What Makes You Afraid?

Is Your Child Afraid of the Dark? | Sunshine House

I noticed the other day, although it’s been going on for a long time, the use of the word “phobia” in our daily discourse. In the most safe of civilizations in the history of the world, we certainly talk about fear a lot.

At our Thanksgiving dinner we all enjoyed (I hope) a dish of Brussels Sprouts. Now, I’m reasonably certain that there are people all around me who are sproutsphobic. They do not care for this little cabbage like side dish. Even though I cooked it with bacon and tried not to over do it so that it wouldn’t turn out mushy. Still, I think there are people in other families that would protest having this dish added to their feasts.

I saw a security photo last week of a man walking out the doors of a store dragging dozens of new purses behind him. He was obviously shoplifting in a very brazen manner. The retail industry reports that in 2019, almost $70 billion worth of merchandise was shoplifted. That cost must be passed down to someone. Probably me. That makes me angry and afraid that this behavior will increase. I guess I’m a shoplifterphobic person. Aren’t you?

Sometimes I find myself driving back home, out to the suburbs, from an event that took place downtown. It’s late at night and the traffic is very minimal. But often, there are people driving past me who have obviously been drinking. There are others who take advantage of the empty lanes on the freeway to race at dangerous speeds. It’s dark, very late and despite the lack of traffic, I find myself driving home very much afraid of those other drivers. I try to pay careful attention and get where I need to go as fast as I can.  Does this make me a latenightdrivingphobic person?

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” ― Marie Curie

What I really believe is that when we overuse a serious term like this we run the risk of causing harm to people who might need help. In the heat of political, moral and social debates in our society, using labels is a convenient way to reduce the opposition to a category and dehumanize people who disagree.

Having a real phobia is a diagnostic symptom used by health professionals. It is marked by out of proportion fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation. These fears are not reasonable or based on facts. People who are terrified of heights and won’t ride in an elevator. Those who fear water and won’t walk across a bridge. Others won’t go to the doctor or dentist because of their fears related to examinations. I just had a student in my office telling me her sister has trypophobia – I’ve never in my life heard of this one?!

What classifies these as phobias is that they are irrational feelings and they can prevent people from living a full and healthy life.  When we overuse the term, “phobia,” we risk minimizing the real obstacles that some people face and work very hard to overcome. Inadvertently, we are making light of serious health problems.

Just because I don’t agree with you doesn’t mean that I have a phobia, just that I have a different opinion or belief.

“It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.” ― Joseph Joubert

Still Giving Thanks

“I wanted to thank you,” I said.
She wrinkled her nose and squinted like I’d said something funny.
“Thank me for what?” she said.

“You give me strength I didn’t know I had,”; I said. “You make me better.”

― Ransom Riggs

Thank you…

for parking with enough room so as not to dent my door

for remembering my name

for making me feel welcome

for playing my favorite song

for asking

for listening again so patiently

for sharing those photos

for saying “excuse me”

for asking me to lunch

for fixing my phone

for not making too much fun of me when I park me car like that

for not standing too close

for yelling out “hello” when I walked in the door

for sitting quietly in the hospital with me

for looking at my photos

for buying stamps

for forwarding that email

for driving all this way

for being persistent

for letting me past you in that crowded grocery aisle

for taking your hat off

for waiting when I was late

for showing me how to get from here to there

for remembering

for sharing your umbrella

for not trying to match my story with yours that’s better

for making room in your busy life

for not talking during the movie

for letting me know you got home safe

for not walking too far ahead

for buying my dinner

for asking how my grandchildren are doing

for putting me on your prayer list

for telling me it’s going to be alright, and making me believe it

for being a good example to follow

for holding up my bike when the training wheels needed to come off

for telling me the truth

for loving those I loved

for loading the dishwasher, again

for not complaining, the way I do

for lending me that book

for listening to me go on and on in frustration

for sharing your popcorn

for helping me carry in the groceries

for holding the door

for not rolling your eyes when I gave too much advice

for inviting me to that concert

for telling me about a new movie

for letting me know when I let you down

for telling me what time it really was

for talking during those long drives to keep me awake

for telling me what a good idea I had, even when I didn’t

for posing in photos with me that I will save for a lonely future

for not remembering all my mistakes

for answering the phone

for making a plate for me to share

for making me keep my word

for answering email right away

for being in a good mood even when I know you’re not

for not having to be asked

for coming to the rescue

for sitting with me on the balcony during a starry night

for a smile beamed at a stranger

for sharing some good news

for inviting me to sit with you

for being gracious when telling me how I messed up

for holding my hand

for not leaving me alone

for letting me share a little of your hope

 

“St. Augustine said, “The very pleasures of human life men acquire by difficulties.” There are times when the entire arrangement of our existence is disrupted and we long then for just one ordinary day – seeing our ordinary life as greatly desirable, even wonderful, in the light of the terrible disruption that has taken place. Difficulty opens our eyes to pleasures we had taken for granted.”

― Elisabeth Elliot

Kindness Counts and Santa Claus is Watching

“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Beef tamales plate .Tuesday lunch special with homemade salsa Verde - Picture of Taco shop, Malmö - TripadvisorMy neighbor brought over dinner the other evening. Our cold weather had arrived. It was her specialty of Tex-Mex (New Mex-Mex?), including the annual holiday batch of tamales. We both are from parts of the country that celebrate with these wonderful delicacies. She had just returned from out of state, taking care of a grandchild in the ICU.

Of course, if you donate an organ, it’s a monumental act of love and sacrifice. But it’s very rare, right? What I’m thinking about are all the little acts of kindness that we all do for each other – these gestures that hold the social world together each day. It’s so easy to take simple gestures for granted if we’re not careful.

“Guard well within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness.” ― George Sand

Research tells us two things about kindness;

(1) when we do something kind toward others, despite its cost, it stimulates the brain in positive ways.

(2) acts of kindness are contagious – when we experience or witness kindness it makes us happy and to look for ways to repeat similar acts.

One little email or text with a photo makes so much of a difference. It can communicate layers to someone else – maybe at just the right time (theirs, not yours).  How about sticking a card or note in the mail, remember the mail? Amazon will sell you Forever Stamps so you will always be ready. I have a friend who used to give me calls when he was driving home from work. What great idea. Use that time for a meaningful purpose. Kindness means the most when it’s not expected. Who in your circle needs some human contact the most right now?

Old Woman Phone Pictures | Download Free Images on Unsplash

The first place to start being kind is to pay attention. Stop talking, look someone in the eyes, provide the right body language and never try to match with your own example (like a ping-pong game).  I often get so wrapped up in my own cares of right this moment that I miss out on really listening. Today, while I was listening, I think I rushed someone out of my office maybe too quickly. Being kind with time can be a tremendous gift in this world full of too much busy-ness.

Being kind takes empathy as well. It’s impossible to know how to be kind when we don’t understand and feel as someone else does. A student and I were talking about her class performance the other day. I was repeating to her instructions and coaching that I had given countless times in class. Why didn’t she hear this the first or fifteenth time? It was very difficult for me to empathize with her panic about passing the next exam. I tried to imagine her as my own child, or myself – much easier to do! When I was in college I needed a lot of help. Of course, this will never happen if you aren’t listening (see above).

“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the greatest intention.” ― Kahlil Gibran

What do you need to do today to raise your awareness of the situations of others in your circles?  How about just stopping, turn everything off, sit on the porch and reflect. 

What do you need to do today to feel and understand better? Maybe you could ask someone to tell you (again) their story about what’s happened?

Make a list. What kindness could you carry out today?  Put it on your calendar. Maybe your kindness is something you stop doing. Something you stop saying.

Got any tamales you want to share?

“Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone.
Kindness in another’s trouble,
Courage in your own.” 

― Adam Lindsay Gordon

 

A Bridge Over Troubled Water

Did you see the story on the news about the superhero 4-year-old who’s demonstrating empathy?

“What you do every day should contribute to giving your life meaning. If it doesn’t, why are you doing it?” — Don Hutcheson

My friend and I were talking about a terrible ordeal his family was experiencing. His wife’s mother has lived with them for over 20 years. She is like a mother to him, taking care of everyone’s needs in the house. She has been diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Treatments are happening, but it is a hard, hard journey. His voice trembled trying to find just a little bit of hope as he told their story.

I tried to be encouraging. Don’t think about what might happen in the days to come. Don’t lose today. Find the blessing in this moment, this day. Encourage her to share her stories with your daughter. You do the same, talk about what she means to you.

“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

As I think about the people in my life who don’t seem to have a full tank of empathy it always causes me to get mad first, next comes a rain storm of self pity. Maybe a day later I try to pause to reflect.  How do I stop making situations about me and start to think and act toward others – first?

Feeling Helpless? Try Helping Someone Else. | Ravishly

Empathy isn’t that easy. Before you beat yourself up for being too filled up with self pity or too insensitive to everyone around you, consider some of the steps your brain and heart have to go through to really put empathy into full effect. Those who study this human practice have discovered three important dimensions that help us to understand, connect and better help others.

The first is easy to understand, it’s called Emotional Empathy. This describes your ability and willingness to share/understand how someone else feels in particular situations. Our connection to others is so often one that’s based on common feelings. But sometimes it can be difficult for men and women to be empathetic toward each other. They often have different emotional alphabets.

Empathetic Accuracy is a cognitive part of the equation. You have to know what someone else is going through. That doesn’t happen if conversations aren’t occurring or there’s too much discomfort about asking real questions. It’s impossible to be empathetic if you remain  safely disconnected from people and their situations. Do you think our communication revolution has improved this sort of accuracy?

Nothing is going to happen if you don’t really care.  Empathetic Concern is the essential dimension that describes our will. Do you care enough to think about someone else, to engage your feelings? I think this is the driving force that makes empathy work in my life. I’m trying to get better about this by refusing to jump to conclusions, listening more carefully and even praying for some understanding.

Supporting men to end family violence | Pursuit by The University of Melbourne

“Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are. And this is why love, as I understand it, is always specific. Trying to love all of humanity may be a worthy endeavor, but, in a funny way, it keeps the focus on the self, on the self’s own moral or spiritual well-being. Whereas, to love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self.” ― Jonathan Franzen

So what’s something you could do today to raise your empathy score? Thinking about it doesn’t really help someone make it another step. Who needs something from you right now, not some time in the mysterious future, but now?

Another Mile Down The Road

“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” ― Robert Frost

Anyone out there experiencing signs of the afternoon arriving?

Coffee may help reduce risk for heart failure | American Heart Association

I drink a cup of coffee several times a day now. I never used to do that. Never. I sometimes wonder if I’m unconsciously paying homage to loved ones recently gone to heaven. My young adult years were spent surrounded by coffee guzzlers. My kids handed down their one cup at a time coffee maker to me, that helps as well.

I know that a lot goes on in our unconscious. There’s not enough space to pay attention to everything at the same time all at once.

The other day I was showing my yard guy a little brown box that had been delivered and was sitting on the welcome mat. It contained my Pill Pack. I think it’s the greatest invention since air conditioning. Every day’s dosage all packed in a convenient little plastic envelope. No more trying to sort out all those pills into narrow weekly squares – and search for stragglers on the floor. I don’t even really have to think about it.

While I was boasting of the ingenuity of it all, he couldn’t get past the fact that I was having to take all those pills every day. What was wrong with me, he must have been thinking. I didn’t appear that infirmed to him. What does he know!

“Wisdom comes with winters” ― Oscar Wilde

What did happen to me? I woke up one day and found myself swallowing a handful of pills. Now I’m choking down my fruits and vegetables in capsule format. When I went from wearing reading glasses to having to have a prescription I panicked and asked my doctor what went wrong? Was I not drinking enough water? Too much TV? Air pollution? She gently put her hand on my shoulder and said, you’re just old. 

What made you realize you were getting older? Not necessarily “infirmed” but, what were some of the memorable milestones along your journey of life? Driver’s License, first real paycheck, bringing that baby home from the hospital, getting glasses, having teenagers driving off in your car, starting to think about fiber, medical check-ups with uncomfortable issues?

“You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.” ― George Bernard Shaw

509 Old Man Watching Tv Stock Videos and Royalty-Free Footage - iStock

Do you ever feel as if you’re trapped in your routines?

Last week I realized that I’m getting religious about watching the news. Now THAT sounds like something old people do. I wake up and turn it on and I get home and turn it on. Since I’m watching the same channel – it seems like they are replaying the morning stories at night! There’s not as much really happening as the 24-hour constant flood of information would have us believe. That can’t be true!

Turning off the TV is a good habit. Turning on some music is always a better choice. Put on some acoustic guitar and see where your mood goes. See how much more gets accomplished when you’re not trying to read the Netflix subtitles! Always use your routines to enable more freedom in your life. Routines allow you to be more conscious about what matters. When you keep saying “no” because you have to follow some rigid pattern – you’ve missed the point.

“In the shapeliness of a life, habit plays its sovereign role.”  ― Mary Oliver

We need routines to make sense of living and to get things accomplished.

Simple things like brushing our teeth and important goals like graduating from high school are accomplished because of routines. Very young children practice routines and in so doing learn, bit by bit, about life and are shaped for the next stage. As adults, we use routines to practice automatic thinking – so we can dream and solve problems while we’re driving to work each day. That feeling that we’re chipping away at daily accomplishments is called “perceptual effectiveness” – routines help us to at least feel as if we’re moving in the right direction.

It doesn’t seem to cool off until after 7pm down here in Houston for at least half the year. And yet, I keep buying more plants to replace all the stuff that froze to death the last two winters. As I was putting a few more tropicals into the back tonight all I could think about was that no one is ever going to see this but me. After we discussed my pill intake, Mr. Perez, who takes care of my yard, stood in my back garden and remarked how relaxing he thought it must be to sit here in the evenings (and listen to the new neighbors with lots of kids cool off in the pool next door). Isn’t it funny how different two people can see the same thing?

Why do you think we become more reflective as we age?

“Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” ― Charles Dickens

Time is moving faster and faster. A very pregnant co-worker just told me that as miserable as she feels in her final days before delivery, it won’t last long. What a great perspective. I told her that when she gets old like me, time is really going to fly past. That sand slipping through the hour glass starts to speed up as it nears the end of the funnel.

Hourglass Lampworking - Glass Blowing Techniques - YouTube

Getting older reminds me of all that I didn’t get accomplished. That list of grand projects is probably not going to happen. Life got in the way. Several years ago, during the chaos of the pandemic, I started posting notes throughout the house. The overwhelming sense of the world, new ways of doing old business and increasing social disconnection caused me to want to be more mindful of people and situations. It became a way to better organize my thinking and feeling.

So many projects never got done. But then, there are all these people that deserve some attention. Maybe that’s a more glorious way to spend today? Who needs some of your attention today? What’s keeping that from happening?

“The hardest choices in life aren’t between what’s right and what’s wrong but between what’s right and what’s best.” ― Jamie Ford

Are you still living a life that’s filled with choices?

Our ruts often keep us from seeing the far horizon and the infinite choices we could strike out for. Life isn’t supposed to be what we expected. I think it should be more peeking around the corner than that. Sure, there’s unexpected catastrophes like the price of gasoline and someone just had a stroke.

  • Use routines in your life to liberate your dreaming and doing
  • Make just today count for something – don’t waste it in worry or regret, literally think about what/who needs you right now.
  • Don’t let your life live you – make wise and reflective choices when you can. Think always about the people in your circles that need a word of hope today.

“Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.” ― Walt Whitman

Are There Too Many Fires to Put Out?

“He talked in a quick staccato manner, so eager to have his say that he often interrupted himself.” ― J.B. Priestley

Someone asked me what I did this week. There were a lot of fires to put out.  I’m not sure everyone really wants to know the real answer to that question. There are socially accepted responses that we all provide that make up the small talk of our lives, “really hot weather we’ve been having isn’t it?” Stuff like that.

I slip at times and start to answer someone with a real story of what I did this week. After watching their eyes roll back into their head I realize my mistake. One of those too much information moments…again. During the summer I was up at work in a mostly empty building. I am also living a solitary life. After a time, I began to pity the people who get trapped in a conversation with me. I sometimes see them looking at their watch, eyes darting out the door, seeking escape. The smart ones would sneak past- pretending to never noticing me at all.

Firefighter Christian Mendoza manages a backfire, flames lit by firefighters to burn off vegetation, while battling the Mosquito Fire in Placer County, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

If you sit down and actually make a list of what you did this week, you might be surprised at all the little fires that you had to put out. What was unplanned, urgent, jumped up in front of the well-organized day you had all mapped out. Maybe you’re one of those people who live in such a controlled environment that this doesn’t happen. You’ve anticipated and learned how to keep the little flames from even starting up in the first place. I think I know a couple characters like that.

“Adulthood brings with it the pernicious illusion of control, and perhaps even depends on it. I mean that mirage of dominion over our own life that allows us to feel like adults, for we associate maturity with autonomy, the sovereign right to determine what is going to happen to us next. Disillusion comes sooner or later, but it always comes, it doesn’t miss an appointment, it never has.” ― Juan Gabriel Vásquez

In 1975, Psychologist Ellen Langer conducted research and wrote about the cognitive bias that she labeled “The Illusion of Control.” At some point, most of us fall into this kind of thinking trap. It does make me feel so much better when I’m on top of the mountain instead of scrambling upward all the time. One aspect of this problem can be thoughtlessly choosing easy tasks instead of thinking through to the best choice. Gamblers have another version. They believe that if they keep at it, they will eventually win it all back. Any of us can become the victim of quick fixes or risk taking due to the false belief that we have more control over situations than we actually do. 

When I am in occupations that involve people, I end up doing more fire control because people are less predictable and I suffer with that pesky illusion at times.  People, myself included, get themselves into situations where they need help. These are mostly communication oriented fire starters. Misunderstandings about the directions I sent in an email that take me three more emails to help you figure out. See what I mean?? It made perfect sense to me when it was in my head.

Have you thought much about your own fires?

For some, the fires are distractions used to seem busy with the urgent, instead of what is ultimately important about the task. Do you ever unwittingly self-sabotage?

That Illusion of Control will keep you constantly frustrated about your life. Who do you know that can give you permission to not be in charge of everything? 

Maybe today’s fire isn’t really that big and can be left until tomorrow? Do you find yourself answering every email the minute it arrives?

Calling it a “fire” and then spending energy trying to put it out may not be what your life is supposed to be about right now.  Is your time on the fire brigade keeping you from investing in the lives of the people around you?

 

Campfire 101: Expert Tips for Building a Safe Fire | Men's Journal

What’s Junking Up Your Life These Days?

“Every solution to every problem is simple. It’s the distance between the two where the mystery lies.” ― Derek Landy

Before the last year’s cold front blew down to Houston, I was out for a walk. It was late in the evening. Rain was forecast for the next day. Trash pick up was in the morning and everyone had hauled out their junk to the curb. I could see into the lit garages of some houses. Made me feel better, mine wasn’t the only junk pile in the neighborhood.

Is Your Messy Garage Keeping You From Getting Things Done? - FiberCell

A colleague at work is at the hospital now with his pre-school daughter. They are taking all sorts of complicated medical tests. She has some severe problems that you wouldn’t know if you just met her. Her parents noticed, of course.

What they are now going through makes all the silly problems I think I’ve got seem so trivial. We’ve all had that same experience. Someone shares a private tribulation and you immediately feel guilty for all the petty complaining. Maybe I should quit talking about what’s bothering me.

But it’s important to remember that each one of us has our own set of problems, our own garage filled with junk. It is ours and no one else’s. There’s no point making comparisons. Just deal with your own troubles.

In all kinds of ways, humans make comparisons of themselves with others. We do this because in so many areas, there isn’t an objective standard to use. All we have is each other. Where’s the yardstick to measure problems up against? Who’s is really larger and deserves more sympathy? Yours doesn’t seem so awful because you’ve got so much more experience than I do. This one is really causing me so much pain right now because this is number three in a row.

Making comparisons is almost subconscious for us. The way out is to empathize with all your heart while at the same time keeping your own troubles in a realistic perspective. Don’t feel guilty about having problems or talking about them. That’s how we find solutions. Don’t let comparison chase you into silence because your garage isn’t as junk filled as someone else.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” ― Haruki Murakami

Never Break the Chain

Why You Should Embrace Support from Others - bulldog yoga

There is always a chain holding us to what matters

One of my favorite classic rock groups sings about a chain. When you think about chains do you think about something bad, holding you down, keeping you bound, limiting your freedom, heavy and constricting?

But chains can also fulfill useful purposes:

  • That’s how we anchor the ship and keep it from drifting.
  • Remember that chain on the front door so you could open it and peer out?
  • I had a friend who kept his big wallet chained to his beltloop.
  • Can a bracelet be like a chain? My wife had a big giant charm bracelet that she added to over the years. It needed a hefty series of links to hold all those memories.

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

What kind of an anchor is your family?

Almost everyone starts out life intertwined with family. It’s hard to imagine how we would even survive without these essential people who insert themselves and society at large inside of us. As prickly as that usually becomes once you hit adolescence. Your parents enable you to survive and also teach you how to survive as the unique person that you are.

“We define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle against, the things our significant others want to see in us. Even after we outgrow some of these others—our parents, for instance—and they disappear from our lives, the conversation with them continues within us as long as we live.” ― Charles Taylor

Think about all the ways that you are wrapped up in the history, rhythm and life of the people all around you. It’s easy to put your family in this category. Sure we are all tied together, for better or worse, right? For almost everyone, our families integrate us into the world in healthy and productive ways. They prepare and launch us so that we will thrive. Sometimes we hear about families that fetter members to disaster. In most large American cities, the number one reason that police get called is a family related disturbance. Families teach us how tied up we are to other people, emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually and even logistically. Don’t you think civilization rests upon the love and care of moms and dads?

Right now, send a note or card to someone in your family, a distant extended member. In fact, buy a stack of cards so that you’re always ready to send something. There’s bound to be someone in your big family who needs some kindness right now.

“When I lived in a small town, the whole town got together to help my family when tragedy struck our home. Now in a big city, my neighbor one block down doesn’t know who I am.” ― James Hauenstein

It’s midnight, do you know where your friends and neighbors are?

A few weekends past, new neighbors were having a celebration in the back around their pool. Music was included. Music that made all of my windows vibrate. I’m certain everyone on two or three nearby streets were swept up into the party via the rhythmic drumming of each tune. After a time I realized that I’ve lived here almost 25 years and never had a single bit of friction with anyone living near. In my neighborhood there are people with last names from all over the world. We are all tied up together, yet following a similar set of norms and managing cohesion. That’s amazing, don’t you think?

The May 2021 American Perspectives Survey discovered that Americans have fewer close friendships than they once did, they talk to their friends less, and no longer depend as much on friends for personal support. Maybe the recent pandemic has set us back. We remain disconnected from our friends both physically and emotionally. Sure, friends can be a lot of trouble, but in the end they are vital to your health.

What can you do? Get in contact with that friend of yours, you know who I mean. Go have lunch or a long phone call. Get caught up. Strengthen that chain.

“The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers & cities; but to know someone who thinks & feels with us, & who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.” ― Goethe

4,316 Two Friends Talking Serious Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

When I use this metaphor of a chain holding each one of us to what matters most, I think about it in three important ways:

(1) There are our relationships that keep us tied to individual people, to roles with responsibilities and to the rules of living that we learn and pass on. Remember that family becomes for almost everyone that first significant model of how relationships work (or don’t).

When I was a young adult, I don’t remember that being connected to others was very important. I’m certain I just took others for granted, like the sun coming up. The chains that hold us to each other always take some degree of conscious effort.

“When we love someone our love becomes demonstrable or real only through our exertion – through the fact that for that someone (or for ourself) we take an extra step or walk an extra mile. Love is not effortless. To the contrary, love is effortful.” ― M. Scott Peck

(2) Intertwined within these relationships are all of the feelings that are invested in us and that we in turn plant within the furrows of memory. These emotions tie us to places, experiences and to our significant relationships. My friend calls his mother every Sunday afternoon, probably for all sorts of reasons, but I think mostly and deep down, because of the devotion that binds mothers and sons.

These connections aren’t limited to emotions. I’m thinking about examples like obligation, reciprocity and trust. These are like glue that enable us to take so much for granted and lean into one another. We don’t have to start from scratch with each person in our life.

What is the meaning of "“Someone holds the door for you.”"? - Question about English (US) | HiNative

I still cry out for you, don’t leave me, don’t leave me…  Rhiannon, Fleetwood Mac

(3) When thinking about our connections in the world, don’t forget the social institutions all around us. These include our family, church, work, the news, and even healthcare. As you get older or seriously ill, you can imagine how essential your relationship will be with your doctor and health providers. When we were fighting cancer, our oncologist made incredible efforts to connect with us personally at each visit. He was working hard to heal us at multiple levels. I hate to tell you this, but as you age you might have to take handfuls of pills each day. My great revelation here was having mine delivered in dated packets. What an invention! BUT, I still visit our little local pharmacy and pick up a few prescriptions because of the close relationship we developed with everyone that works there. I think that should always beat convenience. 

“A few years ago, a priest working in a slum section of a European city was asked why he was doing it, and replied, ‘So that the rumor of God may not completely disappear.” ― Peter L. Berger

There are chains that we should work to remove:

  • relationships that bring harm to any part of you, inside and out
  • self-talk that keeps wounding instead urging you forward
  • bad habits that keep us spinning our wheels instead of climbing to the stars

I’m thinking about what needs to be reinforced in my life and what I need to turn loose. I only want to be bound up to what love can make anew.

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” ― Herman Melville

(Do you think Melville really wrote that? He’s the Moby Dick author, remember?)

*My poor little posts are being read by fewer and fewer. If you are inspired and want to keep them coming (and inspire me), it would help tremendously if you would pass this along to someone else and “invite” them to follow by clicking on that green icon in the top left corner…

A Hall Full of Memory

There are three signs (of many) that one has moved into the latter days…

  1. Planning of routine activities are mainly scheduled around the weather forecast – which is observed and talked about religiously.
  2. When returning to the parking lot, there is always shock and amazement that some drunk has apparently gotten your vehicle and re-parked it completely out of the lines and within centimeters of the next vehicle.
  3. The vision of your mind begins to turn in a new direction spending more time remembering and less time dreaming about the future.

Walk Alone Stock Video, Footage - Walk Alone HD Video Clips | Bigstock

I was walking down an almost empty hall in my church. I had arrived early on Sunday morning as usual to get my Bible study class set up. My mind was thinking again about being here, in this particular place. I had started this thought train the week before, walking the same path, down the same quiet hall.

My in-laws had been members of this church as it first launched back in the 1970’s. They were on committees, led classes, he was a deacon, they contributed their lives to this eternal work. My wife and her two younger sisters spent their childhood years here as well.

“You know your children are growing up when they stop asking you where they came from and refuse to tell you where they’re going.” ― P. J. O’Rourke

When my daughter reached her middle school years, we joined this church so she would be a part of a strong youth ministry. She and her future husband met right away, fell head over heels and the rest was history. They’ve just celebrated ten years of marriage, with two children, but have actually been a couple for nineteen years.

As I walked down that hall, in the the early hour before the commotion of hundreds of people would fill every inch of stillness, I thought about these people in my family. A history of people who had made meaning in the nursery, classrooms, choir loft, fellowship hall and sanctuary. Their lives invested in others as they learned and grew up in so many ways.

My wife’s parents had moved away to Dallas when she was a teenager. They joined another church and in the same way became integral parts. We were married in that church. They are both gone to heaven now. Her sisters and their families are far away in Dallas as well. My wife joined her parents in heaven three years ago. Two years ago, my daughter and her family moved far away.

Walking down that hallway, as I do each week, I thought about how strange it was that I was the one left here in “their” church.  As I think about it, I’ve been here in this church longer than anyone of that family ever was. That seemed strange to me as I walked down that quiet hall.

I’m about to hit twenty years teaching our Bible study class. That’s going to seem strange to everyone who’s in it with me. None of us feels that old! 

“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

I’ve seen mixed reports about people returning to church, now that we feel past the pandemic. Some researchers think that Gen-X’rs (my children’s age group) are coming back in larger numbers than other age groups. Other researchers report that when we look at overall church attendance, it’s at 2/3 the number it was before COVID sent everyone home in fear. There’s probably still some pandemic hesitancy, but also it’s become easier to stay home and participate from a distance.

What many people may not realize (yet) is that the social interaction is what makes it all worth it. Even more so than the convenience of zooming. 

I’m a social scientist and can’t help but look at numbers. People who regularly attend church:

  • live longer
  • live lives with better overall health
  • experience less stress and anxiety
  • have happier marriages
  • experience lower levels of depression and loneliness
  • have children who flourish in school and early adulthood
  • have families with resilient social networks

We probably already knew all of this deep down. Regularly being with others in person is good for us in so many ways, no matter how much trouble it takes. As the days and weeks and months and years go by you build something that lasts. A framework for your children is built that helps them to organize meaning in their own lives. Meanings made out of beliefs, practices and relationships.

During my growing up years, at times when I didn’t even realize I was drowning, there were people in my little church who kept me floating just because of their presence and consistency. If all I’d had was a screen, I’m not sure I would have made it (even though I did watch a lot of religion on TV back in the 70’s). Those people, who didn’t necessarily have all the answers did provide themselves, and I carry them with me to this day.

A dear friend has gone through a number of terrible life tragedies. Just awful experiences. I don’t know the best way to encourage him back into his church after the pandemic. How did I survive my own hell on earth without my intimate family at church? They took me by the hand and walked me through each painful mile. There are others I know that I see suffering all alone and I don’t usually know the right words to say. I’ve decided I need to invite and get personally involved instead of praying from a distance.

Two men having lunch on a Park bench with a sandwich and drink from cups Stock Video Footage 00:26 SBV-327576766 - Storyblocks

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?” ― A. A. Milne

When I walk down that empty hall each Sunday morning and remember who used to be there, in just a few minutes, I hear and see who is now there. Even as I miss my grandchildren, seeing other children grow up week after week is so satisfying. Being around others is essential to keep any of us on course. It’s a wonderful blessing to be able to make moments count each week. Also, another opportunity to notice who could be there and think about how I can do something to invite them back home.

6 Ways to Keep Visitors Coming Back to Church -

Stuck in a Rut

How to ride rutted out trails

Have you ever felt like you were?

In a rut, that is…

I know I have. Not just felt like it, but actually in a rut. Not just once, but many times in my life. You’d think I would learn how to avoid those traveling traps.

“Constantly focusing on the limitations, instead of all the possibilities, is how people become stuck in their lives. It only serves to recreate the same old reality from day to day. And soon the days turn into years, and lifetimes.” ― Anthon St. Maarten

I guess it doesn’t help when you can’t see over the edge of your rut…

People, myself included, get stuck in ruts for a number of reasons. I don’t think we intentionally aim for that rut. I’ve woken up at times and realized that I’m not going anywhere because I’m stuck. I also know that sometimes I have stayed in a rut instead of making hard choices and doing difficult work to get out. Staying in a rut can be thought safer or more comfortable than taking the risk to change or move forward. That’s hard to believe.

Sometimes, people find themselves in a rut because of their own mistakes or self-destructive choices. This is the obvious answer. When we hear a story about someone being stuck, the first place we go is a quick examination of their poorly followed road map.

Sometimes, people find themselves in a rut because of choices made by someone else. We all live in a connected world. Our families, friends and work world keep us intertwined with the lives of other people who are making decisions that affect how we act and think. Right now and for years.

Sometimes, people decide to stay in their rut because it’s providing the essential attention, connection and love that they have always needed but never received. That doesn’t seem to make sense, does it? Many times, people aren’t even aware that their life in a rut is producing something they deeply need.

“But there was a difference between being stuck and choosing to stay. Between being found and finding yourself.” ― Martina Boone

Isolation Can Produce Ruts

While some age groups are, not everyone is returning to their churches in these post-pandemic months. If there is such a thing as post-pandemic. Some reports indicate that the return rate is at approximately two-thirds. Going back on a regular basis will do wonders for you on many levels. The weekly “live” connections with others have kept me going in so many ways. During the week we use technology to stay tethered with each other. This has kept my focus on what means the most to me.  Praying, encouraging, sharing our journey has all worked to keep me from that familiar rut of paralyzing self-pity.

“It’s all right to sit on your pity pot every now and again. Just be sure to flush when you are finished.”Debbie Macomber

Don’t Overthink It

Maybe during the locked up period of time we’ve come through, you noticed or even developed some bad habits. Some might even qualify as a rut. I’ve been reading some research about how to replace bad habits with good ones. Very eye-opening. Instead of beating myself up about my lack of will power or low motivation, making a good habit is mostly about changing circumstances and getting into a new routine. Habits, both good and bad, happen because we spend so much of our mental processing on autopilot.

My new routine of walking the neighborhood each evening has hit a summer snag. It never seems to cool off until almost ten o’clock! By then I’ve gotten side tracked with something else. So, I’m working on the timing of this routine so I don’t have to make a conscious decision, it will just happen. Wish me luck.

What routines do you need to fix? Make a change in the right direction, give yourself a reward, make it something you don’t have to think about, and you will probably end up out of that rut sooner rather than later.

“If you continue to dig the same hole in the same place in your life, eventually you will be standing in a grave.” – Shannon Adler

Relationships Need Tending Like a Garden

Don’t you have friends who are in relationship ruts? It’s very difficult to break out and build new friendships, especially lately. Even dysfunctional relationships work for us when they keep us on familiar scripts and protect from the risks of rejection.

Your relationship is in a rut when:

  1. Communication isn’t bringing life
  2. You’re drained most of the time instead of energized
  3. Trust has been deteriorating over time

There are many other signs. I think these are significant. Relationships don’t usually fall apart quickly. Some poisons can take a long time to kill. Everyone has difficulty jumping into new friendships and learning different scripts. Such a hard jump to make – these also take time. We hurt and want relief quickly. I think that’s why some people just stay in their relationship ruts.

“People who have been deeply hurt in their relationships will often devalue love so it doesn’t hurt so much. And they often become resigned to never loving again.” ― Henry Cloud

Getting out of a rut takes an understanding of what got you there in the first place. Helping someone else get out of a rut will probably mean going past the immediate circumstances and addressing larger problems and/or people. Most people, even your close friends, will never let you near enough to have those kinds of conversations. That’s an unfortunate part of life and people these days.

The number one reason that people stay in their ruts is because they try and go it alone. It’s hard to admit failure. Even more difficult to let someone else see mistakes repeated. But the only way up and out is mostly with the help of others. Sometimes, we stay in ruts because we can’s seem to lift that heavy brick of pride up and over the edge.

“Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need.” ― Khalil Gibran