Hello, Opportunity, Nice to Meet You

In the last few posts, I’ve been talking about problems and what they do for us. They introduce us to ourselves. Problems introduce us to others. Now I want to talk about how problems introduce us to opportunities. I’m what I like to call a “word nerd.” One of the first things I do when I’m learning something or wanting to communicate an important point is to look up the words being used. Often the definitions open up new insight. I wondered if that might help with this topic.

What is a Problem? – a problem is “a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome”

OK. So, what’s an Opportunity? – an opportunity is “a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.”

Here’s how this one works. If you take opportunity’s “set of circumstances” and substitute it with problem’s “unwelcome or harmful situation” you get  “an unwelcome or harmful matter or situation that makes it possible to do something.” That’s how problems introduce us to opportunities. The problem, by definition, needs to be dealt with and overcome. In that way it not only makes it possible to do something, it requires us to do something. Whatever that something is, we would most likely not have done it without the problem.

In last week’s post, I talked about people who use problems as stepping stones to success. Am I one of those people? Are you?

Here are some examples of that kind of thinking.

Infectious Disease

Infectious diseases are a real problem. We know that all to well since the onset of COVID 19 almost a year ago. The story goes that Sir Alexander Fleming was working on a cure for diseases. He tried all kinds of things. Finally, in frustration, he threw away his petri dishes. A little later he noticed that mold was growing on those petri dishes. He also noticed that the mold was killing the bacteria. He started studying what he had found and the result was penicillin which has saved countless lives for over 100 years.

In this case, the solution was in what Fleming threw away. Don’t quit too early or you may miss the solution you’re looking for.  Don’t give up.

Burs on the Dog

If you have a dog and have ever gone hiking you know about burs. Those pesky little balls that stick in the dog’s fur. Even if you don’t have a dog, you know what I’m talking about because they stick to your socks, too. Well, a Swiss engineer named George de Mestral decided one day after a hike in the Alps, to look at those pesky burs under a microscope to see what made them stick so well. What he found was tiny hooks on the burs that allowed them to grab on to the loop weave of socks and to the dog’s fur. That discovery led to the invention of Velcro. Ever heard of it?

In this case, the very nature of the problem led to a world-changing invention. Study the problem. The very thing that makes it harmful or unwelcome, may be what makes it possible for you to change your world.

No More House

Three days after the election of 2008, the company I worked for laid me and six other highly compensated, newer employees off. No one was hiring then, at least in my industry. The housing crisis at that time expanded an industry called “property preservation.” It’s where you care for the inside and outside of foreclosed properties. I attempted to get into that industry but was unsuccessful. Unemployment didn’t cover my mortgage so I could see that in a few months I would be without a home. Long story short, I found a job outside my industry that moved us to China for a life-changing (in a good way) two-year experience.

In this case, the problem caused me to take action on something I never would have even considered under different circumstances. That led to a life-changing experience. Think outside the box. Color outside the lines. Try something different.

Some people don’t even talk about “problems.” They substitute the word “opportunity” because their mindset is on what possibilities that harmful or unwelcome matter presents.

Hello, Interesting to Meet You

Last week I quoted John Maxwell who said, “Problems introduce us to ourselves.” Problems are not usually something we face alone. So, problems not only introduce us to ourselves, they also introduce us to others. American novelist and retired physician, Tess Garritsen said, “There is no better test of character than when you’re tossed into crisis. That’s when we see one’s true colors shine through.” Garritsen was talking about how she develops characters in her stories, but it’s the real-life truth of that statement that makes characters compelling.

What do we learn about others when we face problems? There are, for example:

People who make problems worse

The question here is what’s in the person’s bucket? Are they carrying water or gasoline? Are they a fire-lighter or a fire-fighter? Some people seem to find joy in stoking fires to make them bigger. The most insidious of these are the arsonists posing as firefighters. These are the people who create or stoke a fire in order to appear as the hero who puts it out. These people are dangerous to any organization.

People make problems worse by their attitude. They are victims and constantly looking for someone to blame. People make problems worse by their emotions. They are hotheaded or negative. Either one is a detriment to progress. People make problems worse by their inaction or wrong action. They either freeze or head in the wrong direction. Either one trips everyone else up.

People who become problem magnets

In his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell talks about “The Law of Magnetism” which states, “Who you are is who you attract.” If someone sees nothing but problems, guess what they get in life, more problems. If someone sees nothing but possibilities, guess what they get in life, more possibilities.

The problem with people who see nothing but problems is that they tend to attract more people who see nothing but problems. The first rule of holes is, when you’re in one, stop digging. We need people who can help us see potential pitfalls. But people who see nothing but pitfalls almost certainly begin to create them.

People who give up in the face of problems

Business Magnate, billionaire, and philanthropist Ross Perot said, “Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one-yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game one foot away from a winning touchdown.” Solutions are not always easy to find, but there is always a solution. People who give up wind up putting the problem back in your lap. If you wind up finding the solution, why do you need them?

Our company was asked to take over servicing several additional buildings. It was the Friday before service was to begin the next Monday when I learned we couldn’t find a piece of equipment we needed in each building in order to start servicing it. I personally walked through the six other buildings where the equipment was supposed to have been last seen to no avail. When we couldn’t find the equipment, one of my colleagues suggested we would have to delay the start. That wasn’t an option for me. I made a phone call and drove an hour away to pick up what we needed from our supplier. We started on time that Monday.

People who use problems as a stepping-stone for success

In their book, Cradles of Eminence, Victor and Mildred Goertzel wrote about their study of the backgrounds of more than four hundred highly successful men and women who would be recognized as brilliant in their fields. the list included Franklin D. Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Winston Churchill, Albert Schweitzer, Clara Barton, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, and Sigmund Freud. Here are some of their interesting findings:

  • Three-fourths of them as children were troubled by poverty, broken homes, or difficult parents who were rejecting, overly possessive, or domineering.
  • Seventy-four of the eighty-five writers of fiction or drama surveyed and sixteen of the twenty poets came from homes where they saw tense psychological drama played out between their parents.
  • More than one-fourth of the sample suffered physical handicaps, such as blindness, deafness, or other crippling disabilities.

What makes the difference between people who overcome such circumstances and people who are overcome by them? They didn’t see their problems as stumbling blocks. They saw them as stepping stones. They understood that problem solving was a choice, not a matter or circumstance.

When I train new or young leaders, I emphasize to them that they need to be solution finders because problem solving is the quickest way to gain leadership.

Hello Me, Nice to Meet You

Happy New Year! My last post went up during the last week of 2020. That was a year we were all ready to have end, wasn’t it? It was so filled with challenges that people began to say, “It’s 2020” in response to any unusual or difficult thing that came up. 2020 was certainly filled with problems. It’s fitting, though I hadn’t thought about it at the time, that I wrote about a personal problem in my last post. Problems are inevitable regardless of the year (sorry, 2021 will have it’s share, too). Here’s an important truth about problems. Speaker, author, and leadership coach, John Maxwell, writes, “Problems introduce us to ourselves.” When I look into the mirror of a big problem who do I see reflected back at me? For example, let’s explore that in the form of three contrasted questions.

Am I a Victim or a Victor?

Another way to ask that is, “Am I a blamer or a tamer?” What’s my first instinct when a problem presents itself? Is it to find out who’s to blame? Is it to focus on how the problem is negatively affecting me? Or, is it to ask the question, “What do I need to do right now to overcome this barrier and achieve my desired outcome?”

The difference shows my attitude. Problems introduce us to our attitude. If you look up the word “attitude” you’ll see that it has to do with posture or position. In an airplane, for example, it refers to the relative position of the plane’s axes to a reference point like the horizon. When we think about mental attitude, it means our mental position or posture relative to a given situation. Think of it as am I curled up in a ball wondering “why me?” or standing squarely in the face of the problem ready to take it on.

Am I a Hothead or a Level head?

When I see my reflection in a big problem do I see steam coming out of my ears? Frustration is the feeling we get when we are being obstructed or impeded in our progress toward a goal. Obstruct and impede are synonyms of frustrate. It’s normal to feel it when our progress is being thwarted by something, especially if it’s something out of our immediate control. The question is how much control over me does that feeling have?

The difference between hothead and level head shows my emotion. Another way to look at it is by the effect of each. Think of it this way. Am I a tornado or a Zamboni? The difference between those is what they leave behind? A tornado passes over something beautiful and wrecks it. A Zamboni passes over something wrecked and makes it beautiful. Does my emotional response add to the problem or help put it in perspective.

I said that frustration comes when our progress is obstructed. But an obstruction in our path presents a couple of options. One is we learn how to overcome the obstruction which is a form of progress called growth. Another is we take another path that could lead us to a better destination than the original path. Even if it doesn’t, as long as we learn something, even failure is progress. With that in mind, we can be less frustrated because we can see progress possible no matter what.

Am I a problem spotter or a problem solver?

Any “Captain Obvious” can point out a problem. Even If the problem is less obvious or anticipated, the question becomes what am I going to do about it? Am I the kind of person who only spots problems and points them out, or am I the kind of person who takes action to solve the problem?

I was on a daily call yesterday with my team. At the end of the call I always go around the group and ask if there’s anything else on the topic. One caller spoke up. They said, “I was talking with my peer who told me about this anticipated problem. I put together these supplies they would need, should that situation arise, and delivered them.”

Another one of the callers said, “My concern is that if the customer does this, then that might happen.” The second caller was spotting a potential problem. The first caller learned about a potential problem and took action to solve it ahead of time.

The difference between spotter and solver shows me my action. Spotting problems is important, especially if they’re hard to see or they are potential problems that people aren’t thinking about. But solving problems is what leaders do.

We learn a lot about ourselves by how we face problems. We learn about our attitude, about our emotions, and about our action. But, guess what, if we learn, the problem has become an opportunity.

Life In The Ranch – Trouble In Paradise

I drove up to The Ranch one afternoon shortly after we bought it and noticed water dripping from the insulation underneath, near the front middle of the RV. Uh Oh. I went to the side and saw a gap between the screws holding up the insulation and pulled down slightly to see if I could find out anything about the source of the water. When I pulled down it created a low spot at the edge of the RV and out poured a lot of water that had been sitting in there. The good news is the water was clear, meaning it was grey water at worst, fresh water at best. In case you don’t know, RVs have three kinds of tanks. One holds freshwater for if you’re camping somewhere without a connection to city water. Another holds “grey water” which is the wastewater from your sinks and shower. “Blackwater” is the wastewater from your toilet. Now you know why I said clear was the good news.

Now What?

The dealer we bought the unit from had gone to great lengths telling us how differently they do business, that “As Is” (which is how used units are sold) doesn’t mean “you’re on your own once you drive off the lot.” He told me how they inspect the units carefully to be sure all the systems are working and that if there was anything they missed I should call him directly and “hit him between the eyes with the news.” So I called him. He asked me to send him some pictures which I did. I will admit, I was skeptical he would do anything. My skepticism seemed justified when he said on the phone, “I don’t know what to do, Jim. My repair guy won’t travel that far.”

I decided to try something. I called a local dealership and asked if they had or knew of someone locally who would come to my site and work on my rig. To my surprise, they referred me to a guy named Chris. I called him and described my situation. I told him I was hoping to get the guy I bought the unit from to pay for the repair. He didn’t think that was going to happen and told me he thought it would cost around $1,400 to repair my leak and good luck getting the dealer to pay for it. “I’ve worked with guys like that before,” he said.

I called the dealer and told him I’d found a local guy who would come look at it. He was skeptical. He said, “I’ve worked with guys like that before (funny huh?) “They’ll take you to the cleaners.” When I told him what Chris had estimated the costs to be, he said “See, he’s setting you up for a big bill.” But, to my pleasant surprise, he agreed to talk to Chris.

Then What?

Chris agreed to talk to the dealer but said he would only come if he paid for the service call upfront, $100. I gave Chris the dealer’s number and a little while later he called me back to set up an appointment.  Wow! I thought. This might work out after all. Chris explained what he and the dealer had worked out about how to approach the diagnosis of the problem and asked if I was OK with that. When I agreed he said, “I’ll see you then.”

Chris actually showed up. He drove up in his car, popped the trunk where he had a toolbox and a creeper (a board with casters for rolling around under things on your back). I hung out with him while he worked because I like to learn new things and I wanted to understand what was under The Ranch and what he would be doing to fix my leak. He cut into the underbelly insulating cover and peeled it back.  He discovered that one of the greywater tanks was completely full and, instead of backing up into the kitchen sink like it was supposed to when it was full, it was overflowing underneath.

That was actually good news. I was happy it wasn’t anything that needed to be replaced. It did raise a question, though. How did that tank get so full? I had emptied the grey water tank. It turns out there was a valve to open this tank located away from the other valves for the black water tanks and the other grey water tank. I hadn’t seen it. We opened that valve and the water drained out. The system shouldn’t work like that but it’s something I can manage now that I know. So Chris left to call the dealer with the report and get paid and I was happy with the result.

So What? – The Flexibility of Stories

As I was thinking about telling this story, I realized it could be told with a different emphasis to make the story about one thing or another. That’s really true about any story, isn’t it? This could have been about how the dealer kept his word. It could have been about the action I took to help get my problem corrected. I could have made it more about the colorful character that is Chris. Or, it could have been about systems in a 5th wheel. That’s one of the great things about stories. They can be true while remaining flexible to make different points.

An Indescribable Gift

This is the season of gift-giving. In fact, I’m posting this during Christmas week. This year, 2020, has been the most unusual year in my lifetime. With all that has been happening, it seems we need the hope Christmas brings more than ever. Last year I had the privilege of speaking at Grace Community Church in Lathrop, CA during the Christmas season. What I’ve included below is an expanded outline of a message I shared about God’s indescribable gift to us. A full transcript would make for too long a post, so I hope this will get the points across. Merry Christmas!

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever received a gift that left you speechless? It was so extravagant, or so unexpected, so beautiful, so personal … you couldn’t find the words to speak.

That’s how we’ve felt each time we met one of our children for the first time.

That’s how I felt when Suzi said, “Yes” that night on December 7, 1979, under the lightly falling snow on the corner of Dearborn and Chestnut Streets in Chicago when I asked her to marry me.

Paul had that reaction in 2CO 9:15. He is talking about financial assistance to those in need. That leads him to talk about how God supplies, and he ends with the exclamation “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift”. The gift he’s talking about is called in another translation “unspeakable.” It’s unutterable, it’s inexpressible, it’s incomprehensible, it’s extraordinary because it’s paradoxical. Let me show you what I mean. Four Paradoxes of God’s Indescribable Gift …

This gift is given to everyone but only a few receive it

  1. It has been delivered to every front door – in fact, it’s said to be knocking at the door, but people don’t receive it
    1. Reject it – “Return to sender” because they don’t trust the giver
    2. Don’t know about it – someone needs to tell them what that knocking is at the front door.
    3. Don’t “need” it – what do you give the person who has everything?
    4. Are afraid of it (don’t know the giver) – what’s in the box? It could be a bomb, anthrax, who knows
    5. Ignore it – no time, no interest
  2. (JOH 1:12 Yet to all who did receive [this gift], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God) – heirs to the throne of heaven!

This gift is absolutely free, but it will cost you everything

  1. It’s free
    1. You can’t buy it – this offer is not available in stores (or online for that matter) You can’t get it at Amazon, there is no auction on e-Bay, Wal-Mart doesn’t carry it. You won’t find it at Nordstrom. Even Neiman Marcus doesn’t carry it. (Simon the sorcerer tried to ACT 8:18) the price is too high. You couldn’t afford it. No one but God could afford to pay for it.
    2. You can’t earn it (LUK 18 the young ruler, “What must I do …?”; ROM 6:23 wages vs gift)
    3. You can’t bargain for it – (“God, if you get me out of this, I’ll start going to church!” I’ll give you this if you give me that or do that for me) It’s not a quid pro quo transaction
  2. It will cost you everything
    1. When you receive it, (take it up, essentially “sign for it”) it changes your Character – This is not a gift you can just stick in your back pocket, or hang around your neck, or put up in the closet. When you take hold of this gift, it takes hold of you. It gets inside you and begins to change you from the inside out. Just looking at it transforms [metamorphosis] you 2 CO 3:18.
      1. Cost you who you are today to become who you were meant to be
      2. Cost you energy
      3. Cost you money
      4. Cost you friends
      5. It has cost many their lives – HEB 11, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Jim Elliott
    2. When you receive this gift, it changes your trajectory. This gift comes from God and it takes you back to God for eternity.
      1. Redeems your life from bondage
      2. Restores your soul
      3. Remakes your brokenness
      4. Resurrects you from spiritual deadness, and
      5. Returns you to the one who gave it forever

This gift is given to you, but it is not for you (only)

  1. You’re intended to re-gift this gift – the words from a song that plays at Christmas are, “Last Christmas I gave you my heart. The very next day, you gave it away.” In the song that’s a bad thing, but God says “Yes! And the next day and the day after that. Give it away.” You may just get a case of the “can’t help its.” Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning. (1951 Alistair Sim version). “I don’t know what to do! I’m as light as a feather! I’m as happy as an angel! I’m as silly as a schoolboy! I’m as giddy as a drunken man!”
  2. Part of the transformation is from selfish to selfless
  3. None of God’s gits is intended to flow into you like a reservoir, intended to flow through you like a river to benefit others – 1PE 4:10  “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
    1. Individuals – horde my gift away and maybe talk about it once in a while
    2. Congregations – sing and learn about our gift and invite people to come to see it – go give it away
  4. This gift grows in value as you give it away. You reap all the benefits of the gift and it continues to deliver – it’s the gift that keeps on giving

This gift is both a what and a whom

  1. This gift is not a thing – not a fire insurance policy – not a certificate of membership is some club.
  2. This is God’s gift of Jesus and all he is and brings when he is received.
  3. Jesus is called many things in the Bible. At this time of year we think especially of “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” I love the title King; King of Kings and Lord of Lords. My journal, “I serve at the pleasure of the King.”
  4. In 1981, my senior year at MBI, Suzi and I attended Moody’s Founder’s Week in February S.M. Lockridge spoke. His message was entitled, “Amen.” During that message, he delivered this now-famous description of the indescribable Jesus! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzqTFNfeDnE 

CONCLUSION:

Pastor Lockridge asked several times, “Do you know him?”
Have you opened the door and signed for the gift God has delivered to you?

Life In The Ranch

A lot changes when you move from a 2,600 square foot house to an RV (The Ranch) full time. For one thing, you have to decide what you absolutely need for immediate use and what stays in storage. But your routines also change.

The Dog

One big example is letting the dog (Zuzu) out. That’s something you may not think is a big deal, and it’s not really. But it’s way different now. I used to just open the sliding door onto the patio and out she would go to take care of her business in our fenced back yard. Now she wears a harness and I have to put her on a leash and go out with her until she does her business. And now, instead of one of the kids collecting doggy prizes once a week, I take a little plastic bone attached to her leash filled with a roll of doggy prize bags. When she leaves a prize on the grass, I now gather it immediately, picking it up with my hand inside the bag, pull the prize into the bag by turning it inside out and goose neck tie it off and throw it out.

Of course, I have to be dressed appropriately for going outdoors in December (granted it’s California where a cold morning is 37 degrees, not zero or below) and it now makes a difference to me whether or not it’s raining. which it has been for the last two days.

The Cat

We also have a cat (Bandit). He’s a great cat, very easy going, but he’s an indoor cat which raises the question, where do we put the litter box? Well, it depends on the time of day. During the day it goes in our closet at the front of the Ranch, out of sight. He knows to go through our bedroom and into the closet to do his business. But, when it’s time for bed things change. We don’t want the door open and the cat coming into or through our room during the night, so I take the litter box down to the kitchen when we go to bed and close the bedroom door.

Now my weekday morning routine is get up, make coffee, feed Bandit and Zuzu, take Zuzu outside, read, sometimes take Zuzu outside again, write, clean the litter box, shower and get dressed, move the litter box to the closet, gather up the trash from the kitchen where I’ve put the soiled litter and any Zuzu prizes, say good-bye to Suzi, gather my work things, head out the door, leave the trash at the end of our space, head to work.

The Son

I neglected to mention that our youngest son, Jordan, is staying with us for awhile. He sleeps on the hide-a-bed in the living room which, in an RV, is part of everything that is not the bedroom. So, my morning routine is accomplished while being as quiet and stealthy as I possibly can. When I sit to read and write my knees are no more than 12 inches from the corner of Jordan’s bed. Fortunately, he is not a light sleeper. If he were, he’d be a much earlier riser than he would like.

The Point

In the grand scheme of things, these changes in routine are minor. And they are certainly first-world “problems.” But they illustrate a comment I made to a friend the other evening. We had our first guests over for dessert this past weekend. They are long-time friends with whom we get together often, but they hadn’t seen the Ranch yet. So we invited them over for “a tour.”  During the evening we heard a thumping sound coming from the next door RV. We’re not sure what’s going on over there but we hear thumping all evening long. There are four kids and one adult living there long term. It sounds like the Romanian gymnastics team is practicing most evenings. Our friend said, “I could never do this.” She was referring to the whole living in an RV experience and the thumping neighbors just solidified her position. My comment was, “You’d be surprised what you can learn to do.”

Whether it’s transitioning from full time ministry to business, moving to a foreign country to work in a new kind of job, going into healthcare, then going into manufacturing, then going back into healthcare, or moving into an RV full time, one thing I’ve learned is that you can learn to do anything you need to do. It’s not always about how prepared you are. It’s usually more about taking the step.

The Ranch

So, where does a family go who just moves out? The first answer is, to a hotel. We were supposed to close on our house on Monday, November 16th. A hiccup with our Buyer’s Buyer’s lender caused a delay that set everyone involved into Plan B mode.  Our buyer had set up a cleaning company and a moving company based on the anticipated close date. Our plans were also based on that close date. We knew we would have to spend a night or two in a hotel. Our plan had been to close on the house, take the proceeds from the sale and buy an RV for the short term. We want to see what happens in the country and I’m still working so that was our plan.

Reality

All that was well and good except for a couple realities we didn’t expect. RVs are selling like hotcakes. When we first started looking, we would find one we liked and call about going to see it only to hear it had been sold. We realized there was no point in even looking until we had money in hand. We also discovered that space at RV parks was at a premium. Lots of people in California seem to be going long term in RV parks. More than once we heard, “We don’t have even two week spots at the moment. Call back at the beginning of the month when people pay rent. That’s when things usually open up.” It was good we started the search for RV spots weeks before the originally scheduled closing date. I was able to make a reservation for two weeks at a park that is only one exit away from my work. As that original closing date came and went, I had to change the reservation two or three times. Thankfully, they were able to accommodate the changes without charging an additional deposit.

We finally closed on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. That evening, Suzi and I spent quite awhile online looking at RVs. When we had confirmation the proceeds had been deposited into our account the next day, we took off to look. We checked out two at a local dealer and then drove to a dealer a little over an hour away to look at the one we both liked best from what we could see online. That turned out to be the one. We met with the salesman who toured us through the unit and explained some things to us. He offered to let us go get coffee to discuss it and promised not to sell it to anyone else until we returned. When we got back from coffee, we met the owner of the dealership who told us more about the unit’s history and how they do business. We made a deal.

Early Friday morning, the day after Thanksgiving, Suzi and I left the hotel and drove back up to the dealership for our walk through with a technician. It was all coming together. We had checked out of the hotel, gotten our reservation reset for this day at the RV park and completed our walk-through. We don’t have a truck to pull the RV yet so we had it delivered. Finally, almost two weeks after we were originally supposed to close on our house, we moved into our 2014 Heartland Big Horn 3875 FB 5th Wheel.

The Ranch

This is the 4th RV we’ve owned over the last several years. In the past we’ve always referred to them as the “rig” or just “the trailer.” We’re tired of that and decided we wanted to call this one something more “homey.” This one is manufactured by a company called Heartland. That happens to be the name of a Canadian TV show Suzi and I like about a family and their ranch. With that connection, we decided to call it “The Ranch.” It sounds much better to say, “We’re heading back to The Ranch” or “Oh, I left that back at The Ranch” than “… he rig” or “… the trailer,” don’t you think?

This series of posts is about stories. It’s about the power of stories to convey truth. Trying to relay a story like this in around 700 words in an interesting exercise. So much has to be left out. What you include in your stories will depend on what message you want people to retain. This one could be about adventure, craziness, boldness, faith, how things work out, or a number of other ideas. I’d be interested in hearing what you took from it.

“I Know My Rights!”

Whether shouted from the streets or from the political platform, we hear a lot about rights these days. Rights are important. We know we have certain inalienable rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (Declaration of Independence). We have the right to free speech, freedom of religion and peaceful assembly (1st amendment). We have the right to bear arms (2nd amendment). In addition to the rest of the Bill of Rights we specify human rights, civil rights, women’s rights, etc.

Rights

A right in this context is defined as “a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way.” Rights are a pillar of our Liberty. There’s another word that needs to be defined

Liberty (Freedom) – “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint, the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.”

Our Freedom is one of the things we cherish most as Americans. It’s what we’re known for around the world, it’s why people from all over the globe are “Coming to America” in the words of the Neil Diamond song. It’s what our men and women in uniform have fought and died to preserve. It’s our way of life.

Our way of life is in danger. Our Freedom is threatened every day. I’m not talking about ISIS or North Korea. I’m not even talking about one political opponent or another. I’m talking about something much more close to home. “Freedom never lasts,” says Os Guinness, “because the greatest enemy to freedom is freedom.” Think about it. When everyone in society is free to act, speak, or think as they want, eventually one person’s “want” and another person’s “want” will come into conflict. That’s why we have laws. I’m free to do as I want, unless that freedom harms someone else. Then I am arrested for breaking the law (by the way, that’s when I have the right to remain silent). Wait a minute! That sounds like a limitation on my freedom. You can see how this begins to spiral.

This is why Benjamin Franklin said,

“Only a virtuous people are capable of Freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

Our Rights, we have said, are a pillar of our Freedom. But they are not the only one. Like legs of a stool, there are three “Rs” that support and stabilize our Freedom. We’ve already mentioned Rights. There is also Responsibility (more on this in a moment) and Respect.

Respect

“Show some Respect!” “We demand Respect!” “I don’t get no respect!” Have you heard any of those? Let’s take a moment to define this one as well.

Respect – “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.”

By this definition, Respect is not something one can demand from another. You can earn it by developing abilities, exhibiting qualities, or achieving something. But, it is not an entitlement or right as defined above. In fairness, Respect is used in a slightly different way in society these days. It seems to mean something like “behavior that acknowledges the value and worth of each person as endowed by our creator.” By even this definition, Respect cannot be demanded. It can be given. That’s the funny thing about Respect. We all want it, but you can’t get it unless you give it. It’s like a seed in the law of sowing and reaping which states, “You always reap what you sow, more than you sow, and in a different season than you sow.” So, there are two ways to get Respect. You can earn it or you can give it but you’ll not get it any other way. And, by the way, Fear is not the same as Respect.

Responsibility

Now to the third “R” – Responsibility

Let’s define this one, too.

Responsibility – “a duty or task that you are required or expected to do: something that you should do because it is morally right, legally required, etc.”

What are our responsibilities? That could become a very long list. So, let’s not think of it in terms of tasks. Let’s think of it like this. It is our Responsibility to become the kind of people Benjamin Franklin said are the only ones capable of a free society, a virtuous people. What does that mean? Here are a few suggested character qualities that might apply:

  • Loving – a people who genuinely care about the well-being of others.
  • Joyful – a people who find the silver lining in any dark cloud
  • Peaceable – a people who are both peace-loving and peace-making
  • Patient – a people who are willing and able to wait for those seeds of respect to grow
  • Kind – a people who go out of their way to “pay it forward.”
  • Good – a people who search for and act on ways to improve someone else’s situation
  • Faithful – a people who stick to their commitments even if it becomes inconvenient
  • Gentle – a people who are tender with the young, the old, the sick, etc.
  • Self-Controlled – a people who can keep themselves from doing what’s wrong and make themselves do what’s right.

These character qualities are collectively referred to as “the fruit of the Spirit” by the Apostle Paul. Interestingly, he goes on to say that when people have these characteristics there is no need for laws. (Galatians 5:22-23)

John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

We are in a dire situation. The stool of Freedom is teetering on one leg. As individuals, as families, as houses of worship, as communities, as a nation, we are overly focused on Rights, our own rights. It’s time for us to return our focus to Respect and Responsibility while at the same time defending each other’s rights. Our Freedom is at stake.

1,380 Pounds

Suzi and I recently sold our house. It’s something we’ve been talking about for awhile and the time seemed right. Strangely, the market is good in spite of (or because of) the pandemic. Interest rates are way down and Suzi had what I call an unction. A handful of times in our life Suzi has come out with an “I think we should …” statement. Once it was “I think we should buy a trailer.” That one was way out of left field, but we bought the trailer and I later learned why that was a good idea (maybe a topic for another post). This time it was, “I think we should sell the house.” Not, “I think we should sell the house, someday” like the conversation had been. It was, “I think we should put the house on the market now.” I’ve learned to listen to Suzi’s unctions so we sold the house.

Our recent 12-Day Journey took place after we had accepted an offer on the house. We knew the time between accepting the offer and moving was our only opportunity to enjoy some relaxation so we took vacation and off we went.

Moving

We bought this house in July of 2014. We lived there for 6 years and 4 months making it the longest I’ve lived in any one place in my entire life. We saw our two youngest go from 8th grade to High School graduation and beyond in that house. It holds a lot of memories. Turns out, it holds a lot of other stuff as well.

When you move, you are usually moving to somewhere. We weren’t. We were just moving out. That means we had to pack and move everything to storage. Everything including the chair we had just bought in Tennessee and carried 2,000 miles back with us. Well, not everything. Our buyer had purchased our two largest pieces of furniture as well as our fridge, washer, and dryer. That was a relief. We didn’t have to store those.

The weeks after our vacation were filled with packing and moving loads of the stuff of our life to storage units. There was a great paring down taking place as well. We had a moving sale one weekend and I became close friends with Facebook Marketplace. Online I sold an extra TV, our basketball goal, our baby grand digital piano (that one was hard to let go), and several other large items we didn’t want to store. We also put so many things out on the curb for people to pick up free I can’t recount them all. Every thing we put out was taken by someone. There were also several trips to the thrift store donation center.

I rented 4 U-Haul trucks over the course of the next few weeks (that’s another whole story). Twice we decided to use the truck to take a load of trash to the transfer station. That was eye-opening. When you take items to this transfer station in a truck, they have you weigh in and weigh out and charge you by the portion of a ton. The first time we went the load was 860 pounds! Even the guy taking my money said, “That’s a big load.” The second time we went the load was 520 pounds. That’s a total of 1,380 pounds … of trash! That’s one skinny teenager away from 3/4 of a ton of trash. I was blown away. How do you accumulate and hang on to that much trash? That doesn’t even account for all the stuff we sold, gave away, and the couple trips we made to the transfer station with an SUV full that didn’t get weighed. When I say we got rid of a ton of stuff, I’m probably understating it.

Stories

How does a family have a ton of trash? I’m not talking about old cereal boxes and milk cartons or the daily scoops from the litter box. I’m not talking about the stuff you put into the trash bin out on the curb once a week. I’m talking about stuff that we once considered important enough to keep and, in some cases, move with us more than once. It wasn’t trash when we got it. It was memorabilia or things we kept “in case we might need it someday.” But, during this move, we decided we didn’t “need” or want it anymore. So, what was once some of the “stuff of our life” became trash.

It was a ruthless exercise and sometimes we said, “Yes, we’re finally getting rid of that!” but in some cases we said, “Aw, you’re getting rid of that?!” I’m not sure we had a rule about how we made the decision to discard. In some cases it was simply, I have been carrying this around for years and haven’t thought about it once except when packing it for the next move, so out it goes. Other times it was a harder decision, but we had to pare down.

I’m still sorting out the lessons for me from this story. What principles do you think you could illustrate with a story about 1,380 pounds of trash?

A Thrift Store Chair and Another Book

The final eastbound destination on our recent 12-Day journey was Nashville, TN. Here we were to revisit a tradition from the year or two we lived in Indianapolis where every several weeks we would drive to Nashville and our friends John and Julia (then all our children came with us) would drive up from Atlanta and we’d spend the weekend together.  Those were great times and we were excited to see our friends.

John and Julia are another couple we’ve known for over 40 years. John and I were security guards (with Keith) in Chicago in college and we’ve stayed in close contact through the years. Julia and Suzi love so many of the same things and John and I have worked for the same company in the past. I also worked for a company that provided service to John’s company once. Let it suffice to say, we never lack for conversation.

Tradition!

One of the traditions of our time together with John and Julia is a trip (or two) to a thrift store.  Suzi and Julia especially like to see what people donate in different parts of the country. So off we went to a Goodwill store in Franklin, TN outside Nashville.

Suzi and Julia went off on their treasure hunts inside the store as soon as we hit the door.  They have keen eyes and a sense for the kinds of things they’re looking for so they don’t take hours to complete their searches. Suzi usually fills a shopping cart with possible purchases or things she wants to show me that are unique or might be special in some way. But, often she walks out of the store with nothing or one or two small things. Occasionally, however, there is a piece of furniture that catches her eye. This was one of those times.

I noticed the two of them standing at the front register admiring something so I went to see what it was. It was a wooden chair. It sat lower than most chairs, had a rattan bottom, and was unusually wide. One elderly lady in line said it was a “story time chair” where you and a child could sit side-by-side and read a story together. Another lady in the line suggested, “you could but a big cushion on it and make it a dog bed chair.” The look in Suzi’s eye suggested, “I really like this chair.” So we paid the $15 and loaded it into the back of our vehicle to make the 2,200 mile trip home with us.

Another Book

When Suzi and I hit the thrift store together, she heads off on her systematic search and I head to the book section.  Admittedly I rarely find anything. It’s like panning for gold. You sift through a lot of dirt and usually come up empty. When I say “dirt” I just mean things I’m not interested in. But, once in awhile, I find a nugget. This was one of those times.

Several years ago I ran across a video by Daniel H. Pink called “Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” I saved a link to it in my Evernote file and have referred to it, been informed by it, and shared it with others often. The video outlines the research showing that the “carrot and stick” motivational tactics used by so many can actually be counterproductive. He shows that we are much more highly motivated by three intrinsic factors, Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

Well, there, on the shelf at the Goodwill in Franklin TN was a copy of the book he wrote by the same title. I started to leaf through it, then I started to read a particularly interesting chapter. I was about mid-way through that chapter when I noticed Suzi and Julia at the front of the store. When I went up to see what they were looking at the book was under my arm.

I bought that book even though it had been thoroughly highlighted by the previous owner. I actually think that’s kind of cool. I get to see what they thought was important when they read it. It goes into much more detail about the research and shares great implementation ideas at the end. I enjoyed reading it so much I bought a clean copy to share with my colleagues.