When we perceive an obstacle standing between us and our goals, we often fear that our overall plan is in jeopardy. That is usually not the case with most of the glitches to which we twitch. What may be the issue is that the way we choose to tackle a wrinkle in our plan can end up being a different and often bigger problem than the initial goal we set out to accomplish. More than likely, we should try to focus on the end game rather than the obstacle.
Relax. You’re doing just fine. Pursuing perfection in almost anything is, for the most part, an exhaustive waste of time and effort. There’s little sense in beating ourselves up every day, trying to make a perfect score on all of life’s tests — both great and small. Ironically, our pursuit of perfection often becomes a stumbling block to progress. Of course, I’m not suggesting we settle for being content with mediocrity. There’s always room for improvement. However, perfection, in most any circumstance, is subjective.
Last month, I was fortunate enough to take a brief break from the home zone. The little cabin where I stayed was down in a valley, and the only rush to be had was the soothing, rumbling water of a wide mountain creek. The only chatter was the rustling of leaves. There was no cellular service, so no fussing over devices, and no television, so no drama over the airwaves.
On Sunday, feathered friends welcomed me with bird songs on the cool early morning breezes. The first church I came to was off a little gravel road near the cabin. It looked like a child’s drawing, simple and to the point. Greeted by a couple dozen folks, I quickly felt comfortable in the genuinely welcoming environment. The service began, and after the first person stood and spoke, I knew there were going to be some strong opinions. There was plenty to be said about the confusion of being “politically correct” when it comes to taking a stance.
Many of us now look at our life differently than we did several months ago. Our place in the social soup, our position in our career, or how we maintain friendships and other relationships may have been restructured, rearranged, or reevaluated. When our ideal slips away, when we make it to the boat, get settled in, set sail, and the ship returns to port — that’ll catch anyone off guard. Ready yourself for your new normal.
So, the plans you had did not work out like you thought they might? Yes, plans fail, happens all the time. Let us not forget that failure has benefits. When we fail, we learn what didn’t work, which gives us a chance to try something new.
Several weeks ago, while enjoying a nighttime walk in the yard amongst the scurry of rabbits and the night frogs singing, I looked skyward. Eventually, my motion-sensing floodlight went back to sleep, and as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, the stars seemed to change. The bright ones got brighter and seemingly larger while others that had been barely visible before became more prominent. What had once been a large, black space became a rich, deep blue arena of twinkling celestial bodies.
Of course, being a product of decades of nerdiness (to which many of my childhood friends may attest), I understood that those stars did not suddenly grow or emerge in the blankness of space, beckoned into existence by my renewed sense of wonder. Those luminous objects were there long before the beginning of man’s time on Earth.
As I write this, my prayer is that COVID-19 is under control by the time you read these words. The outbreak of the coronavirus stopped each of us in our tracks. It changed everyone’s perspective on what is truly important to us — as individuals, as families, and as members of our community. We survived. This past month, on several occasions, I was reminded of what makes our community my home.
Recently, a dear friend laid his father to rest, and a few short weeks later, that same friend, Butch Brown, also died. Unfortunately, Butch’s work was not done, as he was working to prepare a home for his 91-year-old grandfather. In the shadow of a pandemic, his friends and others in the Hickory Flat community rallied. This team of volunteers completed weeks of work in a matter of days, in honor of the Browns and the love of a family, to make certain that “Papa” Brown had a safe place to call home.
As the first spring of the decade approaches, there’s much to do to prepare for a new season of growth. One way to make it happen is simply to have enough faith in ourselves to do what we need to do to get it done. Getting started is a happy feeling, and getting it done makes one successful. Happiness is a state of mind, success a point of view; bliss is what happens when they coexist.
I was always told, “Choose your words wisely.” I think the reason my parents instilled this in me is that, well, too many words confuse most people. It’s easy to hear people, but it’s entirely different to listen to them.
We need to remember that words may require more than just our hearing — listen. Listen for the reason behind the words. Besides, everyone has different communication needs and styles. We have come to a point where we take simple communication for granted, and as a result, people skills are suffering. When in a friendship, companionship, or any relationship, we should find a way of communicating that works for both parties.
Welcome to 2020, a year I’m sure we will be looking back on for some time to come. As we enter this new decade fresh and ready to move forward, it’s time to consider what we can do for ourselves to make it a better year for everyone. It’s time for a little bit of self-investment. If we each make a better “me,” then we see vast improvement and healthier growth together, as “we” evolve. After all, we are a group of individuals who strive each day to become better people for our families, our communities, and our planet.
Of course, it takes a special kind of discipline to make this happen. And yes, I know “discipline” is a scary word to many of us. It may make you think of a crabby teacher who just never understood your sense of humor or level of energy, or perhaps it brings back memories of when you and a buddy got a bit too curious about something to do with physics and then had the misfortune of becoming the unlucky landing zones of the broad side of a paddle. Oh, the fond memories we share of an adventurous youth well spent in the pursuit of learning.
The breaks in our busy lives that allow us to spend valuable time with our families, friends, and neighbors are truly something to be thankful for. In the earliest years of our United States, after enduring trials and persecution, settlers journeyed from afar for a chance at a new life in an unknown land. They then gathered within their homes and villages, joining with their families and new friends to show their appreciation by giving pause, thanks, and praise, as many still do to this day.During this holiday season, many of us will travel to visit loved ones, some commuting farther distances than others. We will enjoy precious moments with friends and family. We may bring food, gifts, or simply enjoy each other’s company while sharing stories and catching up. There might be seasonal music or perhaps the delightful aroma of spices and delicacies from the kitchen.
Consider your earliest days as an infant, and those looking down upon your tiny presence didn’t see very much going on in that fat little head of yours. Yet, to you, every single minute was amazing, full of awe-inspiring wonder.You’ve learned much since then: mastered processes of thought and logic, developed perceptions, formed ideologies, and built relationships that have come and gone.
Those who’ve taught you life lessons are numerous: the ones who helped you learn about love, the ones who provided light in your time of darkness, and those who lent a listening ear or a shoulder on which to cry. Often, we take for granted some of the people and situations that got us to where we are. You’ve come a long way, and you weren’t alone.
One of the things I treasure most in our community is the wonderful array of diverse individuals who are willing to help each other. People are truly blessed when they go out of their way to be a blessing to others, and I’ve seen it happen more and more over the past few years. Having lived here all my life, I’ve noticed that the kindness movement has grown at a faster pace than our population. Our neighbors from various backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles are increasingly eager to lend a hand.Alone, we cannot do all the good the world needs, but the world needs all the good we can do. Each of us can do something to help change someone’s situation from tearful to cheerful. Some may suggest we save ourselves before attempting to save others; that egregious attitude is one that doesn’t sit well with me. Nietzsche once asked, “Supposing I have the key to your chains, why should your lock and my lock be the same?” Each of us has our own strengths and weaknesses. It’s a good feeling when you find a use for the other half of your glue by loaning it to someone who has been broken by a situation you’ve already overcome.
About this time last year, I did what some might consider a little silly, or for lack of a better description, a “midlife crisis” thing: I bought a motorcycle. Ruby was an impulse purchase, as I’d never driven a road bike before. I’d only ridden on one once or twice. We’ve had our differences from time to time, as I learned to work through the gears, accelerate as desired, safely navigate back roads, and pass through the occasional sudden storm. After spending many hours of quality time together, we both ride smoother with an occasional pulse quickening burst when appropriate.“Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like children before the great mystery into which we were born.” – Albert Einstein
Being vulnerable often puts us in a position to become a better version of ourselves. That uncomfortable feeling that we get in the pit of our stomach that makes us wonder “Why this?” “Why me?” or “Why now?” can be very unsettling, yet it prepares us to discover a direction that we may have overlooked. If we choose not to stick complacently to our usual ways, we can push ourselves to a higher level.Six years ago, when issue one of volume one of each of Family Life Publications’ three titles was delivered, I admit that I was incredulously less than pleased. Although having decades of experience in the field and knowledge of each facet of the job, I had jumped into something much bigger than I ever had before. I had made the first step, and it was as though I’d leaped onto a wet, unstable, moss-covered stone at a river crossing — I slipped, but I didn’t fail.
We all have those moments when we think about bringing a raincoat, packing an extra set of clothes, or double-checking to be sure we have our keys. When reality sets in, we wish we had listened to that inner voice. Everyone makes mistakes, but those “Oh, I knew it!” ones usually leave me laughing at myself after all is said and done. I’ve never been one to get upset over a problem. Chances are, I could’ve prevented the consequences from raining down on me; I probably knew better in the first place.Last month, I was at a photo shoot for one of our cover stories. It was a beautiful sunny day, with comfortable temperatures and a gentle breeze. As I set up my fill flash on a stand with an umbrella to soften and reflect the strobe, I knew I had to keep an eye on it. Umbrellas, like kites, tend to catch wind. A small tent stake that I keep with my gear would typically hold it down; however, I was set up on the pavement, so that wasn’t an option. As I peered through the lens, a short breeze flowed toward me. My subject gasped, as she saw the stand and strobe slamming to the ground. I said to myself, “I told you so” and set it back up with a smile. Fortunately, the umbrella saved the flash, and the bulb did not break. So, an Amazon order for a replacement umbrella and a new sandbag to add to my gear is on the way. Lesson learned.
Recently, I have come to discover that I have been taking my good health for granted. As fun as it was to live carelessly in my youth, it’s time I discovered the importance of not putting my health at risk. Now, this doesn’t mean that I’ll stop the fun, adrenaline-filled activities I enjoy, but I do recognize that without proper maintenance, my aging body will not withstand the challenges I force it to endure.My mother raised me to eat healthy and stay away from junk food and soda, which keeps my motor running smoothly. However, I’ve been having issues with my frame and transmission recently.
Recycling is no longer an excuse to use single-use plastics. Less than 10 percent of plastic waste is recycled. There are better alternatives that aren’t as costly to our personal and environmental health. The problem is that there is too much recycling to do, and it’s our fault. Our unintentional disregard for the obvious is filling up our planet with debris. Yes, it really is happening. Modern luxuries and conveniences are accelerating the demise of our home.According to a recent National Geographic article, a study by Roland Geyer that was published in the Science Advances journal was the first global analysis of all plastics ever produced — and their fate. Of the 8.3 billion metric tons that have been produced, 6.3 billion metric tons have become waste. Of those, only nine percent have been recycled. The vast majority — 79 percent — is litter or taking up landfill space. At some point, much of that ends up in our oceans, causing countless problems for the marine environment and the quality of water for every living thing.
The vibrancy of fresh green grass, the melodic sounds of spring peepers, and the colorful birds returning from their vacations are only a few of the joys I find in the South during this time of year. Spring, like fall, is a season of change. As we move through life’s changes, we are reminded that these transitions are not so “flip-of-the-switch.” Intensive redirection takes time, introspection, and healing. It’s best we grasp that sooner than later to avoid disappointment and excel beyond difficult periods.Opposites, the positive and negative charges, drive us toward change. Consistency, not complacency, provides recognizable patterns that we can alter to benefit our own life as well as the world around us. Seeing the differences and the similarities is key. We make mistakes; it’s our nature. We are flawed; it’s our heritage. We should see ourselves in others and accept that they (like us) are imperfect, too.
Good conversation should leave us feeling fulfilled and appreciated. We each like to walk away inspired and motivated while relishing the moment. Sometimes though, not so much. It seems that even the two basic safety stops, the weather and our health, are topics that are up for debate with issues like global warming and vaccinations. The reality of a conversation without fear of an argument may be slipping away. So, let’s embrace the discomfort and use it to everyone’s advantage.Enter every conversation or debate with the presumption that you have something to learn. Listen not with the intent to reply but to better understand. Be curious and open minded. Be prepared to find out amazing things about people, and in turn, be amazed at what can happen as a result.
The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection.” – Thomas PaineWith January behind us and February bright on the winter horizon as a fresh clean month before us, I wonder what is ahead. What would happen if the next month, and maybe the rest of the year, was completely problem free? No deadlines, no dirty laundry, no friends in need, and no dog hair to sweep from the baseboards sounds nice on the surface. But what would we do with all the extra time? A-ha! See what just happened? A new problem for me to solve.
I’ve been inspired by several new books that I received over the holidays (yes, as you may imagine, publishers get books for gifts). This year I got some real gems. They all seem to have a similar course/theme that really got me thinking. Great books tend to do that.