Flat Tire Lessons in How to be Thankful

My son Taylor left for school one morning only to find he had a flat front tire.  He left for school on foot and left me with a job.

I gathered the jack and tools I needed and quickly took off three of the lug nuts.  I was cruising along and giving thanks that Taylor had such a resourceful father. But when I got to the fourth lug nut it wouldn’t budge.  No matter how much of my 155 lbs. I put into it, no matter how much of my sculpted muscles I used to force it, it wouldn’t budge.

I wasn’t very thankful.  Then later in the day my neighbor Raymond came down with his young son Jacob.  Raymond speaks very little English and I speak very little Spanish.  So Jacob came to translate.  Raymond came to help.  He stood on one end of the lug nut wrench and I pulled up on the other and together we forced the fourth lug nut loose.  He looked at me, smiled and said, “My 200 lbs.”

The next morning I took off the tire, put the spare on, and let the car down.  The spare was flat.  Then I noticed the back passenger side tire.  It had a leak in the valve.  It was more work for me on a busy day and my thankfulness tank was running empty.

Maybe yours has too.  Can we learn to be thankful even in trying times?  We can if our perspective is right.  For instance, try this:

  • Next time you want to complain that you had to wait on your food at a restaurant, remember that 27,000 children die every day of malnutrition.
  • Next time you want something and your parents don’t give it to you, remember that half the world lives on just $2 a day.
  • Next time you feel the urge to quit a job because you did not receive a pay raise, remember that there are a billion people worldwide who do not even have a job.
  • Next time a cold has got you down, realize that in the world today nearly 200,000 people will die from a curable disease.

In his book Life Together Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.” 

The tire ordeal gave me a lesson in thankfulness.

  • I was thankful that we found the problem when the car was parked and not when my son was driving and could have been injured.
  • I was thankful that in the process of something that was not going well, I encountered an act of friendship.
  • I was prompted to be thankful that he even had a car.

Don’t know if you can be thankful in your circumstance?  You won’t know until you give it a try.

Question: What lessons have you learned in being thankful for the ordinary?  

 

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009)

This is one of my all-time favorite books.  In it Donald Miller helps us see our life as a story.  It’s a story we can shape with the possibility of writing a better one.

Donald needed a better story.

After the success of Blue Like Jazz he found himself in a rut.  Sleeping late.  Avoiding his responsibilities.  But then a couple of movie producers approached him wanting to turn his book into a movie.  Through that experience Don learns how to re-script his life.

In doing so he found one life to love.

You can too.  Pick up a copy today.

Don’t Let Fear of the Unknown Keep You from Connecting

Sometimes hugs speak volumes.

They did in the case of Dr. Kent Brantly. As he was being released from Emory Hospital with reports that he was free of the Ebola virus, all twenty-one of his nurses and orderlies and all five of his doctors gave him a hug.

The message? Sure, they had warm feelings for this person that had been under their constant critical care. But the scene being played out said that Brantly was no longer a public health threat. It was an important message to send. Fear of Ebola spreading and getting a foothold in the U.S. had been itself like a contagious virus growing on social media.

Maybe you can relate. What we don’t know or understand can create disconnectedness between us and others.

I know. In 1987 my wife and I had moved to Denver, Colorado to do ministry work. We were barely settled in when one day I got a call at the church office. It was a young couple in need of some groceries.

We had plenty in our church pantry so I told them I’d bag up some food and bring it to them. I got their address and was ready to go when, right before I hung up the phone, the husband said, “There’s one more thing I need to tell you. My wife has AIDS.”

I have to admit. There were a few seconds of silence.

In 1987 we still didn’t know much about AIDS and how it was transmitted. Handshakes? Coughs? We had just found out my wife was pregnant with our first child. And in that silence my mind was pregnant with fear of what “might” happen if I went to this couple’s apartment.

Fear of what I didn’t know didn’t rule that day. I said something like, “Thanks for letting me know that. But I’ll be there in about twenty minutes.”

The couple I met was quiet, sweet, and probably the most scared I’d ever seen. They were unsure of their future. The husband’s love for his wife was evident. We talked and laughed some and I prayed for them.

And before I walked out their door I was compelled to stop, turn around, and give them both a hug. They needed it. I probably needed it more.

Want to love your life more? Start by not letting fear of the unknown keep you from connecting with others. The fear may be of a disease that creates discomfort in you that makes you keep your distance. It could be a different background or culture or skin color.

It can feel safer to stick to what you know. But don’t.

  • Take a step in their direction.
  • Ask questions.
  • Make the unknown the known.
  • Dismantle some barriers so you can see the person.

You’ll find yourself connecting more. And when you do you’ll find more of yourself. You were made to connect.

And every so often give a hug.

Question: Have you ever allowed your “fear of the unknown” to keep you from moving closer to another?  What helped you not let that fear rule the day?  

Work Lessons You Can Learn Here Instead of the Hard Way

Have we lost the meaning of “work?”  I’m not talking in philosophical terms.  I’m talking about the real meaning.  As in the Merriam-Webster’s definition of “work.”

Here’s how they define work: “Activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something: Sustained physical or mental effort to overcome obstacles and achieve an objective or result; The labor, task, or duty that is one’s accustomed means of livelihood; A specific task, duty, function, or assignment often being a part or phase of some larger activity.”

Work by definition is not easy.  Did you notice these words: effort, labor, and task?  Sometimes work can wear us out and send us home weary.  But the other side of work is that you “achieve an objective or result.”  That’s where the fun is.  That’s where the satisfaction is found.

I live in the Houston area and I’m nominating J.J. Watt as the hardest working person in Houston.  (I’m not going to be the one to tell him he isn’t!)  Watt plays for the Houston Texan football team as a defensive end.  It’s his job to go after the quarterback on every play.  Guys like Watt made me decide to play tennis as a kid.  (Other than the occasional time I hit my leg with my own racket on a serve I survived pretty much unscathed.)

J.J. has a great work ethic.  In a recent interview he contributed a couple of priceless quotes:

I think no matter what job you do — I don’t care what job it is — you want to outperform your contract. You should want people to think you’re underpaid because of how hard you work, because of how well you do your job, because of how you go about your business.

If they give you $2 worth of wage, give them $3 worth of work.

The Apostle Paul would give a two thumbs up to those statements.  He gave this work advice:  “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.” Paul says to give it your all and keep your eye on the prize.

Want to be a better worker?  You can start now.  Here are five things you can start doing today to outperform your contract:

  1. Get out of bed and get to work on time.  Sounds simple.  But we all know the ones who drag in late—no matter what starting time they are given—and disrupt the energy in the workplace.  Don’t be that person. Set your alarm.  Don’t hit snooze. Get your feet on the floor. Get moving.
  2. Take responsibility for your time management.  You are the only one that can do your job.  So find a system that works for you.  Plan your day.  Plan your week.  Get projects done on time.
  3. Accept the fact that you are the one responsible for your learning and growth.  Don’t ever say “I don’t know how to do ______________” and then just sit down.  Research it.  Ask a peer. Find a book on the topic.  And then . . .
  4. Find a mentor. Be proactive. Look for someone who you want to emulate and ask them for some of their time.  Don’t waste it once you have it.  Sit down with them and share where you are stuck and ask for guidance.  When they give it, move on and show that you learned something from them.  If you don’t, they won’t (and shouldn’t) keep giving you their time.
  5. Give it all you’ve got! Work hard when you are at work. Then go home or go out and relax and renew.  Get to bed at a decent time so you’ll be ready to “work at it with all your heart” the next day.

Just see your work tasks as quarterbacks and go after them with full force on every play.

Question: What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned about doing good work?  You can comment below.  And why not share this conversation on social media?  Thanks!

Daring Greatly (New York: Gotham Books, 2012)

Brene Brown became known for her TED talks that went viral.  She spoke on the Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame  and people hung on her every word.

This book is full of great insights like:

When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make. Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.

Brown begins her writing by taking us to a passage from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech referred to as “The Man in the Arena” where he said that “the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…”  (You’ll need to get the book or look it up to finish this great quote.)

Her premise is that vulnerability is actually strength, not weakness, and it is what gives us the courage to stop sitting on the sidelines and get into the game.  The game of life.

Get this book.  It will help you love more the life you have.

 

How to Make a Memory While Making a Meal

Every time I drive through a small town and see a local drive up burger joint my mind immediately travels back to Pocahontas, Arkansas.  My grandparents lived there and when I was a small child we’d make our summer trips to their small farm house and stay for a couple of weeks at a time.

There was a burger place in town called the Tastee-Freez.  The hamburgers were great.  But they’d also serve up some smooth soft-serve ice cream.  That’s what I remember the most.  And it wasn’t just the ice cream.  It was the time with my grandfather who’d sneak me and my brother off for a treat as if we were getting in on something special that my parents were missing out on.

And it was special.  There is something to sitting down with someone you love and sharing a meal or a dessert that sautees the two together until they are inseparable in your memory.

How Food Creates a Memory

You’ve probably experienced this phenomenon yourself.  A taste or a smell transports you to another time as if you were there experiencing it all over again.  John S. Allen explains in a scientific way (that I could never explain) why this happens in our brains in an essay entitled Food and Memory.  The article ends with this declaration: “our evolved psychology may make food one of the more likely things in the environment around which memories are formed and focused.”

Hassan put it more succinctly: “Food is memories.”  Hassan is the Indian cook in the book and movie “The Hundred-Foot Journey.”  As Hassan cooks he remembers his Indian upbringing.  He especially remembers his mother who was his first teacher in the field of culinary arts.

Whether it is science or experience or the movies we have a shared understanding that food and memory are connected.  The mere sight of an old burger joint takes me back to northeast Arkansas.  A Bit-O-Honey bar sent Allen forty years into the past.  Bread and wine take many back to a hill and a cross.

Time to Take Back the Table

Since food memory is such a powerful thing don’t you think it would be wise to spend more time on the two?  Here’s a recipe for loving your one life more:

  • At least one night a week gather your family and friends together around your table.
  • Have them join in on the preparation of food.
  • Sit down together.
  • Share stories of your first food memories and let those lead you into questions about each other’s lives.
  • Clean up the meal together.

After it’s all over and your guests are gone you will have accomplished two things.

  1. You’ll have shared a great meal.
  2. And you’ll have made a shared memory.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go find a small drive up burger joint and remember.

(Photo from TheSchoolMarm.com)

Share your first food memory in the comment section.  And, if you liked this article, would you be so kind as to share it via the social media buttons?  Thanks!

 

The Divine Conspiracy

divine conspiracy

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Dallas Willard says non-discipleship is the “elephant in the church.”

In this vital book Willard discusses the primary teaching of Jesus.  We call it the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus presented a vision of “life in the kingdom of God.”

My guess is that most of us who hear Jesus’ words would agree that if we could all live as he taught we’d live better lives.  We’d be living the good life.

If you haven’t read this one, order a copy today.

You Are the Lever That Moves Your World

I didn’t much like the words I heard.

I had signed up for an eighteen-month leadership training course and thought we’d ease into the learning, kind of like the first day or two of a college class.  Instead, right off the bat we heard, “You are the highest leverage point in any system you are a part of.”

Everyone else was giving thoughtful “hmmms” and “ahhhs.”  I think one guy even struck a Rodin’s The Thinker pose.  My initial response was more of a “huh?”

Fortunately our facilitator began to unpack his terminology.  “Highest leverage point” means that you can make a difference.  You don’t have to wait around like you’re in line at a Wal-Mart for someone else to move before you could move.

And a “system” was defined as any group of people you are connected to.  It could be your family.  It might be your workplace.  It could be a sports team or a church group.

I didn’t much like those words.  It was much easier to think that when something needed changing or improved or fixed it was up to “someone else” to get the ball rolling.  Certainly I wouldn’t be the one responsible.

But now I had to consider the possibility that maybe I could do something.  I could have an impact.

For example, when a husband and wife find themselves in a lull in their relationship and they’re stuck in a rut, how will they get out?  He thinks she should make a first move so he waits.  She thinks he should make the first move so she waits.  The waiting room is an unexciting place to be.

Or you see something that isn’t working at work but you think, “That’s not my responsibility.”  And although you can see it when no one else can you remain silent.  And nothing changes.

What if instead you did something?  You took whatever level of influence you do have and used it to change the system?

  • You bring home flowers for a change.
  • You tell your husband how you are proud of him.
  • You find a way to help your boss meet a deadline.
  • You tell your son you are sorry for your harsh words.
  • You take the first step to repair a relationship.
  • You make the phone call, write the note, or extend the invitation.

Archimedes famously said “Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the world.” See yourself as the lever in your systems today.  Find something you can do to make it better.

Then watch your world begin to move.

What about your thoughts? Where are some other places you can be a high leverage point?

OpenClips / Pixabay

Find Your One Thing … Then Live It

I tend to be a people-pleaser.  Its not that I actually please many people.  That’s for them to determine.  But I try. And because I do, I wind up saying “yes” to too many things: social plans, lunch invites, projects, leadership roles.  On top of that add the usual family responsibilities and work requirements.

And then, every time an e-mail, text, or Twitter flies through cyberspace and lands on my mobile device of choice, I of course have to attend to that. I’m learning that productivity is not the result of doing many things but in doing fewer things.  Maybe even “one” thing.

I’ve always been fascinated by a statement the Apostle Paul made.  He said, “This one thing I do …”  Can you say that?  Can you sum up your life focus by saying “This is the one thing I’m about  …”?

Maybe we fill up our lives with too many distractions in hopes that we’ll hit something that takes off.  That we’ll get something right. Really, its a bit daunting to think I can narrow my focus to one thing that is my life’s pursuit, isn’t it?  I mean, what if I get it wrong? But one thing’s for sure: aim at nothing and you’re sure to hit it.

I think our big problem is that we want everything now.  We live in an age of instant-gratification.  And yet, the people who have made the biggest impact seem to know what they are aiming at and work, sometimes for years, to hit their mark.  Think Edison, Bell, Gates, Jobs.

Then think about Jesus.   He came to preach the kingdom of God.  That’s what he did.  And 2000 years later his teachings are still being heard.  He has made arguably the biggest impact on our world by focusing on one task. So today instead of saying “yes” to everything that comes your way, why not find a quiet place and begin some work on discovering your “one” thing.  Ask these questions:

  • What is it I find I’m good at?
  • What is it I’m good at that from start to finish I enjoy?
  • If I were to ask my closest friends what it is they see as my “life story/statement,” what would they say?  (And maybe it would be a good exercise to actually interview a few of them.)
  • What do I want people to remember me for someday?

Jot your answers down.  Reflect on them.  Find your “one thing.” Then get up everyday and create ways to live it out.

See if you can move past being a people-pleaser to being a person of impact.

 

Photo credit: Andre Chinn (Creative Commons)