Overcoming Won’t Always Look The Same

Over.mtnPeople who have followed NQC know that my story includes a mountain failure when I was eleven. At least I saw it that way. I tried to climb Long’s Peak with my mom, dad and their friends, believing that I would stand on top of all 14,255 feet of it. I was wrong. My climb ended at Boulder Field, somewhere in the thirteen thousand plus range, with me throwing up from altitude sickness.

Instead of celebrating on the summit, my dad (who was also ill) and I made our way back to the trailhead while the others headed to the top. In my mind, I was more of a loser than an overcomer. Why? Because I believed that to overcome there was only one good outcome, making it to the top.

I’ve learned since then that overcoming doesn’t always mean what we think it means. It’s not necessarily getting healed from our illness, obtaining the perfect job or becoming debt-free, as welcome as those would be to most.

Let me in fact suggest some other versions of overcoming.

Overcoming can include:

  • Breaking free of our fear of failure, at least most of the time.
  • Having changed our general lifestyle from that of an addict to a person who is in more control of their urges than before.
  • Trying something new just once or twice without saying it’s easy now. Perhaps we just experience what I call exhilarating terror.
  • Seeing our disease move from fatal to manageable.
  • Inviting a formerly estranged family member to have dinner with you – once.

Overcoming often simply means that we’ve moved significantly down the road we believe is important for us to travel. There is a freedom that we didn’t have before, a concern rather than panic, sadness more than despair, irritation more often than rage.

You don’t have to reach the summit to conquer your mountain. The question is, Did you conquer yourself, your fears, your imprisonment? Did  you win a small battle, even though the war isn’t won just yet? Have you moved in a new or varied direction, one that is healthier and more productive?

The key is to look for little victories and celebrate them. Sometimes it takes those baby wins to ultimately win the war. So start now. Overcome by taking the first step or two. And one day the whole mountain may be yours.

 

 

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Being Thankful . . . The Missing Vitamin For Many Of Our Ailments

thankyou

I read recently that a majority of flight attendants wish for more of one thing, something beyond anything else in their work. It’s not more money, better conditions or more time off though those things may be on their overall wish list. Their number one wish is that more people would say thank you.

As we all know, they deal with rude, entitled, unhappy travelers much of the time and have to keep their cool and a positive, helpful attitude going through it all. I understand their request.

It seems to me that the thank you’s they seek are also missing much of the time in our general culture as well. And while we don’t technically need words of thanks or commendation nor should we make that our goal in doing anything well, it’s nice to have someone notice our kindness, extra efforts or long-term faithfulness, isn’t it?

Why?

Somehow the words thank you can help melt away our discouragement, weariness and the sense that we don’t matter that much. Those two little words are more welcomed than trophies, certificates or degrees. One of the books of wisdom in the Bible, Proverbs, says that death and life are in the power of our words (18:21). In other words, what we say matters and holds great weight regarding whether we have motivation and inspiration for the future. Words can kill, so to speak, or re-vitalize.

Let me be clear. I’m talking only about saying thank you. I’m not suggesting that we gush, flatter or falsely brag on someone. Expressing appreciation doesn’t mean that we think they’re perfect or have a  special relationship with them. Thank you in this context merely suggests that we noticed what another person did for us and we’re telling them about it.

In fact, being thankful can become an antidote for our own discouragement, depression and failing attitudes. When we’re thankful we remember more of what we have and think less about what’s missing. When we’re thankful we tend to ponder good things rather than all the bad stuff. When we’re thankful we re-visit how blessed we are.

Thankfulness also helps us focus more on HOW we will respond to our problems rather than the WHY of it all. Later in the New Testament we’re told to in everything give thanks. It doesn’t say have gratitude FOR everything, just IN everything. When we’re discouraged thanks will help, When we’re overwhelmed thanks can help shut down our unhealthy thinking so we can focus more on answers and next steps.

Who might you thank today with actual words? Try sending them a handwritten note or calling and telling them directly how much you appreciate them. What could you be thankful for in spite of your negative circumstances? Even a short prayer could make a difference.

I guarantee you’ll see more of life from a new perspective as you thank God, your family and others. Start now or keep at it. Don’t wait. Make thank you’s a habit. And who knows? Even some flight attendant might also enjoy a better day!

I Just Heard He’s Gone . . . But I’ll Never Forget Who He Was.

legacy

I woke early on this Sunday morning. I’m not sure why, though it seems like it’s happening more often as I get older. My mind immediately went to numerous ponderings like today being Easter Sunday for most of my friends in Russia where I just was for ten days. I was imagining how their services might have gone since they are seven hours ahead of us here and many of their gatherings are already over.

I stumbled into the kitchen to make my usual latte, wishing a barista had already done it for me, but I quickly realized this wasn’t Starbuck’s. All was quiet as my wife was still sleeping. I wished I was.

Nonetheless, I started my espresso routine while grabbing my phone to see what had occurred in the social media world overnight. Often, at this time of the morning, there is little of consequence to note since most of America is still in bed. Maybe one of my Russian friends had something to say about their holiday.

Instead, a post jumped out at me that I didn’t see coming. In fact, at first I wondered if I was reading it right. Maybe I don’t know all the family involved and what I was seeing wasn’t really what I thought it was. But another post from a friend closer to the situation confirmed the worst. A man I knew from another church had died. Way too early. With a wife and young kids. A really good guy. No, a great guy. A man who left a big wake that will never be forgotten and a legacy that will impact others for decades at least.

I’m not going to mention his name. His family, friends and other acquaintances will know who I’m talking about. He’ll receive many deserved tributes and shared memories from people who knew him far better than I do. They know him as a dad, husband, close friend and who knows what else. They should be the ones who specifically honor him most in upcoming days and they no doubt will.

I am simply reminded of a couple of things that made him special to me, qualities that are waning in our culture today. Maybe his life and memory will encourage a few others to be a little more like him during the years we have left.

He was an encourager. Even when he was facing his own personal challenges he found time and the words to help you with yours. He listened. He gave you a pat on the back. Sometimes I’m pretty sure I didn’t deserve one, but I got it anyway. He never complained, at least in my presence, though he had reason to.

He was a worshiper. We all come from various traditions regarding faith, style of service and all of that. I love it that this guy didn’t hold back worrying about what others thought. He might be working at church that morning, but he didn’t miss connecting with Jesus, with the God who sustained him. You couldn’t miss him standing in the back, hands raised while trying to adjust the sound that was a little off. He loved to serve the people, but he loved serving God more. Now he is in his presence and probably hasn’t missed a beat.

He went the extra mile. Some people serve doing the bare minimums or even less. Some just mail in their efforts, so to speak, many rarely prepare, others never grow their skills. For too short a time, I knew this man who never settled for okay, average or I’ll just do what I need to do and go home. He came in and did extra work during the week. He looked for needs and tried to meet them. He did his work well and helped others be better in the process.

He made the most of his years. I loved his free spirit. He wore these funky shirts a lot of the time, ones that probably made a few old timers frown. Jesus would have probably loved every one of them. He spent time with his family, went to car races, lived life on a big, but still focused scale. He wasn’t about to waste his time on things that didn’t matter. He crammed a lot of life into the years God gave him.

Of course there’s more that will be said and should be. I’ll leave that to others.

However, I don’t get why people like this leave us early. I’m going to ask God about that someday. But today I’m pretty sure that people like this are actually gifts to us from God, ones that we only get to keep for a while, presents that we’ll cherish for the rest of our lives. Some of these special people live their lives in such a way that others are different and better as a result. I’m glad I got to meet one who was exactly that and more.

But darn it, I sure wish he were here longer.

Things To Know About Missionaries You Know

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I just returned from another trip overseas to serve with some friends doing missions work. There I spent wonderful time with committed leaders, spouses and other hard workers who have given their lives or at least a significant part of them to serving others. We often call them missionaries but whatever their title, their faith and love for people has challenged them to put their faith where their mouth is.

The problem is that many of us back home make assumptions about their role, circumstances and perceived advantages that are often misguided or even blatantly untrue. Just before I left on my trip someone I told about my upcoming departure made it sound as though I was going on an extended vacation to an exotic location.

So let me offer here a few reminders about what most of our friends go somewhere distant to care for, minister to and serve others really experience. I realize my perspective may not fit everyone but perhaps it can be a helpful guide:

Life for them is way harder than we know it. Just going out to buy food or make a minor purchase can involve hours of time, miles of travel and extreme weather conditions. Those who have cars may face horrendous traffic, awful roads and limited parking options. Rules and regulations for living each day may be extremely confusing or unfairly stringent. Many of them, though fluent in their new language, still find navigating the culture through new words and phrases tiring and demanding.

They likely see their family members in person no more than once or twice a year. I was only gone ten days and I missed my wife, kids and grand kids dearly. But those living where I visited count every Zoom or Face Time call as precious and can’t wait for the next personal visit.

Their perceived exotic vacation is more than deserved. Sometimes your friends special trip out of the country to some nice beach or special hotel sounds pretty opulent for someone raising funds for their support. Most of the time, however, their trip is the only time they will have time and space that is a little like home and without the demands they face every day. If you think someone you know or support doesn’t deserve that trip, go spend a week or two walking around with them.

They are often lonely. Sure their job is to meet new people, make new friends and develop special relationships. And those are usually a positive part of their experience. But the number of close relationships in another culture is usually spartan compared to the natural friendships that occur at home.

I could add more tough items but these are foundational. I hope you’ll pray for those you know serving others. Send them a word of thanks now and then. Better yet send them some extra money for a nice dinner out, better trip away or to meet a need for an item they couldn’t purchase otherwise. When appropriate consider spending some time in their shoes. Maybe you could call them now and then and be a comforting, listening ear from home.

Whatever you decide, remember that they’re still waiting for their exotic trip. They may get to visit some special locales around the world. But nothing substitutes for having people like us who understand, care and thank them often.

 

 

 

There’s Value In Periodically Stopping During Your Climb

simon-english-700793-unsplashIf you’re into or follow mountain climbing at all, you know that one of the challenges many climbers take on is seeing how fast they can get up a particular route. Super climber and star of the new documentary Free Solo, Alex Honnold, holds many of those records all around the world. He actually climbed El Capitan (a different route from the movie) and Half Dome in the same day!

But speed isn’t the best option on many climbs of granite or our personal ones. There are a couple of important reasons why it’s okay and actually important to stop now and then before making our way to the top.

One, our body and mind need rest and refilling. This is especially important for those of us who don’t live at altitude most of the time. Mountain air is often dry, so we can easily become dehydrated. Because there is less oxygen in the thinner air, we can also get dizzy and fall if we’re in a particularly precarious spot. The same will hold on a personal climb. We often won’t notice that we’re out of energy, our emotions become frazzled and we’ll be little good to anyone if we keep going at this pace.

Two, we need to sometimes turn around and see how far we’ve come. Mountains are usually hard and long. We can get overwhelmed by how much time and energy we’ve expended already and yet still aren’t seeing the summit. However, when we look back to see our progress we can gain new perspective, hope and confidence that if we’ve made it this far, we can make it.

A secondary, but just as important, reasons for turning around is to check out the views, the scenery around us. Beauty and majestic surroundings aren’t reserved for summits. Some of the most stunning scenes I’ve ever encountered in the mountains have been a long way from the top. In the same way, there are things you don’t want to miss along the way of your personal climb – special moments, people you meet, little miracles of sorts.

Beauty often comes in the middle of our pain and discouragement.

Three, we need to reward ourselves along the way as another incentive to keep going. Jackie and I use candy bars that we eat at periodic stops along the way. They become our reward for getting up the next so many switchbacks. Whatever works for you on your climb, use it and give yourself a little present for getting this far.

But during her cancer journey, we also needed little things for rewards. Sometimes it was just something to eat or a movie or a concert if she was up to it. You decide.

Get the idea? Running up your mountain will only cause you to miss some of the most important moments and benefits on your climb. Your chances  for success are far greater if you take your time. So never quit climbing. But don’t worry about taking a break now and then.

 

 

Anxiety Can Be A Tough Mountain

woman working girl sitting
Photo by Alexander Dummer on Pexels.com

I recently came across an article entitled, Why Worry? Simple Steps To Prevent Anxiety.  But I have to say I get anxious when I see any title that starts with simple steps. While making tea and glass cleaner may involve simple steps, much of life isn’t so easy.

Anxiety may have complicated roots that require something deeper than merely telling yourself to feel better or taking medication to slow down the panic.

In fact, some people have lived with anxiety for so long, the thought of overcoming it seems like a huge mountain that they can never scale. It seems to me the word steps in the piece I cited may be the wrong word entirely.

Meaningful change is usually found through living life with new principles and ways of thinking and that process may take various turns depending upon the person.  What might be a helpful process for one may not work well for another.

However, if you do struggle with unusual, abnormal amounts of anxiety, there are some fundamental concepts, not steps, that you would be wise to consider and even embrace.

1. Medication is often helpful and necessary. Of course your physician is the expert here. But a drug well-chosen may help you get your struggle under control so that you can better deal with the underlying issues at the core of your panic.

2. Most non-physiological anxiety tends to come from wrong thoughts about oneself.  For example, if you believe that you must always impress your boss, then you can spend a lot of energy worrying about whether you will make a mistake, done enough or have a job next week.

If you think that you must always be right, you’ll might be overly anxious about what others think of your ideas or how to defend yourself to the people you care about most.

It will take some time to develop new ways of thinking, trying out new actions, thinking some more and experimenting again and again. It will usually be a slow process and that’s OK. This is not a three step easy program!  New thinking is typically developed by growing in your faith in yourself and God,  counseling with a qualified therapist or reading about where your true worth is found.

3. Overcoming anxiety will require facing some things you fear.  If you’re anxious about flying, then at some point you’re going to have to fly. If snakes make you nervous you will eventually have to get near some snakes if you think it best to like them.  While changing your thoughts are key, testing those new thoughts is essential.

If you’re anxious at work to the point of never taking a break you need to figure out when you’re going to take your first break and discover that you’re still OK. Then do it.

If you’re always anxious about speaking in front of others you need to find an opportunity to talk in public. Sure, start small, get some help, practice and all that. But you must go where you fear the most. That’s the only way you’ll find true success.

Facing fears is a powerful tool, life-changing much of the time.

So if your anxiety seems like a mountain, remember there are some ways to get over it. It will take time, you may need some help and you’ll probably face fears that you’d rather avoid. But never quit climbing. Remember, the view from the top is worth it!

Speeding Through Life Can Be Fatal. Slow Down.

asphalt blur cars commuting
Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Pexels.com

Ask any local member of law enforcement. Speed can kill. Talk to NASCAR great Jimmy Johnson or Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and they’ll say the same thing. Too many miles per hour can kill you quicker than taking your time. Sure, there’s a place for speed. It wins races, gets us online faster and helps us respond sooner when under pressure. But speed can still lead to death. Not necessarily physical death, but sometimes emotional, relational and even spiritual death.

When we speed through most days several bad things can happen: We miss special moments in the lives of others, including our family. We’re so focused on the next thing, the next business call, the upcoming meeting, getting to that evening’s rehearsal, practice or concert that we don’t even see the postcard, family album happening that we might have remembered forever. We were there but we weren’t there. Which leads to the second potential problem:

The people most important to us quit trying to connect. Sure, they may still talk to us, ask us for things and even go with us places now and then, but they’ve really given up on any kind of meaningful dialogue, conversation or interest shown in them. Though this isn’t the only problem with smartphones these days, but smartphones are a handy respite for young people and others who can’t connect with people who matter to them.
We don’t have time to serve others. We have no margin or space for that. It’s not that we don’t care or wouldn’t want to help but there simply isn’t any time. So we lose touch with family, neighbors, friends and coworkers and aren’t there even to them when they’re struggling. In a sense we’ve lost our connection to our soul and the souls of others.
So, while life will always be busy, the question is: Will we have more control over our schedule and time or will it life control us? Your answer to that question just might determine what kind of joy, thanks and fulfillment you enjoy for the next ten years or more.
Somehow, that seems like a big deal and something worth pondering long after you read this post.

Six Key Questions To Answer Before Your Personal Climb

evan-dennis-75563-unsplash-1When people face a mountain, often unexpectedly, their response is to try to immediately head for the summit and fix things. They can panic and try to somehow return life to normal and that usually isn’t possible, at least not right away.

On our cancer journey, we learned six important questions to stop and ask before you go too far up the mountain, perhaps prior to even arriving at your trail head. It can also help to have another person or two there with you to be a listening ear and clarifying presence, someone less emotionally tied to your situation.

Six questions . . .

What exactly is my mountain?  Be specific. Don’t say things like, “Well, I have some sort of cancer or the counselor says I’m depressed, but it’s more like I’m just a little down lately.” No, name it, look it in the eye. It’s what it is.

How big is it?  Cancer is described by stages. Name it. Financial debt can be described in dollars. Total it. Relationships have various descriptors that need to be addressed honestly. Admit it. You won’t commit enough time or passion to your climb unless you know what you’re up against.

What are the potential implications?  Could someone die? Will there be a divorce and children involved? Is is possible to lose the house?

What was your role in it, if any? Lots of things happen to us and cause mountains that we didn’t cause. But if you lost your job because you were fired and made some very bad choices, you need to face that as part of getting past your mountain. Again, it’s what it is and can help make sure you deal with how to change as part of your successes.

What are the potential dangers?  Just like on a mountain of granite, there are risks and potential problems in personal challenges. Discuss those so you can be sure to look out for them during your trek: health reactions, returning to an addiction, spending money you don’t have, relationships that interfere . . . you hopefully get the idea.

What are your resources?  Whatever you do, don’t skip this one because your answers here will be part of your lifelines. What finances, friends, experts, confidantes and other fellow travelers will you have at your disposal?  Chances are you have more resources than you thought you did. Review them and be thankful.

So, slow down. Think carefully through your answers to each question. They’re important and will make you than much more ready to tackle the Mt. Everest facing you.

[There are other insights on this topic and more in my Never Quit Climbing book available at Amazon.com.]

Why You Need A Mountain or Two In Your Life

mark-basarab-157610-unsplash-1I have been working with someone who is going through some pretty serious personal challenges. And while he is making significant progress, he said to me that he just wishes everything could be going well and there wouldn’t be any major problems in his life.

I know what he’s talking about. Do you ever feel that way? I’ll bet you do.

But problems, difficulties, barriers, mountains, if you like, also have important benefits and we need to keep them in mind when we’re complaining about how life is treating us. I have a whole chapter on this in Never Quit Climbing but let me share a couple of positives with you.

Mountains help us see with bigger, broader perspective. The analogy is obvious when we think of mountains of granite. I love being at high altitude, especially on a summit, and getting to now look scores of miles into the distance. The views are often breathtaking.

But when we climb a personal mountain, we can also gain much greater insight about people, life and what it means to go through pain ourselves. Our viewing point is now way above all the details of life down below. Which leads to a second benefit.

Mountains prepare and strengthen us for future situations. These might be challenges we face or ones we help others get through. But our climb can turn into experience, wisdom and expertise that we wouldn’t have had before our trek up that personal summit. Those new insights are now more powerfully shared or exercised because we’ve now been up a mountain.

Yes, every climb will have its uniquenesses, but experience is a huge teacher and mentor in some way on every trek after the first one. We become more ready to face even tougher challenges.

Mountains are usually hard, steep and relentless at times. But remember the benefits. They will probably come in handy and pay great dividends down the road.

(Get more on this topic with a copy of Never Quit Climbing in eBook or paperback form at Amazon.com.)

 

Sometimes “Fair” Is Only A Carnival With A Bunch of Rides

FairWho doesn’t like a local fair with rides, elephant ears, greasy foods, games you rarely win, smelly animals, and more elephant ears and puddles of snow cone juice every ten feet? Okay, lots of people detest fairs, but millions more love them and can’t wait for the next one to roll around in a year or less.

But no matter your view on these colorful annual weeks of town, city, county or statewide excitement, the word fair also conjures up not so good thoughts about how life treats us and the cards we seem to be dealt much of the time.

In other words, most of us have experienced circumstances, treatment of others and perceived acts of God that don’t seem fair. And in human terms, they’re not! If fairness means equal treatment, benefits, joys and successes in life, most of us can think of our own situations where we were not treated fairly.

Our best friend got a great job, but we were fired. A neighbor’s house burned to the ground, but ours didn’t. My wife’s brother Paul died of colon/rectal cancer at age sixty but my wife had the same illness and is doing well.

We’ve all said, even groaned, It’s not fair!  Like little children arguing over why they can’t stay up late but a sibling can, we too yell at God, family, our minister or whoever might be nearby when we experience what appear to be huge inequalities that didn’t go our way.

We can feel like Job in the Old Testament who said, “Your hands shaped me and made me. Will you now turn and destroy me? (Job 10:8) What appeared to be unfairness to Job caused him at one point to regret ever living.

So how do we respond when life seems overwhelmingly unfair, when others are thriving and we are not, when others get the breaks, but all we have just breaks?

First, remember that life on earth will never be fair. It started that way, but we humans tainted God’s plans and we must all live with our tendency to continue living our way, not God’s. And if we’re really honest, we wish most that life be fair to us. We don’t care that much how the rest of the world turns out. That’s their problem. But that’s also why our world is a mess. We helped make it that way.

Second, God will bring ultimate fairness to our world in His time, not ours. We may never see fairness fulfilled in this life, but God will even the score in due time. Psalm 9:8, “He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice.” Like the perfect parent that He is, He will ultimately be fair even if we can’t see how now.

Third, remember that God sees what we don’t. He has a bigger perspective. I love it when my little grand boys grab my hand when we’re in a big crowd of people. They can’t see where we’re going, they don’t know the way out or the way home, they may even fear that the crowd will in some way hurt them. All they have at this point is their connection with me. In the same way, we must trust God to see the bigger picture for us and then hold on to him.

Finally, it’s important to recall that Jesus was rarely treated fairly. The injustice was most evident at his crucifixion. He didn’t deserve one hit with the whip, much less dozens. We were the ones who should have died, but instead he took our place and died a gruesome death. The good news is that He overcome that unfairness and won out over death.

When life seems unfair, remember that God’s enough, He understands and He sees outcomes we could never see.

And He knows the way home.