Got Humor

I once read a story, purported to be true, of a motorist who was caught in an automated speed trap. His speed was measured by a radar machine and his car was automatically photographed. In a few days he received a ticket for $40 in the mail along with a picture of his automobile. As payment, he sent the police department a snapshot of $40. Several days later, he received a letter from the police. It contained another picture — of handcuffs. He promptly paid the fine.

Who hasn’t received a traffic violation? There are many ways to respond to those inevitable irritations of life, and one of the best is to find some humor. (Though he’s probably fortunate the police had a sense of humor, too.)

One comedian used this as strategies for successful living. This comedian has known hard times, yet he once summarized his attitude this way: “You can turn painful situations around through laughter. If you can find humor in anything… you can survive it.”  Like aging. He says that all things shift when we age. Even the mind. It slips from the head to the behind. There’s proof of this, he tells us. When you walk into a room to get something or to do something, you forget what you went after. You see, your mind has left. “But then you sit down and – bingo! – you remember what it was you wanted. Therefore, your mind must have slipped down to your behind.”

Growing older is a wonderful thing, especially if you’re young. But what if most of your years are behind you? There are some things, like growing older, that can’t be changed. And one of the best ways to respond to things that can’t be changed is to find some humor.

My wife and I don’t hear as well as we use to, but this we find humorous. We watch a commercial and we look at each other saying: “They didn’t say that did they?” We turn on the closed caption so we can understand what they are saying in our favorite shows. We have started watching a new show called The Andy Griffith Show. We laugh at and with each other more than we ever have.

Then there’s Katie. Katie was a young woman with a great, big problem. She was a teenager dying of leukemia. Katie’s mother told how her daughter approached her disease. She told about a time, shortly after a bone marrow transplant, when Katie’s head was “slickly bald,” as she put it. One day Katie heard the doctor coming on rounds and ducked into the bathroom. Her mother heard her giggling and asked, “Katie, what is so funny?” 

She put her finger to her lips, pulled a Nike ski cap onto her head and crawled into bed. 

When the doctor came in, she said, “Well, Miss Katie! How are you feeling today?” 

Katie frowned and said, “I am OK, I guess… but I just have this splitting headache.” She pulled off her ski cap and there on her bald head was a huge red crack, which she had drawn with a marker. As the doctor recovered from her initial shock, the room exploded in laughter. 

Katie did not survive the cancer, but she conquered depression and despair and found an authentic way to live as fully as possible her last months of life. 

There are many ways to respond when life takes a serious turn, but even then, perhaps especially then, one of the best is to find some humor. “It DOES help!” 

Mark Twain says that the human race “has unquestionably one really effective weapon – laughter.” Laughing at the twists and turns of life may not be your first response, but it can be one of the best. 

And so, we pray: Father, help us to find humor wherever and whenever we can. Help us to us it as a way to cope with all the problems we may be facing. One of the things I was taught early in life was not to take myself to seriously. I have used humor all my life – in everyday life, even in the sermons I preached each Sunday. Thank you, O Lord, for giving me the gift of humor. It truly is a gift. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Suffering Changes Us

We are changed, sometimes in unexpected ways, by the problems of life.

One of Canada’s most famous physicians was Dr. William Osler. Many stories are told of this beloved doctor, but one of the most revealing comes from World War I.

Friends recalled the day when Osler was working in one of Britain’s military hospitals during the war. He was called out of the wards during his daily rounds to be given an important message; his own son had been killed on the fields of France.

Stunned by the news, he still came back to pick up his rounds. For a long period afterward, he was noticeably different. And those who knew him best said that he changed as a physician that day. The cheerful note was gone from his voice and never again did friends hear the tune which he so often whistled as he went from ward to ward.

Though these things never returned, something eventually came to take their place. Everyone noticed a new compassion in his care of the soldiers who each day streamed in from the battlefield. Before, he had the professional concern of the physician, so important to the practice of medicine; now there was an added discernible note of a personal compassion, like that of a father for his son….

Like most people who have experienced such losses, Osler must have spent considerable time in grief. But as he healed and integrated the loss into his life, it left him a different person. 

Pain will do that. It changes us, often in unexpected ways. It can leave us angry and broken, or, as in the case of Osler, it can bring forth qualities such as compassion or tenderness. It is as if the physician channeled his pain into energy and love for others, caring for them as he would care for his own child.

Helen Keller, who found a way to thrive though she went through life both sightless and deaf, knew plenty about suffering. She wisely said, “The struggle of life is one of our greatest blessings. It makes us patient, sensitive, and Godlike. It teaches us that although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

Yes, the world is full of suffering. We can’t avoid it no matter how hard we try. But it is also full of examples of people, like you and me, getting through it. Those who overcome great challenges will be changed, and often in unexpected ways. For our struggles enter our lives as unwelcome guests, but they bring valuable gifts. And once the pain subsides, the gifts remain. 

These gifts are life’s true treasures, bought at great price, but cannot be acquired in any other way.

And so, we pray: Father, I am sure there is not one person who want to suffer… none of us invites it into our lives in order that we may be blessed with spiritual gifts. We wonder why we can’t have these gifts without the price of suffering being paid. If sickness comes into our lives, help us to use it as a gift of the spiritual. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Lucky or Prepared

A little boy wanted a taste of molasses from the large barrel by the door of an old-fashioned country store. He slid a box beside the barrel, stepped up on it and leaned over the rim as far as possible, stretching out his finger toward the sweet goo below. He stretched and strained and toppled headfirst into the barrel.

Dripping with molasses, he stood up, lifted his eyes heavenward and was heard to utter, “Lord, help me to make the most of this fantastic opportunity!”

Most of us will never fall into a barrel of opportunity. We won’t be awarded a great sum of money, we won’t be offered a “dream job,” we won’t have all of our needs suddenly provided for. We can spend years waiting for opportunity to knock only to find that we wasted precious time wishing for something to happen that never was to be.

Yet some people seem to luck into these things, don’t they? It’s as if they were in the right place at the right time and they just fell into it.

But that is not the way it happens. Those people who seize opportunities others seem to miss, find them for one specific reason: they have trained themselves. People who seem more fortunate than the rest of us are those who have taught themselves to look for possibilities in every circumstance and every obstacle.

I think David Boren, president of the University of Oklahoma, is such a man. Years ago, Boren learned from professional pollsters that he would most likely lose his state gubernatorial race and lose it big. The professional polling agency he hired reported his strength to be only about two percent of the population.

Many people would quit the moment they receive such news. And in truth, that was his first reaction. Could anything good come out of such a bleak situation? But he had trained himself to look for opportunities, even when confronting great obstacles. He stayed in the race and approached his campaign in a different way. He told his listeners, “I had a professional poll taken and it shows I’ve got great potential for increasing my support!”

That may sound a good deal better than it is. But he didn’t give up and people began to listen to what he had to say. Boren eventually won the election and served as governor of the US state of Oklahoma.

People who spot opportunities may simply be people who have trained themselves to look for the best possible outcome in every situation and act on it. It takes a different way of thinking.

My son has just been promoted to be the manager over all IT in his company. Over two-hundred people applied, but they knew him, his work ethic, his dedication to his work, his integrity in all he said and did. He is a truth teller, even when many see it a different way… and I believe his superiors appreciated his truthfulness. He is not a brown-noser by any stretch. His is not lucky… he was prepared for the promotion and his company realized it.

To everyone else it may just look like you’re lucky. But you will know better.

And so, we pray: Father, we have been taught all our lives to be prepared for opportunities that come our way by doing the little things well today… being the person of integrity, even when no one is looking. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

The Boots

I relate well to the comment made by speaker Barbara Johnson: “Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.” I know that if I can keep the motor idling, it will be ready to go when I need it.

For all who are teachers or training to become a teacher, this story is for you. A kindergarten teacher practiced keeping her motor idling. A story has it that she was helping one of her students put his snow boots on. He asked for help and she could see why. With her pulling and him pushing, they finally succeeded, and she had by now worked up a sweat. She almost whimpered when the little boy said, “They’re on the wrong feet.”

She looked and, sure enough, they were. It wasn’t any easier pulling the boots off, and then she had to wrestle the stubborn boots on again.

Just as she finished lacing them, he announced, “These aren’t my boots.” She bit her tongue to keep from screaming, “Why didn’t you say so?”

Once again, she struggled to pull off the ill-fitting boots. He then calmly added, “They’re my brother’s boots. My mom made me wear them.” She began to realize how close she was to stripping her gears as she struggled with the boots yet again.

When they were finally laced, she said, “Now, where are your mittens?”

“I stuffed them in the toes of my boots,” he said.

She may have been the same teacher who once commented about a particularly difficult child in her class, “Not only is he my worst behaved child this year, but he also has a perfect attendance record.

A Dutch proverb observes, “A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains.” I may never have to worry about having a bushel of brains, but I can sometimes muster a handful of patience. And that should be enough.

And so, we pray: Father, I think I have run into that little boy with the boots – matter of fact, I think I most likely have been that little boy. Help all of us to have patience, especially those teachers and those seeking to become teachers… there will always be that little boy. Give us a handful of patience. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Do You Remember?

James was cleaning out the attic one day when he came across a ticket from a shoe repair shop. The date stamped on the ticket showed it was over eleven years old. He felt sure the shoes would not still be there but decided to stop by and check anyway.

He handed the ticket to the man behind the counter, who scowled at the date. “Just a minute,” said the clerk. “I’ll have to look for these.” He disappeared into a back room.

After a few minutes, the clerk called out, “What do you know – here they are!”

“That’s terrific!” said James, hardly believing his good fortune.

The man came back to the counter, empty-handed. “They’ll be ready Thursday,” he said.

I hope James is the patient sort.

We should all be masters of patience; after all, we’ve had plenty of practice. But mustering patience with unreasonable people (including ourselves) may seem more than we can manage some days.

I heard about an elderly patient in an American hospital who was recovering from a medical procedure. He decided to take a look at his recovery-room record attached to the bed frame. He leafed through the pages, then stopped at one particular notation and furled his brow in consternation.

“I know I was in a bit of a muddle, but I didn’t realize I was that bad,” he said apologetically to his nurse. “I hope I didn’t offend anyone.”

She glanced to the spot where he pointed. “Don’t worry,” she said. “SOB doesn’t mean what you think. It stands for ‘short of breath.’”

But I suspect that in some cases it does have a double meaning. Especially if the patient is in pain, fearful or just plain out of sorts. (And that goes for some of the hospital staff, too.)

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, “I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.” But we don’t always get our own way. And patience can be taxed beyond reason. 

Where does understanding come from when it feels as if there is nothing left?

It can come from the simple act of remembering. To remember is to understand. It is not about gritting one’s teeth and forcing oneself to be more patient. It is actually easier than that.

Do you remember what it was like to be a child? No parent should ever forget. And to remember is to understand what your child may be going through or feeling.

Do you remember what it was like to be a student? Every teacher should try to remember, and especially if they feel frustrated – what is really happening in the life of that student and what would I be feeling in this class at this time?

Do you remember what it is like to be a patient? Doctors and nurses show more empathy after they have also spent time in a hospital bed.

Do you remember what it was like to be lonely? To be first? To be last? To fail? To succeed? To be afraid? To remember is to understand.

And to understand is to be patient.

And so, we pray: Father, I recall the words of Martin Luther when he said: “Remember your Baptism and be thankful. I seem to not remember that which is important or remember what I was feeling when I was in those same young shoes. Help me to remember that I may be more caring and more understanding of those around me. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

The Most Common Craving

Do you know what the most common craving is among pregnant women? (I’m sure this is factual.) The most common craving among pregnant women is not spicy food, pickles or ice cream. Not even close. It is for MEN to get pregnant.

Why? Because then they would know what it is like. Then they might be more patient. What most women need during times of cravings, discomfort, swollen ankles and morning sickness is…understanding. Much of our conflict is the result of MISunderstanding. 

As a new bride, one woman moved into the small home on her husband’s ranch in the mountains. She put a shoe box on a shelf in her closet and asked her husband never to touch it.

For 50 years he left the box alone, until his life partner was old and dying. One day when he was putting their affairs in order, he found the box again and thought it might hold something important.

Opening it, he discovered two doilies and $82,500 in cash. He took the box to her and asked about the contents.

“My mother gave me that box the day we married,” she explained. “She told me to make a doily to help ease my frustrations every time I got mad at you.”

Her husband was touched that in 50 years she’d only been upset enough to make two doilies. “What about the $82,500?” he asked.

She explained, “Oh, well that’s the money I’ve made selling the doilies.”

Making doilies might take your mind off the problem, but nothing will change if you don’t address it. The path from conflict to love is not by way of arts and crafts, it is through the gates of conversation and understanding.

You’ve heard it said: “Love is patient and kind.” Patient and kind, yes, but love is also understanding. Maybe that’s what makes it so lovely.

And so, we pray: Father, I wonder how many doilies my wife has made, and what we can do with all that money? I know there is misunderstanding all the time because most of the time I just don’t get what she means… so I ask her to be straight forward – tell me what you really mean. Over the years I hope there have been less and less doilies made. Help me to understand, O Lord, that I may be a better person who really cares for all of your children. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Who Listens?

Two psychiatrists met at their 20th college reunion. One was vibrant and enthusiastic. He looked younger than his years. The other appeared withered and fatigued and walked with the stoop of the aged. “So, what’s your secret?” the tired-looking psychiatrist asked. “Listening to other people’s problems every day, all day long, for years on end, has made an old man of me.”

The younger-looking one replied, “Who listens?”

Unfortunately, that is too often a problem with the rest of us, isn’t it? Who listens? I mean, REALLY listens?

A woman who lives in New York writes:  that her 22-year-old electrician son Joe went to Manhattan a few days after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center buildings. He wanted to volunteer his time but discovered that his skills were not needed.

But it turns out that Joe was able to help in a way he never anticipated. For on the train ride home, he sat across from a weary firefighter who was also traveling home from the scene of the disaster. The firefighter was covered in what appeared to be “ground zero” dirt and debris. Though Joe could see bits of rock in the man’s hair and noticed that his hands were bloody, but what worried the young man most was the look in the firefighter’s eyes. They appeared lifeless and dull.

Then the man, apparently in shock, began to talk and Joe listened. Joe soon forgot his own disappointment about not being able to volunteer his skills that day as he listened to the gruesome story the firefighter related.

The man told about retrieving a shoe with a foot inside. Joe listened. He talked about cleaning debris from a face, then discovering that this person’s body was gone. Joe continued to listen without flinching. He did not react in disgust. He did not judge. He did not interrupt. He just listened.

He listened as the firefighter lamented about the carnage everywhere and about shoes…there were so many shoes, he said. Everywhere…shoes.

Through it all Joe quietly held the man’s attention and listened, which is exactly what the rescue worker needed at that moment. And because he listened, the man continued to speak. He talked his pain out, as much as possible. In the presence of a stranger, he tried to put his world back in order, to make sense of the day’s chaos. And Joe, for that time at least, helped him carry his unbelievably heavy burden.

That day Joe did not give blood, nor did he use his electrical skills to help with the relief effort. But he did one of the most important things a human can do for another. He gave a stunned and disheartened man his whole attention, and thereby, in a small but vital way, assisted in the work of setting the world right.

Mary Lou Casey says, “What people really need is a good listening-to.” It’s not always easy. And, at times, it may not be fun. In fact, listening closely to another often turns out to be difficult work. But day in and day out, attentive listening may be one of the most important and satisfying ways we can spend our time.

It’s true. What people really need is a good listening-to.

And so, we pray: Father, I try to listen, but I am afraid I fail to often. I am tankful for the times I really listen – not for me, but in helping the person who values me enough to come and talk. Give me the heart to really listen, because I really need a good listening-to. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

To Judge or Love

“Whenever I dwell for any length of time on my own shortcomings,” says writer Margaret Halsey, “they gradually begin to seem mild, harmless, rather engaging little things, not at all like the staring defects in other people’s characters.” That’s funny, and more true than I care to admit. It must have been so with members of the US Congress in the early 20th Century. Many of them seemed less concerned with their own piddling shortcomings and preferred to wail about a staring defect in the senator from the state of Utah, Reed Smoot. So outraged were they, Smoot almost was not seated in the senate.

Reed Smoot was a leader in the Mormon (LDS) Church and, back in those days, his church was accused of secretly allowing the practice of plural marriages (polygamy). Although Smoot had only one wife, some of the more sanctimonious members of the senate argued that he should not be seated, given the beliefs of his church.

But the issue was settled when Senator Boies Penrose of Pennsylvania strode to the podium and looked directly at some of his colleagues who, though married, were known to “womanize.” He stated emphatically, “As for me, I would prefer to have seated beside me in the Senate a polygamist who doesn’t polyg than a monogamist who doesn’t monog.” End of matter.

I understand there are times we have to be discerning. But I don’t want to be known as a judging person. There is good and bad in all of us and I have plenty to work on in my own life. 

Besides, I think Mother Teresa got it right when she said: “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.  And, it should be added, if you love people, you have no desire to judge them. Substitute the word “love” with the words “understand” or “know,” and it works just as well. If you understand people, if you know them, truly know them, you have no desire to judge them.

Losing the desire to judge – now that can change a life.

And So, we pray: Father, I am afraid that I am to quick to judge before I am tempted to love. I have so much self-work to do that I could stay very busy at that for a thousand years and still not be where I need to be. I, myself, have so much to be judged on – I am so blessed to know that You, O Lord, have chosen to love me instead. Help me do the same with all my brothers and sisters. Amen

Grace and Peace
Steve

Do We Really Want to Listen?

The story is told of Franklin Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. 

One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who came down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests responded with phrases like, “Marvelous!” Or, “Keep up the good work.” Or, “We are proud of you. God bless you, sir.”

It was not until the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Not quite knowing what to say, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming.”

There are several reasons that no true listening can ever take place in a fast-paced receiving line. Music, noise and the activity of other people can be distracting. What’s more, the purpose of the line is more for a quick greeting rather than concerned listening. And one more thing…folks are more intent on getting out what they want to say to the president than listening to what might be said to them. But I wonder…did they WANT to hear what he had to say?

All my life I’ve carried a mental picture of my grandfather Melvin the way I saw him so many times – stooped over, head bowed low, intently listening to whomever he was chatting with. He was a tall man and a bit hard of hearing. The reason for his unusual posture was no doubt to get his ear closer to the speaker’s mouth,(especially a six-year-old on the way to fishing in the pond across from their home) but it gave the illusion that, for a few minutes at least, he wanted nothing more than to listen carefully to every word the other had to say. 

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought and attended to my answer.” The way my grandfather listened was as if he were paying the speaker a supreme compliment. His body language said, “Here, let me get a little closer and listen. I truly want to hear what you have to say.”

The key to good listening isn’t technique, it’s desire. Eye contact is helpful. So is asking pertinent questions, paraphrasing to be sure you understand, refraining from interrupting or changing the subject – all of these techniques are helpful. But the best way to ensure that you will listen well isn’t in HOW you listen, it’s mostly in simply wanting to understand.

I believe that is the crucial question: do we WANT to understand? Until we truly want to understand the other person, we’ll never listen well. 

And so, we pray: Father, Help me to really want to listen to all who want to speak to me, especially help me to really listen – enough to understand and care. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Knowing How They Feel

It was the late 1940s. Eastern Airline’s chair, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, had a problem. Customers were complaining because the airline was mishandling luggage far too often. When nothing else seemed to work, he decided to take drastic action. 

Rickenbacker called a special meeting of the management personnel in Miami. Eastern’s management flew to Miami and was told their baggage would be delivered to their hotel rooms. It wasn’t. Instead, Rickenbacker had the luggage stored overnight.

It was a hot and humid summer and the muggy hotel had no air-conditioning. Various corporate managers showed up to the meeting the next morning unshaven, teeth unbrushed and wearing dirty and wrinkled clothes.

There was no sign of the baggage all that day. But it was delivered that night, at 3:00 a.m., with a loud pounding on hotel room doors.

Rickenbacker opened the next morning’s session by saying, “Now you know how the customer feels when you mishandle his luggage.” He knew his team would be ineffective until his people learned to empathize with their customers. 

Psychiatrist Karl Menninger put it like this: “It is hard for a free fish to understand what is happening to a hooked one.” That is why Rickenbacker wanted his employees, starting with his management team, to experience what it is like to be hooked.

When we understand another’s problem, we will be more effective in business and personal relationships. And if we’re ever hooked ourselves and someone who “gets it” reaches out to help, something wonderful is likely to happen.

And so, we pray: Father, many times it seems like we just skip through life not really seeing or caring how other people feel – what they are going through. Help us to see their real need – have empathy for where they are and what they feel – really feel. Only then can we change our skippy attitude to one that kneels down to lift up the hand of someone in need. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

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