Just a Little Adjustment

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Sometimes, the way to a solution is just a little adjustment.

“The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have known since long.”― Ludwig Wittgenstein

I went into the garage the other day. Always the potential for a mysterious adventure. I have cleaned it out considerably – so give me a little credit. I was retrieving the high chair for my granddaughter’s visit. Looking down on the handicapped shower chair (who needs one of these?) I noticed our little black portable step. My brain started turning over and over again.

If you’re human, you’ve surely had an encounter or two with someone, or two, who was just plain difficult. Frustration with people often escalates to the point where we begin to think and act in absolutes. We assign others to rigid categories and limit our thinking to black and white choices:

“You always say things like that”

“He never listens to my point of view”

“She’s in another one of her crazy moods again”

I’m a social scientist – so I try to look for external causes first before diagnosing anyone hard-headed and woefully wrong. Our people filled environments are usually the culprits behind the out of order thinking and acting that cause friction and harm.

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When my wife was waging war with cancer, it eventually moved into her brain. She had a tumor sitting on the muscle movement section, right up front. This caused her to lose strength in her legs. Eventually it became impossible for her climb into her tall bed or up into the passenger seat in our SUV.  She needed an immediate solution so that she could live each day as normal as possible.

Somehow, we found a little fold-up portable step that could be taken and set down by the passenger door. It was even easier to unfold it next to the bed so she could get in and out with ease. Such a small little tool, very easy to use, folded up and tucked out of the way – and it dramatically improved living with cancer.

When I saw that step stool in the garage the other day, I thought about someone at work who was bent out of shape and putting others into easy to manage categories. It wasn’t accurate, fair or helpful. I couldn’t help myself. I asked a clarifying question or two, hoping to help my friend see a wider angle or what the truth looked like from another perspective. Each of us should practice more at making sure we are seeing things clearly and not letting our wacked out emotions steer the ship.

Just stopping for a minute and asking some questions can refine my focus.

Listening to another perspective helps to see a wider panorama. 

Noticing my language toward others – is it full of absolutes and certainties?

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Just like that little portable step stool, something small has the potential to make a big difference in solving a problem.  As I stared down at that folded up plastic step, I remembered how much of life it had given back to us. It had put out of sight many frustrating arguments and made each day – getting in and out of bed and traveling to the doctor or rehab something manageable. We were then able to think about what mattered more.

“By approaching my problems with “What might make things a little better?” rather than “What is the solution?” I avoid setting myself up for certain frustration. My experience has shown me that I am not going to solve anything in one stroke; at best I am only going to chip away at it.”  ― Hugh Prather

Is there a little adjustment, something small, you could do to make your own life (and the lives of others) so much easier?

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How could a little plastic step stool (hint; metaphor) help you think about making some little changes in your thinking?

Use more thoughtful gestures and expressions in your casual interactions.

Accurate words (the truth) to communicate and frame your own self-talk.

Avoid falling into that tired script when you face that problem, again.


“Every single day in a thousand different ways, the script that I am writing across the pages of my life is dramatically impacting how others are writing theirs. And if I dare to recognize that I am writing far more scripts than this single one that I hold in my hand, would I not hold the page of this day and apply the pen of how I lived it in an unimaginably different way?” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

What Is My Destiny?

The Long and Winding Road — A LifeWords Devotion - Hope 103.2

Maybe you should read this post in the evening…

“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.” ― Hermann Hesse

I feel like I need to write something uplifting. But there has been much suffering in my circles lately. How do I find something to encourage? How do I help others to get through these hard days?

  • Random mass shootings
  • Aging parents in hospice care
  • Marriages coming apart

Today I heard the word “destiny” in a song lyric.

I wrote down some thoughts hastily – trying to put today’s suffering into a larger context, to give it some meaning. It helps me, the time I take to think about what’s happening before just reacting in fear and anger.

What is my destiny right now?

What am I supposed to be doing and saying TODAY? What actions could take my attentions away from self-pity, anger, fear, and focus on helping someone else who might be in the same boat? So often, bad situation can dump so much worry on my shoulders that I spend too much energy on the imagined cares of tomorrow. I’m missing what could and should be done right now.

What is my destiny day by day?

As I go on about my daily routines – do my job, so to speak, what am I really supposed to be accomplishing? This is when the tyranny of the urgent gets in the way. I end my week and discover that I can’t remember anything I did, at least anything worth remembering. I was rowing the boat but not sure where I was heading. Why did I waste so much effort and thought on what didn’t seem to last? I think about what kept me from sleeping at night, what I worried about. I can’t even remember a few weeks later what these torments were.

How To Make A Day Planner Work For You: Four Simple Tips

The danger here is that I’m going on about my business, so often in a hum-drum way – but bypassing what matters. Usually that means people get overlooked and unspoken to – at least in meaningful ways. Do you ever have to make conscious efforts to turn away from the screen and maintain eye contact with people who have interrupted you? I’m aware now that I need to be doing this more often, paying better attention to people.

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.”Thomas Merton

What is my long-term destiny?

What are your big life plans? Don’t you have career goals all mapped out? Do you remember earlier in life when you started thinking about the turns your life was going to make as you moved from one stage to the next? I spend time with college students and we talk about these kinds of big future dreams. I must confess, I don’t do enough mentoring about making significant differences with the future. Mostly we talk about dreams, education and goals. As I looked back at all my students over the past 25 plus years, I wish I had used some of my own long-term experiences to give some wise counsel about dedicating one’s life to things that matter most.

“If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.” ― Thomas Merton

What about my destiny over my lifetime?

Over the course of my entire life, what will I have lived for? This is the place where people wonder what gets written on their tombstones or read at their memorial services. At my wife’s memorial service I thought it was a wonderful testimony to who she was – I also thought she would be very embarrassed by all the kindness. Typically our self-talk is too negative. We need to hear the truth from others more consistently so that we have an accurate picture of who we really are. Do you ever take the time to tell the truth to people in your life? What are you doing right now, today, that will slowly add up and become the story they tell about you one day? We are all writing ours right this minute.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

What’s your eternal destiny?

Survey’s tell us that young people don’t think too much about the end of their lives. That’s one reason why their auto insurance rates are so much higher. We were organizing a prayer list and had several names of people struggling with life and death health issues. People who were our age (many in the room were grandparents) had concerns about their own aging parents. In this group we begin to think about the sum total of our days. Or at least who’s going to inherit all the junk in my garage?

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“All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.”
― Seán O’Casey

I was speaking with a colleague about heaven. In the history of the world, life was so uncertain, life expectancy short, disaster around every corner – heaven was very necessary. I told him that in our day, health insurance, long life, retirement plans and air conditioning makes heaven less an everyday thought.

Do you ever think about what will happen to you when you die? What’s your destiny? Is this all there is?

“To make the improving of our own character our central aim is hardly the highest kind of goodness. True goodness forgets itself and goes out to do the right thing for no other reason than that it is right.” — Lesslie Newbigin

Your destiny is going to happen today. All those little decisions you make turn into who and how you are becoming. The people in your life, those you love and even some you don’t know, need you to be that person of destiny. Your life is contributing to the destiny of others. Awaken and be aware of each step you take into that future.



Five Questions to Ask

“Many people are good at talking about what they are doing, but in fact do little. Others do a lot but don’t talk about it; they are the ones who make a community live.” ― Jean Vanier

How to Stop Yourself from Talking Too Much (According to 13 Experts)

I’m doing it again. In the rain this week, dodging mud puddles, I realized I had spent a wonderful casual meeting with a colleague with me doing almost all of the talking. It’s as if I switch over to hostage mode and start blabbing without being able to stop!

So here’s my new strategy. Instead of bemoaning my bad behavior and feeling awful in hindsight, I’m going to do something intentional at all my social interactions. I’m going to make certain that I ask at least five questions first. Then, and only then, am I allowed to slide into my confessional over-talking. I just tried it out with a friend at lunch. I think it worked. Of course, she had an agenda that she wanted to talk about. She’s always very deliberative like that. Keeps me from taking over. I’m anxious to try it out again.

“Pray don’t talk to me about the weather, Mr. Worthing. Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. And that makes me quite nervous.” ― Oscar Wilde

When you’re asking five questions, maybe these simple rules will help:

  • Each question must demonstrate genuine interest in the other person.
  • Questions should be connected – because you are really listening.
  • Questions and body language have to match – if you’re not looking, you’re not really interested.
  • The purpose of these questions is keep you from doing all the talking – especially if you’re like me these days and tend to start blabbing like a three-year-old telling on her big brother – so don’t turn your question into a sermon!

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” ― M. Scott Peck

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“You’re short on ears and long on mouth.” ― John Wayne

These five questions aren’t what we like to call “conversation starters.” Those are usually sort of shallow and are shared between people who are unfamiliar. These are like doorways you are establishing to allow someone else to be engaged and to keep you from accidentally dominating.

Think about this:

  • How about a follow up question to an ongoing discussion or event?
  • You could always refer back to previous conversations and ask a follow up.
  • Asking for clarification is an excellent strategy to demonstrate that you really are listening.
  • Has something happened in the world that you’d like to get this person’s perspective about?
  • Valuing someone’s opinion about a problem or situation means you’re going to have to listen when you ask (and stop explaining or clarifying).

I left lunch today feeling so much better about that interaction because I had been deliberate about listening. For me, right now, I’m going to have to be like this. What about you? Research tells us that your spouse can be a fairly accurate judge of listening skills and practices.  They are sort of the expert on you right now.

“Many men talk like philosophers and live like fools.” ― Philip K. Dick

I now need to work on simple and short answers to casual questions that people ask in passing. I notice that I’m divulging way too many details. The poor person at the door is getting this panicked look in his face. “Is this going to be on the test?” People are genuinely interested, they just don’t have the time or emotional investment to hear that much.

Keep growing up

You’d think by this age in life I would have all of this down by heart. New situations in life have knocked me off balance. I can’t find the railing as easily as I once did. Hasn’t that ever happened to you?  Life changes can cause new needs in life. We read about aging parents who have had to suddenly change their living situation, lose a spouse or a debilitating medical crisis suddenly strikes. So often, people in these situations spiral quickly toward their end. There are many explanations, one important one is an inability to adjust and compensate.

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Is there a big lesson here? Keep learning and transforming. Don’t stop thinking about what’s happening to you and how you can keep growing up. I’m watching my five-year-old grandson grow taller and taller. I want him to one day be able to say that he could also see that I too was growing and changing, as I should be.

“If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation. If I got any comfort as I set out on my first story, it was that in nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed. He’s a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward at the beginning and brave at the end. If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet. And if story is derived from real life, if story is just condensed version of life then life itself may be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another. ” ― Donald Miller

To Sir, With Love

“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.” ― Gabriel García Márquez

Seniors - Green Street Baptist ChurchAt our church, we used to have an early in the morning Sunday worship service. As I would look around, it seemed to be mostly attended by the older generation. Probably difficult for families, especially those with young children to get all ready. They would go to the later second service.

Several years ago I had a jolting experience at this “senior” worship service. A little old man whose hand I was shaking called me “sir.” He wasn’t trying to be funny. He meant it with respect. My shock hit me in the moments afterward when I realized I’m being called “sir” by a senior adult. What had happened to me? I don’t think I was limping or being especially wise. Had I unconsciously drifted into AARP territory?

“It’s paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.” ― Andy Rooney

The same thing is happening at the checkout counter. The kids, at least those who speak, are calling me “sir” as well. All I’m doing there is complaining about how high the prices are.  Am I becoming the grumpy old man? I’m also being conversational and telling stale jokes. Is that too grandpa?

The Open Road Story - Stetson Stories

As I contemplate all of these jolting experiences, perhaps I’ve contributed to the situation by starting to wear my LBJ Stetson hat. But not in church! Looking in the mirror, am I starting to look less like the dashing young character that inhabits my inner imagination more like my grandfather?

We’re all comrades around here

University faculty are surrounded by people calling them by their official titles. There’s a layer of formality that exists in most classrooms. Although, where I work, almost all of my fellow faculty are the age of my children. For some reason they take great pleasure in referring to me by my first name. Older faculty don’t do that.

So at work, I usually don’t feel old before my time. Until I start talking too much about “the old days.” Another stereotype about the aged?

“At 50, everyone has the face he deserves.” ― George Orwell

I’m teaching classes about society to students who no longer watch television. In my criminology class a few weeks ago, only one student had ever heard of Hannibal Lecter?? Our popular culture experiences are quickly diverging. Each year I feel like I’m drifting further and further away on a rowboat with no paddles.

Jerry Stiller's Greatest Moments on 'Seinfeld' - The RingerAt the movie theater recently, I caught myself yawning. It wasn’t even dark outside yet. Am I becoming like the old guys on TV I keep laughing at?

I’m repeating myself in conversations. Talking way too much to people who are not that interested (including my classes?) Even talking to myself while at home alone. But last week I caught myself talking out loud to myself at the store. A couple of people were giving me that funny look. What keeps me safe is the current practice of having phone conversations out loud – and all we see (maybe) is that AirPod sticking out of the ears. Maybe I can pass as someone who’s “with it”?

“Wisdom is the reward for surviving our own stupidity.” ― Brian Rathbone

Apple AirPods Pro: Secret Tips and Tricks

Think about all those ideas we have in our heads about what it means to get older. All those commercials on TV don’t help. Nothing is out of bounds anymore: adult diapers, hearing aids, hair loss, constipation, even Dr. Rick keeping us from becoming like our parents! Seems like there’s some serious deterioration going on.

The way we think about aging is changing for several reasons:

  1. Baby Boomers are all in their 60’s and 70’s
  2. Our fantastic healthcare has made life so much better for older people
  3. Seniors are much more engaged in their own wellness
  4. Incomes have risen each generation, most people are able to have a second life in retirement instead of having to work “until they drop”

“Keeping up the appearance of having all your marbles is hard work, but important.” ― Sara Gruen

It was only yesterday (that’s how old people think, right?) that we were taking care of my wife’s aging parents. Today, I think about who will be left to take care of me? When my in-laws started to physically decline, it seemed to me that it just happened too quickly. I have friends with aging parents whose decline has not been fast. This is a blessing and a curse. More time to share with family but healthcare concerns expanding. If aging family members live far away, this is another layer of worry. My wife walked around with strain on her brow because her parents were five hours away and she couldn’t be with them spontaneously. She also felt guilty about the burden put on her sisters who did live near. At the same time, she was fighting her own medical crisis. You see? It gets complicated.

Aging is still about relating

Those little old men at church are being welcoming and friendly towards me. Speaking to the young people in the service industry keeps us all human. Hanging on to your aging relatives and not seeing them as a problem to be solved makes life richer for everyone, especially your own kids who are watching.

It always seems to come down to relationships. Your investment in the lives of others produces benefits for layers of people, friends, family, strangers and foes.

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I can’t believe that I have to explain what “a rising tide lifts all boats” means to my students. When we give ourselves to others, we are making the larger world a better place in which to live – for so many more than we know.

Stopping the aging process isn’t going to happen. Doing something meaningful today while on the way toward your next birthday can happen. Just think about it.

“Wisdom comes with winters” ― Oscar Wilde


*Pass this blog on to someone else who might be interested

Are You Listening?

All about Hearing, Listening and Communicating - Dr. Cherry A. Collier

“And what does it matter whether God speaks to us from amongst the thorns or the flowers?” ― Francis de Sales

Recent research tells us that having just one personal interaction each day, one in which you are listening back and forth can do wonders in promoting your well-being. Sorry, but the communication needs to be live, not a text message! Nothing heavy required, sharing jokes, catching up on trivial news, passing on an opinion – these all seem to work. The effect is just in making a connection to someone who you know, who cares and who will listen. How much does that cost?

We each fool ourselves into thinking we don’t have the time. Yet we end up wasting so much of it on trivial matters that we can’t even recall a day later. For this type of communication to work at increasing your well-being, it’s not the quantity of minutes, it’s the quality of the exchange. This study found that once is enough, but more is better. Turn off that TV, stop scrolling, think about someone important in your life right now.

We lose track of people because we don’t do something simple like checking on the social ropes that hold us together. Don’t misunderstand, we can’t have too many friends or spend hours each day calling everyone on our contact list. What’s meant here is that the smaller circle of friends and family need to be regularly reconnected in your heart and mind – those bonds should not be taken for granted.

“Wit and puns aren’t just decor in the mind; they’re essential signs that the mind knows it’s on, recognizes its own software, can spot the bugs in its own program.” ― Adam Gopnik

I reconnected with a really great friend the other day. I need to call more often. I’m certain that she’s spending too much time on her own. She had taken a big trip to see family. I didn’t get a chance to add many words to the conversation – she had so much to talk about. As time was passing along I was thinking that this was really good medicine and wished I could have been with her in person, so she could read my body language. As often as I could, I inserted expressions so she could get a sense of my response. I wanted her to know that what she was saying mattered.

International OCD Foundation | Instructions for creating a video by phone

Whenever possible, I do a zoom call with my grandchildren. Preschoolers need to see and don’t respond well to a thousand stupid questions. What I’ve found works well is if my daughter will hand over her phone to my five-year-old grandson and he gives me a walkabout conversation/tour. It gets him much more willing to engage. Of course, there’s a degree of motion sickness on my end as he slings the zoom call up and down, over and around. Maybe he will remember that I was there when he was a child. 

“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” ― Bernard M. Baruch

Who should you call? Not once in a blue moon, but on a regular basis? I have friends who have a regular day each week to call their parents. No emergencies, just to catch up. One important dimension is that you have to listen, and demonstrate that you really are listening. Sometimes phone calling makes this a challenge. Especially if you’re driving. Everyone has a phone in their pocket now, so it’s never been easier to remain close. The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

Are Hands-Free Devices Really Safer While Driving?

I have another friend who would use his time driving home from work to check in. He’s smart with his time management! See, just think about a few minutes here and there each day and who you could touch base with – it will make you feel better in the long run.  Just be careful while driving!

“Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.” ― Eudora Welty


Smile Though Your Heart is Aching

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you

Smile, made famous by Nat King Cole

older man smiling outdoors - Wyoming Department of Health

I was trying to smile today. This is a conscious effort on my part, not something natural for me. Why is that? There are some people who seem to effortlessly smile in every move they make.

Here I was smiling while walking through a department store and I think because I was wearing a blazer, a guy dressed as most adults today are (shorts and t-shirt), walked right up to me and asked me where the changing room was. Only people being paid to be nice smile? This has happened to me before. Maybe a sign about future options?

I’d like to advocate smiling as a deliberate daily effort. It has helped me tremendously. But I have to consciously change my normal scowl, look others in the eye, maybe even say something, and always try to smile (no matter what). It works, even when students I pass have technology in their ears and can’t hear me speak. They can always “hear” a smile.

“A smile remains the most inexpensive gift I can bestow on anyone and yet its powers can vanquish kingdoms.” ― Og Mandino

Teaching in classrooms filled with students who are just glaring makes me want to tell more jokes. That can’t be good. We need to learn something, don’t we? Even adults accidently scowl as they sit and listen to me. That’s why I’m pushing the ideas of conscious smiling for all of us. Think about yourself, others and how your nonverbal communication is working (or not).

In a famous experiment researchers asked two groups of subjects to look at cartoons and rate how funny they were. The experiment was repeated with different groups. But always with two groups at a time to compare. They were told that the experiment was to help develop writing methods for the disabled. One group was asked to hold a pen in their lips while looking at the cartoon. The second group was asked to hold the pen in their teeth.  Each time, the group holding the pen with their teeth rated the cartoon as funnier than the other group.

Why did one group have better mood scores again and again? The theory is that their brains thought they WERE in a better mood because their smile muscles were in use. Clinching the pen in their teeth activated facial muscles that the other group did not when they just used their lips. Your attitudes shape your behaviors AND your behaviors shape your attitudes. Both are true about humans. Smiling more often can change your mood each day. 

“What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity. These are but trifles, to be sure; but scattered along life’s pathway, the good they do is inconceivable.” ― Joseph Addison (1672-1719)

You do realize that if you’re not smiling, you’re probably scowling. You don’t want that “look” to define who you are. People everywhere are getting an impression of who you are and about the places where we are; work, church, neighborhood, groups, etc., based on the body language we are communicatingUnhappy Older Woman Images – Browse 17,280 Stock Photos, Vectors, and Video | Adobe Stock with our expressions. Today, a large majority of Americans have a pessimistic outlook about the future. During the pandemic, surveys indicated that Americans were more unhappy than ever (since these polls have been taken). Recent happy numbers are getting better as life returns to something similar to normal. Don’t you think more smiles would just be good medicine for our fractured and distraught civilization? It couldn’t hurt.

“I could really use someone else’s smile today.” ― Richelle E. Goodrich

Smile all the time and at everyone, not just the people you know. Be careful, you don’t want people to think you’re up to something. Just be less sealed off and distant from the world you pass through. You’re going to have to get your face out of that phone. Look up and look at others. In our culture this is okay. Open up your face and your life a little bit more. Everyone needs some human warmth and connection. Don’t you?

“When you lose your smile, you lose your way in the chaos of life.” ― Roy T. Bennett

My Child's First Dental Visit - Smiling Kids Pediatric Dentistry / IndianapolisSmiling Kids Pediatric Dentistry / Indianapolis



The Power of the Situation

Why Friendship Is An Important Social Dimension

It’s amazing how someone can make your day! Just the right word, some encouragement, a phone call, even a smile. People have such incredible power to shape our feelings and outlook on life.

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

But of course, when you think about it, a single person can bring ruin to your mood. Sometimes it can be the same people!

Tossing and turning at night within my spirit. Completely agitated about the words or actions of someone who I decided was out to get me. Angry about what I wanted to say but knew I never would. Life gets out of control and I feel like I’m in a tornado of emotions.

A Tale of Two Offerings | Contending For Christ

We just learned about Cain and Abel this Sunday. That’s relational anger gone too far. Didn’t Jesus say something about hating someone being the same thing as murder?

I’m probably not going to murder anyone anytime soon, despite how mad I’m getting. But that anger and hatred sure can brew a nasty poison.

“Stab the body and it heals, but injure the heart and the wound lasts a lifetime.” ― Mineko Iwasaki

Why so few in our lives that bring joy? We don’t spend enough time cultivating that part of the garden. How often do you share some happiness? I too often take it all for granted. There have been several disasters in life when others have shown up, taken me by the hand, and walked with me through the mess my life was in. Great role models for me to think about more often.

My five-year-old grandson pitches an open and loud rebellion when ordered to clean his catastrophic disaster of a room. But when I sit on the floor with him he is more than eager to team up, start talking a mile a minute, and get the job done. There’s a lesson for ME somewhere in that pile of toys. 

If you’ve got some wise people in your life, they will help the most by listening to you as you rant about the crimes against humanity the awful others have committed against you. Someone in your life will help you grasp what you can control and turn loose of and what you can’t. Having a safe friend to pour out all your mixed up emotions to is always good medicine. We need this sort of friend.


But please remember, as time passes, to also share the stories about the good guys along the path.

There’s a school of counseling that teaches “it’s not the situation that creates our feelings, it’s the way we think about the situation.”  Mostly, we can’t control situations or other people in our lives – but we can work on how we think about life.

I’m in a season of trying to right the boat of my own mood. Not let the situation or people determine how I’m going to travel through every day. It takes practice. I flip back into the cold water often. Mostly I try to keep my mouth shut, listen to the right music, take a long view and remember God’s track record.

Are you going to let someone keep ruining your day(s) OR will you figure out how to bring a little joy to someone else, right now? There’s always a better choice. 

Finding Peace - Bible Verses on Peace | Philippians 4:6-7 | John 14:27

Do You Know How Bad It Hurts?

19,400+ Empathy Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock | Sympathy card, Empathy business, Sympathy background

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” ― Henri Nouwen

There’s something called Social Suffering. This happens when we hurt because of the larger consequences of human actions – like a global pandemic, an invasion of your country or a school shooting. These big events, caused by people, can bring catastrophic disaster into individual lives. It’s a kind of suffering that can be easy to understand. Empathy within reach because most of us can imagine the experience.

A professor explains why he asks not to be called a teacher (essay)

But there are other life circumstances that can be more difficult. In my class with college students, it’s always a challenge to deepen their understanding because of their age-related lack of experience. We are finishing up a class on childhood. Raising children gives you a whole layer of empathy. Can you imagine what it must be like for my criminology class? None have committed any crimes (I hope) and very few have been victimized. Mostly an abstract field of study for them. They don’t watch the news, so it’s even more of an abstraction!

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”  ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Have you ever heard of the concept known as an Empathy Gap? It’s another one of those biases in our thinking. This term describes why it can be difficult to really understand from someone else’s perspective and thereby feel with them. Empathy helps us to walk alongside others during extraordinary times. Maybe it’s not because you don’t know how to feel, but because you’ve got a load of feelings in the other direction?

An Empathy Gap can happen when our own experience is at the other end of the emotional spectrum. At work, I’ve just been given a long-awaited promotion and I’m feeling on top of the world. While walking out to the parking lot, I hear that one of my friends has been fired. I may find it difficult to empathize, not because I’m uncaring, but because my own thinking and feeling is at the moment so different. When friends are excited and extra happy and I’m feeling lonely or despondent – the same thing can happen. A gap that prevents an empathy connection.

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.” ― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My point here is that sometimes it may seem as if no one understands, but really what might be happening is that others have their own secret burdens that limit empathy. Children murdered at school in Nashville, a long battle with depression, the tornado wiped out the whole town, my friends wife just walked out on he and their three children…do you feel like you don’t have room inside to feel “alongside” people in these situations? Maybe your current place in life has produced an empathy gap. Maybe your own top of the mountain or bottom of the barrel experiences have made it harder to feel.

110 Best Jonah ideas in 2023 | jonah and the whale, jonah, bible pictures

We learned about Jonah and the big fish on Sunday. I wish I was the kind of friend who would have sat with him in that stinking fish for three days and just listened to his self-pity, no speeches or over-confident advice. Maybe all he really needed was someone to hear him voice all his fears and frustrations? Sometimes, the best way to heal is to just talk and be heard.

The next time your friend seems out of sorts, give a gift of some time and your undivided attention.

“Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.”  – Carl Jung

Getting Out of Your Rut

10 things that only happen when you're in a bad mood

“Men have mood swings. Women have mood leaps, mood swirls, mood loop-de-loops.” ― Bill Pronzini

When was the last bad mood you got stuck in?

Do you remember the cause? Probably ended up with the same old effects, right?

I recently got in a bad mood. It helped me to think about time I had just spent with a friend. His life is a great example about how to put the ups and downs of circumstances into a healthy perspective. Our interaction was a blessing.

Falling into a bad mood can happen suddenly because of a change, a sharp word, a mean decision or disastrous change in circumstances. You know what brings those nasty feelings to your own insides. There can be emotional, physical and even spiritual symptoms of bad moods. How does a bad mood show up in your life?

“Rain clouds and stormy moods take time to blow away, but sooner or later the sun always comes out.” ― Shirley Parenteau

When those foul storms strike – what are the options? How do you get in out of the rain and protect your soul from ruin?

Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them | Psychology Today

Don’t sit and percolate in your stew of bad mood, find a way forward:

  • It always helps to feel like you’re doing something. Pull out your journal and start writing. Getting some of your thoughts out, organized into words and then seeing them in print always helps. You can move out of your frustrated state and accomplish something and, you can clarify foggy feelings.
  • Find a friend who will listen. Sometimes we all just need to talk it out. Be careful. Some friends will listen for a little, then they want to help with a solution. Mostly what you need is just to be heard. To pour OUT those feelings that can be like poison.
  • Isn’t there some wisdom in your life, like a fence post, that you can hang on to during turbulent windstorms? I keep thinking about turning the other cheek and praying for enemies – the exact opposite of how I typically feel when I’m bent out of shape by someone out to get me!
  • How about taking a nice long walk?
  • I had an aunt who would bake cookies when she was moody. We always knew as we entered the door and smelled the wonderful aroma of baking that we needed to not just wolf down the baked goods, but spend some time listening.
  • Stop and take a longer view. I come home today and am in a bad mood because of late afternoon situations and interactions. I have to consciously stop and remember my whole day – that earlier interaction with the dear friend. The wiser choice is to remember my longer journey and how God works so faithfully.

“Learning brings a lighter mood and restores your energy. The simple shift from blaming to learning is tremendously empowering.” ― Jeffrey Rossman

Remember that humans have biases in their thinking. We have what’s called a Confirmation Bias – we end up seeing only what we are looking for. So if we believe everyone is out to get us – that’s all we notice. Do you see how this can contribute to distorted moods?

There’s also what’s called a Hindsight Bias. People reflect on past events and believe they just knew things would turn out the way they did. We tend to believe in our prophetic abilities – but after the fact! When stewing in a bad mood, people often rehearse the past and piece it together in a way to make their anger or disappointment predictable.

“Mood isn’t a particular thought or a particular part of the brain, nor in a particular part of the body, such as a foot or an ear, it is everywhere, but nothing in itself, more like a colour in which thoughts are thought, a colour through which the world is seen.” ― Karl Ove Knausgaard

Have you got a bad mood strategy figured out yet?

Do you know how to help someone close to you overcome their out of sorts mood?

What about becoming someone who’s less reactive to others and events and more in command of who you are – deep inside? Got that figured out yet?

4,500+ Two Friends Talking Serious Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock | Running, Happy family

“The enemy is within the gates; it is with our own luxury, our own folly, our own criminality that we have to contend.” ― Marcus Tullius Cicero

The Death of Rock n Roll?

It was jam packed concert on a recent Saturday night. To me, it seemed as if all 6000+ seats were filled. I turned and looked out over the audience before the lights went out. In my studies of religion, I remember always being taught that the most segregated hour in America was 11am on Sundays – when we all divided up and went to our own churches. Music concerts can be the same way. As I looked backwards, the placed was filled to the brim with old white people, myself included.

John Mellencamp still has plenty of fight left in him - The Washington Post

Ah, but ain’t that America for you and me?Ain’t that America? Somethin’ to see, babyAin’t that America? Home of the free, yeahLittle pink houses for you and meOoh yeah, for you and me

– Pink Houses, John Mellencamp

We had gathered to hear John Mellencamp, another old white fella. He’s now 71. Where did all the years go? He sang his heart out, in between drags on his cigarettes. I felt he wanted to jump and hop vigorously when the chorus called for it, but perhaps his hip wouldn’t allow it. We all understood. There were many around me who hobbled in on canes and walkers, if you can believe it.

We had very comfortable seating for our latter days. Getting up to sing along was a good idea every now and then, if for nothing else but to get the blood flowing to the extremities. Each time someone had to go to the bathroom – those bladders aren’t what they used to be – the groaning and creaking was audible as each of us stood to make room down the aisle. There used to be, and probably still is at many places, an unmistakable open-air smell of a couple characters who would faithfully break out some weed to celebrate. Now we are typically surrounded indoors by the pervasive scent of too much fabric softener.

“Aging is scary but fascinating, and great talent morphs in strange and often enlightening ways.” ― Bruce Springsteen

I realize that rock is a serious business but I kept thinking as I watched the band play with frowns on their faces, those guys seem really mad about something. Maybe they were just up too late? I get that kind of expression when I try to remember things. There were a lot of songs on that play list. What if what used to look cool now just comes across as needing to eat more fiber in your diet?

It was a wonderful night. The music was loud, the songs were memorable and everyone seemed to have a great time. I thought it must be a remarkable experience for a musician to be able to just strum a few chords on his guitar and have the whole hall burst into his song. Mellencamp has many of those. His songs have surely made it into the America’s list of essential anthems:

Pink Houses
Jack & Diane
Cherry Bomb
Small Town
Authority Song

Actually, I didn’t start attending concerts until I was in my 30’s. A late bloomer? I remember all that music from my youth, but the live events later in my life brought back all kinds of memories – even if some were imagined. It was a new layer of fun to hear that music in person and to be in a giant crowd all singing along. Never underestimate the force that crowds can have on individuals – for good and for bad. I have so many fantastic concert memories with friends and family. Being together is always worth every penny and the memories we build holds us even tighter. Often difficult to put into words, just a big smile and a nod of the head.

Geddy Lee Recalls 'Difficult' Final Rush Concert

All this machinery making modern music
Can still be open-hearted.
Not so coldly charted, it’s really just a question
Of your honesty, yeah, your honesty.   

-The Spirit of Radio, RUSH

As I think back on the Mellencamp night and all those past concerts, I wonder how many are left? Band members are dying, the audience is aging and tours are becoming ever more complicated to pull off.  Where am I going to go to replace this one-of-a-kind experience? I have a dear friend that attends Better Than Ezra with me every year. RUSH is out of business. I used to go with friends and even took my daughter way back when. They typically attract males only, but she loved them! The other day I saw that Mick announced Fleetwood Mac was done for. I tried to attend their shows every time they came to town. I’m typing this and remembering one of the last times I heard them here in Houston. I turned and discovered I was next to a dear friend from work. He’s no longer here on earth.

Seems like Stevie Nicks is still out there on the road. She’s one of my favorites. When she calls it quits, I’ll know it’s really all over. At least for me.

Oh, mirror in the sky
What is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

– Landslide, Stevie Nicks

Stevie Nicks talks 'amazing relationship' with Prince | Gigwise

I guess the real goal is to try and live with as few regrets as possible. Mostly those should relate to the people in your life. Have adventures, but make sure they are shared with others. Think of your life like it’s a story.

What chapter in your life needs work right now?
How should your past chapters contributing to this next one?
When is it time to turn the page and move to the next part of your story?
Which characters need to make a reappearance in the story of your life?

Turn the dial on your radio back to those old songs from long ago and remember again, make some of that joy real today, not a ghost of yesterday.