old) or infirmity. Others stayed behind because they were needed at home, or in critical industries or positions, and governments refused their service. And if brothers joined and all but 1 died, the military sent the remaining one home, as was portrayed so vividly in the movie Saving Private Ryan. Those who didn’t go to fight served at home, in civil defense and in other crucial roles.

The women supported the men. Some went to work in factories to make the arms and munitions required. Some joined the Red Cross to help the wounded. Some joined the USO to help morale. Others knitted socks or sweaters or scarves to keep servicemen warm. Some rolled bandages. They took care of children and took on all the roles their absent men would normally have done, all in the effort to support the men.

Even children and young people got into the act. They collected metal for recycling into munitions and arms. They participated in civil defense activities. They helped out neighbors who were participating in war efforts and who were caught short for workers on the home front. They learned about the principles of freedom, the philosophies the free world was fighting against and about the places where they were fighting.

In some way, from oldest to youngest, everyone in the free world helped out in World War II. They all saw it as “doing their part for the cause of freedom.” In fact, this was a common thread in the newsreels and advertisements of the day. War Bonds were purchased by the thousands by ordinary folks, just so they could do their part. It was considered abnormal not to support the war, and people were shunned in society for it. People from all walks of life rationed luxury goods, and even things they’d previously considered necessities, all to support the efforts to win the war. And win they did.

Terrorism is the war that we are fighting today. Our news media, politicians and political candidates remind us of this on a daily basis. So, in light of what we’ve just discussed about World War II and the free world’s war efforts, I want to bring us back to the questions with which I started this post: Who fights terrorism in our world today? Is it the military? Is it undercover operatives and spies, gathering information to prevent attacks? Is it police and other organizations on the home front? Or does the battle belong to all of us??

I believe the war for freedom, against terrorism, is the same as those who we now call “The Greatest Generation” fought in World War II. While the military, the undercover operatives and spies, the police and so on are our active fighters today, we all have a part to play!

What is our part? Allow me to ask a series of questions, to define some possibilities for you:

  • Do you know the principles of liberty and freedom on which Western civilization, and most particularly your country, was founded? Have you read and can you understand your country’s founding and most essential documents?
  • Are you financially sound? Are you out of debt? Do you have a plan to get out of debt, and are you working actively on that plan? Do you understand and practice the principles of sound financial management, as taught by Warren Buffet and Benjamin Franklin (get out of debt, stay out of debt and invest in self-education)?
  • Are you stable relationally? How’s your marriage and family life? Do you communicate and work well together? Are you committed for life? Do you have friends on whom you know you can count for life?
  • How are you spiritually? I’ve written about my relationship with God a lot on this blog. Do you know Him? Do you read what He says in the Bible and follow it?

I could ask other questions, but I think you get my point. For every person who understands freedom better, for everyone who leaves the bondage of debt slavery, for every better marriage and stable family, that’s that many fewer people who have the potential to be terrorists. That’s families standing up in a trickle, flow, then flood for freedom, for liberty, for marriage and family and for the values they hold dear. This is fighting at the grass roots, folks! We are fighting for the hearts and minds of individuals and families, which is where the only true changes take place.

I use the information from LIFE Leadership as my weapons in this fight.

  • I understand liberty and freedom better, thanks to the Freedom series.
  • My husband and I have crawled out from under almost $100,000 of consumer and other debt, and just paid off our last credit card and car loan, thanks to the Financial Fitness series and Wealth series information. (We’re not debt free yet, but we’re a whole lot closer to it!)
  • The books I’ve mentioned in other posts and the Marriage Pack of CD’s have made our good marriage into a great one, that improves all the time. The Parenting Pack has helped us be better grandparents, even better than we were as parents. The books and CD’s of the LIFE series have helped us to make new friends, and be better friends to the ones we already had.
  • The books and CD’s of the AGO series, along with the coaching of our mentors, have helped our spiritual lives.

Consider what might be your part in our current war. Terrorism doesn’t just impact us at home when a sleeper cell is activated, or someone sneaks over a border to do something. It has already impacted the way we live, the way we travel and the way we view the world. It has impacted our children. What we need to do now is decide the impact stops here, it stops now and push back against it. We all need to fight against it together. No one is exempt this time, either. Because, as Benjamin Franklin said,

We must hang together, gentlemen…else, we shall most assuredly hang separately.

 

Not So Fast Food

A lot of comment has been made recently on social media regarding the decision by the New York State Wage Board to recommend a hike of the wages of fast food workers to $15 per hour incrementally over the next 6 years. I have a few comments and questions about it.

First, I want to address it from my personal perspective. Sorry, gang, like everyone else, I’m just a tad selfish, and think of my own interests first at times.

I work at a job that requires a minimum of an Associates Degree and prefers a Bachelor’s Degree. (I actually have about 1/2 of a Master’s Degree, but that’s beside the point.) I work in a business office setting, dealing with peoples’ confidential information. My work requires skills in multiple computer software products (including Lotus Notes, Microsoft Office Suite and work-specific software), high-level typing and data entry skills and dealing with the public. While it is not a professional position, it does require skills I needed to train to acquire to get the job, as well as experience in the field.

My starting salary was less than the Wage Board’s recommended $15 per hour. After almost 10 years with my current employer and multiple raises for high performance, it’s still less than $15 per hour.

Where will it end? I know professional teachers, health care workers, first responders and members of our U.S. Armed Forces who make even less, despite the incredibly higher stress levels of their jobs, let alone the greater physical demands placed on them. These people deserve much higher wages than I make and often make less, and in the case of our military, much less. But where does the “Me, too!” attitude stop??

Something isn’t quite right with a system that demands fast food workers are paid higher wages than employees on jobs that demand higher levels of training and skills. Fast food has always been meant to be an entry level position for a teenager, a stop-gap someone older might get while training to get a better position, or a job a retired person might get to supplement their pension. It was never meant to fund a lifestyle, which is what the demands for a $15 per hour wage really is when you look at it realistically.

I am not meaning in any way to criticize families who are caught in a minimum wage trap through no fault of their own. I know some of them. They are good people, caught in a circumstance beyond their control. They are making the best of their situations, and working to get out. Such folks deserve all the help we can give them. I’m just not sure $15 per hour is the answer. It’s too broad a brush to paint across too many different lives and circumstances.

Many fast food corporations have training programs for ambitious young people to move up within the company, to take on more responsibility and make more money. McDonald’s Mike Andres started as a manager of a family-owned store. and is now its U.S. Corporate President.  McDonald’s Charlie Robeson started as a crew person and is now its U.S. Corporate  Chief Restaurant Operations Officer. Restaurant Brands International’s David Clanachan started as a crew person for Tim Horton’s and is now the Corporate Vice President, as well as President and Chief Operating Office of the Tim Horton’s chain.  (Their bios are easily found on the corporate websites.)  These are just a few of the corporate success stories available.

How are businesses going to afford this? Before you tell me, “Out of their corporate profits,” may I remind you of something? Fast food restaurants are generally operated as franchises. Corporate owned stores are the exception, not the rule, and the corporations tend to try to get these back into the hands of franchise holders as quickly as possible.

This means the corporation offers its name, training, and supplies and leaves management up to the franchisees. The corporate profits of an entity like McDonalds come out of franchise fees and a percentage of the daily take. The rest of the daily take is what the franchisees use to pay their bills for lights, heat, taxes, salaries, supplies, food, losses, improvements, training and whatever else is needed, and eke out a living for themselves and their families. When the employees or managers don’t show up, franchisees have to be ready to fill in. When there is a crisis at a store, the franchisees have to be available to fix it, or arrange for it to be fixed. In other words, franchisees, like all other small business owners, take all the risks, and don’t really net all that much in profit.

Speaking of risks, are you aware of how much it costs to become a franchisee in the first place? A simple internet search yielded some astonishing results! Someone wanting to take such a risk must have a minimum of $100,000 for a smaller franchise with low returns on investment. To buy into McDonald’s, a minimum of $1.1 million is required, and often you need to have extra for the land, and you don’t get to decide where you’re putting it. They do. The returns on investment on one franchise are so low, most own at least 3 to eke out a living wage for themselves and their families.

It is from these people the NY Wage Board wants to take the $15 per hour. Not corporate entities like McDonald’s or Burger King. But the owner of the store down the street, who must raise prices and/or let go staff, and/or find other ways to cut costs to meet these demands.

So where will these wage hikes come from? If these business owners don’t cut staff or otherwise cut costs, then the only pockets these raise hikes will be coming out of will be those of the consumers. Because sure as I am sitting here writing this, prices must go up to accommodate it if nothing else goes down proportionally. This means fewer people will be spending less at fast food places, and more will close for lack of business, causing job loss and business closures, leading to these workers making less money, instead of the more for which they petitioned so vigorously.

Do you want some proof? Here’re a couple of links: Fox News Article and Give Away Pundit Article.

Getting back to my own (perhaps a tad selfish) perspective, with this decision by the NY Wage Board, my already stretched budget just stopped including any fast food place that pays its workers $15 per hour. On my salary, quite frankly, I just cannot afford it. And the problem is, I don’t think a lot of others can, either.

What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate!

Have you ever had a complete failure to communicate with someone? What did you do about it? How did you solve your communication problems?

A few years ago, my husband and I were attending a party at a location in a nearby town. We’d never been to the place. We were told it was easy to find, just across from the WalMart. In the rush of getting ready, neither of us thought to look up the location online, so we could find an exact address to program into our GPS.

Instead, we sat in our driveway and asked my iPhone adviser Siri where Youth for Christ was. Siri replied she did not deal with ecclesiastical matters. I rephrased the question. Siri responded she dealt with things silicon, not spiritual! Frustrated, but realizing the humor of the situation, I tried yet again. Siri then asked me if I wanted her to find me a local pastor or another minister with whom to discuss my questions!

It was only then my laughing husband remembered about the WalMart. So I asked Siri where it was. There are 3 nearer to us than that one, and Siri tried to give me the closest. Finally, I thought to add the name of the town to the WalMart and told Siri to give me that one. Siri finally figured out what I wanted!! Our GPS armed with the information, laughing all the way, we finally left the party, somewhat later than we’d planned!

What Siri and I had that day was a failure to communicate. I believed I was clearly stating where I wanted to go. However, Siri’s global database had never heard of where I wanted to go, or her programming only chose certain words (like “Christ”) from what I said to interpret what I wanted. The resulting disconnect both amused and frustrated us. It amused us because her answers were very funny! It frustrated us because it left us clueless about where we were supposed to be going. It was only when we revised our end of the conversation (twice!) that we got the answers we needed.

Failures to communicate happen daily within human relationships in friends and family, and even among strangers. We may think we understand what we are saying, and think they do, but if they aren’t really understanding us, a failure to communicate is inevitable. As LIFE leader Chris Mattis says,

It doesn’t matter what you say. It doesn’t matter what you meant to say. It only matters what they heard.

Failures to communicate can damage relationships, destroy marriages and families and even cause wars in extreme cases. There are some historians who say the War of 1812 was to at least some extent a failure between Great Britain and the United States to communicate.

So how do we deal with this issue? How do we work past these challenges and speak to people so they hear us? 

In a college public speaking class, I learned 4 basic rules by which we were to mold all our speeches. I’ve since heard many public speakers use them, and I have personally found them helpful in my daily living when I use them. They are

Be bright. Be brief. Know your audience. Be gone!

Be Bright. One of the first keys in communication starts with having something to say.  The Bible talks in many places about people who speak endlessly with nothing to contribute, and we’ve all experienced unfortunate episodes with such special individuals personally. LIFE leader Terry Franks defines such one-sided conversations as

the slings and arrows of outlandish gerbilling! Light travels faster than sound, which is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak!

I am always reminding myself not to talk to hear myself speak or because I feel I need to add my voice to a conversation. I want to contribute productively to it. As my father used to say,

Silence is not an indicator of intelligence or its lack. Sometimes, speaking is.

Be Brief. Okay, I will confess this is the one with which I struggle the most. (I know, not a shock!) A mentor of mine is often reminding me to say the most with the least amount of words, and none if at all possible. As St. Francis of Assisi is attributed to saying,

Preach Christ, and if necessary use words.

It was in the area of brevity where Siri and I failed to communicate. I said, “Youth for Christ,” meaning the organization its regional location. Siri heard, “Christ,” and understood I wanted to discuss religious matters, something a computer program isn’t designed to do. I gave the briefest inquiry appropriate. Siri didn’t have the information I wanted.

Know Your Audience. Are they a close family member? A friend? A complete stranger? Is your language their first language, or is there a bigger communication gap than what we’re dealing with here? Are you unintentionally about to push buttons with ill-chosen words?

My conversation with Siri was lacking in this regard, too. I didn’t know, until we hit on the WalMart in the correct town, how to phrase my inquiries in a way so Siri would understand. Siri didn’t understand the nature of my original request, either. Siri didn’t hear or wasn’t programmed to hear the entirety of what I’d said. Siri only caught bits and pieces. And it was in her bits and their lack that our failure to communicate started, and escalated.

When I consider my audience, I have to be aware of certain things. Are they children? I tone down my vocabulary closer to their level and use simpler words and concepts, explaining myself more. Are they professional people? Jargon might be appropriate, or maybe not, depending on the group and situation. I will admit a definite distaste for buzz words!

Two books available from LIFE have truly been helpful to me in understanding people. The first is the classic Personality Plus by Florence Littauer. It speaks of peoples’ different social interaction styles, and how to know which styles you, your friends and family have. Each different style blend requires a different way of speaking to them so they will hear what you are saying. For example, I would not give the same information to my daughter in the same way as I did to my husband if I wanted similar reactions from them, because I know their style blends are polar opposites.

The second book is another classic, Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People.  Before you think, “Oh, I have lots of friends!” please let me remind you we’re talking about successful communication with everyone. This book goes into volumes more than I can begin to get into in a blog post, and I highly recommend it.

Be Gone. How many times have we yearned to hang up on (or walk away from) a conversation with someone who just refuses to let go? The introductory pleasantries have been dealt with, the subject matter discussed and now it’s time to end the chat, but the other party just won’t let you get on with your day! Unfortunately, this is another sin to which I must lay claim to being guilty. It has taken the loving insistence of my friends to let me know of this bad habit, and to work to curtail it. I have to remember the time of the people with whom I am speaking is just as valuable as mine, and if I want them to value my time highly, I have to do the same for them.

So, rather than going on with a long-winded close, I will Be Gone for now to let you, dear readers, contribute to the conversation. I’d really like to know your thoughts and stories on communication, or its lack. The floor is yours!

Charlie, Get OFF My FEET!

Dear Readers, over the years on this blog, I’ve introduced you to various members of my family. There is, of course, the long-suffering Bob, who is not only my dear husband of almost 35 years, but also my editor. He patiently puts up with the life of a husband of someone obsessed with words and getting them down and out of my head before they drive me nuts with their clamor. His thoughtfulness of others gives him the right to edit all my work, suggesting less offensive ways of saying things, as I can tend to be too blunt many times. And he does all this with a gentle and sweet spirit, loving and easy going in his ways. Besides being my husband and editor, Bob is also my business partner and the steadfast emotionally stable rock of our family. He puts up with me when I go off half-cocked on some new wild scheme, and often just watches and enjoys the ride, preparing as needed to help clean up my mess after. (I can’t say enough good about him!)

Our oldest is daughter Beth, married to (acquired-by-said-marriage-son) Tom. Yes, we view Tom as just as much one of our adult kids as the two we birthed. They are, if you will recall, parents of our 4 remarkable grandchildren, Keyna, Ariel, Tommy, and Samantha. Beth and Tom have recently started a business in collaboration with ours, and we are rejoicing in their early successes. We adore the times we get to spend with our grandchildren and know our grandchildren are our rewards as parents for allowing our kids to survive when they were such seemingly impossible beings when we were raising them!

Youngest is our son David. David is in the process of launching into the world and leaving home. He has found a roommate, a job and they are now looking for apartments together. He had some struggles to find his way for a while, trying college and flunking out only one semester before graduation, but he finally seems to have found his niche, and a job he enjoys. We are pleased to see him finally find his feet in life, and now are just hoping a nice girl will catch his eye soon, so he can start giving us a few more grandchildren to spoil . . .

There are a few family members I know I haven’t introduced you to yet. These are our fur babies, 3 cats named Simba, Boots, and Charlie. We adopted them from a local animal shelter a few months after a couple of other of our former cats had died, when the time seemed right to do so. I went in that day with the intent of only getting one, but when I saw the trio in the cage and began to interact with them and saw how well they got along, I just couldn’t stand to break up the set! Poor Bob was at the gym working out that afternoon, and had no clue what I was doing (or how much I was donating to the shelter for them!) until I got home with the 3 borrowed cat carriers in the back seat of my car! He took it all in his usual affable stride, removing the carriers from the car and helping me bring our new acquisitions into the house.

Simba came with the name of “Red” originally, but it just didn’t suit. He’s not red. He’s a caramel and peanut butter colored tabby, with virtually no white. He’s our shy guy and avoids the noisy grandchildren like the plague! He has decided he is my cat, and I am his person, and we’re both content with that arrangement. He’s very playful, and always game for a string chase. He’s young, healthy and athletic though he’s very timid of loud and sudden noises. It took Simba the longest to get used to us, hiding for weeks before we managed to coax him out. Simba likes to sleep at night on our bed, near Bob’s feet.

Boots came with the name he still has. He’s a traditional orange tabby, with a white chest, belly, and feet. Nothing flusters Boots. Grandchildren don’t phase him. He puts up with their fumbling attempts at affection until he’s had enough, and then leaves. Boots prefers comfort above all things and a full belly. He is also young, but not tremendously athletic. Honestly, he’s fat. Really fat. His nickname is “Lard Fur.” Boots likes to sleep at night at Bob’s side.

Charlie is our elder statesman. He’s a few years older than the other two. Charlie is a muted toned dark traditional tabby, with white highlights. He came with the name of “George,” but my father (of the same name) had died within a year or two of his acquisition, and we knew it would freak out both my mother and us to hear us refer to the animal with my father’s name. He got his name the first night home, when he crawled right up on our bed with Bob, purring and cuddling. Bob said he was a Good Time Charlie, and the name has stuck. He is also good with the grandchildren, and mostly very affable and easy going.

However, Charlie has one particular quirk that drives me nuts, and thus the reason for this post. Charlie likes to do what cat experts have termed “cat piling,” meaning he likes to rest against something else for warmth and comfort, preferably another cat, although any warm body will do. He will also snuggle the back of the couch, or a pillow if there are no bodies available.

Charlie’s habit of cat piling with me has led to some memorable skirmishes between he and I over the years. Due to chronic sciatica issues, I sleep with a pillow between or under my legs, depending on my position. Charlie likes my pillow. He likes it so well, it’s his favorite spot to lie down in our room, cat piling next to it as it sits under the covers. When I am not in bed, I’m fine with it. However, I have a bit of a quirk of my own, which runs completely counter to his — I cannot in any way stand to have more weight than the covers and pajamas on or adjacent to my legs or feet when I am trying to sleep. I’ve had cats park themselves on my stomach or chest (one tried my face, but that was a bit much!) while sleeping, and been fine with it. But Charlie and I go through almost nightly battles for dominance of who will be sleeping where when I lie down. These often involve me pushing him away from under the covers, with ever-increasing fervor, using my legs and feet, until he gets the hint I truly mean business yet again. Grumbling at him on my part is another important part of the ritual, whether aloud or silently.

So, why am I telling you all this? It’s not to complain about it. Nor is it to hear from you, dear readers, how horrid I am to Charlie about my own quirky likes and dislikes. It’s because last night, as we battled yet again, something occurred to me. My battles with Charlie over the dominance and position on our bed are remarkably similar to the battles we all face when dealing with faults and failings that so often beset all of us.

The Bible talks about these things, calling them “besetting sins.” Our modern language might refer to them as “nagging issues.” The meaning is the same. Hebrews 12:1 – 2 has quite a bit to say about it

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith.

We’re surrounded on a daily basis by people who witness our lives. Oh, I don’t just mean the people with whom we interact, and neither did the writer of Hebrews. The writer was talking about a crowd in a Heavenly stand, of those gone in faith before us, who now cheer us on as we run our daily race of life. Yes, the ones we interact with daily are visible, but that doesn’t make the Heavenly ones any less real.

The writer likens it to a runner who has tossed off everything unnecessary to the completion of his race. We’ve all seen Olympic competitions. The runners are seen prior to the race, wearing warm-up suits and often have a towel around their necks, and possibly some other gear to keep warm and dry. But just before the race starts, everything that isn’t his or her minimal uniform and sneakers is shed. The runner doesn’t need the weight or drag on them as he or she moves. Can you imagine trying to run an Olympic sprint wearing weights? It would be impossible! In the same way, we are called to daily toss off those besetting sins to run that day’s race with our best efforts.

There is also the issue of the goal. In an Olympic race, the goal is the finish line and the prize is a gold medal. While as a Christian my eventual eternal goal is Heaven, there is a goal here on earth, too. Evangelist and theologian Charles Finney called it the striving toward personal sanctification in this lifetime. The way the writer of the book of Hebrews puts it is to keep Jesus in our view at all times, seeking to live in His Father’s perfect will moment by moment.

The writer of Hebrews is saying just like Olympic runners shed everything unnecessary to their goals, it’s the same with us. Just as I work nightly to shove Charlie from my legs and feet so I can sleep in peace, I need to examine my life on a daily basis to see what is holding me back, to be aware of what is hindering me, to repent of the sin entangling me, so I can move forward freely in peace with myself, God and others once more.

And just like my nightly battles with Charlie, some sins will take longer to throw off than others. Some will be blind spots, for which I will need the wisdom and grace of a mentor and trusted friend to point out what I cannot see. Some will be deeply ingrained, requiring God’s Holy Spirit to completely renovate my character. And some, though unfortunately very few, might just be as simple a solution as encouraging Charlie to cat pile on Bob . . .

I pray you are able to see your goal, throw off your weights, and come run with me!

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Simba (top left), Boots (bottom left) & Charlie (right) cat piling with my pillow on our bed:

Here’s a cartoon I found, just for fun!

Listening Or Talking?

Who talks to you the most? Who has the most influence over you? To whose words do you listen the most?

If you think about my questions, you might come up with answers such as your spouse (or domestic partner), best friend, sibling, parent or child. But I want to invite you to look into it a little deeper.

Think a little harder. Whose voice do you hear most often? If you are like most of us and think about it for a bit, you will realize quickly the voice you hear is none other than your own.

Our inner voices are our constant companions. We think with them. We use them as our inner creative muses. We consider decisions, process information, work through feelings, remind ourselves of things and think about what to say to others.

Our inner voices can be quite busy at times. In times of stress, our thought lives can run rampant with “could have, should have, would have” scenarios. When we are processing emotional events, good or bad, they are equally busy. And when it’s quiet, if we have a tendency toward it, our thoughts will get busy when we are not.

The most important thing to pay attention to about our thought lives is what our thoughts are saying to us. Are they contributing to situations in life, or detracting from them? Are they building others we are thinking about up, or tearing them down? Are they viewing the world through a positive lens or a negative one?

Once we understand what the tendency of our thoughts usually is, we can take steps toward controlling them. In other words, instead of just listening to ourselves, we can take positive and productive steps toward talking to ourselves!

What do I mean by talking to ourselves? The first step in talking to ourselves is one I’ve already outlined, being aware of what the general tendency of your thoughts. If your thoughts tend toward the negative, be aware of it. Understand that of yourself, and realize you will need to work toward a healthier thought life. Most of us need to do it to some extent or another, and some need it more than others.

The next step in talking to ourselves is called Pattern Interruption. When you notice your thoughts tending toward the negative even slightly, say “STOP!” to yourself. Throw up a mental stop sign, or a hazard warning or whatever works for you. Do it as quickly as you notice it.

The next step in talking to ourselves is called Re-framing. Take the situation or emotion that’s bothering you, and reword it into positive terms. See the good side of it, however small. If someone was cruel to you, realize your mission in life might not include that person, and know you are doing all you able to be polite and pleasant, despite their bad behavior. If it is raining, and you wanted to have a picnic, think about how good the rain will be for the plants, and how you can have your picnic indoors. You get the idea!

The final step in talking to ourselves is to do just that — Talk to Yourself! Look at what you can do, instead of what you can’t and change your focus to that. Tell yourself things only look impossible until someone does them. Instead of listening to your inner critic, tell your inner critic to be silent!

Most of us have an inner critic resulting from experiences from somewhere in childhood and as we grew up. Maybe a sibling or parent told you that you couldn’t do something. Maybe you failed at something you tried and the kids at school laughed at you. Maybe you weren’t attractive enough, or smart enough, good enough or something enough to get the attention of a special someone. The more negative experiences we had as children and young adults, the louder our outer critics, the louder our inner critic will likely be for us. 

Quite frankly, for many of us, if someone outside of us talked to us the way we allowed our inner critics talked to us, we’d sever all ties with them! Think of your relationship between yourself and your thought life the same way as you would between yourself and a friend. Would you allow your friend to talk to you that way? If not, then why are you allowing yourself to do it?

Using these techniques of being aware of our thoughts, Pattern Interruption, Re-framing and Talking to Ourselves are vital steps in silencing our inner critics. Once you start to master these steps, you will find you have a healthier thought life. And a healthier thought life leads to healthier relationships, and more happiness in your life overall.

A World Without You (For Mom) — Repost

I originally posted this on the day of my mother’s funeral, which was also the only day it’s been read aloud. I’m publishing it again today because it’s the first anniversary of Mom’s death, and I want to honor her memory and influence in my life with it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I wanted to call you today

       to tell you about something

                      but I could not.

Because I remembered that now

        I live in a world without you.

I got in my car

       to go and visit you

                   but I remembered I could not.

Because I realized now

                    that I live in a world without you.

No more seeing your name on my caller ID.

             No more hearing your ring tone on my cell.

                         No more jokes, laughter, stories, tears or memories.

Because I grieve now

             to live in a world without you.

God’s hand is strong.

       God’s plans are perfect.

                  God’s ways are just.

                           God’s heart is loving.

You walk in a world I imagine

             but cannot see.

You rejoice

             and I grieve and mourn.

You dance in the fulfillment

             of God’s promises.

I live in the light of their hope.

           As I live in a world without you.

Obituary photo of Barbara L. French, Albany, NY

Impossible!

What seems impossible to you? What idea or plan or dream seems so unlikely as to be almost impossible right now?

In the 1965 version of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, the Fairy Godmother (played by Celeste Holm) told Cinderella (played by Lesley Ann Warren) it wasn’t impossible for her to go where she most wanted, to the prince’s ball. In my favorite song from the show, the Fairy Godmother sings “Impossible.” Here are some of the words:

Impossible! For a plain yellow pumpkin to become a golden carriage! Impossible! For a plain country bumpkin and a prince to join in marriage! And four white mice could never be four white horses! Such folderoll and fildeedeees, of courses! Impossible!

 

But the world is full of zanies and fools who don’t believe in sensible rules! And won’t believe what sensible people say! And because these daft and dewy eyed dopes keep building up impossible hopes . . . Impossible! Things are happening every day!!

In the musical, because Cinderella believes what the Fairy Godmother says, she goes to the ball. Because she goes to the ball, the prince sees her and falls in love with her, and she falls in love with him. They go through trials (what good story doesn’t?), and eventually celebrate their love by getting married.

Wouldn’t it be great if all our impossible dreams worked out so well (and so quickly!) as Cinderella’s? However, the story tellers had only a scant hour or two (including commercials) to tell a tale. Real life usually takes quite a bit longer, unfortunately.

According to the Fairy Godmother, what was the key to Cinderella dropping her dirty appearance and socially unacceptable status, and walking into the ball like she belonged there? It was in Cinderella’s own beliefs the world could be, and should be, a better and kinder place to her. Cinderella was a princess in her heart and soul before she was one on the outside. The Fairy Godmother just supplied the magical window dressings.

We can apply the same principles of belief Cinderella used for ourselves, if we learn how and properly use them! Now, mind you, I’m not advocating some hokey “Name It and Claim It Because You Tell God (or the Universe) You Should Have It” kind of mumbo-jumbo. I am talking about real belief, real faith and real trust that you can and should have what you earn and deserve in life.

It’s a mind-set, really. So many of us get ourselves convinced for whatever lousy reasons we don’t deserve good things in life, so we self-sabotage ourselves into not getting them. We want them, we yearn for them with all our hearts. But until we convince ourselves we’re worthwhile and worthy of them, until we believe they are possible in our lives, they won’t happen. Because until we do, all our work will be in vain, as we continually self-sabotage all our efforts.

I have been an expert at this. I see good things in life and I want to work to get them. But my underlying image of myself always told me I didn’t deserve them, so I would self-sabotage any efforts of working toward them. It hasn’t been until I’ve begun to deal with my self-image that my efforts are finally starting to bear fruit.

So, if we get our self-sabotage under control, how do we believe? Unfortunately, I cannot tell you how to believe. I only know it’s necessary, and it’s a decision.

It’s like the boy who is the main character in The Polar Express. The boy is on the train because he’s a skeptic about Santa Clause. He’d like to see before he believes. When he gets to the North Pole, he sees all the evidence around him, but cannot see Santa for the crowds of elves. He cannot hear the sleigh bells, either. Finally, he just decides to believe, saying,

Okay! Okay! Okay! I believe! I believe! I believe!

It is in that magic moment of his decision to believe that he hears the sleigh bells, and sees Santa Clause, too. His belief opens the door to a personal encounter with Santa, and a life long joy.

During the closing credits of the movie, a song sung by Josh Groban plays called Believe. Here’s the words of the chorus, in hopes you can believe, too:

Believe in what your heart is saying

Hear the melody that’s playing

There’s no time to waste

There’s so much to celebrate!

 

Believe in what you feel inside

And give your dreams the wings to fly!

You have everything you need

If you just believe!

As I write this, it’s 3 days before Christmas 2014. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

May your 2015 be filled with impossibilities, because you believe . . . 

Success 301 — The Power of Compounding

In my earlier posts, I discussed the idea the secrets of success are available to all of us, and not just the fortunate few in life. I mentioned best-selling author Robert Kiyosaki and his Cash Flow book series, and the clues he shares in it. In this post, we’ll discuss clue #3, The Power of Compounding.

If you will recall, I started this series with a story about talking to someone about whether they wanted a penny a day doubled, or $1 million. They chose the $1 million, not understanding the concepts of The Power of Compounding.

So, what happens when you use The Power of Compounding and double a penny daily for 31 days? The following chart is eye-opening!

DAY AMOUNT
1 $0.01
2 $0.02
3 $0.04
4 $0.08
5 $0.16
6 $0.32
7 $0.64
8 $1.28
9 $2.56
10 $5.12
11 $10.24
12 $20.48
13 $49.96
14 $81.92
15 $163.84
16 $327.68
17 $655.35
18 $1,310.72
19 $2,621.44
20 $5,242.88
21 $10,485.76
22 $20,971.52
23 $41,983.04
24 $83,886.07
25 $167,772.16
26 $335,544.32
27 $671,088.64
28 $1,342,177.28
29 $2,684,354.56
30 $5,368,709.12
31 $10,737,418.24

Now that we see the amazing things The Power of Compounding can do, how can we put it to use for ourselves, in our lives? Author Jeff Olson wrote about it in his book The Slight Edge.

He said small activities compound themselves over time. These result in big changes in our lives. When considering the impact incremental changes make in our lives, think about how much your body would change in a year if all you did was eat 1 donut every day, in addition to what you are eating now, without adding or subtracting anything else, or any exercise. What would happen? You’d gain weight!

In the same way,  saving a little money every month for years, slowly accumulating it, letting interest compound and never touching the balance will result in a nice nest egg years later if you start young. That’s why noted scientist (and acknowledged genius) Albert Einstein called The Power of Compounding Interest the 8th wonder of the world!

As you can see by these examples, The Power of Compounding can be used in our favor, or for our harm. In my next post, I’ll put all of what we’ve discussed so far together, and see where we’ve come out.

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Success 101 – Long Term Thinking

In my previous post, I discussed the idea the secrets of success are available to all of us, and not just the fortunate few in life. I mentioned best-selling author Robert Kiyosaki and his Cash Flow book series, and the clues he shares in it. In this post, we’ll discuss clue #1, Long Term Thinking.

What is Long Term Thinking? If you ask some people, they will suggest it means starting planning your next weekend on Monday morning. Others might start talking about the vacation they are planning for next summer.

When I was a kid, Long Term Thinking meant I was considering how long it was until summer vacation, or Christmas, or my birthday. Do you remember being a kid, and summer vacation seemed like it was 10 years long, and sometimes schooldays felt like they were each 2 days long? Many children feel that way. Unfortunately, while we all grow up, some of us don’t grow out of this way of thinking.

In his blog post Exertion, best-selling author and leadership expert Chris Brady talks about Long Term Thinking and its effects on people’s lives.

Exertion –→ over time -→ massive results

It is the concept of “over time” in which Chris Brady emphasizes the value of Long Term Thinking for us. He emphasized the “over time” factor is a critical key to success.

What does “over time” mean? In his post, Chris tells the story of football superstar Jerry Rice, considered by many to be one of the best players in the game of all time. His rise to fame was less than meteoric. He went from a unheard of high school to tiny college, to a seventh round NFL draft pick, to the San Francisco Forty-Niners, where he mastered his craft over twenty years of hard work. Jerry Rice’s story is a true study in Long Term Thinking.

In his book The Slight Edge, Jeff Olson talks about the growth of water lilies. It is another case study in Long Term Thinking. In a pond, lilies spread unseen under the surface over time until they take it over. Once the pond is taken over by the lilies, they pop up seemingly miraculously overnight, blooms and lily pads covering the surface with beauty.

In his book Good To Great. author Jim Collins discusses what makes people successful. He studied people from many walks of life, and discovered they all had one thing in common. Each one of these people used Long Term Thinking and practiced whatever the thing that was their passion no less than 10,000 hours each to obtain the mastery levels the world pays great prices to see.

In our microwave culture, Long Term Thinking is often a foreign concept. Long Term Thinking is not considering about what will happen this month or this year, though that’s helpful. It’s about seeing the future you want for yourself, looking 5, 10 or more years ahead of where you are now. It’s using that picture of the future and starting to work toward it now. Long Term Thinking is what Henry David Thoreau meant when he said,

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

You can turn any castles of your dreams into reality by starting with the critical key of Long Term Thinking.

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