Mirror Moments

Have you ever looked at an image in a mirror and wondered, “Who is that, and where did that person come from? When did I get to look like that??!!??”

I had something of that experience recently. I was getting ready for work. Sitting at my vanity, reaching for something, my glance hit the mirror and I saw something I hadn’t seen before. When I moved my arms forward to reach for things, the skin on the lower part of my neck got wrinkly.

My glance then happened across my hands. While grabbing things, my skin was the smooth, even texture I had always seen. But when I just held them in a resting position or was using them in other ways, wrinkles appeared where none had been before.

Where had these come from? When had time done its inexorable march on my physical self to cause me to start to look so much older than the me inside feels??

Now, lest you think these thoughts are rooted in the mind of someone so selfish and vain all I care about is my image and appearance, allow me to correct that assumption. I wear makeup because as a business owner, it makes me appear more credible. I put it on as a necessary chore, not a pleasurable one. After years of searching, I finally have a hair style that doesn’t take a tremendous amount of effort to look good in the morning. I wear coordinating clothes and jewelry because of my creative, artistic sense, not to be fashionable or to please anyone else (except my husband, who gave most of it to me!). I tend to wear the same necklace (my husband gave it to me for our latest anniversary) and the same bracelet (he gave it to me for Christmas last year) every day. In other words, my appearance is something I give about 1/2 an hour of my day to in the morning, and only scant attention to any other time. It’s an issue of practicality, not vanity.

So, why did the wrinkles bother me? Because when I saw them, I was instantly reminded of a conversation I’d had as a child with my grandmother. And I suddenly realized what an egotistical, self-centered jerk I had been, and how loving and gracious my grandmother had been.

I was no more than 8 or 10, and visiting their home in Syracuse, NY. I was there for the week with my older brother for Vacation Bible School, which we often did in the summer.

We were in Grandmother’s kitchen, and I was helping Grandmother and a friend of hers with some baking. At some point, I looked at their hands, compared them to my childish ones, and made some comment about the wrinkles on them. I then further compounded the immense insult by remarking about the wrinkles on their faces!

Grandmother and her friend could have rightly chosen to be offended. They could have chosen to become upset. They could have chosen to speak harshly to me. They chose none of it. They answered with love, kindly and graciously, simply saying these were signs they’d so far lived long and well, and someday I would understand.

There was something thing I realized as I reviewed that conversation in my memories. Looking at it now, from the adult’s perspective, Grandmother and her friend were likely around the same age I am now! At the time, they seemed immeasurably old. Now, at the same relative age, I look in the mirror and see someone still young looking back (except when I see wrinkles!). But I have a calendar awareness of the passage of time, as well as tangible proof like grandchildren, arthritis and gray hair (just ask my stylist).

When I look in the mirror, I see someone who could have 30, 50 or 100  years left to do all I want to accomplish in life. Okay, I admit it, 100 is pushing it! Or, I could be hit by a bus, get into an accident and my life would be over tomorrow. Don’t believe me? See When Life Turns Upside Down, in which I talk about life after a near-death experience last year. The point is, you never know.

I realized I needed to repent, and say I was sorry to God and the memory of Grandmother for being such an obnoxious, selfish and self-centered jerk of a kid. I know what you’re thinking. Kids have no filters. I certainly didn’t that day. But if time has taught me anything, it’s that a heartfelt “I am sorry” is never out of place when your conscience hits you with a guilty sting.

Finally, I realized as I reviewed that conversation the passage of time has done its work. I understand what Grandmother and her friend meant that day. I have tried to live well, for as long as I’ve had so far.

The Bible has a lot to say about aging and the experience and potential of wisdom that comes with age.

Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life. Proverbs 16:31

Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days. Job 12:12

My absolute favorite on the topic, however, is this one:

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalms 90:20

I know, you’re asking, “Number our days?!?!?? What does that mean??!??” It means more than that calendar awareness of time I was mentioning before. The ancient Greeks called that calendar awareness of time Chronos time. It’s the time of clocks and calendars, that we can understand, quantify and measure. What we need is an understanding that our lives, that we see as so long, so significant, so important to us, are really just blips and specks on the timeline of eternity. In other words, what the ancient Greeks called Kairos time. Kairos time is not something quantifiable, understandable or measurable because it’s eternal. It’s all that was before and all that is and all that will be, all in one package, all in one big picture. It’s God’s view of eternal time, as He Who was and is and ever will be.

When we get a Kairos view of time, when we learn to “number our days,” as the psalmist says, we understand our own insignificance in the vastness of God’s perspective. That sounds like it would be something to bring down our self-image and not give us wisdom, right? Well, God’s views are different. When we look at things the way He sees them, we look at ourselves and our lives through His plans, His purposes and, most importantly, His immense and overwhelming love for us. We see our faults, our failings, our flaws and yes, even our wrinkles, in the light of what He has taken us through, and where He is taking us to.

One of LIFE Leadership co-founder Chris Brady‘s favorite quotes is by noted author Henry David Thoreau:

It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?

In our lives of Chronos busy-ness, getting a Kairos view of things from time to time gives us a perspective to understand what we need to be busy about. Day to day living can smother purpose, gobble up passions and devour dreams in the minutiae of things that just have to get done. An eternal view from time to time realigns our perspective, sharpens our focus and reminds us what is truly important.

So, where do we go from here? For me, going back to the start of the post, I’ve earned my current set of wrinkles, and hope to earn lots more. I want to earn more doing things that matter in life, things that have a Kairos impact on a Chronos world. For me, these are things like loving people, sharing the Gospel, and being all the light I can be wherever my life’s candle is placed, just to name a few. On a more selfish level, I want to have some more adventures, a bit of fun, and maybe even acquire a few more gray hairs (for my stylist to hide) by doing exciting things in incredible places with wonderful people.

What about you? Who do you see in the mirror each morning? How are your “mirror moments” lately? Our “mirror moments” are the best when we see not only who is physically looking back, but who is looking back from within. I wish you joy in your journey of discovery.

 

The Launching of the Queen Mary

In life, things often don’t go as planned. When this happens, sometimes chaos and hilarity can result. The following is as true a story as I can remember. Names have been changed or omitted to protect the innocent (and the guilty!).

I was 10, and wilderness camping in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. I was there with my parents, older and younger siblings and dogs. Our camping site was located on a lake that is about 1 1/2 miles long, and 1/2 mile wide at its widest point. (That’s important information.) Here’s an actual picture of the place:

13th LakeIt was a lovely hot summer weekend, and my 8 year old sister and I were swimming and playing in the water off our campsite, next to the boat launch. We noticed some commotion above us on the road leading to the boat launch. My sister was busy with what she was doing in the water, so I went up alone to investigate.

I found 5 or 8 cars, some 20 people and one truck towing the largest boat I’d ever seen. The newcomers were arguing with the men at the campsite about the feasibility of the boat being launched into the lake. They demanded to see the boat launch, and seemed displeased when told they were standing on it. I asked my mother what was happening, and she said, “They are trying to launch the Queen Mary here!

They turned to the State Forest Ranger, who’d just arrived, and tried to convince him he could use the rescue winch on the front of his truck to help them. While the adult campers chuckled behind their hands, he said that was out of the question. No amount of persuasion or argument would convince these folks the boat couldn’t or wouldn’t be launched. Even if it was, the twin engines wouldn’t be able to come up to enough speed for the water skiing they wanted to do in the confines of such a small

Water skiing on the Yarra River in Melbourne

space. The Ranger and the men from the campground kept trying to tell them they’d have more success at a bigger place like Lake George or Blue Mountain Lake, but nothing would deter them from their goal of boating on that lake that day.

Well, nothing until while all the adults had been busy arguing, one had left his toddler in the front seat of his car alone, and unrestrained. This was in the years before seat belts were popularly used, let alone car seats. The parent had not set the emergency brake, and when the child started playing with the controls of the car and got it into neutral, gravity took over. My mother and I both saw the car moving at the same time, and shouted for my sister to move. She barely leaped away in time, as the father ran after the car and his child.

The child was retrieved and was perfectly fine, damp and delighting in his ride. The Ranger’s winch was employed, and the car retrieved from the lake. It was then they declared they were going to change the oil on the car right then and there, and let the old oil drain into the soil and lake. It was only the Ranger’s presence as a representative of the law which prevented some “frontier justice” by the men from the campground. The Ranger hauled out his ticket book, started angrily listing things for which he was about to cite them, and said tickets were a certainty if they didn’t leave immediately.

Within a short time, the lake again belonged to the wildlife, the campers and Ranger. The adults sat down to well-deserved cups of coffee and some relaxation, as they laughed at the boaters. I told them what my mother told me about the boat, and enjoyed the laugh I got. What my mother said to me became both the title of this post and the name of what is a favorite family story.

When I consider this story, I think about the Plan, Do, Check and Adjust process I have learned from LIFE. Orrin Woodward, best-selling author and LIFE co-founder, learned this information during his career as a successful engineer from its inventor, the legendary engineer Edward Demming.

Orrin Woodward

Orrin Woodward

In the Plan, Do, Check and Adjust (also called PDCA) process, we work out a Plan, Do the Plan, Check the progress of the Plan with an outside source like a mentor and Adjust the Plan as necessary to accommodate unforeseen circumstances. Each step is an individually critical component in success of any endeavor.

Let’s review my story in light of the PDCA process. The folks with the boat had a Plan: they Planned to launch their boat on the lake and go water skiing. They tried to Do their Plan. They tried multiple methods to Do their Plan. However, they failed to listen to the wiser counsel of others when confronted with undeniable data, didn’t Check their Plan against the available data and failed to Adjust accordingly. It was in this failure to Check and Adjust stage when the car ended up in the lake, instead of their boat.

So, how can we make this process work for ourselves? Please understand, in saying these things, I will be talking to myself as much as I am talking to you!

How many times do we go benignly along through life, trying to launch our Queen Mary Plans, little realizing how impractical or physically impossible they are? And even when they are possible, do we work them out with others who might know more than us, to help us make a better Plan? Others, of course, go blissfully through life with seemingly no Plan at all, living out the true-ism a failure to Plan is a Plan for failure.

Sometimes, we get stalled in the Do step. Some of us are wonderful Planners, but not so great at the Do part. A Plan is not meant to be a paper tiger. It’s meant to be a blueprint for building something. Nike didn’t make their slogan, “Just Do It,” for nothing, you know.

When we finally get our Plans launched and Do them, do we Check how we’re doing with them? Or do we go sailing onward, benignly or willfully ignorant of data running counter to what we want to be seeing? Data, as it has been so rightly said, isn’t right or wrong. It’s just data. To deny the facts of something in front of us and move on anyway is either ignorant or foolish.

Do we stop sometimes and Adjust what we are doing in the face of data that tells us stuff we might not want to hear? The Adjust stage is when you either refine the Plan, or decide it’s fine for now, and go forward. It is here where the counsel of a mentor can be most crucial. Often we need a voice outside of ourselves, who compassionately knows us, to look in on our situations and offer a broader view we likely do not see. It’s like going through a dense forest, and having someone in a helicopter above, who sees the way, telling you where to go and how to turn to navigate successfully.

Had the folks with the boat that day practiced the PDCA process, we likely would never have seen them, and I would not have this (hopefully!) entertaining story to illustrate the PDCA process for you. They would have realized their boat needed more space than our lake had, and gone elsewhere. They would have happily water skied, not needed to change the oil on one of the cars, not almost hit my sister with the car and left us in peace. And I would have been left to find another story to illustrate the PDCA process for you.

I hope my story of a failure of the PDCA process, and my explanations of it help you find joy in your journey as you use it to find more success in life!