Smelly Decisions

A newspaper story once related that a mother of eight from Darlington, Maryland, had been visiting next door. When she returned home, she went into the living room where she saw her five youngest children huddled in the center of the floor — on her new carpet — very much involved with something wiggly and squirmy. The perplexed mother looked closer. To her total dismay, she discovered that the children were gathered around a family of skunks.

In her horror she screamed, “Run, children, run!”

They did. Each child grabbed a skunk and ran.

I know I’ve sometimes made the same mistake. Instead of leaving a potentially smelly situation alone, I decided to run with it. Many of my problems have been the result of my own poor choices and bad judgment, though I may have been tempted to blame someone else. One such skunk I have run with was “the easy way” when there clearly was a “better way” which seemed too much trouble to bother with at the time. Another skunk I’ve run with was “instant gratification” — the I-want-it-now decision that I would be sure to regret in the long run. Another might be called “it’s too good to be true!” At a deep level I know that when it seems too good to be true, it probably is. But I  could have gone for it anyway.

I’ve made a lot of stinky decisions along the way, though I knew better. And I really can’t blame anyone or anything else. I got seduced by a cute, furry, little bundle of temptation which was actually nothing more than a skunk in disguise. And instead of running AWAY from it, I picked it up and made it mine. I ran WITH it.

I don’t know how often opportunity knocks, but temptations to make foul decisions bang on my door all day long. And smelly decisions make for smelly problems later on. A few little decisions, good or bad, can make a big difference in a life. Better to run from those skunks than with them.

Like me, have you ever run with skunks? Or the more important question is…if you’re running with one now, will you put it down? You will be glad you did, and you’ll have no one to blame for the sudden improvement but yourself.

And so, we pray: Father, I know I have made some very smelly decisions in my life, even though I thought I was doing the right thing… the expected thing. Help us to be able to recognize the skunks around us and walk away… run away from them. Amen.

Grace and Peace

No Regrets

Not many people have heard of Bill Havens. But Bill became an unlikely hero of sorts – at least among those who knew him best. Here is his story:

At the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, the sport of canoe racing was added to the list of international competitions. The favorite team in the four-man canoe race was the United States team. One member of that team was a young man by the name of Bill Havens.

As the time for the Olympics neared, it became clear that Bill’s wife would give birth to their first child about the time that the US team would be competing in the Paris games. In 1924 there were no jet airliners from Paris to the United States, only slow ocean-going ships. And so, Bill found himself in a dilemma. Should he go to Paris and risk not being at his wife’s side when their baby was born? Or should he withdraw from the team and remain with his family?

Bill’s wife insisted that he go to Paris. After all, competing in the Olympics was the culmination of a lifelong dream. But Bill felt conflicted and, after much soul-searching, decided to withdraw from the competition and remain home where he could support his family. Just four days after the games (at which his brother Bud Havens and the rest of the U.S. canoe crew won three gold, one silver, and two bronze over six events), his son Frank came into the world.

People said, “What a shame.” But Bill said he had no regrets. For the rest of his life, he believed he had made the better decision.

However, there is an interesting sequel to the story of Bill Havens.…

Frank, the child born to them that year, grew to love canoeing as much as his father did. And at 28-years-old, in 1952, Frank sent his father a cablegram. It came from Helsinki, Finland, where the Olympic Games were being held. The message read: “Dear Dad, thanks for waiting around for me to get born in 1924. I’m coming home with the gold medal you should have won. Your loving son, Frank.”

Frank had set the new world record and took home the gold in the solo 10,000-meter event. He came home with the medal his father had dreamed of winning. Like I said – no regrets.

Thomas Kinkade eloquently said, “When we learn to say a deep, passionate yes to the things that really matter… then peace begins to settle into our lives like golden sunlight sifting to a forest floor.” Saying yes to the things that really matter might mean you say no to something else you want…but it’s a way to no regrets.

And so, we pray: Father, help us to never be afraid to make the decisions of the heart… the right decisions, the decisions that really matter, and to have no regrets when we do. I believe you will always honor us when we make that kind of decision… because it is not about us but about the others caught up in the decisions we make. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Seasoning of Life

Two men fell on hard times. Try as they might, they couldn’t find work. They heard that a museum was willing to pay $50 apiece for live rattlesnakes so, in desperation, they decided to catch snakes.

Outfitted with a net and basket, they hiked to a remote area renowned for its large snake population. But as they scaled a steep ledge, rocks gave way and they tumbled down a slippery bank – into a deep pit crawling with rattlesnakes.

One of the men quickly sized up the situation and shouted to his friend, “Look! We’re rich! We’re rich!”

Okay, maybe he didn’t fully appreciate his predicament. But in most situations, I believe there is a sunny side. Take aging, for instance. As we grow older, our skin turns from satin to cotton to seersucker to corduroy. And though we might be encouraged that at least wrinkles don’t hurt, valuable experience, deep understanding and hard-won wisdom can also come with years of living. Some people are merely aging  –  others are “sageing.” The difference is in outlook.

It has to do with how we consider our situation. Like a sign spotted outside a quaint shop: “We buy junk. Antiques for sale.” I wonder, is my attic full of junk or antiques? What about my life? I’m learning it’s a matter of perspective; it’s a matter of how I want to look at what comes my way. And it’s also a matter of choice, because perspective is something I choose more often than I realize.

I’ve learned that my greatest power may well be my power to choose my outlook. As Abraham Lincoln wisely said, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” The truth is, I can choose to view tough times as growing times, I can choose to see aging as seasoning, and I can choose to focus on whatever good there is to be found in living.

I choose. After all, it’s MY point of view.

And so, we pray: Father, I’ve never used the word “seasoning” as a way to describe my aging. But I like it. Help me to choose to focus on whatever is good there is to be found in and around me. Help me to look forward to the seasoning of my life as we move along through these days. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Explore. Dream. Discover.

That tireless inventor Thomas Edison famously said of his various experiments, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Murphy’s Law is much less sanguine about it: “If you never try anything new, you’ll miss out on many of life’s great disappointments.”

I think changes in wrist watches over the past 50 years beautifully illustrate how important it is to experiment. Do you know who set the standard for fine watch-making for most of the 20th Century? If you answered, “The Swiss,” you are correct. Swiss wrist watches dominated world markets for at least 60 years and Swiss companies were committed to constant refinement of their craft.

It was the Swiss who came forward with the minute hand and the second hand. They led the world in discovering better ways to manufacture gears, bearings, and main-springs of watches. They even led the way in waterproofing techniques and self-winding models. By 1968 the Swiss made 65 percent of all watches sold in the world and laid claim to as much as 90 percent of the profits.

Now…which country sold the most wrist watches in the 1980s? The answer is Japan. By 1980 Swiss companies had laid off thousands of watch-makers and controlled less than 10 percent of the world market. Between 1979 and 1981, eighty percent of Swiss watchmakers lost their jobs.

Why? One reason is the advent of Japanese digital watches. Another major reason is that the Swiss were reluctant to change the way they traditionally designed wrist watches. Like the fact that for too long they refused to utilize the less expensive and more accurate Quartz crystal. In short, they kept doing what they always did. Because they did not seriously experiment with radical new ways of designing timepieces, most Swiss watchmakers found themselves doing something else for a living.

Our lives are not so different. Of course, we need to accept ourselves as we are, but we can’t stop there. We also need to value ourselves enough make needed changes. It’s a simple formula: If we want to live fully, we have to keep growing. If we want to keep growing, we have to adapt. And if we want to adapt, we have to try on new ways of thinking and new ways of doing. For me it’s about making my life a movement in grace.

I appreciate Mark Twain’s encouragement. “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do,” he points out. “So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Sounds like fun to me.

And so, we pray: Father, help me to continue to grow in the Love of God, the Grace of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit. In that my I explore, dream and discover you in more wonderful and challenging ways. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Setting Your Own Standards

A true story has it that one older man decided to jog around the local high school football field. As he huffed and puffed along, the team was in practice.

The players soon started running sprints up and down the field. The man told himself, “I’ll just keep running until they quit.” So, he ran. And they ran. And he ran some more. And they kept running. And he kept running until he could finally run no more. He stopped in exhaustion. One of the players, equally exhausted, approached him and said, “Boy, I’m glad you finally stopped, Mister. Coach told us we had to keep running wind sprints as long as the old guy was jogging!”

He was watching them. They were watching him. He was letting them set his standard. They allowed him to set theirs.

My question is this: are you keeping pace with somebody else? Are you allowing other people to set your standards for you?

What about your standards, or principles, for moral behavior? Humorist Mark Twain said, “I have a higher and grander standard of principle than George Washington. He could not lie; I can, but I won’t.” Do you decide for yourself what is right and wrong, or do you find yourself going along with others?

And how about attitudinal standards? When confronted with negativity and cynicism, how do you respond? Do you choose your attitudes, or do you just react to circumstances?

What about your relationships? What do you expect to get out of relationships? Who sets the standard for how fulfilling, or even how important, a relationship will be to you?

In short, do you keep pace with those around you, or do you decide yourself just how you will live your life? The truth is…only you are qualified to set your standards.  Only you can determine how you should live and what you will finally expect from yourself.

Set your own standards. It beats jogging until your legs fall off.

And so, we pray: Father, help me to set my own standards of living by the totality of your touch and influence upon my life. Over the years, as I grow in grace, I have allowed others to set some of the standards of parts of my life. But I feel that I have always, in my own feeble way, allowed you to set my morals and how I treat others. Continue to help me to grow that my living may uplift others. Amen.

Grace and Peace

A Deep Yearning

Christopher Morley has said, “There are three ingredients in the good life: learning, earning and yearning.” And yearning can make up for a great lack in the other two.

In Daniel Steere’s book, I Am, I Can, the author tells a heart-warming story about the power of yearning. He tells that Columbia University football coach Lou Little was stopped on campus and informed of the unexpected death of the father of one of his players. He agreed to break the news to the student, as he knew that the young man and his father were quite close.

Two days after he went home to attend the funeral, the student returned to campus and was back on the practice field. “What are you doing back so soon?” asked the coach. “You could have taken a week or two…we would have understood.”

“Coach,” the young man said, “my father was buried yesterday, and the rest of the family is taking care of things. Coach Little, I’ve just got to play in that game tomorrow. That’s why I came back today.”

The coach reminded him that tomorrow’s game was a critical game and he might not play at all since he wasn’t a usual starter.

But the student pressed, “I know I haven’t played much, Coach, but I’m asking you for a chance to play tomorrow. I’ve just got to play in that game.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Coach Little said, “Okay, son, tell you what. If we win the toss, I’ll let you play on the receiving team, but I can’t promise you more than that.”

The next day Columbia did win the toss. That young man went into the game and played like he had never played before. In fact, he was playing so well that Lou Little decided to leave him in longer. He had an outstanding day and, largely because of his effort, Columbia won the game.

In the locker room, the coach asked the student, “What in the world happened to you out there? You never played ball like that in your whole life. That’s the best exhibition of football I ever saw. How in the world did you do it?”

“Well, Coach,” the exhausted and exhilarated young man said, “you never met my father, did you?”

“No, I didn’t.” Little replied. “I knew you were very close to your father, and I saw you walking arm in arm across the campus on several occasions, but I never met him.”

“Well, you see,” the student said, searching for the right words, “for most of my life my father was blind – and today was the first day he was able to watch me play.”

There are few qualities more vital than a strong yearning. Earning and learning help, but that desire to reach a little farther, to be a little more, yearning…for a piece of something greater, can often make all the difference.

An admirer once exclaimed to President Theodore Roosevelt, “Mr. Roosevelt, you are a great man!”

“No,” he replied, “Teddy Roosevelt is simply a plain, ordinary man – highly motivated.” It was his yearning that set him apart.

And so, we pray: Father, help me to have that deep yearning inside to reach a little further, to be a little more, for a piece of something much greater than myself… not for me, but for your glory and the care of all your children everywhere. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Songs Still Unsung

Are you able to warmly welcome the future as you would a new friend?

The late US senator Hubert Humphrey, a man with an indomitable zest for living, once talked about the “good old days.” He said, “They were never that good, believe me. The good new days are today, and better days are coming tomorrow. Our greatest songs are still unsung.”

What a marvelous spirit. Our greatest songs are still unsung! Quite a different spirit is found in a business magazine ad that pictures a newborn baby with the caption: “Only 22,463 days until retirement.” The ad is cute, but it picks up on a spirit of our day. It is a spirit of worry and anxiety. It is a spirit that tells us, “You don’t know what the future holds. It is likely to be bleak; even disastrous. Plan carefully.” You know what spirit I mean.

I have always believed in the future. And I will look forward to it with great anticipation. Why shouldn’t I make friends with the future? After all, I intend to spend the rest of my life there.

I am intrigued by a story about a bishop back in the 1870s. The bishop had charge of a small denominational college. Annually, he visited the school and stayed in the home of the president.

The bishop was a narrow thinker with a dim view of the future. He told the school president during one of those visits that everything that could be invented had already been invented.

The administrator disagreed. “In 50 years,” he contested, “people will learn to fly like birds.”

That kind of talk greatly disturbed the bishop. “Flight is reserved for birds and angels,” he said emphatically, “and you, sir, are guilty of blasphemy!”

The name of the bishop was Milton Wright. That name may not have a great deal of meaning to you, but something else will. You see, back at home, this clergyman had two enthusiastic sons – Orville and Wilbur – who believed that our greatest songs were still unsung. The rest of the story is one of an enthusiastic belief in tomorrow. You know how it ends.

Do you believe that your greatest songs are still unsung? Will you joyously welcome tomorrow, and all the tomorrows to come? After all, the good new days are today, and better days are coming tomorrow.

Today, my grandson is taking part in Scholarship Day at Lenoir Rhyne University. He has sung many good songs making only two “B’s” during his twelve years of school. He has a 4.7 weighted GPA. This Scholarship Day may award him more scholarships so he can get into the Teaching Scholars Program and sing his unsung song of becoming a college professor. Over the years to come I know he has many, many unsung songs to sing. I pray that he sings a beautiful and uplifting song each and every day.

And so, we pray: Father, sometimes we have a mindset that we absolutely know is the right thing, only to find out that we didn’t include all you are doing in the world and in us. I remember a college philosophy professor who said: “Just when you have it all figured out… when your circle of life seems complete. Watch out, because that is when God comes and says your circle is not big enough to include all my children and all that I am doing.” Lord, I have tried to remember to never finish my circle, because I know that my small human mind is not smart enough to include your great love for humanity. Amen.

Grace and Peace

PS: Give my grandson a little thought today. Thanks

Goodness is All Around

Have you noticed how life is full of surprises? A sailor tried to find a new trade route to China and stumbled upon a new (to him) continent. Alexander Fleming inadvertently left a culture dish on a windowsill and discovered penicillin. Another scientist discovered saccharin when he noticed a strange, sugary taste in his sandwich.

I read that in 1989, an unidentified “middle-aged financial analyst from Philadelphia” paid four dollars for a painting at a flea market. He didn’t even like the painting — it was the frame he wanted. So, he took the picture apart…and when he did, a copy of the US Declaration of Independence fell out. It was folded up, about the size of a business envelope. He thought it might be an early 19th-century printing and worth keeping as a curiosity.

A few years later, the man showed the print to a friend, who suspected it might be valuable and encouraged him to investigate it. He did, and learned that only hours after finishing work on the Declaration in 1776, the Continental Congress had delivered the handwritten draft to a printer with orders to send copies of the Declaration to “the several Assemblies, Conventions and Councils of Safety and to the Commanding Officers of the Continental troops, that it be proclaimed in each of the United States and at the head of the Army.”

This was one of those original copies. No one is sure how many were printed that night; today only 24 survive, and most are in poor condition. But the one in the picture frame was in excellent shape, having spent the better part of two centuries undisturbed. In 1991, it sold at auction for $2.4 million.

Life is full of surprises…full of good things. Of course, most surprises are not nearly as dramatic as these, and it’s all too easy to miss good things, commonplace as they are. Jesse Owens, 1936 Olympic gold medalist said, “Find the good. It’s all around you. Find it, showcase it and you’ll start believing in it.”

Unexpected and pleasant surprises occur every day…random kindnesses from a stranger; would-be tragic accidents narrowly avoided; sicknesses healed…. We will notice if we look. We will see good sprinkled liberally over every day if we are open. And who knows? As Owens said, we may come to believe that goodness is all around. All we have to do is look.

And so, we pray: Father, surprise us every day with your goodness. Help us to find and see the goodness right before us and, as Jesse Owens says help us to showcase that goodness. Amen.

Grace and Peace

An Upward Looking Attitude

Newscaster Paul Harvey once related a story about a woman from Michigan who vacationed in Florida. She found a secluded spot on the roof of her hotel to soak up a few rays of sunshine, and in order to get a “total” tan, she removed all her clothing. Within a half-hour the hotel manager was beside her insisting that she covers up. She argued that nobody was in sight. He agreed. Problem was – she was stretched out over the hotel skylight.

It occurs to me that the hotel’s problems began because somebody was looking up! Which normally is an excellent thing to do. At least in attitude. But what a surprise lay in store that day for those beneath the skylight.

As you know, some folks spend their lives looking down. Downcast in spirit, they hang their heads and lead negative and joyless lives. Frankly, it’s a difficult way to live.

Others are constantly looking out. They live in fear and watch vigilantly for problems, real or imaginary, that threaten their happiness. Because they are risk-averse, they seldom challenge themselves to grow and rarely make a difference in life.

Still others seem always to be looking around. Forever searching for a better partner, a better job or a better deal, they keep a watchful eye out and seldom experience a lasting commitment.

And others yet can be found too-often looking back. They believe their best days are behind them and they have no hope for the future. They can’t fully enjoy today because their eyes are on yesterday.

But a few vibrant folks are usually found looking up. These resilient individuals have learned how to look beyond problems to solutions; beyond discouragement to hope. Their positive attitude draws others in. They see the good because they look for it. They are encouragers and, at times, their hopeful attitude inspires those around them.

For people who learn the habit of looking up, the payoff is usually satisfaction and joy. As Earl Nightingale correctly stated, “Our attitude toward life determines life’s attitude towards us.”

You can tell a lot about a person simply by noticing which direction they are inclined to look. Do they look down? Or do they look out? Maybe they are often found looking around or looking back. But there will always be some who will look up, no matter which direction others may face.

The better question to ask is, which way will we look?

And so, we pray: Father, it seems that I look in many directions depending on how I feel that moment or that day. Some days it is hard to look up, but those are the days I especially need to look up and look out to see that you are the solution to my problems. Help me to be positive in my outlook, my attitude and my walk. Amen

Grace and Peace

Victim or Victor

It’s a great temptation to volunteer as a victim. Do you know that we sign up for that job?

A man who dined regularly in his favorite restaurant complained about the bread. It wasn’t fair, he emphasized, that other restaurants served lots of bread. But here he gets only one piece.

So, the next time he came in, they served him four pieces. He still complained it wasn’t enough.

On his next visit his server brought him a dozen pieces of bread. The man still complained.

For his next visit they put a large basket of bread on the table. But still he complained. “The other restaurants give all the bread you can eat.”

They decided to be ready for him the next day. They had an enormous loaf of bread prepared. It was six feet long and two feet wide. Four people carried the loaf to his table. They plopped it down in front of him. It took up half the table and hung over both sides. The chef stood back, pleased with himself, to see how the customer would react.

He looked over the loaf and commented, “So, we’re back to one piece again, are we?” I am surprised he lived.

Like this man, we volunteer to be victims, but in more subtle ways. We believe life is unfair, people are untrustworthy, and we are getting a bad shake. We think everyone should know just how terrible things are and we feel obliged to tell them.

One man says of a friend that he hates to ask her how she is feeling because he knows ahead of time what she will say. “You get an organ recital from her,” he says. She dwells on her health problems to the exclusion of everything good in her life.

The problem is, life sometimes is unfair, and we can be victimized. But the greater truth is, people can decide whether they are victims or are victors. They can feel helpless and miserable, or they can try to feel strong. Happy people have learned that they cannot always control their circumstances, but they can often control how they will respond.

Lewis Dunning said, “What life means to us is determined not so much by what life brings to us as by the attitude we bring to life; not so much by what happens to us as by our reaction to what happens.”

You were born to be a victor! You were meant to be happy! Will you claim your birthright today?

And so, we pray: Father, I hope I don’t come across to anyone as a victim but rather as someone who has decided that I am actually a victor. People really don’t want to be a victim, always thinking live centers around them. A victor is one who recognizes all those people who continue to contribute to their life and its positive outlook. Amen.

Grace and Peace

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