Win or Lose, Together

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Win or lose, the whole team experiences it together. When a team wins, each player might think about how much effort they individually put into it. Their ego wants to cry out, “I did it!” But in reality, they never did it alone. Absolutely there are gifted people out there. But talent alone will not win the game; teamwork does.

When the game is about to end, that final pass, field goal, homerun, whatever method of scoring all could shift the score to a win. But if they miss it for any reason, we tend to blame the person who missed as if it were completely their fault. Had the team itself played a little better, perhaps the remaining seconds of the game would not have put so much pressure on one individual.

Similarly, God placed support systems in our lives to help us win at life. These people give us emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual support. They can act as mentors guiding us to better decisions. But as important as winning is, we must recognize that we also lose together too. If you are a parent, when your child loses, you feel pain as well. If your spouse loses, you will feel their pain. So, if you happen to lose, do not run away from your support system, your team.

Together we must share each other’s victories and defeats. When we win, we must not boast of our efforts, but of the commitment of our team. When we lose, we must all accept the blame and learn from our mistakes. We must encourage and challenge one another. Win or lose, let’s do it together!

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Asset and Liabilities in Friendship

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I’d be remiss to talk about friendship and not ask you to examine what kind of friend you are. Are you in a friendship only for what they give you, or do you give back equally? In other words, are you an asset in their life or a liability?

Family are the people in our lives that should always be there. But Proverbs 18:24 mentions a friend that is closer than a brother. If you have ever had a friendship like that, you know what is meant by that statement. This type of friend is totally committed, practically speaking, like in a marriage. These are the friends you can call at any hour, and they will be there for you. If you only make a few friends like that in a lifetime, they will be a treasure to be highly valued.

In most relationships, people seldom push past the point of inconvenience. One obvious reason for this is that we cannot be everything to everybody. The numbers simply cannot be sustained. These people may even change in our lifetime as the seasons of life change. People move. They start families. Things change. It is all part of life.

Do not be mad at these friends when things do change. They can still be a friend, but things may not be exactly the same as they once were. Adapt to whatever form the friendship takes on. In the meantime, interact with others who are close to you. Observe how you treat them.

When you are determined to be an asset to whomever you befriend, it should not take them long to notice. If they do not seem to mirror your actions and behavior, they likely will not be a “friend closer than family”. While relationships do take work, it should not be all one sided. If a person simply does not put much effort into the friendship, then decide upfront how much energy you wish to put into it. It should all be very fluid. As they say, “go with the flow.”

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I’ll Come Running

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In any moment, a crisis can occur that will literally take everything off the agenda and throw it out the window. Crises do not care about priorities, health, or your peace of mind. They act like robbers, coming in to take away that which is precious to you. They do not discriminate, and attack whomever they will. With no ulterior motive, their sole purpose is to destroy. Not every crisis that pops up is serious, but the ones that are, feel like they stop the heart and take our breath away.

When these sorts of crises happen, they become events where we ultimately find out who in our lives we can count on. Strangely, it almost happens in layers. The first layer is what I like to call the snowflakes. They blow away at the least little wind that comes along, so there is no surprise there. The next layer down is what I call the comfort zoners. Anyone in this layer will be there in the crises, so long as it fits their life. When things start to get too difficult, the comfort zoners leave for greener pastures, void of such problems.

The next layer consists of the loyalists. These people in our lives can be family or friends. If you are fortunate enough to have loyalists in your life, then you have a treasure that cannot be measured. At every opportunity you should be expressing how much you love and appreciate them. They are like the crutch that holds up the person with a broken leg. Becoming involved in their lives is like the union between the ingredients of concrete, which form a solid bond not easily broken and capable of withstanding incredible loads. If for any reason you lack this person in your life, then perhaps you can become that person to another. When the going gets tough, hang in there with them. Cry with them. Live through whatever experience they are going through, and you will find new bonds you never before imagined.

Last, but most important, is the relationship like no other. For me, it is the relationship I have with my Heavenly Father. Like David in Psalm 139, whether I am at lofty heights or find myself at the depths of the sea, God is there. When perilous darkness surrounds me with fear, it is but light to Him. Like the prodigal son, the path my foolish decisions take me down, ends the moment I decide to turn back toward home. It is only then that I can see the Father running toward me.

When trouble comes, as it always does, I hear the faintest whisper in the depths of my heart. “When you need me – I’ll come running.”

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A Life of Excellence, part 5

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Has anyone else thought about a positive aspect of shutting everything down the way it has been over the last few weeks? For me, I can’t help but think of relationships, family, and friends. A life of excellence is surrounded by great relationships. For families that live together in this age of busyness, they pass by each other so often on the way from doing one task to the next. This especially becomes prevalent when children are brought into the picture. Marriages can resemble business partnerships with only agreements and scheduling instead of being vibrant and healthy. All of a sudden, things have slowed down now. The pace of life is vastly different now than it was at the start of this year. People have an unprecedented chance to work on their relationships, both in the home and elsewhere.

Many people I’ve heard are staying confined in their homes, isolated from everyone else. Lately, all the restaurants have been takeout orders only. The stores that were overrun and emptied of groceries are slowly being replenished. Many people are choosing not to visit anyone, preferring to minimize risk by not being around others. For the average household, this means that whoever lives inside has an opportunity. People are craving the personal attention that comes from being around others. Right now, families can take advantage of this time to talk with each other and interact. Many are playing games or watching movies together. So much time has been made available to everyone by being cooped up together.

But the borders of a home do not have to limit our ability to reach out to family and friends who do not live with us. Technology has given us a means of communicating with each other like never before. Pick a platform, there are so many. With an internet connection or data from a phone network, we are able to call all over the country. Video chats are already hugely popular due to the apps made available on phones. We can easily get in touch with a substantial percentage of people that we know. One thing I’ve started doing during this is scrolling through my contacts and picking one person every day to call. I have been pleasantly surprised by the reactions that I’ve gotten in return.

The real question is, are we making use of this time? Are we using it to strengthen our relationships, both inside the home and outside? Are we building each other up with encouragement? What is said is just as important as reaching out. If all you are doing is spreading more panic and fear, people do not need that. Let people know you are thinking about them and that you love them. Be the voice they hear that stands out from the rest, the one that assures them they will get through this.

Break for Conversation

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A month ago, I was at the gym working out and the most alarming thing happened; someone spoke to me. That was the second time in two months. Both times, these dudes didn’t even care that I had a headset in. They just started talking anyway! Like the first time, I started to think I was hearing voices, then I turned my head and saw a man speaking. He was already into a conversation I didn’t even realize we were having. Of course, I welcomed the conversation and paused my music.

I felt terrible because he was so far into what he was saying, while I on the other hand, had no clue. The reason I didn’t see him was because I had already done a set and had my arms blocking my view of the machine next to me. That plus music made me unaware he was even there. I took my headphones out and we started talking about the piece of exercise equipment we were both on. It is the kind where you lay on your back, on a bench, and use arm bars to lean forward into a crunch. He felt that it was effective at working out the abdominal muscles.

Shortly after that, he went into all kinds of details about a shoulder operation that he had. Due to the surgery, he was unable to do certain exercises for last two years. He kept talking and got into his workout schedule and mentioned how he could never get a good workout in because people were always talking to him. I tried hard not to roll my eyes as I realized at this point who was doing most of the talking. It almost made me feel bad to listen to him talk so long because there I was listening to him, keeping him from his exercise like all the others. It got so bad that he felt the need to exercise on weekends because there were so few people in there to distract him.

I felt like my new friend had himself to worry about and less about others distracting him from his workout. I’m sure it happens with a friendly fellow like that. The plain and simple truth was that the man liked to talk to people. What is shocking to me, is how we often get in the way of our own goals because we become easily distracted. Of course, I will always make time for small talk with people. I think it’s good to interact with others. But in the gym, I am so used to being ignored by everyone around because they are always listening to something, living in their own world apart from the rest of us. I will say that it’s great to take a break for conversation. As for my new friend, I hope he continues to reach out and speak with people. But for his sake, I hope he is still able to get an actual workout in!

The Right One

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It is fascinating to me, as I believe it, how God sends people into our lives. It could be said they are sent at just the right time. However, even when it seems like it is the wrong time, it could turn out to be the right time. Years ago, I met a young man in his mid-twenties at my job. For his age, I was not shocked to see the behavior and hear of the things he was doing.

At the time, I had not attended church for a number of years. After my older brother passed away about five years prior, I wrestled with many questions. Even though I was not a churchgoer, I still considered myself to be a Christian. Based on some of my decisions and how I behaved at certain times, one may not have guessed it. But whenever the topic came up, I tried not to deny my faith. Maybe at that stage of my life, I ran from God. All I can say for sure, is that I was not running toward him.

The young man and I became good friends and shared similar interests. One day, a shocking turn of events happened in his life when he found out he was going to be a father. Over the next two years, I watched his life transform before my eyes. I won’t say what all happened, but it was remarkable. In that time, he began seeking God with a passion. That passion, to some, would have been considered extreme. Eventually, his enthusiasm bubbled over into my life and I wondered why he was so excited all the time. He knew that I was a Christian and our talks shifted toward the spiritual side of life. Since I was older and a Christian for as long as I could remember, maybe he thought I had answers.

He spent roughly six months discussing scriptures with me and passing notes with Bible verses scribbled on them. At the time, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was not looking at most of them. Every once in a while, I would take a quick peek though. He shared some materials that were available online for free. One story was from a book that took me months to get through because I could only do so in rather large chunks but spread out over time. The strangest thing happened. After stopping, each time I started up again days to months later, I was in a different place in my life that corresponded in the book. If I had rushed through the whole thing right away, it would not have had the same impact on me. The timing, in other words, was perfect. Words I desperately craved to hear jumped out at me, not just on one occasion but many.

My heart told me to go back and look through some of the other materials my friend had referred me to. At the time, free was the only price I could pay for something. Anything available for free is often deemed less valuable. However, there are times when nothing could be further from the truth. I remember downloading a series from a pastor who put all his material online at no charge. People argue until they are blue in the face over what preachers say and do. What I know for sure, is something in those messages reached out to me. The material wetted my appetize like salad and breadsticks, and I was ready for more.

Friendships can come and go throughout life because it is easy to lose touch. I have to admit though, since that point in time, my life has never been the same. For me, after years of struggling and wrestling with my thoughts, God started to do a new thing in my heart. To think, it all started when he sent the right one into my life.

Ms. D

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I really do not like visits to the dentist office; no disrespect to anyone working in this field. There is just something that nags me about paying someone a lot of money to cause me pain. That’s what it looks like on the surface, but I know it’s not true. I am paying them to help keep my teeth in my mouth and looking as nice as possible. We tend to see cavities as something which can be easily fixed but overlook that it is irreversible damage that weakens our teeth and puts us at risk for further trouble. Teeth are something that can be taken for granted when we are younger. After all, sweets are too delicious to pass up, not to mention everyone is putting them in front of us. Even though instructed to, not all children like to brush their teeth, and they do not get brushed as often as they should. If teeth are not properly cared for, it can lead to intense pain and a huge financial loss, so please follow the suggestions of a good dentist! I am pleased to say I have long since learned my lesson and that things have been going much better for me in this area.

After I relocated, I had to find a new dentist. Of course, one of the first things they told me was going to happen was that they would take x-rays. For goodness sakes, I still cannot figure out why on earth they haven’t designed a better way to take x-rays. They do not take them every visit so there is enough time in between that I nearly forget how terrible of an experience it was the time before. The first x-ray was taken, then another, and they continued until I thought I was in the clear. Then came the worst x-rays of them all, the corner ones. They told me to bite down and not move. Meanwhile they went to the back and made a pot of coffee while I laid there and suffered. At least that is what I hypothesized, along with the imaginary dialogue that follows.

“There it is!” she whispered to her coworker upon return.
“There is what?” asked the other.
“Look, in the corner of their eye, it’s a tear. I knew we could do it!”

After the x-rays were over, they laid me down on an awkward chair. Meanwhile, they brought in the x-rays and placed them in front of a light for the dentist to observe. The only trouble was, they were busy with four other patients, giving time for my mind to wander. During my paranoid delusions of grandeur, I questioned whether they conspired behind my back, a way to make patients like me suffer. It started with making me cry during the x-rays and then allowing me to stare at the results, wondering if further trouble lay ahead. In my case, I’ve had bad past experiences of dental work. Now, I won’t even look at the trays that carry their instruments of torture. In years past, they have worked on me enough that I do not want any more trouble. I work hard now to care for my teeth.

While this is an exaggeration, you can now tell more why I do not prefer these visits. But I try to keep a positive outlook on things, so I find ways to make it a more pleasant experience. One of the ways I’ve done this is through my interaction with the staff. One of the staff members, who I will call Ms. D, was the one who did my x-rays. She and I got along well. We shared many laughs together and I made it a point to treat her exceptional. On my second visit, she remembered me from the first time we met. I stopped in the hallway and talked to her once more. I informed her that she was my favorite employee at the office. My dental hygienist overheard me, to which I smirked and told her she was my favorite too. Ms. D smiled and we ended up giving each other a hug.

Every time I see her, I joke with her and make her feel appreciated. Later, my hygienist canceled on me and they rescheduled me for the following week. Close to the second appointment I was called once again, this time by Ms. D, who informed me that they had to cancel again. I recognized her voice, but I am not sure she did mine. However, I told her it was a good thing it was my favorite employee that called, otherwise I might have sought a new dentist office. She laughed loudly over the phone and we joked some more and rescheduled the appointment for later.

I do hope she feels like a million bucks. The real question is why. Why did I want to make this once stranger feel so good? I’d like to say it is because I am a good person, but I know myself well enough to make up lies about that. For some reason, I feel that God put it on my heart. I don’t do this type of thing with everyone I encounter, but I will say I am learning to do this type of thing more often. The world moves with lightning speed and is covered in darkness. It is so easy to ignore the people around us. It takes a deliberate effort, with purpose, to interrupt the pace of the day. Stop and shine a light on someone else today. You never know, that light may be the only one they see.

Weary in Well Doing, part 5

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Before I left for a work trip, I wanted to make another visit to my friend at the nursing home. I knew it would be several weeks before I would be able to visit again so I wanted to squeeze in another visit the weekend before I left. He told me earlier that his chemotherapy was to start up soon. When I asked him if he was afraid, he told me that God had gotten him through everything up to that point, and that this would be no different. I told him about the upcoming trip and what all would happen. We then talked about travel and some of the places he had gone for work projects, which took him all over the country.

While I was with him, I learned that he and his wife were to celebrate their wedding anniversary, a major one, later that week. I knew there was little to no chance that he would be able to get something special for his wife, since he was confined to the bed in the nursing home. So, during the rush of things before leaving, I gave him a call near the end of the week. I asked if he would like me to pick up anything for her. The usual seemed to be acceptable to him. For starters, I picked out a gift bag and loaded it with various chocolates. Of course, that was a win. Then I picked out a nice anniversary card. I knew flowers would come next, so I sought a nice vase. There was a woman standing close by in the aisle next to me, so I asked her for advice. She asked if I were getting all this for my wife. I replied that I had no wife and was getting them for another man’s wife. After a brief chuckle, I explained the situation. She smiled and helped me pick out a beautiful vase that matched well with the flowers. We also put some marble like stones in the bottom to add even more color. It was a beautiful arrangement and his wife would surely like it.

I left the store and headed for the nursing home. When I walked through his bedroom door, I showed him all the things he got for his wife. I could not stay long, as I had yet to even start packing for my trip. I could tell he was grateful. As a man who likes to do cordial things for the special someone he is with, not being able to do so would feel terrible. I experienced this firsthand with my dad, who after losing the ability to drive, found himself in similar circumstances. He always made it a point to get my mom special things and when he was not able to go get them, I offered to drive him to places so he could.

That weekend I left for my trip. By the time I arrived at my destination I received a call from my friend’s wife, thanking me. She told me that her husband was stressing out over not being able to get anything for her, given his situation. I realize the gift did not come directly through my friend. But it was through our friendship the invitation came to honor him by helping to fill this need in his life. The gift of friendship he extended to me returned an unexpected benefit that he did not know until later. It is in acts of service, thoughtfulness, and care for the needs of others that we move past the point of friendship into something more. Family.

Weary in Well Doing, part 4

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The director of the nursing home ministry from my church reached out to the volunteers and made mention of a woman who lived in an assisted living facility. She hoped to receive more visitors, if possible. I had only one other person to visit, so it made sense for me to check it out. From my limited experience, it starts to wear on you after a while, seeing older people struggle through simple activities. It can sometimes be heartbreaking to witness the suffering and pain they go through. Part of me wanted to ignore this difficult part of life and leave the ministry altogether. If I chose to ignore their suffering, mine would go away. After wrestling with the thought of quitting, I asked myself a simple question. If there is the slightest chance that my interaction would somewhat ease their suffering, would I not act?

A few months prior, the last living grandparent of mine (my grandmother) had passed away. I had always been remarkably close to all my grandparents. Such a relationship was always dear to me. When I see someone like the woman in the photograph for this post, it inspires me! What an example she is setting for us to follow… to live, laugh, and enjoy life! There is something admirable in elderly people. They are survivors of all kinds of things, having endured countless attacks on their physical, mental, and emotional health. Yet, there they are every time we see them, still weathering the storms of life. If you will take the time to listen, they have numerous stories to tell. The retelling of these stories takes them from the comfort of their enclosed living spaces back to times of adventure and travel. It gives them a chance to relive memories they have long since forgotten but come tumbling back, though at times foggy on the details.

So, I arranged a visit with the other woman, from the assisted living home. From the moment her and I spoke, I knew she was a kind woman. To this day, I am still not sure as to what her real age is. When she recalls it, it has ranged anywhere from eighty to over a hundred. On my second visit, when I greeted her, she had forgotten about me entirely, although it had only been several weeks that passed. But she cheerfully spoke to me anyway and soon remembered my previous visit. We chatted for about an hour and got to know each other a bit more. I prayed over her before leaving and she made me feel very welcome to return. However, I informed her a work trip would keep me away for some time, but I would return when able.

The day I returned to visit after my trip, I found her in the lunchroom sitting at a table. Her face lit up with a smile when she saw me, as did mine. I was happy that she remembered me this time. I took a seat beside her. She immediately wanted to hear all about the trip. She had been to many of the places I went and recalled memories of her own that she told me about. She repeated several times how glad she was that I was able to take the trip. A staff member came by and asked if I could fix her television before I left for the day. I agreed to look and saw she was getting tired, so we returned to her room.

I fooled around with some things and soon the television was working again. I handed her the remote and she wanted to try it. Then came an odd combination of button pushing in the wrong order, which resulted in turning the tv on but not the cable box on, and then vice versa. Back and forth she went but could not get the two to work together. She handed me the remote and I explained what was happening. She instructed me to just leave it on and turn the volume down. I complied with her request. If only I could help her eliminate fifty buttons on the remote, leaving only the five buttons she needs to function the tv, it could sure make her life easier. Maybe one day my friend. Before I left, I prayed with her and asked if she would take a picture with me. She happily agreed. In addition, I asked if she wouldn’t mind being my adoptive grandmother. She laughed and said that would be fine too.

The truth is no one can ever truly replace the loved ones who have passed away. However, there are needs on all sides and love waiting to be shared. If you open yourself up to it, God can bring some amazing people into your life.

Where’s That Wheel Going?

After leaving church one Sunday morning, I was headed to visit my friend in the nursing home. On my way, I drove down a busy road that had two lanes on each side of a center turning lane. When I drove around a bend in the road, I noticed something strange in front of me. As I got closer, I had to suddenly stop in the busy traffic behind a car that was parked in the middle of the lane farthest to the right. I knew something was definitely wrong when I saw a man standing by his wheel on the sidewalk, next to the entrance of a business parking lot.

I drove around him but as I drove down the road, I thought about how something could go wrong. Wrong for the man, as if he hadn’t had a bad enough day as it was. Wrong for others who may not drive as carefully as they should. I will admit I do not always stop when I see someone in trouble. After all, crazy things can happen. But as a man, I do not worry quite as much. Plus, it was noon on a bright sunny day. I felt pressed to turn back around, the way I normally do when I feel God is asking me to do something. At first I drove back and turned into one of the next parking lots. I then approached the man on foot to find out what happened and see if there was a way I could help.

He told me his tire came off as he was just about to pull into the parking lot to check on it. Someone saw it rolling down the street and brought it back to him. I agreed with him that the lug nuts were not torqued properly. I went around the front side and noticed the hub, where the wheel is placed, dug into the surface of the road, which created a small trench in the shape of an arc on the street below. It went up the entrance and stopped underneath the wheel hub which now laid in direct contact with the concrete beneath it. It was a low rider car with huge rims, which left little space around the other wheels. In addition to that, the frame where the jack was to be placed was close to three inches from the ground.

I returned to my car but watched as the cars whizzed by nearly crashing into him, totally unaware of the dangerous situation that was around the bend in the road. So I pulled my car into the same lane but at a distance away from him but clearly in the line of sight where people could see my car from a long ways off. I watched, at times squinting my face, praying to God that they would not crash into my car because they were not paying attention. I jumped out quick and offered to use my jack. But it didn’t work so I put it back. A woman in a separate car was on the phone, trying to get help from the insurance company. The man and I spoke while we waited on assistance. At times I returned close to my car in an effort to signal to people to switch lanes. Again, some were barely paying attention and nearly crashed into my car. But thankfully they did not! A police officer passed by in the opposite lane and then flicked their lights on and pulled up behind my car. I was standing close by so I explained what happened. The man joined in on the conversation and explained what happened to the officer. She informed me she would stay until help arrived. It felt so much better having a police car with flashing lights blocking the lane of traffic. She thanked me for trying to help out, to which I was happy to do so. I turned to the man and went to shake his hand, as I do with most men I interact with. He reached out and grabbed my hand, kind of side ways.

“I hope things work out for you man, good luck,” I said.

“Love you man,” he responded.

Of all the responses I could have ever conceived, that was not one of them. We may have looked different, talked different, acted different… you name it. But on that day, it felt like we were brothers.