Recently, while at Starbucks an impressive conversation about New Year's Resolutions occurred. Quite an impressive group of individuals gathered around a table with their favorite lattes! As they discussed their resolutions for the coming 2015, my occurred more than once! Back and forth a litany of New Year's resolutions both past and present surfaced as the boisterous conversation erupted.
#1 - "I'm going to lose 50 pounds!"
She shared her years' long struggle with weight lost. In fact, unfortunately, though tried many times the fifty pound loss never transpired; not once. I truly do wish her well.
#2 - "I'm going to get into shape!"
This week while at the local YMCA, the increase in people milling around the facility was, well, both irritating and astounding. A normal workout took twice as long while waiting for novices to finish their extended conversations huddled around fitness apparatuses.
Asking the attendant at the front desk as to the number of new membership registrations he said, "About two hundred new registrations in the last three weeks!" He then added, "Most of them will drop off, and never been seen again by February!"
#3 - "I'm going to get out of debt!"
It's quite staggering the numbers of people struggling unmanageable debt. The vast majority will never learn to manage their debt, nor eliminate it. Having pastored a bit over the years a story comes to mind.
A couple in their middle thirties came into to my office asking for help. "We just don't make enough money they exclaimed!" I asked for a list of all their debts. Over time, we compiled a complete picture of their financial situation. Ready? Here it comes. The couple's entire combined gross income totaled about $60,000 a year. Their total indebtedness stood at right about $500,000.00! They owed sixty thousand dollars in credit card debt alone. Their self-acquired financial situation proved stifling to everything they claimed to value. To this day, they are slaves to their inability to manage their finances.
To Resolute or Not To Resolute - That is the Question
Let's be honest. Most resolutions, while lofty in their aims, are never realized. Good resolutions, well-meaning resolutions, and needed life changes, which never seem to last for more than a few weeks. Why? Perhaps some resolutions are too lofty, too farsighted, or too unattainable? Maybe? Maybe not?
During my many years as a missionary in Africa, a common riddle was heard over and over again. "How do you eat an elephant?" Answer, "One bite at a time." Perhaps, a one bite at a time approach to accomplishing our New Year's resolutions is needed. Here's a thought:
#4 "So, Just get to it."
My personal New Year's resolution is to, "Just get to it!" I find that most my goals, if not all my goals, are achieved one step at a time. Inching forward regardless of seemingly insignificance is still, for me, progress. Instead of losing 50 pounds, how about starting off with five pounds? Rather than paying off all one's credit cards, what about paying off one card while not using the others? And, maybe exercising smart, starting off slowly, and being consistent might prove far more beneficial than desiring to win the Charles Atlas Trophy?
Consistent progress eventually produces results. Results realize their initial goals in final fulfillment. To begin the task, continue the task no matter how arduous, and complete the task no matter how long - is monumental.
So, in the New Year 2015, I bid you a Happy New Year. Whatever your goals and resolutions in this new year, I wish you the utmost success! So, Just get to it.
Just My Thoughts
Recently, my oldest son shared their family Christmas photo. A few days later a friend shared her children's thoughts about the picture. Upon viewing the photo, her child asked, "Why don't they all look alike?" With that innocent question began an incredible journey of learning. A journey of Q & A about foster children, foster parents, and homes:
"What Are Foster Children?"
"Foster children are kids that don't live with their mommies and daddies." It is estimated that close to half a million children in the United States are in the foster care program. Fifty thousand foster children were adopted in 2011 by American families. About 54% of these children were adopted by their foster parents. It is estimated that over 150 million children worldwide are orphans.
"Why Don't They Live With Their Mommies and Daddies?"
Explaining to young children why a need for foster care exists today is not easy. The top reasons children enter foster care are: abuse, neglect, or abandonment. The sad, tragic truth is that most children in foster care are there because their biological parent's home is not a safe place; for them.
"So, They Are Their Kids Now?"
"Yes, all those kids in the picture are their kids right now." As a foster grandfather, personally witnessing the condition of some children as they enter foster care is disheartening. But after a few weeks in a loving, caring nurturing environment, the change in a child in just four weeks, is phenomenal! Foster care is really about families helping families, and providing a safe place for kids.
"What about The Foster Kids, Will They Get Presents Too?"
These words caught my ear, "What about the foster Kids?" These children so touched by the newly learned concept of "foster care" worried about the foster children getting presents for Christmas. So, followed their next question!
"Can We Use Our Christmas Money to Buy The Foster Kids Presents?"
And, with that several young children purposed with their own Christmas money to buy foster children presents for Christmas. It choked me up a bit. Kids giving needy kids presents for Christmas. What a joyful sparkle in an often dreary foster care scenario.
A Real Gift of Christmas
The real specialness (made up a heartfelt word here) is not only in these children. It's in foster parents willing to take foster children into their home. It's about the thousands of foster parent's homes across this country. Taking in neglected, abandoned, or abused children into one's home is no small easy thing! Having witnessed it myself, one might say foster care is a most disruptive, noisy, inconvenient, and worthwhile experience. It is so well worth it! Why?
"His Eyes Smile Now"
Recently, a young small foster child came into my son's home . As we discussed this neglected child void of any verbal skills, we all agreed he seemed to adjust quickly. After four weeks the change was extraordinary. He played, laugh, and interacted with the other children. Most noticeable is his incredible smile. As my son puts it, "His eyes smile now."
So, to all the foster parents, foster families, and foster workers out there making this Christmas a special Christmas for foster children, "Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays." You are my heroes.
Just My Thoughts,
When I was a little boy many years ago, there was a very special place. I called it Grandpa's Lake. Way up in Northern Minnesota, this long narrow deep special lake was named after a president; Roosevelt Lake.
Every summer, usually the end of June, grandpa & grandma arrived in their brown Chevy, packed us all up, and took us to his lake. There, by my grandfather's skilled hand, I learned to fish. Grandpa loved trolling up and down the shores of the lake. With me on one side, and my brother on the other side of the old wooden classic boat, we enjoyed the thrill of our then young lives; the catch!
My grandfather's fishing mentorship taught me much about life. The preparation of putting all things in order before embarking upon a fishing expedition was excruciating at times. All I wanted to do was fish! The patience required in fishing constantly taught endurance. Self-control came into play upon setting the hook on a large pike or walleye. The excitement and heart-pounding was at times overwhelming. And, dealing with disappointment, for there is much of this in life, proved a valuable lesson too. Bringing a 30 inch walleye right up to within arm's reach in the water, only to have it flip off the hook and escape produced angst.
Eight years ago, after living in South Africa for more than twenty years, I moved back to that lake. My mother was in failing health, and it was a good time to be close. Often, I took my little fishing boat out on the lake once again enjoying the bounty of nature. Still enjoying the lake, this time, somehow, it had lost some of its magic. Something was gone, and I knew exactly what was missing.
You see, what made "Grandpa's Lake" grandpa's lake, was grandpa. The magic of the lake was in the magic of the person and my relationship with that person. Memories indeed are sweet, but they also possess some bitterness too. The special people who made that lake special, just about every one of them, are now gone. The lake is still there, but it does not call out to me as much any longer.
So, I'm looking for new lakes these days; lakes that will once again speak. Lakes which are located close to my sons and their families. It's within these lakes I hope to create a new grandpa's Lake. To create a new identity for a very small audience of very little people.
Perhaps, if enough time is spent in my small fishing boat, on a small lake, that lake might gain a special name too. For special little people now spend time with me in my boat these days. A boat, these little people call, Papa's Boat.
Just My Thoughts,
My daughter-n-law raises funds to buy books for libraries in Kenya. She does this remarkable thing through Usborne Books. She hosts book party after book party. Through her parties, she has personally equipped seven libraries in Kenya with books.
Recently, she received a call from Usborne asking her to talk with a school in Milwaukee about the possibility of helping them acquire reading books. So, she ventured into a place few Anglo people dare to go these days; intercity Milwaukee.
Upon arriving at the school, she was struck by the architectural beauty of the old building. She was equally as impacted by the lack of essentials for teaching and learning in the classroom she visited. The paradoxical contradiction was stark. Such a magnificent facility barren of many things; in particular, books. Wendy, the teacher, explained that she often went to the public library. There she checked out books with her library card, and brought them to her classroom. It was one of the few ways the children gained access to good books in her classroom.
My daughter-n-law offered to help. She explained that all her earnings she made selling children's books, went to assist kids in Kenya to get good books. She continued, "But . . ." and was interrupted by Wendy. The teacher blurted, "We have poor kids right here. My kids I teach come to school hungry every day. I use my money to buy food and bring it to school to feed my students in the morning. And, we have no books." "Yes, I can see that," she compassionately replied. "That's why I am going to donate all my profits to your school. To help you get more books for your students."
A Special Teacher. Perhaps, most will agree that Wendy is a very special teacher. Teachers receive some bad publicity these days. Sure, there are plenty of points in our educational system to criticize, I suppose. Yet, there are teachers like Wendy. Scores of dedicated teachers like her throughout our nation who sacrifice for our children. They deserve better because they give better. They give better to make their communities better places.
A Special Daughter-n-Law. Here is another special person! She seeks no praise for what she's done and continues to do. In Kenya, the people there offered to name several school libraries after her. She politely turned them down. "There's no need to put my name on your school libraries. I'm just happy the children have good books to read." I think of an organization I belonged to for years, Rotary International. Their Club motto is,"Service above self." Here that motto is perfectly exemplified.
Special Needs. Getting hungry students food to eat and books to read is indeed a tragically special need in this great country of ours. Here, two women are doing their part to help underprivileged students in the intercity of Milwaukee.
May their example be our example to love others more than ourselves. Wouldn't this great land be a much better and prosperous place if everyone did the same?
Just My Thoughts
Passing by her to put in my coffee order, she spoke into her phone, “This must be finished today, before my meeting in San Francisco tomorrow! This is the presentation, this is tomorrow, and today is tomorrow. This is the future. Do you understand? We must get this done.” My thoughts circled around perhaps someone in a managerial position. Maybe she was a VP at a big company pressed to meet a deadline. But, I attended to my Latte. After receiving my triple shot, extra hot, large Toffee Nut Latte, I sought for an empty chair, and sat down next to her in the only available chair in that Starbucks.
Still on her phone, she spoke in a different tender tone, “Ok, sweetie, mommy will see you in a couple of days. Yes, I wish I could see you play soccer this week, but maybe next time. Sweetie, I have to go now. I love you, bye bye.” As she put her cell phone down, she mumble underneath her breath, “My daughter, you’ll understand when I am paying for your college tuition.”
As often is my habit, I observe people. I noticed several things about this frustrated woman. First, she was a very attractive woman. Yes, I can say that because I told my wife Kathy about it! lol Second, her clothing appeared expensive. Now, I am not an expert on women’s apparel, but when I see a purse that has a Saks Fifth Avenue logo on it, I am thinking, “Not cheap.”
With that, my coffee, and my Kindle, my mind began to focus upon other thoughts. Then another outburst erupted from the woman that startled me a bit. I thought, “What must be going on in her life right now? What are her pressures? How old is her little girl right now? Is college really such an important concern today? Is the presentation really that critical? I wonder if she enjoys her job at all? Does she enjoy a satisfying home life?” My pondering went on and on over the next ten minutes or so.
At that point she noticed me, as the tables were quite close. “Oh, sorry, I am really stressed today,” she stated in a rather apologetic tone. “No, no problem. Wow, sounds like you’re really a busy person?” I replied pensively. She spent the half hour sharing all the hard work she involved herself in to provide a better future for her company, her daughter, her career, her retirement, and her ultimate happiness.
I interrupted her gently and asked “May I ask you a few questions?” She agreed and I began, “What sense of fulfillment does your job give you now? Struggling she retorted back, “Well, ah, yes, of course, it brings a lot of happiness.” "OK, that's great, but what sense of fulfillment does your job give you today; right now?" I pressed. After at least three minutes silence she responded, "None, none really." It was at that moment I brought up the concept of "living in the now."
I asked her, what do you really want to do today, right now? Her response surprised me, "Well, I just really don't have any options. I have to do this today and tomorrow. No choice." I gently pressed, "Really? You have no other choice? Isn't there always choices?" So, the conversation continued.
Towards the end of our two hour conversation she made a few phone calls. The meeting in San Francisco was rescheduled. Her clients agreed to meet another time. Airline arrangements were changed. And, mom made another call to announce her presence that day at her daughter's soccer game. I can still remember the expression of gleeful emotions exuding from phone from that little girl after hearing the news.
Sometimes, in fact I think quite often, we sacrifice the "living in the now" because of our apprehension of the future. Yet, while planning for the future is wise, none possess any assurances there. What we do possess, is right now. Right now, this very moment is a precious gift each of us reading this blog enjoys right now.
Tomorrow may never come. Yesterday is already past. Now is here. Now presents itself today. Perhaps, learning to "live in the now" is the best investment one can make for living in the future.
During my many years in South Africa, lessons on life were a constant. One constant life-lesson came from that of an elderly Zulu man named Simon Dube. Simon, whose Zulu name is Umdlandlankulu - that's why we called him Simon - taught me among many things, his Zulu language. Over the years conversing both back and forth from English to Zulu, one thing Simon seemed often inquisitive about was how I viewed the future. He often said in a rather instructive tone being thirty years my senior, "You whites from America seem to think and worry much about tomorrow." By 'tomorrow' Simon meant the 'future.' Simon often added to the question asking, "With so much to concern yourself with today, why do you think so much about tomorrow?" Simply put, Simon's entire energy always focused upon day to day living; one day at a time.
As a respected elder of his area, he often taught me in the same tone as he did the younger men of his clan. "Jabulani," he would call me by my Zulu name, "When you spend so much time thinking about this thing called the future like retirement and growing old, well, you give away your power for today. You see with your power for today, you capture the entire day. When you give away some of today's power thinking about tomorrow, you lose some of the goodness of this day, the possibilities of this day, and the problems to meet in this day."
This was vividly demonstrated when violence erupted in the township he lived just twenty minutes away from my home. At age seventy-two, Simon and his family disassembled their home and moved it to a barren piece of dirt five miles away. My visits to Simon during this time of rebuilding never ended without a small lesson in daily-living.
One particular day while assisting Simon, he proclaimed, "There, for today that is enough." My reply, "But, we've only laid twenty cement blocks for your home today." He smiled with a familiar look, and immediately I knew another one of his metaphoric personal lessons was well on its way, "Yes, you are right, we laid only twenty cement blocks today, but they are twenty very good cement blocks for this day, and there is much day to enjoy and many many more things too." Bewildered, I shot back, "But how will you ever get your house done at this pace?" He leaned back and chuckled, "My friend, the house will be finished. Of this there is no doubt. But, soon this day will be finished, and that can never return. I choose not to concern myself with tomorrow, but live in this moment in this day. That is enough." As the bewilderment on my face showed, Simon added, "Have you ever watched a bird build its nest? It never finishes building. Every day the bird adds, takes away, and rearranges. That is how I build."
Simon, a very poor man by western standards owned so much more wealth than the richest person I ever knew. For him, the day in which he awoke was all he ever possessed. No person owned more than the day in which he awoke. Everything else, whether money, things, or wealth meant nothing beyond only one day. In the twenty years I'd know Simon, he buried no less than eleven family members. He often reminded me, "Today is today, and tomorrow will become today tomorrow, so all you can grasp right now is today. Today is all anyone really has. If you concentrate only on tomorrow, the thing that you love today may never be present to love tomorrow."
I often remind myself of Simon's words when I find myself caught up with the "what about the future" scenarios. You know the worrying stuff like, "Do I have enough? How much is in my retirement account? I hope my health holds out. I wonder if this or that will be possible."
Simon taught me that the future is really is today. This day has enough happiness, challenges, rewards, pain, and worries on its own. When concerning myself too much with tomorrow's perceived issues, I willingly give away some of today's power losing ability to chew and savor every moment that the current day presents.
So, give all your power to this very day for this very day is the only day that presents its self with fullness and potential. Tomorrow will be tomorrow, and today is today, and yesterday was yesterday. Capturing today's possibilities requires all your power today. Thank you Simon Dube.
Just My Thoughts
Potluck is a regular occurrence in many communities throughout the country. During a recent potluck gathering, observations brought a number of things to mind that I think, reflect the conflicts of life rather well.
First, just a few thoughts about Potlucks. When and where Potlucks originated generates quite a lot of conversation. Up here in Northern Minnesota, I think the Scandinavians, Norwegians, and Lutherans might claim it their idea. They are very very good at it along with lutefisk, lefse, and pickled herring! Some studies make an argument for Potluck all the way back to the early days of Judaism. But, where it actually came from we are not quite sure.
Second, the term "potluck" seems to be wrapped up in its 16th century English etymology in providing a meal or provisions for an unexpected arrival of a needy visitor or stranger at one's home; hence the meaning the "Luck of the Pot."
Potluck today in the North American context often is about getting together to enjoy one another, add variety to food selections, spread out the costs of providing food for large numbers of people, showing off one's best dish, and well, the list could continue.
My observation of many Pot Lucks over the years brings some of the celebrations of the custom as well as conflict often surrounding the event. Potlucks teach me much about the challenges of daily living. And, I call it Potluck Thinking. Consider:
Potluck Thinking - People Getting Together vs. Getting People Together
Usually a Potluck is for the purpose of people just getting together to enjoy one another's company. The joy of community, family, children, grandchildren, stories of new jobs, stories of old jobs, old men telling stories, old women telling stories, the newly married couple, the newborn baby, the recent death of a friend or relative, the latest town gossip, and then there is religion, politics, and opinions. People just enjoying people is a wonderful thing!
However, often I've noticed that Potluck can be more about people getting people together for other agendas. Once, a get together was agreed upon, and as people gathered and the meal commence a few individuals began to work the tables conversing about an issue in their organization. People began to become uncomfortable and as others grew angry, it put a damper on future gatherings. Potluck turned from an innocent coming together of friends and acquaintances into suspicion and apprehension of the next event. What was it really about?
Potluck Thinking - Appreciating vs. Showing Off
I always love to try just about everything on a potluck table. The smells, aromas, textures, tastes, colors, and presentations of a dish all interest me. I've learned that the best thing about Potluck is the time and effort one puts into preparing a culinary gift for a rather uncertain group of people. Sure, friends will partake, but so will visitors and strangers. The care and time going into a Potluck creation then, is to me, an admirable quality.
Potluck Thinking - Group vs. Individual
More than once I've witnessed a Potluck lose its people-value as an individual or group made the Potluck more about themselves than the many others at the event. Once I observed an individual who traveled to every table over the course of two hours to tell his version of what he considered a very important event in his life. As he interrupted conversation after conversation a woman spoke up demanding, "Simon, not real name, why don't you just sit down and try to enjoy the meal like the rest of us are trying to do?" Simon never picked up on the hint, and continued his pester-pursuit to another table.
Here's the thing I've learned from watching people come together at Potlucks. If you're a picky eater, and you're going to pick, complain, and fuss about everything from the timing, setting, decor, presentation, venue, and taste -- well, then perhaps planning a potluck is a stupid idea to begin with in the first place? And, if the event causes so much stress that people show up to the Potluck out of sorts, upset, or angry then maybe, perhaps, that kind of Potluck is not really such a luck of the pot after all? The luck of the pot really depends of the goodness of the hearts putting into the pot in the first place. Doesn't it?
Just My Thoughts,
Quite often people say something like this to me, "I feel like I am stuck therefore I feel like I am just not able to move ahead." I've learned that statement often means, "I am not happy where I am at right now, I need to move forward, but I don't know the way to move forward. How do I move from where I am currently to where I wish to be?"
Where Are You Now?
Perhaps this sounds a bit trivial or dumb. However, listening to many many people, my take is most people can't answer this question very well. Asking the question over and over again, only one in ten come close to knowing where they currently are in life. Maybe, they know what they do for work, what activities they are involved in daily, but knowing where they are in thought, mind, and desire often many don't have a clue.
While speaking with an owner of a large construction company in South Africa, Bryan, he looked at me and said, "Ah, I just don't know Don about this job?" Now from my point of view he was quite successful at what he did. Consequently he enjoyed a nice house, nice - very nice cars, good marriage, kids in very posh colleges, and surrounded himself with all the trimmings of success. Once I asked, "So Bryan, where are you exactly in your life right now." Dumbfounded with a shrug of his shoulders, he said, "I just don't know."
Now, my grandfather loved to drive. Accordingly, he sometimes drove one hundred miles to take grandma to lunch. Therefore, every summer my grandpa showed up at my mom's house. Raised by a single mother, there was little money for extras. Grandpa and Grandma ensured that my mother, myself, and five other siblings enjoyed a vacation every summer; oh, and snoopy our dog too!
Upon his arrival in his 72 Chevy Impala, the miracle began! Slowly and precisely grandpa packed all of our belongings. Fishing rods, fishing tackle, suitcases, games, food, drinks, coolers, baseball bats, gloves, footballs, and toys all went into the trunk of his car. It always looked like a miracle, how mounds of stuff all went into that trunk. Then the second miracle began. In the back seat of his four door Chevy, six kids and our dog loaded up. With mom in the middle in the front, grandpa in the driver's seat, and grandma in the passenger's seat that totaled nine humans and one dog all in one car ready for the three hour trip to Great Grandpa and Grandma's cabin up North!
Now more than one time during those early years of my life, I asked my grandfather upon embarking on our trip, "Grandpa how do we get up North to the cabin?" Grandpa always responded, "You first have to know where you're at right now before you can look to where you're going." My early year's response was, "Why?" Grandpa expounded on many occasions that before one looks to where one is going, one first must understand where one is. This he believed important for a number of reasons.
First, the moment is all one really ever possessed. "Know what you have now, because now is all you've got!" That didn't make much sense to a ten year old, but as I've put on fifty more years, it makes a lot of sense now. The past is behind me, and tomorrow is only a hope because all I am is right here, right now.
Second, knowing where you're at is important so you can know where you came from; your upbringing, roots, and origins. Grandpa thought this important. You are who you are because you come from where you came from, and you go to where your going because of where you are right now.
Third, if you don't know where you came from, you'll never know how far you've gone, and how far you still have yet to go. He used to tell me, "Buddy, if you don't know where you're at, then you'll not be sure where you are going, and you'll never be sure if you've arrived; really all you'll ever do is wander looking for somewhere else to go." With that he gave me the old road atlas map and put me to work.
So, where are you going today?
Just My Thoughts
The words repeat themselves over and over again, "It seems all I do is work. Work rules my life." Thinking through the work-jungle environments around the world, one can easily observe that life is often designed around work rather than work being designed around life. Several thoughts:
American Workers in Particular Work More Hours than Any
Yep, that is correct. In fact, the American way of life is focused around success! And, success means you work work work! This truth I've witnessed around the world by the "movers and shakers." Someone once said to me, "Yes it's tough at the top, but it's very crowded at the bottom, and the only way to make sure you're not stuck on the bottom is through work!" While many of us work more than forty hours per week for success, a good thing, more and more careers attest to seventy hour work weeks. With two income families these days, mom and dad often spend more time commuting to work, at work, and commuting home than they actually do with their children. Is it any wonder that so many families are in trouble these days? The question is asked often is, "Just when or how does one draw the line between work and life and life and work?"
Vacations are for Many a Rarity
As an overseas missionary worker helping some of the most needy people in the world in South Africa from 1984-2006, I often worked 24/7 nonstop. After about four years in Ladysmith, South Africa one of my new friends at that time, Keith, asked me a very insightful probing painful question, "Don, pronounced 'Dawn' in his accent, do Americans never take a holiday (vacation)?" I replied, "Yah, pronounced in my Minnesota accent, all the time!" Keith continued, "For the past four years, I've never known you to take personal holiday for either yourself or your family. Do you ever take a holiday?" Keith's friendship and concern for my welfare hit its mark, and as I began to change my lifestyle, holidays or vacations with my family became a regular scheduled event.
Vacations Sometimes are not Real Vacations of Meaningful Relational Time
A very close friend of mine shares it this way. Vacation by the time it's planned, charged on the credit cards, driven thousands of miles, booked into a half dozen hotels, spending a thousand bucks on eating out, staying up late every night, tending to the kids, and then driving 3,000 miles back home while the family sleeps the entire journey, and upon returning home I just go to work the next day - IS NOT A VACATION! I might as well just stay at work! And, he does!
Real meaningful relationship-building down-time vacations require thought, simplicity, removal of busyness, and meaningful interaction. Meaningful interaction, perhaps is not best served while answering emails, voice mails, text messages, and social media.
Picture Yourself at the End of Your Life
Having performed many funerals over the years, never once were the words heard from someone during their last few moments of life, "I wish I would of spent more time at work." Or, "I wish I'd work more hours developing my career." Or. "I wish I would have spent more time being successful." Nope, never once; not even close!
Recently, while visiting an old gentleman in hospice, let's call him Bob, he began to share his story with me. Having owned and sold several businesses during his lifetime, acquired quite a bit of wealth, living comfortably with great insurance and benefits he poured his heart out, "I wish I'd done a better job with my kids." He went on to explain in great detail just what a "better job" meant. You see, Bob spent most of his life influencing people in his business world - not his wife, family, and true friends.
Probably the most revealing moment descended upon me when he said, "You see Don, during the past eighteen months of my illness and now in this hospice not one of those people in my work-world visited me even once!" In fact, only a very few of Bob's relatives came to see him as he was estranged from much of his family.
Try Minimal Living
Here's what I've learned. We don't need near as much stuff to live happily as we think we do. Do I really need a big truck, new car, big house, expensive cloths, high debt, and all the rest of my stuff if it comes before life, spouse, family, friends, and happiness? Try getting rid of stuff, down sizing, reducing debt, decreasing hours spent in multiple volunteer organizations, and giving away stuff that just sits in boxes, basements, backrooms, sheds, and other places where things go to die a slow death from lack of use.
How Do We Define "Career"
For me, career is the totality of my life. It's who I am more than what I do. Career is my relations, my marriage, my sons, their wives, my grandchildren, my investments in people's lives, my generosity, my laugh, my pain, my sharing, my brokenness, and then my work figures into the equation.
For me, designing life around work ends in a disappointing career that was nothing more than work. This result I've witnessed a hundred times or more in end of life situations. However, designing work around life produces true meaningful, rich, and full lives. Now, that what I call a CAREER!
Just My Thoughts
Recently in the community which I live, three wonderful people were taken far before their time leaving many reeling from the loss. Beyond just an occasional passing in town, I did not know the individuals well personally. Yet, I do know rather well people who were very very close to these three, and who valued their friendships deeply. It is from my friends who were their friends that I gain insight of just how much our community is going to feel the ache from this loss for a long long time. As I contemplate the empty-hole left in many people's life at this loss, I am struck by just how meaningful true friendships are:
Your Lucky If You Enjoy a True Friend
For many, close friends are rare. Yes, there are always people around. But, to have someone you can laugh and cry with, share your pain and sorrows, and travel through this life together makes you a very blessed person . If you enjoy that kind of friend, you are indeed fortunate beyond many people. It was the famous Helen Keller, blind from birth, who said, "Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking in the light alone." If you have one of those kinds of friends, consider yourself very very wealthy.
Put High Value on Your Closest Friendships
Over and over again during my short fifty-seven years of life among many cultures around the world, I've watched people lose focus on their friendships. Other less important trivial pursuits of life ouster friends into a far away place while less consequential activities crowd over busy lives.
I remember a conversation with a person years ago on this very subject. While listening to him speak of the busyness of his life, his cramped lifestyle, and his many responsibilities I asked him a question, "Frank, if your house was on fire and all your family made it safely out, and you could remove only one thing from your home before it burned to the ground, what might you rescue from the burning flames?" Without any hesitation he blurted out, "All of our photo albums of our family and friends!" That was back in the day before internet, Face Book, and all the other photo stuff we enjoy today. As I continued to look him in the eyes my obvious reply came, "So, why not clear your life now of most the other stuff, and put a high priority on your family and friends who are right next to you now in this thing called life?"
Many times people make decisions in organizations, relationships, and futures based upon a list of priorities with little consideration given to friendships and relationships. I've learned to keep my closest friendships a high priority throughout my life.
Be a Friend to Your Friend
Henry David Thoreau back in the 19th century removed himself from community for several years living by himself apart from people in total isolation just contemplating life. Concerning friendship he said, "The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend."
A story told me decades ago, whether it is true or not I do not know, was about a little girl needing a life-saving kidney transplant in the early seventies. Her eight year old brother matched almost a perfect donor. Everything was explained to the eight year old brother about how he might save his sister's life by giving her one of his kidneys.
As they laid side by side and preparations to begin the procedure were underway, the brother looked at his parents and said, "Bye bye mommy and daddy." His Dad a bit perplexed replied, "Hey buddy, we will be right here!" The brother replied, "Hug sissy for me." Puzzled, mom softly answered, "You can hug her for yourself." You see, the little brother assumed in his adolescent mind, that giving his kidney meant giving his life.
Friendship is always about giving more than receiving, and the more the reciprocal the giving to one another, the more deep-rooted friendships become.
The Fragility of Life Teaches Us to Value Our Friendships
I am often perplexed and dismayed over the meaningless, mindless, and self-focusedness over which people are willing to damage and ultimately lose their friendships. Once I witnessed two lifelong friends battle over a disagreement with each other. Each insisted the other was wrong demanding an apology and admission of guilt. Each stood their ground refusing to give into the other's demand. Walking away from one another, their silence and isolation continued for two years until one of the friends was diagnosed with a terminal fast-acting cancer. His life in this world was over in just six short months. The other man greatly regretted the time wasted over a rather petty dispute.
Life is way too short, only but a breath, to allow the petty little stuff that comes up and short circuits our relationships. One phone call can change your whole life announcing that a person someone you cared for is now gone. Value that friendship today because today, right now, is all any of us actually possess.
Deeper Pain Deeper Friendship Deeper Blessing
Having performed many funerals, I've observed on many occasions that the richer the friendship which existed between two people in life the deeper the pain seems at the lost of that friend. There appears to be a direct correlation between close friendships and pain at the loss of that friendship in death. Many times funerals have come and gone with nothing more than an obligatory almost emotionless response to the passing a person. That in itself tells me something. But, at other funerals the deep level of pain I've noticed by friends and family tells another kind of story.
More than once at an appropriate time long after a funeral, I've sat down and inquired about the person who had passed. "Please tell me about your friend," I often begin. Sometimes, their amazing stories of friendship left me tingly. I can't tell you the incredible rich stories of relationships I've been blessed to hear. Here's a thought to ponder:
Is it possible that perhaps our deep felt pain at the loss of a friend points to just how much we were blessed to enjoy such a relationship? And, is it possible that because of the loss of a close friend that the loss itself highlights forever in our lives just how special that person was to us during their earthly life with us?
Yes, the loss is tragic, the pain enduring, and the memories dripping with emotions, but the fact that I hurt so much and deeply tells me just how special that friend was and is and will always be to me - no matter what . . .
Just My Thoughts,
Don was born in North Minneapolis, Minnesota. Having served twenty-two years in South Africa as missionaries with his wife Kathy, and eight years pastoring in the United States, he shares unique perspectives about life, family, relationships, and ministry.