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

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

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

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

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

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

Hold On A Little Longer

Did you ever have a day like this? A man, cleaning one of those big cement trucks, got caught in the mixer. He climbed into the back of the truck with a hose to flush out remaining cement when his hose caught on a lever and pulled it to the “on” position. Suddenly, he found himself going round and round in the mixer with no way to escape. Slipping, sliding and banging around inside, all he could do was shout for help.

Fortunately, another worker came over and shut it off. In moments a bruised man, covered with wet concrete, emerged from the mixer. It reminds me of some days I’ve had. You know what I mean.

If you ever feel as if you are being knocked about by life, think about the amazing bird called the Water Ouzel. I can’t imagine this water bird knows what it is to have a bad day. The little creature is often found living next to violent waterfalls and fast-rushing rivers. And however threatening the weather, however cold the water, in snow and rain and even blazing summer sun, the tough and cheerful Water Ouzel can be heard chirping and singing. What’s more, while the voices of most songbirds, however melodious in warm weather, fall silent over long winter months, the hearty Water Ouzel sings on through all seasons and every kind of storm. I have to wonder: does this little creature know something we don’t?

It’s as if the bird knows that every violent storm will eventually give way to sunshine; every dark night will finally fade into dawn. And isn’t it true? Even our bleakest and stormiest times do not last forever. Like the poor man buffeted about in the cement mixer, there is almost always an end to the turmoil.

As the incredible humanitarian novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe said, “When you get in a tight place and everything goes against you, until it seems as if you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time when the tide will turn.” I have had that experience more times than I can remember.

Maybe this is one of those days you feel as if you are in the cement mixer. If so, do you need to hold on a little longer?

And so, we pray: Father, I have never actually been in that mixer, but sometimes it seems like life is spinning us around and beating us up. We’ve all been in those mixer moments when we are just about ready to throw in the towel. When that time comes, give us the courage and grace to hold on a little longer. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Staying Alive

When I was in cardiac rehab each day while we exercised, they would play over the stereo the song “Staying Alive.” It was a reminder that this exercise was helping us do just that.

“You’re having problems? No problem.” That’s what I try to tell myself when I begin to feel overwhelmed. And then I remind myself that the only people I am aware of who don’t have troubles are gathered in peaceful, little neighborhoods. There is never a care, never a moment of stress and never an obstacle to ruin a day. All is calm. All is serene. Most towns have at least one such worry-free zone. We call them cemeteries.

But if you’re still breathing, you have difficulties. It’s the way of life. And believe it or not, most of your problems may actually be better for you than you think. Let me explain.

Maybe you have seen the Great Barrier Reef, stretching some 1,800 miles from New Guinea to Australia. Tour guides regularly take visitors to view the reef. On one tour, the guide was asked an interesting question. “I notice that the lagoon side of the reef looks pale and lifeless, while the ocean side is vibrant and colorful,” a traveler observed. “Why is this?”

The guide gave an interesting answer: “The coral around the lagoon side is in still water, with no challenge for its survival. It dies early. The coral on the ocean side is constantly being tested by wind, waves, storms – surges of power. It has to fight for survival every day of its life. As it is challenged and tested it changes and adapts. It grows healthy. It grows strong. And it reproduces.” Then he added this telling note: “That’s the way it is with every living organism.”

That’s how it is with people. Challenged and tested, we come alive. Like coral pounded by the sea, we grow. Physical demands can cause us to grow stronger. Mental and emotional stress can produce tough-mindedness and resiliency. Spiritual testing can produce strength of character and faithfulness.

So, you have problems – no problem. Just tell yourself, “There I grow again!”

And so, we pray: Father, many times it is hard to realize that fight for everyday survival helps us to grow strong and stay or come alive. Help me that I could reach deep within to truthfully say when challenges come, “I I grow again.” Amen.

Grace and Peace

Look for the Gift

Writer Richard Bach says, “Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.” I don’t always see that gift, I admit. But I remember reading about Glenn Cunningham when I was a child. His life bore the truth of it…every problem indeed has a gift for you. The trick is learning to find it.

In 1916 young Glenn and his brother Floyd were involved in a tragic accident.  Their school’s pot-bellied stove exploded when the boys struck a match to light it. Somebody had mistakenly filled the can with gasoline instead of kerosene. Both boys were severely burned and had to be dragged from the schoolhouse. Floyd died of his injuries and doctors predicted that Glenn would be permanently crippled. Flesh and muscles were seared from both of Glenn’s legs. His toes were burned off his left foot and the foot’s transverse arch was destroyed. Their local doctor recommended amputation of both legs and predicted that Glenn would never walk again. He told the boy’s mother that it may have been better had he died. 

Glenn overheard the remark and decided that day that he WAS going to walk, no matter what. But he couldn’t climb from a wheelchair for two years. Then one day he grasped the white wooden pickets of the fence surrounding his home and pulled himself up to his feet. Painfully he stepped, hanging onto the fence. He made his way along the fence, back and forth. He did this the next day and next – every day for weeks. He wore a path along the fence shuffling sideways. But muscles began to knit and grow in his scarred legs and feet.

When Glenn could finally walk, he decided he would do something else nobody ever expected him to do again – he would learn to run. “It hurt like thunder to walk,” Glenn later said, “but it didn’t hurt at all when I ran. So, for five or six years, about all I did was run.” At first it looked more like hopping than running. But Glenn ran everywhere he could. He ran around the home. He ran as he did his chores. He ran to and from school (about two miles each way). He never walked when he could run. And after his legs strengthened, he continued to run, not because he had to, but now because he wanted to.

If there was a gift in the tragic accident, it was that if forced Glenn to run. And run he did. He competed as a runner in high school and college. Then Glenn went on to compete in the 1932 and 1936 Olympics. He set world records for the mile run in 1934 and 1938. By the time he retired from competition, Glenn amassed a mountain of records and awards.

“Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.” And if not every problem, then just about everyone. Even spectacular sunsets are not possible without cloudy skies. Troubles bring a gift for those who choose to look. And since I can’t avoid my problems, why waste them? I should look for the gift. My life will be far, far richer for finding it.

And so, we pray: Father, I am not wanting problems in order to find the gift inside them. What I do need is your Spirit to guide me in such a way that when problems come I may be able to look passed the problems to see the gift inside them. And when I see the gift, help me to have the courage to reach out and seize the gift. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Nothing Personal

A humorous story tells about a speeding motorist who was caught by radar from a police helicopter. An officer pulled him over and began to issue a traffic ticket. “How did you know I was speeding?” the frustrated driver asked.

The police officer pointed somberly toward the sky. “You mean,” asked the motorist, “that even He is against me?”

It’s like the man who said, “It feels like the whole world is against me…but I know that’s not true. Some of the smaller countries are neutral.”

When we have a problem, it can often feel as if everything in our life is going wrong. We may tend to think that everybody is upset, that nobody cares or that everything is falling apart.

I like what psychiatrist Theodore Rubin says: “The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.” 

If having problems feels like a problem to you, it may not be the problems themselves, but the way you think about them that is the problem. Specifically, you may have destructive beliefs about problems, difficulties and hardships. To think more clearly and to get through tough times more effectively, try letting go of these destructive beliefs:

1. Let go of the idea that your problem is PERMANENT. Few troubles last forever. And those few that cannot be solved can usually be managed. Remain hopeful that you will find a way to solve or manage the situation and “all will be well.”

2. Let go of the idea that your problem is PERVASIVE. Don’t make your problem bigger than it is. Few problems affect every area of your life. When something is going wrong, it does not mean that everything is going wrong. There is still very much that is good and working well in your life and you don’t want to lose focus of that fact.

3. Finally, let go of the idea that your problem is PERSONAL. There is nothing wrong with you because you have a problem. All capable and successful people have plenty of troubles. They have learned to make friends with problems, for difficulties are a normal part of life. If you have problems, it only means one thing: you’re still living. And that can be pretty great in itself.

Remember, your problem is not permanent, it is not pervasive and it does not personally diminish who you are. Let go of these three destructive beliefs and you may be amazed at how much better you feel already. In fact, you are on your way to becoming an expert at handling problems.

And so, we pray: Father, so many times we do think that our problems are personal… that somebody (maybe everybody) is out to get us… even you. Help us through all these problems knowing that you are walking with us through every valley. Amen.

Grace and Peace

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