Carrying Life’s Baggage

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People tend to make a big deal out of decisions. Is it the decisions themselves that are difficult, or rather consequences of those decisions that are hard to live with? Decisions are like the baggage of life that we carry around, while consequences are the contents inside those bags. We tend to spend more time worrying about what our bags look like on the outside. Meanwhile, inside those bags are things we wish we never brought along on this journey of life.

It is easy to make decisions when we do not understand the consequences that follow. Ignorance is blind, and often leads to foolish outcomes. Some psychologists have said that reasoning is established over time, still being formed in young people well into their twenties. Without this reasoning, young adults fall prey to poor decisions because they do not know the outcomes, some of which may last an entire lifetime.

At first, it does not seem fair that a person would have to pay for an unwise decision for the rest of their lives. The lack of fairness does not change the fact that decisions will always carry consequences, good or bad. The interesting part is that when we do not have the foresight to know what our consequences will be, we can always ask someone who might know. The trick is the handoff between those who have the knowledge and wisdom, and those who do not.

It is a humbling experience to admit when we do not know. But when we can ask for help, it can steer us clear of many poor decisions in life. It is not the decisions we should be mindful of as much as it is the consequences. Working to understand the consequences makes it easier upfront to decide, especially when we cannot live with certain outcomes. It is when we can avoid those outcomes and make the best decisions for our lives today that we will enjoy carrying life’s baggage.

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What’s Pulling at you?

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When I was growing up, there was a game we used to have so much fun playing called tug of war, where two teams pulled on the same rope but in opposite directions. To make it challenging, we tried to even up each side with similar capabilities. That is when the tug of war started. Both sides pulled with all their might, trying to pull the other team forward, across the middle.

On occasion, there would be a bystander who watched. I remember whenever it was someone stronger who came along and saw the struggle to win. Everyone desperately wanted that person on their team and the pleading began. We knew if they suddenly joined our side, it would be over in seconds, and we would be victorious. Sure enough, the additional pull from the team who got them was the game changer that finished the battle. Those on the opposing side tasted defeat.

The struggle between such opposing forces reminds me of the cartoons I watched as a child. Sometimes they showed an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Both sides had arguments that were equally appealing to the character stuck in the middle between them. Whichever side pulls hardest wins; that is the nature of this game. It does not matter if one side is strong if the other side is stronger. When the forces are similar in strength, the battle lasts until one side grows weary and decides to let go of the rope. Sometimes the battle is short lived, while in others it can last longer than we ever thought possible.

In many cases, the outcome may have a lot to do with how long we entertain the thoughts from these opposing forces. Generally speaking, we know right from wrong. However, it is in the questioning of things that we create a gray area that blurs our focus. We start reasoning in our minds, sifting through our thoughts of right and wrong. Although sometimes unaware, we drift into the gray area, leaving black and white areas far behind.

It is here that we dream up a multitude of excuses, pushing the human mind to the furthest extents of its imagination until we reach conclusions we never dreamed of. Our minds work to convince our consciences that we are justified in our action or behavior, particularly when someone wronged us first.

Like it or not, we will always face struggles. When both sides of the tug of war are at a standstill, the side that wins will always be the one that gets the extra pull. If you are struggling today, on which side will you allow that extra force to join?

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Living by Strings

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Do you like to pull on others’ strings? When you try to control the decisions of other adults it creates a huge source of stress, not only in their lives but yours too. People are naturally selective and prefer their decisions over yours. Can you believe that? I know, absurd, right? But I find this out every time someone else does not do things my way.

While they swim in a sea of regret over their foolish decision, a self-righteous thought comes to mind. They followed their bonehead plan but perhaps they would not be in this mess if they had listened to my plan for them. Then God, with superior quality mental video, reminds me of the stupid things I did in my life. After each humbling experience, I am brought to the conclusion to just keep my mouth shut. None of us really knows what is best for ourselves, let alone the business of others.

I have learned opinions are not always wanted! I seldom ask others for advice and now trust God to help me make my decisions. I believe that the best place to get advice is to humble yourself and pray to God for it. Teachers teach students to think and not just to memorize. One day, the situation may be different, and they will have to figure it out for themselves based on what they were taught.

For most of my life, I fumbled along making countless decisions without praying. I am thoroughly convinced that a great deal of my pain and suffering has been a direct result of me seeking my own way. Hindsight is the clearest vision possible, but it comes at an excessive cost. Sometimes nothing can be done to untangle the past; it is what it is. But every decision moving forward can be in the right direction. I believe when a person earnestly seeks God to help them with their decisions, that they will receive guidance.

Let go of the stress of pulling someone else’s strings. Encouragement is good, but if they decide not to do it your way, do not lose your peace by holding on to something that needs to be let go of. Life is too precious to waste it being upset over things that do not really matter. Learn to let God guide you on your journey through life. When I finally grasped this concept, it made a world of difference in my life and now I hope to share this joy with anyone who will read and practice it so they too may experience it.

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Trapped by a Memory

When I hear the word memory, I often jump quickly to a good memory. Of course, I have my share of bad ones too, but I choose not to dwell on them. Some memories were created or heavily influenced by others while the rest were born out of my decisions. We seldom think about it but when it comes to the latter, it’s important to remember that today’s decisions become tomorrow’s memories. A good question to ask ourselves before deciding is whether we will enjoy it later as a memory.

I consider myself better than most at making bad decisions. It comes totally natural for me, like a gift! We were given two things that tend to fight with each other, our head, and our heart. The clash takes place when our head knows better, but our decisions follow our heart. It’s commonly said to follow your heart, which might be good, unless of course your heart has been corrupted. There are times when our head can rescue our heart and also our heart can influence our head.

The heart is deeply affected by our feelings. When experiencing negative emotions, it is easy to become engulfed to the point that we ignore all rational thought. This is bad! Mainly because what follows afterward is a poor decision. Tragically this leads to even further despair. Sometimes we even get stuck in cycles, repeatedly making one wrong decision after another. It gets to the point that it can be hard to break free. It is not impossible though; it just takes a change of both mind and heart.

Before acting on a negative emotion, ask whether you will enjoy the memory of what could take place next. If you are not sure what could go wrong, tread carefully. This is where experience is the best teacher, although we suffer due to the painful consequences it brings.

Decide wisely. It is easy to become trapped by a memory.

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Don’t Go in There!

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Recently, I watched some movies and was astonished at the foolishness of characters in them. They found themselves in certain situations that ultimately led to their demise. I sat back on the couch and watched them do the stupidest things. On the outside, I was quiet. But on the inside, I was screaming at the top of my voice, “Don’t go in there!” No matter how much I wanted them to do or not do something, they did the opposite. It made me so upset. I wondered how they could be so stupid.

However, the even bigger idiot was me, expecting a different outcome from movies I had already seen numerous times. I knew the storylines written long ago. The movies were already filmed. The characters’ minds were already made up. No matter how badly I wanted them to make a new decision, they simply could not. I can’t believe how many times this happens to me when watching movies that I have already seen. Each time viewing, there is hope that the characters will choose differently.

It turns out I actually do the same thing when looking into my past. It is like a movie, playing the same plot, with the same characters, making the same bad decisions. When I replay the movies in my mind, I find myself asking a question. Why? No amount of hope is ever going to change those scenes because they have already been made. I can pray for them to change. I can hope they will. I can even beg for them to change. Yet, nothing seems so permanently written as our past.

What are we to do with these movies from our past? Study and learn from them. Then put those movies back on the shelf to collect dust! If you play the old movies repeatedly, nothing will ever change in your life. You cannot look into the past and see a different outcome. What you can do is look ahead and think hard about what movies you will want to replay someday. If you want to change the outcome of your life, write a different story from here on out. Today’s decisions will usher in success or failure. Make new movies, ones that won’t make you scream beneath your breath.

It’s true your past has already been written. But life isn’t over yet. If it is time to end one movie and begin another, my question is this. What are you waiting for?

A Life of Excellence, part 9

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When you wake up in the morning, what is your first thought? I hope it’s not, “Oh no, I’m awake.” It is sad to think that many people wake up and feel this way all the time. Some days it feels this way, but we could agree that it shouldn’t be a daily occurrence. If it is, then it’s time to make some changes in your life. After we reach adulthood, most of the decisions we make fall on us from that point forward.

When you look at any other living organism, its purpose is not always clear to us. If a tree went to sleep at night, when it awoke in the morning, it would still be planted in the same spot as the night before. No shock there, right? No matter how ambitious it got, it would still be right there in the same spot. By our measure of standards, we’d look at it and say it isn’t going anywhere. But we would be wrong. Trees may not be able to leave the environment they were planted in, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t going anywhere because they rise upward in whatever capacity they can.

If you walk into a river and suddenly get upset that the water only flows in one direction, people might think strangely of you. If you started yelling at the sun for coming up in the east and not the west, people would think something was wrong with you. There are certain things we’ve come to expect from what we see around us. Have they always been this way? I can’t say for sure but I’m pretty certain based on what we know so far. I’d venture to say most things, like the tree, have a purpose. It doesn’t take us recognizing its purpose for it to fulfill it. Lifeforms live out their purpose every day, with or without our knowledge or approval of them doing so.

Humans, though, are different than any other creation. We were given minds with free will. This means we have the power of choice, which can be exercised in a split second. We don’t have to live programmed the way other lifeforms live. If you wish to stay up north in the winter and play in the snow, you have the choice to do so. You are not biologically programmed in the same way an animal is. When you leave your house every day, there could be an obstacle that trips you up every time. Let’s say it was a cheap doormat that had the edge folded up. Every stinking day, on your way out, it trips you up. It caused you many times to spill coffee on yourself, drop your keys, slip, and trip. If you continue to live with this faulty doormat, you’d be living just like an animal, thinking that’s the way things are. But you aren’t just an animal, are you? You are a human being, gifted with intellect and reasoning.

You could philosophize about why people put doormats in front of their doors in the first place. You could debate with whomever it was that put it there. You could theorize a possible solution to weigh down the corner that causes you to trip. Or, rather than continue to put up with the blasted thing, you could declare that enough was enough. You could roll up the doormat and throw it in the trash. How you choose to deal with your obstacles is a choice that you alone have to make. If you decide to wait on others to come fix your problem with the doormat, it may never happen!

Find something that is worthwhile and good, that you can conquer. When we are challenged, it awakens something within us that likes to be stirred. It’s one of the reasons we like competition with others so much. It’s why many of us seek to outperform our previous best efforts. We enjoy growth, movement, and the rise to a good challenge. Stop waiting for the world to solve your problems and start solving them yourself. If you want to live a life of excellence, it means you have to take charge of your life!

A Life of Excellence, part 2

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Living a life of excellence means making the right choices, which are not always obvious from the start. It takes diligence to observe, process, and finally decide on what to do. Even then the choices we make are not always right. When wrong choices are made, it means taking appropriate action to get back on track. As the school of hard knocks teaches, this is not always an easy path to follow.

When I was a freshman in high school, they informed students that in our sophomore, junior, and senior years, we could spend half of the year at a vocational school. Since not everyone wanted to go to college, this was an alternative to learn valuable skills that could possibly jump start us into a career after high school. In the first two years, much of the coursework revolved around learning job skills. The senior year was meant to be an internship where students worked at their first full-time job.

My dad had already taught me a little about carpentry by that age, but I knew there was much more to learn. I signed up for my sophomore year and couldn’t wait to get started, as I was ready to jump in and start making money. When the time finally arrived, I spent that half the year learning about different tools and processes. One of the key subjects we focused on was carpentry. The class started out with the basics and taught us how to use hand tools. I had already built small items out of wood using hand tools using the knowledge my dad passed on to me. For this reason, I was impatient at first, ready to move past hand tools and learn about power tools. I can’t remember if the men grunted back then when using power tools.

The class progressed into making more advanced parts along the way. I remember pulling my teacher to the side after witnessing what I thought was unfair grading. I saw the work of several of my classmates and the grade they received. I was shocked when I received the same grade. At the risk of sounding arrogant, the quality of my work was better. A simple comparison would have revealed that, or so I thought. After approaching him to complain, he said the other students did the best they could. Since their dimensions were off, he couldn’t give them the best grade possible. Mine weren’t off nearly as much as theirs, which was why I questioned my grade. He looked me in the eye and said, “You’ve got better in you. I’ve seen your work. This was not your best.”

Was I mad? You better believe it. Have I remembered it years later? Yes, but not because I am angry anymore. He made me work harder to achieve better results. I didn’t realize it then, but he helped shape a spirit of excellence within me that I’ve come to appreciate over the years. Excellence doesn’t come easy. Yet, it is not without merit. It brings its own rewards; among them are self-confidence and satisfaction in a job well done.

Carry All That?

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When I was a teenager, my father regularly took my brother and I hunting in the fall. My brother was really into it. I, on the other hand, was in it for the trip. We even had a best friend that tagged along with us on occasion. One time when we were all together, my dad took a picture to capture the memory. In the picture, the most noticeable thing was the large blue tarp tied between several trees to keep rain from falling on us. Underneath the tarp, he had a small setup in which he made himself coffee. The flame came from one of those small cans with flammable contents. A plus for us, was that he also brought something to cook chicken noodle soup in. Later in the day, we also had sandwiches and snacks. Add to all that, I asked him to bring a gallon of water to make sure we never ran out.

So there my dad was, weighed down like a pack mule on a distant voyage. After “base camp” was painstakingly set up, it looked like a sporting goods store in the middle of the forest. I know he did it out of love for his boys though. I remember when another friend of the family joined us. At the time, he was the youth pastor at my church. When our friend saw the backpack my dad had packed, he asked my dad a question. Are you really going to carry all that?

It was a funny memory I’ve held on to ever since. It can also be a fascinating question when reflected upon. When visually seeing someone carry a large backpack filled to the brim, we see it as a tremendous burden to carry on their back. But what about some of the burdens carried around that no one sees? Since they are not seen, most often these loads are ignored. Before realizing it, they can be carried for years.

Think about the types of burdens carried. Parents make sure their children have enough food to eat and other basic necessities. These are a burden of duty, fulfilling an obligation for bringing life into this world. However, there are other burdens, not born out of duty but of our own making. Some things we choose to carry on our backs that we have no business carrying. Rather than letting go, we hold tightly to these burdens as if they brought us a reward.

The past, for example, is one of the biggest burdens held on to. For some, they can’t get past what someone did to them and are unable to forgive them. For others, it is something they did to themselves, and they are unwilling to forgive themselves. The point of fascination lies in what we make ourselves carry around, even without realizing it. Others tell us to let go. We may know the right thing to do is let go, yet we cling to the wrong stuff anyway. Think hard about the unnecessary burdens you may be carrying around in life and answer a question. Are you really going to carry all that?

Live by Your Choice

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Are you the product of your choices or those of another? Hopefully, it’s the first because you are the one that has to live with those choices! The truth is most of us have given in to peer pressure at some point. Doing so causes us to lean toward other people’s choices in order to fit in with them. The voice inside that tells us not listen to them gets pushed back into the corner of our minds.

Young people get faced with this on a regular basis because peer pressure starts out early in life. It is a time when they are trying to figure out who they are and just want to be accepted. They haven’t realized yet that their opinion of themselves is far more valuable than anyone else’s opinion of them. Without knowing the consequences of their choices, they often let others choose for them. Sadly, the price can be severe enough to cause much heartache over the course of their lives.

There is a strong desire at that age to be either popular or be liked by popular people. Back then, we always rounded our age up, trying to get into the next bracket. In our rush to become adults, we were tempted to try things that made us appear like adults. Girls tried on makeup. Guys tried to shave before they even had facial hair. With all the variety of drinks we have available now, children are even drinking coffee now. They witness people smoking cigarettes, vaping, drinking alcohol, stealing, or doing drugs. Their eyes see things that they should not be seeing at their age.

Somehow one of their friends gets hold of something and the pressure starts to build. If strong willed, they may resist for a time. If enough pressure comes from the outside, without strength enough on the inside, its only a matter of time before they give in or are smart and run far from it. No one ever decides to become an addict. It doesn’t happen overnight, which is why most people get fooled, and certainly not to someone like them. It starts with the statement, “just this once”. After that, the trick is in thinking that it can be stopped any time. For some, that statement is true. But for the unfortunate rest, it might be too late, and they become enslaved to an addiction.

This is why parents and guardians always want to know, who do you hang out with? If you hang out with the wrong crowd, you will eventually end up doing the wrong thing. If you don’t know the consequences of the actions you are thinking about taking, talk to someone wise who does. Live by the choice of the one who should have the greatest interest in your choice, the one who stands to lose or gain the most because of it; you.

Hide and Seek

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One of my favorite childhood games was hide and seek. One child closed their eyes, while the others went and hid. The ages of those playing determined how secretive of a hiding spot they would find. The youngest picked spots where they were easily seen. While hiding behind a plant, their eyes were covered and they could not see the seeker, which meant to them that they themselves could not be seen. They had no idea half their body was exposed. If generous enough, the one searching spoke out loud their confusion as to where the others could be hiding.

As the years passed, I liked the game less and less. When it was too easy to find someone, the game had no challenge and interest was lost. If it was too hard, I simply gave up. Those still hiding long afterward found the latter to be particularly disturbing. When they came looking for me, a surprised look crossed their face to find me inside watching television.

In adulthood, this childhood game of times past is reinvented. We hide but no longer want to be found out. Instead of hiding from people, we learn to hide things from people. What is hidden depends on our level of integrity. The whole point of hiding things is because we don’t want them to be found. People have cheated on income statements, taxes, cost of services provided, etc. Many have cheated on their spouses or partners. Students have cheated on exams and homework. For those who feel guilty, they try to hide these things from other people.

Hiding things can be easy to get away with but there’s no guarantee it’s going to last. Those in hiding find out that someone eventually comes seeking. When found out, the seeker doesn’t greet with a smile and a laugh, like they once did. This time, those in hiding are often embarrassed, ashamed, and hurt by their own actions. Regret eats away at them. Loss, pain, and a host of other terrible things can result from choosing to live this way.

Just because you can get away with something doesn’t mean you should do it. Even if no one else finds out about it, you will still know. Chances are it will eat away at you. It can cause unexpected fights where you go off on someone else, when in reality, you are the one at fault. Deep down, you know you did something wrong. It is almost like having a tracking device hidden within your soul, waiting to be found. Best to stay clear of all this mess by making better choices, ones that won’t need to be hidden.