Photo: Ed Yourdon
My midday walk during my lunch break from work started like normal. Because I’ve walked the same course for three years, with a few alterations here and there depending on the day, I’ve added reading into that time. I know, it’s not the best idea to have my head down reading my Kindle while walking along a road. I have to guard against getting so involved in the story that I fail to hear or see the vehicles around me.
I looked up from my book on this particular day and noticed a woman wearing a hijab head covering about a block away, heading my direction. I went back to the novel, mindful of her, and determined to stop reading as we met so I could acknowledge her.
As I passed a bus stop and we drew closer to each other, the gray clouds overhead started gently dropping their contents, adding to the humidity in the air. I looked the woman in the eye and said hi. She beamed a bright smile and returned the hi. And then she asked if she could use my phone to call her husband.
I hesitated. A phone is a very personal item these days. But I also tried to put myself in her shoes. She had to be sweating under all of that clothing, and she had to humble herself to ask me, knowing I could say no. I didn’t believe she wanted to harm me in any way. What if she had just missed the bus and wasn’t going to be able to meet her husband like they had planned?
The Right Place at the Right Time
The story of the good Samaritan came to mind. When he saw another person in need, instead of avoiding the person because of a culture clash, he reached out and met the need. Maybe I was in this place at this time for this very reason. Maybe someone else wouldn’t have helped the woman.
I pulled my phone out of my pocket, and she rattled off the number for me to punch in. That alone gave me comfort. It sent a clear message she had no intention of touching anything on my phone.
I entered the numbers and handed the device to her, standing aside. As she spoke in a different language to the recipient on the other end, possible scenarios played through my head. She could simply talk to her husband and return the phone. She could take the phone and run. I could run after her. She could throw the phone and damage it. I decided even if she hurt or stole my phone, I’d be OK. It wouldn’t be the end of the world.
After the woman ended her call, she graciously handed the phone back to me, thanked me with that same big smile, and went on her way. And that was it.
I don’t know who received more of a blessing from that encounter: her or me. Her smile brightened my day. I hope my reluctant generosity brightened hers.
I’m thankful I was in the right place at the right time to be able to help her. But I’m more grateful for what I learned through our confrontation: that sometimes it’s good just to trust people and give them the benefit of the doubt. And I always reap benefits when I’m generous, regardless of the other person’s motives.
Photo: Jason Edwards
Wait, what did I say? Was that out loud?
Yep, I did it again. Said some things I shouldn’t have. Didn’t handle the situation as best as I could have.
Now I had to do damage control to clean up the mess I had made.
I don’t always stop to think how my words will affect others. Do you? I try to. But, like most of us, I determine that end result based on my intent, not on my accompanying actions — forgetting the communication I provide is a packaged deal.
When I find I do my worst is when I encounter a situation I hadn’t prepared for mentally, as was the case this time. Having gotten off work early, I had envisioned going home, having the house to myself, and relaxing for an hour or so. Only to find that one of my children, whom I thought would be at work, was home with a friend. I hadn’t expected that. It turned my world upside down. Threw off my groove.
Hindsight is always 20-20. I know now what I should have done, how I should have handled the situation, and how I wish I had. I also know what I actually did and how my carelessness could have affected my relationships with those two people.
I had to do damage control. And yes, that meant apologizing for my wrongdoing, saying those two little words I’ve grown better at saying over the years. I guess that’s because I’ve finally given myself grace. I no longer expect my words and actions to be perfect. I know I make mistakes. And I like to acknowledge them, make amends, and move on.
I didn’t care if the other parties had apologies or not. It wasn’t about that. I knew that what I had done was wrong, and I wanted to make it right. And fast. So that’s what I set out to do.
This situation reminded me how far I’ve come in that I didn’t completely blow up at the individuals like, unfortunately, I’ve done in the past. I also was quick to see my wrongdoing and make things right. But it showed me that I still have work to do to get to a place where I won’t need to perform damage control.
And one of the best ways to avoid that is not to react to emotions. Because when emotions are high, wisdom is low. Thankfully, I’m still a work in progress.
We’re halfway through 2018. It’s a great time to reevaluate the goals you set for the year. Have you made progress? Do you need to make some tweaks? Did you already accomplish some of the things you set out to do?
Looking back over the list I wrote down at the end of last year, I’ve definitely made progress in some areas and have work to do in others. It gives me a sense of satisfaction to know I’m on track to complete some of the goals I set out to reach.
But what about the ones where I’m lacking? Should I just give up on those goals altogether? Although that may be tempting, I don’t think that’s the answer. Instead, I’ll revise those goals to make them more attainable by the end of the year. I originally wrote them down because they were important to me and gave me some things to shoot for. I don’t think I should give up on them. I still have work to do.
For example, I wanted to create a monthly newsletter. It started off all right. I succeeded the first two months. But then life happened and I got off track, missing a month. So I combined two months’ worth into one. And that happened a second time. As I revise my goals, I need to decide if I want to continue to do a bimonthly newsletter or shoot for a monthly one. My plan is for the latter.
The beginning of the year and halfway through are not the only times you can set goals. You can do that anytime. It’s never too late. Is there something new you’d like to start? Go for it! But remember to check on your progress in about six months. And don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t succeed at first. Just make some revisions and keep striving to do better.
Photo: Bernardo Ricci Armani
You don’t realize how fast life is moving until you slow down. This thought came to me on a morning jog as I crossed a freeway overpass, where vehicles rushed past beneath me.
When you’re in one of those vehicles on the freeway, it doesn’t feel like you’re going all that fast. You’re just keeping up with traffic. But if you get a flat tire and have to pull off to the shoulder, you definitely notice the speed of the vehicles whizzing by.
I found the same to be true when I got stuck on a little island while tubing down a river once. The rope tying a water jug to my tube snagged a branch, stopping my tube cold. Water rushed through the tube and around my ankles as I struggled to free my jug. When I failed at that, I worked to untie the jug from my tube and left the jug clinging to the branch. Fighting the current wore me out. I had to get free.
Ironically, while going with the flow in that situation, I felt relaxed. It was only when I stood still and fought the current that it affected me. In that instance, going with the current was a good thing.
I’m not convinced, though, that the busyness of life is a good thing. Sometimes I need a break from it.
My husband has always been a big proponent of taking an annual vacation. He knows the importance of slowing down. Earlier this year, we had the privilege of taking a transatlantic cruise that afforded us six consecutive days at sea, disconnected from the internet. It was a time of unwinding. We experienced things out of the ordinary and freed our minds. Disengaging from social media and other distractions made us focus on other things.
After that trip, it took us a good two days or more to get back up to speed with our normal busy lives. Today, we’re back with the flow, but we have renewed energy and fresh perspectives, thanks to the time away.
Occasionally slowing down can be very beneficial to your psyche. Initiating such an endeavor can be difficult, but I haven’t met anyone who regretted doing so.
Photo: Barbora Hrda
In any type of organization, it’s critical that each person do his or her own job to make up the collective whole. A great example of this is on a cruise ship, where you find housekeeping stewards, restaurant wait staff, entertainment crew, human resources personnel, maintenance operators, navigational crew, engineers, and many others.
Each of these jobs is super important, yet none is more significant than another. Sure, the captain of the ship is held in highest regard, but his engineering staff is just as vital to the successful operation of the vessel.
The people in the various positions could think of themselves as more crucial than other roles, but that doesn’t make it true. In fact, that mindset only detracts from that person’s role because it’s the servant attitude that makes each worker successful on a cruise ship.
You Have a Role to Play
It’s often easy to feel overlooked or unimportant when someone in another position is recognized more often or seemingly in higher regard than you — especially if you don’t really understand the responsibility of that particular job or if you work largely behind the scenes. In reality, however, that other role is probably just as important as yours. And you should celebrate with that person in the same way you would want him or her to celebrate with you if you were recognized instead.
One place this is rather obvious is in a singing group. More often than not, the lead singer gets all of the praise, glory, and recognition for the group. But the truth is the lead singer would be nothing without his backup guitarist, drummer, and keyboardist. Just because the lead singer is the face of the music group doesn’t mean the other musicians aren’t important. Quite the contrary. And those other musicians know it.
The lead singer also relies on a sound technician for a successful performance, but no one thinks about the sound tech unless a problem occurs. That means the best compliment a sound tech can get is to go unnoticed. His is a thankless yet vital job.
It takes each person doing his or her part to create a symphony. Even if a certain musician in an orchestra has a lot of rests before it’s time to sound her instrument, that instrument adds something special to the complete sound of the piece being played.
So the next time you find yourself feeling overlooked and insignificant, I hope you keep these truths in mind. What you do is important. You are essential and have a crucial role to play.
Photo: Dave Wilcock
A seemingly monumental task stood before me. I had dreaded it for months. But today was the day. I had to tackle cleaning our barbecue smoker/grill so I could put it up for sale. I knew it would be worth more clean than dirty.
It had taken my sister-in-law three hours to clean her grill, so I expected to invest at least that much time into the effort.
I gathered the tools I thought I’d need and set to work. My husband, who had cleaned the contraption the previous time, suggested I wear an apron and gloves. “I don’t think I’ll get that dirty,” I responded but then complied. (Later, I had to admit he was right … again. The apron and gloves saved me from getting any messier than I did.)
The beginning of the job wasn’t too difficult: brushing off dust and emptying ashes out of the smoker portion of the unit. But after that, it got more complicated.
Sticky soot clung to the grates and the bottom of the cooking barrel from months of use. How would I get rid of that? I found another brush and started scrubbing away, layer by layer, piece by piece, minute by minute, hour by hour until I could see the steel that had been concealed.
As I cleaned, my mind wandered. I realized that just as I had seen value in that smoker, that’s how God sees each of us: valuable. Yet sometimes our worth is hidden beneath caked-on dirt and soot. And God ever so patiently chips away at it, layer by layer, piece by piece, making us clean and shiny. It’s a lengthy process that doesn’t happen overnight. And sometimes it’s painful. But in the end, it’s well worth it.
It took me four hours to complete the smoker/grill-cleaning job. But at the end of that time, I had a valuable unit worthy of selling/buying.
You, my friend, are a work in progress. A masterpiece. And you are priceless. Don’t ever forget that.
Photo: Joydeep Sengupta
While crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a wonderfully relaxing cruise, my husband and I spent six straight days “off the grid,” disconnected from the internet and our normal digital life. We were free from our worries and cares and social media, whisked away to a seeming utopia. We didn’t have to cook, clean, or be responsible for much of anything. Our toughest decisions each day were how to spend our time and selecting which food options to indulge in.
And you know what I found? I didn’t miss my digital life. Well, I did some. At times, I wanted to do a quick Google search for on-the-spot research. And as soon as I could get back on the internet, I did, to see what had transpired in my time away.
What I found was that the problems and stressors I had had before going off the grid were still there when I returned. Just because I had run away, so to speak, didn’t make those issues vanish. They were still waiting for me, waiting to be addressed.
I fought the urge to go back into hiding and avoid the drama altogether. The effort would have been futile. The only way I could truly evade the issues was not to evade them at all but to face them head-on. And so that’s what I did. I stared them in the eyes and dealt with each one. And in doing so, I found freedom.
In a similar way, our internal battles can hold us captive. We can try to cover them up with other things, such as emotional eating. But it doesn’t truly take them away. No, it’s not until we face our issues squarely and work through them that we truly overcome and can put them behind us.
It’s good to get away and take a break from our problems. It can provide a fresh perspective. But they still have to be addressed. So whatever hardship you’re dealing with, here’s a tip: You’ll get through it faster if you face it head-on rather than trying to skirt your way around it.
When you’re constantly giving of yourself to your employer, your significant other, your family, and various other responsibilities, it can be overwhelming. Sometimes you need some me time to restore balance — especially if you’re an introvert like myself.
That’s where I found myself not too long ago.
So one night, I left the dinner dishes in the sink and took some time for me. I worked out — something I hadn’t done in I don’t even know how long. And I surfed the web, indulging in dream shopping for our future.
The next day, I awoke feeling refreshed and excited and ready to face the day head-on — despite being awakened multiple times during the night.
It’s amazing what a little battery recharge can do to keep your spirits going. Of course, I don’t recommend forgoing your responsibilities every evening. I know I certainly won’t. If I did, I would need balance in the other direction. The dishes do need my attention occasionally. And it’s important to care for those around you, especially within your family.
Taking time for myself was something I didn’t do well as a young stay-at-home mother raising my kids. Me time was at the very bottom of my priority list. I can’t help but wonder now if I would have been a better mom had I made me time a higher priority.
Now that our kids have all reached adulthood, my husband and I finally took our first trip to Europe. Before we became parents, he used to say, “We could go to Europe, or we could have kids.” The trip was definitely worth waiting for.
In our tour of Spain and Portugal, we’ve been experiencing a laid-back culture, observing amazing architecture, and enjoying time together as a couple. Although we encounter a language barrier among many of the locals, we’ve found some things convey universally: laughter and smiles.
People are people at heart, no matter their language, culture, or beliefs. They find humor in their lives that provokes belly laughs. The sight of infants and children exploring their surroundings brings smiles to otherwise somber faces. The sound of music leads to foot-tapping and joviality.
Regardless of their culture, people bundle up in cold temperatures and shed outer layers of clothing in warmer ones. They eat and sleep. They go from day to day, often facing many of the same obstacles. It’s how they react to and deal with those obstacles that can be different — even if they speak the same language.
Yes, despite our differences, we’re actually very similar. That’s not to say we’re all the same. Definitely not. It’s our differences that make us unique and make life more exciting and enjoyable. But our similarities reveal the goodness of humanity and remind us we’re all the same race. Maybe if we concentrate more on those likenesses, our seeming contrasts will fade. After all, we’re all people at heart.
I sent a text message to a friend and didn’t get a response. Was she mad at me? A week went by before I sent another, with the same result. Surely she had something against me. Did I do something wrong? Or did she just forget to respond?
Isn’t it funny how quickly we jump to conclusions?
I decided to give my friend the benefit of the doubt, realizing that I could have sent the text at a time when she was unable to respond. When she became available, maybe she had forgotten about it. So I sent yet a third text at a different time of day. And this one got a response. The first three words were, “Sorry, I forgot.”
It wasn’t that many years ago that I would have bought the “surely she’s mad at me” mentality and avoided that friend until she made a move to prove otherwise. A simple miscommunication or misunderstanding would have escalated into a gigantic relational issue in my mind, when in reality, there was no issue. It was merely bad timing.
Have you ever found yourself in that boat, letting your mind get the best of you? Like the song I learned as a child, “Be careful little eyes what you see … ears what you hear … tongue what you say … hands what you do … feet where you go,” we also need to be careful what we think, what we feed our brain. More often than not, our initial thought might be the worst.
We also need to give people the benefit of the doubt. Yes, you will encounter times when you reach out and don’t get a response because someone really is mad at you. It happens. But other times, all is well and someone is just busy. Maybe they had an emergency they had to deal with and didn’t have time to respond. Maybe they were driving and couldn’t text or call. Maybe they forgot their phone that day. The possibilities are endless.
So the next time you find yourself in a situation like that, how will you react? Will you immediately jump to the worst? Or will you think the best? It is what you make it.
Christian, wife, mother of 5, breast cancer survivor, marathon finisher, writer and editor, author of "Help! I'm a Science Project"