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
Steve

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
Steve

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
Steve

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
Steve

Respect

One wife waited patiently, then impatiently, for her husband to repair the lawn mower as he had promised. One day, not wanting to confront him in anger, she tried another tack. That was the day he came home and found her seated on the ground snipping grass with sewing scissors, one blade at a time. He watched in absolute amazement. Then he went into the house and returned with a toothbrush.

“Honey,” he said, “when you finish cutting the grass would you mind sweeping the sidewalks?”

They both laughed. And, more importantly, he turned his attention to the mower.

We’ve all been there. We want to encourage a child to do her homework, or a spouse to complete a project, or a colleague to follow through. How can we encourage without criticizing, nagging, berating or pushing?

Maybe because I’m the one that occasionally has to be nudged, I’ve learned a few important things about the finer points of positive motivation.

First, whenever possible, try to keep it light-hearted. The careful use of humor can work in any relationship to make the point in a way it will be heard. Sometimes we are so frustrated we know that however we say it, it will be bound to come out wrong. These are especially the times when humor may be needed.

Second, without exception, be polite and respectful. Sometimes it’s more about how we say it than what we say. Too much of the world is run on the theory that you don’t need road manners if you drive a five-ton truck. No one wants to be forced, pushed, run over, cajoled or manipulated. They want to be respected.

Finally, as often as you can, show appreciation. Novelist Arnold Bennett had a publisher who boasted about the consistently exceptional work of his assistant. One day while visiting the publisher’s office, Bennett struck up a conversation with the valued employee. He told her what her boss said about her work. “What’s your secret?” he asked.

“It’s not my secret,” said the assistant, “it’s his.” She went on to tell him that her boss always acknowledges and appreciates everything she does, regardless how insignificant. That is why she finds it so easy to take pride in her work. The appreciation of her employer nudges her toward constant improvement.

These are a few of the finer points of positive motivation. And even if motivation is not your purpose, respect and appreciation, topped off with a little humor is bound to improve any relationship.

And so, we pray: Father, I have tried to be respectful with those who work for and with me over the years. I haven’t always succeeded in being as positive as I could have been. Forgive me for failing to be respectful in all my dealings with your people, and help me to go forward with greater respect in all my dealings. Amen

Grace and Peace
Steve

How We Walk

A friend tells this story: I spoke casually with a woman who served tables at a restaurant I frequented. We knew each other by first name only, but usually chatted for a few minutes each time I dined there.

One day, she asked me, “Do you have a son about eight years old?”

‘What has he done?’ I thought. I nodded yes.

She pressed on. “Does he play soccer?”

When I said that he did, she asked if he played in a game the previous week at a particular field. Again, I answered, “Yes.”

“I thought so,” she smiled. “I saw him and thought he must be your son.”

Since there were tens of thousands of young boys in the city, I was amazed and exclaimed, “I didn’t know he looked that much like me!”

“Oh, I didn’t see his face,” she said smiling as if she were keeping a secret.

“Then how did you know he was my son?” Now I was puzzled.

“I was just sitting in the car, and I saw a little boy in a baseball cap walking across the field to join his team. He walks like you.”

Walks like me? Now I was curious. How do I walk? Since I’m doing the walking, I don’t notice how I look to others. Maybe I could watch him amble around to get an idea.

His story made me question, how we walk down a street and how we walk through life are very different things. Perhaps I can’t help how I walk down a street, but I want to be intentional about how I walk through life.

Through life, I want to walk gently. I want to treat all of life – the earth and its people – with reverence. I want to remove my shoes in the presence of holy ground. As much as possible, I want to walk in peace.

I want to walk lightly, even joyfully, through whatever days I am given. I want to laugh easily. I want to step carefully in and out of people’s lives and relationships. I don’t want to tread any heavier than necessary.

And throughout life, I think I would like to walk with more humility and less anger, more love and less fear. I want to walk confidently, but without arrogance. I want to walk in deep appreciation. I want to be genuinely thankful for life’s extravagant, yet simple, gifts – a star-splattered night sky or a hot drink on an ice-cold day.

If life is a journey, then how I make that journey is important. How I walk through life.

But still I wonder how I look when I walk down a street.

And so, we pray: Father, Help me to walk in steps that would bring praise to you and grace to my brothers and sisters in this world. Help me to always walk in peace. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Moving the Goalpost

Alfred E. Neuman, mascot for Mad magazine, once said, “Most people don’t know what they really want – but they’re sure they haven’t got it.” It might be true that a great many people do not think they have what they really want…or need.

I have a friend who likes to say, “Enough is a moving target.” When do we have enough? Enough money? Enough love? Enough time? Enough influence? Enough respect? Enough of whatever we think we need to be happier. Maybe we got that new job or bought that car we had been waiting for. Perhaps we found a relationship that was exactly what we sought for so long or settled into a life we thought we always wanted. Maybe we got that advanced degree or finally moved away from parents and now live on our own.

We should be happy, right? And for a while, we are. But how often do we eventually discover that the shine is gone, that somehow we don’t seem to have enough? What changed? Chances are, we are victims of the phenomenon that “enough is a moving target.”

The job no longer satisfies. The relationship no longer fulfills like we had expected. All those things we had for so long thought would bring lasting contentment just don’t seem to be enough because somebody moved the target.

And here’s the truth: our age is characterized by the ABILITY to get what we want, and the INABILITY to want what we’ve got. Our age is characterized by discontentment.

In 1988, one woman won twenty-two million dollars in her state lottery. Her family and friends gathered around her. Television lights blazed. Even the network news showed up. She was ecstatic. “This is the happiest day of my life!” she announced.

And you know the rest of the story. A mere five years later she was shown again on television shaking her head in disbelief. In no time at all she went through a divorce, the alienation of her children and a financial investment that turned sour. A judge garnished her lottery winnings for the rest of her life. The closing scene showed the woman sitting on the steps of an apartment building in utter despair.

She had won $22 million. Not that it should have made her happy, but it certainly was not enough to save her from unhappiness.

Don’t hear me say that happiness comes from material possessions. I don’t believe it for a minute. You already know that the most important things in life are probably not things at all. But happiness, at least in part, does come from a deep appreciation of what we already have, both material and immaterial. It’s never about getting what we want – somebody keeps moving that target. It’s about appreciating whatever it is we have.

You probably have the ability to get what you want. And you likely have everything you need to be completely satisfied. But do you also have the ability to want what you’ve got?

That just may be one of the most important questions you will ever answer.

And so, we pray: Father, my happiness is not found in the things I possess… for I possess very little. I don’t long for that bright red sports car or that home over near the country club. Those may be nice, but they will not make me happy. I have found my happiness is found in my family and in the assurance that you, O God, walk with me every step of my journey. Keep walking with me and holding my hand. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Extravagant Gift

I’ve known several morticians over the years. Without exception, they’ve each had a rich sense of humor. The ability to laugh is probably necessary in some professions, and those who work with corpses likely head the list. Otherwise, how could they stand the grief and pain felt by every family that walks through the door?

I once heard of mortician who liked to sign all his correspondence: “Eventually yours.” That gets right to the point.

Humor is something I can get serious about. It is nothing less than an extravagant gift – to be frequently used and shared. Evangelist Billy Graham said that “a keen sense of humor helps us to overlook the unbecoming, understand the unconventional, tolerate the unpleasant, overcome the unexpected and outlast the unbearable.” That’s serious stuff.

A friend says: “In the summertime, I like to ride my 150cc scooter instead of driving the car. I enjoy the breeze in my face and sometimes find myself smiling for the pure joy of it as I zip along.

But my scooter has a major flaw. It was not made for uneven surfaces. Its single, mushy shock absorber is almost useless as the bike grinds and scrapes at every unexpected bump and hole in the road.”

A life without humor is no better at getting through life’s bumps and jolts than that scooter. It groans and complains at any unanticipated obstacle thrown in the path. And there is plenty of debris along the way. There will be obstacles in life’s road at every turn.

The problem is not that there are problems. There will always be rocks in the way. And where there are no rocks, watch out for a pothole. No one ever promised a smooth ride. As Katharine Hepburn said, “Life is hard. After all, it kills you.” Problems are not the problem. It’s that when we think the way should always be smooth, every stone we hit feels like a personal assault.

We need resources to absorb life’s shocks. And a good sense of humor is one tool we can’t live without. The ability to lighten up is invaluable when we encounter teeth-rattling jolts. It helps us “overlook the unbecoming, understand the unconventional, tolerate the unpleasant, overcome the unexpected, and outlast the unbearable.” And it’s just plain fun to carry along on the ride.

Maybe musician Corky Siegel got it right when he said, “Life is too important to take seriously.”

And so, we pray: Father, I’ve had that little 125 Honda motorcycle. I hit a lot of rocks, barely missed many potholes, and run out of gas. It was cheap but it brought its own set of problems… I found it to be dangerous for me… so, I sold it right away. I still hit rocks and potholes, but in a car, they are easier to maneuver. Thank you for giving me the gift to not take myself too seriously… to look for the humor as an extravagant gift. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

PS: Back on January 9th, I mentioned my son has been promoted to IT Manager over all IT in his company. Well, I was half-right. He is over all IT in his company… but he is IT Director. Well done, son.

Excuse or Gift?

I have a friend who says he is going to change his telephone voice message greeting. He wants to say, “Thank you for calling. I’ve been making some changes in my life. Please leave a message. If I don’t call you back soon, you’re one of the changes.”

I don’t know if he ever got around to it. But I do know that making personal changes is often what life is all about. We’d better learn how to welcome change if we want to live fully.

Do you remember this story? Two men came from similar backgrounds. They both grew up in “dysfunctional” homes. An alcohol-addicted parent raised them both. They both endured numerous hardships as a result of the many problems brought about by their unstable home lives.

As adults, however, their lives looked quite different. One of the men couldn’t seem to keep a job for long. He was frequently let go for alcohol-related problems. He was married for a while, but his wife could not live with him any longer and eventually left. He felt hopeless and believed himself to be a failure.

A reporter interviewed him as part of an article she was writing on the effects of alcoholism in the home. She asked him, “To what do you attribute your present circumstances?”

“Given my background,” he replied, “what do you expect?”

The other man held a steady job. He enjoyed a stable marriage and home life. He was involved in his children’s lives. Overall, he felt productive and useful.

“To what do you attribute your present circumstances?” the reporter asked him, referring to his obvious success.

“Given my background,” he replied, “what do you expect?”

Naturally, our past will shape our present. Our backgrounds are crucial in determining the kinds of decisions we will make as adults.

But in this case, both men were shaped in different ways by their past. One slipped into those old, familiar patterns and recreated them as an adult. The other was determined never to repeat what he had experienced as a child. The first man felt helpless to change. The other used his background as motivation to make needed changes.

It’s true that we are products of our past. We are shaped by our parents, by our backgrounds and by pivotal people in our lives. We are products of our past. But we CAN make changes.

Like someone said:

“You may not go back and make a brand new start, my friend –

But you can start right now to make a brand new end.”

Psychologists now tell us that our difficult backgrounds can actually make us more resilient. Hardships can make us strong and give us needed motivation to be different in the future. A difficult background can actually be no less than a marvelous gift.

It comes down to one question: do I use the hard times in my past as an excuse or as a gift?

And so, we pray: Father, Most of us are thankful for the life we were given – how we were raised and the character of those who raised us. Many things go into the mix of influences that help to shape our worldview and mindset. We can look at our life now and make excuses or see it as a gift. However we see it, help us to start a brand new end. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

A Little More Hope

Thomas Watson, former CEO and chairman of IBM, was famous for putting the word “THINK” on prominent walls of every IBM building. The tradition has carried on into modern times. Not long ago in a restroom at IBM’s Watson Center, a supervisor placed a “THINK” sign directly above the sink.

The next day, when he entered the restroom, he glanced at the sign.  Just below it and immediately above the soap dispenser, someone had carefully lettered another sign that which read: “THOAP!”

How often do you laugh at work? Actually, humor can make a serious difference. In the workplace, at home, in all areas of life – looking for a reason to laugh is necessary. A sense of humor helps us to get through the dull times, cope with the difficult times, enjoy the good times and manage the scary times.

Case in point: six-year-old Hannah. Hannah encountered one of the most frightening times of her life when she discovered she had cancer. Six years old and she might not live. And if she were to give life a shot, Hannah would have to endure painful, almost endless medical treatments. At one point she lost all her hair due to chemicals pumped into her tiny body. On days when she felt strong enough to get out, she often covered her head.

One day while shopping with her mother, Hannah donned a ball cap with a fake ponytail sewn into the back. Unless one looked closely, she looked as if she had a full head of hair. Before long Hannah noticed a small boy staring at her as if he were trying to figure out what was slightly off about the girl. She tried to ignore him, but he followed her around the store. Finally, she ripped off her cap revealing her shiny, hairless head. In a stern voice she warned, “This is what happens when you don’t eat your vegetables!”

I don’t know what became of the boy, but I suspect he is now a committed vegetarian. As for Hannah, her sense of humor helped get her through one of life’s scariest times.

Like entertainer Bob Hope once said, “I’ve seen what a good laugh can do. It can transform tears into hope.” And sometimes, a little more hope is all we need.

And so, we pray: Father, many times life gives us circumstances which brings tears to our eyes. Sometimes those tears help to clear our vision where we can see your hand reach out to us. Through your Spirit, give us a little more hope… turn our tears into laugher. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

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