Life Lessons

"Stop and take a picture on the way to the top." That's another thing I've learned. This picture of me was taken by my friend James Kyle as we hiked Old Rag last fall.
“Stop and take a picture on the way to the top.” That’s another thing I’ve learned. This picture of me was taken by my friend James Kyle as we hiked Old Rag last fall.

I’m not old enough to be considered a wise old sage. In fact, even when I reach that age — whatever it is — I doubt I’ll be qualified. But these first six months of retirement have given me time to think about some of the big lessons I’ve learned so far in life. Here are 12 of them:

Do it right the first time. I learned this from my high school band teacher, George Corradino. He had me label the shelves for the music folders. I did a sloppy, haphazard job because I was in a hurry. He made me do it over and pointed out that I’d have finished a lot sooner if I’d just done it right the first time.

Under promise and over deliver. Everybody’s happier if I do more than I promised. Nobody’s pleased if I do less. So many people don’t seem to understand this concept. I keep a jar of Smuckers jam on my office shelf to remind me. Smuckers has a solid reputation to uphold. If the jar says 18oz. you can be sure there’s at least 18oz. in there. And it tastes pretty good, too.

Discipline can be learned. And success breeds success.

I don’t have time not to pray. Bill Hybels wrote a book by this title a few years ago. Reading it and applying the principles changed my life.

Scripture reading helps calibrate my compass. Most every morning, I read a few chapters each from the Psalms, the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the Epistles. Amazing how this exercise prepares my head for the day.

Nobody can be pigeonholed. Nobody is all bad. Nobody is all good. My life can’t be summed up with a Myers-Briggs designation of INFJ. And neither can anybody else’s. We’re all complex. And part of the joy of life is in learning all the ways each of us defies the stereotype.

There are more than two sides to every issue. Life is full of nuance. And most of us change, grow and mature over time. If I focus on “either/or” I can often miss the happy synchronicity that comes from recognizing the truth in each side of the equation. You’ve probably heard the old political saw, “If you’re not a liberal when you’re young, you have no heart. If you’re still a liberal when you’re old, you have no brain.” Truth is, the body needs both brain and heart to survive.

Everything in moderation… including moderation.

Life seems to go easier with generous use of the words “thank you” “I love you” “sir/ma’am” and “I’m sorry”.

Hard work can often make up for lack of talent. I’m a living example of that truth!

Handle stuff only once. That applies especially to email, decisions and snakes.

Read deep & wide. I read novels, biographies, history, spiritual nurture, professional development, business and finance, technical journals, and political stuff. I have acquired a taste for a wide variety of books, magazines and blogs. Cross-disciplinary reading enhances my understanding of life.

Well, that’s some of the stuff I’ve learned in my first 63 years. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for the second half of life!

Don’t worry about the pigs

swine_gadarenesThere’s a story in the Gospel of Mark (chapter 5) about Jesus healing a man who was possessed by a legion on demons.

He was so bad off that he lived out in a cemetery. He must have been dangerous. The town’s folks tried to restrain him with chains, but he broke free. Mark says, “He was always howling and bruising himself with stones.”

When Jesus encountered him, the demons who possessed the man begged Jesus not to destroy them, but rather send them into a herd of pigs nearby. When the demons entered the pigs, the whole herd “rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned.”

The swineherds ran off and told the townsfolk what happened and they all ran out to see for themselves.

As Mark tells it, “They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind… and they were afraid… Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood” (Mark 5:15-17).

Amazing! Jesus has just miraculously healed a demon-possessed man who posed such a treat to the town that the residents tried to keep him chained up. And how do the townsfolk respond? They’re afraid… and they’re upset about the pigs!

Now, I don’t have anything against pigs. And I’m sure the economic impact of the lost herd was huge. But the significance of what happened – God stepping in to instantly and miraculously heal a hopelessly-possessed man  – seems to have been lost on the townsfolk who couldn’t see past the swine.

When God is at work, focus on the miracle… not the pigs.

Just because you’re you

party-favors-hiWhat if somebody threw a party for you, not to celebrate your birthday or retirement or any other significant milestone or achievement, but just because you’re you?

Would you be suspicious, looking around waiting for the other shoe to drop? Wondering what’s really going on here?

Jesus told a lot of stories that involved parties. My favorite one is in Luke 15, the parable of the lost son. The father in the story throws a party for his long-lost younger son who comes home. The jealous older son stands outside sulking. He seems to think his young brother is unworthy of celebration. So the father goes out to try and bring his pious first-born inside. He wants everybody to enjoy the party, the self-righteous as well as the unrighteous.

The author of Psalm 40 seems to make the point when he says to God,

“Doing something for you, bringing something to you — that’s not what you’re after.
Being religious, acting pious — that’s not what you’re asking for.
You’ve opened my ears so I can listen…
And I’m coming to the party you’re throwing for me.”
(Eugene Peterson’s translation of Psalm 40:6-7 in The Message)

The lesson seems to be that God is always anxious to have a party in our honor. Not because we’ve done anything spectacular. Not because we’re smarter or better than anybody else. But just because He loves us.

Why is that so hard to accept? Why can’t we just relax and enjoy instead of keeping a critical eye on who the Doorman is letting in?