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Life Lessons — What death teaches us

This past week, a friend from church passed away at the far too young age of fifty-eight.

On Friday morning, we attended the memorial service and we were able to see just how much one life can mean.

Before I go on, I should note that death for the immediate family is NEVER a learning situation and anyone who attempts to comfort those closest to death with words related to the deceased “being in a better place” or it being “better that they are not suffering” deserve both scorn and any physical retribution that is meted out upon their bodies.

So for the Gaines family, this note is not for you. There is nothing for you to learn at this time — it is just time for you to grieve in whichever direction your emotions may take you although you can perhaps take a small comfort in the many things that Ruth’s life taught at least one person.

Lesson 1 — People Matter Most

The people who came to the ceremony were what you would usually expect, but the people who came from out-of-town spoke volumes.

The first that I recall was a woman about twenty-five years old who had been a friend of Ruth’s son, Steven in high school. She called her “Mama Gaines” and told about how she cared about all of the kids that she met along the way.

The second was a former boss of Ruth’s husband, Rick, who described Rick as the hardest working man that he had ever met. He and his wife and flown from Chicago that morning for the service and were driving to the airport to catch another flight out that evening.

A third family made the drive from Philadelphia. Another man flew from California to Georgia for the ceremony.

People only make these efforts when there is real love and real giving.

Lesson Two — Each Day is a gift

On my Facebook page, I have this quote in the handy, dandy quote box — Each day is a gift from the LORD. Like manna, it can only be used once and then it is gone.

The truth is that none of us know how long we have and what we choose to do with our life matters.

Somewhere along the line I have read the quote that “No one regrets on their death-bed that they didn’t work enough.”

This is not a condemnation of hard work, but simply a reminder to stop and think about what is important. Do you really need to watch one more sitcom or mow the lawn or should you pick up the phone and call your best friend from high school instead?

Lesson 3 — Living in Peace is a good thing

Another characteristic that you could see from what was said is that there was not an acrimony between Ruth and those she knew. Oh, I’m sure there was the day-to-day stuff that goes around in families, but there was no bitterness or hard feelings.

When we harbor bitterness, we hurt ourselves far more than others. I think it was one of my pastors who said, “Bitterness is a cup of poison that we drink thinking that it will harm our enemies.”

I’m thankful that within my extended family we have striven for peace and that good friends have come to me when we have a problem and wanted to work it out.

This is not easy since you may not always get the response that you want, but I take comfort in the scripture that says “As far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

You may find that you have someone in your life who you have done all you can to make peace with it and at that point, you just have to let them go.

Lesson 4 — You can always give no matter your circumstances

I am not talking about money here, of course, but giving of yourself.

Despite a four year fight with brain cancer, Ruth was always at church because that is the call of a Christian and while she often sought prayer, she also gave prayer.

She liked to hug and she would find you and give you a hug as well.

We can always encourage people and that is even easier with today’s social media. Reaching out to people who were mentors for us and sharing how it touched us brings honor and fulfillment to those who have helped us.

Lesson 5 — You are responsible for your attitude not your circumstances

Till the day she died, Ruth maintained a sense of humor.

Sometimes when the pastor would stop by the house, she would make a “jail break” with him to get some sweet tea from McDonalds.

She would tell the aides that they needed to straighten up or she would fire them.

Attempts to correct her bent glasses frames were rejected because she liked how people would turn their heads at weird angles to try to look her in the eyes.

I contrast this with my own often bad attitude brought on by the mildest of circumstantial misdeeds.

Lesson 6 — Life should be lived

There are countless metaphors from the movies The Bucket List and Stranger Than Fiction to those proposed by self-help gurus who message is to “live your life.”

Ruth lived her life — skating, hiking, working, learning, loving, worshiping, and caring.

There are two and a half months left in this year — is there someone you need to write or call, something you’ve “always wanted to do,” something that has taken over your life that you need to dump?

Two and a half months — live your life.

Do it for Ruth.

It would be nice to be in a movie

As an American, I get carried away by the heroism and overcoming of huge odds.  For instance, in the latest incarnation of Robin Hood, Russell Crowe’s title character goes from being an archer in disregard, to a rich thief, to a baron’s son, to being happily married to Cate Blanchett.

No one bothers to question him as to why he is riding the king’s horse when he returns to England and he seemlessly becomes lord over a great number of servants who can cook for him.

And I know that you can drive across England in a day, but can you really ride from the northern area where Nottingham is all the way to the southern coast in a short enough time that you don’t need cooks, cattle, and food for your army?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the movie which I enjoyed immensely, I’m just wishing I could get some of that magic pixie dust.

Instead of having to interrupt what I’m doing, I could simply declare myself the winner of a small lottery and soon I could pay people to do all my food preparation so that I could have time to write instead of having to split cooking and cleaning duties with my wife.

Rather than having to work for weeks and months to lose a few stubborn pounds, I could simply run through the streets with a cool looking dog (which would hopefully eat my family’s cats) and we could just re-run that sequence a few times until I thinned out.

Instead of having these dumb fights with my wife where I my pithiness drops to something like “did not,” I could have a very alturistic argument followed by long winded French kissing to make up for perceived differences.

Alas, I am not in a movie and so I have to work a regular job, use “portion control,” and step away from the keyboard long enough to go for a walk/jog to burn those calories.

It takes a mix of hard work and smart work these days to be a generalist.

To be good at your “real job,” spend time with your family, mow the grass, be engaged at church, stay fit, and to write a book (and invest in all the social media required to become an author).

Someday I should emerge (theoritically) doing well at all those things, but for now, I suppose I will have to make do with the progress and the “joy of it” (which is sometimes there and sometimes isn’t if I’m honest) and keep plugging away.

Maybe a change will add peace to your marriage

 Tired of Fighting

If your marriage is like most marriages, you probably have settled into a familiar routine regarding who does what chores around the house.

For years, I handled all of the finances and the family from the overall budget down to the weekly spending. My wife would call me or ask me if she could spend money on certain items since she didn’t have an understanding of the budget details and because she wanted to make sure that she wasn’t spending money that we didn’t have.

While I appreciated this behavior (it sure beats being married to someone who just spends money on anything they want), it added a lot of stress to our marriage.

If I told her “no” about something, she was gracious about the decision, but that didn’t hide that disappointments that I read in her face and each “no” also poked at my emotional insecurities of being a good provider.

Other times, I would have plans in my head for spending our weekly money — the money that we used for groceries, eating out, and miscellaneous items – and Kradan would spend it.  She would find a good buy at the store and return home, excited to tell me all about it. Instead, I would be upset because I had already allocated that money in my head.  You can imagine that this did not go over well.

Time for a Change

A couple of months ago, I decided that arguing over finances wasn’t worth the hassle it created in our life. So we sat down together and divided up different parts of the budget. I still controlled the overall budget, but making this change gave her freedom to decide where the money went on a day-to-day basis.

I was nervous about giving up this control to Kradan since I enjoy control. Instead of a problem,  I found that it is a win/win situation for both of us.  Kradan has more control and I don’t have to worry about telling her “no.”

For instance, while shopping for groceries, my main focus was always to spend as little as possible regardless of the nutritional quality of the meals.  She would then be required to make with food that I had decided upon.  The lack of nutrition sapped at her feelings about herself as a mom.  Now, she is much happier about the meals that she creates for the family. Control and flexibility over where to shop and how much to spend have allowed her to create meals that feels good about.

 Giving Up Control

The problem with giving up control, of course, is that you really have to give it up. You cannot claim to turn ownership over to your spouse in a given area and then complain about their choices. To make this easier on myself, I made a point when we first changed the system to adopt a very simple mantra, “whatever is fine with me.”

The “whatever” mantra is not a way to avoid discussion, but simply a way to embrace the fact that I have turned ownership over to her. Now when she comes home excited about a bargain that she found, I don’t second-guess her and she doesn’t have to worry about what my reaction is going to be.

 How About You?

Finances may not be an issue for you in your marriage. You may have developed a system already that works without causing fraction.

However, there is bound to be some sort of issue where the above principles may apply. Think about the things that you argue over with your spouse. Somewhere in there is an issue of control or an issue of how decisions are made.

Jot a few things down and talk it over maybe you can find some common ground that will limit made some of the issues that you have.

Life’s a beach — Lessons in Perspective

The next wave rolled toward me.

“This one is gonna kill me,” I think as I bob on my boogey board.

I leap, take water up the nose, but don’t die.

I ride a wave, stand up, take two steps and get hit.

“That one blind sided me.”

Do you feel the love?

No?  Me neither.

It dawned on me that I could look at the waves in a couple of different waves.

Next time out into the water.

Wave 1: Pick me, ride me, picke me!

Wave 2: Yo Oz, skip him and ride me!

I grab a wave and it whispers in my ear … We are going all the way to the shore.

Now, do you feel the love?

Life is like the Ocean

Life is a lot like the ocean and opportunities are like the waves.

Some days the water is calm with very little rolling towards us.

Other days it is pounding and rolling.

“I can’t make money.”

That’s interesting because along with a job, I’m eeking out a decent return on  My brother is using options to make some money off of the sad news on oil companies.  And of course, I’m pounding away at my novels and short stories.

“I can’t get anything done.  My son wants me to go swimming with him.”

“Hey, my son still likes me enough that he wants to hang out with me.”

Same situation, different perspective.

An opportunity to build something permanent with my son.

I’ve said it before but

You only get one crack at today, better make it a good one.

Life is sending you messages.  No, it’s not some secret.  It’s just how life works.

Like the ocean, there are going to be some chances to make changes, to take steps forward, to repair the things that are broken.

Some days, you’ll get big waves  — a job change, a brilliant stock idea, a killer idea for a novel.

Some days, the waves are like glass and you have to look a little harder — watch a movie with your son or Stephen Strasburg’s major league debut.

It’s really all in how you look at it.

Life is a Beach

Life is a Beach. 

At least it is for me, today.

Each year my extended family takes a week out at Topsail Island ( we have a housesitter so don’t bother trying to burgle the place).  This year is going to be a hot one from the temps outside (7 AM and already in the 70s or 80s).

All of us can “go to the beach” even if we are in low paying jobs or only have a day or so off.  America is dotted (as are most other countries) with public lakes, parks, and beaches.

Part of life, no matter how good or how bad it seems at any time is to take time to enjoy and be thankful for what God has given us.

Spend a few extra dollars and get that cut of steak that you always crave.  Buy a small bundle of flowers for your wife or girlfriend.  Call several of your favorite people and ask them to meet at a park.

Anthony Robbins talks about “Celebrating for No Reason.”  

While there are many days when we need to knuckle down and work hard, there are also days to relax and enjoy the good parts and good people in our lives.

What is your life metaphor?

Life is hard and then you die.

Camp chuck!

Which of the above would you like to be a part of?

Both are phrases that two of my good friends use.  Do you want to be a part of  Team Life is Hard and Then You Die or Team Camp Chuck (where everyday is like Summer Camp).

I must admit that I spent a lot of time as a part of the Team Hard up until my mid-twenties.  In college my guiding philosophy toward people was “Don’t expect much of people that way you will never be disappointed.”

A friend named Steve Patton pointed me at  a book called Learned Optimism and in forties I stumbled upon some Anthony Robbins books. 

Now neither book contains the answer to life (that would be the Bible), but both contain valueable lessons in moving towards creating a life that you enjoy.  One thing is how you think about life.

Life is Easy / Life is Good

For a couple of years now, I have flucuated between Life is Easy and Life is Good as metaphors that adorn the inside of my journal and the sheets of paper that I call my focus points and help me remember key goals and key lessons learned.

You may object to both of these metaphors because it might not reflect your experience, but give me a couple of minutes and let me explain.

Life is Easy

Some people object to this metaphor on the grounds that most successful people work very hard to get what they want and that to get good at something you must put in a lot of practice.

The disconnect is that we associate “work” and “practice” as “hard.” 

For me, though, life should be “easy” and by that I mean that we should design our life around choices that are things we enjoy. 

Hate your house?  Pick up and move.

Can’t afford too?  Make a list of what you don’t like and pick five things to improve for the year while spending as little money as possible.  Go to your friends house and (silently!) make a list of things that you like better about your house.

Repeat for your job, family situation, and relationships.

My yard has always been a source of “hardness’ in my life — ivy growing up trees and fences, a lawn I have to mow, trees that need to be trimmed. Yuck!

A year ago I decided to make peace with the yard. 

The ivy can have the fence, but I get to keep the trees.  The trees are friends to trim or cut down if theyare in the wrong place.  Mowing the yard is an escape of two hours a week in the spring to think about life and the yard itself.

I sit on the porch after I mow and run my sprinklers and smile and thank God for my beautiful yard.

Life Is Good

Death, disease, famine, bills, cats.

There are many things that we do not consider “good” in this life from the serious to the amusingly annoying.

I will save my long discussion of death for another day (short version — it makes life precious), but like the “hard” things in life, the “bad” thinks in life can be redeemed.

One of the small “bad” things is when good friend move away from each other.

We may see each other on facebook and wish for a chance to hang out and play cards or wish that our families could grow up near each other.

There are, of course, the truly horrible things in our society — hatred, abuse, and death.

One thing to focus on is what we control?

We have each day of our life to make an impact for good in the world regardless of what was done to us or people we know.

 We can turn to God and ask His help in redeeming the bad and turning it into good.

We have a choice each day to focus on the good parts of our life and celebrate those even if they are few and far between.

In most countries, we can make choices about our future — job, friends, relationships — that will allow us to build a good life.

For me, I see that Life Is Good despite some of the bad around me and I work to do little things in people’s lives to help their lives be a little better as well.

What’s the point?

How do you choose to see life?

If you think that “life is just something to get through” then I suspect (from experience) that your life will be that.

If you think that “life is about impacting people” then I suspect that your life can be about that as well.