Catalyst

Learning from Life and Leadership

I’m Bored:  Three Blessings of Boredom

 

lightstock_231852_full_robert_taylorAre you bored?

We hate boredom. We find anything to fill the time. How many pounds accumulate due to mindless eating due to boredom pack? How many hours get wasted in front of mediocre TV shows? How much trouble have teens found just to “have something to do”?

Do you remember when you were not bored? Mothers once shooed their children outside to beat summer boredom. What happened with nothing to do?

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Holding On: Four Perspectives to Keep You Sane When Your Life Is Insane

plant in rockA few years ago, my life turned down a blind alley. It wasn’t one event, but a succession of events.

  • My elderly father fell which resulted in his moving to an assisted living center.
  • My daughter was going through intense stress and needed our help.
  • One night in December, my father had a massive stroke and was gone within an hour.
  • spent the next few months dealing with his estate (something I was ill-equipped to handle).
  • Doctors diagnosed my father-in-law with severe dementia. He moved three times until he settled in a memory care center.
  • had four surgeries. (I had never had surgery in my life.)
  • My father-in-law passed away.


When I look back at what I just wrote, it gives me shivers. Somehow, we made it through. In the aftermath, I reflected on what it took to stay sane in an insane world.

Four phrases capture a survivor‘s mind.

Make it through today. Jesus said, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34b) In the darkest days, I got up every morning with a
simple goalJust get through the day. I did not know what tomorrow would hold, but I could work through the next 18 hours. When my head hit the pillow, that day was over.


Just get through the day. I did not know what tomorrow would hold, but I could work through the next 18 hours.


Others are in worse shape that I am. It is easy to fall into a “pity party.”
Someone has said many are dying of terminal uniqueness. “ At times, we feel like no one has had our kind of trouble. When you look around, many are worse off than you are. They are dying of cancer. A child they loved diedChildren go to bed hungry; families are left fatherless from a drunk driver, and so on. Before you buy the cake for the pity partylook around. In comparison to many others, you are blessed.

In ten years, this won’t matter. While there are life-altering events, many of life‘s anxieties are nothing but emotional dew on a summer earth. I have always tried to ask one simple questionWill this make any difference in 10 years? If I say “maybe” or “yes” I get to work. If the answer is no, I let it go. Many of my problems did change my life, but they leave a residue, not a scar.

Be still and know that I am God. Humans strive to control their lives. When circumstances steal it from us, we drag our fingernails across the spiritual pavement trying to hold on to any sliver we can. Inevitably, David’s counsel in Psalm 46:10 remains. We don’t control life. We only live it. We did not decide the day of our birth and neither will we decide the day of our death. Many of the good things we receive are not of our doing, but are quiet gifts mistaken for accomplishment. In the depths of difficultiesstop your life. Sit still. Listen to the still small voice of God and simply respond.

am four years past the onset of my whirlwind. Life is different, but the ripples have calmed. I have learned to think in a different track. When life gets insane, you cannot change your circumstances, but you can change your perspective.

Find Out About Area Scams

Everyone is a victim of scammers. They make contact and tell you:

  • They had money to claim from an old account.
  • The IRS was about to arrest them if they did not pay up (by going to a website and listing information).
  • Their bank was having a problem with their account. Go to xyz.com and log-in.
  • A relative has been put in jail or robbed of all their money, etc. (This is usually a phone call). All you have to do is send a wire, money order, or even just your bank account information to help dear Johnny get out of the slammer.

All of those are popular and prevalent.

The Better Business Bureau had added new tool to their website to track scams in your area.

Click on the link at the top for Scam Tracker and you get a map (which can be zoomed in and out) and find out the scams happening in your area.

scam tracker

You can get information about the amount of scams taking place, the nature of them, and how to avoid the scam artist.

It is a helpful way of dealing with a difficult problem.

Putting the Brakes on Identity Thieves (after the funeral)

My father passed away in December of 2012. Apparently, identity thieves knew about it.

I had to deal with a fraudulent tax return filed in his name, bank accounts set up in his name and credit cards applied for in his name.

While that happened at the very beginning, I read one hint that really helped. Notify credit bureaus of someone’s death to stop someone from using their name for credit.

How do you do that? Here are the steps below:

Write a letter to all three credit reporting bureaus. Below is a sample letter and the addresses of the “big-three” bureaus.

This letter is a notice that (deceased name)  passed away on (date of death). His/her credit records should reflect this fact and inquiries should communicate that to the parties which are seeking credit records. This information is effective upon receipt of this letter.

Below are the pertinent facts:

Deceased Name.

Deceased Mailing Address

Date of birth: (deceased dob)

Date of Death:(deceased dod)

Social Security Number:  (deceased SS#)

My name is (your name and mailing address). Cell Phone: (your phone number in case contact needs to be made). I am (relationship to deceased) and have power of attorney.

I have enclosed the following documentation:

Death certificate

Copy of stateDrivers License

Copy of Power of Attorney 

Send the letter to all three bureaus by certified mail requesting delivery receipt.

While this seems like an unnecessary act (especially under duress), it stops potential fraud. I know what because last week (30 months after my father’s death) I was notified by a credit card company denying the opening of a credit account in my dad’s name. It is still protecting us after all this time.

I hope this helps you prevent some headaches when you are in the throes of grief.

How to Keep Lightning from Becoming Lightning Bugs

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” (Mark Twain, The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain)

Words are the weapons of human thinking. They express fear, despair, hope, and triumph. Yet nothing is worse than the wrong word.

Lightning

It’s not about the size of vocabulary but the quality of vocabulary. Advertising emphasizes subtle differences. Nude is not the same as naked. Hope is not the same as wish. While most people see them as the same thing but men a
nd women each see them differently.

As Twain noted, (see quote above). Too many times, communicators (whether writers or speakers) reach into their quiver and find a dart when they need an arrow. The right word hits the heart rather than falls to the ground.

How do you keep lightning from fizzling into a lightning bug?

Avoid jargon at all costs. Jargon is a verbal shorthand that is encrusted with the tarnish of overuse. No one knows what “gamification” really means. I have served on educational committees for local schools. You cannot wade through the halls without getting bit by the verbal mosquitoes of “school talk.” No one (and I suspect that means the person using it) know its true meaning. Just don’t use it.

Make the ear an eye. Our visual channel is our most immediate and most powerful. Listen to a recording of an old radio serial program. People would sit glued to the radio, staring at it like it was moving. To them, it was. The words were vivid and easily imagined. If people cannot see what you are saying, you are not saying it well. Make your words paint a picture in the mind’s eye.

Adjust the dial on the spectrum. Most words have degrees. Anger wears many masks including irritation, pique, anger, and rage. Love wraps itself in the mantle of comfort, romance, sensuality, or fondness. Make your words specific. Find the precise emotion you want the reader or listening to feel.

Stay simple. While the 19th century style was full of flourish, “long” words confuse. It was said of Kipling, that at the height of his career, each word he wrote was worth 25 cents. Some young collegians (with more time than talent) wrote Kipling. They included 25 cents and said, “send me one of your best words.” Kipling replied with a simple word, “Thanks.” The simple elegance of the easily understood trumps the intellectual peacock.

How do you develop the ability to use the right word at the right time?

Have good conversations with people who use words well. They may not be as educated but may have a better grasp of how to talk with people.

Read (or listen to) good books. Most good authors speak to the minds and hearts of their readers. Their use of words is their livelihood. Pay attention to what they say, how they say it , and how it affects you. Then, imitate.

Get someone to help you. Too many times authors of written works or speeches fall in love with their own work. They caress it like a newborn baby and protect it from the “cruel world” of the the critic and the confused. It was said of Lincoln he would have his White House maid read his speeches before delivery. He wanted to know what was unclear, misunderstood, and confusing. His best editor was the simple who would listen. Those average listeners are your best editors.

Lightning bugs flit for a short time but lightning transforms the sky. Let your words be lightning rather than lightning bugs.

Get Off Life’s Scales

balanced rocksSomeone told you a lie, a real whopper. You became an adult and attended a seminar, read a book, or got friendly advice. The lie is simple.

“You need to maintain life/work balance.”

You stepped on life’s scales and the pans never get even. You tried the golden equations of equality. Eight hours at work, eight hours of sleep, and eight hours for the “important” stuff. But the math never works. There’s more work to do than time available. Family crises arise. You wake up one morning with a fever.

Todd Henry wrote an excellent book called Die Empty. In it, he describes the myth of life/work balance. He maintains people were never designed for balance but for rhythm. Life has its rhythms.

Listen to ancient wisdom describe it:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

Solomon’s listing of life includes no balance but rather the back and forth of a child’s playground swing. Sometimes life is rushed followed by a season of slowness. The busy fall of harvest is always followed by the solitude of winter. Such is the rhythms of life.

So how does this relate to your life?

I’ve met many people who like to use the word “burnout.” It’s a terrible feeling. Numbness sets in. Apathy puts its arm around you as a constant companion. Life tastes like sand.

Most take an inventory which says “you are out of balance.” Some complete charts to show they are empty or full. Both, while seemingly intuitive, miss the point of living.

Instead of seeking balance, find the equilibrium of life. Where are you right now? is it busy at work? Work hard and get it done. Once complete, rest. Turn off your phone. Don’t check your email. Take your kids or grandkids to a park and just rest. Let work go.

If you have a family emergency, put all your energy into it. Devise a system (either through an assistant or co-worker) to limit your involvement until you get through the problem.

Whatever season it is, acts appropriate to the season. If it is sowing, spread seed. If it is weeding, take the whack at it. If it is watching the snow fall, admire the grace of the flakes.

Step off the scales of life/work balance. Find the season of life, do your best, and move forward to a new season.

The Survivor Who Saved Others

Courage2

April 16 has different means for many people. For Jews around the world it marks the Day of Remembrance, a time to pause to remember the horrors of the Holocaust. Its whispered theme is “never again.”

The Holocaust was real for Liviu Librescu. As a child in his native Romania, Nazi guards herded him and his family into the ghetto of Foscani. About 300,000 Jews died in the coming years due to the forced labor and terror.

Liviu had keen skills in math and could think in abstract forms and was a natural for an engineer. After working at an aerospace factory in Communist Romania, he wanted more. The Israeli government pled his case, allowing his family to come to America in 1985. He enrolled in postgraduate work, completing his studies in 1994. His alma mater was Virginia Tech.

On April 16, 2007, Liviu had to endure another horror. A gunman killed 32 people and wounded 17 others.

As an engineering teacher at Virginia Tech, Liviu heard the “bang-bang” of a Glock handgun echoing down the hallways of Norris Hall and the footsteps were coming toward his classroom full of students.

At the door, the 76-year-old survivor of the Holocaust, put his body against the door. A push and shove but he did not let it open. The gunman fired through the door panel, killing Librescu but moving onto other classrooms. His students to whom he was lecturing a few minutes before his death all survived.

Life is difficult, and, at times, senseless. Solomon mulled over existed with the word “emptiness” ready at his lips. That becomes an excuse not to help, not to aid, not to save. The pain of past suffering stifles many. They do not speak up about faith because of what people might think. They slink into the shadow of silence because it “might embarrass” or “I might be rejected.”

Some men survive the unspeakable abuse and pain. That becomes their springboard to help others. No one asks us to stand in front of a door to face a crazed killer. Many times it only requires us not to be silent of the evil around us.

Several young people have their lives in front of them because of a single action of a mild-mannered solid mechanics professor who had memory of the Holocaust. Whose destiny will be affected by what you do or refuse to do?

When Not to Throw a Fit

Flexible

Our granddaughter (who is about 9 months old) has found her temper, especially when put in a car seat). She bows her back and expresses great displeasure through crocodile tears and ear-splitting screams. Once in the seat, she’s just fine.

Part of growing up is learning independence. Part of growing mature is learning adaptability.

I have thrown my share of fits in my life (which I hope is in the past). Few are hills to die on or battles worth fighting.

Someone has observed, “blessed are the flexible for they will never be bent out of shape.” Sometimes, schedules change. Lines grow long (and frustrating). Lanes of traffic get closed. Doctors run late. Reservations get cancelled.

You can decide to flex you anger. Seldom will it help. The only person it will truly hurt is you. Stress and residual rage are acidic to the soul.

Instead, prepare now for things that will upset your applecart. (Or as has been said, “hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”0

Ask, “what difference does it make?” Most things don’t. If you look backward, few irritants have long-term impacts.

Ask, “how can I still accomplish my goals?” The proverb says, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Find that way and you will be happy. Does something need to be reschedule? Do details need to altered (time or place)? Is there an alternate route?

Ask, “what’s the blessing in this?” If you find yourself stuck in a waiting room, use the time to think, meditate or pray. If you complain you just don’t have the time, the Lord may be providing the moment. Don’t fume through it.

No one can stop interruptions in life, but you can decide on your response. By the way, if you haven’t figured out the title of this post, the answer is “never.”

The Ten Year Rule

IStock 000003273034XSmall

Jaws tighten and fists clench. You’ve just received another visit from  frustration! Its knock is never preceded by an engraved announcement. It just shows up at your door.

  • You are running late. You turn the key only to hear a “click, click, click.” The battery is dead.
  • The shirt you were planning to wear is at the bottom of the hamper.
  • The project you have put time into suddenly gets cancelled.

What do you do with frustration, anxiety, and just plain pique?

You can try many remedies but let me propose one which involves a change of perspective.

Stop and breathe. Then ask a single question.

Will this make any difference in 10 years?

Seldom do the things that kick our mood out of shape matter enough linger for ten years. Most evaporate like a shower in July.

One critical lesson for all to learn in life is things that last are important. Things that don’t last are trivial. Let them go.

Right now, our house is torn up. Painters are scraping the popcorn coating off of our ceilings. Rooms will be painted. Floors will be refreshed. We had to move all of our clothes out of the closet. We moved into a guest bedroom. Because I wait for the contractor in the mornings, my morning routine has changed. It’s been a change, but ten years from now I will not remember the closet cleaning nor the morning interruptions. According to the ten year rule, just drop any irritation.

What’s happening in your life right now that would benefit from asking the ten year question?

The Cross from a Different Perspective

Killing jesus cover

Death is a difficult subject to discuss. Some deaths are not just tragic, but transform the landscape of human existence. Such are a recent triad of works by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard.

O’Reilly is a journalist and political talk show host on Fox News. His co-writer, Martin Dugard has written several works and collaborated with O’Reilly on the Killing series.

The latest book, Killing Jesus: A History. It follows his first two books, Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln, two assassinations which shook American history.

O’Reilly brings same journalistic look used with Lincoln and Kennedy to a killing with even greater consequences. Jesus of Nazareth was nailed to a Roman cross under the coercion of Jewish leaders and with the apathy of a Roman prelate who could have stopped it. From

O’Reilly, a Catholic by upbringing, admits this is not a theological treatise. He approaches the crucifixion of Jesus through they eyes of a historian and journalist, not a theologian. This book is not a sermon or Bible class, but a historical treatment of a figure and even that has tremendous theological and spiritual consequences. O’Reilly’s historical eye colors his approach to a figure bigger than history itself.

Using the organization of the timeline employed in previous books, O’Reilly methodically leads the reader down the path leading to Golgotha. He begins his story with Julius Caesar and the foundations of the Roman empire. With that backdrop, he comes to the Galilean hills surrounding the sea to sketch the man Jesus of Nazareth. (O’Reilly uses the gospel accounts as primary and reliable sources.)

He paints the historical and cultural background of the first century in a unique way. Characters like Herod the Great take on human, not historical dimensions. The description of the major players such as the Pharisees, Scribes, Sanhedrin, High Priest, and Pilate bring depth seldom seen. The reader cannot do anything but hate Augustus Caesar and Herod Antipas. The fierce hatred of the Romans by the Jews of Jesus’ time takes on a hotter hue. His detailed description of crucifixion stabs the reader with the true brutality of both the act and the callousness of those who carried it out. I had never considered what kind of man it took to be part of the Roman execution squad. I have to admit, even with a graduate theological education, O’Reilly’s book provided insights I have yet to read in dusty commentaries.

Most will have a problem with the basic approach of O’Reilly. He presents the idea of the resurrection but does not draw a conclusion about it. Perhaps the reason is the book is about the death. Some readers would like a pronouncement of faith. The might wonder why O’Reilly did not deal with the claims of Jesus. Yet, the facts, when presented, force the reader (or listener) to come to their own conclusion. Such was the nature of Jesus’s preaching (who do men say that I am?) and apostolic proclamation (do you believe?). In the story of Jesus, once the facts are clear, it is hard to escape the conclusion which must follow.

You may not like O’Reilly’s treatment of Jesus. It is earthy and human. It is not a sermon designed to save but a history designed to illuminate. Yet, armed with his descriptions you develop a deeper understanding for Biblical events which occurred.

 

Killing Jesus: A History by BIll O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. MacMillan Press, 2013. 352 pages.

(This is not a sponsored post.)