Don’t Stop Growing Up

I recently read about a study of ninety top leaders in a variety of fields. Interviewers were trying to determine just what it is that sets leaders apart. They discovered that, for one thing, those who rise to the top of their professions share a never-ending capacity to develop and improve their skills. The key concept here is “never-ending.” They know how important it is to always increase their knowledge and hone their skills.

But what about the rest of us? Author M. Scott Peck said, “All my life I used to wonder what I would become when I grew up. Then, about seven years ago, I realized that I was never going to grow up — that growing is an ever ongoing process.” I agree. Growing, learning, developing… the process is ongoing. And those who want to live fully will intentionally make learning and growth a lifelong habit.

I once visited a church member who had just celebrated her 80th birthday. She talked with much enthusiasm about a quilt she was making for her great-grandson Loren. She was almost finished — everything except the center square which she had saved for last. She wanted that to be something special that Loren would particularly like, so she asked him what he would like her to make for the all-important center piece. The little boy replied, “I would like a turtle, please.”

The problem was that she had never made a turtle and wasn’t sure if she could. So she tried to redirect him. “How about a dog?” she suggested. “Or a house?” She had done those before.

But little Loren, too young to sense her discomfort, persisted. “No thank you, Gramma. I think I would like a turtle.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like something else? You see, I don’t think I know how to make a turtle.”

Now this was something he didn’t expect. Gramma, who seemed to know how to do everything, even make quilts, didn’t know how to make a turtle.

At first he looked perplexed. Then he must have thought of the many times his own parents encouraged him, because what came out next welled up from a desire to be helpful: “Well, Gramma,” he said pensively, “I think you’re old enough to learn.”

Gramma laughed. “Yes, I suppose I’m old enough to learn.” And since she was a believer that she could do whatever she set her mind to, she set it to learning this new task. When she finished the quilt, it had a turtle right in the middle.

My friend was especially proud of that quilt. And she discovered that Loren was right: she was old enough (and she was also young enough) to learn.

You may or may not want to be a top leader in your field. It doesn’t matter. But when you decide to explore new directions every day, to never stop learning and growing, the most wonderful things can happen.

Grace and Peace


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Face To Face With the Wall

In light of the death of honorable men and women at the Abbey Gate, I offer these words from years ago.

The Journey

This weekend seems to always draw my thoughts back to Vietnam, my time there, what I went through, what we all saw and did… and those who were killed in action, many in the prime of life, in that far away place.

I wasn’t over there (in Khe Sanh) long enough to know the names of many people – I was so new and so scared I am lucky to even remember my own name. I can check out some of the many web sites for our unit (Lima Co. 3 Bn 26 Marines, 3rd Marine Division) and learn the names of those killed in action in Feb – April 1968.

There were two Marines whose death caught my attention. One young Lance Corporal had thirteen days to go before heading for home. He had spent almost thirteen months in combat and he was killed in action just before heading for…

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Staying Calm; I’m Working on it.

snow sea man beach

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As an airport skycap checked through a customer at curbside, he accidentally knocked over the man’s luggage. He quickly collected the fallen bags and apologized for the mishap. Unappeased, the traveler burst into an angry tirade, raging and swearing at the skycap for his clumsiness.

Throughout the traveler’s rant, the baggage handler calmly apologized and smiled. The livid customer continued to berate the man, even as he turned away and headed for his gate. Through it all the baggage handler smiled and remained calm.

The next customer in line witnessed the incident and marveled at the skycap’s professionalism and self control. “I have never seen such restraint and humility,” he said. “How do you keep your cool when somebody is attacking you so viciously?”

“It’s easy,” the skycap answered. “He’s going to London, but his bags are going to Tokyo.”

I won’t recommend that we use revenge to relieve stress. But let me tell you about someone who has found a way to go through most of his life unfazed by the turbulence that affects most people.

He is one of the calmest people I’ve ever known and he describes how he keeps his cool no matter how turbulent a situation becomes. He says, “It happens.” And that’s the way I try to look at most of what happens to me.” With that philosophy, this guy, one of our best friends, goes through life with a serenity I can only envy. As my wife said to me while we were driving in a downpour (25 mph) on I40 last Sunday: “Just sit back and go with the slow flow of the traffic.” Back in the early 80’s we were heading for Myrtle Beach… driving way to many miles over the speed limit… angry with all the slower traffic. That day I found out that, after all that reckless driving – all that built up tension – we arrived at Myrtle Beach 15 mins earlier. T’aint worth it. Didn’t enjoy the trip… didn’t see any scenery. Was not calm. Now that I am a crusty old man I drive slower, enjoy the drive and the trip. And when we get there I am still calm. Now days you can tell the people who pass me on the highway appreciate my cautious driving by the hand gestures they make as they pass.

Another friend likes to say things like, “A rude customer has no power to make me angry; he just fusses.” And, “A mistake I made has no power to make me upset; it’s just a chance to do better.” He shows how we can truly find calmness in the midst of chaos.

Eminent 20th Century American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a short prayer that has been reprinted countless times. Bill Wilson, co-founder of the support group Alcoholics Anonymous, became familiar with the prayer about 1941. He edited and adapted it, and then circulated it with the title “Serenity Prayer.” You are likely familiar with his version:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

The prayer has been a great help to many hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people over the years. I say it to myself quite often. And the truth of the matter is that there is much which cannot be changed. We can’t do anything about this evening’s traffic. Another person’s reaction is not something we can control.

Furthermore, we may have made any number of mistakes that we probably regret, but they are in the past and that is something we cannot change. Reliving the past does not help us change the future. This one I fight with all the time.

There’s a certain power in calmness. And those who learn to accept with serenity that which they cannot change will find power to change those things they can. I am still working on it everyday. How about you? Are you remaining calm in the midst of it all? I pray we are all getting better at it. Lord knows, the world needs much more of it.

Grace and Peace,


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An Adventure

Steve - Ordination Junaluska

One man says it really happened. At the conclusion of his medical exam, the doctor asked him if he would please call in the next patient. So, he opened the waiting room door and called, “Mrs. Colchester, please.” Then he left the doctor’s office.

He had walked some distance along the street outside when he heard Mrs. Colchester’s voice behind him, “Where are we going?”

She knew she was being called, but she misunderstood the intent. I wonder if she made it back in time for her appointment.

There are times I can relate to her. I, too, have experienced “callings” in my life, though mine have taken the form of callings to a certain vocation or a particular life-direction. And sometimes I’ve been confused about exactly where I am going when following that voice and just as uncertain about where I may end up. It was extremely difficult at times to remain in that calling… but I knew that the calling was real.

It’s an old-fashioned word, “calling.” It can mean a profession or line of work. Or even a strong inner urge or impulse. In my case, callings have led me to dedicate myself to something I believed I was meant to do in life. My wife didn’t like it at first… when I announced I was entering the ministry she had an every-loving fit. I gave in to her at first but finally had to make the decision. I believe she adjusted and loved what I did… as long as she didn’t have to fit the old role of a pastor’s wife. It all worked out for forty years.

Oprah Winfrey says this about callings: “I’ve come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that’s as unique as a fingerprint – and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.”

It is a satisfying thing when we feel called to a worthy purpose. How beautiful (and how rare) it is to believe we are doing just the thing we’re meant to do in this life. But is it realistic to think we must do THE ONE THING we were meant to do? How about doing ONE OF THE THINGS we are passionate about? Let me explain.

Consider a Swiss Army pocketknife. It is a multipurpose tool. It can cut, saw, file, snip and open up cans and jars. With it, one can turn a screw, pull out a splinter, pop the cork in a wine bottle and even pick one’s teeth. (My advice: never leave home without one.)

You and I are more like Swiss Army knives than butter knives or steak knives. We can DO more than one thing. We can LOVE more than one thing. We can BE more than one thing. Likewise, we may be called to more than one thing.

Like Swiss Army knives, we have options. Ours is to discover those truly worthwhile things we feel led to do and be – things we love, that are life-affirming and deserve our best – and then to commit to them, to give ourselves over fully to them and pursue them with joy. That is what it means to be called. And that is how to make a life count.

But beware of this about callings: they may not lead us where we intended to go or even where we want to go. If we choose to follow, we may have to be willing to let go of the life we already planned and accept whatever is waiting for us. And if the calling is true, though we may not have gone where we intended, we will surely end up where we need to be.

It is like an adventure. Are you ready?

Grace and Peace

Words of Wisdom From Ole Festus


One grizzled westerner says, “Ain’t no horse can’t be rode; ain’t no cowboy can’t be throwed.” Problem is … some people seem to be riding most of the time while others sit in the dirt discouraged.

Why is that? Why do some people seem to have an easier go of it than others? Why do some people seem to find their place while others never quite “get it together”? And why do many average and ordinary people accomplish extraordinary, or at least notable, things while others expect that they will never really amount to much?

There is not a single quick and simple answer to these questions. But I have discovered that there is one factor that is crucial, one thing that plays an indispensable role in whether we will spend more time riding the horse or sitting in the dirt. This factor is more basic than raw talent or hard work. It is more fundamental than one’s background or intelligence. It has to do with the reasons why some people are able to compensate for poor backgrounds and others do not, why some intelligent people lead healthy and happy lives while other smart people flounder.

What is the one, single factor that makes the greatest difference whether one will lead the life they want or be disappointed again and again? In my experience, that factor is CONFIDENCE.

In his article How ‘Average’ People Excel (Reader’s Digest, 1992), Alan Loy McGinnis tells about how Thomas J. Watson, Jr. learned to make good things happen in his life. Watson’s father was founder and longtime head of IBM. But young Thomas was a lackluster student who even needed a tutor to get through the IBM sales school. He recalls that he had no distinctions and no successes.

Then he took flying lessons. What a feeling he experienced soaring above the clouds! He soon learned that he was good at flying – very good. He plowed everything into this “mad pursuit,” as he fondly called it, and gained self- confidence. From that point on, his life took a significant turn.

Watson became an officer in the US Air Force during WWII. Though not brilliant, he discovered that he had an orderly mind and an unusual ability to focus on what was important and to put it across to others. These were traits he would build on.

Watson went back to IBM. With his new-found confidence he eventually became chief executive of the corporation and took it into the computer age. In 15 years he increased IBM’s revenues almost tenfold.

Confidence is a life ingredient that is essential to success and wholeness. It is perhaps the single most important trait that enables seemingly average people to do and become all that they can. And the good news is – it can be learned. No one has to suffer a lifetime of low confidence.

Have you heard about the little boy sitting on the bench at his team’s baseball game? When asked by a concerned parent if he was discouraged that his team was behind 14 to nothing, he responded, “Discouraged? Why should I be discouraged? We haven’t been up to bat yet!”

With confidence like that, it was going to be an exciting game.

Grace and Peace

Our Brokenness Helps To Complete Us

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Edward Fischer writes in Notre Dame Magazine (February, 1983), that a leper in Fiji (or, more correctly, a sufferer of Hansen’s Disease) followed the leading of his twisted hands. He became an internationally known artist. “My sickness I see as a gift of God leading me to my life’s work,” he said. “If it had not been for my sickness, none of these things would have happened.”

As a young girl, Jessamyn West had tuberculosis. She was so sick that she was sent away to die. During that time she developed her skill as a writer and authored numerous novels in her lifetime.

That great author Flannery O’Connor suffered various ailments – lupus struck her at 25 and she walked only with the aid of crutches for the final fourteen years of her life. She noted, however, that this illness narrowed her activities in such a way that she had time for the real work of her life, which was writing.

Some people succeed in spite of handicaps. Others succeed because of them. I am not telling you anything new when I say that our problems help to make us what we are. Those who suffer often learn the value of compassion. Those who struggle often learn perseverance. And those who fall down often teach others how to rise again. Our troubles can shape us in ways a carefree existence cannot.

A story is told of an Eastern village that, through the centuries, was known for its exquisite pottery. Especially striking were its urns; high as tables, wide as chairs, they were admired throughout the country for their strong form and delicate beauty.

Legend has it that when each urn was apparently finished, there was one final step. The artist broke it – and then put it back together with gold filigree. An ordinary urn was thus transformed into a priceless work of art. What seemed finished wasn’t, until it was broken.

So it is with people. Broken by hardships, disappointments and tragedy, they can become discouraged and cynical. But lives can also be mended. Put back together well, they won’t be just like they were before. Damaged pieces reassembled with a golden bonding of patience and love will help form a person into an exquisite masterpiece. It is as if people have to be broken before they can become whole and complete.

If you feel broken remember this – you are a work of art. As a work of art, you may never be finished, but that is the process of a lifetime. And your very brokenness serves a purpose.

Remember this, too: Every time you decide to mend, you become a little more complete. And a little more beautiful.

Grace and Peace

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Find Many Reasons to Laugh Everyday

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I read that a child laughs 400 times a day on the average, while an adult laughs only 15 times. Which puzzles me – what do you think the children are laughing at?

During one particularly dark period of my life I didn’t laugh even 15 times a day. Not nearly. For a variety of reasons, ranging from anxiety in my personal life to overwork and exhaustion, I was depressed. I may not yet have recognized it as depression (later I did), but now I can see that the signs were there.

My self-loathing surfaced once when I found myself driving alone on a cold Spring afternoon to spend a couple of days with colleagues on a work-related planning session. “I don’t have time for this!” I said out loud, and berated myself for not saying no. I was leaving my spouse to contend with children by herself while my daily work piled up in my absence. I felt submerged by an ocean of problems, professional and personal, with no chance of finding any way out. Everything looked bleak.

I met my colleagues for supper the first evening. To my surprise, we sat around the dinner table telling funny stories. We related real-life incidents that had happened to each of us. I had to admit, even in my despondency, that it was good to laugh. And those turned out to be some of the funniest stories I had ever heard! My anxiety melted as I relaxed and I found myself laughing hard – harder than I’d laughed for years.

The next day we worked, but we also played. We invented games using whatever recreational equipment we could lay our hands on. The sheer fun of playing, something else I hadn’t done for far too long, awakened something within me I thought I might never feel again.

The following day I returned home and I felt better than I had in months. Though it eventually took a lifestyle change to lift the depression for good, laughter became a key ingredient of that change. I determined then and there that a therapy of laughter would become a permanent part of my life. I’ve held to it, and have found that regular and hearty laughter is essential if I want to maintain inner peace and good health.

I had discovered a great truth about laughter – it is good for the body, the mind and the spirit. It’s a natural stress reliever. Have you ever laughed so hard that you doubled over, fell off your chair, spit out your food or wet your pants? (Yes, I’m not proud to say, I have.) You just cannot maintain muscle tension when you are laughing.

Author Norman Cousins used to say that laughter is so beneficial for your body that it is like “inner jogging.” Numerous studies have shown that laughter is good for your heart, it boosts your immune system and promotes overall good health.

The good news is that you are not limited to 15 laughs a day. You’re allowed hundreds of laughs. What might happen if you doubled the usual adult rate and tried to laugh 30 times today? Can you do it? You’ll probably notice an immediate difference in how you feel.

Then try to laugh 50 times a day. By this time you will begin to notice an improvement in your relationships.

But don’t stop there. What if you could find 100 reasons to laugh every day? You can do it by surrounding yourself with people you feel good around, looking for humor in daily life, taking a minute to remember what’s funny and even keeping a journal of whatever makes you happy.

Find 100 reasons to laugh. You are bound to feel better, you will cope with problems more effectively and people will enjoy being around you.

Besides unhappiness, what do you have to lose?

Grace and Peace

They Are ALL Our Children

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The reporter was amazed. He looked at the grieving man and said, “I thought she was YOUR child.”

The man replied, “No, but aren’t they all our children?”

“Hurry, my friend,” the man urged, “my child is still alive.” A moment or two later he pleaded, “Hurry, my friend, my child is still breathing.” A little later he said, “Hurry, my friend, my child is still warm.”

When they got to the hospital, the young girl was gone. “This is a terrible task for me,” the distraught man said to the reporter. “I must go tell her father that his child is dead. He will be heartbroken.”

I think that is one of the great questions of our age. Aren’t they all our children? It is a question that deserves an answer.

Aren’t they all our children? Those who live under our roof and those who reside with another family? Those to whom we are related as well as those whom we have never known?

Aren’t they all our children? Those on our side of the border as well as those on the other side? Those of our nation no more or less than those of another?

Aren’t they all our children? Those who worship like us and those who worship differently? Those who look like us and those who do not?

Aren’t they all our children? The well-educated and the under-educated? The well-fed and the under-fed? Those who are secure and those who are at risk?

Aren’t they all our children? The highly valued and highly esteemed as well as the castaways and the lost?

Aren’t they all our children? Aren’t they all our responsibility? ALL of them? Ours to nurture? Ours to protect. Ours to love.

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that the survival of our world hinges on the answer to that question.

To say they are NOT all our children is to condemn the world to more struggle – family against family, group against group, nation against nation.

Aren’t they all our children? If we say yes, can we ever again pit them against each other? “If we have no peace,” said Mother Teresa, “it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Aren’t they all our children?

There may be no greater question for our generation. And how we answer that question will determine the shape of our world for years to come.

Grace and Peace


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