Monthly Archives: December 2017

Clear Out The Old Because Of The New

“A new year can begin only because the old year ends.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle, The Irrational Season …

It can be difficult for many of us to accept this truth in life–that for something new to begin, the old must come to an end. Perhaps that is because many of us have placed so much of our limited time, effort, and resources into those things that have now passed. But if we cling to the things of the yesterday, we will be unable to experience the coming tomorrows through anything other than the perspectives of the past.

When a movie ends, it is over. We will carry its memory with us, and we may use its lessons in certain aspects of our lives, but it is over. So it is with the many chapters in our lives; we must die to the old to give way to the new. And when one year ends, we can allow it to be over–there really is no need for us to carry around the excess baggage of yesterday.

We must work to live each day on its own terms so that we might make the most of the present time we have been gifted–for that is exactly what the “present” time is… a gift. And when today draws to a close, hopefully we will be able to put this past year behind us and place our focus on the next year, free from the worries, concerns, and uncertainties of the past, and open to all the potential and possibilities that lie ahead.

“Clear out the old because of the new.” Leviticus 26:10

Questions to consider:

Why do wo tend to carry our yesterdays into today? What effect does this have on our lives?

What is required of us to allow a year to end?

What are some ways in which you can help to ensure that your new year starts out right?

For further thought:

“The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” ~ G.K. Chesterton, Daily News

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Join The University Of Life

“When you stop learning, stop listening, stop looking and asking questions, always new questions, then it is time to die.” ~ Lillian Smith …

This reminds me of a quote from the film The Shawshank Redemption, in which Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, says to Red, played by Morgan Freeman, “It comes down to a simple choice, get busy living or get busy dying.” Life has so much to offer to each of us–new things, new ways of looking at old things, new perspectives on beliefs that have become entrenched in our hearts and minds. And if we do not have a desire to learn, grow, and renew ourselves in life, then we have stopped eating of the feast that is life.

To some, Lillian’s last statement might seem harsh, “then it is time to die.” However, when we choose to stop learning, we in a sense commit a form of suicide, severing the growth of much of our being–our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual selves all suffer. If I were to stop learning from this wonderful life that I am blessed with, then I would merely be passing time and using up oxygen.

By choosing to stop learning, we are essentially telling the world that we have had enough–enough gifts, enough knowledge, enough experiences, enough relationships, and enough growth. In addition, once we choose to stop learning, much of the knowledge and understanding that we have gained and utilize or share begins to become irrelevant and obsolete. No longer will we be able to rely upon it for accuracy or share it with the confidence of something we are constantly challenging and molding.

We have the choice this coming year to simply exist, or to learn and to grow. And if we keep our eyes, heart, and mind open to absorbing new and exciting answers from the world around us–asking questions, listening for answers, searching for truth and understanding–then this coming year will certainly have the potential of being our best year ever.

Renew within yourself a desire for growth and learning.

Questions to consider:

Why do so many people choose passive entertainment over active learning?

How might you go about expanding your learning in the next year? Reading? Courses? Discussions? Experiments?

Do you know anyone who has stopped learning? How does that work for them?

For further thought:

“Most people are just trying to get through the day. Be committed to learn to get from the day. Don’t just get through it; get from it. Learn from it. Let the day teach you. Join the university of life. What a difference that will make in your future. Commit yourself to learning. Commit yourself to absorbing. Be like a sponge. Get it. Don’t miss it.” ~ Emanuel James “Jim” Rohn, The Five Major Pieces to the Life Puzzle

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Challenge Yourself

“I’ve always tried to go a step past wherever people expected me to end up.” ~ Beverly Sills …

With a new year just around the corner, it is a fitting time to ask ourselves, “How am I going to approach the next year of my life?” This year is a blank canvas, after all, waiting for us to choose what we want to create on it–the lessons, the images, the mediums, the colors, the textures, the strokes, and so much more–for we can fill the upcoming year with whatever we desire to. And with this knowledge, it is important that we truly recognize that there is no need to emulate our past–the ways in which we have approached things before may not be how we wish to do so now, nor may they be the ideal or even as effective as they have in the past. And with the multitude of new things ahead of us–decisions to make and tasks to undertake–if we simply try to meet the expectations of those around us, then how can we expect to ever grow or excel?

And similarly, if we hold low expectations of others in our lives, we, too, fail to challenge them to exceed the status quo or to grow to something greater than they are now. In addition, when others receive recognition without exceeding any expectations, they tend to adopt a certain level of complacency in their lives as a result. This means that we are partially responsible for the growth and success that we others experience in their lives–or the lack thereof–and should, therefore, strive to encourage and push our fellow man to grow and become better.

Our decisions do not have to be modeled off the expectations of others–we have the ability to decide where to direct our efforts and determine the amount of effort we are going to put forth. And if we plan to go beyond expectations–to give ourselves a fighting chance to do something truly worthwhile, a chance to succeed–then we must start by making the right decisions. For the greatest difference between mediocrity and exceptionalism is simply “a choice.”

Challenge yourself to go one step further on a journey that you have embarked upon.

Questions to consider:

When do you generally go a step or two beyond the expectations that other people have of you or your work?

Why do so few people seem to want to do as Beverly has done?

What is the difference to you between mediocre and excellent? When have you most often reached the latter?

For further thought:

“Do a little bit more than average and from that point on your progress multiplies itself out of all proportion to the effort put in.” ~ Paul J. Meyer

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Be Outstanding

“If you want to stand out, don’t be different; be outstanding.” ~ Meredith J. West …

Being different is a small part of being authentic, as it embraces one’s uniqueness. This alone, however, does not elevate us above those around us–if we wish to stand out from the crowd, we have to be “outstanding.” Unfortunately for most of us, especially the young, the role models that are exalted in our society are often teeming with mediocrity, and they preach to our children the joys of laziness, the benefits of dishonesty and deception, and the foolishness of working hard and putting it all on the line when one can simply get by with the bare minimum.

In reading Meredith’s words, the literal meaning of the word “outstanding” is quite obvious, and yet, I know many individuals who feel entitled to being treated with exception–coworkers who think just because they are employed they are worthy of a raise, and children who think just because they turn in an assignment they deserve an “A.” And I know far too many adults whose parenting style involves rewarding their children for simply for not complaining or doing the bare minimum amount of work, which is sad because this is the period in their lives that these children begin to develop the unrealistic expectations that follow them throughout life.

Being outstanding is no easy task for us, especially when our efforts are going towards something that does not come naturally to us. In such instances, it can be easy to grow frustrated or discouraged when we see very little progress for all our efforts when it obviously comes more easily for others. It is important to realize, however, that what really matters is the quality of work we do, not how easily it comes to us or how much effort others put forth. If we want to be outstanding, then we have to create things that stand out.

Strive to make your efforts and work stand out in some way.

Questions to consider:

What do you consider to be outstanding? In what things have you reached outstanding levels? How does it feel to do so?

Why are so many people satisfied with doing the bare minimum to get by? How does that help them?

In what things might you become outstanding if you were to increase the amount of effort that you give to them?

For further thought:

“You can be very, very good at anything you do, but excelling does take work. In societies in which we expect life to just fall into our laps somehow, we’ve lost the respect for the value of developing ourselves, but if we’re going to excel, not just succeed, we must develop ourselves past the ordinary. Reading a book a week on a topic of our choice will make us one of the best-read people in the field within a year. Then you can solve problems and devise ideas and plans much more easily and effectively than if you never had tried to develop your abilities.” ~ unattributed

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What You Need Vs What You Want

“Oh, I wish that God had not given me what I prayed for! It was not so good as I thought.” ~ Johanna Spyri, Heidi …

A lot of individuals hold mistaken beliefs, ideas, and perceptions of prayer in their lives. For many, it is that prayer is only necessary when we are experiencing hardship and difficulties and that our prayers of praise and thanksgiving are of little value. For others, it is that if our prayers go unanswered, that it is a bad thing or perhaps means that God does not care or is not listening. I used to hold the belief that I knew what was best for me, and so if I was asking for it, then I must really need it then. Unfortunately, we are not always the great at figuring out what is the best option for ourselves, even if we do feel like what we want at the moment truly is what is the ideal choice.

The reality of our lives, however, is that our wants tend to be transitory and fleeting, while our needs are much more consistent. When we are young, we desire that guy or girl with a passion that is often unknown or misunderstood as we are entering new territory in our lives; and so we pray day and night for them to look at us the same way, to ask us out on a date or to say yes when we ask, and to begin a relationship with us simply because of that is what we want. Yet in retrospect, were we only focused on our physical or emotional attraction to that individual, or did we look for someone who brought out the best qualities in us, someone who complemented our own personalities and was able to share a healthy relationship with us? It is not difficult to look around and find people who are caught up in unhealthy relationships, which serves as proof that just because we get what we want in a relationship does not mean that we are getting what we need.

God knows what we need; He knows what is best for us and what is necessary for our lives. So turning to Him in prayer is a very powerful force for growth and development. And our prayers need not be overly complex or fancy, if we keep them simple–praying that we come to understand and receive what is best for us and with the full knowledge that we might know necessarily know what that is–then we can approach our lives with much more balance and with far fewer expectations. In addition, by letting go of the expectations that we have and praying for what we want instead of what we need, we free ourselves of the heavy baggage associated with meeting those expectations and can instead wait patiently and work diligently while our prayers are answered. Having faith in God’s will shifts much of the stress, fear, and anxiety associated with trying to control things outside of our control to Someone who can control them in His own perfect ways.

If our prayers turn into wish lists, they can become something that harms us greatly. If, however, we seek to establish our spiritual foundations and our prayer lives as open and honest relationships built on mutual respect and trust, they can be wholly instrumental to our health and wellbeing in life–spiritually, emotionally, physically, and intellectually.

In any prayers this week, ask for what is needed and is best for you instead of asking for what you want.

Questions to consider:

Have you ever prayed hard for something, only to get it and find out that you did not really want it?

How often do our wants and our needs correspond directly?

What does trying to decide by ourselves what is best for us say about our faith?

For further thought:

“Sometimes I thank God, for unanswered prayers. Remember when you’re talkin’, to the man upstairs. That just because He doesn’t answer, doesn’t mean He don’t care. Some of God’s greatest gifts, are unanswered prayers.” ~ Garth Brooks, Pat Alger and Larry B. Bastian, from song titled Unanswered Prayers

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Limitless Potential

“What its children become, that will the community become.” ~ Suzanne LaFollette, Concerning Women …

This begs the question, “What kind of children are we preparing for our world?,” and at the same time, “What kind of world are we creating for our children and for us all?” Our time on this Earth is finite–someday we will no longer be around–and yet our presence here will leave a mark either good or bad, and that legacy will go on to affect future generations.

It seems that the latest gift we as a society are imparting upon the current generation of children is that of impatience, as this age has brought about an expectation for instant gratification–cell phones that offer the ability to speak with someone immediately, movies and TV shows streamed on demand, the desire to acquire the latest and greatest version of something, and a plethora of things that make exercising patience a thing for “geezers.” To top this off, there are endless streams of marketers, advertisers, and vendors who are pushing all sorts of new addictions upon our youth–electronics, name brands, junk food, and caffeine or high-sugar drinks labeled as “energy drinks.” The majority of our youth feel entitled to things, because that is what advertisers want them to feel, and we as parents and as a society have not done enough to help them to understand otherwise.

There will be exceptions, of course, and those exceptions will be the leaders, the doers, the luminaries, for they will likely be the only ones who think freely for themselves–who think critically and outside of the boxes that contain others. And if we want to gift our children a world that is positive and better than before, we need to teach them now to be those exceptions–to put down their cell phones and electronic devices and not let them run their lives, to reject the messages of want and need that marketers and advertisers continue to force upon them, to avoid becoming dependent on the multitudes of new technological addictions that are overstimulating their minds and constantly distracting them from actively participating in life.

What might the community look like if it was run by people who were addicted to things that keep them from living their lives with purpose and meaning? Without teaching our youth to think critically and freely, what might our children’s world be ten years from now? Fifty? Such thoughts should challenge us to help our youth become the exceptions, for if we choose not to, who will?

Encourage a child to think outside the box–to reject their expectations of entitlements, of impatience and immorality, and to embrace their limit-less potential.

Questions to consider:

What do you see our world looking like when our children are in charge?

Why do so many people feed so many messages to kids just to get those kids to buy more of their products?

Are we doing a good job in helping our kids reach their potential?

For further thought:

“Giving kids clothes and food is one thing, you know, but it’s much more important to teach them that other people besides themselves are important, and that the best thing they can do with their lives is to use them in the service of other people.” ~ Dolores Huerta …

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Season Of Sober Reflection

“If we could see that everything, even tragedy, is a gift in disguise, we would then find the best way to nourish the soul.” ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Soul Gifts in Disguise …

Life brings to us many things, most of which mirrors the attitudes we embrace. Some come disguised as gifts, while others, however, come as something that does not appear to be a gift at all, yet often bring to us things that turn out to be very important and necessary in our lives. I generally have found that many of the things that seem awful, turn out to be the best things that could possibly have happened–but that the benefits are only available to me once I am able to find acceptance, growth, and learning from them.

Throughout my life, I have been witness to many instances of hardships, suffering, and adversity that other have faced, not to mention the innumerable tales I have heard from others. Even in my own life, I have experienced things that have challenged my trust in life and in others. And yet, when I go back later to review these stories and experiences months or years down the road, I consistently see something positive in them, something good emerging from the tragedy. People who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and have found a deeper understanding and purpose in life; people who have lost their jobs or their homes, only to find that their newfound freedom from the bonds of those things has become a wonderful gift of starting over. Yes, some things are painful and some things are tragic, but when we distance ourselves from them, we diminish an important and fundamental opportunity to learn and to grow from them in ways that are necessary for us to move forward and live our lives to the fullest.

What Elisabeth is getting at is that everything in life is a gift; which, if true, should inspire us to open our hearts and eyes wider to the many things that we need to experience and learn from, things that we are perhaps blind to in our current situations or state of mind. Eric Clapton struggled for years with drug addiction and at one point was even hospitalized. In addition, he lost his good friend Stevie Ray Vaughan and two of his road crew in a helicopter crash, and later that same year lost his four-year-old son, who fell from the 49th floor of a Manhattan high-rise–the grief from which spurred him to write, “Tears in Heaven.” He overcame all of this to become a new man, a stronger man.

Tragedy and grief will be a part of our lives; and although it is much more pleasant to learn in ways that do not involve pain and mourning, the opportunities for growth and learning are there nonetheless–through the grief, the anger, the denial, the bargaining, the depression, and hopefully the acceptance. It is up to us whether we recognize the gifts in such situations, and if we keep our eyes, hearts, and minds open to possibilities instead of closing them off, then we can help our spirits to grow and expand into a state of stronger love, deeper awareness, and unrestrained compassion.

Seek for gifts that often lie obscured behind the tragedies that have occurred in your life.

Questions to consider:

Why do we tend not to see the gifts that are inherent in the disasters of our lives?

What do you learn the most from–the obstacles or the easy times?

How might we help others who have gone through hard times to see the gifts that those hard times might have brought them?

For further thought:

“Adversity, if for no other reason, is of benefit, since it is sure to bring a season of sober reflection. People see clearer at such times. Storms purify the atmosphere.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher

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